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The story of Adam Reid (part 1)

recounted through letters and diaries by Janice Coutin

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5

Adam Reid 1827-1857


February 25th, 1845. Alexander McWhinnie, my nephew died. Oh how uncertain death is. Young and old are both alike subject to be cut down. Death is no respecter of persons. Every death we hear of, every funeral we see, is just another warning, bidding us prepare. One day I must die and be laid in the silent tomb, at least my cold body will be laid there. Worms will feed upon it and in a few years this body now so healthy, vigorous and gay will be mouldering in the dust. The place and the friends that now know me, very soon shall know me no more for ever. Oh that I was wise and would consider more my latter end. Oh how blessed a thing it is to have Jesus for our friend in this changing world. He is the only friend who can support us at the hour of death. We may have many devoted friends here, but which of them can accompany us across the swelling billows of Jordan. Jesus only can do this. Jesus can make the dying bed feel soft as downy pillows are. None but Christ, None but Christ.

Adam Reid, my great-great-grandfather, wrote these words in his diary when he was seventeen. I had swiftly read them at around the same age when I discovered that my great aunt Nora, his granddaughter with whom I lived with my father, had kept it as well as a lot of other “old” family letters and paraphernalia. I could not be bothered at the time to read through them all but these words stuck in my mind and I often fantasised about meeting him.

Through a stroke of luck nothing was thrown away and even though I ended up living in France, they had been shipped out to me with furniture from my father’s house when he sold up to come and live with me in Strasbourg.

Then one sunny day in the summer of 2003 I decided to sit outside and have a look through them all. After having read some of the letters I realised that it would be such a pity if all these memories from the past just lay there in a trunk no doubt one day to be forgotten and probably thrown away, so I decided to type them out and even possibly make up a little book.

I decided to start with what I had covering Adam’s life (1827-1857) because, as well as his diary, I had a lot of letters from this period. I had not read everything beforehand so I discovered “the story” while I was typing them out.

The story turned out to be that of Adam, a young Scotsman who leaves his home town to find benefit as far as “worldly circumstances” were concerned as a bookseller first in Edinburgh, then in “the great city” of London and finally opening up his own shop in Liverpool.

It is also the love story between him and Jeanie, his first wife, who followed him to London, leaving her family and homeland behind to be with him. Of how Adam had to deal with her death – his narration of it so moving – and how he met Sarah, his second wife, my great-great-grandmother, and started a family before being struck down by consumption at the age of 31.

I had the delight of discovering Jeanie who, contrary to what I had thought beforehand having only glanced over her letters, was not just a fervent believer in the Lord, but also had a more hot-blooded side to her character. The times when “God is often to be forgot” can only incite one’s imagination. Her beautifully written letters not only describe her intimate feelings but also give us a glimpse of how life was in Ayr in those days.

Both Jeanie and Adam were devout followers of the Free Church of Scotland. They often speak of their religious beliefs and to some this might appear “old-fashioned”. However, we must take ourselves back to another era when life was much different - some might even find solace in what is said. In another one hundred and fifty years time, we will also be judged by what we have left behind.

Adam is an upright, hardworking young man albeit apparently a “boy among the lasses” in his youth. He is not devoid of a sense of humour, which can be seen for example when he starts to sign his letters to Sarah as her “Dear Old Man” instead of as the conventional “affectionate husband”.

As for Sarah, one can only guess her character from letters Adam wrote to her and a couple she hurriedly wrote to him while minding the bookshop on her own in Liverpool while Adam was away resting. She appears to be of a rather anxious disposition although active and with many friends. It is thanks to her that Jeanie’s letters did not get thrown away.

I have typed the letters and diaries as they are, not leaving anything out in case names or places might be of interest. I have added footnotes giving further information which I hope add to the understanding of the book as a whole.

Whenever I could not read a word I have put a question mark in brackets next to it. The only thing I have added is punctuation, especially to Jeanie’s letters, as it appears that in those days commas and full stops were not a priority!

I’ve dedicated the book to Jeanie because it is her letters and diary that make this book what it is.


Chapter I: 1843 to 1847 – Ayr to London

Adam Reid was born on 22 April 1827 in St. Quivox near Ayr in Scotland. His father, also called Adam, was a weaver who had married Helen Alexander on 25 August 1809. They had six children and Adam was the youngest, the baby of the family, born eleven years after his youngest elder brother. 1

In November 1845 Adam left Ayr to go and work in a bookshop in Edinburgh. Before leaving and unbeknownst to the people of Ayr, Adam had found his sweetheart. Her name was Jane Ingram, known as Jeanie. She was three years older than Adam, the daughter of William Ingram, a watchmaker, living in Newton on Ayr and his wife, Mary Allan. Jeanie and her three brothers were all born in Tarbolton.2 I think Jeanie was a Sunday School teacher.


Adam’s diary

Adam began his diary in 1843 and wrote this on the front page:

That in this book may be recorded many a sweet day’s fellowship that I may have with Jesus. Many a foretaste of that happy land to which I hope I am going, is this day my earnest prayer.

The diary continues:


May 22nd Disruption of the Church of Scotland.3

May 29th Commenced as a bookseller with Mr Guthrie.4

August First sat down at the Communion Table and became a Member of the Free Church of Scotland and I trust a member of the Church Invisible in Heaven.

Dec 11th Newton Free Church opened by Mr Stevenson5, Mr Thomson, Maybole and Mr Chalmers of Dailly. Collection £53


Nov 11th Tarbolton Free Church opened by Mr Bannantyne, Mr Livingstone and Mr Main. Collection £33 or thereabouts.


Jan 1st Spent the evening at Miss McCalls.

Feb. 28th (see first paragraph of the Introduction)

Feb 11th or thereabouts. Jeanie turned unwell.

April 25th or thereabouts On Sabbath went to see Jeanie at Auchenweet with Andrew.6 7 Catrine Free Church opened by Dr Buchanan of Glasgow. Collection.

Nov 11th Left Mr Guthrie’s shop.

Nov 18th Left Ayr for Edinburgh and engaged with Grand & Taylor. Same day got lodging with Mrs Danskin for 3/6 a week

Dec 30th Gilbert McCrae got married.

Nov. 30th Ayr Free Church opened by Dr Candlish and Dr Brown. Collection £400.

Dec. 31st Wrote an essay to Jeanie on the past year.


Jan. 1st 1846 Received a letter from Jeanie on same subject. Same day spent some time in thinking of the end of time. How soon my life must come to an end. Devoted myself anew to the service of my Savour.

Jan. 4th Was very much affected with Mr Guthrie’s sermon this afternoon. Text Genesis 2, 3 & 4.

March 28th Sabbath evening. Spent some time this Evening in meditating upon 13 Chap of Corinthians “Subject Charity”. Oh what a blessed thing [it] is to be possessed of the Christian love here spoken of. Oh, my soul, endeavour to strive to get more of this love. Oh what avails over all other and are gifts without this. Though my faith was strong enough to remove mountains, yet if I have not charity it shall profit me nothing. Other Christian gifts must end with their life, there’s no need for Faith in Heaven, there’s no need for Hope in Heaven. Why? Because the saints have there obtained what they on earth hoped for. Love remains. There is nothing else but love in heaven. Love binds all the ransomed Saints together. There’s no jealousy there, there’s no hatred there. There’s no strife there. Why, because the law of heaven is love. We are told in the Bible that God is love. Every eye there beams with love, every heart there beats with love and every word there is spoken in tones .. (extracted from a sermon of Mr Guthrie).

Some pages are then torn out of the diary but there are Jeanie’s letters which cover this period. Since Adam had left Ayr a correspondence had started up between them. Adam’s letters to Jeanie were burnt as he had asked Jeanie to do so.


Letters from Jeanie to Adam

Seaview, 19th May 1846

My Dearest Adam,

You wish me to send you half a dozen closely written sheets this week on Christ’s exaltation. Now Dear A. had Jeanie vanity enough to think that her head and pen would produce something which might enliven the remarks of her friend or even be in keeping with His glowing language, neither time nor pains would be grudged, provided she only could assist him in His arduous task. But as any remarks of hers at best could only tend to mar the beauty of the whole instead of adding to its merit, I think it needless for her to produce even one single sheet on so important a subject. It is not only an important but a very serious one. One which I trust the studying of will be blest onto your own soul. Study it prayerfully, my Dear Adam, a blessing will descend upon your own hand and may be the means under God of sending it home to the hearts of many who hear it. It will afford me much pleasure to aid you in this way during this and next week. Though weak and powerless my prayers are in themselves, yet through the all prevailing intercession of my Savour Jesus Christ they may not be altogether ineffectual. Let our prayers be heartfelt and they shall not be forgotten by God. It is His delight to answer the prayers of His people. We loose much by not being more frequent and importunate at the throne of grace.

A rather strange fancy has taken possession of me this two weeks (viz) a love for reclusion. I really feel half enclined to congratulate you on your privileged solitude. It is good to be alone sometimes. Stern says “Solitude is the best nurse of wisdom”. It strengthens the mind. Learns it to lean upon itself in retirement. We have time for reflection and self examination, a duty which we too often neglect and overlook and it is a pity that we should neglect it for it is a very profitable one. We would know ourselves a great deal better than we do would we devote a little more of our time to this important work.

I have been much alone during the last two weeks. I have been enabled to spend them so happily that my mind appears to have been directed into a different channel than usual. I never before fully realised the power of the words “Oh solitude how sweet thou art”. A chain of circumstances however has caused me to praise more than I otherwise would the solitude I have been extolling. You know My Dearest it was just this season last year which looked so dark and gloomy as far as I was temporally concerned. Nothing before me but the prospect of bidding farewell to all earthly things, to friends dear and loved. But now what a difference in the full enjoyment of health and strength with the prospect of being spared yet a little longer in this vale of changes. Oh that I could improve my time as I ought when in health and strength. It is very profitable to glance back upon the past, to spend a little time alone in meditation. I dare say you have often found it so. But I must say no more just now on the pleasures of solitude and retirement lest I should inspire you with a love for it, not only for a month or year but perhaps for life and thereby lift a stone to break my own head by depriving me of the company of your own dear self. Your company you know My Dear could be no encroachment upon my loved seclusion. It would only be solitude sweetened.

I am much obliged by your kind invitation to come and spend the Queen’s birthday with you. Nothing would give me more pleasure. I am sure we would really spend a very happy day together could I only get the length of Edinburgh. I am very sorry that I cannot come yet to see you.

Andrew sends his kind love to you and desires me to tell you that he is kept so very busy with engraving just now that he need not ask to get away as it is quite impossible. He could be wanted even for two days. He is sitting beside me in the parlour while I am writing learning the accordion, it being his breakfast hour.

There is no fear of my managing to run off with any decent young gent as long as Andrew’s here. He will scarcely let me speak to a young man in your absence. If Mr J. or any other was coming in at night he is quite displeased and always says he wonders what they want. Our people got good laughing at him last night. William said there was a young man coming up to see me tonight, he is a Mr McGleish who is with Mr Campbell, the clothier at present but is going to set up in business for himself this month. Had you seen Andrew how angry he was. He said he had no business to come here and told me to send down word to him not to come. I told him he need not be afraid, I would not run off with anyone but you although there was twenty young men in every night. He guards me like a policeman.

Now I am going down tonight to drink tea with Sally,8 I will give her your kind love. Aunt Lily came down with mother and returned again the same day with Mathew.9 She is a great deal better but still a little weak. She desired me to give her kind love. She was very sorry that you could not come up to see her when here. My dear friend Mrs Highet is very unwell this fortnight past. They are getting a little anxious about her. She is going to Auchenweet with me on the first Saturday of June if we are spared.

You forgot the verse for Sabbath. Try and remember it upon Saturday.

I promised you a better letter this week but have failed again.

I must bid you adieu Dearest Adam,

Ever your affectionate Jeanie


Seaview, 2nd June

My Dearest Adam,

It is now my time to plead an excuse for writing this wee letter. And I am sure you will excuse me when I tell you that I have been busy this morning since 5 o’clock. Yesterday I was up at the same hour and will be up every day this week as early if spared. We will be cleaning all week so you see there is little time to spend in writing.

I dare say you will have got the Assembly over by this time. It appears to have been a very interesting one. We still get The Witness from the good folks down the street. It will be a long time I fear before you make up the sleep you lost in the common matter(?). I doubt you will not be able to rise at 5 o’clock for one fortnight. At least it is delightful to get up early at present the weather is so beautiful. You should walk out in the morning it would be very healthful for you.

I hope you heard Mr Main upon Sabbath eve. He is an excellent person. I was up at the Prestwick Hall School on Sabbath eve. Mr Hugh Wood came in and addressed the children at the close. He also assisted father with the prayer meeting. He gave a very stirring address to the children. I could have listened for hours. I think him very pious. I felt very happy on Sabbath night when teaching. I wish I had a class again but our people will not permit me neither will the minister.

My dear Adam I am going to ask a favour. Will you be so good as post your next epistle on Friday afternoon so that I may have it in the evening as I entend leaving in the morning of Saturday with father for Auchenweet. I have still another favour to pray(?) for and it is this, that you will not feel disappointed although you should not hear from me so regularly during my stay in the country as you do at present as I will not have an opportunity of sending my letters to the post office. Perhaps you may not hear from me before this day fortnight. If an opportunity presents itself be assured I will avail myself of it.

I don’t know whether Andrew will enclose a few lines with this or not. He said he would if he could find time but he is busy busy making up for the lost time last week.

I now close hoping to hear from you soon.

Ever your own, Jeanie

PS I hope you feel as happy in the shop as in your new lodgings. I saw you last night in my sleep reading to me in the parlour.

Do excuse this hurried scrawl.


Addressed to Mr Adam Reid, Mr James Lawson, Letter Carrier, 1 James Street, Edinburgh

Braehead, Kilmarnock, 30th June 1846

My Dearest Adam,

I promised you a long long letter this week. But I am exceedingly sorry that I will have to send off this shorter even than the last but I know you will excuse me when I tell you that I have no opportunity at present of writing a private letter. There are by far too many young gentlemen in the house where I at present reside for being boarded with my friend Mrs Wright. They are sadly anxious to know whom I am writing to so I must just hurry it over as quickly as possible.

But by this time I am sure you are wondering what wind has blown me to Kilmarnock. I came over here with my uncle upon Friday entending to return with him in the evening. But it came on an exceedingly wet night and my friend Mrs Wright, who is a cousin of father’s, would on no account permit me to go home in case I should be the worse of it. So she has got me to keep ever since as it has been stormy every day since Friday.

I do not know whether you wrote to me on Friday or no. I rather think not as I charged Mathew if there was any letters to address them to me here. I expected none but the one from your own dear self and this is Tuesday afternoon and none has arrived. I am very anxious to know whether there is one at Auchenweet for me. I rather think I will have to wonder away until Friday so my friend says. She will not let me away till then. If it was not too great a boon(?) for me to ask I would ask you to write me tomorrow in place of Friday as I doubt I have not patience to wait till then. I think Mathew surely would have posted it to me had he received one.

Bye the bye I must tell you how disturbed I was in my sleep last night. Well I met my dear A in some house, I cannot tell where for I thought I never had been in the house and I spoke to him but he would neither speak nor look at me. Easily you can imagine my feelings at that moment. I need not endeavour to describe them.

I now close at present but still promise to give you a long long one soon if spared.

I hope this will find you well as it leaves me and believe me ever yours only Jeanie

If you write address Mr James Wright, Gardener, Braehead, Kilmarnoch.

(Romans Chapt 5)

Do excuse this haste, Jeanie. Do write me as long a letter as your time will admit.


Seaview, 22nd July 1846

Tuesday morning

My Dearest Adam,

I hope ere this our united prayers have been heard and answered, that the Lord has graciously vouchsafed you all our requests. I trust you have been at his Table, that you have realised a close and sweet communion with him. That you had not nearly a glimpse but a bright and glorious view of the King in his beauty and the Land afar off. I hope your experience was that of the beloved disciple who leaned upon the bosom of Jesus in the upper chamber. If such was your privilege, oh did not your heart burn within you, my Dear Adam, at the condescension, the goodness of Your Lord. Well it might and how benefiting for you the song “What shall I render to the Lord for all his gifts to me. Bless the Lord, oh my souls, and all that go within me bless His holy name”.

I had not the privilege of commemorating my dear Redeemer’s death at his table upon Sabbath but it was a high day unto me. One of the happiest Sabbaths I have ever spent. Oh if such is the foretaste of heaven what must the reality be when these earthborn bodies of ours shall no longer cloy and withdraw the then glorified soul from God. How much I wished upon Sabbath eve that I could only be privileged to see God though only for a little. My heart was so full and I had no one to speak to, at least no one that I can feel open with. Oh it is a great blessing to have one you can tell all your heart too, one who has a fellow feeling with yours and can encourage you when difficulties assail. No such privilege is mine now since you have left. I still mourn and grieve over the loss I sustained in not being more open with you on this great and important subject when I was so often favoured with opportunities. But the want of an earthly friend makes me apply more frequently to the throne of grace, makes me search more earnestly after Jesus the best friend of sinners than I perhaps would do if I had an earthly friend always near. But it is a great comfort to me my dear friend to know that though deprived of your counsel you always remember me at the throne of grace. May the Lord grant you all your desires and bless you with every blessing in Christ Jesus.

I do not know whether I be the first or not to communicate the happy intelligence that our Church is now Free indeed. I dare say you will be aware that we had the pleasure of the services of Mr Wood upon Sabbath when there was a collection for the liquidation of the debt upon the Church when the sum realised was upwards of thirty three pounds which sum cleared the debts and left in the treasures hand a balance of about nine pounds which I understand is to be appropriated to the new school. There is to be a meeting I think this week to get it set afoot. Mr Wood preached in the forenoon and evening and Mr McFarlane in the afternoon. The Church was crowded in every part. A number could not get in (in the evening I should have said). I saw Mrs Andrew and understood your mother was there too but I did not see her when the note was handed up to Mr Wood of the sum that was collected. He was quite overcome. The tears were observed running down his cheeks when he attempted to speak. His word was quite broken, he said. The morning sun would rise upon us a free congregation owing no man anything but to love one another and beseeched them to delay no longer but to raise an alter in every family, a temple in every house.

A rather strange circumstance happened upon Sabbath. You know I was telling you in my last that I had never seen Mr McLean. Well upon Sabbath forenoon as I was going to the Church and just a little bit past Robert Gray’s 10 a young man passed me. He was alone. I don’t know what put it into my head but I thought that is McLean. William was before me when I made up to him and enquired if that was the Monkton’s Free School teacher and he said it was. How do you think I came to know him? I never had any description of his appearance further than what you gave me. Really he is a pretty youth, it would be a great pity if he forgot himself. It’s a wonder he has not captivated Miss J. Logan’s heart more than he has done but perhaps she has observed a want in the beauty of the mind and in that case she is quite right to remain prone against his outward charms.

The two Misses Logans called the other day. Miss J. said she was all eyes looking for you when in Edinburgh. They were kindly enquiring for your Mss(Mastership?). I said Mr McLean was making kind enquiries also for me the other night and wished her to bring him in some evening but don’t say this to him when you write.

Andrew was entending writing to you today but he went up to Auchenweet upon Saturday and has not yet returned. It wants a very little of post time so I cannot wait on him. You may expect a letter next week if he is spared. Andrew is neither offended nor yet has he forgot you. Dear A, he is as fond of you as ever but the truth is he is lazy, especially with writing. He gives William sore bothering about Glasgow. He says William is a very clever fellow. After all he served his apprenticeship in one week and it took him three weeks when he was in Glasgow.

The rest of our family are all well at present and those present meantime. Father and Mother desire to be remembered to you. Do you know I have never seen Mrs Ramsay since you were with me. She was on her way one day to see me but learned I was from home so she wrote me at Auchenweet. I had a long conversation with Mrs Highet of which you were the topic.

But my time and paper ends equally so I must refer to next time.

It was very serious you may be sure for Maggie cried nearly for half an hour.

Yours only Jeanie


Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

Part 5


1 Adam’s brothers and sisters are: Alexander (3.6.1810-?), Margaret (23.2.1812-10.1881: Mrs William McWhinnie), William (20.2.1814-?), Helen (31.12.1815- 20.12.1853: Mrs John Martin), Janet (17.5.1818- : Mrs Findlay Ferguson Knight. The Knights emigrated to New York where Findlay worked as a bookbinder. His great-grandson, Tom Knight, lives in New York and is a well-known baseball historian).

2 Jeanie’s brothers are William (14.8.1825-19.2.1887 who became a watchmaker like his father), Andrew (14.2.1830-?: who become one of the first photographers in Ayr) and John (24.6.1832-?). [A sister called Margaret was born on 15.6.1828 but must have died young.] Jeanie’s father moved his watchmaking premises from Tarbolton to Ayr in 1833 (Ayr Observer, 20 August 1833, 1d).

3 At its General Assembly in Edinburgh in 1843 the Church of Scotland split when nearly 200 ministers marched out to gather in another hall and form the Free Church of Scotland. The new church included more than one third of all former Church of Scotland ministers. The main issue of discord was the encroachment of the civil power on the independence of the Church, in particular concerning the nomination of ministers. The instigators of the separation came from the evangelical wing, as opposed to the moderates, which had been most influential in the Sunday school movement and missions, including the providing of ministers to the British colonies through the Glasgow Colonial Society.

4 This is probably David Guthrie's bookshop, 1 High Street, Ayr.

5 James Stevenson (1810-1865) was the minister of Newton on Ayr from 1836. He ‘came out’ in 1843 and served as Newton’s Free Church minister until his death in September 1865.

6 Auchenweet is near Tarbolton.

7 Jeanie might have met Adam through her brother Andrew as they are around the same age and Jeanie often mentions him in her letters.

8 Sally had been one of Adam’s sweethearts.

9 Mathew Allan (1807-1889) was the tenant of Auchinweet, succeeding his father, Andrew, who died in 1843. He was Jeanie’s mother’s brother. “Aunt Lily” is their sister, Lilias, born in 1805.

10 Cabinet makers.

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