Scottish POW Y-DNA Study

Updated/Edited: 3 Mar 2016

From: Scottish Prisoners of the Civil Wars (Dunbar and Worcester) DNA Study

The Battles of Dunbar (1650) and Worcester (1651)
In 1650-1651 the Third Civil War of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms was fought largely on Scottish soil when Cromwell’s New Model Army invaded Scotland. The Scottish Covenanters’ army was heavily defeated by Cromwell at the Battle of Dunbar on 3 Sept 1650, and some 5000 prisoners were marched south of the border by the New Model Army to Durham, England.  During the infamous death march, some escaped, some were shot as a warning to the rest, some were set to work around Newcastle and many died of famine fever at Morpeth after eating cabbage raw from the fields.  Just  3000 survived to be ordered into their temporary prison of Durham Cathedral, where the dying from infection and fever continued. The order was given to transport 900 of the healthiest prisoners to the American colonies Virginia and New England to be sold into indentured labour.

It is not clear how many of these were in the end transported, but on 7th November 1650, about 150 Scottish prisoners of Dunbar were transported aboard the Unity.  After landing in Charlestown, New England, the ones who survived the voyage were sold for £20-£30 each as indentured servants, 60 of them to the Saugus Ironworks in Massachusetts. Up to 300 more may have been sent to Virginia too, although shipping records have not survived.

A year to the day from Dunbar, the Royalist army under Charles II went down to its final defeat at Worcester, and again several thousand Scottish soldiers supporting Charles found themselves prisoners of war in England.  Again, many were ordered for transportation – and on 8th November 1651, the John and Sarah took sail with around 300 Scottish prisoners on board.  272 of them survived to reach Charlestown, where they suffered the fate of the Unity prisoners a year earlier.  The names of these 272 prisoners have survived – in time, many of those who survived their indentured labour would settle in the colonies and have descendants today.

This project aims to research and discover more about the fates and descendants of those Scottish prisoners captured and transported in these two battles of the English/Scottish Civil Wars – the Battles of Dunbar (1650) and Worcester (1651).  In America today there are many who believe themselves descendants of these men, and DNA will be used to explore family links between them.  It is hoped that DNA can also help to identify relatives of the transported men who still live in Scotland today, to help answer the questions Where in Scotland had these men been taken from? And Who were the shared Scottish ancestors of the transported men and their modern Scottish relatives?

As more is known about the prisoners in New England, the first goal of the project is to work on discovering more about the Unity and John and Sarah groups.  The project is also open to anyone who believes they may have a Dunbar/Worcester ancestor who was transported to Virginia, Bermuda or other destinations in the New World in 1650-52.
~Written by John Cleary

39 Responses to Scottish POW Y-DNA Study

  1. I am interested in having my DNA tested. John Wattles(Wadell,Woodal) is an ancestor of mine.How do I proceed ?

    • Joanie Wachter says:

      Hi Carolyn, I too descended from John Wattles. Have just begun research into DNA while prepping for a trip to Scotland. Just found this page and group and hope it will help as I dig into our family tree.

    • Joanie Wachter says:

      Hi Carolyn. John Wattles was an ancestor of mine. I’m digging into family research in preparation for a trip to Scotland. If you have any information on the DNA project, can you direct me?

    • At this time there is only an ongoing study using male Y-DNA. You would need to find a brother, uncle or cousin, etc. to join the study on your behalf. ~ Teresa

  2. Peggy Vigoren says:

    I believe I am the ancestor of Daniel Robbins (Robinson) (my 7th great grandfather). I have completed the DNA test on Is there a way to use that DNA test, or do I need to do another? Thanks so much. Peggy V.

  3. Robert Dunbar Morris. says:

    Interested in the DNA study. I believe Robert Dunbar is an ancestor.

  4. Peggy Vigoren says:

    Hello, I believe that Daniel Robbins may be my 7th great-grandfather. He was one of the prisoners taken at the Battle of Worchester and sent to America on the John and Sarah. He married Hannah Potter. I received Ancestry DNA matches to him and many others in my results. I am very happy because my father was orphaned at an early age and had no knowledge of his English and Scottish roots, except for the surnames of Dickson and Randolph. I have been tracing that side of my heritage for some time now. I’m not sure how to join the Yahoo Group, but I will try. Thank you, Peggy Williams

  5. Randy Black says:

    I believe that I am ancestor of Daniel Black

  6. Susan Neal Dixon says:

    Hi everyone,
    I have 5 direct-line Scottish ancestors who fought at the Battle of Dunbar and were shipped to New England to be indentured servants. They were John Neal(e), William Furbush, Peter Grant, Robert Junkins and William Thompson. I took the Ancestry dna test and hope I can join your dna study.

  7. Peggy Williams Vigoren says:

    My DNA ancestor is Daniel Robbins, born in Atoll and captured at the battle of Worchester. He was sent to Boston in 1651 as an indentured servant.

  8. Wayne Allen Wilson says:

    I am interested in having my DNA tested.

  9. Ann Woodall Sutherland says:

    Do you have any Woodell or Woodale in your DNA data base? It looks like I may be descended from the John Woodell or Woodale and Tormut Rose.
    Ann Sutherland, Dearing, GA

    • Hi Ann, No, we do not have any descendants of John Woodell yet in our Y-DNA database. The study is for male Y-DNA only. Do you have a brother, cousin, or uncle etc., who could join our study and have a Y-DNA test completed? That would be a great start!

  10. John Magoon says:

    I was just given a Geno 2.0 National Geogeaphic DNA test as a present. Can I use it with the SPOW DNA study?

  11. Andi Silberman says:

    I also have 5 direct-line Scottish ancestors who fought at the Battle of Dunbar and were shipped to New England to be indentured servants. They were John Neal(e), William Furbush, Peter Grant, Robert Junkins and William Thompson. I took the Ancestry dna test and hope I can join your dna study.
    Warm regards,
    Andi Neal Silberman

    • Hi, Andi,
      That is great that you have traced you ancestry back to FIVE of the SPOWs. May I add you as a Descendant/Researcher to their pages?

      Our Scottish DNA Project is for Y-DNA only. You would have to have one of the SPOW’s surnames as your current surname to qualify. Is your surname Neal?


  12. Deb Coggin says:

    Thomas Grant was transported to Massachusetts on The John and Sara. I know a bit about what happened to him (indentured servitude, freedom, marriage, death) in the Colonies, but nothing about his Scottish background. I suspect he may have been part of a Clan Grant regiment. I am keen to trace his history back to Scotland.

  13. Kevin Patterson says:

    I believe I am related to James Pattison a Scottish POW transported to New England aboard the John and Sara. I can trace my ancestry back to James using the information in the book by D. William Patterson. How do I get the Y-DNA test?

  14. Michelle Start says:

    I am a direct descendent of Ninian Beall. Do you have someone for him? If not I would love to involve my brother or nephew in the study.

  15. Alice MacDonald Long says:

    It’s my understanding that does only an autosomal DNA test. Family Tree DNA does the Y chromosome test and/or the autosomal test.

  16. Aric Junkins says:


    My name is Aric Junkins and I am the 7th great grandson of Robert Junkins. I would love to join.

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