The Yetholm Gypsies
It is a fact not very creditable to the wisdom of Britain, that, while so much has been done for the heathen, no attempt has yet been made in Scotland, to civilize and enlighten those wandering tribes, who during three-fourths of the year, in pursuing the avocations, from which they derive their subsistence, have no pastor, no church, no school, no home, and are deprived of the means and opportunities of acquiring every kind of instruction. The attempt, if properly made, would, I am persuaded, be in numerous instances successful. Society would be the principal gainers by the success of any such scheme. They would render their own homes, persons, and property more secure; while they would discharge a long-neglected duty to a considerable number of their fellow creatures and fellow subjects, and rescue an interesting race from infamy, ignorance, and vice.'
The Rev Mr Baird adds in a footnote that by the time this appeared in print, he had received a grant of Bibles and Testaments from the Edinburgh Bible Society which meant that every poor gipsy family was now supplied with a copy of the scriptures.
His thinking was so far advanced, that now, 160 years later, society has still not taken what he had to say to heart and made serious attempts to do something about improving the lot of the wandering gipsy and his family.
If we remember that Jeffrey probably had access to Baird's account, his view of the gipsies of Yetholm is somewhat at variance with that of the Yetholm minister.
'Kirk Yetholm has long been the abode of several gipsy tribes. Various opinions are entertained as to the origin of this race of people, who were once so formidable, and infested most countries of Europe and Asia. The exact year that the gipsies made their appearance is not precisely known. In Turkey they were seen about the beginning of the 15th century, and so formidable were they, that the Turks were glad to enter into a treaty with them, and admit them to the same privileges which the subjects of the Sultan enjoyed. They, however, having been so long accustomed to a vagabond rapacious life, and being unacquainted with the arts of industry, began to have recourse to their former mode of existence.'
From this we can gather that at the time he was writing, gypsies were not the most popular of people. Jeffrey implies idleness and dishonesty and his use of the word 'infested' shows that they were, in his opinion, and doubtless that of others, unwanted and a plague on the society of the time.
Specifically, he says
'that the chief employment of the gypsies was travelling in the summer in promiscuous bands. They generally left their settlement at Kirk Yetholm at the end of March, and did not return until driven back by the storms of winter. Most of the men assisted in the operations of the harvest, and in the winter carted coals to Jedburgh.'
During their progress through the countryside, Jeffrey says that
'they laid the farm-yards, corn and potato fields under contribution to a great extent. They had the perfect knack of thieving and carried off everything that came in their way - corn, hay, hewn stones, wheels and axletree.'