When I was applying to university in the mid-1980s, the then Scottish Education Department maintained a register of educational trusts that were available to provide support to prospective students. There were hundreds of such funds, some of them very specific. One of my university friends was given a significant amount of money each year from a variety of these funds, because of his surname and the small town where he was born. Most of these funds derived from bequests left over the years to various good causes.
Kirk Session records often contain records of these legacies – often described as mortifications – as they were often tied to specific locales, and the Kirk Session was the obvious group to administer them. Aberdeenshire and the North-East in general are particularly well represented in such legacies, at least in terms of records surviving in the Kirk Session collections. There are a number covering large parts of the region, and many more covering individual parishes. Some legacies were intended to benefit the poor of the parish in the form of poor relief, but in keeping with the traditional Scots respect for education, many were intended to fund education in one form or another.
The minutes of one such trust fund can be found among the Kirk Session records of Birse, in Aberdeenshire.  These minutes largely consist of details of payments made every six months to “the most indigent of the poor of the parish”, and are a handy source of information about some of the poorest people in this part of the north-east in the early 19th century. They even include a few payments to cover the cost of funerals of paupers, a useful source for genealogists given that the Old Parish Registers for Birse do not include any death or burial records.
As is often the case for records of legacies and mortifications, the minutes include a transcript of the original deed or will establishing the fund. In this case, although the minutes begin in 1800, the fund was actually established in the will of Doctor Gilbert Ramsay, written in 1728. Dr Ramsay was an Episcopalian minister, originally from Birse. In 1686, he had arrived in the Caribbean as minister of St Paul’s, in Antigua. 
By 1689, Dr Ramsay had moved to Barbados, where he became Rector of Christ Church. He remained at Christ Church for nearly forty years, before returning to the UK, “sojourning” in Bath, where he wrote his will. Presumably he was in Bath to partake of the waters, as in his will he writes that he is
sick and weak in body, but (thanks to God) of sound and perfect disposition, mind and memory
His first legacy is £4800 sterling to the “Corporation of New Aberdeen in North Britain, i.e. to the Provost, Bailiffs, Town Council, and governing members of the same city for the time being”, which is to be used to purchase land “as near to the City of New Aberdeen as can conveniently be purchased”. The proceeds from these lands are to be divided among various good causes. The “yearly Rent, Interest or Income” of £1000 is to be paid as a salary
to a Pious, Learned, and well qualified Professor of Hebrew, Arabic and Oriental Languages, in the Marischall College of the said city of New Aberdeen, for the advancement of true learning, to the glory of God and the good of his Church.
The second provision is that the proceeds from £2000 (of the £4800 left to the city of Aberdeen) should be used to provide a yearly pension to
four hopeful, deserving young scholars, Masters of Arts, students of Divinity, which four students of Divinity conscionably elected I order shall be placed in said Marischal College of New Aberdeen to pursue diligently their Theological Studies there, for the Service of the Church … for the term of three years and no longer.
The third provision of Ramsay’s will is a continuation of a Deed initially granted by him in Barbados in 1714, to provide for “four hopeful young men called Bursars, for ever to be educated in the knowledge of the Greek Tongue and Philosophy in the said Marischall College in New Aberdeen, during the space of four years and no longer.” This was to be funded from the proceeds of £800 of the legacy left to the Corporation.
Ramsay did not forget his home parish. The “yearly rent, interest or income of five hundred pounds sterling” was to fund a salary to a
pious, provident and experienced Schoolmaster well qualified to instruct the youth in the Parish of Birse … the place of my nativity … in the Principles of Religion, to read and write English, and to understand both Greek and Latin
Before employing a schoolmaster, the proceeds were to be used to fund “building a schoolhouse in the most convenient place of the said Parish of Birse”.
The remaining £500 of the legacy was to be given “to the order of the Reverend Ministers and Elders of the said Parish of Birse … to be forever by them conscionably and impartially distributed yearly among the poor of the said parish of Birse” on the first Monday of January and July each year.
Patronage of the foundation was granted to Gilbert’s cousin, Sir Alexander Ramsay, Baronet and Laird of Balmain in Kincardineshire.
Various other smaller legacies are given to “the poor Episcopal Clergy of Scotland”, to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, the Scots Corporation in London, Balliol College, Oxford, and to various family and friends. Another £500 is left to Christ Church, Barbados to educate the poor youth of the parish.
Reading all of this, you cannot help but wonder how an Episcopalian minister born in 17th century Aberdeenshire could have accumulated what was, for the time, a substantial sum of money. One clue is given in another provision of his will
and my will is that all my slaves except my negroe man Robert here now attending me, be immediately sold after my death by my executor after named to such persons as will use them well tho’ at a cheaper rate than to others and to my said negroe man I give him his freedom from the day of my decease, and I will that he shall be taken care of and sent to Barbadoes at my charge, as soon as may be after my death and that the executors of this my will do pay him five pounds of that country money on his arrival at Barbadoes and likewise order, and appoint that all the money arising by such sale of my negroes shall be applied with the rest of my estate to pay off my legacies.
Gilbert had evidently benefited significantly from the proceeds of slavery in Barbados. And his legacy continued to have knock-on benefits for a very long time. The Minute book of the Birse trust only cover the period 1800-1838, but the National Records of Scotland hold files on the Birse Mortification dating from 1886  and 1889  over 160 years after the bequest was made. Even that is not the end of the story: another record held by the NRS shows that it was not until 1961 that the trust fund was wound up.
For over 230 years, the people of Aberdeenshire benefited from an endowment established on the basis of profits from slavery. A number of prominent scholars are today attempting to unravel the ramifications of the proceeds of slavery on Scottish society. You have to wonder how many – if any - of the beneficiaries of this foundation were aware of where the money came from to fund their education.
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