Presidential Links to Blantyre

In the middle of the 1700’s, a young Blantyre lad named William Pollock emigrated from High Blantyre to America, the emerging new world. He was one of the sons of Archibald Pollock, blacksmith in Kirkton, near the old Kirkyard. Born in High Blantyre on 27th December 1735 (according to the old Parish Register), William arrived in Virginia after weeks of sea travel and followed his father’s taught trade on a continent that needed skills. In fact he prospered so well that in 1782, on the 15th April he wrote to his father back in Blantyre (letter held in archive in Parish records), telling of his successes in life, how he had amassed a considerable fortune, and bought an estate, married a wife and had 7 children.

The postscript is as follows “The following is a small sketch of my estate including 14 negroes, 12000 acres of land, beside a large stock of flour and meat cattle”. And here is another quotation from another of those old letters – it was written by John, the son of the aforementioned Williem, and is dated Fredericksburg, 18th March 1790. – “My father has the old number of children, eight and the youngest is a son, which he has called after his brother James, and is prouder of him than all of the others. There is a numerous family of Blacks, which is very expensive. The grain crop is larger than ever was put into the ground in one year. All other provisions are lower and plentier than ever they have been”.

Now according to Neil Gordon’s book and some local articles, this American family of Pollock, from some whim or other reason lost to time, allegedly changed their name to Polk; and a grandson of the young Blantyre Blacksmith was James Knox Polk. (Side note – interestingly his mother Jane Polk, nee Knox was a relation of the Scottish reformer John Knox). James Knox Polk went on to become one of the noblest and most distinguished Presidents of the United States of America. He was elected in 1844 and during his administration many important events happened, bearing on the fortunes of the Republic. The abolishment of slavery being accomplished by then too, meant he had a say in correcting his descendants attitude to the employment or owning of slaves. From a family of the South, this President helped shape the States in the middle 1800’s, as a place where slavery was no longer tolerated.

By the annexation of Texas and California he extended the boundaries of the States, and introduced into Government many financial and commercial improvements. He died in 1849.

The connection from Blantyre to President is a big leap to make and I’ve had people in America email me to say the local Blantyre folklore about the link isn’t true. As such, the story is by no means finished and needs further investigation.

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