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JOHN PORTEOUS (d. 1736)

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Originally appearing in Volume V22, Page 113 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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JOHN PORTEOUS (d. 1736), captain of the city guard of Edinburgh, whose name is associated with the celebrated riots of 1736, was the son of Stephen Porteous, an Edinburgh tailor. Having served in the army, he was employed in 1715 to drill the city guard for the defence of Edinburgh in anticipation of a Jacobite rising, and was promoted later to the command of the force. In 1736 a smuggler named Wilson, who had won popularity by helping a companion to escape from the Tolbooth prison, was hanged; and, some slight disturbance occurring at the execution, the city guard fired on the mob, killing a few and wounding a considerable number of persons. Porteous, who was said to have fired at the people with his own hand, was brought to trial and sentenced, to death. The granting of a reprieve was hotly resented by the people of Edinburgh, and on the night of the 7th of September 1736 an armed body of men in disguise broke into the prison, seized Porteous, and hanged him on a signpost in the street. It was said that persons of high position were concerned in the crime; but although the government offered rewards for the apprehension of the perpetrators, and although General Moyle wrote to the duke of Newcastle that the criminals were " well-known by many of the inhabitants of the town," no one was ever convicted of participation in the murder. The sympathies of the people, and even, it is said, of the clergy, throughout Scotland, were so unmistakably on the side of the rioters that the original stringency of the bill introduced into parliament for the punishment of the city of Edinburgh had to be reduced to the levying of a fine of £2000 for Porteous's widow, and the disqualification of the provost for holding any public office. The incident of the Porteous riots was used by Sir Walter Scott in The Heart of Midlothian. See Sir Daniel Wilson, Memorials of Edinburgh in the Olden Time (2 vols. Edinburgh, 1848): State Trials, vol. xvii.; William Coxe, Memoirs of the Life of Sir R. Walpole (4 vols. London, 1816) ; Alexander Carlyle, Autobiography (Edinburgh, 1860), which gives the account of an eye-witness of the execution of Wilson; pamphlets (2 vols. in British Museum) containing The Life and Death of Captain John Porteous, and other papers relating to the subject; W. E. H. Ledo,' History of England in the Eighteenth Century, ii. 324, note(7 vols., London, 1892). See also Scott's notes to The Heart of Midlothian.
End of Article: JOHN PORTEOUS (d. 1736)
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