Ramsay, James

, justly celebrated for his philanthropy, was born July 25, 1733, at Frasersburgh, a small town in the county of Aberdeen, North Britain. From his earliest years he discovered a serious disposition, and a strong thirst for knowledge, and after his grammatical education, was inclined to pursue the studies necessary for a. clergyman; but the narrowness of his circumstances prevented his going to Oxford or Cambridge, where he might be qualified to enter the English church, in the principles of which he had been educated. Yielding therefore to necessity, he resolved to study surgery and pharmacy, and was with this view bound apprentice to Dr. Findlay, a medical practitioner in Frasersburgh. In the mean time, with the approbation of his master, he entered, in 1750, of King’s college, Aberdeen, and having obtained one of the highest bursaries or exhibitions belonging to that seminary, he was enabled to prosecute his studies with comfort, and | for three years had Dr. Reid, then one of the professors^ for his preceptor. To that great and amiable philosopher he so recommended himself by his talents, his industry, and his virtues, that he was honoured with his friendship to the day of his death.

In 1755, he went to London, and studied surgery and pharmacy under the auspices of Dr. Macauley; in whose family he lived for two years, much esteemed both by him and his celebrated lady. Afterwards he served in his medical capacity for several years in the royal navy, and by the humane and diligent discharge of his duties, endeared himself to the seamen, and acquired the esteem of his officers. Of his humanity there is indeed one memorable instance, which must not be omitted. Whilst he acted as surgeon of the Arundel, then commanded by captain (afterwards vice-admiral sir Charles) Middleton,*


Afterwards Lord Barbara.

a slaveship, on her passage from Africa to the West Indies, fell in with the fleet to which the Arundel belonged. An epidemical distemper, too common in such vessels, had swept away not only a great number of the unfortunate negroes, but also many of the ship’s crew, and among others the surgeon. In this distressed situation the commander of the Guinea ship applied to the English commodore for medical assistance; but not a surgeon or surgeon’s mate in the whole fleet, except Mr. Ramsay, would expose himself to the contagion of so dangerous a distemper. Prompted, however, by his own innate benevolence, and fully authorized by his no less benevolent commander, the surgeon of the Arundel, regardless of personal danger, went on board the infected ship, visited all the patients, and remained long enough to leave behind him written directions for their future treatment. In this enterprise he escaped the contagion, but in his return to his own ship, just as he had got on the deck, he fell, and broke his thigh bone, by which he was confined to his apartment for ten months, and rendered in a small degree lame through the remainder of his life.

The humanity which he displayed on this occasion gained him the friendship and esteem of sir Charles Middleton, which no future action of his life had the smallest tendency to impair; but the fracture of his thigh-bone, and his subsequent lameness, determined him to quit the | navy, and once more turn his thoughts towards the church. Accordingly, while the Arundel lay at St. Christopher’s, he opened his views to some of the principal inhabitants of the island, hy whom he was so strongly recommended to the bishop of London, that on his coming home with sir Charles Middleton, who warmly joined in the recommendation, he was admitted into orders; after which he immediately returned to St. Christopher’s,* where he was presented by the governor to two rectories, valued at Too/, a year.

As soon as he had taken possession of his livings, irt 1763, he married Miss Rebecca Akers, the daughter of a planter of the best. family-connexions in the island, and began to regulate his household on the pious plan inculcated in his “Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of the African slaves in the British sugar colonies.” He summoned all his own slaves daily to the prayers of the family, when he took an opportunity of pointing out to them their duty in the plainest terms, reproving those that had done amiss, and commending such as had shewn any thing like virtue: but he confessed that his occasions for reproof were more frequent than for commendation. As became his office and character, he inculcated upon others what he practised himself, and knew to be equally the duty of all. On his first settlement as a minister in the West Indies, he made some public attempts to instruct slaves. He began to draw up some easy plain discourses for their instruction. He invited them to attend on Sundays, at particular hours. He appointed hours at home to instruct such sensible slaves as would of themselves attend. He repeatedly exhorted their masters to encourage such in their attendance, and recommended the French custom, of beginning and ending work by prayer. But inconceivable is the listlessness with which he was heard, and bitter was the censure heaped on him in return. It was quickly suggested, and generally believed, that he wanted to interrupt the work of slaves, to give them- time, forsooth, to say their prayers and that he aimed at the making of them Christians, to render them incapable of being good slaves, &c. That he was hurt by this display of gross ignorance, bigotry, and avarice, cannot be questioned, for he had a mind benevolent, warm, and irritable; but he still retained many friends among the most worthy members of the community.

Although his serious studies were now theological, he | considered himself as answerable for a proper use of every branch of knowledge which he possessed. He therefore took the charge of several plantations around him in the capacity of a medical practitioner; and attended them with unremitting diligence, and with great success. Thus he lived till 1777, when, relinquishing the practice of physic entirely, he paid a visit to the place of his nativity, which he had not seen since 1755. After remaining three weeks in Scotland, and near a year in England, during which time he was admitted into the confidence of lord George Germaine, secretary of state for the American department, he was appointed chaplain to admiral Harrington, then going out to take a command in the West Indies. Under this gallant officer, and afterwards under lord Rodney, he was present at several engagements, where he displayed a fortitude and zeal for the honour of his country which would not have disgraced the oldest admiral. To the navy, indeed, he seems to have been strongly attached; and he wrote, at an early period of his life, an “Essay on the Duty and Qualifications of a Sea-officer,” with such a knowledge of the service as would not have discredited the pen of the most experienced commander. Of the first edition of this essay the profits were by its benevolent author appropriated, to the Magdalen and British Lying-in hospitals, as those of the second and third were to the Maritime-school, or, in the event of its failure, to the Marine society.

Although caressed by both the admirals under whom he served, and having such influence with lord Rodney as to be able to render essential services to the Jews and other persons whom he thought harshly treated at the capture of St. Eustatius, Mr. Ramsay once more quitted the sea-service, and retired to his pastoral charge in the island of St. Christopher’s. There, however, though the former animosities against him had entirely subsided, and his friendship was now solicited by every person of consequence in the island, he remained but a little while. Sick of the life of a planter, and of the prospect of the slavery around him, he resigned his livings, bade adieu to the island, and returned to England with his wife and family in the end of 1781. Immediately on his arrival, he was, through the interest of his steady friend sir Charles Middleton, presented to the livings of Teston and Nettlestead in the county of Kent. | Here he was soon determined, by the advice of those whom he most respected, to publish what had been written many years before, an “Essay on the Treatment and Conversion of African Slaves in the British Sugar Colonies.” The controversy in which this publication involved him, is probably recent in the memory of many of our readers. He defended himself with great ability; but they who could not answer his arguments, could at least invent calumnies: and sorry we are to add, that they were not unsuccessful in removing one powerful advocate for the abolition of that abominable traffic, of which all Europe seems now ashamed. The agitation given to his mind by these calumnies, and the fatigues he underwent in his endeavours to rescue from misery the most helpless portion of the human race, contributed to shorten a life in no common degree useful. He had been for some time afflicted with a pain in his stomach, for which he was prevailed upon, though with great reluctance, to try the effects of air and exercise, by attempting a journey ef 100 miles. But in London, being seized with a violent vomiting of blood, he was unable either to proceed or to be removed home; and in the house of sir Charles Middleton he ended his days, July 20, 1789. He may be justly accounted one of the first and most active of those benevolent men who roused the attention of the nation to the degradation of its character in continuing the slave-trade, although he did not live to witness the completion of his wishes. Hif works, besides those to which we have alluded, consist of a volume of “Sea-Sermons,” preached on board his majesty’s ship the Prince of Wales; a “Treatise on Signals,” and various pamphlets in answer to his opponents on the subject of the slave-trade. 1


Encyclopaedia Britannica.