It’s a damp, cold morning in Midlothian as a slight fog rolls in. Soon the haze thickens and mingles with drizzle. The air smells like soil and peat, and a fog descends, enveloping the huts and farms that dot the landscape. This is Scotch mist—both a weather event and a phrase used to describe one’s struggle to find something—and it permeated the parishes where the Thomson and Ingles families struggled to survive.

Along with Scotch mist, the area spent centuries shrouded in the fog of war and clan conflicts. From the fourteenth to sixteenth century, Scotland endured constant fighting and subjugation, including the Wars of Scottish Independence, the Battle of Arkinholm, The War of the Roses, The Scottish Civil War, and constant struggles with English Kings. The seventeenth century was steeped in political turmoil, including the Civil Wars and the Union of the Crowns in 1603, which brought James VI of Scotland to the English throne as James I. And by the time Patrick Thompson and John Ingles were born in the early 1700s, the Jacobite Uprisings were in full swing.

Like the majority of Scots, the Thomsons and Ingleses emerged from the storm clouds of the Protestant Reformation as Presbyterians. Though the people had defied Catholicism, the break led to even further schisms—the Seceders, Covenanters, Cameronians, Glasites, Hebronites, Relifers, Old Licht Burgers, the Anti-Burgers, the New Licht Burghers, and the Anti-Burgers—and a gulf between the Churches of Scotland and England remained. Each parish had a main church where everyone worshipped, a minister, a kirk, and a committee of landowners who managed the fabric of spiritual life. In Cranston, the church was built by the Dalrymple family, and Lady Dalrymple was known to have given a stipend to the poor.

Through it all, peasants like John Ingles and Patrick Thompson toiled under the control of lairds, or landowners. John was born in Cranston, a parish named for the cranes frequently spotted on the Tyne, the river that bisects it. Home to the villages of Cranston, Cousland, and Preston, its population was small, fewer than nine hundred people, and many were tenant farmers who coaxed potatoes, turnips, hay, wheat, oats, barley, peas, and beans from the earth and carried them to nearby Dalkeith. Others worked in coal mines or plied trades such as weaving and smithing. Little is known about John’s mother and father. Parents often didn’t register births, and children were born in houses constructed of stone and mud on their mother’s bed. Farm animals shared the house—and their smells, diseases, and fleas—with the family.

Around 1740, John took a wife, Margaret Hunter, daughter of Archibald and Martha of Cranston, and the couple had at least four wains. She may have endured many more births. Women had little social standing and were valued based on their fertility. As Adam Smith observed in 1774: “A half-starved woman frequently bears more than twenty children…but poverty…is extremely unfavorable to the rearing of children…It is not uncommon…in Scotland for a mother who has borne twenty children not to have but two alive.” The couple’s bonnie lass, Lillias, lived to adulthood and married Peter Thomson, son of Patrick and Isabel from Leith South, not too far from Cranston.

The Old Statistical Account notes: The present Cranston church was built by Dalrymple family of Oxenfoord. It was to replace the old church, which was sited in the old burial grounds to the south of Oxenfoord Castle’s gardens. It had been damaged by fire in 1796 and rebuilt in 1798. In 1800s, General Sir John H. Dalrymple, Earl of Stair, owned 2/3 of the parish and operated several collieries and quarries. The Agriculture society in Ormiston that would often host The John, fifth titular Duke of Perth and John Earl of Stair, majority landowner in Cranston. The local minister was stipended by Earl Caickmoor. The Earl of Dundonald, the 9th Earl, was a scientist and inventor; among his inventions was the first industrial technique for extracting coal tar.

Patrick and Isabel were both born in the early 1700s. Like John and Margaret, details about their parents are hazy. Patrick’s father, David, and Isabel’s parents, John and Elizabeth Japp, would have endured the Seven Years of Ill in the 1690s—a span of widespread and prolonged famine caused by one of the coldest decades in Scotland—that wiped out about fifteen percent of the country’s population. They were also present to feel the aftershocks of the deposition of James VII, which ended the break with dynastic rule and consolidated the powers of landowners and nobility causing royals, lairds, and clergy to become even more corrupt and oppressive. Lairds charged cottars, or tenant farmers, rents of five to thirty shillings per acre, and cottars often provided labor in lieu of monetary rent. It was a desperate way for the commonfolk to live. Patrick and Isabel had at least seven bairns—so many mouths to feed—as they struggled with minimal income, zero chance of land ownership, and horrible living conditions, including periodic outbreaks of ague.

As one writer describes it: “The common people clothed in the coarsest garb, and starving on the meanest fare, lived in despicable huts with their cattle…” Not surprisingly, Patrick and Isabel died in their thirties; John and Margaret managed to survive into their early fifties. Their lives were ones of deprivation, hunger, and labor, but out of this damp and murky Scotch mist emerged descendant Alexander Thompson, Peter and Lillias Thomson’s grandson. Alexander who would make his way out of the nightmarish dead-end Cranston fog, traveling to the New World and eventually becoming a successful entrepreneur in the Pennsylvania colony