National Records of Scotland

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Webster’s Account of the Population of Scotland in 1755

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Webster’s Account of the Population of Scotland in 1755

‘An account of the number of people in Scotland in the year seventeen hundred and fifty-five by Alexander Webster, one of the ministers of Edinburgh’ gives a total of 1,265,380 which is regarded as the most credible estimate of the Scottish population prior to 1801.  It is known as 'Webster’s census of 1755' but it was not a census as we understand it today in either its original purpose or its methodology.

Original Returns

Ministers in 909 parishes were asked to provide information about:

  • the extent of their parish
  • the numbers of ministers, Roman Catholics and Protestants
  • the total number of inhabitants
  • the number of fighting men (aged between 18 and 56)
  • the ages of the inhabitants.

We hold original returns for the presbyteries of Dunblane and Dunkeld, Forres and Elgin, Meigle and Skye (our reference RH15/201/1-4) which can be consulted in the Historical Search Room.

Transcriptions

Webster’s Account was never published but several versions survive.  Two former Registrars General for Scotland made his work more widely known by transcribing the copy now held by the National Library of Scotland.

  • James Craufurd Dunlop's transcription of 1921 was deposited in New Register House (our Library reference GA 37.175) and the Royal Statistical Society's Library (‘Journal of the Royal Statistical Society’, volume 85, part 1 (January 1922)).

  • James Gray Kyd's transcription was published in 1952 with an introduction and an analysis of Scottish population data from 1755 to 1951.  This 29 Mb pdf copy is made available on our website by kind permission of the publishers.

'Scottish population statistics including Webster’s analysis of population 1755’ by J G Kyd (third series, volume 44).  (© Copyright, Scottish History Society, Introduction, notes etc, 1952. All rights reserved.)

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We hold a copy in our Reference Library (our reference SH 012.000.44).