The following is excerpted from The Bell Family in Dumfriesshire, written in 1932 by James Steuart. Only 150 copies of this book were published.
It appears now impossible to ascertain when the Bells first got a footing in Dumtriesshire. The theory is propounded in Memorials of the Clan of the Bells, written in 1864 by Charles Davidson Bell of Cape of Good Hope, South Africa, that the Bells of Kirkconnel were of French extraction, and that, in the reign of King Robert II, William Le Bile came to Scotland with the Earl of Douglas when he returned from an embassy to France in 1374. Even if that statement be correct as regards the Kirkconnel family, there were Bells in Scotland long before that date. The Ragman Roll of 1296 mentions Bells in Berwick-on-Tweed, and in the early thirteen-hundreds they had spread to Edinburgh, St. Andrews, and Dundee. In 1304 there were certain proceedings regarding "Our Lady's Tofts" in Dumfries, formerly belonging to Gilberd le fitz Bel, and in the same year Thomas Bell served on an investigation; while in 1335 John and William Bell were deprived of lands in the county for adherence to David II. (Bain's Calendar of Papers re Scotland, II., 1526, 1588, III., p. 318.)
The Bells held Kirkconnell from 1426 till about 1550, and before the end of the fifteenth century there were colonies of Bells in Pennersax, while others owned lands in the Barony of Cockpool and in Corrie, and possessed Poldean and Laverhay in Wamphray.
Bells owned Albie from at least 1459. Jok of Albie was apparently a man of importance, and though Albie itself was a small place, he or his immediate descendants held Blackethouse, Torbeckhill, Dockenflat, and Dirrops.
One of his numerous sons, Will of Blackethouse, known as " Red Cloak," was the recognised leader of the clan between 1578 and 1623. Rany of Godsbrig, who flourished about 1600, was probably a brother of "Red Cloak," and his descendants, known as of Godsbrig or Scotsbrig, were well known landholders, one of whom in 1732 acquired Blackethouse from a member of that family. Contemporaneously with these two branches, there were Bells in part of Middlebie Estate, Neuk, Clynt, and on the Water of Milk.History does not state the connection of the Bells of Crowdieknowe with the other houses mentioned above, but they were settled in an extensive stretch of country in Carruthers Parish about 1500, and held the property for 250 years. From that branch the families of Minsea and Torbeckhill in Middlebie, and of Crurie in Eskdalemuir, spun off. These properties, in the case of Torbeckhill and Cruris, being still held by their descendants.
Stockbriggs was possessed by the grandfather of the grantees of the first Charters in 1649, but there is nothing to show of which family he was a cadet.The scattered facts collected in these pages must impress upon the thoughtful reader the changes which took place in the manners and customs of the inhabitants of Annandale in the period between 1545, when the Register of the Privy Council begins, and, say, the end of the eighteenth century, when most of the Middlebie Bells had parted with their lands. The earlier chapters depict a state of lawlessness, impossible effectually to curb, and deeds of violence and brutality which no romance can palliate. The first signs of settlement of the district may be discerned about 1650, when the great overlords began to grant regular feudal Charters to their followers, who up to that date, although bearing territorial designations, had been actually tenants as distinguished from vassals. Synchronising with the formal constitution of the relations of superior and vassal, there is evidence of money being comparatively plentiful, as money was reckoned in these days. The new lairds were able to lend money to one another or to their superiors, and the granting of many bonds and wadsets are recorded in these notes for what must then have been considered large sums. Where the cash came from it is difficult to surmise, for any tillage could only barely have met immediate local wants, and it is not easy to imagine any extensive trade in cattle with England before the settlement of the Borders was effected.
Further evidence of financial prosperity is proved by the Marriage Contracts entered into shortly after 1650, for if annuities to widows were made dependent on the rent of lands, the bride was provided by her father with a dower involving the provision of hard cash. Lawyers plied their profession, and prepared deeds and conducted arbitrations, and there are various referenees to Notaries who actually lived in the rural districts far from towns.
The troubles of the Covenanting times resulted in heavy fines being imposed, in the case of Godsbrig (£1000), Albie (£1000), and Crowdieknowe (£600), and if these were actually paid it must have had a serious crippling effect on the financial position of those having to bear them.
It is not generally recognised that for about a century after the feu charters were first granted, the lands were possessed run-rig or "in common", and the different properties were not enclosed within a fence. The rigs possessed by one proprietor were interjected among those held by others, and it was not until about 1750 that the different properties were laid out in Processes of Division, in the course of which the rigs were allocated and definite marches determined, and the countryside was plotted out as we now know it. Thereafter, the Commonties possessed in common were divided by other legal proceedings, and shares were allotted to the heritors who had held rights of grazing, these shares being added to the respective estates already defined. During this transition period the vassal was known as, say, "of Scotsbrig," and occupied a tower or house of some pretensions, while his brothers or other relatives dwelt in cottages near and were designed as "in Scotsbrig," and tilled a certain proportion of the run-rig lands or grazed stock on the Commonties.
Further evidence of increasing settlement is afforded by the erection of tombs and aisles, in some cases embellished with coats-of-arms. Thus the tombstones of the Albie family (in 1700), of Neuk (1712), and Scotsbrig (1715) bear three bells (Dumfries Antiquarian Society, 1912-13, p. 108); and on the stone at Carruthers, erected by Richard Bell of Crurie to his wife, Christian Graham, who died in 1794, there are attempts to impale the arms of Graham of Shaw on those of Bell, and verses extolling the virtues of the deceased are cut on the stone.
Additional Bell family history at the Rammerscales estate can be found on this site on the Rammerscales page.