Peter Burnet – “Black Peter”

From the New Paisley Repository No.4 Saturday, January, 15th. 1853

SONG.      To the Air – ” CAPTAIN PATON.”

Composed after reading the life of Peter Burnet, commonly known in Paisley by “BLACK PETER.”

PETER BURNET was born on the estate of Thos. Todd, Esq. in the state of Virginia, in the year 1764. The place where he was born was contiguous to a river which emptied itself into Chesapecke bay; and when he attained the age of twelve years, being fond of adventure, and the American war being then in all its fury, he along with some others, went down the river, in a boat, and joined the Fencastle, a British privateer. After continuing in this service for a considerable time, he came to New-York, and was employed as a servant; latterly he got into the employment of a Mr Torrance, a merchant from Glasgow. That gentleman got into a state of ill health, and Peter came home with him to Glasgow. The weaving was then in a most prosperous state, and Peter wishing to learn a trade, was recommended to Mr. Tannahill, the father of the poet, and to the honour of this excellent family, they stood by him through life. He became a weaver, married, and died about three years ago. We cannot dose this brief notice, better than in the words of his biographer.

“In looking back into the life of the subject of this brief sketch, it will be observed, that an honest, independent spirit actuated him in every situation, in which he was placed. And to the philosopher, the fact of an African child of the Sun, assimilated in custom and manners, to one of the most sedate and thinking of the northern nations of Europe, will afford matter for another chapter in the history of man.”

It was he who took Tannahill’s corpse out of the Canal tunnel, at Maxwellton burn, in 1810.

There was a very nice interesting biographical sketch of him, written by Mr. John Parkhill, in 1841, price 3p. which he went about and sold through these kingdoms, and helped him to eke out a subsistence for a number of the last years of his life.

The Song

BLACK PETER was a handsome youth, some fifty years ago,
And our scribe John has told us, he was a swelling beau;
He was a jovial Weaver, when they were in their pride,
Oh, a Paisley Weaver in thoses days, could swell wi’ fashion’s tide.

Black Peter came to Paisley, when he was plump and young,
He was as curious a Kid, as ever yet was sung,
His first exploit was when he cut to tip the Yankees war,
And jump’d on board the Fencastle, a little sooty tar.

When Peter came among us first he swore the devil was white,
For white men in Virginia did lash with devils might;
And on his crown he wore a tuft of sacred reared hair,
For the Great Spirit to lift him up to Heaven, through the air.

Oh, had you seen Black Peter, when he was our Paisley Buck,
You’d think Dandyism nothing now, or that it was done up,
His silver buckles on his knees, his ruffles great and small,
And his nankin breeches – oh you’d laugh were I to tell you all.

His coat was black or brown, as the fashion then might be,
His velvet vest was spangled, like any Lord’s d’ye see,
His stockings too, of pure white thread, for that was all the go,
And his hat so smartly cheek-a-gee all trig from top to toe.

Oh, Peter was a gleesome cheil good fun was all his study,
His wit was bright, his laugh wail loud, care could not make him muddy;
Had you seen him in those days, playing at the ball, [ all.
How he jump’d and frolick’d round about the smartest of them

But Peter’s dancing days were closed, for Peter fell in love
With a pretty lass, called Peggy, so he ceas’d at once to rove;
For she turn’d him to a Christian, tho’ he was always civil;
But now he saw new light, and knew the colour of the devil.

Alas! Alas! poor Peter, his pretty Peggy died,
And Peter was disconslate, both day and night he cried;
But time wore Peter’s grief away, and he once more, was gay,
And laugh’d or jock’d as he was wont, when love was out the way.

Now he turned to fortune-hunting, and when on the scent for game,
Two thousand pounds was in the wind, with a spruce Mullatto dame;
But Oh, ho, Peter reckoned without his precious host,
For somehow, tho’ we never knew, this precious hit was lost.

To tell all Peter’s riggs and loves would take a whole night’s chatter,
For after this he married twice, ’twas all for love, no matter;
And now, alas! for Peter, ho’s grown old and poor also,
But he’s still a fine old fellow, as ever you saw go.

Our gifted “Duncan Grant,” whose name is here ‘scribe John,’
Has written Peter’s life in full, for three pence ’tis your own:
Poor Peter is the vender, and when calling at your door,
He looks like an old gentleman, and laughs away, tho’ poor.

PAISLEY, 3rd. August, 1841                     Author:  John Campbell

Peter Burnet died on the 1st August 1847, aged 83.