Born in Glasgow in 1759, John Jamieson grew up in a family with strong dissenting belief, and followed his father into the ministry of the Secession Kirk. At the age of twenty, he was appointed to serve as minister to the newly established Secession congregation in Forfar, and stayed there for the next eighteen years, during which time he married Charlotte Watson, the daughter of a local widower, and started a family. Over the ensuing years, the Jamiesons had seventeen children, ten of whom survived into adulthood, although only three were to outlive their father.

Jamieson’s home in Forfar, the former Secession manse, where he began work on the Dictionary.

In his professional life, Jamieson was a diligent minister, only retiring from the Secession Kirk at the age of seventy due to his failing health. Throughout his life, he published a number of theological works which were highly regarded in his day, and for one of which he was awarded a doctorate by the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University).

Jamieson’s real interest and passion, however, lay in antiquarian pursuits. He was an enthusiastic member (and later joint secretary) of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, and wrote numerous papers on Scottish history and antiquities. He had a particular passion for numismatics, and it was their mutual interest in coins which led to the first meeting between Jamieson and Walter Scott, in 1795, when Scott was only twenty-three and not yet a published author. Jamieson was also a keen angler, as the many entries relating to fishing terms in the Dictionary attest; and published occasional works of poetry, including a poem against the slave trade which was praised by abolitionists in its day.

Jamieson’s later home in George Square, Edinburgh, where he worked on the Supplement.

Besides the Dictionary, Jamieson contributed to a number of major cultural publications. He wrote an article for the First Statistical Account, prepared extensive notes on the place-names of Angus for George Chalmers’s Caledonia, and wrote a Scots poem (‘The Water Kelpie’) for the second edition of Walter Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border. It was through his antiquarian research that Jamieson developed his practice of tracing words (particularly place-names) to their earliest form and occurrence: a method which was to be the foundation of the historical approach he would use in the Dictionary.

[The above text is extracted from: Rennie, S., ‘Jamieson and the Nineteenth Century’, in Scotland in DefinitionA History of Scottish Dictionaries, ed. by I. Macleod & J. D. McClure (Edinburgh: John Donald, 2012).]