- EARLSFERRY, a burgh of regality, in the parish of Kilconquhar, district of St. Andrew's, county of Fife, ½ a mile (W.) from Elie, and 2 miles (S.) from Colinsburgh; containing 496 inhabitants. This place, which is of great antiquity, and originally an inconsiderable fishing-village, derived its name, and, according to some, its erection into a royal burgh, from Macduff, Thane or Earl of Fife, who, fleeing from the usurper Macbeth, took shelter in a small recess in Kincraig hill, a precipitous rock rising abruptly from the south-western coast of the parish. After remaining for some time in concealment, he was conveyed across the Frith of Forth, to Dunbar, by the fishermen of the village; and in return for the kindness he had experienced, he is said to have obtained from Malcolm III. a charter of incorporation for the inhabitants, erecting the village into a royal burgh, to which, in memory of his escape, he gave the appellation of Earl's Ferry. Among the privileges conferred was that of sanctuary to all who should sail from this place across the Frith; it was ordained that their persons should be inviolable while here, and that, after their embarkation, no boat should be allowed to go in pursuit of them till they were half way across. The place, after it became a burgh, appears to have carried on a large trade; two weekly markets and two annual fairs were held, and the provost and bailies levied dues and customs. But the want of a convenient harbour prevented its attaining much consideration as a port; its trade, which had for many years been declining, was, from the construction of a harbour and the erection of a pier at Elie, in its immediate neighbourhood, at length wholly transferred to that place; and both its fairs and markets have been consequently discontinued. The inhabitants are chiefly employed in the coal-works in the vicinity of the town, and in weaving for the manufacturers of Dundee, Kirkcaldy, and other places; the articles woven are, sheetings, dowlas, and checks, which are wrought in hand-looms by the people at their own dwellings. There are about seventy seamen engaged in the harbour and at the ferry; and during the months of July and August, a few of them are employed in the herring-fishery on the north-east coast. Many of the weavers who have been brought up as seamen occupy themselves in summer in the whale-fisheries on the coast of Greenland, from which pursuit they return to their looms in the winter. The original charter of Malcolm, which was bestowed in the eleventh century, was destroyed by fire; and a new charter, confirming all the privileges it had conferred, was in 1589 granted by James VI., by which the government is vested in three bailies, a treasurer, and a council of sixteen burgesses, assisted by a town-clerk and other officers. The bailies and treasurer are elected annually by the council for the time being, and on their appointment nominate the council for the following year; they are invested with the power to hold courts for the determination of civil and criminal causes; but since 1820, only five civil and one criminal case have been decided. Prior to the Union in 1707, the burgh, on its own petition, had been relieved from sending a member to the Scottish parliament; and it was consequently, on that event, not included in those towns which jointly return a member to the English house of commons. Nor, since the passing of the act of the 2nd and 3rd of William IV., has the burgh possessed any privileges of this kind, having merely shared with the rest of Fife in the election of a county representative. The prison is in a state of dilapidation; it was latterly seldom used, and only for the temporary confinement of individuals found guilty of misdemeanours; and on the recent passing of the Prisons' act, it was abolished as a gaol.
A Topographical dictionary of Scotland. Samuel Lewis. 1856.
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