Papers of Professor Adam Ferguson (1723-1816)

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 237 Coll-138
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
  • Physical Description
      4 box-files (one with circa 420 papers), 5 volumes, circa 23 letters or notes.
  • Location
      Dc.1.6; Mic.Dup.421 (Dc.1.42); Dc.1.77; Dc.1.84-86; Dc.4.41/46-62, 97*; Gen. 1733/93; Gen. 1729-1732

Scope and Content

The Ferguson papers consist of: correspondence with Sir John Macpherson, 1773-1808; correspondence with Alexander Carlyle, 1775-1802; letter to a London bookseller, a publisher, and about a publication of memoirs; letters about religious intolerance among the Greeks and Romans; family correspondence; a collection of essays; lectures on pneumatics and moral philosophy, 1776-1785; and, proceedings of the British commissioners at Philadelphia, 1778-1779.

Administrative / Biographical History

The philosopher and historian Adam Ferguson was born at Logierait, Perthshire, on 20 June 1723. He was educated at home, locally in Logierait, and in Perth. When he was sixteen he began studies at St. Andrews University, taking his M.A. in July 1742. Studies in divinity followed, first at St. Andrews, then at Edinburgh University. In 1745, Ferguson was appointed as Deputy-Chaplain then Chaplain to the (42nd) Black Watch and he was present at the Battle of Fontenoy (11 May 1745) a major confrontation of the War of the Austrian Succession. He left the army the same year to embark on a literary career. For a brief period in 1757, Ferguson held the post of Librarian at the Advocates' Library in succession to David Hume (1711-1776). In 1759 he was appointed as Professor of Natural Philosophy at Edinburgh University, and in 1764 to the Chair of the now obsolete Pneumatics and Moral Philosophy. A syllabus of his lectures appeared as the Analysis of pneumatics and moral philosophy for the use of students in the College of Edinburgh (1761). In 1773 became tutor to Charles, the 3rd Earl of Chesterfield, accompanying him on a tour of Europe. In 1778, Ferguson was appointed as Secretary to the Commissioners to the American Colonies, accompanying them to Philadelphia for the negotiation of a settlement. In addition to the publications mentioned above, others include a history or Essay on civil society (1766) which influenced Schiller and Hegel, and was also known later to Karl Marx, Institutes of moral philosophy (1772), History of the Roman republic (1783), Principles of moral and political science (1792), and the posthumous Biographical sketch or memoir of Lieutenant-Colonel Patrick Ferguson (1817). Ferguson retired from the Chair of Moral Philosophy in 1785, but so that he could still draw a salary he was appointed to the Chair of Mathematics. Professor Adam Ferguson died at St. Andrews on 22 February 1816 and he was buried in the grounds of the ruined Cathedral of St. Andrews.

Access Information

Generally open for consultation to bona fide researchers, but please contact repository for details in advance. Note in addition that material in Dc.1.42 will not be issued to readers. Instead microfilm will be issued: Mic.Dup.421., or Mic.Dup.89 positive.

Acquisition Information

Letter of Ferguson purchased July 1985, Accession no. E85.43. Letters of Ferguson purchased 1975, Accession nos. E75.14 and E75.22.


The biographical/administrative history was compiled using the following material: (1) Stephen, Leslie. and Lee, Stephen (eds.). Dictionary of national biography. Vol. 6. Drant-Finan. London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1908. (2) Keay, John. and Keay, Julia (eds.). Collins encyclopaedia of Scotland. London: Harper Collins Publishers, 1994.

Compiled by Graeme D Eddie, Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections Division.

Other Finding Aids

Important finding aids generally are: the alphabetical Index to Manuscripts held at Edinburgh University Library, Special Collections and Archives, consisting of typed slips in sheaf binders and to which additions were made until 1987; and the Index to Accessions Since 1987.

Related Material

The local Indexes show various references to Ferguson related material in the Laing Collection and elsewhere (check the Indexes for more details): a letter from G(eorge) Washington, 1778, at La.II.163; letters from Sir Walter Scott, La.III.585; correspondence at La.II.583, La.II.483, La.II.453, La.II.419, La.II.242-243, La.II.193, La.II.73/170; mentioned in letters of Professor J. Black, Gen. 874; and, mentioned in a letter of Hume, 1776, and in various other letters. In addition, the UK National Register of Archives (NRA), updated by the Historical Manuscripts Commission, notes: correspondence with John Lee, 1774-1800, National Library of Scotland, Manuscripts Division, Ref. MSS 3431-64 passim; and, letters (13) to Sir James Murray-Pulteney, Pierpont Morgan Library, Ref. MA487,297,1260-90 NRA 30863 Murray-Pulteney.

Corporate Names