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On Emigration and the State of the Highlands
Appendix B.


To those who are not familiar with the ancient history of Scotland, these observations on the former state of the Highlands will be illustrated by a reference to Buchanan’s History of the Feuds and Conflicts of the Clans, to Martin’s History of the Western Isles, and to Mr. Home’s History of the Rebellion in 1745, particularly the introductory chapters: many anecdotes are also interspersed through Pennant’s Tours. These books being in general circulation, particular quotations are unnecessary; but the inquisitive reader may be glad to see a few passages from some publications of the period referred to, and which are not so generally known.

In a pamphlet published immediately after the suppression of the rebellion in 1745, entitled "Superiorities displayed, or Scotland’s Grievance by reason of the Slavish Dependence of the People upon their Great Men," is the following. passage: -

With respect to this and other depredations committed by the Highlanders, the first parliament after the Revolution sent up their grievances to king William, desiring a redress of them; whereof this was one:— "That an effectual course may be taken to repress the depredations and robberies committed by the Highlanders." ‘See Act 18, anno 1689. The king’s instruction to the duke of Hamilton; commissioner to the parliament, was in these words, "You are to endeavour to procure an act for an effectual course, to repress the depredations and robberies by the Highland clans; and when this matter is digested, you are to transmit the proposals to us, that you may get particular instructions thereanent." A gentleman, in an Account of the Affairs in Scotland, printed about that time, gives us his observation upon this: it is, "That the depredations by the Highlanders are certainly a great inconvenience to the kingdom, whereby the inhabitants of the Lowlands are notably obliged to keep numbers of armed men to watch and guard the passages and descents from the Highlands, but likewise to pay considerable compositions to these robbers, to procure their protection and assurance, which the law discharges, and this acknowledgement is called black mail, whereby these thieves are sustained without industry or virtue, who are hard to be reduced or brought to justice because of the inaccessibleness of the mountains, and that forces are not able to find subsistence there, nor march as far in two or three days in a body, as the Highlanders can do in one, and therefore the grievance is just; but there is no method proposed for accomplishing the redress: therefore the king did remit to the parliament to consider and digest effectual courses for repressing the Highlanders, which are to be transmitted to his majesty that he may give particular instructions to his commissioner. Like as though in the mean time the parliament did refuse to grant a supply, yet the king: hath maintained a considerable army upon his own charge this summer, and hath planted some considerable garrisons round the verge of the, mountains to secure the Lowlands; and if his majesty should with draw or disband these forces, which he hath not been enabled to pay, the Highland clans being now combined in arms and open rebellion against the government, they would quickly destroy that kingdom, and raise such a flame in England as might have fatal effects before it could be detected. A method for repressing the depredations in the Highlands, was agreed to in the third session of the first parliament of king William and queen Mary, Act 4, September 10, 1690. But, so far as I can understand, it was not an effectual remedy.

A very curious description of the state of the Highlands in the early part of last century is given in a book entitled, "Letters from a Gentleman in the North of Scotland to his Friend in London," printed in 1754. The date of the letters however appears to have been about 1725 or 1730. Though anonymous, the internal evidence of their authenticity is so strong, as to leave no impression of doubt: and the writer (who appears to have been an officer of engineers quartered at Inverness) shows himself a man of observation and of candour. As the book is now very rare, and the account of peculiar value from being a detail of facts immediately under the eye of the writer, a large extract may not perhaps be unacceptable.

‘The Highlanders are divided into tribes, or clans, under chiefs or chieftains, as they are called in the laws of Scotland, and each clan again divided into branches from the main stock, who have chieftains over them. These are subdivided into smaller branches of, fifty or sixty men, who deduce their original from the principal chieftains; and rely upon them as their more immediate protectors and defenders.

But, for better distinction, I shall use the word chief for the head of a whole clan; and the principal of a tribe, derived from him, I shall call a chieftain.

The ordinary Highlanders esteem it the most sublime degree of virtue to love their chief, and pay him a blind obedience, although it be in opposition to the government, the laws of the kingdom, or even to the law of God. He is their idol; and as they profess to know no king but him, (I was going further) so will they say they ought to do whatever he commands, without in‘quiry.

Next to this love of their chief is that of the particular branch from whence they sprung, and in a third degree, to those of the whole clan or name, whom they will assist, right or wrong, against those of any other tribe with which they are at variance; to whom their enmity, like that of exasperated brothers, is most outrageous. Vol.ii.,p.91.

The chief exercises an arbitrary authority over his vassals, determines all differences and disputes that happen among them, and levies taxes upon extraordinary occasions; such as the marriage of a daughter, building a house, or some pretence for his support, and the honour of the name. And if any one should refuse to contribute to the best of his ability, he is sure of severe treatment; and if he persisted in his obstinacy, he would be cast out ‘of the tribe by general consent. But instances of this kind have very rarely happened.

This power of the chiefs is not supported by interest as they are landlords, but as lineally descended from the old patriarchs, or fathers of the families; for they hold the same authority when they have lost their estates, as may appear from several, and particularly one, who commands in his clan, though at the same time they maintain him, having nothing left of his own.

On the other hand, the chief, even against the laws, is to protect his followers, as they are sometimes called, be they never so criminal.

He is their leader in clan-quarrels, must free the necessitous from their arrears of rent; and maintain such who by accidents are fallen to total decay.

If by increase of the tribe any small farms are wanting for support of such addition, he splits others into lesser portions; because all must be somehow provided for. And as the meanest among them pretend to be his relations by consanguinity, they insist upon the privilege of taking him by the hand, wherever they meet him.

Concerning this last, I once saw a number of very discontented countenances, when a certain lord, one of the chiefs, endeavoured to evade this ceremony.

It was in presence of an English gentleman in high station, from whom he would willingly have concealed the knowledge of such seeming familiarity with slaves of so wretched appearance; and thinking it, I suppose, as a kind of contradiction to what he had often boasted at other times, viz, his despotic power in his clan.

The unlimited love and obedience of the Highlanders to their chiefs, are not confined to the lower order of their followers; but are the same with those who are near them in rank’. p 94

Some of the chiefs have not only personal dislikes and enmity to each other, but there are also hereditary feuds between clan and clan; which have been handed down from one generation to another for several ages.

These quarrels descend to the meanest vassal; and thus, sometimes, an innocent person suffers for crime committed by his tribe at a vast distance of time before his being began.

When a quarrel begins in words between two Highlanders of different clans, it is esteemed the very height of malice and rancour; and the greatest of all provocations, to reproach one another with the vices or personal defects of their chief, which for the most part ends in wounds or death.’ p. 100.

By an old Scottish law, the chief was made accountable for any depredations, or other violences committed by his clan upon the borders of the Lowlands; and in extraordinary cases he was obliged to give up his son or some other nearest relation, as a hostage for the peaceable behaviour of his followers in that respect.

By this law (for I never saw the act) he must surely have had an entire command over them; at least, tacitly, for by inference understood. For how unreasonable, not to say unjust, must such a restriction have been to him, if by sanction of the same law he had not had a coercive and judicial authority over those in whose choice and power it always lay to bring punishment upon him? If he had such an absolute command over them, was it not to make of every chief a petty prince in his own territory, and his followers a people distinct and separate from all others?’

I have heard many instances of the faithfulness of particular Highlanders to their masters, but shall relate only one which is to me very well known.

At the battle of Glenshiels, in the rebellion of the year 1719, a gentleman, (George Munro of Culcairne) for whom I have a great esteem, commanded a company of Highlanders raised out of his father’s clan, and entertained at his own expense. There he was dangerously wounded in the thigh from a party of the rebel Highlanders, posted upon the declivity of a mountain, who kept on firing at him after he was down, according to ‘their want of discipline, in spending much fire upon one single officer, which distributed among the body might thin the ranks of their enemy.

When after he fell, and found by their behaviour they were resolved to dispatch him outright, he bid his servant, who was by, get out of the danger, for he might lose his life, but could be of no manner of succour or service to him; and only desired him, that when he returned home, he would let his father and his family know that he had not misbehaved.

Hereupon the Highlander burst out into tears, and asking him how he thought he could leave him in that condition, and what they would think of him at home; set himself down on his hands and knees over his master; and received several wounds to shield him from further hurt; till one of the clan, who acted as a sergeant, with a small party dislodged the enemy, after having taken an oath upon his dirk that he would do it.

This man has often waited at table when his master and I dined together, but otherwise is treated more like a friend than a servant.

The gentlemen who are near relations of the chief hold pretty large farms, if the estate will allow it, perhaps twenty or thirty pounds a year, and they again, generally parcel them out to under tenants in small portions. Hence it comes, that by such a division of an old farm (part of an upper tenant’s holding) suppose, among eight persons, each of them pays an eighth part of every thing.

You will, it is likely, think it strange, that many of the Highland tenants are to maintain a family upon a farm of twelve merks, Scots, per annum, which is thirteen shillings and fourpence sterling, with, perhaps, a cow or two, or a very few sheep or goats; but often the rent is less, and the cattle are wanting.

What follows is a specimen, taken out of a Highland rent-roll, and I do assure you it is genuine, and; not the least by many.

The poverty of the tenants has rendered it customary for the chief, or laird, to free some of the them every year from all arrears of rent; this is supposed, upon an average, to be about one year in five of the whole estate.

When a son is born to the chief of a family, there generally arises a contention among the vassals, which of them shall have the fostering of the child, when it is taken from the nurse; and by this means such differences are sometimes fomented as are hardly ever after thoroughly reconciled.

The happy man, who succeeds in his suit, is ever after called the foster-father; and his children, the foster-brothers and sisters of the young laird.

This they reckon not only endears them to their chief, and greatly strengthens their interest with him, but gives them a great deal of consideration among their feilow vassals and the foster-brother having the same education as the young chief, may, besides that, in time become his hanchman, or perhaps be promoted to that office under the old patriarch himself, if a vacancy should happen or otherwise, by their interest, obtain orders and a benefice.

This officer is a sort of secretary, and is to be ready upon all occasions, to venture his life in defence of his masters and at drinking-bouts he stands behind his seat, at his haunch, from whence his title is derived, and watches the conversation, to see if any one offends his patron.

An English officer being in company with a certain chieftain, and several other Highland gentlemen, near Killichumen, had an argument with the great man; and both being well warmed with usky, at last the dispute grew very hot. A youth who was hanchman, not understanding one word of English, imagined his chief was insulted, and thereupon drew his pistol from his side, and snapped it at the officer’s head; but the pistol missed fire, otherwise it is more than probable he might have suffered death from the hand of that little vermin.

When a chief goes a journey in the hills, or makes a formal visit to an equal, he is said to he attended by all or most part of the officers following, viz.

The Hànchman - before described.
Bard - his poet.
Bladier -
 — spokesman.
Gilli-more - carries his broad sword.
Gilli-casflue - carries him, when on foot, over the fords.
Gilli-comstraine - leads his horse in rough and dangerous ways.
Gilli-trushanarnish - the baggageman.
The Piper - who being a gentleman, I
should have named him sooner.

And lastly,

The Pipers Gilli - who carries the bag pipe.

There are likewise, some gentlemen, near of kin, who bear him company; and besides a number of the common sort, who have no particular employment, but follow him only to partake of the cheer.

I must own that all these attendants, and the profound respect they pay, must be flattering enough; though the equipage has none of the best appearance.

But this state may appear to sooth the pride of the chief to a vast degree, if the declaration of one of them was sincere; who at dinner, before a good deal of company, English as well as Scots, myself being one of the number, affirmed, that if his estate was free from incumbrances, and was none of his own, and he was then put to choose between that and the estate of the duke of Newcastle, supposing it to be thirty thousand pounds a year (as somebody said it was), he would make choice of the former, with the following belonging to it, before the other without it. Now his estate might be about five hundred pounds a year?

The tribes will not suffer strangers to settle within their precinct, or even those of another clan to enjoy any possession among them; but will soon constrain them to quit their pretensions, by cruelty to their persons, or mischief to their cattle, or other property. Of this there happened two flagrant instances, Within a few years past.

The first was as follows: Gordon, laird of Glenbucket, had been invested by the D. of G. in some lands in Badenoch, by virtue, I think, of a wadset or mortgage. These lands lay among the Macphersons; but the tenants of that name refused to pay the rent to the new landlord, or to acknowledge him as such.

This refusal put him upon the means to eject them by law; whereupon the tenants came to a resolution to put an end to his suit and new settlement, in the manner following.

Five or six of them, young fellows, the sons of gentlemen, entered the door of his hut; and in fawning words told him, they were sorry any dispute had happened. That they were then resolved to acknowledge him as their immediate landlord, and would regularly pay him their rent. At the same time they begged he would withdraw his process, and they hoped they should be agreeable to him for the future. All this while they were almost imperceptibly drawing nearer and nearer to his bedside, on which he was sitting, in order to prevent his defending himself (as they knew him to be a man of distinguished courage), and then fell suddenly on him; some cutting him with their dirks, and others plunging them into his body. This was perpetrated within sight of the barrack of Ruthven.

The, other example is of a minister, who had a small farm assigned him, and upon his entrance to it, some of the clan, in the dead of the night, fired flve balls through his hut, which all lodged in his bed; but he happening to be absent that night, escaped their barbarity, but was forced to quit the country. Of this he made to me an affecting complaint.

This kind of cruelty, I think, arises from their dread of innovations, and the notion they entertain, that they have a kind of hereditary right to their farms; and that none of them are to be dispossessed unless for some great transgression against their chief; in which case every individual would consent to their expulsion.

The chiefs (like princes upon the continent, whose dominions lie contiguous) do not invade each others boundaries, while they are in peace and friendship with one another, but demand redress of wrongs; and whoever should do otherwise, would commit an offence in which every tribe is interested, besides the lasting feud it might create between the two neighbouring clans.

This last remark is confirmed by many curious ancient papers, in which the chiefs of different clans make treaties of various kinds exactly in the style of independent princes.

On the state of the Highlands at the period alluded to there are some valuable observations in a pamphlet published in 1748, entitled, ‘A Letter to a noble Lord, containing a Plan for effectually uniting and sincerely attaching the Highlanders to the British Constitution and Revolution Settlement.

'My lord, the Highlanders have been oppressed and enslaved by their chiefs, yet oppressed and enslaved after such a manner, that they have joyfully submitted to their tyrants, and gloried, nay triumphed, in their base and ignominious servitude. The large, extensive and universal property of their chiefs, and the manner in which they planted and tenanted that property, was indeed the cause of great influence and power on one hand, as it was of great poverty and ignorance on the other; and by this method alone the people might have been induced, through mere fear and dread, to a sub-mission and compliance with the will and command of their lords: but, my lord, the connections prevailing there have yet a deeper and a stronger root, that of family, blood, relationship, kindred.

The chief, who is the eldest branch of the first stock, is considered as the guardian, protector and father of his clan. The relationship runs from him; and is counted, through innumerable degrees, to the very remotest and lowest slave of the tribe The blood is honourable to the last, and the meanest clown on the mountains will maintain his title of alliance at the point of his sword. In this manner, my lord, the various tribes and clans of the Highlands consider themselves as so many separate and distinct families, each family having one common interest, one great aim, one principal and ultimate end in view, which is, the honour, the dignity, the interest of the chief: and a discipline suitable to these notions and principles is observed; for, from the earliest moments of their youth, they, are instructed what degree of blood and relationship they bear to him; informed of the honour thereby accruing to themselves; and taught, that all respect and veneration is due to him, as being the representative, of that extensive family of which themselves are but parts, and as being the head by which the energy, dignity and power of the clan is exerted and displayed. They see but every where an universal and constant obedience paid him, and obedience which all think themselves honoured in paying, and it is paid to their own blood, the head and fountain of their kindred.

Habit and example fix and rivet these principles in the heart and what finally cements and binds this union between the chief and his clan is a maxim invariably pursued, that whoever insults or injures the most insignificant member of the clan, wounds the honour and reputation of the family; insomuch that the chief and his whole family or clan, look upon themselves as most sacredly bound to revenge and wipe off every such injury and insult, even at the hazard and expense of the last drop of their blood.

My lord, I hold this system of relationship and the manner of planting’the property of the country, to be the principal and secret springs of all the power and influence of the Highland chiefs, all the servitude and dependence of the people composing the Highland clans; and however others may overlook or despise the first of these, your lordship will easily perceive the difference between the last exerting, itself alone, and exerting itself in union with the first; for though the last might by itseIf have reduced the people to a state of dependence, and servitude, yet that servitude would have been such as would have rendered the people entirely base, and spiritless; such are for instance, the subjects of the Turk: and such hath been and always will be the ease of every people who are ruled and governed only by the influence and effect of property vested in the person of one man. For in this case there is raised no generous sentiment, no natural leading, no friendly ties to quicken and accelerate the native passions and courage of a man. Nothing, my lord, prevails here, but the cruel and stupefying hand of irresistible power, which crops and distorts every thing naturally good and excellent.

But join this to the first, as is the case of the Highlanders, and though power and oppression take place, yet it shall appear to be otherwise: for, by this combination of principles, the Highlander considers the bread he eats under his master, not as the starved fare of a tyranny, but the natural and kind distribution and appointment of the great parent and head of his family and clan. The service and obedience required is not viewed by him as a cruel and compelled subjection to a princely stranger, whose interest and views are as infinitely removed from his, as is his royal blood and pedigree; but as the natural and necessary obedience of a child of that family, whose honour and dignity is supposed to consist in the honour and dignity of the chief, and whose own private excellence and importance is thereby presumed to grow and increase with that of his head.

His spirit therefore is not broke, or rendered timid, by a constant service and submission to his lord; but enlivened and exalted through a love of glory and desire of fame. Nor would his affection or obedience change along with the property, to a new master; as is the case in Turkey. For his natural affection would remain, when the power of the chief was gone; nay it would grow with his misfortunes, for he would consider them as the disgrace and misfortunes of the family and of himself. I say then, my lord, that distinct from property, there is another cause of the extraordinary power of the chiefs, I mean the bond of relationship and as this cause is very strong, and can affect and influence when the other no more exists, it ought to be considered in a particular manner, in settling the future liberty of the Highlands.

in confirmation of these observations may be quoted; a remarkable anecdote of the celebrated lord Lovat, who was attainted on account of the part he took in the rebellion in 1745. It is mentioned in the Memoirs of his Life, published about that time, that the estate which he claimed as heir male and chief of the clan of Frasers, had fallen into the hands of a gentleman of another name, whose claim resting upon a female title was of no validity according to the established customs of clanship. From a concurrence of circumstances, however, that gentleman (MacKenzie of Fraserdale) had been maintained in possession for some years; till, on the breaking out of the rebellion in the year 1715 he joined the Pretender’s army with five hundred men, but, says the writer of the memoirs, at least half that clan refused to rise, declared their true chief was arrived in England, and they would wait for his coming; which was treated with great ridicule and contempt by Seaforth and Fraserdale, and the latter marched with a detachment of between six and seven hundred men to force the men to the service, but it had a contrary effect. For though they did rise under the lairds of Struy and Foyer, yet they showed such a resolution to defend themselves, that Fraserdale and his people did not think it to attack them.

Lord Lovat, having made his way into the country, put himself at the head of the clan; and, from enmity against his rival, joined some other chiefs who had risen in favour of government, and gained some advantages over the adherents of the Pretender. This success however, proceeds the author of the Memoirs, did not satisfy lord Lovat; he was resolved to show his interest and power as a Highland chief, and therefore sent a trusty person to Perth, where the whole force of the rebels was assembled under lord Mar, to summon the Frasers under the command of his competitor to join their lawful chief; and though his friends looked upon this as a very wild and strange attempt, yet it had all the success he could desire: for his clan, taking a favourable opportunity, marched off in a body, and actually came to Inverness and joined lord Lovat.

The arts of popularity which were used on the other hand by the chiefs, in order to preserve and strengthen these sentiments among their followers, have continued to affect the manners of the Highlands even till a recent date.  Pennant appears to have been much struck with them. On the side of the chieftain, he observes, no art of affability, generosity or friendship, which could Inspire love and esteem, was left untried, to secure a full and willing obedience, which strengthened the impressions of education.

The manners arising from these principles have remained in vigour long after the motives which first prompted them could have no immediate influence. Those chieftains, in particular, who still cherished, the ancient ideas of the country and were anxious to preserve the affection of their followers, continued to behave towards them in the accustomed style of cordiality. This did not escape the observant eye of Dr. Johnson, who, in speaking of his residence at the house of Mr. MacLean, of Col, says, Wherever we roved, we were pleased to see the reverence with which his subjects regarded him. He did not endeavour to dazzle them by any magnificence of dress, his only distinction was a feather in his bonnet; as soon as he appeared, they forsook their work and clustered about him: he took them by the hand and they seemed mutually delighted.

Among the numerous characteristic anecdotes which are related of the Highlanders of former times, and which show in how singular a degree they combined the most refined sentiments of fidelity and generosity, with a total disregard of what in civilized society are deemed the common principles of honesty, we may instance the well known fact related in the Statistical Account of Scotland, vol. viii. p. 359. Mac Ian, alias Kennedy, after the defeat of the unfortunate Charles Stewart, at Culloden, watched over him with inviolable fidelity for weeks, and even robbed, at the risque of his life, for his support at the very time that he himself and his family were in a state of starvation, and that he knew be could gain 30,0001. by betraying his guest. This poor man, was afterwards executed at Inverness for stealing a cow. A little before his execution, he took off his bonnet, and thanked God that he had never betrayed his trust, never injured the poor, and never refused a share of what he had to the stranger and the needy.

The contradiction which shows itself in this conduct is not perhaps so great as it may at first sight appear. There is no want of proof, that among the ancient Highlanders it was always reckoned disgraceful to steal from one of the same clan, though they were not in the least ashamed of theft or robbery committed against distant or inimical tribes; and that every chieftain dispensed justice among his own followers with strict impartiality, though he protected them against others, however criminal in the eye of the law. In fact, the clans were little separate nations and acted on a small scale, on the same principles on which we see the great kingdoms of Europe conduct themselves. Mac Ian, when he stole the cow  for which he was hanged, was no more ashamed of what he had done, than a captain in the British navy would be of having taken a Spanish galleon loaded with dollars. This circumstance of the clans being separate and distinct political communities, and the chiefs in effect petty independent princes, is the fundamental principle on which the whole of the ancient state of the country essentially depended.

Here, indeed, I must observe, that in speaking of the feudal system in the Highlands, I do not use the term in the strict and technical sense in which it is understood by lawyers, but as some historians have employed it, to signify the state of society, which arose from the partial independence of the great barons, during the period when the executive government of the different kingdoms of Europe had not attained sufficient power to exercise a steady and effectual control.

The regular system of feudal tenures never was fully established in the Highlands. lt was only in later times that the chieftains were induced to apply for charters from the crown, in the legal and feudal form, to corroborate the more effectual title they derived from the right of the strongest. Some of them even disdained to accept of such titles, and declared they would never hold their lands in a sheep’s shin. One of considerable note (MacDonell of Kepoch) acted on this principle down to the year 1745; and after the rebellion his lands fell into possession of another chief, who had claimed them for many ages on the ground of a charter from the crown, without ever having been able till then to make his title effectual.

From this too it appears, that the system of Heritable Jurisdiction had by no means so great an effect on the ancient state of the highlands as many have, ascribed to it. In fact, there were some chiefs who nominally held these jurisdictions over very extensive territories, but never could enforce their authority beyond the limits of their own immediate clannish power. On the other hand, the chiefs who had no legal jurisdiction at all, exercised every power of the highest courts of law. Dr. Adam Smith quotes an instance of this kind:—It is not thirty years ago, since Mr. Cameron, of Locheil, a gentleman of Lochaber, in Scotland, without any legal warrant whatever, not being what was called a lord of regality, nor even a tenant in chief, but a vassal of the duke of Argyle’s, and without being so much as a justice of peace, used notwithstanding to exercise the highest criminal jurisdiction over his own people. He is said to have done so with great equity, though without any of the formalities of justice.’—Wealth of Nations, book iii. chap.4.


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