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Sketches of The Character, Manners, and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland


Fencible Regiments

Sutherland, 1779

It has been already stated, that, twenty years before this period, the last Earl of Sutherland raised a regiment of Fencibles with unexampled ease and rapidity; unexampled except in the days of chivalrous fidelity to chiefs, whose signal, when danger was immediate, or the enemy at the door, was sufficient to rouse to arms all who could use them. As both the danger and the enemy were in this case distant, such rapid levies were unnecessary; but when nine days sufficed for assembling 1100 men, it must be allowed that the call to arms was obeyed with sufficient promptitude and celerity.

Soon after that period the Earl of Sutherland died, lamented by all who knew him, and more especially by his own people. His only child was then an infant. To her, however, as their future protectress, they looked up for a continuation of the same patriarchal protection which they and their forefathers had for six hundred years experienced from her family; and they now showed that this protection had not been thrown away on ungrateful objects. Though their superior was too young to be sensible of their attachment, or capable of rewarding it, their zeal was not, on that account, the less warm : they appeared as ready to obey as when the object of their regard was present, either to approve, reward, or punish. But, as the house of Sutherland had no near relative of the name to command the followers of the family, William Wemyss of Wemyss, nephew of the late Earl, was appointed colonel of the Fencible regiment to be raised on the estate of Sutherland.

The duty of recruiting was easily executed. In the parish of Farr alone, 154 men enlisted in two days. Two companies from Caithness, commanded by William Innes of Sandside, and John Sutherland of Wester, were added to the regiment, which was embodied at Fort George in February 1779.

In the following summer they were marched to the southward, and remained stationed principally in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh, always distinguished for sobriety, probity, and the most scrupulous and orderly attention to duty. "Desertions, or crimes requiring the check of courts-martial, were totally unknown in this regiment. Such was their economy, that if any officer, in whom they had any confidence, required a temporary supply of money, one thousand pounds could be raised among the men. They were always remitting money, and sending home little presents to their friends." Men of this character and disposition may be depended upon as trustworthy in all situations; whether marching up to the cannon's mouth, or discharging the less arduous, but equally necessary, duties of private life, they will not fail to acquit themselves with honour.

Samuel Macdonald, commonly known as Big Sam, was a soldier in the Sutherland Fencibles.

[This man was a native of the parish of Lairg, in the county of Sutherland. He was seven feet four inches in height, and every way stout in proportion. His parents were of good size, but in nothing otherwise remarkable. Macdonald had fortunately a quiet, equable temper: had he been irritable, he might, from his immense strength and weight of arm, have given a serious blow, without being sensible of its force. He was considered an excellent drill, from his mild and clear manner of giving his directions. After the peace of 1783, he enlisted in the Royals. From thence he was transferred to the Sutherland Fencibles of 1793. The Countess of Sutherland, with great kindness, allowed him 2s. 6d. per diem, extra pay; judging, probably, that so large a body must require more sustenance than his military pay could afford. He attracted the notice of the Prince of Wales, and was for some time one of the porters of Carlton House. When the 93d was raised, he could not be kept from his old friends; and, joining the regiment, he died in Guernsey in 1802, regretted by his corps as a respectable, trust-worthy, excellent man.]

He was too large to stand in the ranks, and generally stood on the right of the regiment when in line, and marched at the head when in column, but was always accompanied by a mountain deer of uncommon size. This animal was so attached to Macdonald, that, whether on duty with his regiment, or on the streets, the hart was at his side.

The regiment was ordered to the North, and reduced at Fort George in 1783.


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