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Chat's and Book Reviews by Frank R. Shaw FSA Scot
Culloden and the Last Clansman


If you read A Dance Called America by James Hunter, you will not want to miss his latest book, Culloden and the Last Clansman. If you missed the first dance, do yourself a favor and not miss this one. A wonderful tune it is!

James Hunter writes about the murder of Colin Campbell, a government agent and staunch Hanoverian. We are led to believe the accused murderer may be James Stewart, a supporter of Bonnie Prince Charlie and a staunch Jacobite. The author has lived his entire life in the same community where the murder took place 250 years ago. In this book, Hunter rivals Sir Walter Scott, the greatest writer of his time and father of the historical novel. The tale that the author weaves in this case with his use of historical facts is nothing short of brilliant. You cannot compare Hunter to Robert Burns because he does not write poetry and Burns did not write stories like Hunter. Scott did both, and although Scott has not been in vogue for many years, there are signs that is he "starting to come back into fashion again after long neglect," according to Stewart Lamont in his book, When Scotland Ruled the World.

Now, back to the story. This murder shook all of Great Britain, from the man in the street to the man on the throne, George II. Someone had to pay for the murder of Colin Campbell. The most likely suspect, Alan Breck Stewart, had quietly slipped out of the country, leaving James Stewart guilty by association. The Duke of Cumberland (yes, the "Butcher" himself) thought the Scottish authorities were treating this matter too lightly.

Thus, both the policies and loyalties of the Scottish authorities were called into question, and the King’s younger son, the British hero of the ’45 (he of the flower named after him, "Sweet William" in England but forever known as "Stinking Willie" in Scotland) "thought it prudent to ensure that James Stewart was hanged."

Scotland’s Lord Justice General and Lord Advocate both tired the case, one as judge and the other as prosecutor. History records that the former was a Campbell and the latter was a Grant. Both were on the hot seat almost as much as the man fighting for his life. Even though a panel of three judges was used, no one wanted London to feel anything but their loyalty and obedience. To make sure the verdict was a "guilty" one (a verdict authorities wanted and had to have to maintain good relations with the Hanoverian government), a jury of fifteen men was selected, eleven of them Campbells. How about them numbers! A better jury could not have been found, bribed or paid for on behalf of the Scottish authorities.

The trial began at five o’clock in the morning and did not break until fifty hours later. Why so long? During those days, Scottish criminal courts required evidence to be heard in a single sitting, and sixty witnesses, a mockery if there ever was one, were heard during that time. No wonder it took three judges! Adding to the government’s case was the fact that a recently fired gun that belonged to James had been dug up along with some broadswords. James helped set the noose around his own neck with his loose whisky talk and threats about and toward Colin Campbell. Some testified that James had planned the ambush of Colin Campbell that was carried out by Alan Breck, and James did not refute that testimony. The handwriting was on the wall, and it was as if James was reconciled to meeting his fate. The only question left for us to ask since it was proven that James sent Alan money after the assassination, is why it took five hours of deliberation to come up with the "guilty as charged" verdict.

He was sentenced to hang…in chains. Months later, while on the scaffold, he said, "I die a worthy member of the Episcopal Church of Scotland…may the same God pardon and forgive all that ever did or wished me evil, as I do from my heart forgive them…Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly." As he climbed the steps to meet his executioner, it is said he quoted verses from Psalm 35 ending with "Lord, rescue my soul from their destructions."

Cnap a’ Chaolais, the location where Stewart was hanged, was well traveled by Highlanders and chosen by the government to send a message of intimidation to all who passed by. The Hanoverians wanted all to see the "gruesome spectacle of James Stewart’s chained-up and slowly rotting corpse." A detachment of officers, including seventeen soldiers, watched over his body day and night. More than two years after the hanging, portions of his still remaining skeleton fell to the ground. Edinburgh immediately smelled a conspiracy by Highlanders and launched an investigation, only to find that a winter gale had caused the bones to fall. In an effort to keep James hanging around a little longer, soldiers from Fort William came to put the bones back on the gibbet since local people would have no part of such a gruesome chore. Even the soldiers had to be induced by whisky to replace Stewart’s bones on the gibbet!

More years passed and down came James again, a bone at a time. This time, however, a Culloden veteran, John Stewart, gathered up each one. This Stewart eventually pieced together enough of the skeletal remains of James to arrange for a burial inside the crumbling walls of the auld Keil church at Duror. I believe James Hunter proves his point "that, when they hanged James Stewart on the afternoon of Wednesday, 8 November 1752, the Hanoverian authorities also hanged the last clansman" since by this time the Clan system (as a lot of us want to believe was still possible) was no more. All that was left of the old Clan system was memories. Or, should I say, the romance of the old Clan system is all that was left, then and today.

Hunter’s style of writing makes you want to stay up all night to finish the book. His reputation is such that you want him to hurry and get his next book to the marketplace. If I was to score this book like I did my students at Roseboro High School in North Carolina too many years ago to tell, James Hunter would get an A+. I think Sir Walter Scott might give him the same!


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