POPULAR tradition, and
even literary tradition have come to associate all the great Scottish
emigration movements with poverty and distress. This is particularly so
of emigrations from the Highlands. The mere mention of them suggests at
once rackrents, brutal landlords, and evictions.
In the face of this
prevailing impression, it is worth while to analyse the nature and the
causes of the first great exodus from the Highlands, an exodus which
reached its highest point of activity in the early seventies of the
Emigration from Scotland
was of course not new. To judge from the dispatches of the colonial
governors, before the eighteenth century was well begun the Scots were
already penetrating into most of the English plantations. They brought
with them both their business Instincts and their zest for
Presbvterianism, and everywhere their trail is marked by newly planted
kirks and flourishing settlements. Even the last outposts of the English
:n America, the frontiers of the new plantation of Georgia, depended for
part of their defence upon the little settlement of Mackintoshes from
But this emigration,
considerable as it must have been, was a gradual process, and went on
comparatively unheeded, whereas the violent outburst that followed close
after the middle of the century drew attention at once, and was hailed
by travellers, statesmen, and patriotic writers as a new and startling
Roughly speaking, the
phase referred to may be said to have lasted from 1740 to 1775. Knox in
his View of the Highlands (pub. 1784) suggests 1763 as the earliest
date, but there are several reasons r putting it earlier. Pennant in his
Travels gives 1750 as the starting-point for Skye. A letter in the
Culloden Papers bints at emigration from the Western Islands as far back
as 174c, while the Scots Magazine as early as 1747 had begun to take
notice of the spread of emigration. The latter reached Its zenith in the
early seventies, and in 1775 received a decided check, which is
attributed by most contemporaries to the general effects of the American
War, and by Knox to a particular order of Congress. The lull which
followed lasted almost ten years.
The emigrants were drawn
from a fairly wide area. Perthshire and Strathspey contributed a few;
the mainland districts of Argyllshire, Ross, and Sutherland contributed
more ; but the bulk of the mainland emigration was supplied by the glens
of Inverness-shire, Strathglass. Glenmoriston, Glengarry, and Glen
The really sensational
departures, however, were not from the mainland but from the islands;
and the places that figure most largely in the records of the exodus are
Skye, the two Uists, Lewes, Arran, Jura, Gigha, and Islay.
A few districts in
America received the emigrants. Some, but not many, went to Georgia. To
the majority the desired havens appear to have been the Carolinas,
Albany, and Nova Scotia. To estimate the actual numbers that went is a
matter of extreme difficulty. The sources of information are vague.
From the Old Statistical
Account we gather that before 1775 emigration had taken place from some
sixteen Highland parishes ; the Scots Magazine in the numbers published
before 1775 contains twenty definite references to ships leaving with
Highland emigrants, apart from the mention of emigration projects which
may or may not have materialised ; and a variety of rather indefinite
evidence bearing on the subject is supplied bv the Privy Council Papers
relating to the Colonies, the Scottish Forfeited Estates Papers, and
innumerable contemporary writers and periodicals.
embarkation would take place from a regular port, like Glasgow or
Greenock, and be duly noted, but more often the emigrants set sail as
unobtrusively as possible from some lonely Highland loch. Gigha, the
Skye ports, Campbell-town, Dunstaffnage Bay, Fort William, Maryburgh,
Stornaway, Loch Broom, Loch Erribol, and even Thurso and Stromness all
figure as collecting centres and points of embarkation.
Under these circumstances
the numbers become in the highest degree conjectural. Two estimates,
however, were hazarded, by men who were almost, or quite, contemporaries
of the movement. Knox gives as his figure 20,000 between 1763 and 1773.
while Garnett in his Tour (pub. 1800) states that 30,000 emigrated
between 1773 - 1775. The latter estimate seems almost certainly
exaggerated, and it is not easy to find satisfactory corroboration of
even Knox's figures. The statistics furnished by the Old Statistical
Account, and the miscellaneous sources are mostly too vague to be of
much help. Our most reliable guide is certainly the Scats Magazine,
which has the advantage of being contemporary, and of recording the
emigrations as they occur. Yet if we add together all the Highland
departures before 1775 chronicled by the Scots Magazine, the total is
something under 10,000 persons. No doubt the entries .11 the magazine
are not exhaustive, but allowing for some omissions the discrepancy
between its figures and those of Garnett, and even of Knox, is very
A partial explanation of
the latter's estimate might be found in the recruiting records of the
period. Many Highlanders left the country as soldiers. A writer in the
Scots Magazine of October, 1775, calculated that upwards of 9500 had
been thus drawn from the Highlands, and or these many, like Fraser's
Highlanders, eventually found homes in the New World, and might be
counted in a sense emigrants.
Both at the time and
later there seems then to have been a tendency to exaggerate the numbers
of those emigrating at this stage. The emigrants were not many, and if
this seems difficult to reconcile with the great agitation expressed at
their going, the explanation can be found in the social standing and
comparative wealth of the leaders of the movement.
That the emigrants
included a large percentage of persons possessed of some capital is
every where abundantly testified. The Scots Magazine generally gives in
its entries some description of the emigrants, but only two or three
times does it refer to their poverty, and once when ;t does, the
emigrants set sail from Stranraer, and were almost certainly not
Highland. The only allusions in fact to the poverty of Highland
emigrants appear in connection with those from Sutherland.
What weight can be
attached to such references Is doubtful, for elsewhere we read in the
Scots Magazine of September, 1772, that the persons emigrating from
Sutherland between 1768 and 1772 took with them not less than £10,000 in
specie. Now if it is borne in mind that the total number of emigrants
from that area between these dates was only 500 or 630, and of these a
very large percentage were women and children, it is obvious that many
of the heads of households must have been persons of substance.
Possibly the allusions to
the-r poverty can be explained by the fact that they, almost alone of
the emigrants, passed through Edinburgh on their way abroad. There they
became at once an object of interest and compassion, and their unusual
appearance and pathetic situation no doubt supplied to Lowland eyes
sufficient evidence of distress.
Apart from this doubtful
case of the Sutherland people, there is no suggestion that the Highland
emigrants were being driven by acute poverty. The Scots Magazine
normally refers to them in such phrases as people in good circumstances,
'gentlemen of wealth and merit,' people of property,' and so on.
The impression thus given
is confirmed by the mention of the amount of capital they took with
them. As a typical example the 425 persons who sailed from Maryburgh in
1773 took £6000 with them in ready cash, while in a number of the
Edinburgh Advertiser, dated January 17, 1792, it was stated that since
1772 £38,000 had been taken from the country by the emigrants from West
Ross-shire and Inverness-shire alone.
It must be granted, then,
that at least the leaders of the movement of the seventies were
reasonably prosperous people. Knowing that they were strongly attached
to their native land, and that they were not driven out by stress of
poverty, the question naturally arises wnat induced them to go ?
In answer to this
question various suggestions have been put forward both at the time of
the emigrations and afterwards.
If we disregard vague and
unsubstantiated generalisations about the tyranny of landlords, these
suggestions reduce themselves to the following five: the union of farms
for sheep; the redundancy of the population; the effect of the Jacobite
rebellions; the influence of the returned Highland soldier; and finally
the rise in rents.
The first suggestion is
rarely, if ever, mentioned in actual contemporaries. It is generally put
forward in works written twenty years later, while a new and entirely
different emigration movement was in progress. It cannot provide any
satisfactory explanation for the period of the seventies, for in the
districts most affected by emigration the introduction of sheep had then
The second suggestion
comes nearer the truth. The Highlands economically utilised may have
been capable of providing for dl their population, but as things were,
numbers had no proper employment and lived permanently upon the edge of
subsistence That was becoming increasingly true and increasingly
obvious, and was soon to result in emigration on an altogether
unprecedented scale. But no more than the first does this explain the
prosperous emigration of the seventies. The well-to-do farmer who sublet
his lands, as practically all did, was in the first instance a garier
rather than a loser by a phenomenon which created an intense and
feverish competition for bind, and which in so doing sent up the rents
and services paid to himself.
The Jacobite Rebellions,
and the influence of the Highland soldiers, have both a genuine effect
upon emigration Highland families whose fortunes had been broken in the
'45, and who regarded land as an essential of existence, turned
naturally to America, and in going took numbers of their old dependents
with them. Thus John Macdonald of Glenaladale having been obliged to
sell hid estate in consequence of difficulties following the '45, left
Scotland in 1772 with 200 Highlanders for Prince Edward Island, but such
cases are rather isolated.
The Highland regiments
had also a distinctly stimulating effect. The habit of planting
ex-soldiers ;n America led to the establishment of a connection between
the Highlands and Nova Scotia and Albany. The letters and encouragement
sent home by the soldiers are frequently mentioned as promoting
emigration. But even this s rather an additional stimulus than a real
cause. A prosperous family of well-established social connections does
not readily tear itself up by the roots simply because it happens to
hear hopeful accounts of a new world. Some stronger incentive was needed
to urge on the leaders of the movement, though doubtless the influence
of the soldiers simplified the work of persuading some of the poorer
folk to go with them.
There is left then as a
possible real cause the general rise of rents in the Highlands, and this
is the explanation put forward most frequently to account for the
Pennant refers to it
repeatedly. It appears again in the writings of Knox, in Heron's
Observations (pub. 1792), :in Walker's Economical History of the
Hebrides (1808), in the Privy Council Papers, in the Parliamentary
Debates of the period, in the Old Statistical Account, and elsewhere.
But while most
authorities agree in mentioning the rise in rents as a cause of
emigration, the manner in which they make mention of the fact varies
indefinitely. Some regard the rise in rents as a piece of absolutely
indefensible tyranny; some like Pennant deplore the consequences, but
suggest at least a partial justification for the landlord in the
corresponding rise of cattle prices ; while there are others, like the
writers in the Farmer? Magazine, who go so far as to regard the rise as
a benefit to the Highlands, since it compelled the adoption of more
modern and economical systems of cultivation.
Who were the persons
primarily affected by this rise in rents, and what was the nature or the
rents previously paid?
In answer to the first
question, there can be little doubt that the people immediately affected
by the rise were the superior tenants, who in Highland estate economy
occupied a position not dissimilar to that of feudal tenants-in-chief.
On many estates the landlord does not appear to have come into direct
contact with the smaller tenants or cottagers. They held from the
superior tenants, the tacksmen, and could only receive an increase of
rents by the landlords, indirectly, and from the evidence that follows
it will seem very doubtful whether the under tenant could have paid more
for his land than he was already doing.
But the same is
emphatically not true of the rent paid by the tacksmen.
The position of the
tacksmen was peculiar. A. definition is given of the term in Carlisle's
Topographical Description of Scotland which runs as follows: 'One who
holds a lease from another, a tenant of a higher class :this term is
usually used in contradistinction to Tenants in general, who are such as
rent only a Portion of a Farm.'
Normally the special
emphasis is laid on the holding of a long lease or tack- -a tenure which
in early days might be taken as a definite mark of social as well as
Generally speaking the
original holders of the tacks were the younger sons of the chiefs, who
found that to grant farms on long leases and extremely moderate rents
was the simplest if not the only possible method of providing for their
large families. As might be expected, the social prestige of the holders
was therefore great. 'The class of tacksmen occupy nearly the same rank
in the Hebrides as belongs to that of men of landed property in other
parts of Britain* They are called Gentlemen, and appear as such ; and
obtain a title from the farm which they hold, nearly in the same manner
as gentlemen in other parts of the country obtain from their estates.
Almost all references to
them, even when abusive as those made by Burt, by Buchar.on and by
Duncan Forbes, still make use of the term 'gentlemen.' They prided
themselves upon the upkeep of a crowd of dependents, and the support of
a constant and lavish hospitality. Indeed, so far as we can gather from
Pennant and the Gartmore MSS. their personal habits and mode of life
were strikingly similar to those o< the chiefs.
The relations of the
tacksmen and the proprietors were naturally strongly coloured by the
social and kinship ties which bound them together. All the evidence we
have from Pennant, who describes the state of things before the
transition, to Buchanan, who in his Travels in the Western Hebrides is
writ-! between 1782-1790 of those districts where the tacksmen still
survived, confirms the belief that the leases were originally granted on
terms abnormally favourable to the holders.
'The tacksmen,' says
Anderson (1785), 'were treated with a mildness that made them consider
their leases rather as a sort of property, subjected to a moderate
quitrent to their superior, than as a fair and full rent for land in
The normal acquiescence
of the proprietor in this view was not, of course, due primarily to
sentimental attachments. As :s well known, Highland estate values before
the eighteenth century were reckoned not in money but in men. In the
military organisation of the clan, the tacksmen formed an essential
element, since by blood, instincts, and training they were its natural
lieutenants. As such they were indispensable to the chief, and they paid
for their lands in full by their services. Their money rents were
altogether a minor matter, and not being fixed by any economic
considerations, bore no necessary relation to the economic value of the
Once military services
became obsolete, and the rent was the sole return made by the tacksman
for hię land, the revision of rents by the landlord was inevitable.
Ever, if there had been no special causes at work, such as the rise in
cattle prices, rents must still have risen to correspond to the altered
social conditions of the Highlands.
Bat there arc other
considerations that also influence the eighteenth century proprietor.
The decay of the military side of 'the clan system left him viewing the
tacksman as an expensive and altogether unnecessary luxury on a
generally poor estate. For not only did he pay an inadequate rent, but
he possessed several other drawbacks that struck most forcibly those
landlords who had some ideas on estate improvement.
The tacksmen were bad
farmers. Pennant, who is always most sympathetic towards them, admits
candidly that they had not the habits of industry. Their establishments
were frankly medieval, and as Pennant himself said, the number of
labourers they maintained resembled a retinue of retainers rather than
the number required for the economical management of a farm. Forty years
later Macdonald, in the Agricultural Report of the Hebrides, confirms
this view. Macdonald is normally most moderate is his statements, but he
is emphatic in the opinion that the tacksmen, despite their many virtues
and accomplishments, had been largely instrumental in holding back the
agricultural progress of the Highlands. Exceptions existed, but the
average tacksman appeared to regard himself as superior to the drudgery
of farm work, while his natural conservatism was a bar to all
improvements. The first step towards any progress in the eyes of
Macdonald was the resumption by the proprietor of direct control over
his estates, and direct relations with his under tenants.
This brings us to the
second serious charge made against the tacksmen. Evidence abounds to
prove that the tacksmen were not good masters. Exorbitant rents, heavy
services, and insecurity of tenure are the characteristic marks of their
dealings with their under tenants. With the ethics of such practices we
are not for the moment concerned. The proprietor may have ohjected to
them on purely moral grounds, it is certain that he regarded them as an
economic grievance. By lavish subletting, or in the contemporary phrase
subsetting, a tacksman might live rent free, while the proprietor could
only look on and see hrs estate reduced to beggary by the sweating
practices already mentioned. A good landlord could not hut resent a
system so hostile to the hulk of his tenants; a bad landlord could not
but chafe at a practice so entirely unprofitable to himself.
One of the earliest
pieces of evidence we have on the subject is contained :n a report,
dated 1737, which was sent by Duncan Forbes of Culloden to the Duke of
Argyll. The report concerned certain estates of the latter which Forbes
had been sent to inspect with a view to the possibility of improvements.
The following is a quotation : ' The unmerciful exaction of the late
tacksman is the cause of those lands (i.e. of the Island of Coll) being
waste, which had it continued but for a very few years longer would have
entirely unpeopled the island. They speak of above one hundred familys
that have been reduced to beggary and driven out of the island within
these last seven years.' . . . ' But though your Grace's expectations or
mine may not be answered as to the improvement of the rent, yet in this,
I have satisfaction, and it may be some to you, that the method taken
has prevented <"he total! ruin of these islands, and the absolute loss
of the whole rent in time coming to your Grace, had the tacksmen been
suffered to continue their extortions a few years longer these islands
would have been dispeopled, and you must have been contented with no
rent, or with such as these harpies should be graciously pleased to
evidence is found i.i the British Museum MSS. dated 1750 (edited Lang),
which, after detailing various acts of oppression, laid down the
conviction of the author that the Highlands could not be improved until
the tacksmen either were deprived of their power of subsetring or held
it under conditions which would protect the interests of the under
tenants, or better still, were only allowed to keep such land as they
and their personal servants were able to cultivate.
It must not be thought
that the oppressive practices detailed by Forbes and the anonymous
writer were simply the Bfegering relics of a past age. Where the
tacksmen continue in existence, the abuses appear to have continued also
even to the end of the century and later.
An English traveller
writing from his personal observation in 1785 makes the following
'The chieftain lets out
his land m large lots to the inferior branches of the family, all of
whom must support the dignity or lairds. The renters jet the land out in
small parcels from year to year to the lower class of people, and to
support their dignity, squeeze everything out of them they can possibly
get, leaving them only a bare subsistence. Until this evil is obviated
Scotland can never improve.'
The Old Statistical
Account gives some cases referring to the same period. In Harris while
the small tenants directly under the proprietor had leases, those under
the tacksmen paid more rent and held at will. In Edderachylis, while the
proprietor had abandoned all claims to personal services, the tacksmen
exacted them so rigorously that they were able to dispense entirely with
any hired labour. However extravagant the demands, no tenant holding at
will, as all did, dared to refuse them, for no tacksman would have
received on his lands the rebellious tenant of another.
The writer on the parish
of Tongue drew a similar comparison between the conduct of the
proprietor and the tacksmen. He appealed to the authority of the former
to restrain the merciless exactions of the latter, which left their
tenants with neither time nor energy to cultivate their own farms. The
tacksmen, he held, were little better than West Indian slave drivers
But the heaviest
indictment of all is that which appears in Buchanon's Travels. Buchanon
was a Church of Scotland missionary, and the Travels are the result of
his personal observations of Hebridean conditions between 1782 and 1790.
T'he proprietors are referred to '.n terms of high praise, but the
tacksmen incur Buchanon's unqualified condemnation.
'The land is parcelled
out in small portions by the tacksmen among the immediate cultivators of
the soil, who pay their rent in kind and iit personal services. Though
the tacksmen for the most part enjoy their leases of whole districts on
liberal terms, their exactions from the subtenants are in general most
severe. They grant them their possessions only from year to year, and
lest they should forget their dependent condition, they are every year
at a certain term, with the most regular formality, ordered to quit
their tenements and to go out of the bounds of the leasehold estate . .
. there is not perhaps any part of the world where the good things of
this life are more unequally distributed. While the scallag and the
subtenant are wholly at the mercy of the tacksman, the tacksman from a
large and advantageous farm, the cheapness of every necessary, and by
means of smuggling every luxury, rolls in case and affluence.'
We may conclude from
these accounts, which might be amplified indefinitely, that the lower
classes in the Highlands did not stand to lose by any change which
transferred them from the power of the tacksmen to that of the owner.
To the unsentimental
observer the whole system of which the tacksman was a part appeared a
hopeless anachronism. The tacksmen were superfluous middlemen who farmed
badly, paid adequate rents, and by oppressive services prevented the
under tenants from attending properly to their farms.
No landowner just
becoming alive to the economic possibilities of his estates could
reasonably be expected to allow the system to continue. Some tried to
remedy matters by raising the rents of the tacksmen as they got the
opportunity. In not a few such cases, owing sometimes to the greed of
the proprietor, sometimes to his ignorance, and most often to want of
proper estate surveys, the rents were raised too high. Raiding rents,
however, is only one symptom of a general transition. So long as the
tacksmen had the power to shift the-r burdens on to the shoulders of
their under tenants, a mere rise in their rentals could supply no
adequate solution for the landlord's problems. There is a case, for
example, mentioned in the Caledonian Mercury of 1781, of a tacksman
holding lands near Lochgilphead. During the entire period of his lease,
he had, by subsetting, received always more rent than he had to pay.
If the tacksmen were to
be brought to fulfil a real economic function in the estate system,
there had to be changes more drastic than rent raising, and the more
advanced landowners were alive to this fact. The decay or the
destruction of the tacksman system did not proceed rapidly. It was not
even complete by the end of the eighteenth century. Sometimes it was
held back by sentimental considerations, the still surviving tie of
kinship or the pride of raising family regiments. Sometimes it was due
to the poverty of the proprietor and his real economic dependence on the
tacksmen;'' Cases exist when the tacksmen possessed all the movable
stock on an estate, and were therefore more or less indispensable to its
running. Sometimes the slowness is due to mere geographical situation,
remote areas perhaps not receiving the influx of new ideas until late in
Still the changes went
on, and what concerns us chiefly was their peculiar activity about the
sixties and seventies. To avoid misunderstanding let us be clear as to
what the changes implied. The elimination of the tacksmen did not mean
necessarily the elimination of the individuals who formed the class, nor
did it mean the elimination of leaseholders.
Under the new system
leases are granted, but granted on rents which represent, or are
intended to represent, the economic value of the land. These leases are
granted to a much wider class, and so far diminish the profit and the
prestige of those who had formerly held tacks. Again, the practice of
subsetting was abolished, or the services which might be exacted from
subtenants limited. Some of the subtenants were promoted at once to the
dignitv of leaseholders. Finally the whole relations of landlord and
tacksmen were put on a simple business footing, thereby extinguishing
the tacksman's partial sense of ownership, and the half-traditional of
kinship. The tacksmen, in fact, ceased to form a special and privileged
class. Their status was lowered as that of the under tenants was raised.
Such were the changes
that the more advanced landowners were aiming a: throughout the period
of the tirst emigration. How they were carried out we can gather from
the records of the Argyll estates. In the early part of the eighteenth
century certain lands in Mull, Tyree, and Morven which had been for
several centuries under the chief of the Clan M'Lean, fell into the
hands of the reigning Duke of Argyll, who in 1732 sent Campbell of
Stonerield to investigate and report upon his newly acquired estates.
Campbell reported that
the subtenants complained bitterly of the oppression of the tacksmen.
This state of things Campbell proposed to alter, partly by raising the
more substantial subtenants to the rank of tacksmen; partly by
compelling the tacksmen to give, leases to their under tenants; and
partly by drawing up a fixed statement of the services the tacksmen
might exact. An attempt was made also to commute the more oppressive
services into money rents, and as Campbell himself was not a judge of
local land values, and could not count on disinterested advice from
anyone, he took the only method of fixing rents open to him, that was to
invite the farmers to bid for their possessions.
It is not probable that
all Campbell's ideas were put into practice. Campbell himself may not
have possessed full powers, and the leases of the tacksmen could not in
any case be altered until they fell in for renewal. Accordingly, we rind
Duncan Forbes being sent in 1737 on a similar mission to that of
Campbell, a mission which resulted in the report from which we have
already quoted. Forbes' policy runs on lines similar to that of
Campbell, and he gives graphic details of the tacksmen's efforts to
defeat his plans and unite their under tenants in an elaborate
conspiracy against their own interests.
These examples, occurring
earlier than most, are yet typical of the changes that begin to take
place on many Highland estates. Tacksmen soon after the middle of the
century found themselves continually faced with the prospect of
heightened rents and lowered social position.
Some remained and adapted
themselves to the new conditions; a few became successful farmers of a
more modern type. Many of them, however, clung resolutely to the habits
ot their fathers, and rather than acquiesce ;n the changes, tried to
transfer themselves and their whole social system to the New World.
The point of view of the
tacksman is thus stated, somewhat unsympathetically, in an article which
appeared :n the Edinburgh Advertiser in 1772:
Such of these wadsetters
and tacksmen as rather wish to be distinguished as leaders, than by
industry, have not taken leases again, alleging that the rents are risen
above what the land will bear ; bur say they,' in order to be revenged
on our masters for doing so, and what is worse depriving us of our
subordinate chieftainship by abolishing our former privilege of
subsetting, we will not only leave his lands, but by spiriting the lower
class of people to emigrate, we shall carry a class to America, and when
they are there they must work for us or starve.'
To say why the under
tenants went might involve an elaborate study of the psychology of the
Highlanders. We can only suggest here that the habits of obedience
engendered for generations were not easily overcome, while the report of
Duncan Forbes on conditions :n Mull showed how apparently easy it was
for the ignorant under tenants to be persuaded by the tacksmen into
courses almost obviously opposed to their own interests.
Such were the causes and
the manner of the emigration of the seventies, a movement which deprived
the Highlands of a considerable number of its influential men and a
still greater proportion of its available capital. The movement has been
often misrepresented both by eighteenth century and by modern writers.
As recently as 19x4 we find an author in the December number of the
Celtic Review treating the whole incident along traditional lines, the
poverty and absolute helplessness of the emigrants being contrasted with
the brutality and greed of the landowners.
But such a view is not in
harmony with what we have been able to discover of the facts. We would
go further and say that in many respects the Highlands gained rather
than lost by this particular emigration movement. Putting aside the
purely sentimental writers, those who have lamented most the departure
of the tacksmen appear to have been influenced less by the thought of
what they were than by the dream of what they might have become. The
possibilities of the tacksmen system have for the Highland reformer an
almost irresistible attraction. The tacksmen had the glamour of
tradition behind them They were picturesque. They had the pleasing
appearance of bridging the social gulf between owner and crofter. They
had some education, some capital, and the habit of leadership, of all
which qualities the eighteenth century Highlands stood in need.
But the value of this to
the community was potential rather than real. In practice, the
tacksman's capital was a means of oppression not of development, his
leadership led generally in the wrong direction, while his insistence on
lines of social demarcation could not have been surpassed by the
proprietor himself. Rather than lose his social privileges he emigrated.
Regrettable as was the
loss of any good inherent in the tacksmen system, the gain was greater
than the loss, and the regret expended on the emigration of the
seventies is a tribute to romance rather than to economics.
Margaret I. Adam.
The same author also produced another article on the same subject which
you can read below in pdf format...
The Causes of the Highland
Emigrations of 1783-1803