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The Race of the Trough
By A. M. Mackintosh


THE traditionary story of the posterity of the Trough is found in most books dealing with the history of strathspey and the Grants, and is well known. It tells how the Gordons under Lord Huntly combined with the Grants of Strathspey in making a raid on Deeside, in which that district was desolated and most of its inhabitants were slaughtered; how a number of children made homeless orphans in the raid were taken by Huntly to his castle, where they were fed together, like swine, out of long trough constructed for the purpose; and how the laird of Grant, visiting Huntiy some time afterwards and seeing the orphans 'slabbing at their trough,' was so struck with pity that he proposed to share in their maintenance and was allowed to take half of them to Strathspey, where they were adopted into the Clan Grant, their posterity being distinguished by the title Sliochd 'n Amar— the Race of the Trough.

Such are the main incidents as related in various 'popular' accounts which have appeared in print, the most, recent of which are those in Longmuir's Speyside, Rampini's Moray and Nairn in the County Histories Series, and Forsyth's In the Shadow of Cairngorm. These, however, may be dismissed as being merely repetitions and elaborations of previous accounts, without any authority derived from direct tradition. Indeed, it is very unlikely that any pure tradition on the subject has existed for the last three or four generations at least; and, generally speaking, there is in the present day perhaps no local tradition or any historical matter if more than a century ago which has not been tinctured and adulterated by printed books. The authnr of Legevds of the Braes o' Mar—a book which might reasonably be expected to contain some reference to tradition or. the subject— contents himself with copying the account 'given by one of our historians,' i.e. Sir Walter Scott, in Tales of a Grandfather (History of Scotland), chap. xxxx. He speaks of it as connected with the killing of the baron of Braichle in 1592, but 'a total misrepresentation of the case'; and he concludes with the statement that 'no sach thing ever happened to the inhabitants of the Braes of Mar." He gives reasons for his belief that the story is not a true picture of what took place in 1592, but he seems to go too far in positively denying that the main incidents narrated in it ever took place.

In all probability the 'popular' accounts refered to have been founded on that in an 'Old MS. History of the Grants' quoted in W. Grant Stewart's Lectures on the Mountains (2nd Series, p. 115) published in 1860, and perhaps on Sir Walter Scott's version—of which more anon. A somewhat earlier account than that given by W. Grant Stewart is contained :n a Genealogy of the Grants attributed to Mr. James Chapman, minister of Cromdale from 1702 to 1737, and printed in Macfarlane's Genealogical Collections by the Scottish Historical Society in 1900.

In these several accounts the number of orphans in charge of Huntly is variously stated—three or four score in the old MS. Grant History, 'above six score' in Chapman's MS., and as many as two hundred by Sir Walter Scott—but all agree in attributing the raid to the desire of avenging the slaughter of a baron of Braichlie. The two MS. accounts place the event in the time of James Grant, third of Freuchie, known as Seumas nan Creach, whose chiefship extended from 1528 to 1553, and if tile event ever took place—and no reason appears for doubting that it is historical —all the probabilities point to this as the correct period.

The mention of the baron of Braichlie in the story, however, has given rise to suggestions of a later date. Two barons of Braichlie of the name of Gordon are found in history as having come to violent ends—one in a raid into Strathdee and Genmulck by the Clan Chattan in 1592, the other in a quarrel with John Farquharson of Inverey in 1666; and each of these occurrences has been suggested as marking the period of the raid, presumably either in ignorance of the period. of Seumas nan Creach or on the very assumption that he was introduced into the story in error. Neither 1592 nor 1666 can be accepted as the proper date. The raid of the Clan Chattan in 1592, in which the earlier Braichlie was killed, was directed against Huntly's possessions and followers on Deeside, below Braemar, and was an incident in a small civil war of a few years' duratioin which the Grants were leagued with the Macintoshes, the Earls of Moray and Atholl, and others against that noble; while the king of Bra;chlie in 1666 was an event with which the Grants had nothing whatever to do, being merely an episode in a quarrel between neighbours. There is not a record of any raid by e;ther Gordons or Grants in connection with it, and the proceedings subsequent to Braichlie's death were carried on by ordinary process of law through the Privy Council and the Justiciary Court. Betides, it took place so short a time (only thirty-six years) before the admission of Chapman as minister at Cromdale that if the children of the Trough had been imported into Strathspey after 1666, that writer must actually have known some of them, and would certainly not have placed his story in the time of Seumas nan Creach, more than a century earlier.

Sir Walter Scott, the 'historian' whose account is quoted at length in Legends of the Braes o' Mar, if he thought about the question of date at all—which is doubtful— would seem to favour the more recent date (1666), as he speaks of the Marquis of Huntly, a title which was not bestowed until 1599. But Sir Walter cannot always be taken seriously as a historian; ever in writing on historical subjects he could not get away from the fact that his proper and natural role was that of a romancist or shake off the desire to make a good story, and the sublime indifference to accuracy on the matter of dates and similar details which characterises his historical romances is apparent in his incursions into the realm of serious history. He no doubt obtained the story of the Trough from Chapman's MS. (already mentioned) in Macfarlane's Co!lection of MSS. purchased for the Advocates' Library in 1785, and the manner in which he has added body and colour to that skeleton-like recital of incidents is a fair example of his usual method. Not only does he give graphic descriptions of the plan of campaign in the raid by the Gordons and Grants and of the orphans feeding at the trough at 'the Marquis's Castle' balcony (overlooking k;vhen, master-cook's silver whistle, struggling, biting, scratching, etc., of the children, and so on), but he increases the number of children by two-thirds, makes the laird of Gran: take all to Strathspey, instead of half, and—worse still— makes the Farquharsons the sufferers in the raid and the parents of the children of the Trough. His version of the story is, perhaps, the one most widely spread, and most people acquainted with it at the present day are under the impression that the orphans were all Farquharsons; but Sir Walter had no authority for introducing that name into his story, and it may be presumed did so merely because in his own time it was the name -or one of the names— most intimately associated with Deeside, the district mentioned by Chapman as the original home of the orphans.

That there must have been some foundation in fact for the story scarcely admits of question; the tenacity of the tradition and the fact that in Chapman's time the descendants of the orphans were still distinguishable seem conclusive. ' Those of them that were brought to Castle Grant are to this day called Slick Nam mar (sic), i.e. the Posterity of the Trough, and they are promiscuously called Grants or Gordons,' says the reverend gentleman. The other MS. Grant History above referred to mentions some of the 'several families of the Slick-na-mar in Strathspey, as Macfinlay Roys in Cuichoich Beg and McJameses in Inverallan Parish'; and these names are frequently found down to a comparatively recent period in the parish registers as aliases of both Gordons and Grants, while even at the present day families of Grant are still to be found in some of the Speyside parishes who are known as belonging to the Race of the Trough. No doubt, therefore, there was at some time more or less remote an importation into the Grant country of persons whose descendants were marked off and distinguished by that title, and the main question remaining for consideration is, When did this importation take place?

The MS. accounts which have been mentioned—both of the eighteenth century and the only available accounts entitled to any real authority —agree in saying that it was in the time of Seumas (James) nan Creach, the Grant chief from 1528 to 1553, Chapman, indeed, giving 1540 as the actual date. James 'of the Forays' would have been a most likely person to make such a raid as that of the story, and, as it happens, there is actual evidence of a fierce and sanguinary feud between the Grants and the inhabitants of the upper Dee country in his time-- not actually during his chief-ship, but only a year or two before his accession, when he was more than forty years old. This evidence is contained in several documents among the muniments at Castle Grant, and may be read in the third volume of The Chiefs of Giant, produced in 1883 under the editorship of the late Sir William Fraser. Suffice it to say here that for some time before October 1527, when an agreement for a cessation of hostilities was made, a state of war had existed between Strathspey and the upper Dee district, in which each side had invaded the territory of the other, with great plundering and slaughtering- ''truncacionem et depopuiacionem hominum ac asportacionem animaPum granorum rerumque aliarum'—and in these proceedings it can hardly be supposed that the heir-apparent to the Grant chiefship, James of the Forays, did not take a prominent part, even if he were not the actual leader of the Grants. In the agreement of October 1527 he is named next to his father or the side of the Grants, and in subsequent documents relating to the same events, after his father's death 1528, he is of course the first mentioned on that side.

The Earl of Huntly was concerned in the affair not, so far as appears, as acting with the Grants, but as the Crown administrator of the lands of the Earldom of Mar, which were at the time in the King's lands and in which was included the district affected by the raid. Holding such a position, the Earl—quite apart from any feelings of commiseration which may have moved him, and with which Chapman credits him—would be almost bound to take measures for the preservation and protection of the children (the number of whom probably increased with the age of the tradition) who had been deprived of parents and homes in the course of the feud, and he could scarcely have done this without removing them from the desolated district. Thus his Inclusion in the story may be accounted for without so far stretching probabilities and ignoring ascertained conditions as to make him a participator in the raid; in fact, his inclusion in this character was in all probability a late addition to the local story in the time of Chapman. That there actually were orphans is evident from the agreement of October 1527 between die Grants on the one part and 'Fyndlayus Farquharesone' and a number of other tenants of the King in ' Stradee' on the other, 'pro se, suis prolibus, crpkanis, consan-guineis, amicis et adherentibus, etc.' Orphans are similarly mentioned in another agreement, a few months later, between the Grants and the Strathdee tenants of the Earl of Huntly and Gordon of Abergeldie, who had also suffered in the raid. But nothing appears in the documents as to any carrying away of orphans, and it is quite possible that those taken by Huntly may have been only from his own lands.

It is very likely, too, that the name of the baron of Brairhlie was introduced into the story in the course of time as being a well-known name connected with Deeside in song and story, and in order to account for the raid and for the inclusion of Huntly as a party to it.

However these things may be, the Children of the Trough cannot consistently with original authorities or historical probabilities be regarded as Farquharsons, as, on Scott's sole responsibility they are widely held to have been; and if the events on which the story is founded may he assigned to the year 1527—a course which is strongly favoured by probability and recorded historical facts—it is scarcely possible that they could have been Farquharsons. It is true that Fyndlayus Furquharson (Finla Mar) appears in connection with the events as; the principal man among the King's tenants, but he is the only one of his name in the long list of tenants given in the agreement of October 1527; moreover, the Clan Farquharson can scarcely be said to have come into being until after his death, and it was not until the time of his grandsons that the Fnrquharsons spread over and acquired a hold on the districts of Bremar and Strathdee.

Altogether the story is a good specimen of the class of traditionary narratives which, although smacking considerably of mere legend, have yet a solid foundation in fact and are redolent of the wild times in which their incidents took place. It also affords an illustration of the proneness of tradition as its age increases to gather extraneous matter and to blend and confuse persons and circumstances of distant periods. Sir Walter Scott himself was sensible of this tendency when he wrote that 'tradition will accurately preserve the particulars of ardent events, even whilst forgetting, mis-stating, and confounding dates and persons.'

A. M. Mackintosh.


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