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The Blackhalls of that Ilk and Barra
Chapter X. — After the Mar Action


WE may return now to some particulars concerning other members of the family of William Blackhall of that Ilk and Elizabeth Strachan, his wife. Their eldest daughter, Margaret, must have married young—some time prior to 1629, and she was probably born in 1610-11, for, as will be shown later, two of her sons subscribed a legal document in 1650. She married Patrick Forbes, the third son of Arthur Forbes, portioner of Meikle Wardeis, and of Margaret Leslie, daughter of Alexander Leslie, fourth baron of Pitcaple, a branch of the Leslie family which, as I have stated, had royal blood in its veins. (Genealogy of the House of Forbes, p. 36, and Historical Records of the Family of Leslie, p. 383, Vol. III.) Colonel Leslie’s statements with reference to this Forbes connection are, however, a travesty of facts complicated by misprints or ignorance. In no field of research is it more necessary to be scientifically accurate than in genealogy. To “verify facts” here is of the first importance, for their interest is biological, and their truth is usually the chief value they possess. Arthur Forbes of Meikle Wardeis was the fourth son of Alexander Forbes, sixth laird or baron of Pitsligo by Beatrix Abernethy, daughter of the fourth Lord Salton (Douglas's Peerage, Vol. II., p. 470).* To Margaret Blackhall and her family I shall again refer.

*Alexander, second Lord Forbes of Pitsligo, succeeded his father, the first peer, as a minor, on April 27th, 1637. On the 30th of August in the previous year, Alexander Forbes of Boyndlie was served his tutor-atdaw or heir presumptive. Forbes of Boyndlie was the nephew of Arthur Forbes of Meikle Wardeis—the son of his elder brother. This Tutor of Pitsligo was succeeded in the same position by his grandson, also Alexander Forbes of Boyndlie (Douglas, loc. cit., p. 369). The latter is the Tutor of Pitsligo, so frequently mentioned by Spalding as representing the influence and interests of Lord Pitsligo during his minority, in the Mernorialls of the Trubles. These Forbeses of Boyndlie must not be confused with a later family having the same designation, who were cadets of Monymusk, not of Pitsligo, and are now represented by Mr. Ogilvie Forbes of Boyndlie.

Their second daughter, Janet, married James Urquhart (Acts and Decreets, Vol. 578, fol. 3) who appears at one time to have been tenant of Blackhall. Who he was I know not; of what manner of man he was there is some evidence. He is apparently the person to whom Dr. Davidson refers in the following terms: — “Inverurie furnished an instance to which the phrase about insolence is sufficiently applicable. James Urquhart, whose name appears alongside of Alexander Jaffray’s in the list of excommunications in 1668” (as an apostate to Quakerism) “was apparently Jaffray’s tenant in Ardtannis. He was in Blackhall formerly, and was conjoint in a proposal for purchasing the Davo lands of Inverurie from Alexander Jaffray in 1662. James Urquhart, with his wife and two other persons, Robert Gordon and John Robertson, had been converts of Jaffray’s. Urquhart treated all the citations of the different Church Courts with contempt, but his excommunication was made much of by his party.” (Inverurie, p. 342.) Davidson does not appear to have known that he married Janet Blackhall.

Their third daughter, Katharine, was unmarried in 1655 (Acts and Decreets, Vol. 578, fol. 3), and there is no evidence of her having married later. They appear to have had a fourth daughter, Jean, whose death is thus recorded: — “1622. Jeane Blakhall, dochter to William Blakhall of that Ilk, departit this lyff 8 December, 1622 ; bureit in this Kirk.” (James Mill’s Register.)

The last note I have found of Elizabeth Strachan or Blackhall is in 1649, when, with her consent and that of her children, “Robert Farquhar, baillie of Aberdeen,” a money-lending burgess too well known to the Aberdeenshire gentry of the period, alienated Knockinblewis to Alexander Leslie of Tullos. Her widowhood of 26 years had not been without incident of a more or less disagreeable character, which she had apparently met with fortitude and with the galling consciousness that the misfortunes which had overtaken her husband’s family, were also overshadowing her own old home at Thornton. The old order was in many places changing, giving place to the new. The prescience of the burgess-coroner, William Blackball of that Ilk of 1504, was being justified—the town was conquering the. country ; not with the iron hand, and life as the stakes of the game, but with the silken purse and the aid of an art unknown to many men of position in the country districts e\en at this period, namely, the power to read and to write, and to see in a wider world of culture and of commerce a more fruitful source of sustenance than in the howes and knowes of a land in which the laird was supreme.

XI. John Blackhall of that Ilk.

The. Mar action with its decisions had come and gone during the minority of John Blackhall: On the 29th day of September, 1643, the inquest met which retoured him heir male to his father. The fifteen men who met for the purpose were all burgesses of Aberdeen of one degree or another, with the exception of one, and he was a farmer. This point, as I suggested before, has a certain. interest, as showing the social status of an heir, for birds more or less of a feather used at that time to flock together, and John Blackhall was surrounded by a distinctly burghal atmosphere. He was retoured to Blackhall with the hereditary offices, and to Auldtown of Knockinblewis, all being stated to be held “ immediate in capite de S.D.N. Rege et suis successoribus pro servitio warde et relevii,” and the lands and offices are stated to have been continuously in the hands of the King since the decease of William Blackhall, the father of the said John (Record of Retours, Vol. 17, fol. 231). Whether or not the equivalent of the twelve dog-collars of yore, and whatever else was due as feu-duty or other charge to a feudal superior, was payable to anyone, does not transpire, but vassalship to any other than the King was either entirely forgotten or quite ignored. As I mentioned before (p. 20), eleven shillings and a penny are now paid by the present proprietor of Blackhall to the Duke of Fife, whose ancestor bought much of the superiority of the Earls of Mar after their forfeiture for rebellion in 1715. On November 6th, 1643, John Blackhall obtained sasine of the town and lands of Blackhall, with the mansion and manor place of Blackhall and the offices of Coroner and Forester of the Garioch, &c. (Aberdeenshire Sasines, Vol. XII., fol. 551).

One of the documents produced in the Mar action, for the defendants, was a charter of the lands of Auldtown of Knockinblewis, granted by His Majesty under the Great Seal to William Blackhall, apparent of that Ilk, proceeding on the resignation of John Leslie, elder of Balquhain and of John Leslie, younger of Balquhain, and dated August 7th, 1610. This transaction has been referred to in the paragraphs dealing with John Blackhall’s father. More or less mortgaged, it remained, as has also been stated, in the hands of the family until 1649, when John Blackhall was one of the consenting parties to its alienation.

John, unlike his father, does not seem to have been a pillar of his race, and it was probably a last effort to retain something in the hands of the next representatives of his family which induced him to grant an instrument of seising of the Mains of Blackhall, on the 9th of April, 1650, to Patrick Forbes in Nether Mondurno, and to Margaret Blackhall, his eldest sister, in conjunct fee, and to the survivor of them, and thereafter to their heirs and assigns whatsoever. He appears to have retained the offices, and whatever else of the estate which still remained, in his own hands. He seems also to have given a bond for 200 merks of borrowed money to his second cousin, William Blackhall, son of Alexander Blackhall of Finnersie, like himself a representative of the forfeited Blackhalls of Barra (Register of Acts and Decreets, Vol. 578, fol. 3). Dr. Davidson states that in February, 1648, he was married in Aberdeen as Captain John Blackhill of that Ilk, the name, it will be remembered, in which his grandfather, Alexander Blackhall of that Ilk, signed the Band anent the religion at Aberdeen in 1592. His wife’s name was Isabel Robertson (Inverurie, &c., p. 229). If he thus married, he died sometime in 1655, prior to May in that year, without issue, as will appear from a document to which I shall presently refer. And so the last of the hereditary Coroners and Foresters of the Garioch, and the representative of time-old traditions, both sundit and shadowed, like the portions of Barra itself, disappears from the scene. One would like to imagine that the accidents incidental to a military career, rather than his own incapacity, account for the oblivion which now rests on the name of the son of an able father and mother, and the first cousin of that successful soldier, John, the self-made Earl of Middleton. But this is not history, and we are reluctantly driven to the conclusion that the last of the Blackhall Coroners was an improvident creature, whose unavoidable misfortunes might have procured him some sympathy, but whose inconsiderate and weak actions brought still further misfortune 011 others.

XII. Patrick Forbes and Margaret Blackhall of Blackhall.

The grant by John Blackhall of that Ilk of the Mains of Blackhall to Patrick Forbes and his own eldest sister is signed at Berrahillock on the 3rd of January, 1650, and witnessed by two sons of the infefted, namely, Hew and William Forbes, and by Thomas Ethrington, the clerk to William Chalmer, the notary public who drew the deed, some others also being present. (Aberdeenshire Snsines, Vol. XIV., fol. 232.) Husband and wife were probably associated in this grant to fulfil the conditions of general entail male contained in the agreement made by William Blackhall of that Ilk and his father, already mentioned.

Patrick Forbes and his wife had sasine on this charter on the 8th of April, 1650, and the extent of the Mains of Blackhall in this document is stated to have been two “ plough gates,” or 208 acres, which is about the size of the farms of Blackhall and Nether Blackhall combined as these exist to-day. So far as one can judge, Patrick Forbes and his wife were left undisturbed in their modest possession, with a tamily largely of sons, the youngest at this time seven years of age, grown or growing up around them. There appears now to have been a short period of comparative rest from legal disturbance. They might reasonably have hoped that the memory of the old race, the rem»ant of whose possessions they occupied, might still be worthily represented in blood, if not in name. We shall learn that this hope also was largely disappointed, and that a fresh twist of the legal toils in which they found themselves, was about to extrude the last Blackhall from Blackhall. On July yth, 1655, Robert Craig of I’itfodels obtained sasine on a charter under the Great Seal of the town and lands of Blackhall, etc., which pertained before to John Blackhall of that Ilk; also 011 the town and lands of Knockinblewes, etc., redeemable and under reversion to the said John Blackhall, his heirs and assigns, conform to the laws anent legal reversions of apprised lands. (Aberdeenshire Sasines, Vol. XVIII., fol. 26.)

On the 9th of November following (1655) a Mr. James Leith brought an action before the Commissioners for administering justice, at Edinburgh, against the daughters of the late William Blackhall of that Ilk and sisters of the late John Blackhall of that Ilk as heirs of line of these, against the husbands of Margaret and Janet Blackhall, as well as against some one whose name is illegible, but who is described as “ advocate-geiltral,” and against Alexander Jaffray of Kingswells, Director of the Chaneellerie, “ and all others having or pretending to have intres in the said matter,” to recover certain sums said to be due to

the pursuer as cessioner or assignee of their debts. (Acts and Decreets, Vol. 578, fol. 3.) Of these sums, one was a liability for 4000 merks said to have been incurred by William Blackhall of that Ilk on the 5th of January, 1623 (that is thirty-two years previously), to be paid after his death to his daughters in the proportion of 2000 merks to Margaret and 1000 to each of the others. The other claim was for a sum of 200 merks obtained “in friendlie borrowing” by John Blackhall of that Ilk from William Blackhall, son of Alexander Blackhall of Finnersie, and for the repayment of which John Blackhall rendered his heirs responsible on the 3rd of December. 1649. The heirs portioners of the Blackhalls could not meet these responsibilities, and replied by renouncing their heritage, when the Commissioners “weill and rypelie advysed” . . . . “assoilzied” them “simpliciter,” and gave Leith and his assigns the right to the Blackhall property.

In his claim, it is of interest to note that Leith includes not only Blackhall, but also Knockinblewes and the office of “ Crunner and Forrester of the Garioch.” It is likewise interesting, for reasons already discussed, to observe that the lands are said to be “ holdine of the Lord Protector as now becom in vice and plaice of the lait King, last Superior thereof,” and again “of His Highness the Lord Protector and his successors superiors thereof.” It might legitimately be concluded from these statements that, so far as the Blackhalls were concerned, the Mar action resulted in little else than additional legal expenses imposed upon an already impoverished family, but there is a note to be referred to presently which seems to show that the Earl of Mar acquired some status in the matter. The forfeitures of James VI. had now led to their final result, and although the departure from Blackhall of the representatives of those who had faithfully served the Crown for centuries did not take place till two years later, this action had prepared the way for their final extrusion.

What the precise fate of Mr. Leith was I cannot gather, for his predecessor in the disturbance just mentioned again takes up the running in the Register of Sasines. On April 16th, 1656, Alexander Leslie of Tullos obtained sasine of Blackhall from Robert Craig, and of that “plough of land of the town and lands of Knockinglowis” once belonging to John Blackhall of that Ilk (Aberdeenshire Sasines, Vol. XVIII., fol. 283). Again, on January 26, 1657, there is registered a renunciation by Alexander Leslie of Tullos to Francis Abercrombie of the town and lands of the Mains of Blackhall, manor place, etc., “ with the office of ane crouner and forester of Garioch.” Francis Abercrombie, later Lord Glasford, was that “ worthie gentleman, eldest lawful son and appearant aire to Alexander Abercrombie of Fetterneir” (and a member of the family, it will be remembered, which sought protection against Elizabeth Strachan or Blackhall and others in 1631), to whom Patrick Forbes and Margaret Blackhall gave an instrument of sasine which was “presented be the Laird” on the 10th of March, 1657, and signed by him and Margaret Blackhall on the 2nd of the same month and year. Patrick Forbes appended his “seale of Arms,” and his hand was led at the pen by James Ferguson, notary public, as he'stated, because he “could nocht wrytt” himself; while the same notary, together with another named George Milne, signed the deed “at the command of the said Margaret, who could nocht wreat as she affirmit.” And this was done upon the grounds of the saidis landi.s, day, moneth and yeire of God above specified, betwixt one houre and two houris in the efternoone or thereby” (Aberdeenshire Sasines, Vol. XIX., folio 135).

Francis Abercrombie thus obtained the lands of Blackhall, to be held of His Highness the Lord Protector in place of the late King, in consequence of a historic forfeiture, little anticipated by the feudal superior of Blackhall and Barra in 1590. The Abercrombies did not hold Blackhall long. Francis Abercrombie, now become Lord Glasford, obtained sasine on a charter by Charles, Earl of Mar, of the town and lands of Blackhall on April 7th, 1688 (Aberdeenshire Sasines, Vol. XIII., fol. 90), and William Thayne on May 5th, also in 1688, had sasine of the same lands from Francis, Lord Glasford, with consent of Dame Anna Scmple, his spouse.

The Blackhalls were now a memory too remote to be mentioned in the exchange of the acres from which they took, or to which they gave, their name. But 1688, which saw them unknown in connection with their old home, also saw William of Orange cast anchor in Torbay and the last of the Stuart dynasty an exile in France. Once more “the story of Naboth’s vineyard” (p. 35) “is not new.” “Naboth,” indeed, and his family had suffered since the King first set covetous eyes on his property, but “Jehu” was now at the gates of “Jezreel” and the kingdom reft from the “House of ‘Ahab.’”

It may seem an anti-climax to associate so small with so great ari event, but the spirit which brought about the one was so incurably ingrained in the immediate descendants of the pedant King of Scots that it also brought about the greater historic fact. The perversity which could unjustly crush an occasional vassal in faithful Scotland became, if no more iniquitous, an insanity when directed against a long-suffering, deceived, but finally indignant people in arms, a large proportion of whom did not regard the tyrants of that time even as fellow-countrymen. Quos Dens vult perdere prius demented. With the later history of Blackhall we are not concerned.

Patrick Forbes and Margaret Blackhall had five sons, James, Arthur, Hugh, William and John. All these died without issue except John, of whom, as the immediate heir of line of the Barra B'ackhalls of that Ilk, a short account may be given. (Troup's Manuscript Genealogy of the House of Forbes, collated from various sources, and among others from an old family tree in the repositories of the last Lord Forbes of Pitsligo, attainted for rebellion in 1745.) They also had a daughter, Isobel, who married the Revd. John Mair, M.A., and had issue (Fasti Eccles. Scotic.)

John Forbes, the youngest son of Patrick Forbes and of Margaret Blackhall, was born in 1643. Like the burgess-coroner of 1504, this son of parents who could not write and presumably could not read, set his lace towards Aberdeen, but his object was not the same. The coroner went to Aberdeen to acquire wealth to spread his territorial borders, and sit secure under the feudal superiority of the Scottish Crown—a confidence we have seen not too well founded. John Forbes went thither to sit under the shadow of the old crown-tower of King’s College, and gain there the power to conquer territory which knows no feudal superior, and in which the fruits of victory are not alienable by anything short of death, and sometimes not by that. He graduated Master of Arts at University and King’s College pn July yth, 1668, and was admitted to the charge of Logie-Coldstone as its minister sometime prior to the 6th of March, 1677 (Fasti Ecdesice Scoticance, by Dr. Hew Scott, Vol. III., pt. 2, p. 534). The church lands of Coldstone were for many generations in the possession of his father’s family—the Forbeses of Pitsligo. (The Records of Aboync—New Spalding Club. pp. 30 31.) In 1680 he was transferred to the parish of Kincardine O'Neil. The patronage of this church appears at that time to have been in the hands of the Forbeses of Craigievar. (Davidson’s Inverurie, &c., p. 235.) He married “ Margaret, daughter of Strachan of Thornton ” (Fasti Eccles. Scotic., Vol. III., pt. 2, p. 518). On this point a few words are necessary. I have so far failed to find the authority for this fact, but Dr. Scott, a most careful historian in such matters, must have found it, as he corrects the manifest error on this point made by Macfarlane in his genealogical manuscript. John Strachan, the Tutor of Thornton, and maternal grand-uncle of John Forbes, predeceased his grand-nephew, Sir Alexander Strachan, the second Baronet of Thornton, who died without male issue in 1659. I am informed, however, by Miss McGilchrist Gilchrist (Letter), who is engaged in a careful investigation of the genealogy of this family, that the Tutor and the Baronet were both survived by the eldest son of the former, who would de jure be “ Strachan of Thornton,” and should, one would have supposed, have been the third Baronet, but who, for some reason or by some arrangement, appears not to have assumed the title. The fine property of the Strachans had, by the time the second Baronet died, practically all left the hands of the main line of the family. According to Rogers (Memorials of the Families of Strachan and Wise, Ed. 1877, p. 51), the third Baronet was Sir James Strachan, ihe representative of a remote ancestor of the Tutor and of the second Baronet. Legal documents show that Margaret Strachan, the wife of the Revd. John Forbes, could not have been a daughter of Sir James Strachan (Rogers, Op. cit., p. 68). The Tutor's son, also John Strachan, had four daughters (Elizabeth, Katharine, Isobel and Margaret), and so far as is known, no male issue. The presumption therefore is, that this Margaret was the wife of John Forbes, who must, therefore, have married his second cousin.

Whatever family they may at one time have had, at the time of John Forbes’s death all that remained was a daughter named Nicola, who had a special retour as heir to her father on the 16th of August, 1710, the retour being recorded on the 29th of September in the same year (Record of Retours, Vol. 53, fol. 551). The property inherited was the bond for a sum of 2000 merks, for money lent by John Forbes to John Gordon of Rothiemay irt 1695, on the security of Aurhincrieve and Rothiemay. Nicola is designed “sola filia legitkna nunc viventis (vivans) dicti quondom Magistri Joannis Forbes sui patris et legittimus et propinquior haeres dicti quondam sui patris.” She married (Register of Kincardine O' Neil), on October 30th, 1707, John Forbes, laird of Kincardine, who was the sixth son of Sir John Forbes, the second Baronet of Craigievar, and at one time a merchant in Aberdeen, “ of considerable stock and credit.” He acquired Kincardine from his brother, Sir Robert Forbes of Auchinhuive, an advocate in Edinburgh, in consequence of having lent the latter 23,000 merks. This transaction led to an interesting lawsuit some years later, which was decided in John Forbes’s favour (Remarkable Decisions of the Court of Session, from 1716 to 1728, by the Honourable Henry Home of Kames, p. 204, No. CV., Feb. 15th, 1728). John Forbes of Kincardine’s mother was Margaret Young (of Auldbar), a descendant of old Peter Young the Octavian, of forfeited estates notoriety. Her initials, with those of her husband, are still to be seen on the iron handle of an old garden gate at Craigievar. The Barra Blackhalls of that Ilk are now represented by the descendants of a daughter of this marriage.

After the death of Nicola Forbes, the laird of Kincardine married, as his second wife, a daughter of Peter Farquharson of Inverey (Douglas Baronage, p. 548, based on family writs), and left issue which is also still represented.

The Reverend John Forbes of Kincardine O’Neil died between the 28th of April and the 14th of May, 1708 (Fasti Eccles. Scotic.,loc. cit.). The church in which he ministered for a considerable period, apparently with much acceptance, is thus described in 1725 : “ The said church is a goodly edifice, higher and wider than any others upon Dec, thatch’d at present with heather. Tho’ the building be pretty large, yett it’s shorter by a half, as appears by the remaining walls, than it has been within these hundred years ” (Illustrations of the Topography and Antiquities of the Shires of Aberdeen and Banff, Vol. II., pp. 2-4). It is now (1905) a picturesque ivy-clad ruin, roofless, but with well-preserved walls and gables. The interior, where living worshipers once sat, is occupied by the graves of some of the wealthier parishioners, the not unusual fate of some of the older parish churches in Scotland. John Forbes was buried near the church, and let into the ivy-covered southern wall, facing a broad sweep of the rippling Dee, there is a commemorative marble tablet, about two feet square, with the following still clean cut inscription :—

Joanes Forbesius, Presbyter, ex nobili Dominorum de Pitsligo oriundus familia, doctrinae, facundiae, prudentiae, integritatis, amicitiae, pietatis ac pacis laudibus illustris. Quum Curam pastoraleni alibi et hie per 28 annos maximo cum Ecclesiae et Gregis sibi commissi emolumento sustinuisset, atque DEUM in terris fnelici studio praedicasset, ad superos migravit A.^E.C. 1708 ^tatis 65.

Thus, after a disappointing and debt-burdened interval following the Jacobean forfeitures, the son of Margaret Blackhall and Patrick Forbes, now the heir of line of the Barra-Blackhall Coroners of the Garioch, passed through a peaceful life to an honoured grave, leaving a memory cherished by his contemporaries and not forgotten by his posterity. A few years more were to see the cultured and chivalrous head of his father’s house, Alexander, fourth and last Lord Forbes of Pitsligo, a forfeited fugitive, lurking in his old age in holes and crannies on his own estate, for participation in both the Jacobite rebellions, and for loyalty to a dynasty which had done little to merit such sacrifices. In this case, too, the Stuart nightmare passed, and the worthy banker-Baronet of Monymusk restored, also through the distaff-side, the fortunes of the Forbeses of Pitsligo.


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