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Deeside Tales
Chapter V


THE BLACK WATCH

“Who so trim as a kilted laddie?
Tight his gear, and light his adorning,
With only a buckle his breast to fasten
When he leaps to his feet in the morning.
—Mac Mhaighstir A Ulstairt tr. by D. Mitchell.

ALTHOUGH the brilliant campaigns of Montrose and Dundee must have taught the imperial government that within the Highland line there | were the ready materials for almost indefinitely increasing the military strength of the nation, yet it is strange that for long after no attempt was made to enlist the Highlanders in the service of the country, but they remained, as they had been for ages, a source of weakness and disquietude to it Government after government followed the vicious practice of arraying one clan against another, and so endeavouring to neutralize their warlike propensities, instead of taking advantage of them for the national well-being.

The plan, far from accomplishing the object in view, bred feuds and quarrels which kept neighbouring districts continually under arms to repel each other’s incursions. Thus forced to the practice of arms by the necessities of the circumstances imposed upon them by the Government, and experiencing no security for the fruition of the labour of their hands in industrial employments, the Highlanders consigned these employments to the females, the aged, and the infirm, and soon came to account them unworthy of the attention of any other. Moreover, a raid into the Lowlands, accomplished in a few days, generally brought more gain to the tribe than the produce of the previous twelve months’ labour in their native glens. Thus, not only were habits of peaceful industry discouraged, but a predatory disposition was fostered, which gave no little trouble to the Government, and did much to retard the progress of agriculture in the neighbouring Lowlands. In the insurrections under Montrose, Dundee, Mar, and to no small extent in that also under the Chevalier, whatever may have been the impelling motives in the minds of the chiefs, there can be little doubt that, to most of their followers, the great charm of the risings lay in the prospect of an irresistible descent on the low country, and consequently an easily acquired and rich booty. Who was king in London was a matter of perfect indifference to the common Highlander; his duty was to his chief, and he would follow him as in duty bound; and when by doing so he brought himself personal profit, he embarked in the enterprise with unusual ardour. Even allegiance to the chief had to give way to the desire for booty. No sooner was a victory achieved than the Highlanders dispersed to deposit in their families whatever spoils they had obtained; and this practice the heads of the clans were seldom able to restrain. Montrose soon perceived that he must adapt his warfare to it, and hence the fruitlessness of his victories, and the ultimate failure of his undertaking. In fact, a victory was more certain to disperse a Highland army than a defeat No doubt they would very soon rally again, with whetted appetites for renewed hostilities; but it would have been an easier matter to have kept the Highlanders together after Culloden than after Kilsyth or Killiecrankie.

The idea of forming a regiment out of the military elements thus running to waste in the Highlands seems to have first occurred to that wise and good man. President Forbes, who communicated his plan to the Government of George I. about the year 1725. It was not, however, till 1730 that any steps were taken to carry the suggestion into effect; and even then the only service contemplated for the new corps was the suppression of cattle-lifting and clan raids.

For this purpose, six independent companies of 100 men each were enrolled, and stationed at suitable posts throughout the Highlands. Every man, whether serving as a common soldier or as an officer, was both by birth and education a gentleman. For some years the service was highly popular, the different clans vying with each other who should contribute the tallest and handsomest men, always duine-uasals, or cadets of their principal families. In this manner was formed the celebrated Black Watch, or Am Freiceadan Dubhy1 and a finer body of men has seldom, if ever, appeared under arms.

But it was not till 1739 that the companies were formed into a regiment Hitherto, they had acted quite independently of each other, and under the command of officers to whom they owed clan allegiance. A difficulty, however, arose when it was proposed to enrol them into one body; for, should the command be given to any Highland chief, it was evident that the others who had previously shared co-ordinate power and rank with him would become jealous of his preferment, and the worst consequences might ensue. On the other hand, should the Government select a nobleman unconnected with the Highlands, it was equally certain that the enthusiasm hitherto displayed would be cooled, if indeed it would be possible to raise the required number and quality of men. To avoid as far as possible both risks, His Majesty’s commission, for the purpose of embodying in one regiment the six old companies with four new ones, was granted to John, Earl of Crawford, and Lord of Lindsay. The choice was a happy one, for the Earl, though a Lowland peer, was not without Highland connection.

A lady of his house had shortly before formed a matrimonial alliance with the heir to the proud title of “ the Lord of the Isles,” under circumstances which had won the hearts of the Highlanders, before they became the subject of the once popular song—

“Will ye gang to the Highlands, Leeiie Lindsay?
Will ye gang to the Highlands wi’ me?
Will ye gang to the Highlands, Leesie Lindsay
My pride, and my darling to be?

O! ye are the fairest young maiden,
The pride o’ the Lowland conntrie.
Will ye gang to the Highlands, Leesie Lindsay,
My pride, and my darling to be?

I'll gie ye my hand, Leesie Lindsay,
And a true heart that lo’es only thee,
Gin ye’ll gang to the Highlands, Leesie Lindsay,
My pride, and my darling to be.

She has put on a gown o’ green satin,
And a happy young bride is she;
And she is aff wi’ Lord Ronald Macdonald,
His pride, and his darling to be.”

Through this connection the Earl had become known to most of the western chiefs, as he already was to many of the eastern; and, being a man of affable manners and a sprightly disposition, he was much esteemed by both. He had spent his boyhood in the Highlands and knew the Gaelic language. He was besides possessed of other accomplishments that rendered him popular. An expert in all Highland games and pastimes, he was accounted one of the best dancers of his day of the Gillie Callum and Mac an 9orsair. Under the auspices of such a favourite, the new levy was speedily effected. As an instance of the eagerness with which the service was desired, may be mentioned the case of Peter Wright.

Peter, who was a native of the Braes of Cromar, had caught the military mania of the time, and on applying to Mr. Gordon of Blelack to obtain for him the much coveted post of a private in the Black Watch, received from him a letter of recommendation to Major Grant of Ballindalloch, who had been entrusted with the enlistments in the Eastern Highlands. With this letter Peter soon presented himself on the banks of the Spey, in high hopes of being permitted to don the scarlet jacket, tartan plaid of twelve yards in length, with dirk and pistols at the belt But, on being put under the gauge, it was found that notwithstanding all his stretching he fell short by one-fourth of an inch of the required height, and was dismissed as unqualified. As he turned away from Ballindalloch House to retrace his steps to his native Cromar, he was observed by the major to be wiping off with his coat sleeve the tears that were coursing fast and heavy down his cheeks. Thereupon a servant was despatched to bring him back. On presenting himself again before the major, with the furrows of sorrow still fresh on his countenance, he was greeted with the welcome words, “Cheer up, Peter, my man; if ye want a quarter of an inch in height, ye make up for it in spirit. We’ll let ye on.”

Peter afterwards served in Flanders, with what distinction is not known; but after his time had expired, he returned to Deeside, and as he was a man who had seen something of the world, was appointed to superintend a body of workmen employed on the commutation roads of the county. It is said that, infected with the Continental idea of favouring grenadiers, he paid the men, not in proportion to the work done, but to the supposed expense of each man’s maintenance, estimated according to his physical dimensions. The small men complained, but it is not recorded that Peter therefore altered his rule.

When the four new companies of the Black Watch were enlisted, thus raising its effective strength to 1000 men, the whole were marched into England, under pretence of being reviewed by the king, but in reality for the purpose of being sent to Flanders to serve in the war against the French. On learning the deception that had been practised upon them, a considerable body attempted to force their way back to the Highlands; but, when about a hundred miles of the journey had been accomplished, they were surrounded by a royal force, and compelled to submit The rest of the regiment were immediately afterwards transferred to the seat of war under the number of the 43rd Regiment of the line; but the party which had mutinied were tried by court-martial, found guilty, and condemned to death. Only three, however, suffered the extreme penalty of their rash act These were Malcolm and Samuel MacPherson, and Farquhar Shaw, who had been chosen leaders, and were men of remarkable size and handsome figure. Shaw was connected with Deeside, the other two were Badenoch men. On the parade ground within the Tower of London they met their fate with composure and dignity, the whole company of their fellow prisoners joining in their prayers, and afterwards performing the last mournful rites with an earnestness and solemnity that left a deep impression on the minds of the few beholders. Perhaps this severity was necessary to secure the discipline of the rest of the army, but, had the motives of the misguided men been better known, there was a favourable opportunity offered to the Government to conciliate the Highland clans, and render the Imperial service an object of ambition to them. This opportunity they neglected to improve, by an ill-judged severity to the other prisoners, who, instead of being permitted to join the rest of their fellow-countrymen in Flanders, where they would soon have wiped out to the advantage of their country any stigma attached to their previous insubordination, were sent to the West Indies and the North American plantations—a fate in their estimation scarcely less deplorable than that which had befallen their leaders on the parade ground of the Tower of London. To this mistaken policy may be in great part attributed the fact that, though several recruiting parties were sent to the Highlands, not fifty men in the subsequent five years could be enlisted to supplement the ranks of the 43rd at the seat of war. Some parties were sent, but they belonged entirely to the Government clans, from which, by another act of short-sighted policy, all the officers were selected. One of these appointments, as connected with Deeside events, may be here briefly noticed.

For some time previous to the Earl of Mar's insurrection the minister of Cr&thie was a Mr. Fergusson, a strong supporter of the Hanoverian succession, and possessed through his connections of no little influence with the Government Attached to the Invercauld family, he had endeavoured, at first gently, to win over the laird to his own side of politics, but the pressure put upon him by the Earl of Mar to join his standard was too great to be resisted. Soon after this, Fergusson was translated from Crathie to Logierait in Perthshire. Then followed the double collapse of Sheriff-muir and Preston, at which latter affair Invercauld was taken prisoner. On this becoming known to Fergusson, he exerted all the influence he could command to procure the pardon and freedom of his friend, and had the satisfaction to find that his efforts were not in vain. Some years afterwards Invercauld wrote a very handsome letter to the minister of Logierait requesting him to intimate in what way he might acknowledge his obligation. Fergusson suggested that he might, if he thought proper, testify his sense of the clemency of the Government by founding some educational endowment, or bursary, for the benefit of the parish of Crathie. The suggestion was acted on; and the benefaction is still administered by the Invercauld family, and affords much valuable assistance both in maintenance and education to deserving lads of the name of Farquharson, Fergusson, or Macdonald.

It is characteristic of a noble minded man that he never forgets an obligation; and John Farquharson of Invercauld was such a man. Years passed away and he grew in influence both in the Highlands and with Government, but no opportunity presented itself of returning the favour he had received from Mr. Fergusson. In 1724 the family at the manse of Logierait was increased by the birth of a son, whom the father intended to succeed him in the ministry, but for whom Providence had assigned other work. For the purpose of qualifying him for the church, young Adam was sent to study, first at the University of St Andrews, and afterwards at that of Edinburgh. On the completion of his studies in 1742, he was, without solicitation, offered an appointment as chaplain to the Black Watch, and served with that regiment in Flanders. He was present at the battle of Fontenoy, and, though a clergyman, is said to have charged the enemy, sword in hand, among the foremost of his fellow soldiers. There is no positive evidence that he owed this appointment to Invercauld, but there is reason to believe that he was the unknown friend who procured it for him; and if so, it was an act worthy of being noticed, as not only graceful in itself, but as entitling its author to be considered the earliest patron of “ Fergusson, the Historian.” Fergusson’s name is too well known in literature to require further reference. Of his many works that by which he is best known is his “ History of the Roman Republic.” This, and his “ Institutes of Moral Philosophy,” which, translated into German and French, was long used as a text book in several continental universities, justly entitled him to be ranked among the standard writers in the English language.

While on the subject of Fergusson and literary men connected with Deeside, it may be proper to mention another eminent man of this clan who derived his descent from ancestors within our district The father of Fergusson the historian was not the only clergyman of that surname who had held the living of Crathie. From about the year 1630 to somewhere about 1670, the minister of this parish was also of the name of Fergusson, from whom, if we knew more of his history, we should probably be able to trace the descent of “Scotland's third Scottish poet”—the man to whose genius and worth there may yet be seen in the Canongate Churchyard, Edinburgh, a plain headstone, which, though a humble monument, will probably bring a tear tofthe cheek of every true hearted Scotsman, when he remembers how fast they flowed from the eyes of him who placed it there, as he stood for the first time “beside the green mound and the scattered gowans,” uncovering his head in honour of the name of the sleeper below; and when he reads on one side the well known Epitaph—

“No sculptur’d marble here, nor pompous lay,
No storied urn, nor animated bust;
This simple stone directs pale Scotia’s way
To pour her sorrows o’er her poet’s dust”

and on the other, this inscription—

“By special grant of the Managers To Robert Burns—who Erected this Stone—
This Burial place is ever to remain Sacred to the Memory of Robert Fergusson.”

We have not been able to trace the descent of the author of “The Fanner’s Ingle” from the Minister of Crathie with that degree of certainty which would warrant it to be affirmed as an historical fact; but in the want of any opposing evidence we think it almost conclusively established. The known facts and traditions are as follows:—The Rev. Mr. Fergusson of Crathie had a daughter of the name of Agnes, who became the second wife of James Farquharson of Inverey, from whom were descended the Farquharsons of Auchindryne, now supposed to be extinct, and the Farquharsons of Tullochcoy, of whom several representatives still remain. Mr. Fergusson himself was descended from an ancient family, of whom, as proprietors, the late Dr. Joseph Robertson the eminent antiquary, has written that “ they possessed the estate of Auchtereme (Watereme) in Cromar, from the reign of David II. to that of James V., when it would seem they (as proprietors) became extinct” Tradition has it that the last proprietor was the father of the Rev. Mr. Fergusson of Crathie, which, so far as chronology is concerned, might very well have been the case. The minister is said to have had sons, but what became of them is not recorded. It is not unlikely that, according to the custom of the times, though their grandfather had parted with his property, he might still have retained a wadset on, or near it It is here that the link is wanting to connect the minister with the poet, who was the son of William Fergusson, book-keeper in Edinburgh, to which city he had emigrated about the year 1746 from Aberdeen, whither he had, in the same or the previous year, removed from Cromar. Perhaps the Highland Insurrection may have exercised an unfavourable influence on his fortunes, and compelled him thus to leave his native district in quest of the means of living; for it would seem, from the connection he had previous to this formed with a family of some consequence in Kildrummy, that his own was of no mean standing in Cromar. His wife, the poet’s mother, was Elizabeth, daughter of John Forbes, tacksman of Templeton, Hillockhead, and Wellhead, a cadet of the family of Tolquhon. It may be said that all this does not prove any connection between the ancestors of the poet and the minister of Crathie. True, but it renders the connection probable, seeing they both belonged to the same district—a part of the north of Scotland in which, Dr. Joseph Robertson affirms, the name of Fergusson was then not numerous. But there is another fact which must be taken into account It was the ambition of the poet’s parents to educate him for the Church, endeavouring to kindle his own desire for that profession by frequently reminding him that his great-grandfather, by his father’s side, had been a clergyman in the Church of Scotland. Most of his biographers have taken notice of this, though they have been unable to trace the poet’s ancestry beyond his father. These two facts, taken in connection, put it almost beyond doubt that the great-grandfather referred to was the Rev. Mr. Fergusson of Crathie, whose descendants in the female line are yet to be found in the district of Cromar—one of them the heir to a property immediately adjoining Auchtereme (Easter Migvie, now Hopewell), the possession of which was probably in the family of his ancestors from the reign of David Bruce to that of James V.

At a later period of his life, the author made further investigations into the question of Fergusson** ancestry, and was able to bring forward some new facts in support of the belief that the poet was directly descended from the minister of Crathie. The full statement of the proof will be found in Grosart's Life of Fergusson (Famous Scots series, 1898). The Rev. Alex. Fergusson, or Ferris (c. 1630-1670) had a son William, who, though the ancestral property of Auchtereme had been alienated by his grandfather, appears as a wadsetter in Cromar. The Christian name of this William's son is unknown, but he was the hither of William Fergusson, the hither of the poet This last William Fergusson was born in Tarland in 1714, and there he was married about 1741. By the time of the poet’s birth the parents had removed to Edinburgh, but his elder brothers and a sister were boro in the North. Thus narrowly did Aberdeenshire miss the right of claiming him as one of her sons.—D.


 


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