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Settlements of Scotch Highlanders in America
Chapter 9
Glenaladale Highlanders of Prince Edward Island


Highlanders had penetrated into the wilds of Ontario, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island before they had formed any distinctive settlements of their own. Some of these belonged to the disbanded regiments, but the bulk had come into the country, either through the spirit of adventure, or else to better their condition, and establish homes that would be free from usurpation, oppression, and persecution. It cannot be said that any portion of Canada, at that period, was an inviting field. The Highland settlement that bears the honor of being the first in British North America is that on Prince Edward Island, on the north coast at the head of Tracadie Bay, almost due north of Charlottetown. This settlement was due to John Macdonald, Eighth of Glenaladale, of the family of Clanranald.

John Macdonald was but a child at the date of the battle of Culloden. When of sufficient age he was sent to Ratisbon, Germany, to be educated, where he went through a complete course in the branches of learning as taught in the seminary. Returning to his country he was considered to be one of the most finished and accomplished gentlemen of his generation. But events led him to change his prospects in life. In 1770 a violent persecution against the Roman Catholics broke out in the island of South Uist. Alexander Macdonald, First of Boisdale, also of the house of Clanranald, abandoned the religion of his forbears, and like all new converts was over zealous for his new found faith, and at once attempted to compel all his tenants to follow his example. After many acts of oppression, he summoned all his tenants to hear a paper read to them in their native tongue, containing a renunciation of their religion, and a promise, under oath, never more to hold communication with a catholic priest. The alternative was to sign the paper or lose their lands and homes. At once the people unanimously decided to starve rather than submit. The next step of Boisdale was to take his gold headed cane and drive his tenants before him, like a flock of sheep, to the protestant church. Boisdale failed to realize that conditions had changed in the Highlands; but, even if his methods had smacked of originality, he would have been placed in a far better light. To attempt to imitate the example of another may win applause, but if defeated contempt is the lot.

The history of Creideamh a bhata bhuidhe, or the religion of the yellow stick, is such an interesting episode in West Highland story as not to be out of place in this connection. Hector MacLean, Fifth of Coll, who held the estates from 1559 to 1593, became convinced of the truths of the principles of the Reformation, and decided that his tenants should think likewise. He passed over to the island of Rum, and as his tenants came out of the Catholic church he held his cane straight out and said in Gaelic,— "Those who pass the stick to the Kirk are very good tenants, and those who go on the other side may go out of my island." This stick remained in the family until 1868, when it mysteriously disappeared. Mrs. Hamilton Dundas, daughter of Hugh, Fifteenth of Coll, in a letter dated March 26, 1898, describing the stick says, "There was the crest on the top and initials either H. McL. or L. McL. in very flourishing writing engraved on a band or oval below the top. It was a polished, yellow brown malacca stick, much taller than an ordinary walking stick. I seem to recollect that it had two gold rimmed eyelet holes for a cord and tassle."

John Macdonald of Glenaladale, having heard of the proceedings, went to visit the people, and was so touched by their pit-, iable condition, that he formed the resolution of expatriating him-self, and going off at their head to America. He sold out his estates to his cousin Alexander Macdonald of Borrodale, and before the close of 1771, he purchased a tract of forty thousand acres on St. John’s Island (now Prince Edward Island), to which he took out about two hundred of his persecuted fellow catholics from South Uist, in the year 1772.

Whatever may have been the trials endured by these people, what ship they sailed in, how the land was allotted, if at all given to the public, has not come under the author’s observation. Certain facts concerning Glenaladale have been advertised. His first wife was Miss Gordon of Baldornie, and his second, Marjory Macdonald of Ghernish, and had issue, Donald who emigrated with him, William, drowned on the coast of Ireland, John, Roderick and Flora. He died in 1811, and was buried on the Island at the Scotch Fort.

Glenaladale early took up arms against the colonists, and having raised a company from among his people, he became a Captain in the Royal Highland Emigrants, or 84th. That he was a man of energy and pluck will appear from the following daring enterprise. During the Revolution, an American man-of-war came to the coast of Nova Scotia, near a port where Glenaladale was on detachment duty, with a small portion of his men. A part of the crew of the warship having landed for the purpose of plundering the people, Glenaladale, with his handful of men, boarded the vessel, cut down those who had been left in charge, hoisted sail, and brought her as a prize triumphantly into the harbor of Halifax. He there got a reinforcement, marched back to his former post, and took the whole crew, composed of Americans and French. As regards his military virtues and abilities Major John Small, of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Highland Emigrants, to which he was attached, writing to the English government, said of him,—.

"The activity and unabating zeal of Captain John Macdonald of Glenaladale in bringing an excellent company into the field is his least recommendation, being acknowledged by all who know him to be one of the most accomplished men and best officers of his rank in his Majesty’s service."

Slight information may be gained of his connection with the Royal Highland Emigrant Regiment from the "Letter-Book" of Captain Alexander McDonald, of the same regiment. In embodying that regiment he was among the very earliest and readiest. Just why he should have exhibited so much feeling against the Americans whose country he had never seen and who had never harmed him in the least , does not appear. Captain McDonald, writing from Halifax, September 1, 1775, to Colonel Allan MacLean, says,— "‘What Men that are on the Island of St. Johns (Prince Edwards) are already Engaged with Glenaladall who is now here with me, also young Mcdonald, with whom he came, he will Write to you by this opportunity and from the Contents of his Letter I will Leave you to Judge what sort of a Man he is."

The same letter, "young Mcdonald" had been sent to ye Island of St. John," unquestionably for the purpose of raising the Highlanders. His great zeal is revealed in a letter from Captain Alexander McDonald to Major Small, dated at Halifax. November 15, 1775:

"Mr. McDonald of Glenaladale staid behind at Newfoundland and by the Last accounts from him he and one Lt Fizgerald had Six and thirty men. I dont doubt by this time his having as many more, he is determined to make out his Number Cost what it will, and I hope you will make out a Commission in his brother Donald’s name, * * * "poor Glenaladall I am afraid is Lost as there is no account of him since a small Schooner Arrived which brought an account of his having Six & thirty men then and if he should Not be Lost he is unavoidably ruined in his Means."

The last reference is in a letter to Colonel Allan MacLean, dated at Halifax June 5, 1776:

Glen a la Del is an Ornament to any Corps that he goes into and if the Regiment is not established it had been telling him 300 Guineas that he had never heard of it. On Account of his Affairs upon the Island of St. John’s and in Scotland where he was preparing to go to settle his Business when he received the Proposals."

The British government offered Glenaladale the governor-ship of Prince Edward Island, but owing to the oath of allegiance necessary at the time, he, being a catholic, was obliged to decline the office.


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