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The Scottish Nation
Leith


LEITH, the surname of a family of great antiquity in Scotland, supposed to be of Norman extraction, which settled in Aberdeenshire, where there are several branches of it, all sprung from the same ancestor. In very early times the Leiths had considerable possessions in Mid Lothian, particularly the barony of Restalrig, and several others, within two miles of Edinburgh, in the vicinity of Leith, whence, it is thought, they assumed their surname, Nisbet (System of Heraldry, vol. i. p. 217) mentions the Leiths of Restalrig as a very ancient family. The Logans of Restalrig are said to have obtained their lands by marriage with a daughter of the Leiths. It is not known when they removed to Aberdeenshire; but in the reign of Alexander III., Sir Norman Leslie, progenitor of the earls of Rothes, married Elizabeth Leith, a daughter of the Leiths of Edingarrock in that county. Their immediate ancestor, William Leith, designed of Barns, supposed to be the male representative of the Leiths of Edingarrock, lived in the reign of David II. He was provost of Aberdeen in 1350, and went to England with the hostages for King David’s ransom in 1358. He died in the reign of King Robert II., and was interred in the church of Aberdeen, where his monument, with his name and arms, was erected, the arms being the same as carried by the Leiths of Leith-hall, the principal family of the name.

      His eldest son, Laurence, provost of Aberdeen in the years 1401, 1403, and 1411, made a present to that town of their largest bell, with his name upon it. He died in the reign of James II., and was buried in the church of Aberdeen. The second son, John Leith, was frequently ambassador to the court of England, to negotiate affairs of state, particularly in 1412, 1413, and 1416, and was at last appointed one of the commissioners to settle the terms for the liberation of King James I., in 1423.

      Laurence’s son, Norman Leith, had three sons, of whom John, the youngest, was progenitor of the Leiths of Overhall in Aberdeenshire. John Leith of Leith-hall, the twelfth of this family, married Mary, daughter of Charles Hay of Rannes, in the same county, by whom he had a son, John, who succeeded to Leith-hall, and died in 1763. His son, John Leith of Leith-hall, had several sons, the third of whom was the following:

      Sir James Leith, K.C.B., a distinguished military commander, born at Leith-hall, August 8, 1763. He received his education at Marischal college, Aberdeen, and, after spending some time at Lisle, occupied in the studies suitable for a military life, he was appointed second lieutenant in the 21st regiment. Soon after he was raised to the rank of lieutenant and captain in the 81st Highlanders. At the peace, in 1783, he removed to the 5th regiment, stationed at Gibraltar, and was appointed aide-de-camp to Sir Robert Boyd, the governor. He afterwards served in the same capacity, first to General O’Hara, and then to General David Dundas at Toulon; and on the recall of the British forces from that place, he returned to England, being appointed major, by brevet, in 1794. Having raised a regiment of fencibles in Aberdeenshire, he proceeded with it to Ireland, where he was employed during the Rebellion of 1798. He was afterwards appointed colonel of the 13th battalion of Reserve, and subsequently promoted to the rank of brigadier-general on the staff in Ireland. In 1808 he was made major-general.

      In the Peninsular war, General Leith served with much distinction, and at the head of the 59th regiment acted with great intrepidity at the battle of Corunna. In September 1810 he was appointed to the command of a corps of 10,000 men, with which he was engaged in the battle of Busaco, and at the head of the 9th and 88th regiments, made a brilliant and decisive charge upon the enemy. While the troops remained within the lines of Torres Vedras, General Leith obtained the command of the fifth division, which he held throughout the Peninsular campaign. Being attacked by the Walcheren fever, he was compelled to return for a short time to England for the recovery of his health. He rejoined the army after it had taken possession of Ciudad Rodrigo; and at the siege of Badajos he headed the troops in the memorable escalade that, in spite of a most destructive fire from the enemy, finally led to the capture of that important place. He also distinguished himself as a brave and skilful general in the battle of Salamanca, where his division, the fifth, was prominently engaged, and sustained a heavy loss. During a tremendous charge, while in the act of breaking the French squares, he received a severe wound, which eventually caused him to quit the field. With his aide-de-camp, Captain, afterwards Colonel, Sir Andrew Leith Hay, who was also severely wounded, he was carried to the village of Las Torres, and thence they were removed to the house of the marquis Escalla, in Salamanca, where the victory over the French was celebrated with great rejoicings.

      The prince regent conferred on General Leith the insignia of the Bath, “for his distinguished conduct in the action fought near Corunna, and in the battle of Busaco; for his noble daring at the assault and capture of Badajos by storm; and for his heroic conduct in the ever-memorable action fought on the plains of Salamanca, where, in personally leading the fifth division to a most gallant and successful charge upon a part of the enemy’s line, which it completely overthrew at the point of the bayonet, he and the whole of his personal staff were severely wounded.” He was also rewarded with several other marks of royal favour, and the privilege was granted to him and his descendants to use the words “Salamanca,” and “Badajos,” in the family armorial bearings. From the Portuguese government he received the military order of the Tower and Sword.

      In April 1813 General Leith’s wound obliged him again to retire to England, Soon after rejoining the army, he had the command of the storming party at the siege of San Sebastian, when he conducted the attack in a truly gallant style, and though severely wounded, continued to cheer forward the troops to the assault, exposed all the time to a most murderous shower of round shot, grape, and musketry, from the enemy. At length he fainted from loss of blood, and was reluctantly carried from the field.

      On his return to England, Sir James Leith was appointed commander of the forces in the West Indies, and governor of the Leeward Islands, and arrived at Barbadoes June 15, 1814. By his prompt exertions, the French islands of Martinique and Guadaloupe, which had declared for the emperor Napoleon, on being apprised of his return from Elba, were overawed and kept in subjection, the latter being obliged to surrender to his troops; and as a reward for his services on this occasion, the privy council voted £2,000 for the purchase of a sword to him, and he afterwards received from the king of France the grand cordon of the order of Military Merit. Sir James Leith died at Barbadoes of fever, after six days’ illness, October 16, 1816.

      He was succeeded by his nephew, Lieutenant-colonel Sir Andrew Leith Hay, of Rannes and Leith-hall, eldest son of General Alexander Leith Hay of Rannes. Besides being the author of an Account of the Peninsular War, Sir Andrew published at Aberdeen, in 1849, a work in 4to entitled ‘The Castellated Architecture of Aberdeenshire.’ During the whole of the war in the Peninsula he served on the staff of the duke of Wellington’s army, and for his services there he received the order of Charles III. He was subsequently military secretary, assistant-quarter-master-general and adjutant-general in the West Indies, for which he received the order of the Legion of Honour. He was created a knight of the Guelphic order of Hanover in 1834, and, the same year, was appointed clerk of the ordnance under Lord Melbourne’s administration, and again in 1835. Elected M.P. for the Elgin burghs in 1832, he sat for them till 1838, and again from 1841 to 1847. In 1838 he was nominated governor of Bermuda.

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      The Leiths of Freefield and Glenkindy are descended from Alexander Leith, second son of James Leith, first designed of New Leslie, the tenth of the Leith-hall family, who built the house of Leith-hall, which became the family designation. Their representative, General Sir Alexander Leith, served in Flanders, Holland, where he was wounded, the West Indies, Egypt, the Peninsula, where also he was wounded, and the south of France. He commanded the 31st foot at Vittoria, the Pyrenees, Nivelle, Nive, and Orthes, and in 1815 was created a military knight commander of the Bath. He became lieutenant-general in 1841, was appointed colonel of the 31st foot in 1853, and a general in 1854. He died in 1859.


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