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Sketches of The Character, Manners, and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland


Fencible Regiments

Sutherland, 1759

While Scotland, at this period, sent forth many able and active soldiers, to fight the battles and support the honour of their country abroad, its internal defence was not neglected. County militia regiments had been recently established in England, but this measure was not extended to Scotland. National jealousies still existed, and it was imagined that the people could not yet be safely trusted with arms. A mode of embodying troops, somewhat different from the militia, was therefore had recourse to; and thus the system of Fencible regiments commenced. The officers were to be appointed, and their commissions signed, by the King, while the men were to be raised by recruiting in the common manner, and not by ballot in the particular counties, as in the case of the militia. The influence of individuals supplied the place of compulsion. Property, rank, or personal consideration and character, recommended the leaders to their followers. In the front of Scottish Chiefs and Landlords stood the late Earl of Sutherland, who, by his personal accomplishments and amiable disposition, possessed in the hearts and affections of his adherents a great and powerful influence, in addition to that which he enjoy-ed from hereditary succession and great property.

The reciprocal duties of protection and obedience were then acknowledged and observed, and the common interests of chieftain and clansmen had not as yet been diminished by considerations of political expediency, or private emolument.

The chief was satisfied with that species of dominion, - the power of surrounding himself with a contented and attached tenantry, and of influencing the mind and the will; whilst the clansmen were happy in acknowledging the kindness of their chiefs, not only by a complete devotion to their service, but by giving such value for the territorial possessions they held and paying such rents for their lands, as enabled the noblemen and gentlemen of the Highlands to support with dignity and independence an honourable station in general society. In what manner the poor, but hardy and economical tenantry of the North enabled the great chiefs and lairds to support their independence, preserve their estates, and convey them from father to son for so many centuries, is evident from the remarkable circumstance, that, in no part of the kingdom, containing an equal number of inhabitants, have families and estates been so long preserved as in the Highlands, where, as I have already noticed, the heirs of eighteen chiefs who fought at Bannockburn, in 1314, are at this day in possession of their estates. The Chief of Sutherland had the honour of bearing a part in that great battle, which may be said to have fixed the independence of Scotland as a nation. Waterloo and Bannockburn were similar in the desperate valour displayed, and similar in their results. As the former sealed the destiny of Buonaparte, so Bannockburn destroyed the hopes of a proud invader, and established the independence of Scotland on a foundation which kept it firm, till the Union with a more powerful kingdom rendered the independence of the one inseparable from the other.

In the year 1759 the Earl of Sutherland received proposals from Mr Pitt to raise a Fencible regiment on his estate. The offer was readily accepted, and in nine days after his Lordship arrived in Sutherland with his Letters of Service, 1100 men were assembled on the lawn before Dunrobin Castle. The martial appearance of those men, when they marched into Perth in May 1760, with the Earl of Sutherland at their head, was never forgotten by those who saw them, and who never failed to express admiration of their fine military air. Some old friends of mine, who often saw these men in Perth, spoke of them with a kind of enthusiasm. Considering the abstemious habits, or rather the poverty of the Highlanders, the size and muscular strength of the people are remarkable. In this corps there was no Light infantry company; upwards of 260 men being above five feet eleven inches in height, they were formed into two Grenadier companies, one on each flank of the battalion.

On the peace of 1763, the regiment was marched back to Sutherland, and there reduced in the month of May, with this honourable distinction in the course of their short service, that, in a regiment of 1050 men, no restrictions had been required, and no man had been punished; and, as they had assembled as a corps, with the primitive habits of a pastoral life, so they separated with these habits unchanged, and had the happiness of returning to their native glens without a single individual from the mountains having disgraced his corps, kindred, or district. These facts I have received from the best authority; from officers who served in the regiment, from soldiers, and from intelligent and respectable gentlemen, who saw the regiment in quarters, who were intimate with many of the officers, and who had great pleasure in talking of and describing the height, strength, and fine military appearance of these men, and their peaceable domestic habits in quarters.


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