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The History of Stirlingshire
Chapter XXVIII – Robert Roy MacGregor


Robert Macgregor having, from the redness of his hair and complexion, the descriptive name of "Roy," was, by a daughter of Campbell of Glenlyon, the younger son of Lieut.-Colonel Donald Macgregor, between whom, "for himself, and for all those descended of his family, commonly called Clan Duill Chere," on the one part, and John Buchanan of Arnprior, "for himself, and all those descended of his family of Mochaster," on the other, a contract of friendship, founded partly on relationship, took place at Buchanan and Glengyle, on the 23rd and 24th of May, 1693. Clan Duill Chere is clan or family of Dougald of the mouse-coloured hair, a branch of the Macgregors. Mr. Penant’s remark regarding the general redness of their hair is unworthy of the natural historian. Of their "mischievous dispositions," and their having committed "a horrible massacre," it is impossible for any one acquainted with facts not to smile at the tourist’s ignorance and credulity. Colonel Macgregor’s second son, Robert, assumed the surname of his noble friend and patron, John, second Duke of Argyll, and military commander on the side of Government in 1715; who, also, from his golden locks and florid complexion, was celtically denominated "Roy." Robert Roy’s portrait, executed by no mean artist, and representing him with his blue bonnet, is still in possession of the Argyll family, and had a narrow escape from the fire which, in May, 1802, destroyed Rosneath castle, where it had occupied a conspicuous place in the principal dining-room. Robert Roy Macgregor is styled, "Robert Campbell of Inversnait, and one of the curators of James Graham of Glengyle," his fraternal nephew (whose real name was Gregor Macgregor, with the descriptive addition of Ghlun-Dhu, from a black mole on one of his knees) in a marriage contract of the same James Graham and "Mrs. Mary Hamilton, lawful daughter of James Hamilton of Bardowie, with consent of her father," date at Buchanan and Bardowie, the 28th and 29th of November, 1703.

Craigrostan, which is generally said to have been Robert Roy’s property, belonged, in great part at least, and not long before his day, to the lineal ancestor of John Macgregor, Esq., of Aucharn. Mr. Macgregor, of Craigrostan, had become surety for money borrowed by a friend, and was reduced to sell his estate, which was purchased by the lender, the Marquis of Montrose. Craigrostan’s representative takes the name of Gregorson, an English form of Macgregor. Robert Campbell, of Inversnait, had, with one Macdonald, borrowed in 1708, a sum of his grace the Duke of Montrose, for the purchase of cattle. Campbell’s partner fled with the money, and Inversnait, with all pertinents, was adjudicated for payment. It does not, however, in any way appear, that the charge of harshness attaches to the then representative of the noble family of Montrose; but his chamberlain, Graham, of Killearn, over-zealous in his master’s service, had recourse to a mode of expulsion inconsistent with the rights of humanity, by insulting Mrs. Campbell in her husband’s absence. The date of the outrage is not known. It was probably in 1708, or the year following. The fort of Inversnait, intended to check Rob Roy’s incursions, was built in 1713, after repeated interruptions by him. Mr. Campbell, on his return, being informed of what had taken place in his absence, withdrew from the scene which he could no longer suffer, and vowed vengeance. He seized part of his grace’s rents, as the only way which, as he argued, he could regain any part of those of his own estate. On the unmanly insulter of his wife, he took a personal satisfaction which marks the mildness of his character. Killearn was collecting rents at Chapellaroch, when Robert, arriving with an armed force, demanded his tythe. The chamberlain attempted to conceal the money by throwing it upon a loft above the room in which he sat. Robert, however, insisted on having what he considered his share; and on the pleasure besides of Mr. Graham’s company to the Highlands. Carrying him to Loch Kettern, he confined him three days on a deserted island near Glengyle.

The averment of the statist of Kippen, that "old Rob Roy" was a "robber by profession," is not supported by the instance brought forward, that in 1691, he had headed "the herrship of Kippen," which amounts to nothing more than a military diversion by the laird of Inversnait in favour of his legitimate sovereign. He had, it would appear, though we have seen no voucher to that effect, been, subsequently to his explusion from his lands, a contractor for aiding the police of the country, and in the habit of receiving what, in allusion to earlier times, when contracts for this purpose had not received the countenance of law, was called "black maill." He asserted an alleged claim on this score somewhat differently from his accustomed urbanity. Mr. Stirling had, with his lady, gone in 1710 on a visit from Garden castle, which stood on an eminence forming an island in what was once a lake, but what is now a fertile meadow. On their return, they found the fortalice occupied by a party under Robert Roy Macgregor, and the drawbridge up. Robert, appearing at a window, thus accosted the outed owner: - "You have hitherto withheld the reward of protection, Garden, but must render it now." Garden firmly refused, stating reasons more satisfactory to himself than to the other party; when the latter, bringing a child from the nursery, held it out of the window. The father, partly by the entreaties of the mother, was induced to comply.

The following are two anecdotes connected with what has been said of his personal prowess. He had been overnight in an alehouse at Arnprior, in Perthshire, in company with Cunninghame of Boquhan. They had quarrelled; and the latter having no sword, sent home for one, which, however, his family, suspecting a foolish broil, did not forward. He and Robert had remained till break of day; when Boquhan, spying a rapier in a corner, insisted on fighting. Robert engaged; but instantly dropped his blade’s point, and yielded to one who, he found, was too expert a swordsman. He is also said to have been worsted, when very old, by Stewart of Appin, between the church and manse of Balquhidder. The duel took place about sunrise, when the rays shone in Robert’s face, while his antagonist enjoyed the advantage of having his back to them. Robert’s eyesight had, not improbably, been decayed. Another anecdote told of him reminds us of the death-bed scene of Rhoderick Dhu. Robert was bedfast, when he was told that a person, with whom, in the days of his strength, he had had a quarrel, wished to see him. "Bring me," said Robert, "my clothes and sword. It shall never be said that an enemy saw me on a sick-bed." In this guise the host received his guest. When the latter had departed – "It is now," said the exhausted veteran, "all over with me;" and desired to be put to bed, and to hear, from his piper, one of his favourite airs.

"Rob" died in the braes of Balquhidder. He is interred in the churchyard of the parish, a few paces due east of the church. His grave is marked by a blue slate stone, rudely sculptured, and without inscription. He left four sons – Coll, the eldest, of a high character for every manly virtue; James, called Mor, or "Large," who assumed the name of Drummond, and fought bravely as a captain of the Macgregor regiment at Preston; Ronald; and lastly, Robert, vulgarly, amongst lowlanders, called "Roy," though of a dark complexion, but by the Highlanders Rob Og, viz., junior, as distinguished from his father. Young Robert is believed to have been born at the farm of Kirkton of Balquhidder, in 1718, and was seventeen years of age at his father’s death. He is said to have been a favourite of the old man, who, a short time before his death, bequeathed to him his sword and dirk, counselling the youth never to draw them without cause, or to lay them past without honour.

It would seem that old Rob had been a life-renter in the farm, or that the lease had expired with his life, for an attempt was at once made to oust the family by one of the neighbours offering a rise of rent. At this time the Laurins were pretty strong in the district, and a well-to-do member of that clan had married a younger sister of Mrs. Macgregor. The son, who was in the neighbouring farm of Wester Innernenty, attempted to get his aunt’s possession, and a deadly feud at once sprung up between the cousins. The elder Macgregor seems to have taken the matter more cool. Robert, however, swore to be revenged, and Ronald, well knowing his brother’s ungovernable nature, warned his friend of the danger he was incurring from the impetuous temper of his brother Rob. At this time Rob Roy’s famous gun, now in the Abbotsford collection, was in the hands of Mr. Caddell, the celebrated Doune pistol manufacturer, for repairs. Despatching a messenger for the gun, he had it loaded with powder and slug, and following his cousin, who was ploughing in a field called Drumloch, on his farm, shot him through the thigh so severely that the result was almost instant death. Rob then rushed home to his mother, and exulting exclaimed – "I have drawn the first blood of the M’Larens;" and thus closed the first act in the life drama of young Macgregor.

This happened in the spring of 1736, and it would appear that the authorities were either very negligent or afraid to take up the case; while the M’Laren family were warned against participating in the matter if more after-ill was to be prevented. But the case was of so flagrant and boastful a nature that it roused the ire of all law-abiding subjects, and when the young desperado found that his conduct was to be made the subject of serious enquiry, he fled to France some time prior to July of the same year. For this crime he and his two brothers, Ronald and James, were summoned to appear before the High Court of Justiciary at Edinburgh. Ronald and James appeared for trial, but Robert, having left the country, was declared an outlaw. The two brothers were found "not guilty" of participating in the murder. The court, however, was not inclined to let them off scot free, and caused them to find bail for 200 pounds against stealing cattle. It is not known whether Robert visited home during his exile, but still retaining the fighting propensities of the family, he joined the English army under George II. in 1743 – the last instance of a British sovereign being under the fire of an enemy, that monarch going to aid the Queen of Hungary against the combined forces of Frederick the Great and France. Two years later we find him fighting under the Duke of Cumberland at Fontenoy, where he was wounded and taken prisoner. After obtaining his release he returned to England, when he joined the regiment of General Campbell, afterwards Duke of Argyll; and about this time he "swerved" from the Catholic faith, in which he had been brought up, and became a Protestant. The final conflict at Culloden gave him his colonel’s discharge, and he returned to his friends. He then settled as proprietor of the farm of Ballisfirl, and, so far as the murder of his cousin was concerned, remained unmolested. His change of front did him good service, as being under the Duke he escaped the penalties of that Act of Attainder under which his brothers and other leaders of his clan came.

Young Macgregor was of rather slender build, but tall and handsome in his person, a daring rider and expert swordsman, but vain-glorious in his character, and thus easily made the tool of more cautious rascals. By his ten years’ residence in France the young Highlander had acquired considerable accomplishments, and he was admitted into some of the best society in the country. About 1748 he married Miss Graham, daughter of the Laird of Drunkie, and, according to the marriage contract, made "suitable remuneratory settlements out of his own private fortune and estate" to his lady. Mrs. Macgregor unfortunately only survived her marriage some months, and after her death her husband began afresh his reckless and roving life.

The Macgregor brothers, still carrying on the trade of cattle dealers, were secretly suspected of dealing underhand in stolen stock, and one of their neighbours declared they had beasts not rightly come by, and that might be inquired about after. They occasionally associated with Buchanan of Machar, the head of a gang of desperadoes, who made repeated incursions into the Lennox, carrying off cattle and other plunder, and it is believed it was on one of their raids that Rob performed the really clever exploit of galloping off with the Ballikinrain mare in face of the dragoons, who, in small troops, paraded the country, at this time, for the purpose of checking marauding bands. It was after this exploit that Macgregor looked upon the strath as a place to be robbed, and immediately following, his acquaintance with Jean Kay commenced which had such a disastrous termination. The following is the story of the capture of the unfortunate heiress, and its unhappy results: - About 1732, James Kay, a native of Strathendrick, with a fortune of 2000 pounds, married a lady of the name of Janet Mitchell. The issue of this marriage was one daughter, Jean, born in October of that year. In 1742, Mr. Kay purchased the property of Edinbelly, for which he paid 1,500 pounds, the balance going in stock and furniture. In 1744, Mr. Kay suddenly died intestate, and his daughter, then in her twelfth year, became heiress of the property and effects. After this she was naturally an object of considerable interest in the valley, and, as she advanced in years, she had many suitors, among the number being Mr. John Wright, son of the laird of Easter Glinns, whom she married in 1749, being in her nineteenth year. All now went well for a time, but by Mr. Wright’s unexpected death in October, 1750, about a year after their marriage. Jean was again left alone with her mother. Rob got his eye on the young widow shortly after the death of her husband. He called at the public-house in December following, and sent a messenger "desiring leave to visit her." This being refused, the wrath of Macgregor was roused, and he declared if "fair wooing would not do, he should carry her off by force." Mrs. Wright, well-knowing the determined character of the clan, advised her daughter-in-law to be on her guard, and for safety thought she had better remove to Glasgow. Jean, however, treated the matter lightly, and remained at home. Rob, with his three brothers and five retainers, left Balquhidder, in due course, for the capture of the heiress, and to avoid the villages of Aberfoyle and Gartmore, they appear to have taken the old ride track down the west side of Loch Ard and Gartmore, reaching the well-known hostelry at Chapelarroch the same night. The evening being very dark, and a moorland country to be crossed, one of the brothers rode back and got two local brewers to act as guides. Arriving at Edinbelly, they at once seized the object of their search, and placing her on the saddle behind her future husband, rode off in triumph. The horse, however, of one of the Gartmore brewers got bogged, which caused some delay. At the then little inn of Rowardennan, a sham marriage took place, and next morning they crossed Loch Lomond for the house of Mr. Campbell of Glenfalloch, and ultimately landed at Inverorick. Meantime, to prevent Macgregor taking possession of the estate, her friends had the property sequestered, and warrants were issued for the capture of the offenders.

Rumours soon reached the North that the authorities had the matter in hand, and, deeming it unsafe to remain long in one place, the couple seem to have moved a good deal about the country. They spent their new year in Callendar but in a few days returned to Glendochard, visiting afterwards the village of Killin, and returning to Ronald’s house at Balquhidder. The captive heiress was next taken to the manse, and introduced to Mr. Ferguson, the minister of the parish, as the wife of Robert Macgregor. They then moved on to Ackroston, stayed there a week, then rode to the farm of "Hole," on the estate of Torry, and next turned up at Lochend house, lake of Menteith, where they were entertained by the proprietor, Mr. Campbell of Kilport and Lochend. The following morning, James and Jean rode off to Edinburgh, with the view of presenting a bill of suspension regarding the sequestrating of her property. This, however, was bearding the lion in his den, the lady being cared for in a milder way by the authorities, while James returned home.

Jean Kay emitted her declaration on the 20th of May following, and the M’Gregors and their accomplices were summoned to stand their trial at the Justiciary Court at Perth, to be held on the 25th of May, but disregarding with contempt all such forms of law, they were all, nine in number, declared outlaws.

By order of the Court of Session, Mrs. Wright was placed under the care of one "John Wightman" of Maulsley, in the Potter Row, near Edinburgh, who was, along with the magistrates, responsible for her safe keeping. By order of the court she was set at liberty on the 4th of June, and returned to some friends in Glasgow on the 7th of the same month, where she remained till her death by smallpox on the 4th of October, 1751.

James was the first of the brothers who was brought to trial. His capture was effected by the military, while at Fort-William, early in December. He was brought to Edinburgh on the 18th under military escort, and lodged in the Tolbooth. He was indicted to stand his trial on the 3rd August, 1752, and on the 5th the jury found him guilty of acting part in the forcible abduction of Jean Key, but nothing more. Delay being claimed by his agents to "allow an opportunity to inform upon the debate," the defence was ordered to be heard on the 20th November following. By this date, however, James had made his escape, and sentence was accordingly delayed. Rumours having reached the authorities that a release might be attempted, Macgregor was removed from the jail to the castle, and placed under strict guard. Four nights before his sentence his daughter, Miss Macgregor, planned his escape in the most adroit manner possible.

The Scots Magazine for November, 1752, records it as follows: - "James Macgregor, alias Drummond, under trial of carrying off Jean Key of Edinbelly, made his escape from Edinburgh castle on the 16th. The manner of it is thus related. In the evening he dressed himself in an old tattered big coat put over his own clothes, an old night cap, and old leather apron, and old dirty shoes and stockings, so as to personate a cobbler. When he was thus equipped, his daughter, a servant maid who assisted, and who was the only person with him in the room, except two of his young children, scolded the cobbler for having done his work carelessly, and this with such an audible voice as to be heard by the sentinels without the room door. About seven o’clock, while she was scolding, the pretended cobbler opened the room door, and went out with a pair of old shoes in his hand, muttering his discontent for the harsh usage he had received. He passed the guards unsuspected, but was soon missed, and a strict search made in the castle, and also in the city, the gates of which were shut, but all in vain. The serjeant, and some of the soldiers on duty, were put under confinement. On the 20th the Court of Justiciary met to judge the import of the verdict returned against him, and continued the diet until the 18th of December. We are told that the commissioners of the customs, in consequence of an application made to them, dispatched orders to their officers for strictly searching all ships outward bound, to prevent his escaping out of the kingdom. P.S. – A court-martial sat in the castle, December 8, in consequence, it is said, of orders from above, to inquire into this affair. It consisted of one lieutenant-colonel, two majors, and ten captains. They rose on the 13th. Two lieutenants and four private men were put under arrest; but we have not yet learned what is to be the result of their proceedings." The following note occurs in the same magazine for December: - "A return from London, to the report of the proceedings of the court-martial appointed to inquire into the manner of James Drummond’s escape, arrived at Edinburgh, December 30. In consequence of which, two lieutenants, who commanded the guard the night Drummond escaped, are broke, the serjeant who had the charge of locking the prisoner in his room is reduced to a private man; the porter has been whipped, and all the rest are released."

The fate of James was particularly hard. After he escaped from the prison of Edinburgh he fled south to Cumberland, and on the fourth night found himself benighted on a lonely moor. Entering a wood, he stumbled on the camp of a Highland gipsy, whom he had often befriended at home. Here he remained for two days. The gipsy and Macgregor rode to near Whitehaven, where he got a fisherman’s boat and went over to the Isle of Man, whence he sailed to France. About the end of September, he died there suddenly, and in great poverty, leaving fourteen children, seven of them in extreme youth.


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