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The Glengarry McDonalds of Virginia
Chapter 1 - Early History of the Glengarry McDonalds


That those who are entitled to the distinction should wish to place on record their claim to Highland ancestry, is not to be wondered at, when we remember how that small section of the globe, geographically considered, has influenced so many departments of the world's history.

The origin of the Highland clans dates back to a very early period, some of the Celtic authorities claiming a direct descent for them from the celebrated Irish "King Conn, of a Hundred Battles," and to those who might be disinclined to acknowledge this remote Irish origin, claimed by Sir James McDonald, in 1615, he says: "Whatever Ireland may have been since those early days, to the ancient Western world, it was then the cradle of religion and the nursery of civilization."

In this same connection, Macneil says: "While the Germans and Northmen were yet roving heathen tribes, the Gaels in Ireland and Scotland had their Seminaries of learning, where Literature was loved and cherished. And from the Colleges of Durrow and Iona, missionaries, whose well-trained minds and zealous hearts fitted them for the undertaking, went forth to Christianize the people of England and the Teutonic tribes on the Continent."

Macaulay, in his "History of England," says: `'In perseverence, in self-command, in forethought, in all the qualities which conduce to success in life, the Scots have never been surpassed. In mental cultivation Scotland had an indisputable superiority. Though that kingdom was then the poorest in Christendom, it already vied in every branch of learning with the most favored countries. Scotsmen, whose dwellings and whose food were as wretched as those of the Icelanders of our time, wrote Latin verse with the delicacy of Vida, and made discoveries in science which would have added renown to Galileo."

Macaulay further says: "In 1696, the Estates of Scotland met at Edinburg and by far the most important event of this short session was the passing of the act for the settling of schools. By this memorable law it was, in Scotch phrase, statuted and ordained that every Parish in the realm should provide a commodious school house and should pay a moderate stipend to the schoolmaster. The effect could not be immediately felt, but before one -generation had passed it began to be evident that the common people of Scotland were superior in intelligence to the common people of any other country in Europe. To whatever land the Scotchman might wander, to whatever calling he might betake himself, in America, or in India, in trade or in war, the advantage of his early training raised him above his competitors. * * * * And Scotland, in spite of the barrenness of her soil and the severity of her climate made such progress in agriculture, in commerce, in letters, in science, in all that constitutes civilization, as the Old World had never seen equalled Scotland in becoming a part of the British Ionarchy, preserved all her dignity. She was joined to her stronger neighbor on the most honorable terms; she gave a king instead of receiving one."

Although the downfall of the hapless house of Stewart, practically put an end to native rule, the individuality of the Scotsman was never lost, nor his independent spirit subdued. And notwithstanding they are credited with being the most practical of all people, they have furnished both poets and writers of fiction with some of the most engaging characters known in the realm of literature. To call those rugged hills "barren" which have supplied fuel for the divine fire, from the days of Ossian down to the Barnes, McLarens and Stephensons of our own period, seems almost sacrilege, and only those who are woefully ignorant,—or worse still, unappreciative—would dare do so.

In these pages I propose to devote special attention to that branch of the powerful clan Donald, called the McDonalds of Glengarry, from whom are descended many prominent citizens of the United States and Canada to-day and, as in these latter days it seemeth more popular to be known by ones roots than by their fruits, I shall show by unquestioned authority that the family tree first began to send out healthy shoots early in the sixth century, flourishing variously in the following centuries. Never neutral or passive in any contest, but actively striving for the side which appealed to them, usually that of the under dog. And whatever else may be laid to their account, for their faults were many, few of them can be accused of self-seeking, or indirect business methods.

Skene, one of the acknowledged authorities on Highland literature says: "The traditions of the McDonalds themselves tend to show that they could not have been of foreign origin, and many sources of evidence show that they are a part of the original nation who have inhabited the mountains of Scotland, as far back as the memory of man, or the records of history reach."

McKenzie tells us that: "The McDonalds were at one time the most important, numerous, and powerful of the western clans and this noble race is undoubtedly descended from Somerled, Thane of Argyle, who became one of the most powerful Chiefs of Scotland. He was the son of a Celtic father, Gillibride, and a fair-haired, blue-eyed, Norwegian mother. And is described as living in retirement in his youth and musing in solitude over the ruined fortunes of his house, but when an auspicious moment occurred he placed himself at the head of the people of Morvern, attacked the Norwegians, whom he finally expelled from the mainland and made himself master, not only in Morvern, but also in Lochaber and Argyle. But The Norwegian power remained unbroken in the Isles and Somerled resolved to recover by policy what he despaired of acquiring by force of arms, namely the possession of the Isles, and with this end in view he resorted to a successful ruse to obtain the hand of Olave's only daughter in manage."

This marriage took place in 1140. Olave, King of the Isles and Man, knowing of Somerled's ancient, hereditary claim to his kingdom, was anxious to propitiate this powerful chief and Lord of Argyle and to secure his support, so he never regretted having given his only daughter to Somerled for his wife. Somerled, not content with his victories on the mainland, finally captured the Islands in detail, and established again the old Celtic authority, and as McKenzie says: "Thus, on the ruin of the Norwegian power, Somerled built up his Island throne, and became not only the greatest Thane of his family, but the founder of that second line of Island rulers, who, for a period of nearly four centuries, were occasional and formidable rivals of the Scottish kings.

"The extensive power and high position of this Island Chief, Somerled, whose sister had been married to a brother of King Malcolm the IV, may be inferred, from the fact that he was able on one occasion to bring his dispute with the King to a termination by a solemn treaty, afterwards considered so important as to form an epoch, from which Royal Charters were regularly dated."

Somerled finally became such a dangerous rival that Malcolm requested him to resign his possessions into his Majesty's hands, and hold them in future as a vassal from the Crown. This he refused emphatically to do and promptly declared war against Malcolm. Collecting his forces, he sailed boldly up the Clyde with one hundred and sixty galleys and threatened the whole of Scotland. After two sharp engagements with the Royal troops in which Somerled was victorious, he was unmolested for a while, when it was again demanded that he should surrender at least a part of his possessions to the Crown. To this he replied, that he would not surrender the smallest part of them, as he had an undoubted right to them, but would assist the King in any other affair, and he as loyal as any of his friends, but as long as he breathed he would not resign his rights to anyone.

He was finally murdered by one of the King's followers. Gregory is of opinion that Somerled was interred in the Church of Saddell, in Kintyre, where Reginald, his son, afterwards founded a monastery.

Rev. George Hill claims descent for the McDonalds from Fergus Mor, who Iived about 506. He says: "The family of Fergus Mor continued to maintain a leading position in Scotland, supplying, with few exceptions the line of dalriadic Kings and many of its Thanes, or Territorial Lords.

"Of the latter, the most historical, and it may be said the most patriotic, was a great Thane of Argyle, who appeared in the twelfth century called Somerhairle. among his Celtic kinsmen, but better known as Somerled, and few, if any military leaders have left their mark more broadly or distinctly in Scottish history than he. His record seems to have been well preserved in authentic chronicles."

James McDonald says: "His only daughter, Beatrice, entered a Priory; and in the Year 1811, the following inscription was still legible on a slab in Iona `Bshag Nyn Ilvrid Priora—Beatrice, daughter of Somerled, Prioress.' "

So it seems that all historians are agreed that Somerled was the immediate progenitor of the family or clan McDonald, Macdonald, or Macdonell, for all three forms seem to have been used.

According to Gregory: "Of the descendants of Somerled there were, in 1285, three great noblemen, all holding extensive possessions in the Isles as well as the mainland. And McKenzie says of one of them: "In 1306 Angus Og McDonald of the Isles attached himself to the party of Bruce and took an important part in all of his subsequent enterprises, which terminated in the final defeat of the English at Bannockburn. Here Angus McDonald commanded the reserve of 5,000 Highlanders, commanded respectively by sixteen of their Chiefs. And they performed such distinguished service that as a permanent mark of distinction, Bruce assigned to Angus and his descendants forever, the right flank of the Royal army."

In addition to this distinguished honor, Bruce also bestowed upon Angus McDonald the extensive possessions of the Comyns and their allies the Lords of Lorn, also the title of Lord of Lochaber, which had formerly belonged to the Comyns. Also the lands of Doror and Glencoe and the Islands, Mull, Jura and Tiree, which had formerly been possessed by the Lords of Lorn.

After the battle of Bannockburn, Robert Bruce spent six months as the guest of Angus McDonald at the Monastery of Saddell in Kintyre, which had been built by Reginald, oldest son of Somerled, and the progenitor of the Glengarry McDonalds. At the age of twenty-two Angus Og McDonald was with great pomp and ceremony, proclaimed Lord of the Isles and Thane of Argyle and Lochaber.

Angus died at Islay about 1329 and was buried at Icolumkill. He was succeeded by his only son John, who McKenzie says played a most important part in the age in which he lived. His death occurred about 1380 and he was buried with great splendor in the precincts of Iona. He was called *'The Good John of Isla." John's second wife was Lady Margaret, daughter of King Robert II; and first of Stewart dynasty.

To his third son, Reginald or Ranald (the only child by his first wife to reach maturity), John bequeathed, at his death, extensive holdings on the mainland, besides large grants of land including the North Isles, Garmoran and other extensive possessions. McKenzie says: "Ranald proved himself a man of great integrity and honor as a tutor to his younger brother, Donald, second Lord of the Isles, during his minority. He took a leading part in the government of the Isles during his father's lifetime and was Ieft in charge of the Lordship after his father's death, until Donald, the eldest son by a second marriage, came of age, when Ranald or Reginald. delivered over to him the government of the Lordship in the presence of the leading vassals."

Reginald married a daughter of Walter Stewart, Earl of Athol, brother of King Robert. He died a very old man in 1419 and was succeeded by his eldest son, Donald. Then followed John and then AIaster, fourth of Glengarry. Then John again, fifth of Glengarry, who married his cousin, a daughter of Donald Cameron, of Lochiel. He left one son, Alexander McDonald, who succeeded hire as sixth Lord of Glengarry. During his Lordship of the Clan, there is mention made in the public records, under the Privy Seal, of large grants of land, including Glengarry, Moror with the Castle, Fortalice and Manor of Strome, LochaIsh and Loch-broom. He married Margaret de Insulas, co-heiress of Sir Donald McDonald and lineal representative and heiress of the Earldom of Ross.

They had one son, Eneas McDonald, who sueceeded as seventh of Glengarry. This Eneas or Angus was commissioned to hold Courts and minister justice, affix punishments, &c., according to the laws of the Realm. Which commission was dated at Holyrood House 10th July, 1574. Donald McDonald, 8th of Glengarry, succeeded his father Eneas. The period of his Lordship was marked by very turbulent and cruel conduct and constant fueds with his cousins, the McKenzies, were carried on. In one of the most sanguinary Angus, Donald's oldest son, was killed. Donald being now far advanced in years the leadership fell to Alastair Dearg, the second son, who was of a much more peaceable nature than Angus, but he also died before his father, and Donald handed over the actual command of the Clan to his grandson, Angus, son of Alastair Dearg, who in 1660 was created Lord McDonell and Aros.

McKenzie says "Hitherto we have not met with a single instance where `Macdonnell' is used as the family name of Glengarry. It will be observed that during his grandfather's life time the future Lord Macdonell and Arros was designated as 'Angus McDonald' and the first instance of 'Macdonnell' as a family name, in connection with Glengarry, is in the patent of nobility to the grandson and successor of Donald MacAngus on the 20th of December, 1660."

He also says in a foot-note "Mr. Fraser Macintosh has in his possession two documents signed by Glengarry. both in the year 1660, in one of which he signs `Angus McDonald;' in the other, `Macdonnell.'" So it would seem that we have authority for the use of both forms. All charters, patents and family records of whatever nature seem to have been carefully preserved in a family chest, as well as in the public repositories.

Donald McAngus died 2nd of Feb., 1645, over one hundred years of age. He had two sons named John and the descendants of both seem to have emigrated to America.

Eneas Macdonell (Lord Macdonell and Arros) , ninth of Glengarry. was a distinguished warrior, both at home and in Ireland, where he joined the Earl of Antrim in 1647. In 1653 the exiled Charles granted Glengarry the following commission as Major General:

"Charles, by the grace of God, King of Great Britain, France and Ireland, Defender of the Faith, &c., to our trusty and well beloved Angus MacdoneIl of Glengarry, and to all others to whom these presentis shall come greeting, know ye that eve, reposing trust and confidence in the courage, conduct and good affection of you, the said Angus 1Tacdonell, doe by these presentis constitute and appoint you to be one of our Major Generals of such forces of foote as are or shall be Ievied for our service within our Kingdom of Scotland, giving you hereby power and authority to conduct, order and command them, in all saide things for our saide service, according to the laves and custonie of warre, and as belongeth to the power and office of one of oure Major-Generals of foote ; and with the same to fight, kill, slay, and destroy, or otherwise subdue all opposers and enemies who are in present hostility against or not in present obedience to us.

"Given at Chantilly, the 31st day of October, 1653, in the fifth yeare of our reigne."

In 1651, Angus was forfeited by Oliver Cromwell for his steady adherence to the house of. Stewart, but on the restoration of. Charles IT, was as has been stated, raised to the peerage. It was during this Chief's incumbency that an incident occurred at Inverness in which many Macdonalds were involved and to prove that the Chief of Glengarry was rearded by the Government as the head of all the clan Donald. an act of the Privy Council, dated Edinburg, 1672, .July 18th, commanded Glengarry as Chief, to be answerable for the future good conduct of all the Clans. This Angus married' Margaret, daughter of Sir Donald McDonald and died without issue in 1682. When the representation of the family reverted to Ranald or Reginald, eldest son of Donald, who was Donald McAngus' second son. See how closely they guarded the succession. Ranald or Reginald (besides being First of Scotus) became also tenth of Glengarry and married a daughter of Macleoud of Macleoud.

His oldest soy. Alastair Dubh Macdonell succeeded him as 11th of Glengarry and was one of the most distinguished men of his day. He and his father were among the first to join Dundee in the attempt to restore James II "although his father was both aged and frail." McKenzie, in his description of the battle of Killicrankie, says, "In the center were placed, under Dundee's immediate command, the MacDorells of Glengarry and Clanranald with the Camerons, an Irish Regiment and a troop of Horse under the command of Sir William :Wallace. In the first charge they were met by a fire from Mackay's men, by which no less than sixteen of the Glengarry MacdonelIs fell to rise no more. Nothing daunted, however, the Highlanders steadily advanced in the face of the enemy's fire, until having come to close quarters, they made a momentary halt and having discharged their pistols with but little effect, they set up a loud shout and rushed with their claymores into the midst of the enemy before they had time to fix their bayonets. The enemy fled in utter confusion, thousands falling before the tremendous strokes of the double-edged claymores of the Highlanders. Alastair Dubh, still only younger of Glengarry, performed feats of valor on this occasion for which there are few, if any parallels even among the Highlanders."

Of the gathering of the Clans in Lochabar, just before the battle, Macaulay says in his History of England," Macdonald of Glengarry, conspicuous by his dark brow and lofty stature, came from the great Valley where a chain of lakes then unknown to fame and scarcely set down in maps, is now the daily highway of steam vessels, passing and repassing between the Atlantic and German Ocean. Though he usually professed to scorn all attempts at display, on this occasion he imitated the splendor of the Saxon warriors and rode on horse back in advance of his four hundred plaided Clansmen, in a steel cuirass and a coat embroidered with gold lace."

Of his appearance on the battle field, he says: "At the head of one large battallion, towered the stately form of Glengarry, who bore in his hand the royal standard of King James VII" and other authorities say that "he mowed clown two men at every stroke of his claymore." After Sheriffmuir he was created a peer of Parliament by Patent. dated 9th Dec., 1716. His first wife was Anne, daughter of Lord Lovat. He married a second time, Mary, daughter of Kenneth Mor Mackenzie, Earl of Seaforth. He died in 1724. His oldest son, Donald, had been killed at Killicrankie and he was succeeded by his second son, John, about 1724.

John did not take part in the Rebellion of 1745. His second son Angus, only nineteen years of age, led the McDonalds, but he was accidentally shot and killed, by one of the Clanranald men on the streets of Falkirk, when James (John's oldest son by his second wife), represented Glengarry, though too young to command the troops. McKenzie intimates that motives of policy sometimes prevented the Chief from taking up arms, though his family was always represented.

John's oldest son, Alastair (or Alexander), just prior to the "rising," had been sent by the Chiefs to France, with an address to Prince Charles, and on returning to Scotland, in charge of a detachment of the Royal Scots and a Picquet of the Irish Brigade, he was taken prisoner on the sea and kept in the Tower of London for twenty-two months. He was there at the time of the battle of Culloden and for some time after, although he was an officer in the French Guard. He was released from the Tower July, 1747, and went at once to Paris.

Andrew Lang, although lie accuses Alastair, in a recent publication, of having been a spy, describes him as "eminently handsome, tall, athletic, with a frank and pleasing countenance, He seemed the fitting Lord of that castellated palace if his race, which beautiful and majestic in decay, mirrors itself in Loch Oich. No statelier gentleman than he ever trod a measure at Holywood." Which description hardly bears out his accusation.

Alastair died unmarried in 1761 and was succeeded by his nephew, Duncan, the only son of Colonel Aeneas (or Angus) , McDonald who was killed at Falkirk.


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