The name Thomson derives
from the Gaelic Mac Thomais, other variants include MacCombie, MacCombe and MacComie. It
is also often anglicised as MacTavish which is a common name in Argyll where the Clan
Tavish was a minor sept of the Campbells descending from an illigitimate son of the Lord
of Lochow. The main group of this name belonged to the Clan Chattan Confederation and
their name was usually anglicised to MacThomas. This branch descend from Tomaidh Mor or
Great Thomas, a descend ant of the Clan Chattan MacKintoshes who lived in the 15th century
and who led his followers out of Badenoch to the other side of the Grampians to Glenshee.
A charter in 1571 confirmed John McComy-Muir the lands of Finegand Glenshee, where the 4th
chief Robert McComie was murdered. The MacThomases were named as one of the
"broken" clans in the late 16th century, but their Gathering ground is still
marked today near Glenshee. During the Civil wars the MacThomas chief apparently acted as
a government agent, however Iain Mor, 7th chief joined Montrose at Dundee in 1644. The
MacThomases were often involved in feuds amongst their neighbours, especially the
Farquharsons. There was another branch called Thomason whose ancestor was the son of a
MacFarlane chief called Thomas, who were septs of the MacFarlanes. In 1964 Sir Roy
Thomson, proprietor of the newspapers throughout the world was created 1st Lord Thomson of
Fleet, but the chief of Clan MacThomas is now Andrew MacThomas of Finegand.
In considering the succession to the
chiefship after the breakup of the clan, about the end of the
seventeenth century, it will be convenient to recall for a moment the
sons of Ian Mor. These in chronological order of their birth, were John,
Alexander, James, Robert, Thomas, and Angus, all of whom are amply
documented in the records of the period. Additionally, there was a child
named Donald who is never mentioned as a son of Ian Mor in any
contemporary document, but who is nevertheless held by tradition to have
been his youngest son.
Of the six elder sons, John and Robert, respectively the eldest and
fourth born, were killed in the skirmish at Drumgley in 1673, leaving no
issue. Alexander, the second son, who married an Ogilvie and had a son,
named Alexander, who traditionally, drowned in the Tay near Errol, while
yet unmarried in 1697. Furthermore, the senior Alexander had a daughter,
Elizabeth, who married Duncan Mackintosh, brother of Brigadier William
Mackintosh of Borlum of fifteen (1715) fame. This Alexander died in
October 1687, having been passed over in the succession to the Chiefship
by his younger brothers: James (the third son), who succeeded as 8th
Chief of the Clan in 1674. Likewise, Thomas (the fifth son), in turn
succeeded as 9th Chief in 1676. Neither of them apparently leaving male
issue. Therefore, upon the death of the latter the Chiefship of the
Clan, which as stated earlier, was not at the time considered worth the
trouble of claiming once the family lands had been lost and the clan
scattered, lay in the family of Angus, the sixth son of Ian Mor, of whom
we shall now treat.
As the actual dates of their respective deaths are not known, we cannot
say with any certainty whether Angus outlived his immediate elder
brother, Thomas, so becoming dejure chief of the clan, but there is some
tradition that he did so, and he is accordingly reckoned 10th chief. He
must have been born about 1647, and had been educated at St. Andrews
University, in the county of Fife, from which circumstance he is
frequently found referred to as Mr. Angus. Although apparently not
actually present at the skirmish at Drumgley, he had taken an active
part in the feud with Broughdearg, when he would have been in his early
twenties. He is found several times from 1668 onward as witness to bonds
and deeds by his brothers, and seems to have been last recorded as a
consenter to the alienation of the Forter lands by Thomas in 1681.
Family tradition has it that he afterwards settled at Collairnie, in the
Parish of Dunbog, in the north of Fife, anglicizing his Gaelic surname
of McComie (i.e. MacThomaidh) as MacThomas or Thomas, and marrying a
younger daughter of the already deceased laird of Denmylin, Sir James
Balfour, sometime Lord Lyon King of Arms to King Charles I, having by
her had two sons, Robert and John. The former, who was born in 1683, and
is said to have married an Antonia McColm from Kirkmichael, and is in
due course, found recorded in the Dunbog parish register at the baptisms
of his many children. From these entries may be seen the extreme
fluidity of the family surname at this time, and the difficulty
experienced in making a final choice. At the four baptisms occurring
between November 1720 and May 1726 Robert appears as Robert Thom. In
March 1728 he appears as Robert Thomas, in February 1730 as Robert Tam
in Cullarnie Ground and finally, from May 1732 to June 1734, as Robert
Thomas in Cullarnie. The surname Thomas was the one finally adopted, and
was used by the family for upwards of eighty years.
This Robert, reckoned eleventh Chief, subsequently removed from
Cullarnie and at his death on 29th April 1740, at the age of
fifty-seven, is described on his tombstone in Monimail churchyard as
tenant in Belhelvie. Belhelvie was a fine farm of considerable extent on
the south bank of the Tay River. It lay in the parish of Flisk in Fife.
Although he would have been of military age at the time of the fifteen,
as would his elder sons have been during the forty-five, they do not
appear to have become embroiled in the Jacobite rising, which added so
richly to the history of so many other clans; doubtless remembering only
too well the ruination of their family at the hands of the Stewart
Restoration Parliament during the latter half of the previous century.
Robert was succeeded in 1740 by his eldest son, David Thomas, reckoned
twelfth chief who, since he had been baptized on 29th July 1722, was
still a minor at the time. He died on 12th January 1751, aged
twenty-seven and apparently a bachelor, being succeeded by his younger
brother Henry. This Henry Thomas, thirteenth dejure chief of the clan
(baptized 17th, May 1724), continued to farm as tenant at Belhelvie,
like his father before him. He married twice; his first wife being
Margaret Miller, from Ceres, by whom he had four sons, William, Robert,
David and Henry. Margaret died on 27th, November 1765, aged 37, and a
little under two years later, on 14th, August 1767, Henry married
Elizabeth Reid, by whom he had a further son, George, born in 1768, who
was later to become a merchant in Dundee. Additionally, Henry and
Elizabeth had a daughter, Christian. Henry died on 3rd January 1797,
being succeeded at Belhelvie by his eldest son, William, fourteenth
dejure chief, as appears from the notice of marriage of the latter and
Helen Gardener, from the Muirhouse of Balhousie, Perth, two years later.
It seems that William afterwards became a merchant in St. Andrews. He
and his brothers all changed their surname from Thomas to Thoms, and it
is William Thoms that he is recorded in the entry relating to his death
at St. Andrews, on 15th, June 1843, apparently without issue. Lamentably
all too little is known regarding the fate of the remaining issue of
Henry Thomas's first marriage, but it has been assumed that by the time
of William's death it had become extinct, and the dormant chiefship thus
passed to the issue of the latter's half brother George.
William, 7th Chief of Clan Mackintosh and
8th Chief of Clan Chattan was the son and heir of Angus, 6th Chief of
Mackintosh, by his wife Eva, the heretix of Clan Chattan. He succeeded
his father in the chiefship of both clans in 1345, during the reign of
King David II, when he would have been about 50 years old. He married
twice, having children by both wives, as well as two concubines. We are
told that it was after the death of his first wife that William, (being
then very old) had two bastard sons, Adam and Sorald, by the second of
these concubines, whose name has not been preserved.
Adam, the elder of the two, grew up to be a man of considerable size (in
which he took after his father who, we are told, was of stature somewhat
higher than the ordinary, of a lean body and of great strength). For
this reason Adam was known as Adamh Mor (i.e. big Adam). He lived in
Atholl for a time, but later moved north again and settled at Garvamore,
in the Lagan district of Badenoch, a few miles west of Loch Crunachan,
on the south bank of the Spey. His descendants, known as the Sloichd
Adhamh Mhor Mhic uilleam (i.e. the tribe of big Adam, son of William),
are reckoned 5th of the nine tribes of Mackintosh, but it would be a
mistake to suppose that they were thought of from the outset as a
separate tribe. The household of a single Highland gentleman could not
by any stretch of the imagination be considered a clan, in the normally
accepted sense of that term. Therefore, Adam and his near descendants;
who it seems must have continued to dwell at Garvamore for some
generations; were obviously regarded by themselves and everyone else
simply as members of the main body of clan Mackintosh.
However, living as they did on the southern fringes of clan Chattan
country it would be reasonable to suppose that they were not much
troubled by the somewhat remote authority of the Mackintosh Chief.
Consequently, they would have acquired a certain independence, which
would have grown stronger as they gradually multiplied in numbers and
gathered a following. About the latter half of the fifteenth century
they emerged as a distinct clan under Thomas, the grandson or great
grandson of Adamh Mor, and from him they took the name of MacThomas.
Like so many others of his race, he too was a big man, and so was
affectionately named Tomaidh Mor (i.e. big Tommy).
This new found autonomy of the MacThomases is perhaps best understood if
it is seen as part of a general process of fragmentation, which appears
to have been taking place in Clan Mackintosh at that time. Clan Chattan
had by 1485 grown from a reasonably compact handful of clans into an
unwieldy confederation of no less than fourteen separate tribes, each
under its own chief. The larger the confederation grew the less
effective became the authority of the Macintosh, as paramount chief, to
bring to heel his own fractious Mackintosh cadets. During the chiefship
of Duncan, 11th of Mackintosh and 12th of Clan Chattan, which lasted
from 1464-96, several of them to become openly rebellious due to his
mild disposition. It was during this period that Rothiemurchus was made
over to Alisdair Ciar, founder of clan Shaw, whose following constituted
the second tribe of Mackintosh (from which the Farquharsons, or third
tribe of Macintosh, were to hive off during the following century).
Additionally, Donald Mhic Angus removed to Atholl with his following,
which are reckoned the fourth tribe of Mackintosh. Tomaidh Mor was
almost certainly another contemporary of Duncan and, although we have no
definite information as to when the MacThomases left Badenoch and
settled in Glenshee, it would seem natural that this too should have
occurred during the period of disintegration. The naming of the clan
after Tomaidh Mor would certainly be consistent with it being he who led
them across the mountains into that Perthshire glen, still more remote
from Mackintosh's authority, thus asserting their independence as a
separate clan, albeit acknowledging the over-chiefship of the
Just as we cannot say with any certitude when the clan first settled in
Glenshee, so we are somewhat uncertain as to the identity of the earlier
chiefs. Tomaidh Mor is of course regarded as the founder and first chief
of the clan, and his grandson Aye (i.e. Adam), who as Aye MacAne
MacThomas was a party to the Clan Chattan band of 2nd May 1543, is
considered third chief. Quite possibly the latter's predecessor was his
father, Ane or Iain (i.e. John), but of this we cannot be sure. Roughly
a generation later than Aye we find our first positive indication of a
chief dwelling in Glenshee, and from then on there is a reasonably
unbroken and well-documented line right down to the present time. In
those days, of course, the language of the clan was the Gaelic, and the
clan patronymic in that tongue was normally one or other of the
diminutives MacThomaidh (son of Tommy) or, less commonly, MacThom (son
of Tom). These are pronounced in English McHommy or McHom, so that we
generally find the early chiefs variously referred to as McComie or
McColme, or some such similar phonetic rendering.
The individual reckoned fourth chief, who may possibly have been the son
or nephew of Aye, referred to above, was Robert McComie or McColme, as
he is variously called. He is found as wadsetter, and later feur, of the
lands of the Thom (situated just to the east of Shee Water, opposite the
Spittal of Glenshee). Additionally, in 1595 he was one of several
notables, who at Invercauld, gave an heritable band of manrent to
Lachlan, 16th chief of Mackintosh and 17th of Clan Chattan, promising
faithfully to serve and defend him as their natty chief. It was probably
during Robert's chiefship that Clan MacThomas in Glenshee was mentioned
in the act of Parliament of 1587, as one to the Clannis that hes
Capitanes, Cheffis and Chiftanes quhom on they depends, and the
MacThomases were again mentioned in the act of 1594.
Chief Robert McComie and his neighbours seem to have been turbulent
characters. In 1594 together with Duncan McRitchie of Dalminzie, Robert
was called upon to answer before the Privy Council for seizing the lands
of the Spittal, which belonged to David Weymyss of that Ilk, and,
failing to do so, was declared a rebel. Three years later he was
involved in a potentially violent dispute with Duncan Robertson, in
Duncavane, and the same year the privy council sentenced him to be
incarcerated in Blackness castle together with several of his neighbours,
for defying an order of the courts with regard to tythes. Whether or not
these sentences were carried out seems doubtful.
Robert had married Barbara Rattray, presumed to have been a sister of
Alexander Rattray of Dalrulzion. He eventually seems to have been killed
by a band of Highland caterans, about 1600; two of his slayers: Donald
na Slogg and Finlay-a-Baleia, were caught by John Robertson, 6th baron
of Straloch (the MacThomases western neighbor), who hanged them from two
birch trees in the woods of Ennochdhu. Afterwards Robert's widow married
Alexander Farquharson, 1st of Allanquoich, whose younger brother John
Farquharson, 1st of Tullycairn, married Robert's only daughter Elspeth.
She was infeft in the Thom as heir to her father on 8th August 1616, and
transferred the feu to her stepfather the same day, with her husband's
consent. Although all this may have been perfectly fair and above board,
it would not be difficult to see in this episode a sordid conspiracy,
with the wretched girl's marriage as no more than a device to enable a
grasping step-father to possess himself the MacThomas lands aided by the
convenience of his brother and the infatuated widow of their former
owner. This may well have been the first act of Farquharson
aggrandizement at the expense of the MacThomases in Glenshee, whom they
were eventually to supplant and bring ruin.
From Clach A' Choilich: The magazine of the Clan MacThomas Society.
Clan MacThomas: Days of Glory
Thomas, a Gaelic speaking Highlander, known as Tomaidh Mor (i.e. Great
Tommy), from whom the clan takes its name, was a descendant of the Clan
Chattan Mackintoshes, his grandfather having been a son of William, 8th
Chief of Clan Chattan. Thomas lived in the 15th century, at a time when
the Clan Chattan Confederation had become large and unmanageable.
Therefore, he took his kinsmen and followers across the Grampians, from
Badenech to Glenshee where they settled and flourished being known as
McComie (phonetic form of the Gaelic MacThomaidh), McColm and McComas
(from MacThom and MacThomas). To the government in Edinburgh, they were
known as MacThomas and are so described in the Poll of the Clans in the
Acts of the Scottish parliament of 1587 and 1595. MacThomas remains the
official name of the clan to this day, notwithstanding the fact that few
of its members have ever actually been named MacThomas.
The early chiefs of the Clan MacThomas were seated at the Thom, on the
east bank of the Shee Water opposite the Spittle of Glenshee, the site
is thought to be that of the tomb of the legendary Diarmid of Fingalian
saga, with which Glenshee has so many associations. When the 4th Chief,
Robert McComie of the Thom, was murdered (c. 1600), the chiefship passed
to his brother, John McComie of Finegand. Therefore, the seat of the
chiefs was moved to Finegand about three miles down the glen. Finegand
is a corruption of the Gaelic "Feith nan Ceann" meaning
"burn of the heads." This refers to the time when some tax
collectors were attacked by some clansman, who cut off their heads and
threw them in a nearby burn. By now, the MacThomases had acquired a lot
of property in the glen and houses were well established at Kerrow and
Benzian with shielings up Glen Beag. The time was spent breeding cattle
and fighting off those seeking to rustle them, one such skirmish, in
1606, being remembered as the Battle of the Cairnwell.
The 7th Chief was John McComie (Iain Mor). His deeds passed into the
folklore of Perthshire and Angus, wherein he is generally known as
"McComie Mor." The legends surrounding this Highland hero
abound. In defense of a poor widow, he single handedly put to flight
some tax collectors, he killed the Earl of Atholl's champion swordsman,
he slew a man that had insulted his wife, he fought his son in disguise
to test his courage, he overcame a ferocious bull with his bare hands,
and he said to have been familiar with the supernatural. Today, a large
stone at the head of Glen Prosen is known as McComie Mor's Putting
Stone, a nearby spring as McComie Mor's Well, and at the top of Glen
Beannie a rock shaped like a seat is called McComie Mor's Chair.
Iain Mor joined Montrose at Dundee in 1644 and fought for the King's
cause throughout the campaign. He personally captured Sir William Forbes
of Craigivar, but after the defeat at Philiphaugh he withdrew from the
struggle and devoted his energies to cattle raising. During this time
the clan extended their lands and influence into Glen Prosen and
Strathardle and Iain Mor purchased the Barony of Forter in Glenisla from
Lord Airlie. Forter Castle had been burned eleven years earlier, as
recounted in the ballad "The Bonnie House of Airlie." Thus,
Iain Mor made his home at Crandart, two miles north of the castle. The
government of Cromwell won Iain Mor's admiration for the prosperity that
it brought to Scotland. However, this soured his relationship with
Airlie and upon the restoration of Charles II in 1660 he found himself
in trouble with Parliarment. He was fined heavily and at Airlie's
instigation a lawsuit decreed that the Canlochan Forest, part of the
Forter estate, belonged to Airlie. Iain Mor refused to recognize this
and continued to pasture his cattle on the disputed land, which Airlie
had rented to Robert Farquharson of Broughdearg. Broughdearg was Iain
Mor's cousin but the dispute over the forest led to a bitter feud that
culminated in a skirmish at Drumgley, just west of Forfar. At a spot
known as McComie's Field, Broughdearg was slain on January 28, 1673,
along with two of Iain Mor's sons. The fine, feud, and crippling lawsuit
that followed ruined the MacThomases and following Iain Mor's death his
remaining sons were forced to sell their lands.
The MacThomas Chief is mentioned in Government proclaimation in 1678 and
1681 but the clan was now drifting apart with some going into the Tay
valley and changing their name to Thomson. Others went into Angus and
Fife where they became Thomas, Thom, or Thoms. The 10th Chief, Angus,
took the surname Thomas and later Thoms. He settled in northern Fife
where his family thrived as successful farmers. Next they moved to
Dundee and became prosperous merchants at the beginning of the
eighteenth century. Thus, they purchased the estate of Aberlemno near
Forfar. Still others of the clan moved into Aberdeenshire, where the
name became corrupted to McCombie as well as Anglicized forms of Thom
and Thomson. In Aberdeenshire, the principle MacThomas family was the
McCombie's of Easterskene, who were descendants of the youngest of Iain
Mor's sons. It is one of their party, William McCombie of Tillyfour, M.P.
for South Aberdeenshire at the end of the last century, who is regarded
as the father of the world famous breed of cattle.
Patrick Hunter MacThomas Thoms of Aberlemno, 15th Chief, was Provost of
Dundee from 1847 to 1853. His hire, the eccentric George Hunter
MacThomas Thoms, advocate, bon vivant, and philanthropist, became
sheriff of Caithness, Orkney and Shetland in 1870. During his lifetime,
he donated large sums to St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. Upon his
death in 1903 he willed his vast fortune to St. Magnus Cathedral in
Kirkwall, including the Aberlemno estate. Having lost Aberlemno, the
chiefly family assumed the surname MacThomas. Years later, in 1967, the
latter's great-nephew was once again officially recognized by the Lyon
Court by the historic designator "The MacThomas of Finegand."
Patrick MacThomas of Finegand, 18th Chief, married Elizabeth Clayhill-Henderson
of Invergowrie in 1941. It was during his lifetime, in 1954, that the
Clan MacThomas Society of Scotland was founded. He died in 1970 and was
succeeded by his only son, Andrew, the 19th Chief, who is called in the
Gaelic MacThomaidh Mhor (pronounced McHomy Vor).
The Great MacThomas-MacTavish-Thomson
The following article was printed in the
fifth "Clach A' Choilich," the magazine of the Clan MacThomas
Society. The material was researdhed and written by the late Mr. Roger
F. Pye, our former Clan Historian and Vice President.
THE GREAT MACTHOMAS-MACTAVISH-THOMSON MIXUP
"On page 17 of the first issue of this magazine I started off the
series "The Clan and its Septs" with a very brief note on the
name MacThomas itself, from which it emerge that the name was a very
rare one and that only two or three examples were known to me. On the
same page, under the title "A Warning" I mentioned the
extraordinary confusion between the MacThomases and the MacTavishes, and
I promised to revert to the matter in due course. This I am now
Within the last two years a family named MacThomas has been discovered
in California, although unhappily it has not been possible to induce
them to join our Clan Society. More important, however, has been the
discovery, arising out of the correspondence regarding the McComie
Andersons of Loch Tayside, in Breadalbane, that there were a number of
people named MacThomas, living around the western end of loch Tay,
during the first quarter of the 17th century. That these MacThomases
should have used the alternative form of McComie is no more than we
should have expected, and simply repeats what happened in Glenshee
itself. The Shee being one of the minor tributaries of the Tay, it is
not in the least surprising that some member or members of the clan
should have migrated down into the Tay valley, and thence made their way
up to Loch Tay at its upper end.
What is both surprising and disconcerting is that in close proximity of
these 17th century Breadalbane MacThomases we find a considerable number
of MacTavishes. Now the name MacTavish, like MacThomas, simply means
"son of Thomas," with the difference that it is taken from the
braid Scots form Tamas, rather than from the form Thomas. We have always
(and rightly) insisted that the MacThomases and MacTavishes had nothing
to do with one another and were utterly different and distinct clans.
The former deriving from the MacKintoshes and dwelling in Glenshee, on
the Perthshire Angus border and the latter dwelling in Argyll as
dependents, and possibly descendants, of the Campbell Lords of that
country. What then are we to make of these Breadalbane MacTavishes? Were
they really MacThomases, or vice versa? Or was Loch Tay perhaps, as in
fact seems most likely (and as a glance at the physical map of Scotland
will confirm), the halfway house between MacThomas and MacTavish
countries, into which small groups of both clans, one from the East and
the other from the West, had migrated and settled?
Certainly the confusion between MacThomases and MacTavishes has been one
of the major handicaps which our Clan Society has had to face, for all
the popular text books on clans and tartans, even when published under
the auspices of presumed authorities who might be expected to have
expert knowledge of the subject, have simply lumped the two together,
and the Thomsons in with them, as though they were all one, and
MacThomas and Thomson are both treated as if they were all part of the
tiny Clan MacTavish. The fact that there are MacThomases of MacKintosh
derivation is occasionally recognized, however, to the extent that
MacThomas is sometimes listed as a sept of Campbell of Argyll (i.e. the
superiors and possible progenitors of the MacTavishes) or of MacKintosh.
The same books normally allocate all the Thomsons to Campbell of Argyll
(presumably through a MacTavish origin), despite the fact that Thomson
is one of the most common surnames in Scotland and accounts for rather
more than one percent of the entire population. The same tartan is
attributed to all, and the unwary would-be purchaser of MacThomas tartan
is quite likely to find himself sold the MacTavish/Thomson sett.
This almost unbelievable confusion of identity, which of course has
largely arisen as a consequence of the three century long eclipse of
Clan MacThomas, has led to a very serious loss of the latter's
credibility, so that amongst the general public there is more often than
not an almost complete disbelief that such a clan as MacThomas can ever
have existed. To those who have read the five issues of this magazine it
will, I hope, be obvious and beyond doubt that ours is a perfectly
genuine and ancient Highland clan, but to the public at large the mere
mention of Clan MacThomas is calculated to produce grins of incredulity.
Who is to blame them when the popular text books and all tartan mongers
conspire to deprive us of that distinct identity which is ours by
Until this has been corrected so as to enable the causal seeker after
information to find the clan referred to in the popular text books in
its proper historical context and with in its own particular tartan, the
Clan Society can never hope to flourish. The first and most urgent
concern of the Council should be to allow the authors, publishers, and
shopkeepers no rest until the books and lists of names and tartans
concerned have been suitably amended to include MacThomas as a clan in
its own right with its own distinctive tartan. To go no as we are, in
the face of almost total public ignorance and misinformation, is to
court eventual failure, and there is nothing so vital to our survival as
that we should go to the root of the trouble without further
As can be seen from that above quoted material it is difficult, to say
the least, for a once dormant clan to rise up and reclaim its former
glory. Therefore, I encourage my friends with Thomas derived surnames to
continue to research their own individual genealogies and determine as
best as possible their true and rightful place among the various clans
that claim them as septs. Again I stress the importance of the
historical physical location of one's ancestor. It makes a great deal of
difference to know if one's ancestor was from an area well known for its
association with a particular clan or if he was from one of the areas,
as noted above, where various clans migrated and intermingled together.
Likewise, I must reiterate that Clan MacThomas is completely separate
and distinct from both clans Campbell and MacTavish. We trace our line
of descent back to "Great Thomas" a grandson of William
MacKintosh the 8th Chief of Clan Chattan. I hope this information helps
those with the Thom, Thomas, Thomason, and Thoms surnames.
CLAN MACTHOMAS: THE LAIRDS OF FORTER
by Roger F. Pye
In 1651, the same year that he acquired Forter, Ian Mor also purchased
from George Ogilvie the liferent of the lands of Wester Dalnacabock, in
Winnygil. Approximately five years later he bought the liferent of
three-eighths of the lands of Wester Inverharity, both of which had
previously been in possession of the Campbells of Easter Denhead, to
which family Iain Mor's wife Elspeth belonged. It is not known where
Iain Mor dwelt during this period, because Forter Castle had been burnt
and gutted by Argyll eleven years before he bought the property.
However, in 1660 he built himself a "ha'-house" at Crandart,
about a mile and-a-half to the north of the castle, and this became the
seat of his family.
The contract relating to the purchase of the Forter property had
specifically excluded the lands to the East of the Isla, as well as the
Forest of Canlochan, lying on the West side of the stream between the
burn of that name and the burn and corrie of Glas. However,
notwithstanding this exclusion, Iain Mor eventually obtained possession
of the Canlochan lands on wadset, together with royal letter of free
forestry. Additionally, his prosperity may be gauged from the fact that
in about 1660 he is stated to have been pasturing there no less than
twenty milch kine and more than one hundred oxen, besides a number of
From the very beginning of his possession of Forter, however, Iain Mor
had been falling out increasingly with his neighbours and erstwhile
friends and comrades in arms. The origin of these differences was
political, for in 1651 (the year that he bought Forter) Cromwell had
smashed the Scottish army of the Covenant at Worcester and then, almost
without opposition, had occupied the whole of Scotland, from the border
to the Pentland Frith, by the end of the same year. English garrisons
had been set up in all the main towns and the country was ruled by
English Commissioners, almost as an English province, to the impotent
rage of the Scots, both
Royalists and Covenanters alike. What made this English occupation all
the more intolerable, however, was the fact that the Scots found
themselves governed better than they had ever been before; law and order
was complete, trade flourished, and the country enjoyed peace and
prosperity such as had not existed within living memory. An intelligent
and just man, Iain Mor, who was himself prospering thanks to the
improved situation, eventually became convinced that there was much to
be said for a form of government resulting in so much common good, and
accordingly cooperated with it so far as he was able.
This was too much for his fiercely nationalistic neighbours, the
Ogilvies, who might have been able to forgive him had he joined the
Covenant, but never for accepting the English. Thus, Lord Airlie, who
originally had probably been quite content to let his land go to his
father's old comrade, Iain Mor, now became determined to recover, by
hook or by crook, whatever he could from one whom, had he lived in the
present generation (c. 1970), he would doubtless have stigmatized as
"that damned Quisling!" Accordingly, within a year of the
Restoration of King Charles II in 1669, he had induced Royal Parliament
to pass an Act of Decreet in his favour, restoring to him the Canlochan
Forest and Letters of free forestry. Shortly after this, no doubt at
Lord Airlie's instigation, Iain Mor found himself amongst those exempted
from the Act of Indemnity passed by the same Parliament in 1662, and
accordingly had to pay a fine of 1,600 pounds Scots for his
collaboration with the Roundheads. However, Lord Airlie had not counted
on the stubborn obstinacy of Iain Mor, who simply ignored the Act of
Parliament that he considered unjust and continued to pasture his beasts
as before in the disputed territory. Accordingly, in 1664, Lord Airlie
brought a further action against him for contravention, presumably with
as little practical effect as before.
In spite of these tribulations, Iain Mor remained unbowed, and in August
1665 he and his followers unexpectedly accompanied Lachlan, 19th of
Mackintosh, on an expedition into Lochaber against the Camerons, which
finally settled bloodlessly the three hundred year old feud between that
clan and Clan Chattan.
About this time Lord Airlie let the grazings of Canlochan Forest to Iain
Mor's second cousin, Robert Farquharson of Broughdearg, who thus also
became embroiled in the dispute regarding these lands. There is no
reason to suppose that the cousins had not been on good terms prior to
this. Indeed there is a tradition that Broughdearg was engaged to Iain
Mor's daughter. However, the quarrel between them was evidently coming
to the boil by 10th November 1666, when The Mackintosh wrote to Lord
MacDonald and Aros that he had "to go on Thursday morning to
Glenylea to settle two near kinsmen who are like to fall out very
foully." It would seem reasonable to suppose that the causus belli
was that Iain Mor continued to insist upon pasturing his beasts on the
grazings let to Broughdearg. If this was so it would have been very
understandable if Broughdearg had broken off his engagement in his
exasperation at the old man's stubbornness.
Over the next two years the quarrel grew into a serious feud, and on 1st
January 1669 Broughdearg, with fifty or sixty armed men, surprised the
old chief outside his house at daybreak. They carried him back to
Glenshee, where they held him until the following day, when his sons
gave a bond for 1,700 merks for his release. Four months later, on 14th
May, a party of thirty eight of Broughdearg's following raided
Kirkhillocks, at the southern end of the MacThomas Glenisla territory,
and sowed and harrowed the land, thus destroying the crops sowed earlier
by Iain Mor's fourth son, Robert.
In the summer of the following year, Alexander and James, the second and
third sons of Iain Mor, with three followers, came across Broughdearg
himself in the disputed Canlochan Forest, and he had to flee for his
life; the MacThomases seizing two of his horses. On another occasion,
when a party of his clansmen had allowed Broughdearg to escape from them
after an encounter in Glenarmie, the old chief had cursed them roundly
"for not taking from him ane legg, ane arme or his lyff."
In retaliation the Farquharsons seized some MacThomas cattle in the
disputed territory in 1672. Whereupon Iain Mor "persewed a spulzie"
against Broughdearg before the Sheriff of Forfar and got letters of
caption against him. Broughdearg refused to give himself up to the burgh
messenger sent to arrest him, saying that "no man should take him
alive," but on 28th January 1673, accompanied by some seventeen of
his followers, he went into Forfar "for his own defense of the said
pursuit." The MacThomases, learning of this journey, also proceeded
to Forfar, but the Farquharsons seem to have got wind of this and turned
back for home.
The MacThomases, pausing only to collect the burgh messenger in Forfar
in order to legalize their position, hastened after them and caught up
with them near Drumgley, a mile or two to the West of Forfar, where they
called upon Broughdearg to give himself up. This he refused to do, and
in their efforts to apprehend him Robert, Iain Mor's fourth son, was
shot outright, while his eldest brother John was dirked to death after
falling wounded from the same discharge. The Farquharsons then made a
dash for it, but Broughdearg was shot dead before he could get away, and
his brother John was so severely wounded that he was expected to die.
The Farquharsons quickly made representations to the Privy Council, who
appointed a Commission to apprehend the MacThomases concerned. Iain Mor
with his sons Thomas and Angus (who seem not to have been present at the
skirmish) soon afterwards presented themselves, but were eventually
allowed to go home upon giving 5000 merks each as security. Alexander
and James and three followers (who had been present) failed to appear
and were declared fugitives. They eventually submitted a year later, and
all five were tried by jury for murder on 10th June 1674, and acquitted.
Earlier the same year, however, Iain Mor, already an old man, had died.
He was succeeded as eighth Chief by his third son James, who having with
his immediate elder brother been on trial for his life, now had to raise
the money to pay the very heavy costs of the proceedings. Such heavy
costs may be imagined from the fact that the two leading Counsel for the
MacThomases were no lesser personages than Sir George Lockhart, who had
been Lord Advocate, and Sir George Mackenzie, who was about to become
so. To do this the unfortunate new chief had no option but to raise
bonds on his lands. He only survived his father by two years, being
succeeded in the spring of 1676 by his brother Thomas, who thus became
This Thomas, fifth son of Iain Mor, had been a merchant in Montrose at
least as early as 1670, and may well have been associated with his
father in his cattle business. His absence in Montrose appears to have
kept him out of the feud with Broughdearg. He was served heir-of-line to
his predecessor in 1677. Likewise, he is mentioned in the Proclamations
of 1678 and 1681 amongst the subordinate Chiefs required to give bond
for the good behaviour of their followers. In the latter year he was
also included in the Royal Commission of Fire and Sword granted to
Lachlan, 19th of Mackintosh and 20th of Clan Chattan, against the
MacDonnells in Keppoch. This commission was never put into effect. In
1681, with the consent of his brothers, Alexander and Angus, he formally
disposed of the Forter estate in favour of David, Lord Ogilvie. However,
he retained a wadset of Burnside until 1694.
What became of him after this we do not know. No trace has been found of
his death, and it has been suggested that he left no family. The present
writer believes; however, that he had a daughter Isabella, who married
Donald Ramsay of Cronaherrich, once a MacThomas shieling in Glenbeg, and
who was known in the Gaelic for her beauty as Iseabal Bain, i.e. Fair
The clan, which had for some time been drifting apart, now finally broke
up completely and ceased to exist as an organized group. With its
dispersal and the loss of their lands the chiefship became an empty
title, not worth the trouble of claiming, and upon the death of Thomas,
ninth and last of the old chiefs, was allowed to fall dormant. Thus Clan
MacThomas disappeared into almost complete oblivion for well over an
hundred years, until the great romantic revival of the early nineteenth
century started to reawaken interest in it.
R. F. P.
CLAN MACTHOMAS: THE LAIRDS OF FINEGAND
We have seen how the Cockstane came to be named in consequence of the
resistance strewn by Iain Mor to the kain-gathers of the Earl of Atholl
(1), and it is curious to note that Finegand itself, for so long the
seat of the MacThomas chiefs, also derived its name from an earlier and
bloodier encounter with those same ever unpopular tax-collectors. It
seems likely that this earlier affair took place before the MacThomases
had settled in Glenshee, and so incensed were the glensmen on this
occasion that not only did they slay their oppressors, but afterwards
cut off their heads and flung them into the near-by burn, which duly
became known in the Gaelic as Feith nan Ceann, meaning
John and Janet had (probably with other children) (3) a son, also named
John, and on 7th September 1568 the three of them had a feu charter from
Thomas Scott of Pitgorno of the four merk lands of Finegand and the
shelling of Gormel, in Glenbeg (4). The MacThomases had clearly already
been in occupation for some time, however; for in the charter they are
stated to have been tenants and occupiers of the lands in question ab
antiquo. Three years later they had a new charter of the same lands with
the addition, in favour of the younger John, of the lands and shelling
of Cronaherrich (5), which lay in Glenbeg immediately to the south of
the Gormel shelling; both lying on the eastern side of the stream. About
1582 the younger John married Janet, daughter of William Farquharson,
who was the eldest son of the Farquharson hero Finla Mor, and in
November that year they had a charter of three-fourths of the town and
lands of Binzean Mor (6), lying about a mile downstream from the Spittal.
When the fourth Chief was murdered by catarans about the turn of the
century, his brother, John of Finegand, the Elder, traditionally
succeeded him as fifth Chief. It is evident that the catarans were
giving continuous trouble about this time, and in 1602 the biggest raid
ever took place, when two hundred catarans from Glen Garry (7), said to
have been principally MacGregors and Cattanachs; rounded up no fewer
than 2,700 head of cattle and 1OO horses from Glenshee, Glenisla and
Strathardle, which was precisely the area over which the MacThomases
were spread. The robbers were hotly pursued and caught near the Devil's
Elbow, as they drove the beasts up the hill road out of the glen A
furious fight, afterwards known as the Battle of the Cairnwell, took
place and the catarans were eventually defeated, but not before they had
first butchered most of the cattle out of pure spite (8). This raid must
have caused very great financial loss to the MacThomases, but one of the
main victims was Finegand's brother-in-law, Rattray of Dalrulzion, who
also had grazing lands in Glenshee and Glenbeg (9), and who was
virtually ruined (10).
John McComie of Finegand the Younger is believed to have predeceased his
father, and so it was his son, Alexander, who succeeded his grandfather
as sixth Chief, some time before the end of 1606 (11). This Alexander
married Margaret Small, who was presumably of the family of Small of
Dirnanean, at the top of Strathardle, and on 5th December 1606 they had
sasin of the town and lands of Corrydon (12), about half-a-mile upstream
from Finegand. It was during his chiefship that the feu of the old
MacThomas lands of the Thom was finally transferred to Alexander
Farquharson of Allanaquoich on 8th August 1616, as previously noticed
(l3), and it may be possible to explain his failure to take any
effective action to prevent this alienation of the family property by
the fact that, through his Farquharson mother, he was himself a
reasonably close kinsman to Allanaquoich. Alexander was dead by 1637 and
was succeeded by his son John; seventh and greatest of the MacThomas
chiefs; better known to us as Iain Mor. We first come accross him as
party to an agreement with Rattray of Dalrulzion regarding the sheilings
in Glenbeg, signed on 18th May 1637 (14), and in 1644 he had wadset of
the lands of Carrow, or Kerrow (l5), on the East bank of the Shee, about
half-a-mile South of the Thom.
In the year before this last acquisition the Scottish Parliament,
dominated by the Covenanters (16), had determined to go to the
assistance of the English Parliamentarians, then at war against their
King, Charles I, and in 1644 the Marquis of Montrose, in the hope of
reconquering Scotland for the King, sent round the Firey Cross in order
to raise the Highland clans, several of which responded nobly to the
call. Amongst those who rallied to Montrose was Iain Mor (l7) with his
followers, who joined the Royalist army at Dundee a few days after the
Marquis's initial victory at Tippermuir (1st Sept. 1644) (18).
Thereafter he served throughout Montrose's glorious campaign, with its
brilliant victories at Aberdeen (where Iain Mor is traditionally
credited with personally capturing Sir William Forbes of Craigievar)
(19), Inverlochy, Dundee, Auldearn, Alford and Kilsyth. On I3th
September 1645, however, the shattering defeat at Philiphaugh put an end
to the hopes of the Scottish Royalists, who laid down their arms after
terms had been agreed providing for the safety of the lives and property
of most of them (20). Although he had fought loyally and bravely for the
King, Iain Mor, unlike his Ogilvie and Farquharson neighbours, now
withdrew entirely from the contest, and devoted his considerable
energies wholeheartedly to the more remunerative business of cattle
raising on his Glenshee lands
In 1668 he had a feu charter of the fourth part of Binzean Mor (21),
thus giving him possession of the whole, and this purchase brought the
property of the MacThomas chiefs in Glenshee to its greatest extent. It
should be understood that Glenshee was never solely the preserve of the
MacThomases. So far as can be ascertained the chiefs never possessed
lands further South than the road to Glenisla, and even in the upper
part of the glen there were groups of MacRitchies, Mackenzies and
Farquharsons between whom and the MacThomases land changed hands fairly
frequently, so that at one time one family would predominate; at another
another. Generally speaking, the lands of the MacThomas chiefs occupied
most of the West bank of the Shee, from about the Cockstane in the South
to the Spittal in the North together with the greater part of Glenbeg.
The East bank of the Shee was occupied by Farquharsons, Mackenzies and
MacRitchies, and the latter also occupied the extreme North Western end
of Glenshee at Dalmunzie. Apart from the property of the chiefs,
however, there were many MacThomas clansmen scattered over what are
generally considered as Spalding and Rattray lands further down the
glen, and westward into Strathardle.
By 1651 Iain Mor had prospered so greatly as a cattle dealer that he was
looking around for more extensive pasture lands and it was in that year
that he acquired from Lord Airlie the lands and Barony of Forter (22),
in Glenisla, which comprised roughly the whole of that part of Angus
west of the Isla from Mount Blair right up to the Aberdeenshire border;
a far richer property than his ancient patrimony in Glenshee, which he
proceeded to sell to his second-cousin Donald Farquharson the following
year (23). Thus, after having been seated in Glenshee for probably
rather more than a century and-a-half, the MacThomas chiefs, now at the
height of their prosperity, passed over to Glenisla and the stage is set
for their final, sudden and complete ruin.
R. F. P.
1) Viz., p. 3.
2) Colin Gibson Bonnie Glenshee, p. 70.
3) A. M. Mackintosh Mackintosh Families in Glenshee and Glenisla, 1916
4) W. M Combie Smith Memoir of the Families of M'Combie and Thoms, 1889.
pp. 6, 16 & 198, n. D.; also A. M. Mackintosh op. cit. pp. 4I &
43- 4. Sheilings were high moorland pastures where the cattle were
grazed in summer; Gormel being about 3 miles up Glenbeg which forms a
natural consummation of Glenshee joining it roughly at the Spittal.
5) W. M Combie Smith op. cit., p. 17- 8 & 199 n. F.; also A. M.
Mackintosh op. cit., p. 41.
6) A. M. Mackintosh, op. cit., p. 44. The word town. in this context
merely means a group of farm buildings.
7) The Glen Garry mentioned here lies in Atholl, just west of Blair
Atholl and is not the glen of the same name in the Western Highlands;
home of the MacDonells of Glengarry;
8) Colin Gibson, op. cit., pp. 2l &34.
9) The division between the MacThomas and Rattray shielings in Glenbeg
was the subject of an agreement on 15th June l567. A. M. Mackintosh op.
cit., p 44.
10) Colin Gibson, op. cit., p 34.
11) Latta MS. (viz., The Scottish Genealogist, Vol. XII N. 4, p. 91, n5)
12. A. M. Mackintosh, op, cit., p. 45. His grandfather (named in the
Instrument <.Makcomas,>) had already been granted an Instrument of
tolerance on 11th November 1577, allowing him to pasture his beasts
there. ibid. p. 44 See also W. M. Combie Smith, op. cit. PP. 18-'9 &
199- n C:
13) Viz.,. p. 10.
14). A. M. Mackintosh, op. cit., p. 47.
15) ibid., p. 47; also W. M'Combie Smith, op. cit., p. 19.
16) The adherents of the National Covenant (to upho1d Presbyterianism).
The power of the Presbyterian Church at the time is well illustrated in
the Kirkmichael kirk session records, which shew that Iain Mor of
Finegand was himself humbled by the Kirk, on 2nd March 1651, when he and
two of his tenants made public satisfaction in sackcloth, and gave
evidences of their repentance for deceiving the minister be causing hin1
baptize ane child gottin in fornication, under the notione of a lawll.
chyld. .M'Combie Smith, Op. cit., p. 199, n. E.
17) W. M'Combie Smith, Op.Cit.p.165, mentions a tradition that Montrose
and Iain Mor became personal friends, and infers from the formers letter
to the Tutor of Strowan, dated from Glenshee on 10th June 1646 (9 months
after Philiphaugh), that
was then a guest at Finegand.
18) A. M. Mackintosh, op. cit., p. 52.
19) ibid., p. 53; also W. M'Combie Smith, op. Cit., p. 203-'5, n. N.
20) He appears in the Roll of those to whom the Major-Genll. has given
Remissions and Assurances upon their enacting themselves betwixt and the
1st November 1646. (A. M. Mackintosh, op. cit. p. 53).
21) ibid., p. 47.; also W. M Combie Smith, op. cit., p. 20.
22) A. M. Mackintosh, op. cit. pp. 48-51; also W. M Combie Smith op.
cit., PP- 30'- 6.
23) A. M. Mackintosh, op. cit., p. 48; also W. M Combie Smith, op. cit.,
pp. 28-31 & 200, n. I.
My thanks to Cathy, the
Convenor of the US & Canadian Branch of Clan MacThomas Society for
sending me in these pictures...
Chief Andrew MacThomas (on the rock) and
Vice President Robin Thomas at the Cockstane.
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