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The Lairds of Glenlyon:  Historical Sketches
Chapter 27

JOHN CAMPBELL of Glenlyon who came afterwards to be called, "An Coirneal Dubh"—"The Black Colonel," received his commission as a lieutenant in the Black Watch, or 42nd regiment, in December, 1744, but he was connected with an Independent Company long before the regiment was embodied. When appointed a lieutenant of the additional companies then about to be raised, he was with the army in Flanders. His conduct at Fontenoy attracted the notice of the Duke of Cumberland, and he was promised a captaincy without purchase as soon a vacancy occurred. That promise was fulfilled in March, 1748, when he was made an additional captain ; but instead of remaining with the Highlanders, he went on half pay, and almost immediately exchanged into the Marines. The true explanation for this proceeding is to be found in the strange fatalism of the man. From his boyhood to his grave he believed that it was his fate to bear an inherited curse. As a man who remembered him once told me—"Bn duine air leth an Coirneal Dubh, oir b'e bheachd fhein riamh gu'n robh seun mallachd Ghlinne-comhann air!' "A man by himself was the Black Colonel; for he ever believed that the evil spell of the curse of Glencoe was upon him." It became his and Captain James Menzies of Comrie's sad burden to be ordered to burn the houses, drive away the cattle, and capture the persons of Perthshire Highland friends and relatives who had been with Prince Charlie. They performed their disagreeable duties with as little harshness, and as much forbearance, as their orders and duty permitted. That, however, did not save them from Jacobite obloquy, and the coarse satires of Allan Stewart of Innerhadden. To young Glenlyon, whose father and brother were fugitive rebels, the cross was particularly heavy. He attributed his misfortune to the curse of Glencoe, and the feeling that he was fated to drie an evil weird through a long life grew upon him. The Caledonian Mercury of March, 1747, contains the following paragraph :—

"Lieutenant John Campbell of Glenlyon, and Ensign John Grant of Glenmoriston, with a strong detachment from the additional companies of the Black Watch, sailed in the fleet for Flanders. When it was notified to the men that only a part of them was to join the army, all claimed the preference to be permitted to embark, and it was necessary to draw lots, as none would remain behind."

Glenlyon fought with distinction through the campaign in Flanders, and got his step without purchase; but when his regiment returned to England in 1748, he exchanged into the Marines because he wished to sever himself as much as possible from all scenes and associations which recalled the curse of Glencoe. A few Highlanders of his district followed him, however, rather against his wish, into a branch of the service which had not hitherto been popular with them. These men used long afterwards to tell their children and grandchildren how the shadow of the curse darkened Glenlyon's life wherever he went. They described him as a man who seldom laughed, except on battle days, a stern disciplinarian, but a just and kindly commander, who took greater care of his men than of himself. "B'e car aid a dhaoine e's b'e'n laoclis an iomairt e." "He was the friend of his men and the hero in the strife," said a man whose grandfather had long served under him, and who no doubt faithfully repeated that grandfather's opinion of his commander.

He put the affairs of his estate in the best order he could, and constituted his mother his factrix before leaving for Flanders in 1747. From that year till 1769, he was always on active service in different parts of the world. He was with Admiral Rodney's expedition, and commanded eight hundred Marines at the capture of Havannah in 1762. On that occasion he earned not only a great deal of praise, but of prize money also. His estate meanwhile had been cleared of debt. His mother—advised in difficult cases by  "John Campbell of the Bank,"—proved herself to be the best of managers. She and her daughters lived quietly, plainly, but hospitably and happily, at Glenlyon House. For some time after his rehabilitation, Archie Roy, the young ex-rebel, lived with his family, and no one could, if we may trust the reports handed down, go nearer extracting sunshine from cucumbers than he. His sister Molly was also full of merriment, while Kitty was sarcastic, and Jennie, the youngest, was quaint and credulous. In 1749, the Rev. Fergus Ferguson, minister of Fortingall, died, and the Jacobites of the parish were far from sorry. They had done their best to ostracise him; but he was not the man to stand that sort of thing. It was whispered, however, that his death resulted from being tumbled into the river, as if by an accident, out of the ferry boat at Laggan, on a dark night, by a vengeful Jacobite. The plunge into the wintry water gave him a cold, which he neglected, and the cold carried him off. It was said that "he walked" after his death. He had acted manfully and faithfully according to his conscience and views, and if he was not to be stopped by trifles from keeping his parishioners by all means in his power from rushing into rebellion, after Culloden he appears to have acted more kindly towards the rebels than some of them were prepared to act towards him.

Archie Roy, like his brothers John and David, was well educated. They all possessed in a remarkable degree the gift of writing sprightly, well-composed, and well-spelt letters. But the Coirneal Dubh, until he retired from active service, was generally content with sending home short business missives, and David was at times prosy while some way or other the youngest brother always bubbled over with light-hearted humour, even when he wished to be solemn and serious. They all received their early education at the Fortingall parish school, which had then an excellent classical scholar as teacher, but I suppose they must have afterwards been to St. Andrew's, or Edinburgh, before going out into the world, although' it is sure in Archie's case that he had not been to college before he followed Prince Charlie. He had however plenty of time afterwards to complete his education. The sisters were by no means so well educated as the brothers, perhaps because they could not be sent, like the boys, to the parish school, and because governesses were then scarce. Sarcastic Kitty could write smartly, but her spelling was of the most irregular phonetic kind imaginable. Molly wrote like a school-girl, with some trouble, and uncertain efforts at correctness, while Jennie could do little more than just sign her name.

On the 5th January, 1757, Archie Roy received a commission as lieutenant in the 75 th Regiment, or Fraser's Highlanders, the colonel and many officers and men of which were ex-rebels like himself. The regiment was instantly sent to America. It landed at Halifax, Nova Scotia, in June, 1757. Many Glenlyon and Fortingall lads followed Archie Roy to the field, as they did eleven years earlier, when he was only a boy, to Prestonpans, Derby, Falkirk, and Culloden. The 75th joined the expedition against Lewisburg, and fought nobly throughout the whole of the war, which ended in the British conquest of Canada. Archie Roy was one of the officers wounded in the successful defence of Quebec, on the 28th of April, 1760. It was supposed at first that he could not recover, and although he did recover, and that quickly too, his wound gave him a good deal of trouble for the rest of his life, and in the end shortened his days. He received his commission as captain before he was out of hospital, and remained at Quebec for the next two years, and then returned home with his regiment, or at least with as much of it as wished to return home instead of settling on land grants in Canada. As the regiment was disbanded on coming home, Captain Campbell retired from the service on half-pay, and lived at Glenlyon House for some years with his mother and sisters.

The following case in which he acted as Major Mac-pherson's agent, while at Quebec, shows how the purchase system,worked in the old times.

"Copit of the claim given in by Capt. Archibald Campbell to the gentlemen arbitrators.


I shall here lay before you, as briefly as I can, everything relating to the purchase and sale of Major M'Pherson's Company, late of the 78th Regiment.

"When the said major gave in his resignation, October, 1760,Captain Campbell of the said regiment was recommended to be his successor to the majority, and Lieutenant David Baillie was also recommended, as purchaser of Captain Campbell's Company, for both which the said major was to receive ^1,500 sterling to be paid to him in the following manner:

"Major Campbell to pay ,£400 for the majority, Lieut. Baillie to pay ;£8oo for the company, the lieutenant and ensign to pay the remaining ^300 which made up the sum above mentioned.

"Colonel Fraser engaged to give sterling bills to this amount (on Baillie's account) if Lieut. Baillie was approved of and got the company. On account of Baillie's youth and short service, His Excellency, General Amherst, refused giving him the purchase at that time, but gave Major M'Pherson leave to go home.

"On this occasion the major left a power in my hands to receive the price of his company, and to give his successor, or any concerned, discharges for the same.

"About the middle of March, 1761, Lieut. John Nairn was recommended as purchaser of the said company, whose former service and rank in the regiment instituted to the purchase, preferable to Lieut. Baillie. Sometime in June following his commission was sent to the commanding officer of the regiment, dated 24th April, 1761.

"In July after, Captain John Nairn paid j£6oo of the purchase money in sterling bills of exchange, and made an offer of ^400 more in cash to Major Campbell at the exchange of 4s. 8d. or 4s. rod. per dollar, as no bills of exchange could be purchased at that rate in town. The said major or any concerned could not accept of this money, as they could not remitt it home without a considerable discompt.

"I Imagine, as Lieut. Nairn succeeded to Lieut. Baillie's purchase, he is certainly liable to all the agreements made with the said Baillie, as there was no other made with him, or any other on his account.

"I beg that the gentlemen arbitrators will consider theabove, and determine whether it is not in like cases agreeable to the practice of the army^that Captain Nairn should be made liable to pay the sum promised and agreed upon with Baillie, and also the manner in which the same ought to be paid ; and lastly, whether it is not agreeable to the said practice, that the purchaser should pay the lawfull interest for the money agreed upon from the date of his commission till the arrival of the bills, and until these bills are accepted of; especially as the payment is so long deferred, as in this case it is, and by what appears to me an omission in the purchaser.

"I beg leave to inform you, gentlemen, that the aforesaid sum of ,£400 lies still in Major Campbell's hands, dead to the purchaser and seller since July last,

And am, &c,


"Copie of the Sentence of the Arbitrators.

"Whereas the Honourable James Murray, Esqr., Governor of Quebec, in behalf of Captain John Nairn, of the 78th regiment, on the one part, and Captain Archibald Campbell of the said regiment in behalf of John M'Pherson, Esyr., late major also of the said regiment on the other part, have thought proper by an instrument dated the 5th day of this present month of April, to nominate and appoint us whose names are underwritten to be arbitrators and umpires in a dispute arisen between said Major M'Pherson and Captain John Nairn, in relation to a company purchased by the latter from the former in the said 78th Regiment.

"We, the arbitrators, having taken the same into our most serious consideration, and heard all that the several parties had to say on the occasion, having also enquired into the usual price paid for companies in the 78th Regiment, which we find by the concurrent testimony of Captains Archibald and Alexander Campbell of the said regiment, to have never at any time exceeded one thousand pounds sterling.

"We, the said arbitrators, unanimously award that Captain John Nairn do pay unto Major John M'Pherson the sum of one thousand pounds sterling for the company according to the custom of the said regiment, and as it would be the height of injustice for Captain Nairn to be bound by a bargain made with his junior in the same regiment, to whom on that account and by reason of his youth it was of the highest consequence at any price to gain rank.

"As the delay of payment has been owing to Major M'Pherson's claiming what does not appear to be his right, we, the arbitrators, further judge that Captain Nairn should pay the four hundred pounds.

"And that during the said period he shall appoint Pat. Murray as his depute, and that Mr. James Murray continue Clerk of Supply.

"That Captain Campbell pay to the said Patrick Murray the like sum of £6$ during his continuance in office, but with the burden of relieving

"For the foregoing reasons the Arbitrators cannot think Major M'Pherson entitled to any interest on the said purchaser's money.

"Given under our hands at Quebec, this 6th day of April, 1762.



"A true Copy, H. T. Ceamahe, Secy."

In 1766, Captain Campbell was a candidate for the office of Collector of Cess in Perthshire. The Earl of Breadal-bane—Jain Dubh na rionnaig—"Black John of the Star," was his chief patron, and he had a good many other friends, but as the issue was doubtful, he and other candidates entered into the following strange agreement:—

"Exchange Coffee-House in Edinburgh. $th March, 1766.

"Proposals for preventing any struggle among the friends of Captain Campbell, Captain Stewart, and James and Patrick Murray, three candidates for being chosen Collector of the Supply, in the County of Perth, at next annual election.

"That the friends of these three parties unite their interest in the choice of Captain Campbell as collector.

"That the captain have the right of exaction as to the cess, so of the whole salaries, fees, and perquisites thereto belonging.

"That during his continuance in office he give security to Captain Stewart, annually, for ,£65 sterling. lying in Major Campbell's hands in Sterling at the Exchange, current in Quebec at the time that money was deposited, said rate to be ascertained by two paymasters of regiments, or two merchants at the option of the parties.

the collector of his salary establisht, or to be establisht, by the county to the said James Murray as Clerk of Supply.


"David Smyth, witness.
""Ro. Haldane, witness.
"John Craigie, witness.
" John Mackenzie, witness.
"Ja. Robertson Barclay, witness."

The Black Colonel, after twenty years' absence on active service, paid a visit to his property and people in 1769. The following letter to "Captain Archibald Campbell, Brother Germain to Glenlyon," from the Laird of Macnab, fixes the date of his home-coming:

"Dear Sir,—This moment I was favoured wt yours, and the verry agreeable news to me of Glenlyon's safe arivall in good health, which I wish he long enjoy. The gardner here has engaged with me thir three ensueing years ; and if he had not I would have recommended him sooner than any of his business I ever saw in this pairish. Fran and his brother went this morning for Stirling mercat. The young terriers are sent, and as good in kynd as ever I saw. How soon the lads return I shall have the pleasure of waiting on Glenlyon, and family ; to whom my wife with me joyne in compliments, and to the good old and young ladies, not forgetting Captain Archd.

I ever am,

Dear Sir,

Your affectionate cusine and humble servant,


Kinnell, 30th October, 1769."

The "Fran" of the letter was Francis the heir of Macnab. He was the last chief of his clan that possessed the paternal acres, and a strange character he was. The reference to old as well as young ladies, shows that the Black Colonel had the pleasure of finding his mother—with whom he was always in closer sympathy than he ever had been with his father—alive on his return. She died either that or next year.

Soon after the coming home of the Coimeal Dubh, he and his brother the captain went out to shoot hares, patridges, and whatever else they could find in the Cuil Wood, which was then more extensive than it is now. They were attended by their dependent, John Campbell, whose son, an old veteran of Abercromby's expedition to Egypt, told me the story. It happened that the captain fired at a hare while his brother stood in the line of his fire. The horrified attendant shouted, "You have shot your brother," and both he and the captain rushed to the colonel, who, showing them his cloak riddled with shot, said to his brother:  "Don't be afraid. I am not touched. The curse of Glencoe is a spell upon me. I have been in mortal strife many a time, and remained untouched by ball or steel while friends and foes were falling round me. I must drie my weird."

The colonel did not remain long at home. The services of officers of his experience and proved capacity were in high demand ; for the first upheaval of the American revolt had taken place, and war was immediately expected. So he went back to his marines, taking a few volunteers, who would not be denied, with him. During the next two years he and his marines went here and there, wherever they were told to go, and did as well as they could whatever they were told to do. At the end of that time occurred the incident which General Stewart relates as follows, and quite accurately too, with this exception that he forgets to mention it was the colonel himself who by extreme efforts had obtained the man's reprieve :—

"In 1771, Colonel Campbell was ordered to superintend the execution of the sentence of a court-martial on a soldier of marines condemned to be shot. A reprieve was sent, but the whole ceremony of the execution was to proceed until the criminal was upon his knees, with a cap over his eyes, prepared to receive this volley. It was then he was to be informed of his pardon. No person was to be told previously, and Colonel Campbell was directed not to inform even the firing party, who were warned that the signal to fire would be the waving of a white handkerchief by the commanding officer. When all was prepared, and the clergyman had left the prisoner on his knees, in momentary expectation of his fate, and the firing party were looking with intense attention for the signal, Colonel Campbell put his hand in his pocket for the reprieve, and in pulling out the packet, the white handkerchief accompanied it, and catching the eyes of the party, they fired, and the unfortunate prisoner was shot dead. The paper dropped through Colonel Campbell's fingers, and, clapping his hand to his forehead, he exclaimed, 'The curse of God and of Glencoe is here: I am a ruined man.' He desired the soldiers to be sent to the barracks, instantly quitted the parade, and soon afterwards retired from the service. This retirement was not the result of any reflections or reprimand on account of this unfortunate affair, as it was known to be entirely accidental. The impression on his mind, however, was never effaced."

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