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Books and Articles by Ian McCulloch
Introduction to "Sons of the Mountains":
A History of the Highland Regiments in North America during the French & Indian War 1756-67

           For Britain and Europe, 1817 was the calm after the storm.  Two years before, both had witnessed the unthinkable -  Napoleon’s invincible Old Guard stopped cold in its tracks on the slopes of Waterloo by British musketry and artillery, and, in the aftermath, the Emperor whisked away to an exile on a lonely flyspeck of an island in the South Atlantic.

            On this particular summer’s day in 1817, some veterans of that recent battle, minus legs and arms, sunned themselves in a courtyard of the Royal Hospital at Chelsea, London.  In one corner, under a shady chestnut tree, a seated visitor was in deep, animated conversation with a group of older pensioners, all speaking in their native tongue, “the Erse” or Gaelic language.   The hospital was older than the soldiers present, built 109 years before in the reign of King William of Orange.  Designed and built by Sir Christopher Wren in 1692, the venerable institution was one of two hospitals maintained for the worn-out and crippled veterans of Britain’s imperial wars.1 

            The visitor was obviously a Highlander, dressed as he was in “the Garb of Old Gaul.” His tight green morning jacket looked slightly askew, his right arm extending from his shoulder at an odd angle - an old wound sustained in the desperate storming of an Indian fortress - a clear indication that he, too, was a veteran. A white goatskin sporran fronted his red Stewart kilt that ended just above his bare kneecaps.  Below, his bulging calf muscles were encased with white and red diamond- patterned hose stockings held up by red garters.  Silver-buckled shoes, winking in the sunlight, completed his Highland ensemble.  

            Every now and then the half-pay officer would peer myopically into a small blue battered book, small spectacles perched precariously on the end of a somewhat bulbous nose.  It was a kindly face of ruddy complexion with a caesar’s wreath of white wispy hair above, encircling an otherwise baldpate. Sometimes he’d write down a line or two with his left hand in a rolling script, then, look up and ask more questions in his soft-spoken Gaelic, sometimes laughing, sometimes shaking his head, but always attentive - a good listener.  To the casual passer by, one might assume the Highlander was a former regimental officer, come for a visit with his men, but not one of his group looked a day under eighty - all too old to have fought at Waterloo!  All were, in fact, old enough to be the visitor’s father, a sure indication that these soldiers had campaigned in much earlier wars.

            “And what was the gentleman’s name again, Sergeant?” he asked.

            “Och, Ailean Macpherson wis’nae gentleman, Colonel,” the white-haired pensioner replied solemnly, the others chortling and wheezing at this canny pronouncement.  Each of the proud Highlanders present were able to recite their own genealogies going back ten generations or more, though their recollections of a war fought a half a century ago and half way around the world were fading and dimly recalled.

            “He was the son o’ a cottar like me,” continued the old sergeant in a conspiratorial tone, “pressed intae the regiment ‘gainst his will.”  The half-pay officer nodded, wrote down the name of the soldier, but not the conditions of his recruitment, and then looking up, shut the blue book with a snap and satisfied smile.

            “Well, that’s enou’ for today, brother soldiers,” said their visitor reaching into his jacket pocket and drawing forth a gold coin. ‘Ye hae been unco kind to put up wi’ me the whole morning, gentlemen.  Here’s a guinea so ye can drink His Majesty’s health.”


            A hour later, back in the study of his London apartments and refreshed with some Darjeeling tea, Lieutenant Colonel David Stewart of Garth, late of the 73rd Foot and veteran of Maida and Alexandria, took his pen in his left hand with a flourish and started to write rapidly, his script an oriental pattern of curves and whorls - heavy strokes for the consonants and a light feather touch for vowels - weaving his notes into an useful passage for his book.

             The men Stewart had spoken to that morning were veterans of two North American conflicts, the Seven Years’ War and the American Revolution - survivors of the Old Highland Regiment, the 42nd Foot, Montgomery’s 77th and Fraser’s 78th Highlanders.  All had served in North America for the first conflict, some discharged at the peace with wounds ranging from severe frostbite to scalpings and eligible by their service for entry into the Royal Hospital, while others had transferred to more senior  regiments that had fought in the second American war, before they, too, took their honourable discharges and rewards.

            Most of the Gaelic-speaking pensioners were illiterate and thus spoke from memory, an easy and pleasant enough task for men who came from a rich oral tradition of songs and story-telling.  For nigh on a year, the Highlanders had plied the half-pay officer with rich anecdotes and songs of their service abroad in the days of their youth. 

            Today’s story started to take shape quickly on the page in front of him, the tale of a intrepid Highlander’s final encounter with the Coilltich – the treacherous “Forest Folk” – near the Forks of the Ohio in 1758.  The veteran Highland officer smiled as he finished the anecdote, for the canny Allan Macpherson, lowly son of a cottar and private soldier of Montgomery’s 77th Regiment of Foot, had definitely had the last laugh, and, in doing so, had saved his comrades.  Stewart read his longhand scrawl back to himself aloud,

            Several soldiers of this and other regiments fell into the hands of the Indians, being taken in ambush.  Allan Macpherson, one of these soldiers, witnessing the miserable fate of several of his fellow prisoners, who had been tortured to death by the Indians, and seeing them preparing to commence the same operations upon himself, made signs that he had something to communicate.

            An interpreter was brought.  Macpherson told them, that, provided his life was spared for a few minutes, he would communicate the secret of an extraordinary medicine, which, if applied to the skin, would cause it to resist the strongest blow of a tomahawk, or sword, and that, if they would allow him to go to the woods with a guard, to collect the plants proper for this medicine, he would prepare it, and allow the experiment to be tried on his own neck by the strongest and most expert warrior among them. 

            This story easily gained upon the superstitious credulity of the Indians, and the request of the Highlander was instantly complied with.  Being sent into the woods, he soon returned with such plants as he chose to pick up.  Having boiled these herbs, he rubbed his neck with their juice, and laying his head upon a log of wood, desired the strongest man among them to strike at his neck with his tomahawk, when he would find he could not make the smallest impression. 

            An Indian, levelling a blow with all his might, cut with such force, that the head flew off to the distance of several yards.  The Indians were fixed in amazement at their own credulity, and the address with which the prisoner escaped the lingering death prepared for him; but instead of being enraged at this escape of their victim, they were so pleased with his ingenuity, that they refrained from inflicting farther cruelties on the remaining prisoners.2


            The Highland regiments constitute one of Scotland’s most immediately recognizable but controversial icons.  There is a growing consensus of opinion that the early regiments of the 18th century, and the dynamic forces that created them, have been all but buried under a corpus of 19th and 20th century regimental histories that have overly-romanticized such levies.  Some Victorian accounts verge on racial stereotyping, branding all Highlanders as enthusiastic but undisciplined warriors whose natural fighting genius only found full expression once they took the King’s shilling and donned the King’s redcoat.  

            These simplistic views clash with the many observations made by numerous visitors to the Highlands a mere century before, one Englishman in 1724 noting that Britain’s gallant warriors of the 18th century were actually “a source of detestation to their Lowland countrymen” and “viewed by the English as veritable savages, even as cannibals.” He added that most English officers found service along the frontiers of the Highlands “a perilous and profitless exile, as the legionaries of Rome did” centuries before them.3

            The romantic veil thrown over the history of the early Highland regiments has several progenitors, but it was a laird of Regency Scotland, Colonel David Stewart of Garth, a former Black Watch officer and a staunch advocate of Highland dress, who did more than anyone else, to create the modern image of the Highlander. 

            His Sketches of the Character, Manners and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland, first published in 1822, (but compiled, researched and written the decade before), has underpinned every subsequent account of the Highlands to this day.  In some cases, long tracts of his original text were subsumed word-for-word into later regimental histories of his regiment and others raised for the service of the British Crown.4 

            Stewart’s only modern biographer is the first to admit that the good Colonel was not a very precise or impartial historian, given that his protagonist was a direct descendant of the fierce and terrible Wolf of Badenoch, bastard son of King Robert II, and thus imbued with all his ancestor’s pride of race. 

            “He is a great authority,” claims James Robertson, and correctly identifies Stewart’s Sketches as “the source book for countless works on the history and the customs of the Highlands,” but, confesses in the same sentence, that Stewart’s “history could now be thought a little weak.”5

            Well-known historian, John Prebble, author of Culloden and Mutiny, is less charitable, willing to aver that Stewart’s Sketches are still “rich in knowledge and anecdote” but, as “history” reek of  “the sweet smell of romantic anesthesia that softened any guilty pain his class may have felt at the manner in which a way of life had passed.” 

            Prebble felt that Stewart, writing with hindsight in the heyday of the Highland Clearances, started 40 years before, had done a disservice to the early Highland regiments of the mid-18th century by looking back at them with rosy-tinted glasses and portraying them as the romantic ideal of Regency England.  

            “Between him and those first men of the Watch was a black gulf across which the Gaelic people had been brutally dragged,” Prebble observed, a gulf etched with “the spine-breaking blow of Culloden, the despoiling of the glens, the bloody sewer of the French wars, the coming of the great Cheviot sheep and the beginning of eviction and dispersal.6

            In 1849, Lord Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800-59), one of England’s greatest historians, was the first to rail against the revisionist phenomenon known today as “Highlandism” that swept over Britain towards the end of the 18th century, proclaiming that old Gaelic institutions and manners had never, and would never be “exhibited in the simple light of truth.” A true sketch of the Highland way of life, he claimed, was impossible to comprehend given recent “fabrications” of Scottish culture by James Macpherson the poet, Sir Walter Scott the author and Stewart the soldier, their works “executed with such admirable art, that, like the historical plays of Shakespeare, they superceded history.” Macaulay mused that the truth must lie somewhere between two opposing portraits, one “a coarse caricature and the other a masterpiece of flattery.7

            As long as the Highlanders had been the “Gaelic marauders” before the ‘45, he wryly observed, Saxons and Lowlanders had perceived them as “hateful vermin who ought to be exterminated without mercy,” Glencoe being a case in point.   But as soon as that extermination had been accomplished and

cattle were safe in the Perthshire passes as in Smithfield market, the freebooter was exalted into a hero of romance.  As long as the Gaelic dress was worn, the Saxons had pronounced it hideous, ridiculous, nay, grossly indecent.  Soon after it had been prohibited, they discovered that it was the most graceful drapery in Europe. Soon the vulgar imagination was so completely occupied by plaids, targets and claymores that by most Englishmen, Scotchmen and Highlanders were regarded as synonymous words. Few people seemed to be aware that, at no remote period, a Macdonald or a Macgregor in his tartan was to a citizen of Edinburgh and Glasgow what an Indian in his war paint is to an inhabitant of Philadelphia or Boston. [When] artists and actors represented Bruce and Douglas in striped petticoats, they might as well have represented Washington brandishing a tomahawk and girt with a string of scalps.8

            In Macauley’s mind, the madness and tomfoolery reached its zenith when a chubby George IV appeared at Holyroodhouse in 1822 dressed in a Highland outfit which “before the Union, was considered by nine Scotchmen out of ten as the dress of a thief.”  David Stewart of Garth was part of the farce, acting as the monarch’s personal valet, carefully placing the fall of kilt and plaid about the plump Hanoverian king’s pink tights.9

            Lord Macaulay, in the 19th century, and John Prebble, in the 20th, are but two examples of historians who took exception to Stewart of Garth’s version of “history”. For example, in 1908, a prominent Scottish historian debunked the generally-accepted theory of the origin of the Black Watch as posited by Stewart, viz. six Independent Companies were raised in the Highlands in 1729, which a scant ten years later, formed the nucleus of The Black Watch. 

            Andrew Ross, The Ross Herald of Scotland, pointed out that Stewart had got not only got the date for these newly-raised independent companies wrong (having been established by Royal Warrant in 1725 vice 1729), but had also misnamed each of the company commanders.  More importantly, he successfully argued that the historic succession of the Black Watch actually dated from 3 August 1667 when King Charles II issued a commission to John, Earl of Athol, to raise and keep such a number of men as he should think fit “to be a constant guard for securing the peace in the Highlands” and “to watch upon the braes.”  Ross thought it highly regrettable that Stewart’s version of the origins of the Black Watch was “accepted by all succeeding writers as the last word on the subject.  Thus Cannon, in his official record of the regiment, and Keltie and Forbes the modern historians, each in his own fashion repeats Garth’s narrative” [and mistakes – author’s note].10

            The same year Ross’s well-researched essay appeared, H.D. MacWilliam, author of A Black Watch Episode of 1731 (London, 1908) and The Official Records of the Black Watch Mutiny, (London, 1910), went further in a series of articles that appeared in Celtic Monthly, each enumerating the many misstatements and misquotations that appeared in Stewart’s Sketches with regard to the regiment’s origins and subsequent historical record.  Sadly, not all of Stewart’s “mistakes” stemmed from ignorance. 

            When the Black Watch or “Am Frecaidhan Dhu” was officially authorized as a British line regiment in 1743 and charged to raise four extra companies by beat of the drum or otherwise “in any County or Part of Our Kingdom of Great Britain”, Stewart of Garth evidently thought it humiliating that a Highland regiment was ordered to recruit anywhere it liked, be it Glasgow, Dublin, or even worse, London.  He ignored the original beating orders for the “Old Highland Regiment” in his Sketches, and, when he reprinted the portion of the official Royal Warrant delineating the regiment’s recruiting parameters, he honoured his Highland ancestry by inserting his own words “the men to be natives of that country and none other taken.11


            The writing of the Sketches had its genesis in an old friend asking for help.  Lieutenant Colonel Robert Dick, commanding the 42nd, was instructed by the Duke of York to provide a historical record of the regiment from its raising in 1743 to the end of the Napoleonic Wars.  Dick approached Stewart who was on half-pay, asking if he would take on the project.  Stewart admitted at first to be apprehensive of such a scheme, but noted in his Sketches introduction that he had warmed to the task:

I did not, indeed, expect that my knowledge of the subject would enable me, especially as I had kept no journal, and had never been in the habit of taking any notes or memorandums of what I had heard or seen: but as I proceeded, I found that I knew more, and had a better recollection of circumstances, than I was previously aware of, although, in the multiplicity of facts I have had to state, some inaccuracies may afterwards be discovered.12

            Stewart initially intended to solely encompass the exploits of the 42nd Foot, and for his project had many old friends he could turn to.  An “auld” acquaintance enlisted at the outset was kinsman “Jemmy” Stewart of Urrard who had been wounded as a young company commander at the battle of Ticonderoga in 1758 and had survived the jungled crags of Martinique in 1762. 

            But Stewart of Garth found that Urrard’s wife, previously married to a husband who had “joined the regiment in 1744”, also had something to contribute, as she possessed a very “clear recollection of much that she had seen and heard, and related many stories and anecdotes with the animated and distinct recitation of the Highland senachies [from the Gaelic seanchaidhs meaning “historian” or “bard”].”

            Stewart also tapped other Black Watch officers and “several Highland gentlemen who had served as private soldiers in the regiment when first organized” for information to fill out his skeletal history.13

            Whilst engaged in this exercise that lasted from 1816 to 1821, Stewart rarely left London, taking “a small retired lodging” in Duke Street “within reach of the Library” so that he could “apply [his] heart and zeal to the compilation of the military annals of the Highlands.”  As he worked, “it struck me that I could, without much difficulty, give similar details of the service of other Highland regiments.”14

            The Colonel was soon a familiar figure at the Royal Hospital, and if the memory of the veterans failed them, he interviewed the wives and widows who had faithfully followed their husbands on their various campaigns. And while the good Colonel took copious notes from his numerous interviews he conducted, the information was always softly-filtered and gently restructured to present the Highlanders in the best light – a pious, sober, child-like people governed by a strict feudal code of honour and fealty.

            These noble Highland characteristics instilled at birth, he claimed, were at the heart and soul of any understanding of the “marked differences” between the manners and conduct of the mountain clans and those of the Lowlanders.  “Whatever was repulsive was softened down,” wrote Macaulay.  “Whatever was graceful and noble was brought prominently forward.”15

            Absent from Stewart’s Sketches however, is any serious discussion of what the Highland regiments and their rank and file actually became in the 18th century based on those very real differences!  Stewart’s failure to mention or place his study within the context of the Lowlanders’ long-standing contempt for the Highlanders, the Mi-run mor nan Gall, (literally “the Lowlander’s great hatred”) render his “history” in my mind, null and void.  In his attempts to salvage all that was noble in Highland society and to make it part of a larger Scottish identity, Stewart intentionally avoided any mention of the visceral hatred the majority of Scotland’s population held towards his subject matter, a scant sixty years before.

            One Lowlander as early as 1685 was inspired by his Muse to put the prevailing sentiments of his fellow countrymen into a poem entitled “How the first hielandman of God was maid of Ane horse turd in Argyle” and published the same year. Lord Macaulay included one verse of this “coarse and profane Scotch poem” in his magisterial History of England, though sensible of his Victorian readership he wisely omitted the actual graphic details of the “Hielandman’s” Creation.

            Says God to the Hielandman “Quhair wilt thou now?”
            I will down to the Lowlands, Lord, and there steal a cow”
            “Ffy,” quod St Peter, “thou wilt never do weel,
            An thou, but new made, so sune gais to steal!”

            “Umff,” qoud the Hielandman, and swore by yon kirk,
            “So long as I may get geir to steal, will I nevir work.

            By the 1690’s, the Highland clans - a feudal society which could not and would not change itself to meet a changing world - was seen as a major obstacle to the complete political union of England and Scotland by Lowlanders. The Highlanders’ “obstinate independence of spirit – expressed in their customs, their clothes and their language,” states John Prebble, “had to be broken and humbled”. 

            This political necessity, Prebble believes fueled to a large extent, the massacre of the Macdonalds at Glencoe in 1693, an early demonstration of the Mi-run mor nan Gall at work.  “Lowlanders naturally despised what they wished to destroy,” he observes, and the destruction of the Highland clans was seen simply and inevitably as “a virtuous necessity.” Prebble pronounced: “No Scots or English statesman would have thought ordering the extirpation of a Lowland or English community but a Highland clan, [that] was a different matter.” 

            That same utter contempt for the Highlander would take on a very real and ugly form as witnessed in the brutal atrocities perpetrated by Lowlanders and British troops alike in the wake of Culloden in 1746.  When the Clearances began fifty years later and the glens finally fell silent except for the occasional bleating of a “four-legged Highlander” or Great Cheviot sheep, Mi-run mor nan Gall had finally triumphed.17

            David Stewart’s sanitized Sketches thus became a vehicle for expounding his personal view that the typical Highland soldier - from that first day of the Black Watch’s mustering as a British regiment of foot on Aberfeldy Green  75 years ago - had always been imbued with a natural genius for war and  

a hardihood which enabled him to sustain severe privations.  As the simplicity of his life gave vigour to his body, so it fortified his mind.  Possessing a frame and constitution thus hardened, he was taught to consider courage as the most honourable virtue, cowardice the most disgraceful failing; to venerate and obey his chief, and to devote himself for his native country and clan [author’s emphasis]; and thus prepared to be a soldier, he was ready to follow wherever honour and duty called him. With such principles, and regarding any disgrace he might bring on his clan and district as the most cruel misfortune, the Highland private soldier had a peculiar motive to exertion¼He goes into the field resolved not to disgrace his name.  A striking characteristic of the Highlander, is, that all his actions seem to flow from sentiment.  His endurance of privation and fatigue, his resistance of hostile opposition, his solicitude for the good opinion of his superiors, all originate in this source, whence also proceeds his obedience.18

            Besides Stewart conveniently overlooking the facts that - the clans had been broken; chiefs executed, imprisoned or exiled; and, that Highlanders had no concept of nationalism beyond the bounds of their ancestral lands by the time the early Highland regiments came into being - he would also have us believe that the Highlanders with their fast-fading legacy of clan warfare (based principally on cattle-reiving, blackmail and extortion) were, somehow, in their new iteration as imperial Highland levies, magically transformed into paragons of virtue.  If we are to believe Stewart’s vision of the 18th century Highland soldier, they were never cold, never afraid, never drunk, never mutinous and never deserted.

              While this may have been the case before the outbreak of the Seven Years War which found his own regiment, the 42nd Foot, enjoying the idyllic fruits of peace in quiet Irish cantonments after the War of Austrian Succession (1743-1748), this high moral conduct certainly cannot be ascribed to the lowly privates of the overnight Highland battalions raised in 1757 for service in North America, the 77th Foot (Montgomery’s Highlanders) and the 78th Foot (Fraser’s Highlanders). 

Although it is true that Highlanders feature far less frequently in the General Courts Martial records than miscreants from [English] battalions,” observes Stephen Brumwell in Redcoats, a masterly study of the British soldier during the Seven Years’ War in North America, “it would be wrong to go to the other extreme and suggest their ranks were filled with plaster saints.”  To do so based on the official records and courts martial of the day, is a naïve one – particularly given the often lawless nature of traditional Highland society. It also overlooks the fact that these regiments had their own internal mechanisms for punishing petty crimes and misdemeanors, sometimes brutally. 

For example, a young private soldier of the 2nd/42nd was awarded 999 lashes for leaving his sentry post without permission at Albany, New York in 1760.  The truth be told, Highland officers and men alike during the Seven Years War would be found guilty of serious crimes ranging from murder and assault to desertion, extortion and rape.19 

            My interest lies in discovering what the early Highland regiments were really like.  Who were these officers and men from the Highlands who forged such an enviable reputation for unshakable loyalty and courage in North America during the Seven Years War, a reputation that would ensure them a permanent place on the establishment of the British Army for centuries to come?  Where did they come from; what were their backgrounds; did they come willingly; did they ever get homesick; what were their expectations and how were they perceived?  As no one has ever seriously chronicled the history of the Highland battalions’ service in North America, these questions merit some answers. 

            By ignoring Stewart of Garth’s “historical amnesia” and “romantic fog”, (as well as the writings of the numerous regimental panegyrists that have slavishly followed his example or shamelessly plagiarized his Sketches), I hope to discover and capture the real character of each Highland battalion that soldiered in North America by going back to primary sources. 

            My aim is to offer new and fresh perspectives on the face of battle for these 18th century Jocks. In writing this book, my desire to understand their experiences has necessitated a close examination of the terrain over which they traveled, fought and died. The importance of “walking the ground” in order to gain their “personal angle of vision” is crucial, for as German military historian Hans Delbruck in the last century demonstrated, many traditional historical accounts of military campaigns and operations are outright fiction when subjected to an intelligent inspection of the terrain.

            Interestingly, Francis Parkman, as a youth, was one of the first American historians to religiously visit the sites he would write about in his opus France and England in North America, his days at Harvard spent planning “his journeys precisely to recover as far as he could the direct, physical experience of those whose lives he would one day write” hunting and pitching tents “ where trappers and their Indian allies, had stayed” and marching “ along the paths taken by British soldiers towards hapless ambush or brilliant victory.20

            Thus, before even sitting down to write this book, I started by “walking the ground”, something Stewart was unable to do given the time, his age and circumstances.  Over the course of the last ten years, my perambulations have sometimes been conducted  in tandem with other army officers and NCOs as part of military “staff rides”, sometimes with civilian friends canoeing down a river to gain insight into “the personal angle of vision” one would have approaching an objective from the water.  But most of the time, my explorations have been conducted alone.

             I’ve climbed the crags of Signal Hill in Newfoundland where nimble-footed Highlanders, remnants of the 42nd, 77th and 78th regiments with other elements of William Amherst’s forces launched a surprise dawn attack that enabled the recapture of St John’s from the French in 1762.  I’ve examined the landing sites along the surf-pounded beaches at Louisbourg and have retraced the steps of Fraser’s 78th Highlanders through the black-fly infested bogs to the walls of that fortress town they took in 1758. 

            I’ve climbed the slippery shale cliffs leading to the Heights of Abraham at Quebec and have heard the unchanged roar of the Montmorency Falls, standing beside the stone farmhouse that served as James Wolfe’s headquarters at the siege of Quebec, 1759.  I’ve traveled what’s left of Forbes Road from Bedford to Pittsburgh, carved through the Pennsylvanian wilderness by Highlanders of the 77th and provincial soldiers, and have ascended a looming Allegheny Ridge by way of Rohr’s Gap on my way to Fort Ligonier, Bushy Run and the Forks of the Ohio. 

            I have followed the length of the military roads and portages that formed the strategic Albany-Oswego corridor to stand on the windswept ramparts of Fort Ontario, looking out over the lake of the same name where Amherst launched his 1760 flotillas for the final conquest of New France. Terrain, especially untouched terrain, can speak volumes. 

            But what printed sources are available today that Stewart did not have access to in 1817 (or simply did not bother to find or use in his research)? Letters and rare journals from various participants of the Seven Years War come to light everyday.  The notices on arrivals, departures, campaigns and deserters that appeared in the various magazines and newspapers of the day are a rich source of information as well, though Stewart only appears to have made minimal use of them in his Sketches. 

            For example, he quotes the Pennsylvania Gazette’s tribute to the 42nd on their departure from North America in 1767 but does not cite any other reports that journal of the day published with regard to the regiment’s movements or exploits during the war in America.  Other periodicals and newspapers closer to home, all containing excerpts of letters by eye-witnesses and dispatch accounts such as Gentleman’s Magazine; Scot’s Magazine, the Annual Register; the London Gazette; and the Aberdeen Journal, he simply ignored.

            Stewart claims the biggest problem encountered in compiling his Sketches was the complete lack of any historical regimental records for the 42nd Foot, all these documents allegedly lost in a series of misfortunes in the latter part of the 18th century. 

            For example, he claimed that a ship carrying “the greater part of the cargo and baggage of the regiment was lost” off the coast of Ireland in 1771 and “the portion saved, especially the regimental books and records” were “much injured”.  To add insult to injury, he added, the transports that landed the regiment at Ostend in June 1794 during the Napoleonic wars carrying the 42nd’s regimental library, baggage “and, what was more to be regretted, all that remained of the historical records of the regiment from the period of its formation till the year 1793, fell into the hands of the enemy.”21

            Certainly a disastrous state of affairs for any young regiment attempting to chronicle its first 75 years of existence - if it were actually true! 

            “They were in fact lying in the library of the Royal United Services Institute, London,” according to Highland dress authority, John Telfer Dunbar, “where they were discovered in 1913 and handed over to the regiment.”  Official records of the 42nd, including muster rolls from 1759-1776, can also still be found in the War Office, so one really wonders how diligent and persistent Stewart actually was in his attempt to write an accurate and credible history of his regiment.22

            So now its is my turn, nearly two centuries later, to tell the story of the  Highland battalions’ service in North America during the Seven Years War using: official reports and returns from the War Office; the succession and commission books;  surviving orderly books such as those of James Stewart of Urrard, 42nd Foot, kept from 1759 to 1761 or Captain John Nairn’s 1762 Orderly Book for the 78th at Quebec; Gaelic songs and poems composed before, during and after several of the battles; and maps and drawings by engineers on the spot; British and North American newspapers and magazines of the day; and, contemporary oil paintings and water colours by soldier-artists who were there, providing us 18th century snapshots as to how their uniforms looked, not to mention the environment they had to master and conquer in the North American wilderness. 

            On a more personal level, I have used published and unpublished memoirs and journals of Highland officers, NCOs, and, in one rare case, a private soldier.  Numerous letters sent home by officers and men to relatives have also survived and many of these  found their way into print at the time, or were printed later in family histories.  Many bundles of letters (never accessible to Stewart) have also been coaxed out of the relative obscurity of various private family collections and collated for public consumption in various national repositories such as the National Archives of Scotland, the National Archives of Canada and the Library of Congress).23

            My aim then is to discard all three of Stewart’s “Sketches” as they pertain to the 42nd, 77th and 78th Regiments of Foot and to present a fresh (and hopefully unbiased) synthesis of new evidence based on first-hand accounts.  Such an approach will help the general reader better understand the human dynamics at play in these mid-18th century Highland regiments.

            By the spring of 1758, the three Highland marching regiments serving in the American theatre of war totaled four battalions of 4,200 kilted men out of a total of 24,000 British regulars, nearly one fifth of the army.  And although this history is concerned specifically with these three Highland regiments, it should be noted that the above numbers of total Highlanders are deceiving.  

            For a country whose only exports for centuries had been fish, black cattle and its men, it is not surprising to discover that many other Highlanders were already serving in the British army without the benefit of wearing their native dress, given the famine, poverty and unemployment that stalked the Highlands after the ’45.  Established traditional foot regiments serving in the “American” army such as the 1st , 22nd, 55th, and 58th Regiments of Foot, boasted high numbers of Highlanders dressed in breeches, frockcoats and tricorns. 

            If one also considers that one in four officers of the British Army were upwardly mobile, ambitious Scots taking advantage of the almost permanent state of warfare during the eighteenth century, one can readily see that Highlanders were already well embedded in the British army.24

            I have decided the story of the three Highland regiments in North America is best tackled with a chronological approach, in lieu of three separate histories.  Though each regiment initially started the war in three different armies under three different commanders, their paths would eventually cross as the war progressed.

            Each subsequent chapter is based on a year of the war and follows the trials and tribulations of each unit for that particular calendar year.  If two or more regiments participated on the same campaign, then their shared experiences of geography, weather and leadership are treated together in order to avoid repetition. 

            Thus I start with the 42nd Foot told off for duty in North America in 1756, and in the following year, address in a separate chapter, the raising of the two newly authorized Highland battalions, the 77th and 78th.  Though the latter two regiments competed for recruits and set sail from Ireland together for the New World on the same summer day in 1757, they parted ways after one week, the 77th (Montgomery’s) transports heading for the torrid heat of the Carolinas while the 78th (Fraser’s) convoy negotiated icebergs on their way to Halifax, Nova Scotia. Their respective arrivals in the New World as well as the movements of the 42nd as part of Lord Loudoun’s aborted expedition against Louisbourg in 1757 are covered together in the third chapter. 

            The fourth, fifth and sixth chapters reflect that each Highland regiment was fated to take part on a different campaign in 1758 due to William Pitt’s three-pronged strategy to take New France - three separate armies converging on the colony so as to spread out its limited French and Canadien defenders.  Each regiment and its campaign in this momentous year are treated in their own dedicated chapter.  In the west, the 77th were allocated to General John Forbes expedition to take Fort Duquesne (present-day Pittsburgh) on the Forks of the Ohio. In the east, the 78th were assigned to Major General Jeffery Amherst’s expedition to capture Louisbourg. 

            In the centre, the 42nd formed part of General James Abercromby’s thrust northwards from Albany, New York to capture Forts Carillon (Ticonderoga) and St Frederic (Crown Point) by way of Lakes George and Champlain.  The same year, a fourth Highland unit, the new-raising Second Battalion of the 42nd was authorized in July for service in North America and completed to seven companies by October 1758.  They would see themselves diverted at the last moment to take part in Major General Peregrine Hopson’s expedition to seize Martinique in the Caribbean.         

            For 1759, two chapters were required: the 77th  joining Amherst’s army from Pennsylvania and soldiering alongside the First Battalion of the “Old Highland Regiment” for the second attempt to capture Fort Ticonderoga and Crown Point.  The previously-mentioned Second Battalion of the 42nd raised the year before, would arrive too late to participate in this campaign, many of its men still wounded and sick from their arduous Caribbean detour.  The 78th Fraser Highlanders fighting farther north, as part of General James Wolfe’s victorious army on the Plains of Abraham, need a separate chapter to chronicle their experience. 

            In 1760, all three Highland regiments would meet for the first and last time during their existence, and the chapter for this year will follow their respective armies converging on the last defended city of New France in September 1760.  A separate chapter will deal with the six companies of the 77th Foot detached to fight the Cherokees in South Carolina in spring 1760 as part of the force assigned to their lieutenant-colonel commandant, “Colonel-in-America” Archibald Montgomery. 

            The winter of 1760-61 soon dispersed all three regiments, the eight companies of the 77th remaining with Amherst’s army at Montreal going to garrison Halifax, Nova Scotia, the 78th returning to Quebec City and its dependencies, and the two Black Watch battalions staying put in Montreal.

            One chapter will follow all three regiment’s movements for 1761, eight companies of the 77th, including their South Carolina detachments, sailing from Halifax to New York in April 1761 to join Lord Rollo’s expedition to take Dominica, while five companies would remain to garrison lonely Nova Scotian outposts such as Lunenburg, Annapolis Royal and Fort Cumberland.  The two battalions of the 42nd that remained in Montreal until mid-summer 1761, were ordered to New York via the Lake Champlain-Hudson river corridor to participate in a pending expedition against the French and Spanish, arriving at Staten Island in the early fall.

            The 1762 chapter follows the trials and tribulations of the 77th and 42nd Regiments in the Caribbean, both Highland units losing more men by disease than by shot or shell.  A separate chapter will deal with the relatively quiet garrison life of the 78th Frasers left behind in Quebec City during 1762, as well as showcasing the little-known story of how men of the 77th and 42nd recovering from the Caribbean campaign in New York hospitals found themselves fighting to repel a French force from St John’s, Newfoundland.  

             In 1763, with the peace and the reduction of the 77th and 78th regiments inevitable, the next chapter relates the 77th ‘s last battle alongside their comrades of the 42nd Foot at an obscure place named Bushy Run in the Pennsylvanian wilderness.  In the spring of 1763, the western frontiers were ablaze as the Ottawa war chieftain Pontiac took up the war hatchet and many disaffected tribes joined his uprising. The remains of the 77th and 42nd Highlanders recovering from the siege of Havana on Long Island, New York, as well as the survivors of the short campaign to retake Newfoundland, found themselves brigaded together under the command of the famous Colonel Henry Bouquet, and fighting for their lives a day’s march from the besieged Fort Pitt.  Almost immediately after this small sharp engagement, the 77th were finally ordered disbanded as were the 78th in Quebec.

            The next chapter will focus on the 42nd’s role during the 1764 Muskingum expedition and the downsizing of the regiment to a peacetime establishment.  Included in this chapter will be the forgotten episode of how the remnants of the 77th were assigned a one last perilous and thankless known task whilst still wearing the King’s redcoat – the protection of the Moravian or Christianized Indians of Pennsylvania from mobs of frontier folk enraged by the recent Indian uprising.  Dozens of mission Indians were shot down in cold blood or lynched causing an outraged Benjamin Franklin, a citizen of Philadelphia at the time, to condemn such “inhuman shocking murders”. He would however, heap unreserved praise on the hard-bitten Highlanders of the 77th Foot, veterans of Bushy Run, who escorted the terrified missionaries and Indian families out of Pennsylvania as far as Perth Amboy in New Jersey before crossing over to New York to take ships home.

            The final chapter will cover the last two years of the 42nd’s stay in North America including Thomas Stirling’s expedition down the Ohio River and up the Mississippi in 1765 with 100 Highlanders to take possession of Fort de Chartres in the Illinois country.  It will conclude with the Royal Highlanders returning to Philadelphia in 1767 in order to take transports back to Ireland after ten years hard service in North America.

            This book is aimed at the general reader who already has a broad understanding of the Seven Years War, for I do not spend much time on the strategic and operational aspects of the war, except where there is a need for context.25

            In other words, this is a history of the regiments, pure and simple, not a history of the Seven Years War with its attendant causes and effects.  While this might be considered a fairly narrow approach, I make no apologies.  I wish to focus on the direct experiences of the Highland soldier in battle - what British historian John Keegan has termed “their personal angle of vision”.  This book will hopefully not only reveal the physical conditions of their fighting but their behavior and emotions generated by battle, their will and ability to fight, and most of all their resilient and proud character.

            As much of my material is appearing in print for the first time, I have chosen to include short endnotes to allow the interested reader to identify and explore the many useful sources that I and others have been pulling together over the last 20 years from a diverse range of published and unpublished manuscript sources. 

            In order to minimize the size of these endnotes, however, I have put all biographical references, including the register roll of the 340 officers who served in the three Highland regiments between 1756 and 1767, in a separate annex at the end of the book. 

            With the same thought in mind I have also included additional annexes (B & C) with detailed essays on Highland dress, weapons, specialist officers (chaplains, surgeons, etc.) and specialist soldiers (pipers, hatchet men, grenadiers, light infantrymen, etc.). My intention was to avoid lengthy discourses on these equally interesting topics within the body of the main text in order to keep the historical narrative flowing. 

            The title of the book is taken from one of the verses of the song The Garb of Old Gaul, the music composed by Captain John Reid, 42nd Foot, in 1756, an accomplished flautist and composer in his day.  The words were added later, circa 1760, and are attributed to Sir Harry Erskine, a close friend of Reid and the Colonel of the Scots Greys at the time.

            Here then, is the story of the Highlanders of the Seven Years War who soldiered far from their mountains, glens and braes to fight in North America and the Sugar Islands.  The conduct, success and subsequent reputation of the three North American Highland regiments in a large measure were a strong catalyst in propagating a wider acceptance of the Highlander as an integral and important addition to the British army.  They went, in a relatively short span of years, from rebels to renowned red-coated regiments and became a national “icon” for their homeland. 

            The scant few that returned to Scotland on disbandment of their regiments were greeted with great applause and acclaim by their proud kinfolk.  The words of a Badenoch bard, singing joyfully of the Fraser Highlanders’ return home to Scotland in 1764, could apply to any one of the three Highland regiments that had soldiered in North America

            A thousand warm welcomes
            To the most manly soldiers
            who have routed the enemies of our country.
            They are the expert men….

                                                                        Lt.Colonel Ian Macpherson McCulloch
                                                                        St. Andrew’s Day, Virginia Beach, USA



1.             The Royal Hospital Kilmainham in Dublin designed by William Robinson and built in 1680-86 pre-dated Chelsea.  For an excellent article on the attitudes towards army veterans of mid-Georgian Britain and the provisions made for them, see Steve Brumwell, “Home from the Wars”, History Today, (March 2002) 41-47; also Brumwell, Redcoats: The British Soldier and War in the Americas, 1755-1763, [hereafter Redcoats], (Cambridge, 2002), 298-303.

 2.           Colonel David Stewart of Garth, Sketches of the Characters, Manners and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland with details of the Military Service of the Highland Regiments, Vol. II, [hereafter Sketches, I or II], (London, 1822, [reprint: Edinburgh, 1977]), 16-17n;  For an actual eye-witness account of prisoners of Montgomery’s Highlanders being tortured by their Indian captors after the botched Fort Duquesne raid, see Private Robert Kirkwood’s account in Ian McCulloch & Tim Todish, eds. “’Through So Many Dangers’:  The Memoirs & Adventures of Robert Kirk, Late of the Royal Highland Regiment”, [hereafter TSMD](Limerick, 1775,[reprint: Fleichmanns, 2004]), 41-2.

3.             Quoted in John Laffin, Scotland the Brave: The Story of the Scottish Soldier, (London, 1963), 11.

4.             Two more readily come to mind: an ancestor on my mother’s side, James Macpherson, the Scottish poet of Ossianic fame who created an epic traditional culture for the Highlander where one did not exist before; and, Sir Walter Scott, with his widely popular tales of Rob Roy and Waverly.

5.             James Irvine Robertson, The First Highlander: Major-General David Stewart of Garth, CB, (East Linton, 1988), 82-91; 124-134.

6.             John Prebble, Mutiny: Highland Regiments in Revolt 1743-1804, (Harmondsworth, 1975), 27.

7.             Lord Macaulay, The History of England from the Accession of James the Second, Vol. II, (London, 1873) 30-32; For a modern account of “Highlandism and Scottish Identity” see T.M. Devine, The Scottish Nation, 1700-2000, (London, 2000), 231- 247.  “This strange development was part of a wider process, which was all but complete by the end of the Napoleonic Wars, through which (mostly) imagined and false Highland ‘traditions’ were absorbed freely by Lowland elites to form the symbolic basis of a new Scottish identity,” writes Devine. “This ‘Highlandism’ was quite literally the invention of a tradition.

 8.            Ibid., 32.

 9.            Ibid., 32; Also see Prebble, The King’s Jaunt, (London, 1988); and Robertson, The First Highlander, 131-140.

10.          For the most complete discussion of the genesis of The Black Watch see Andrew Ross’s, “The Historical Succession of The Black Watch”, in A Military History of Perthshire 1660-1902, [hereafter MHP] Marchioness of Tullibardine, ed., (Glasgow/Edinburgh, 1908), 28-53.  The three 19th century regimental histories Ross refers to are:  Richard Cannon, Esq., Historical Records of the British Army, (London, 1837); Sir John Scott Keltie, A History of the Scottish Regiments, Scottish Highlands and the Highland Clans and Regiments, 8 vols., (Edinburgh, 1889); and, Archibald Forbes, The Black Watch:  The Record of an Historic Regiment, (London, 1896).  Numerous quotes and excerpts from the above 19th century books that plagiarize Stewart verbatim can be found on the many web pages that clutter the Internet, all sadly purporting to be the accurate “histories” of the three Highland regiments that served in North America.

11.          Prebble, Mutiny, 35.

12.          Stewart, Sketches, I, vii-viii.

13.          Ibid., viii; David Stewart to Alexander Irvine, 27 April 1817, NAS GD 1/53; Other 42nd officers included Grenadier Captain John Peebles who kept extensive journals during the American War of Independence and the nephew of Major-General Thomas Stirling. Stewart wrote to Peebles 16 May 1816 to thank him for his communications regarding the 42nd Regiment’s battles and campaigns during the war and asking for further details.  He also informed him that Graham Stirling of Airth was endeavouring to find a journal of his late uncle’s expedition down the Ohio and up the Mississippi to take possession of the Illinois country from the French in 1765, NAS GD 21/500. Peeble’s journals were published in 1998.  See John Peeble’s American War.  The Diary of a Scottish Grenadier, 1776-1782, Ira Gruber, ed., (Stroud, 1998).

14.          Stewart, Sketches, I, xx.

15.          Macauley, History of England, II, 33.

16.          Quoted in Ibid., 30.

17.          Prebble, Glencoe, (Harmondsworth, 1966), 9-10.

18.          Stewart, Sketches, I, 235.

19.          Brumwell, Redcoats, 280-1.

20.          Simon Schama, Dead Certainties: Unwarranted Speculations, (New York, 1992), 50-51.

21.          Stewart, Sketches, I, vi-vii.

22.          See “Muster Rolls of the 42nd Foot, 1759-1776”, in WO 12/5478; f. 96; John Telfer Dunbar, History of Highland Dress, (London, 1962), 156. 

23.          For example, the complete correspondence of General James Grant of Ballindalloch, a major in the 77th Foot during the Seven Years War, was recently transferred to the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh, where officials agreed to house and microfilm them. Robert Clyde, author of From Rebel to Hero and an expert in 18th-century Scottish history, was engaged to organize the collection and oversee its filming. The project has now been completed and the Library of Congress has received 50 reels of microfilm representing more than 12,000 items in the James Grant Papers, conveniently organized for consultation by researchers. 

 24.         For example, in the 1st Foot (The Royal), 462 of 1124 men (41%) were listed as “Highlanders”, 22nd  Foot, 183/1060 (17%), 55th Foot, 421/754 (56%) and 58th Foot, 51/569 (9%).  See Table 5, “Ethnic composition of rank and file and non-commissioned officers of British Army Units in North America, Summer 1757” in Brumwell, Redcoats, 266; Another example of Highlanders not wearing plaid were the 90 Fraser Highlanders drafted into the 35th Foot, an Irish-speaking regiment, on December 1757, in order to bring it up to strength after its heavy casualties suffered at the siege and aftermath of Fort William Henry; Linda Colley, Britons: Forging the Nation, 1707-1837, (New Haven, 1992), 126. 

 25.         If the reader is new to this period of history, they should first read Fred Anderson’s Crucible of War.  The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766, (New York, 2000) or Tim Todish’s useful (and much shorter) primer, America’s First First World War, (Fleichmann’s,NY, 2002). 

26.          Michael Newton, We’re Indians Sure Enough: The Legacy of the Highlanders in the United States, [hereafter, Indians], (Richmond, 2001), 38-9. 

Book Review

Ruby G. Campbell, Ph.D., FSA Scot, CCS(NA) Genealogist & Librarian

Ian Macpherson McCulloch. Sons of the Mountains: A History of the Highland Regiments in North America during the French & Indian War, 1756-1767. 2 vol. Purple Mountain Press and the Fort Ticonderoga Museum, 2006.

The Black Watch! Fraser’s Highlanders! Montgomery’s Highlanders! Names familiar to all serious historians, genealogists, history buffs, and re-enactors as well. The story of these three regiments of Highland soldiers (the 42nd, 78th Foot, and 77th Foot, respectively) whose exploits in the North American continent during the mid-eighteenth century helped shape the future of both the USA and Canada and provided the background for many heroic tales found in books and film is presented in Volume One of this two volume work by Ian Macpherson McCulloch, CD, a native of Halifax, Nova Scotia, himself a lieutenant colonel (1963) in command of The Black Watch (Royal Highland Regiment) of Canada in Montreal, Quebec.

The text embodies first hand accounts of the everyday lives of the soldiers and the plans and insights of the men who led them into battle. Working from actual documents, diaries, and letters which are liberally quoted throughout the text, McCulloch takes the reader from the establishment of the regiments, to the departure of the transports across the stormy Atlantic "haughty, full of peaks and valleys, thundering, rendering, boisterous, flashing" and the arrival of the ships [the last being the snow, Duke of Argyle, which had run aground off Sandy Hook (New Jersey)] in New York where the citizens sent "a very Handsome Refreshment . . . down to the Officers and private Men consisting of Oxen, Sheep, Fowls, Strawberries, Cherries, Pease, etc. which proved a very acceptable Present," and on through every battle, field experience, and personal accomplishments and tragedies until the units were either disbanded or recalled to Britain after the fighting was over.

Told in a lively, entertaining manner, often using the men’s own words, Sons of the Mountains covers all theaters of war from Newfoundland, to Ticonderoga, the Great Lakes, and to the swamps and cane fields of the "Sugar Islands" in the West Indies. In additions to incidents of battle, here are descriptions of the women who followed the troops, the foibles of the bad leaders ["the most Shilly Shally, Whistly Wally, Jacky Wagtail that ever my Eyes beheld. . . .He gives our Serjt Major half a dozen Contradictory orders of a morning and at last gives out none at all. . . . "] and the sensitivity of the good ones, the attitudes toward the French and the Indians, plus many other topics seen through the eyes of the Highland soldier.

The text is well illustrated with art work, maps, contemporary prints, and portraits from the collections of various museums in the USA, Canada, and Scotland.

Volume Two is a genealogist’s delight. Here are biographical entries of every officer of the Black Watch, Fraser’s Highlanders, and Montgomery’s Highlanders who served in North America. The officers are listed in order of their regimental seniority during the Seven Year’s War instead of alphabetically, but it is not difficult to manoeuver through this section. Over 350 officers from all the major clans are listed, many with parentage and/or other relationships given.

A sample of one of the (shorter) entries is shown below:

John Campbell, [3] yr of Melfort (1730-1790) (whose portrait appears on the front cover)

Lieut: 30 July 1757, 77th Foot; appointed adjutant, 77th Foot, 11 July 1759; resigned adjutancy, 1 February 1763; transferred on promotion;

Captain: 1 February 1763, 42nd Foot; half-pay, 24 October 1763;

Major: c. 1779, Argyll (Western) Fencibles.

Son and heir of Archibald Campbell and Annabel Campbell, sister of John Campbell of Barcaldine. Nephew of Major Allan Campbell, 42nd Foot (see above) and first cousin of Major Alex Campbell and Captain Mungo Campbell of the 77th Foot (see 77th Register). Came to North America as a lieutenant in one of the 77th’s Additional Companies. Participated in all major campaigns of Montgomery’s Highlanders, including the capture of Montreal in 1760. Transferred to the 42nd Foot on promotion to captain while recuperating at New York after the grueling Caribbean campaign. Out on half-pay, October 1763. Was second-major in the Argyll (Western) Fencibles along with first major, Hugh Montgomerie, (another former 77th officer - see Register), when that regiment mutinied at Edinburgh in October 1779. Considered a popular officer amongst the men, it was Melfort’s calm actions along with support from Montgomerie that quelled the disturbances. He married his cousin in 1767, Colina, daughter of John Campbell of Achalader and Isabella Campbell, daughter of Patrick Campbell of Barcaldine. He died at Bath in 1790 at the age of 60.

CBs; SBs; BALs; "List of the Officers of the 42nd or Royal Highland Regiment according to seniority dated December 29th, 1762", BL Add. MSS. 21634: f.178c; Stewart, Sketches, I-II, in passim.

In addition to the biographical entries, Volume Two includes several appendices dealing with Highland dress (hairdressing, sashes, shirts & kilts, footware); weapons (dirk, broadsword, muskets, pistols, powder horns, bayonets, tomahawks); equipment (belts, cartouche boxes, tents, flags, weapons cleaning kit, etc.); the role of the specialist officers (surgeons, adjutants, quartermasters) and soldiers (pipers, grenadiers, women); and assorted regimental muster rolls and returns.

Sons of the Mountains is a very important work covering the story of the Highlanders and their regiments who fought in North American during the Seven Years’ War. Thoroughly documented, it’s a fast-moving narrative, even to those who are not particularly interested in military matters. It is highly recommended for personal, public, and school and university libraries.

Due for publication in May 2006, a "sneak preview" may be found at the Electric Scot website at while ordering information is available at the Purple Press website at or from Purple Mountain Press, Ltd., PO Box 309, Fleischmann’s NY 12430-0309, phone 1-845-254-4062.

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