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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - Aug/Sep 2002
A Highlander and his books

Culloden and the last clansman
Reviewed by Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot
Email:  <>

Jim HunterIf you read A Dance Called America by James Hunter, you will not want to miss his latest book, Culloden and the Last Clansman.   If you missed the first dance, do yourself a favor and not miss this one.  A wonderful tune it is!

James Hunter writes about the murder of Colin Campbell, a government agent and staunch Hanoverian.  We are led to believe the accused murderer may be James Stewart, a supporter of Bonnie Prince Charlie and a staunch Jacobite.  The author has lived his entire life in the same community where the murder took place 250 years ago.  In this book, Hunter rivals Sir Walter Scott, the greatest writer of his time and father of the historical novel.  The tale that the author weaves in this case with his use of historical facts is nothing short of brilliant.  You cannot compare Hunter to Robert Burns because he does not write poetry and Burns did not write stories like Hunter.  Scott did both, and although Scott has not been in vogue for many years, there are signs that is he "starting to come back into fashion again after long neglect," according to Stewart Lamont in his book, When Scotland Ruled the World.

Now, back to the story.  This murder shook all of Great Britain, from the man in the street to the man on the throne, George II.  Someone had to pay for the murder of Colin Campbell. The most likely suspect, Alan Breck Stewart, had quietly slipped out of the country, leaving James Stewart guilty by association.  The Duke of Cumberland (yes, the "Butcher" himself) thought the Scottish authorities were treating this matter too lightly.

Thus, both the policies and loyalties of the Scottish authorities were called into question, and the King's younger son, the British hero of the '45 (he of the flower named after him, "Sweet William" in England but forever known as "Stinking Willie" in Scotland) "thought it prudent to ensure that James Stewart was hanged."

Scotland's Lord Justice General and Lord Advocate both tired the case, one as judge and the other as prosecutor.  History records that the former was a Campbell and the latter was a Grant.  Both were on the hot seat almost as much as the man fighting for his life.  Even though a panel of three judges was used, no one wanted London to feel anything but their loyalty and obedience.  To make sure the verdict was a "guilty" one (a verdict authorities wanted and had to have to maintain good relations with the Hanoverian government), a jury of fifteen men was selected, eleven of them Campbells.  How about them numbers!  A better jury could not have been found, bribed or paid for on behalf of the Scottish authorities.

The trial began at five o'clock in the morning and did not break until fifty hours later.  Why so long?  During those days, Scottish criminal courts required evidence to be heard in a single sitting, and sixty witnesses, a mockery if there ever was one, were heard during that time.  No wonder it took three judges!  Adding to the government's case was the fact that a recently fired gun that belonged to James had been dug up along with some broadswords.  James helped set the noose around his own neck with his loose whisky talk and threats about and toward Colin Campbell.  Some testified that James had planned the ambush of Colin Campbell that was carried out by Alan Breck, and James did not refute that testimony.  The handwriting was on the wall, and it was as if James was reconciled to meeting his fate.  The only question left for us to ask since it was proven that James sent Alan money after the assassination, is why it took five hours of deliberation to come up with the "guilty as charged" verdict.

He was sentenced to chains.  Months later, while on the scaffold, he said, "I die a worthy member of the Episcopal Church of Scotland...may the same God pardon and forgive all that ever did or wished me evil, as I do from my heart forgive them...Come, Lord Jesus, come quickly."  As he climbed the steps to meet his executioner, it is said he quoted verses from Psalm 35 ending with "Lord, rescue my soul from their destructions."

Cnap a' Chaolais, the location where Stewart was hanged, was well traveled by Highlanders and chosen by the government to send a message of intimidation to all who passed by. The Hanoverians wanted all to see the "gruesome spectacle of James Stewart's chained-up and slowly rotting corpse." A detachment of officers, including seventeen soldiers, watched over his body day and night.  More than two years after the hanging, portions of his still remaining skeleton fell to the ground.  Edinburgh immediately smelled a conspiracy by Highlanders and launched an investigation, only to find that a winter gale had caused the bones to fall.  In an effort to keep James hanging around a little longer, soldiers from Fort William came to put the bones back on the gibbet since local people would have no part of such a gruesome chore.  Even the soldiers had to be induced by whisky to replace Stewart's bones on the gibbet!

More years passed and down came James again, a bone at a time.  This time, however, a Culloden veteran, John Stewart, gathered up each one.  This Stewart eventually pieced together enough of the skeletal remains of James to arrange for a burial inside the crumbling walls of the auld Keil church at Duror.  I believe James Hunter proves his point "that, when they hanged James Stewart on the afternoon of Wednesday, 8 November 1752, the Hanoverian authorities also hanged the last clansman" since by this time the Clan system (as a lot of us want to believe was still possible) was no more.  All that was left of the old Clan system was memories.  Or, should I say, the romance of the old Clan system is all that was left, then and today.

Hunter's style of writing makes you want to stay up all night to finish the book.  His reputation is such that you want him to hurry and get his next book to the marketplace.  If I was to score this book like I did my students at Roseboro High School in North Carolina too many years ago to tell, James Hunter would get an A+.  I think Sir Walter Scott might give him the same!

A Chat with James Hunter, CBE
Author of Culloden and the Last Clansman

Frank R. Shaw, FSA Scot, Atlanta, Georgia, USA E-Mail:

Q: Can you now explain any better the relationship between Donald Campbell of Airds (pro-Hanoverian) and Seumas aí Ghlinne, "James of the Glen", a.k.a. James Stewart (devout Jacobite), who was tossed off his land by Colin Campbell only to go to work for a new laird, one Donald Campbell of Airds?

A: While there were clearly fundamental political differences between the two men Ė who had fought, after all, on different sides at Culloden Ė there was also friendship between them. I think this was not unusual in the eighteenth-century Highlands. While thereís not much surviving evidence as to the exact relationship between James and Donald Campbell, itís clear from the evidence that James was, originally, on excellent terms with Colin Campbell of Glenure Ė the man shot in May 1752. They clearly knew each other well as neighbours and may even have been distantly related. Of course, James and Colin were eventually at loggerheads. But the point is that Jacobites and non-Jacobites could be friends. Perhaps we overdo the animosity between the two groups. After all, you can be a very staunch Republican and still speak to Democrats Ė occasionally anyway!

Q: I recently reviewed in this column A History of Clan Campbell, Vol. I, by Alastair Campbell of Airds. Is there a family connection between Donald Campbell of Airds and Alastair Campbell of Airds?

A: Yes. Iím not sure how many generations separate them, but Donald was Alastairís ancestor.

Q: A good friend of mine, Jamie Scarlett who lives at Milton of Moy, was awarded an MBE by Queen Elizabeth a few years ago for his life long study and books on Tartan, and I believe that means "Member of the British Empire". Why were you awarded the "CBE" designation and what does it mean? What is the Highlands and Islands Enterprise mentioned in your book cover that you now chair?

A: CBE stands for Commander of the British Empire. Since the British Empire no longer exists and since I donít command anything, itís simply an honour. The official citation said Iíd been awarded the CBE Ďfor services to the Highlands and Islands.í As well as being a writer and historian, Iíve long been involved in a variety of Highland organizations. I presently chair the board of Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the government-funded development agency for the Highlands and Islands. Iím very much in favour of land reform and other measures needed to facilitate the economic expansion of the Highlands and Islands. After centuries of economic contraction and population decline, the Highlands and Islands are today on the way back, on the way up. Our population Ė which fell for the previous 12 decades Ė has grown by 20 per cent in the last 30 years. Our economy has diversified enormously. Our unemployment rates are lower than theyíve ever been.

Q: What is the purpose of the Scottish Crofters Union you helped organize years ago, and what is it doing today?

A: Its purpose was to promote the interests of the crofters, or small farmers, of the Highlands and Islands. Now called the Scottish Crofting Foundation, itís still doing that.

Q: Was A Dance Called America, published in 1984, a best seller? It is simply a great book.

A: Itís certainly my best-selling book and has gone through a series of paperback editions. Its sequel has also sold well. This is published by Mainstream in Edinburgh as Glencoe and the Indians and by Montana Historical Society Press, Helena, Montana, as Scottish Highlanders, Indian Peoples: 30 Generations of a Montana Family. This book traces the story of a Native American family by the name of McDonald now living on the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana. They owe their name to a Hudsonís Bay Company fur trader called Angus McDonald who married into the Nez Perce people in the 1840s. This McDonald family were much involved in the Nez Perce War of 1876 when Duncan McDonald, Angusís mixed-blood son, joined the leading Nez Perce chief, White Bird, to whom Duncan was related, in exile in the Canadian camp of the great Sioux chief, Sitting Bull.

Q: James was executed on Wednesday, 8 November 1752 on the scaffold at Cnap aí Chaolais near where Colin Campbell was ambushed. Is there a marker for interested parties to visit when in that part of Scotland?

A: Cnap aí Chaolais is a little knoll or hillock at the southern end of the modern Ballachulish Bridge. The site is clearly marked and easily accessible. There is a monument there dating from the early part of the twentieth century. Markers are presently being put in place at a number of sites associated with the murder and its aftermath. They include the murder site itself, the remains of the home at Acharn where James was living at the time of his arrest, and the home in Glen Duror, still standing, which James occupied as the farming tenant of the glen.

Q: Are the bones of James Stewart still resting inside the walls of the church at Keil? Does the public have access to his burial site?

A: Yes, and yes again.

Q: After all your research, in your opinion, was Ailean Breac (anglicized to Alan Breck) the murderer of Colin Campbell or was James Stewart? Both men denied they murdered Colin Campbell - James just prior to being hung and quoting from Psalm 35 about "false witnesses" and how "they laid to my charge things that I knew not," and Ailean, 35 years later, in his sixties, while visiting in Paris a son of one of Colin Campbellís nephews, denying being the murderer and "swore by all that was sacred that it was not him." Who did it?

A: James certainly wasnít the murderer. He was at home when the murder was committed. He was hanged as an accessory to Alan whom the authorities said was the murderer but whom they never caught. Personally, I donít think Alan was the murderer either. As my book argues, I believe there was a conspiracy to kill Colin Campbell. I think this conspiracy involved a number of Stewarts Ė one of whom was Alan. But I think his principal role was to flee the country Ė which heíd have had to do anyway as a deserter from the British army whoíd started the Battle of Prestonpans as a British army soldier and then deserted to the Jacobites. This enabled all concerned to point the finger of blame at Alan. Itís said, of course, that some of the Stewarts know to this day who actually pulled the trigger. This is not impossible in my view.

Q: Thank you for the time and courtesies extended to this writer. Is there anything else you would like to add for the nearly 80,000 Scottish homes that receive The Family Tree?

A: Only that I value very much the contact Iíve had with people in North America and elsewhere who are of Highlands and Islands extraction. They have always received me with great hospitality and much of my writing about emigration would not have been possible without their help.

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