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Reminiscences of Cromar and Canada
Chapter III - The Early Eighteenth Century

FOR Scotland, the 18th Century dawned most inauspiciously. Ever since 1696 there had hung over the land the gloom and horror of want and famine, a condition which was destined to prevail for seven long years without the Heaven-sent intervention of a Joseph. During that doleful period it is said that practically no harvest was reaped. Through the summers heavy rains drenched the undrained and poorly, cultivated fields, while cold easterly mists obscured the sun, retarding growth and rendering the unripe grain a prey to the early descending frosts, disappointing the hopes of the farmers and plunging the already, poverty-stricken country into hopeless famine and despair. So dire became the distress that thousands are said to have perished from actual starvation, and so hopeless and dispirited at last became the people, that the very burying of the dead, even without a coffin, became, in many cases too great a burden for the weak, emaciated and poverty-stricken survivors. Some, it is said, at the approach- of death, and dreading exposure to dogs or carrion birds, struggled to the church-yard to have a better chance of decent burial. In the field, as late as December, or even January, might be seen hunger-stricken people searching for and eagerly snatching from the cruel teeth of Winter, some heretofore despised or overlooked portion or forgotten handful of the frost-destroyed harvest. In the death-fattened churchyards might be seen hungry people eagerly gathering docks and nettles, there more plentiful than elsewhere, wherewith to appease the cravings of hunger. In the eager search for food not even the much despised snail was forgotten. In the fields these were eagerly sought and gathered in summer and preserved for winter use. In this extremity of destitution, it is said that in some parishes not less than one third of the inhabitants perished. Under the terrible pressure the instinct of self-preservation sometimes overmastered the nobler and God-given qualities of altruism and love. Even natural affection—most nearly perfect remnant of mail's primal nobility--sometimes yielded its sceptre, parents in some cases selling their children into slavery in the colonies in exchange for food.

For one brief day, July 26th, 1698, the sad procession of gloomy days already stretching into years was varied by a day of brightness and of hope. On that day sailed from the Port of Leith in three vessels, amid the plaudits and good wishes of a vast crowd of Edinburgh's citizens the equipment and 1200 picked men of The Darian Expedition which had been fitted up at a cost of four hundred thousand pounds, a sum that then represented a large proportion of the available wealth of the country. On this expedition the nation had set its hopes. The day was warm and bright and everything seemed to augur success. But alas, no such hopes were to find fulfilment. Before the century had ended the bubble burst, and a still deeper gloom settled over the famine-stricken land.

To what extent the district of Cromar participated in the sufferings of those dismal years, no information has come to me. Tales of famine and distress in that district toward the end of the 18th Century I often heard from the lips of old men to whose fathers had come the bad experience of want and hunger, but of local tradition of the famine that greeted the previous century at its birth, I never heard. It may well be that famines were then so frequent that those of centuries earlier in a community where no written record was preserved may have become in popular imagination blended into a single scene, and that the experience of earlier times may in some cases have given colour to those of later years retailed by some survivor for the benefit of a new generation whose later advent had landed them in circumstances and under conditions more happy and prosperous than those which their fathers had experienced. No doubt famine in ancient times, however unwelcome, would cause no surprise. Its advent would be regarded as something that had to be—something as uncontrollable by prescience and providence as were the east winds and the cold seasons of mist, rain and frost that periodically blasted the crops or the visitations of smallpox and plague that from time to time had been wont to decimate their population. They had not yet learned the wisdom and necessity of selecting and saving productive and early maturing seed-grain for the increase of the yearly yield and the avoidance of late harvest and early frost. Nor had they yet made the discovery that with more thorough drainage of their fields, and of their swamps and marshes, not only would their lands he earlier in the season prepared for the seed, but the
seasons themselves, through the increased heat radiation resulting from drainage over a large area would become so affected as to extend perceptibly the period of the crop-growing year.


In the Year 1707 the union of England and Scotland was consummated, when Queen Anne, who since 1702 had worn the crowns of the two kingdoms separately, became the sovereign of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. On the death of Queen Anne in 1714 George the First ascended the throne, though many eyes in both countries were turned Iongingly towards James Edward the exiled son of James the second.

In 1711 this unfortunate Prince, known as "The Pretender," landed in Scotland, and in the month of September of that year, his standard was raised at Braemar, under the title of James III. In the month of August next preceeding that event, the earl of Mar, for the purpose of rousing the clansmen for the support of the prince, had made arrangements for a great deer hunt in the highlands of Braemar, to which representatives of all the clans likely to take part in the rising were invited. Present there was the Earl himself, more than one marquis, and a large number of knights and esquires and their followers, to the number in all of some 1500. Great and small were in the highland dress, each clan distinguished by its peculiar tartan. The rank and file were armed with claymore, dirk and lochaber axe and with obsolete musket or longbow. To this rude equipment with the aid of a hundred couples of Irish grey hounds had fallen in a few hours four score deer. These provided venison in abundance for tables which seem to have been loaded with other good things to which the rude clansmen would ordinarily be strangers. Not only was the food supply rich and abundant, but liquor which would not be less acceptable to the natives, seems to have been supplied with liberal hand.

Tradition asserts that the party came clown to Glen-Quoich where beside the water-fall of the Quoich are "pot holes" worn in the rock in time of flood by stones swirled round and round in a narrow eddying circle. Such a hole, of considerable dimensions, the Earl of Mar determined to make tributary to the interests of the Prince. Into its capacious interior he caused to be poured several anchors of whisky, some hundredweights of honey and some gallons of boiling water. From the liquor thus compounded, he distributed bumper after bumper to the thirsty and delighted clansmen, whose enthusiasm under such liquid inspiration, so generously bestowed by the hands of a nobleman so affable and condescending, soon became fired to the highest pitch.

In playful mood, some stalwarts among the Grants of Rothimurcus made exhibition of their prowess by lifting from the ground and almost to their knees a huge block of stone, to the sad discomfiture of some Braemar men who could not lift it from the ground. Standing byv, the Earl of Mar and Rothimurcus discussed the prospects of the proposed rising, as to the expediency of which the latter had expressed some doubt. Observing the easy triumph of his men and the humiliation of the men of Mar, Rothimurcus gleefully exclaimed "Do you call these boys men, my Lord? Why, None of them can move that stone that my lads can make a plaything of." The Earl manifested some annoyance, observing which Invercauld walked up to Finlay Farquharson, one of his men, and obtained his consent to try his hand. Finlay not only lifted the stone, but carrying it in his arms, approached His Lordship asking what he would do with it. "Throw it over my horse's neck" was His Lordship's reply. That feat successfully accomplished, Finlay retired as if nothing had happened. The Earl's invitation to Rothimurcus to repeat the feat was not accepted. But Rothimurcus was, nevertheless, with his men, present at the battle of Sheriffmuir. Although myself a loyal Mar man it is only fair to state that another version of the story substitutes for its Farquharson hero Nathaniel Forbes of Daluhandy, who afterwards attained the rank of Captain under Mar.

On the sixth of September 1715, the Prince's standard was raised at the Castleton of Braemar with great eclat, amid the cheers of ten thousand throats, though even in that hour of elation, there was cast over the crowd a visible gloom as the gilded ball that surmounted the standard fell to the ground, suggestive to the superstitious mind of coming disaster.

All the Farquharsons were there—Peter of Inverey, James of Balmoral, John of Invercauld, Harry of White-house with the men of Cromar, Donald of Micras, Lawrence of Cobbleton of Tulloch, Lewis of Auchindrine, Donald of Coldrach, and the Broughderg Farquharsons with the men of Strath-Aven and Glenlivet. In all, the Clan contributed many swords, but I am not aware that any of our own family took part in the rising either then or in 1745.

Through all the Highlands, the sympathy of the people was, no doubt, with the Prince, but individual liberty among the common people under the feudal system then prevailing had no recognition, and but meagre opportunity of self expression was allowed. First in the system was the King. Under him were the great lords to each of whom was granted by royal charter vast land estates, with authority each within his own domain almost regal and unlimited over the King's subjects. Under these superior lords came the big lairds, or landlords, who held their lands under charters granted by their superior, on condition, among other things, of yielding to their lord's superior man-rent, that is military service, when so required. These lairds, each in his own district were, however, great men and did pretty much as they saw fit among their tenants and dependents. Under he big lairds were a number of "Bonnet" or small lairds who, in turn, were burdened with man-rent and other obligations to their immediate superiors. These also were deemed great men and failed not to act the part in their own spheres. Under the bonnet lairds were the "tacksmen" who were gentlemen farmers, whose hands toil never stained, their work being done by hired servants. They too had military obligations, not, however, to the bonnet laird. but to the bonnet bird's superior. Their land rent was payable to their immediate landlord but their man-rent went to the latter's chief. Then followed crofters and cotters to whom the tacksmen sub-let a large part of their holdings to return for rent, mostly rendered in kind. These last were a peace-loving, quiet-living and industrious class, and to it for the most part, at least, our ancestry, most probably belonged.

Last of all came another class, happily no longer existent as a class, who had no fixed place of residence, but roamed the country begging, poaching and thieving. They were known as "sorners" or "masterful beggars" and were always ready either on their own account or for hire to perpetrate any villainy, deed of darkness or of blood. If for robbery, or, as they called it "spulzie," or other crime, slow-footed justice pursued them, they betook themselves to the hills whither few felt safe to follow. To the common industrious people of the glens and of Cromar, these villains were a constant terror. If their demands were refused, premises would be set on fire or chattels stolen. Strange as it may seem to us, for these scoundrels the chiefs and landed gentry, some of whom bore characters not less vile than theirs, sometimes found dishonourable employment in the furtherance of their evil purposes, so that they had some patronage and protection from those whose duty it was to have had them suppressed.

To the class last mentioned the service of the Pretender made a strong appeal, and into his ranks man}' of them were drawn, some by choice, and not a few by compulsion. Bold and daring as many of them no doubt were, I cannot believe that out of such materials good soldiers can he made, at least quickly. Certainly their absence was not regretted by the industrious population left behind. Indeed the only advantages resulting from the ill-advised, ill-conducted and ill-fated rebellion was the temporary withdrawal and the war-wastage of the worthless characters and degenerates of this parasitic class.

The rebellion was soon over. Southward rolled the tide of war and none of its carnage stained the Braes o' Mar or purpled the limpid waters of the murmuring Dee. Into its vortex, however descended the untutored sons of the heather and crag, many of whom were never more to tread the dark heath of "Morven of snow" or view the proud summit of "dark Lochnagar." Several of the leaders went to the scaffold, some fled and others were banished, while Invercauld and others languished long in prison; but most if not all survivors eventually had their possessions, as well as their former rights, restored to them. This leniency had a most beneficial effect upon the chiefs and proprietors, whose energies thenceforward found expression in improving their estates, rather than in extending their boundaries by raid and foray. It is probable that notwithstanding the influence of the protestant clergy which strongly favoured the house of Hanover the sympathies of even their people were in many cases with the Pretender. However that may have been, both chiefs and clansmen seem to have been disposed to accept of his defeat as final, and to settle down to make the best of the situation in which they now found themselves. This is proved by the fact that in the rebellion of 1745 it was with the greatest difficulty, and only through the application of force, that Prince Charlie's supporters were able to bring to his standard any effective help from Deeside or Cromar.

As already stated, the eighteenth century dawned in famine and wretchedness. That fact does not appear to have had the effect upon the proprietors which such conditions ought to have produced. Their condition at that time, is described by Mr. Michie in his "Logie Coldstone" as that of "extravagance and impecuniosity," or, in more homely phrase, as "Highland pride and poverty." Their extravagance it would seem consisted not so much in expensive personal habits as in a vain display of personal importance which, as the author just quoted remarks, has been fitly satirized by Gaultier in one of his ballads:

"First came Grant o' Rothimurcus
"And on his thigh a sword and durk is,
"Every man as proud's a Turk is,
"Next came Grant o' Tullichgorum
"Proud the mithers were that bore them,
Fee fa fum."

Vieing with the lairds in this foolishness, says Mr. Michie, an array of bonnet lairds, portioners and others, even farmers or tacksmen by the dozen, styling themselves gentlemen, brought upon themselves ruin by a like extravagance.

Between these and the idle slungs, sorners or masterful beggars, the crofters and tenants must have had a hard time. From the lips of one of the latter, unjustly constituted the vicarious bearer of the pride-produced burdens of his landlord may well have originated the expression, more pithy than elegant, said to have been actually used by a tenant to an exacting and merciless landlord, "A hungry louse bites sair."


In the rising of 1745, the Farquharsons were represented by Francis of Monaltrie, James of Balmoral and Harry of Whitehouse, but Farquharson of Invercauld and others held back. Charles Gordon of Blelack and Gordon of Pronie, in addition to the Farquharsons of Whitehouse, seem to have been the only men of note hailing from Cromar.

From several letters still preserved, it is shown that the heart of the people generally, was not in the cause. Lewis Gordon, brother of the Duke of that ilk, writing to his Lieut.-Colonel in Aberdeen on Oct. 29th, 1745, enjoins him to stop the mouths of the presbyterian ministers who, he said, were injuring the cause of the Prince by telling their people a parcel of infamous lies.

An attempt at obedience to this mouth-stopping command was made by the Lady of Blelack, mother of Charles Gordon, at an ordinary Sunday service in the parish church of Coldstone. The minister was engaged in prayer, to which her ladyship had been giving at least some heed, for, on hearing the petition that God would scatter the army of the rebels and bring their counsels to nought, the lady interrupted him with an oath, and asked, "How dare you say that and my Charlie wi' them?"

Though the Invercauld Farquharsons took no part in the rising a sister of the laird who had married the chief of the McIntoshes, although her husband was an officer in the king's service, strongly espoused the cause of the prince, and raised her husband's clan in his support. To these were also joined, it is said, three hundred Farquharsons, so that the Farquharson clan must have contributed to the service of the prince a considerable force, no less than five hundred, it is said, having joined his standard tinder Francis Farquharson of Monaltrie. The lady McIntosh, being temporarily chief officer of the newly raised McIntosh contingent, would seem to have discharged the duties of that high office with commendable intelligence and courage. On one occasion she is said to have been the means of saving the Prince, while her guest, from capture. To her also came the honour of accepting the submission of her own husband who had been arrested by some of her men. As he presented his sword, in token of submission, she saluted him in true military style:-

"Your servant, Captain" to which he replied "Your servant, colonel." Thenceforth, she was known as "Colonel Anne."

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