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The Scottish Nation

MACNAB, the name of a clan anciently located in the district of Breadalbane, Perthshire, the badge of which was the common heath. The clan Anaba or the Macnabs are erroneously held to belong to the Old Celtic race, or primitive Albionic stock of Scotland, which were among the clans included under the general denomination of Siol Alpin, of which the clan Gregor was the principal. The chief, styled Macnab of that ilk, had his residence at Kinnell, on the banks of the Dochart, and the family possessions, which originally were considerable, lay mainly on the western shores of Loch Tay. In the reign of David I. ‘1124-1153], the name was, it is said, Macnab-Eyre, and signified the son and heir of the abbot.. According, however, to the view taken in this work of the prefix Mac, as being no more than a contraction of magnus, great, this legend cannot be admitted, although it has been stated that the founder of this clan held the dignity of abbot of Glendochart.

      From the frequent use of the words “of that ilk,” in the charters of the family of Macnab, it would appear, notwithstanding the received tradition as to the derivation of the name, that the origin of it is territorial or from land. There is not an instance in Scottish history where the words “of that ilk” are employed, in which this is not the case. And if the form of the name be given correctly as Macnab-Eyre, the source of the territorial designation may with great probability be conjectured. The Gaelic word for heir is not Eyre, but Oighre. It is only an adaptation of its sound to the common English word heir, which is from the Latin word Hares. The word Ayre or Aire, a term of frequent use in early Scottish annals for the site, rather occasional than permanent, of a court of justice, is a corruption of the Norman-French Oyer, to hear. Macnab-Eyre may, therefore, be held to mean the seat of justice, or justice-place, in the territory Macnab, and is so stated in the private histories of the family. Tradition points, however, at a priory where the burial place now is placed. Whether there ever was an abbot of Glendochart may well be doubted, yet there is every reason to believe that the abbots of Dunkeld held, as abthanes, – (that is, abbot-thanes, a secular title, defined by Ducange, as abbates qui simul erant Comites, – justiciary power over this portion of Perthshire. It seems, therefore, at least probable that Macnab-Eyre was the name given to the occasional seat of justice of some kind or other. The precise site of the lands bearing this particular name is now unknown, yet as in early times lands and districts received names from conspicuous natural objects lying in or near them, as Carrick, in Ayr, from the carrick or craig of Ailsa lying in the firth opposite to that district; so Macnab, the great Nab or Nob, may not improperly be held to mean the district around or near the mountain now called Benmore, (or great head,) which is conspicuous all along the glen of the Dochart, and very near its source. The occurrence of Nab in topography to designate a round-headed height or cone is familiar in Scotland and the north of England.

      The Macnabs were a considerable clan before the reign of Alexander III. When Robert the Bruce commenced his struggle for the drown, the baron of Macnab with his clan, joined the Macdougals of Lorn, and fought against Bruce at the battle of Dalres. Afterwards, when the cause of Bruce prevailed, the lands of the Macnabs were ravaged by his victorious troops, their houses burnt, and all their family writs destroyed. Of all their possessions only the barony of Bowain or Bovain, in Glendochart, remained to them, and of it, Gilbert Macnab of that ilk, from whom the line is usually deduced, as the first undoubted laird of Macnab, received from David II., on being reconciled to that monarch, a charter, under the great seal, to him and his heirs whomsoever, dated in 1336. He died in the reign of Robert II.

      His son, Finlay Macnab, styled of Bovain, as well as “of that ilk,” died in the reign of James I. He is said to have been a famous bard. According to tradition he composed one of the Gaelic poems which Macpherson attributed to Ossian. He was the father of Patrick Macnab of Bovain and of that ilk, whose son was named Finlay Macnab, after his grandfather. Indeed, Finlay appears to have been, at this time, a favourite name of the chief, as the next three lairds were so designated. Upon his father’s resignation, he got a charter, under the great seal, in the reign of James III., of the lands of Ardehyle, and Wester Duinish, in the barony of Glendochart and county of Perth, dated January 1, 1486. He had also a charter from James IV., of the lands of Ewir and Leiragan, in the same barony, dated January 9, 1502. He died soon thereafter, leaving a son, Finley Macnab, fifth laird of Macnab, who is witness in a charter, under the great seal, to Duncan Campbell of Glenorchy, wherein he is designed “Finlaus Macnab, dominus de eodem,” &c., Sept. 18, 1511. He died about the close of the reign of James V.

      His son, Finlay Macnab of Bovain and of that ilk, 6th chief from Gilbert, alienated or mortgaged a great portion of his lands to Campbell of Glenorchy, ancestor of the marquis of Breadalbane, as appears by a charter to “Colin Campbell of Glenorchy, his heirs and assignees whatever, according to the deed granted to him by Finlay Macnab of Bovain, 24th November, 1552, of all and sundry the lands of Bovain and Ardchyle, &c., confirmed by a charter under the great seal from Mary, dated 27th June, 1553.” Glenorchy’s right of superiority the Macnabs always refused to acknowledge.

      His son, Finlay Macnab, the seventh laird, who lived in the reign of James VI., was the chief who entered into the bond of friendship and manrent with his cousin, Lauchlan Mackinnon of Strathordell, 12th July, 1606. This chief carried on a deadly feud with the Neishes or M’Ilduys, a tribe which possessed the upper parts of Strathearn, and inhabited an island in the lower part of Lock Earn, called from them Neish island. Many battles were fought between them, with various success. The last was at Glenboultachan, about two miles north of Loch Earn foot, in which the Macnabs were victorious, and the Neishes cut off almost to a man. A small remnant of them, however, still lived in the island referred to, the head of which was an old man, who subsisted by plundering the people in the neighbourhood. One Christmas, the chief of the Macnabs had sent his servant to Crieff for provisions, but, on his return, he was waylaid, and robbed of all his purchases. He went home, therefore, empty-handed, and told his tale to the laird. Macnab had twelve sons, all men of great strength, but one in particular exceedingly athletic, who was called for a byname, Iain mion Mac an Appa, or “Smooth John Macnab.” In the evening, these men were gloomily meditating some signal revenge on their old enemies, when their father entered, and said in Gaelic, “The night is the night, if the lads were but lads!” Each man instantly started to his feet, and belted on his dirk, his claymore, and his pistols. Led by their brother John, they set out, taking a fishing-boat on their shoulders from Loch Tay, carrying it over the mountains and glens till they reached Loch Earn, where they launched it, and passed over to the island. All was silent in the habitation of Neish. Having all the boars at the island secured, they had gone to sleep without fear of surprise. Smooth John, with his foot dashed open the door of Neish’s house; and the party, rushing in, attacked the unfortunate family, every one of whom was put to the sword, with the exception of one man and a boy, who concealed themselves under a bed. Carrying off the heads of the Neishes, and any plunder they could secure, the youths presented themselves to their father, while the piper struck up the pibroch of victory.

      The next laird, “Smooth John,” the son of this Finlay, made a distinguished figure in the reign of Charles I., and suffered many hardships on account of his attachment to the royal cause. After the battle of Alford in 1645, he joined the army of Montrose, with his clan, and was of great service to him at the battle of Kilsyth. He was subsequently directed by Montrose to garrison his castle of Kincardine, and he continued there until besieged by General Leslie, when, their provisions failing, he endeavoured, with 300 men, to make his escape, during the darkness of the night. Marching out, sword in hand, they all got off, except Macnab himself and one of his men, who were sent prisoners to Edinburgh. Macnab was condemned to death, but escaped the night pervious to the day on which he was ordered for execution. He was killed at the battle of Worcester in1651. During the commonwealth, his castle of Eilan Rowan was burned, his estates ravaged and sequestrated, and the family papers again lost. Taking advantage of the troubles of the times, his powerful neighbour, Campbell of Glenorchy, in the heart of whose possessions Macnab’s lands were situated, on the pretence that he had sustained considerable losses from the clan Macnab, got possession of the estates in recompense thereof.

      This chief of the Macnabs married a daughter of Campbell of Glenlyon, and with one daughter, had a son, Alexander Macnab, ninth laird, who was only four years old when his father was killed on Worcester battle-field. His mother and friends applied to General Monk for some relief from the family estates for herself and children. That general made a favourable report on the application, but it had no effect. It was directed to Captain Gascoigne, governor of Finlarig, and was in the following terms: “I do hereby declare, that it was not intended by my order for repairing the laird of Glenurchy’s losses by the Macnabs out of their estates, that the same should extend to the molesting or intermeddling with the estates of any of the Macnabs who live peaceably. And forasmuch as I understand that the widow of the laird of Macnab hath lived peaceably, you are hereby authorized, and I desire, in case any vexation be offered to the outing or dispossessing of the said widow and her children of the said lands, or anything that belongs to them, under colour of the said order, to preserve the rights that to them belong, as if the said order had never been made, and to enter and receive them into their lands; and this favour also is to be extended for Archibald Macnab of Archarne. Given under my hand and seal at Dalkeith, 18th January, 1654. (Signed) S. S. George Monk.” After the Restoration, application was made to the Scottish Estates, by the Lady Macnab and her son, for redress, and in 1661 they received a considerable portion of the lands, which the family enjoyed till the beginning of the present century, when they were sold.

      By his wife, Elizabeth, a sister of Sir Alexander Menzies, of Weem, baronet, Alexander Macnab of that ilk had a son and heir, Robert Macnab, tenth laird, who married Anne Campbell, sister of the earl of Breadalbane. Of several children only two survived, John, who succeeded his father, and Archibald. The elder son, John, held a commission in the Black Watch, and was taken prisoner at the battle of Prestonpans, and, with several others, confined in Doune Castle, under the charge of Macgregor of Glengyle, where he remained till after the battle of Culloden. The majority of the clan took the side of the house of Stuart, and were led by Allister Macnab of Inshewan and Archibald Macnab of Acharne. They were mostly incorporated in the Duke of Perth’s regiment, of which Alexander Macnab of Dundurn was the standard bearer. The others joined a body of Breadalbane men under the command of Campbell of Glenlyon. The younger son, Archibald, obtained in 1740 a commission as ensign in the Black Watch (now the 42d Highlanders), on its embodiment, and served in Germany with that regiment. In June 1745 he was appointed captain of Loudoun’s Highlanders, and in 1757 he distinguished himself at the battle of Fellinghausen. Under General Wolfe, he was present at the battle of Quebec. He served also throughout the American Revolutionary war, and on its termination was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-general, and appointed Colonel of the 41st Welsh Regiment. He died in Edinburgh in 1791, and was buried at Killin.

      John Macnab, the 11th laird, married the only sister of Francis Buchanan, Esq. of Arnprior, and had a son, Francis, twelfth laird.

      Francis, 12th laird, died, unmarried, at Callander, Perthshire, May 25, 1816, in his 82d year. One of the most eccentric men of his time, many anecdotes are related of his curious sayings and doings. He was a man of gigantic height and strong originality of character, and cherished many of the manners and ideas of a Highland gentleman, having in particular a high notion of the dignity of the chieftainship. He left numerous illegitimate children. There is a fine full-length portrait of him, in the uniform of lieutenant-colonel of the Breadalbane volunteers, by Sir Henry Raeburn, in the Breadalbane collection of paintings at Taymouth-castle.

      The only portion of the property of the Macnabs remaining in the small islet of Innis-Buie, formed by the parting of the water of the Dochart just before it issues into Loch Tay, in which is the most ancient burial place of the family; and outside there are numerous gravestones of other members of the clan. The lands of the town of Callander chiefly belong to a descendant of this laird, not in marriage.

      Archibald Macnab of Macnab, nephew of Francis, succeeded as 13th chief. The estates being considerably encumbered, he was obliged to sell the property for behoof of his creditors.

      Many of the clan having emigrated to Canada about the beginning of the nineteenth century, and being very successful, 300 of those remaining in Scotland were induced about 1817 to try their fortunes in America, and in 1821, the chief himself, with some more of the clan, took their departure for Canada. He returned in 1853, and died at Lannian, Cotes de Nord, France, Aug. 12, 1860, aged 83. Subjoined is his portrait, from a daguerreotype taken at Saratoga, United States of America, in 1848:

[portrait of Archibald Macnab]

      He left a widow, and one surviving daughter, Sophia Frances.

      The next Macnabs by descent entitled to the chiefship are believed to be Sir Alan Napier Macnab, Bart., Canada; Dr. Robert Macnab, 5th Fusileers, and Mr. John Macnab, Glenmavis, Bathgate.

      The lairds of Macnab, previous to the reign of Charles I., intermarried with the families of Lord Gray of Kinfauns, Gleneagles, Inchbrace, Robertson of Strowan, &c.

      The chief cadets of the family were the Macnabs of Dundurn, Acharne, Newton, Cowie, and Inchewen. Of one of the latter family the following exploit is related. In 1745, a party of soldiers, sent from the castle of Finlarig, (which means the field or plain of Fingal,) to burn the house of Coire Chaorach, near Benmore, were watched, on their march, by Macnab of Inchewen. After setting fire to the mansion, they commenced their return to Finlarig, when it was observed that the fire had gone out. One of them was ordered back to rekindle it, but was shot by Macnab from his place of concealment. On this, the rest of the party rushed down to the river, but other three fell victims by the way. Macnab then retreated to the rocks above, whence he fired, and killed three more of the redcoats. The others then gave up the pursuit. His rifle came into the possession of Mr. Sinclair, tenant in Inverchaggerine. It is four feet long, and in the stock there is a recess for a supply of bullets. It was at one time used by the Gaelic poet, Duncan M’Intyre, when one of the foresters of Lord Breadalbane, and is praised in his classic poem of ‘Beinn Dourain.’ Mr. Sinclair possessed also the celebrated bottle, long in use at Kinnell, which could hold nine gallons, and was known to many of Macnab’s friends as ‘the Bachelor.’ (See New Statistical Account of Scotland, vol. x. page 1089.)

      Sir Allan Napier Macnab is descended from the Dundura branch. His grandfather, Robert Macnab of Dundurn, Perthshire, was cousin-german of John Macnab of Macnab, capt. 42d Highlanders. He married Mary Stuart of Ardvoirlich, and his eldest son, Allan Macnab, lieutenant 3d dragoons and principal aide-de-camp to General Simcoe, 1st governor of Upper Canada, married Anne, youngest daughter of Capt. William Napier, commissioner of the port of Quebec, of the family of Lord Napier, and had a son, Sir Allan Macnab, baronet of Dundurn-castle, Canada West, born Feb. 19, 1789; colonel of militia in Upper Canada, member and some time speaker of the legislative assembly of Upper and Lower Canada, and prime minister of that province; knighted July 14, 1838, for his efforts in putting an end to the rebellion there; created a baronet Feb. 5, 1858. Sir Allan married in 1821, Elizabeth, daughter of Lieutenant Daniel Brooke; issue a son (born in 1822, died in 1824), and a daughter. His wife having died in 1825, he married, 2dly, in 1831, Mary, eldest daughter of John Stuart, sheriff of Johnstown district, Upper Canada; issue, two daughters. The elder, Sophia, born July 5, 1832, married in 1855, William Coutts, Viscount Bury, M.P., eldest son of earl of Albemarle.

      A branch of the family of Macnab settled in Jamaica.

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