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Sketches of The Character, Manners, and Present State of the Highlanders of Scotland

Mutinies of the Highland Regiments

Detachments of the 42d and 71st Regiments

In April 1779, two strong detachments of recruits belonging to the 42d and 71st regiments were ordered from Stirling Castle, for the purpose of embarking at Leith to join their regiments in North America. When they arrived at Leith, it was notified to them that they were not to join their own regiments, but were to be turned over to the 80th and 82d, the Edinburgh and Hamilton regiments. The men remonstrated, and declared openly their firm determination to serve in no corps but that for which they had engaged. After some negotiation and delay, troops were sent to Leith, with orders to carry the Highlanders as prisoners to Edinburgh Castle, if they persisted in refusing to be transferred. The soldiers having refused to comply, an attempt was made to enforce the orders. The Highlanders flew to arms, and a desperate affray ensued. Captain Mansfield of the South fencible regiment, and 9 men, were killed, and 31 soldiers wounded. At last the mutineers were overpowered and carried to Edinburgh Castle.

On the 6th of May following, three of these prisoners, Charles Williamson and Archibald Macivor, soldiers in the 42d regiment, and Robert Budge, soldier in the 71st regiment, were brought before a court-martial on the following charge: "You, and each of you, are charged with having been guilty of a mutiny at Leith upon Tuesday, the 20th of April last past, and of having instigated others to be guilty of the same, in which mutiny several of his Majesty's subjects were killed and many wounded."

An extract from their defence will show their reasons for resisting the orders to embark. "The prisoners Archibald Macivor, and Charles Williamson, enlisted as soldiers in the 42d, being an old Highland regiment, wearing the Highland dress. Their native language was Gaelic, the one being a native of the northern parts of Argyleshire and the other of the western parts of Inverness-shire, where the language of the country is Gaelic only. They have never used any other language, and are so ignorant of the English tongue, that they cannot avail themselves of it for any purpose of life. They have always been accustomed to the Highland habit, so far as never to have worn breeches, a thing so inconvenient and even so impossible for a native Highlander to do, that, when the Highland dress was prohibited by act of Parliament, though the philebeg was one of the forbidden parts of the dress, yet it was necessary to connive at the use of it, provided only that it was made of a stuff of one colour and not of tartan, as is well known to all acquainted with the Highlands, particularly with the more mountainous parts of the country. These circumstances made it more necessary for them to serve in a Highland regiment only, as they neither could have understood the language, nor have used their arms, or marched in the dress of any other regiment."

The prisoner Robert Budge stated, that he was a native of the upper parts of Caithness, and being ignorant of the English language, and accustomed to wear the Highland garb, he enlisted to serve in Fraser's Highlanders, and in no other regiment; and in continuation of their defence, the three prisoners stated, that, "when they arrived at Leith, they were informed by their officer, Captain Innes, who had conducted them, that they were now to consider the officers of the 82d, or Duke of Hamilton's regiment, a regiment wearing the Lowland dress, and speaking the English tongue, as their officers; but how this happened they were not informed. No order from the Commander-in-Chief for their being drafted was read or explained to them, but they were told that they must immediately join the Hamilton and Edinburgh regiments. A great number of the detachment represented, without any disorder or mutinous behaviour, that they were altogether unfit for service in any other corps than Highland ones, particularly that they were incapable of wearing breeches as a part of their dress. At the same time, they declared their willingness to be regularly transferred to any other Highland regiment, or to continue to serve in those regiments into which they had been regularly enlisted. But no regard was paid to these remonstrances, which, if they had had an opportunity, they would have laid before the Commander-in-Chief. But an order for an immediate embarkation prevented this. The idea that naturally suggested itself to them was, that they should insist on serving in the same regiment in which they had been enlisted, and not to go abroad as part of the Duke of Hamilton's regiment, till such time as these difficulties were removed. They accordingly drew up under arms on the shore of Leith, each respective corps by itself. The prisoners were informed, that the orders issued were to take them prisoners to the Castle; had these orders been explained to them, they would have submitted, and, with proper humility, have laid their case before those that could have given them redress. But unfortunately the sergeant who undertook to explain to them in Gaelic, represented that they were immediately to go on board as part of the Hamilton regiment, but which they do with great deference say, that they did not at the time conceive they could lawfully have done." After the defence was read, "Captain Innes of the 71st regiment showed an attestation to the court, which he said was in the uniform style of the attestations for that regiment, and it expressly bore, that the persons thereby attested were to serve in the 71st regiment, commanded by General Simon Fraser of Lovat, and that they were to serve for three years only, or during the continuance of the present war."

The three prisoners were found guilty, and sentenced to be shot; but his Majesty gave them a free pardon, in full confidence that they would endeavour, by a prompt obedience and orderly demeanour, to atone for this atrocious offence. The three men afterwards joined the 2d battalion 42d where their character was remarked for steadiness and good conduct. The rest of the detachment also joined the same battalion.

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