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


G, Page 41. Sketch of the Life and Character of Rob Roy

The most noted of these was the celebrated Robert Macgregor Campbell, or Rob Roy, well known, in his own and after times, as the most daring freebooter of his day, and latterly celebrated by the great and faithful Delineator of the character and manners of our countrymen, who has recalled to the recollection of the aged, scenes and circumstances which they had almost forgotten,—showed to the young what their forefathers saw in their days,—and taught all to appreciate the blessing of living under laws which protect their per. sons and property, and which forbid the injured or the turbulent to redress their grievances by the sword. Much, perhaps too much has already been said about this man ; but as his actions have formed the subject of one of the most popular works of the age, it may be desirable to state a few particulars explanatory of his birth, character, and conduct, and also of the primary cause of his adopting the lawless course of life which he led for many years. The few notices which follow may be considered as perfectly authentic, being communicated by men who were either sharers in his different exploits, or were perfectly acquainted with the leader and many of his followers.

The father of the present Mr Stewart of Ardvorlich knew Rob Roy intimately, and attended his funeral in 1736, the last at which a piper officiated in the Highlands of Perthshire. [The pipers on these occasions played a solemn dirge, which served the same pur-pose as bells in towns, organs in churches, and bands of music at military funerals or executions. The difference was only in the instruments used: the principle and effect were the same in all. This ancient custom was revived three years ago at the funeral of a most exemplary, patriarchal, and honourable Chieftain, the late Sir John Murray Macgregor of Lanrick, Baronet.] The late Mr Stewart of Bohallie, Mr Macnab of Inchewan, and several gentlemen of my acquaintance, also knew Rob Roy and his family. Alexander Stewart, one of his followers, afterwards enlisted in the Black Watch. He was wounded at Fontenoy, and discharged with a pension in 1748. Some time after this period he was engaged by my grandmother, then a widow, as a grieve or overseer to direct and take charge of the farm-servants. In this situation he proved a faithful trust-worthy servant, and was by my father continued in his situation till his death. He told many anecdotes of Rob Roy and his party, among whom he was distinguished by the name of the Bailie, a title which he ever after retained. It was before him that people were sworn, when it was necessary to bind them to secrecy.

Robert Macgregor Campbell [After the name of Macgregor was suppressed by act of Parliament in 1622, individuals of the clan assumed the names of the chiefs or landlords on whose estates they lived, or adopted the names of such men of rank and power as could afford them protection. Thus, Rob Roy, took the name of his friend and protector the Duke of Argyll, while his son James, putting himself under the protection of the family of Perth, took the name of Drummond. This cruel and degrading act was repealed in 1775. Now the clan Macgregor may assume and sign their own names to bonds and deeds, (formerly no document signed by a Macgregor was legal,) but numbers do not avail themselves of this indulgence. Many Macgregors have not assumed their original name.] was a younger son of Donald Macgregor of Glengyle, in Perthshire, by a daughter of Campbell of Glenlyon, sister of the individual who commanded at Glenco. [In a contract of amity and man rent between this Donald Macgregor and John Buchanan of Arnprior, he is called Colonel. In this contract, which is dated 24th May 1693, Colonel Macgregor becomes bound for himself, and for all those descended of his family, or "Clan Duil Cheire," to support Arnprior in all difficulties and against all aggressors. This "Clan Duil Cheire" have lately been brought to notice, as the "Children of the Mist" of a celebrated and popular work.]

He was born some time between 1657 and l660, and married Helen Campbell of the family of Glenfalloch. As cattle was at that period the principal marketable produce of the hills, the younger sons of gentlemen had few other means of procuring an independent subsistence, than by engaging in this sort of traffic. At an early period Rob Roy was one of the most respectable and successful drovers in his district. Before the year 1707 he had purchased of the family of Montrose the lands of Craigrostane, on the banks of Lochlomond, and had relieved some heavy debts on his nephew's estate of Glengyle. While in this prosperous state, he continued respected for his honourable dealings both in the Lowlands and Highlands. Previous to the Union no cattle had been permitted to pass the English border. As a boon or encouragement, however, to conciliate the people to that measure, a free intercourse was allowed. The Marquis of Montrose, created Duke the same year, and one of the most zealous partisans of the Union, was the first to take advantage of this privilege, and immediately entered into partnership with Rob Roy, who was to purchase the cattle and drive them to England for sale; the Duke and he advancing an equal sum, (10,000 merks each, a sum which would have purchased 500 head of cattle in those days, when the price of the best ox or cow was seldom twenty shillings), all transactions beyond this amount to be on credit. The purchases having been completed, Macgregor drove them to England ; but so many people had entered into a similar speculation, that the market was completely overstocked, and the cattle sold for much less than prime cost. Macgregor returned home, and went to the Duke to settle the account of their partnership, and to pay the money advanced with the deduction of the loss. The Duke, who had taken Macgregor's bond for the money, it is said, would consent to no deduction, but insisted on principal and interest. " In that case, my Lord, " said Macgregor, " if these be your principles, I shall not make it my principle to pay the interest, nor my interest to pay the principal; so if your Grace do not stand your share of the loss, you shall have no money from me." On this they separated. No settlement of accounts followed, the one insisting on retaining the money unless the other would consent to bear his share of the loss. Nothing decisive was done till the Rebellion of 1715, when Rob Roy "was out," his nephew Glengyle commanding a numerous body of the Macgregors, but under the control of his uncle's superior judgment and experience. On this occasion the Duke of Montrose's share of the cattle speculation was expended. The next year his Grace took legal means to recover his money, and got possession of the lands of Craigrostane on account of his bond. This rendered Macgregor desperate. Determined that his Grace should not enjoy his lands with impunity, he collected a band of about twenty followers, declared open war against him, and gave up his old course of regular droving declaring that the estate of Montrose should, in future, supply him with cattle, and that he would make the Duke rue the day in which he had quarrelled with him. He kept his word; and for nearly thirty years, that is, till the day of his death, levied regular contributions on the Duke and his tenants, not by nightly depredations and robberies, but in broad day, and in a systematic manner; at an appointed time making a complete sweep of all the cattle of a district; always passing over those not belonging to the Duke's estate, as well as the estates of his friends and adherents : And having previously given notice where he was to be by a certain day with his cattle, he was met there by people from all parts of the country, to whom he sold them publicly. These meetings, or trystes, as they were called, were held in different parts of the country; sometimes the cattle were driven south, but oftener to the north and west, where the influence of his friend the Duke of Argyll protected him.

When the cattle were in this manner driven away, the tenants paid no rent, so that the Duke was the ultimate sufferer. But he was made to suffer in every way. The rents of the lower or cultivated farms were partly paid in grain and meal, which was generally lodged in a store-house or granary called a girnal, near the Loch of Mon-teith. When Macgregor required a supply of meal, he sent notice to a certain number of the Duke's tenants to meet him at the girnal, on a certain day, with their horses to carry home his meal. They met accordingly, when he ordered the horses to be loaded, and, giving a regular receipt to his Grace's storekeeper for the quantity taken, he marched away, always entertaining the people very handsomely, and careful never to take the meal till it had been lodged in the Duke's store-house, in payment of rent. When the money rents were paid, Macgregor frequently attended. On one occasion, when Mr Graham of Killearn (the factor) had collected the tenants to receive their rents, all Rob Roy's men happened to be absent except Alexander Stewart, "the Bailie," whom I have already mentioned. With this single attendant, he descended to Chapellairoch, where the factor and the tenants were assembled. He reached the house after it was dark, and, looking in at a window, saw Killearn, surrounded by a number of the tenants, with a bag full of money, which he had received, and was in the act of depositing in a press or cupboard ; at the same time saying, that he would cheerfully give all in the bag for Rob Roy's head. This notification was not lost on the outside visitor, who instantly gave orders in a loud voice to place two men at each window, two at each corner, and four at each of two doors, thus appearing to have twenty men. Immediately the door opened, and he walked in with his attendant close behind, each armed with a sword in his right and a pistol in his left hand, and with dirks and pistols slung in their belts. The company started up, but he requested them to sit down, as his business was only with Killearn, whom he ordered to hand down the bag and put it on the table. When this was done, he desired the money to be counted and proper receipts to be drawn out, certifying that he had received the money from the Duke of Montrose's agent, as the Duke's property, the tenants having paid their rents, so that no after demand could be made against them, on account of this transaction; and finding that some of the people had not obtained receipts, he desired the factor to grant them immediately, "to show his Grace," said he, "that it is from him I take the money, and not from these honest men who have paid him." After the whole was concluded, he ordered supper, saying, that as he had got the purse, it was proper he should pay the bill; and after they had drank heartily together for several hours, he called his bailie to produce his dirk and lay it naked on the table. Killearn was then sworn, that he would not move from that spot for an hour after the departure of Macgregor, who thus cautioned him: "If you break your oath, you know what you are to expect in the next world, and in this," pointing to his dirk. He then walked away, and was beyond pursuit before the hour expired.

At another collection of rents by the same gentleman, Macgregor made his appearance, and carried him away with his servants, to a small island in Loch Catrine; and having kept him there for several days, entertaining him in the best manner, as a Duke's representative ought to be, he dismissed him, with the usual receipts and compliments to his Grace. In this manner did this extraordinary man live, in open violation and defiance of the laws, and died peaceably in his bed when nearly eighty years of age. His funeral was attended by all the country round, high and low, the Duke of Montrose and his immediate friends only excepted. How such things could happen at so late a period must appear incredible; and this, too, within thirty miles of the garrisons of Stirling and Dumbarton, and the populous city of Glasgow; and, indeed, with a small garrison stationed at Inversnaid, in the heart of the country, and on the estate which had belonged to Macgregor, for the express purpose of checking his depredations. The truth is, the thing could not have happened, had it not been for the peculiarity of the man's character; for, with all his lawless spoliations and unremitting acts of vengeance and robbery against the Montrose family, he had not an enemy in the country, beyond the sphere of their influence. He never hurt or meddled with the property of a poor man, and, as I have stated, was always careful that his great enemy should be the principal, if not the only sufferer. Had it been otherwise, it was quite impossible that, notwithstanding all his enterprise, address, intrepidity, and vigilance, he could have long escaped in a populous country, with a warlike people well qualified to execute any daring exploit, such as the seizure of this man, had they been his enemies, and willing to undertake it. Instead of which, he lived socially among them, that is, as socially as an outlaw, always under a certain degree of alarm, could do,—giving the education of gentlemen to his sons, [One of his sons, who died not many years ago, was very young at his father's death, and did not receive so good an education as his brothers. Another son, James Drummond Macgregor, was implicated with his brother Robert in carrying off by force a rich widow, whom he afterwards married. For this crime they were tried and condemned, Robert was executed in 1753. His execution is thus noticed in the Caledonian Mercury of 7th February 1753; "Yesterday Robert Macgregor Campbell, alias Rob Roy Ogg, was executed in the Grass Market, for the forcibly carrying away of the deceased Mrs Jean Keay, heiress of Edenbelly; he was genteely dressed, and read on a volume of Gother'sWorks from the prison to the place of execution." James escaped from prison, and fled to France, where he lived in great poverty; but, being a man of considerable talent and address, he was offered a sum of money for communicating intelligence—in short, to be employed as a spy for the French Government. An idea of his education, and of his principles, may be formed from some letters published in Blackwood's Magazine in 1818, and from his rejection of an employment which he considered dishonourable in itself, and detrimental to the good of his country, although banished from it, and having little prospect of being ever permitted to return. He died in France in great poverty, being chiefly supported by some benevolent countrymen.] frequenting the most populous towns, and whether in Edinburgh, Perth, or Glasgow, equally safe; at the same time that he displayed great and masterly address in avoiding, or calling for public notice.

These instances of his address struck terror into the minds of the troops, whom he often defeated and out-generalled. One of these instances occurred in Breadalbane, in the case of an officer and forty chosen men sent out after him. The party crossed through Glen-falloch to Tynedrum, and Macgregor, who had correct information of all their movements, was with a party in the immediate neighbourhood. He put himself in the disguise of a beggar, with a bag of meal hung on his back, (in those days, alms were always bestowed in produce), went to the inn at Tynedrum where the party was quartered, walked into the kitchen with great seeming indifference, and sat down among the soldiers. They soon found the beggar a lively, sarcastic fellow, and began to attempt some practical jokes upon him. He pretended to be very angry, and threatened to inform Rob Roy, who would quickly show them they were not to give, with impunity, such usage to a poor and harmless person. He was immediately asked what he knew of Rob Roy, and if he could tell where he was. On his answering that he knew him well, and where he was, the sergeant informed the officer, who immediately sent for him.

After some conversation, the beggar consented to accompany them to Crianlarich, a few miles distant, where he said Rob Roy and his men were, and that he believed their arms were lodged in one house, while they were sitting in another. He added, that Rob Roy was friendly and sometimes joked with him, and put him at the head of his table; and, "when it is dark,'' said he, "I will go forward, you will follow in half an hour, and, when near the house, rush on, place your men at the back of the house, ready to seize on the arms of the Highlanders, while you shall go round to the front with the sergeant and two men, walk in, and call out that the whole are your prisoners ; and don't be surprised although you see me at the head of the company." As they marched on, they had to pass a rapid stream at Dalrie, a spot celebrated on account of the defeat of Robert Bruce, by Macdougal of Lorn, in the year 1306. Here the soldiers asked their merry friend the beggar to carry them through on his back. This he did, sometimes taking two at a time till he took the whole over, demanding a penny from each for his trouble. When it was dark they pushed on, (the beggar having gone before), the officer following the directions of his guide, and darting into the house with the sergeant and three soldiers. They had hardly time to look to the end of the table where they saw the beggar standing, when the door was shut behind them, and they were instantly pinioned, two men standing on each side, holding pistols to their ears, and declaring that they were dead men if they uttered a word. The beggar then went out and called in two more men, who were instantly secured, and in the same manner with the whole party. Having been disarmed, they were placed under a strong guard till morning, when he gave them a plentiful breakfast, and released them on parole, (the Bailie attending with his dirk, over which the officer gave his parole), to return immediately to their garrison, without attempting any thing more at this time, This promise Rob Roy made secure, by keeping their arms and ammunition as lawful prize of war.

Some time after this, the same officer was again sent in pursuit of this noted character, probably to retrieve his former mishap. In this expedition he was more fortunate, for he took two of the freebooters prisoners in the higher parts of Breadalbane, near the scene of the former exploit, but the conclusion was nearly similar. He lost no time in proceeding in the direction of Perth, for the purpose of putting his prisoners in jail; but Rob Roy was equally alert in pursuit. His men marched in a parallel line with the soldiers, who kept along the bottom of the valley on the south side of Loch Tay, while the others kept close up the side of the hill, anxiously looking for an opportunity to dash down and rescue their comrades, if they saw any remissness or want of attention on the part of the soldiers. Nothing of this kind offered, and the party had passed Tay Bridge, near which they halted and slept. Macgregor now saw that something must soon be done or never, as they would speedily gain the Low country and be out of his reach. In the course of the night he procured a number of goat-skins and cords, with which he dressed himself and his party in the wildest manner possible, and, pushing forward before daylight, took post near the road side, in a thick wood below Grandtully Castle. When the soldiers came in a line with the party in ambush, the Highlanders, with one leap, darted down upon them, uttering such yells and shouts, as, along with their frightful appearance, so confounded the soldiers, that they were overpowered and disarmed without a man being hurt on either side. Rob Roy kept the arms and ammunition, released the soldiers, and marched away in triumph with his rescued men.

The terror of his name was much increased by exploits like these which, perhaps, lost nothing by the telling, as the soldiers would not probably be inclined to diminish the danger and fatigues of a duty in which they were so often defeated. But it is unnecessary to repeat the stories preserved and related of this man and his actions, which were always daring and well contrived, often successful, but never directed against the poor, nor prompted by revenge, except against the Duke of Montrose, and without an instance of bloodshed committed by any of his party, except in their own defence. [It is said that the last rencounter Macgregor had was a duel with Mr Stewart of Ardshiel. They fought with the broad sword. Magregor being then far advanced in years, and very corpulent, gave up the contest, after receiving a cut in the chin.] In his war against the Montrose family he was supported and abetted by the Duke of Argyll, from whom he always received shelter when hard pressed, or, to use a hunting term, when he was in danger of being earthed by the troops. [A cave under Craigrostane, and close to Lochlomond, is pointed out as one of his hiding places. If, contrary to the general opinion of the people, he ever lived in caves, it is probable that he would not make choice of such an one as that at Craigrostane, whence an escape would be impossible if an enemy discovered the hiding place, and guarded the entrance. Rob Roy was not a man likely to trust himself in such a place on any emergency, or danger from an enemy.] These two powerful families were still rivals, although Montrose had left the Tories and joined Argyll and the Whig interest. It is said that Montrose reproached Argyll in the House of Peers with protecting the robber Rob Roy, when the latter, with his usual eloquence and address, parried off the accusation, (which he could not deny), by jocularly answering, that, if he protected a robber, the other supported and fed him.

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