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How the MacLeod's lost Assynt
From the Transactions of the Gaelic Society

The wild district of Assynt, in the west of Sutherlandshire, was possessed by a branch of the great family of Macleod from the beginning of the fourteenth century, when Torquil Macleod of the Lews acquired it by marrying the heiress of Macnicol of Assynt, till the latter half of the seventeenth century, when Neil Macleod was deprived of it by the Mackenzies of Seaforth. The commonly received story of the loss of the estate is that Neil, who, in 1649, seized the Marquis of Montrose after his defeat in Ross-shire, and sold him to the Covenanters for £20,000 Scots and 400 bolls of sour meal, was, after the Restoration, so persecuted by the Government and the Mackenzies that in some way or other he lost the estate, and the Mackenzies succeeded to it. The precise manner in which he was deprived of it has, however, not been condescended on by the writers on the subject, and the following “ Information” may therefore be of interest to the members of this Society, and of use to the future Highland historian. The document was written in 1738 for the use of the Laird of Macleod, who interested himself in the dispossessed family. It came into the possession of the famous Simon Lord Lovat, with whose papers it passed into the hands of the Rev. Donald Fraser of Killeaman. It now belongs to Mr Fraser’s great grandson, the Rev. Hector Fraser of Halkirk, who has kindly placed it at my disposal.


It is tho’t fit to make a short naratione of the hardships which Neil of Assint and his family suffered from the family of Seaforth and the Friends yreof which ended in the possessing at length of the sd Assints Estates, together wt a brief accott of the original ground and Claime upon qch yey at first pretended to found yeir right, and cruel procedure, and of ye steps taken by Niel of Assint for recovering of his right and that for the informaton of the Lawyer to be employed by the Laird of McLeod whatever use yey may have opportunity to make yereof in Pleading or otherwise.

Its hopd that as yere is a younger son [Macleod of Cadboll descended from Hugh, son of Donald Macleod of Assynt, by Christian Ross, his second wife.] of the family by a Second marriage that pretends some right to the Estate of Assint, it will not be improper to give some accott how the late Niel, who was the direct heir male of ye Family, attained the possession of the Estate, and is as follows:—Donald McLeod, alias Nielson of Assint, and grand fayr [father] to the Late Niel, was first married to a Daugr of Lord Reays, by whom he had Niel, who was Fayr to the late Niel of Assint, and John, who was Fayr to Captain Donald McLeod of Geanzies. Niel, son to Donald, died young, a long time before his Fayr,[Mackenzie (History of Macleod8, page 410) says that Neil was tenth of Assynt, and “does not seem to have long outlived his father.” It appears from this Information that he predeceased his father.] leaving his two sons Niel and John infants to yeir grandfayrs care, but yr Grandmother dying before Niel his son married, Donald married —. Ross, Daugr to Pitcalney, by whom he had two sons, the eldest called Donald commonly called Donald Baine Oig, and Second Hugh, yrafter of Cambuscurry, whose Second Son Angus was Fayr to this Cadboll, there being no direct Issue now liveing of his Son Roderick, but one Daugr now married To John Urquhart of Mount Eagle. Donald’s second wife haveing got the management of her husband (he being old) and of his Estates She wt the Rents yrof purchased Pluscardies apprising and Severall other debts on the Estate, and bought the Lands of Cambuscurry from her Broyr Pitcalny, and took Assignation to all those debts in the Person of her eldest son Donald qo by virtue yreof possessed the Estate severall years, tho his fayr was alive, but he dying unmaeried before his Fayr was succeeded by his Broyr Hugh who possessed the Estate for two years till his nephew Niel the Late Assin was Major, at which time Hugh disponed him the Estate, who thereon was infeffc, as appears by an instrument yreon dated the 12th Septr 1649, and registrate the 8th Jany 1650, Fol. 65 and 66, Yols. 1st, John Gray, Notar.

Tho it is probable by qt follows that Hugh, upon disponing the Estate to Niel, did not give up all the Rights and Tittles His Broyr and he had to the sd Estate, its likely yt some of ym have come into hands that now have tho’t of Quarrelling Niel’s Tittle by saying that Hugh did not serve heir or make up proper tittles To his Broyr Donald, tho he disponed Neil the Estates; but as Niel was in possession of the Estate from the year 1650 to 1672, when he was violently dispossessed by Seaforth, and was also from ye year 1672 to 1692 (when he obtained the decret of Spoulizie) endeavouring to recover his right, and the Mackenzies have possessed it upon Niel’s Right from that time till now, and this being about 90 years, it is expected that these rights, tho better founded than they seem to be, will not now avail much. It is also to be noticed that on the reduction and Improbation which Niel executed agst all his creditors Hugh his uncle is contained in it, and his son Angush the late of Cadboll.

It appears also that Niel pursued his uncle Hugh in a process of exhibition, in qch there was an Act and Commission ordaining Hugh to depone before the Sheriff depute of Sutherland on the writts he had belonging to Niel, and tho Hugh compeared Niel was not willing that his oath should be received till first he had delivered and given him the whole writts and Evidences of the Estate of Assint, which the sd Hugh had in his possession, and which he was obliged to give him conform to the bond of

Alienation and Disposition made and granted by the said Hugh to him of the sd Estate, and upon upgiwing of them he was willing to take his Oath as to all other writs and evidents which he had, as appeals by ye prinll [principal] Instrument extant dated at Dunrobin the 12 of Septr 1683.

It is to be adverted that the following narrative is taken from som old papers write for Niel McLeod of Assint, chiefly these which follow, viz.:—

1st. Informa’on (Anno 1673) Niel McLeod of Assint, contra the Earle of Seaforth and the name of McKenzie, showing yir inhuman dealings with him and his family.

2nd. Anoyr information (Anno 1683) ye Tittle whereof is in words to the same proport wt the former.

3rd. Information for the Laird of Assint agst ye Earle of Seaforth, and his Brother, Mr John McKenzie, and oyrs (Anno 1684), Beside oyr Papers yt may be hereafter mentiond.

From at is represented in yese informations, it would [appear] that from the time yt Seaforth made a right (such as it was) to the Isle of Lews for paymt of 10,000 mks, and afterwards, in Lieu of that, for a mile of the wood of Letterew, that he and his family had it still in view to make ymselves masters of the Estate of McLeod of Assint qo was Lineal heir to the Estate of Lews.

In consequence of this view and design, Seaforth purchased Sevrall old Claims (some of ym very unjust, as they are particlary represented in Niel’s information, Anno 1673) agst Assint, qch were put in person of Pluscardy, Seaforth’s Brother. In 1637 Seaforth and Pluscardy, by virtue of these claims and ye Tittles founded thereon, gave a Wadsett of ye Lands of Assint To Kenneth McKenzie of Scatwell, for Security erf 40,000 mks, Anno 1640. The Legal of those Claims and Apprisings being expired, Seaforth did, with his friends and Clan, to the number of 1000 men, Invade Assint, and did yere committ great outrages. He being for this pursued at Law, was decerned in 40,000 pds Scots of Dammages This payd a great part of his claim, and qt remained was payed, or oyrwise transacted, as appears by what follows :—

The Ld [Lord] Register Tarbat, being Long after yt called as a Witness in the Process of Spoulize of Assint’s Charter Chiest, depones in the following tearmes, viz. :—That he, the depon’t, haveing right by Assignation from John McKenzie of Scatwell to an infeftm’nt of annual rent of ye sum of 40,000 mks, granted by George, Earle of Seaforth, and Thomas McKenzie of Pluscardine, To Kenneth McKenzie, Fayr to the Sd John, in the Lands and Estate of Assint, in ye year 1637, or in ye year 1638, or yere

About, and the Depon’t being informed yt ye Sd George, E. of Seaforth, and Thomas McKenzie of Pluscardy. had made a right to Donald McNiel of Assint, grandfayr to Niel, the pursuer of the sd Estate, qerein they had obligd themselves to free the Said Estate of the said infeftment, he was desirous to know if there was any such a Right, and qt was, the tenor of it which the Sd E. of Seaforth did bring to the Deponent to peruse the same, and that yey were taken out of Assint’s Charter Chiest, and that the deponent did peruse them, and did find them of the Sd Tenor. There is also amongst this E. of Cromarty’s Papers a Coppy of an Alienation and Disposition of the right of apprising, by Thomas McKenzie of Pluscardin, in favours of Donald McLeod, younger of Assint, dated Anno 1642 and 1643, with anoyr coppy of the same.

There is also in the Sd place ye Prinall. obligation by Thos. McKenzie of Pluscardy and his Catr. [cautioner] to Dod. McLeod of Assint for obtaining the E. of Seafortbs Charater of Confirmation to him, dated ye 5th of Aprile 1643 years, Togother wt an Inventory of Writes Belonging to Assint Dated Ao. 1662, all folded in one bundle marked on the back number 21.

Notwtstanding of qt is above represented and that it seems Assint did fully Satisfy and pay Seaforth and Pluscardy To whom the sd Claims did belong; yet the sd. Claim has been all alongs made use of agst the Estate of Assint since yt time. For Seaforth and Pluscardy haveing antecedently to ye Obligaton forsd To Assint conveyed their Right to Scatwell as Is mentiond in the above Disposion, John the Sd Scat-welFs eldest son conveyed the same To Tarbat, Tarbat conveyed the same to Angush Macleod of Cadboll, and Cadboll having Septr 2d, 1690, got a Wadset from Mr John McKenzie of Assint, which •extinguished 10,000 mrks of the sd claim of 40,000 mrks, did wt Consent of Ld Tarbat dispon to the Sd Mr John McKenzie ye Wadsett entred into between Seaforth and Scatwell, in so far as Concerns the remaining 30,000 merks. This Disposition is sd To be Dated Septr 11th 1696, and no doubt but it is among the prinill [principal] Register McKenz of Assint has to produce to the Estate.

It is Supposed and believed that Cadboll gave Tarbat for the above Claime no more than 10,000, and got no more good Deed for the whole 40,000 than the 10,000 above mentioned.

Besides qt bade usage the people of Assint met wt from Seaforth Ao. 1670 as is above narrated yey did further undergo ye outmost hardships Ao. 1646 as follows :—

In that year Seaforths men haveing joined Montrose at Inverness, where were likewise a 100 men of Assints under his Superior

Seaforths command, and Niel of Assint himself, then a minor, being a friend in Seaforth’s House at Braen, Seaforth ordred hitmen in the Highlands to fall upon Assints Estate, where yey made fearfhl Havock, carried away, as Niel represents, 3000 cows, 2000 horses, 7000 sheep and goats, and burnt the habitations of 180 Familys. When complaint was made of this at the South, Seaforth was brought of by the interest of Middletown and by virtue of a Capitulation which he had with Seaforth qn in the North.

In the year 1654 Seaforth led about a body of his own men wt a part of the broken army under the command of Middletown to-Assint and made great depredations, destroyed a very great Quantity of Wine and Brandy which the Laird of Assint had bought, besides other commodities, in all to the value of 50,000 mrks out of a Ship then on that Coast, Carryed of 2400 Cows, 1500 Horses, about 6000 Sheep and Goats, besides that he burnt and destroyed many familys. Assint was not lyable in Law to any such usage from them haveing Receipts from Seaforth and Lord Reay for his proportion of the Levie apptd at that time for the Kings Service. When Middleton came to that country he declare I he had given no Warrant for what Seaforth had done, and that in presene^of the Lord McDonald and Sr George Munro, <fcc. When Assint pursued Seaforth before the English Judges of the time, Seaforth defeated his process by proveing that Assint had been in Armes agst the English, and did then alleadge no Cause for the Injuries done by him to Assint but a private quarrell. But when Assint did afterwards at the Restoraton pursue Seaforth, he alleadged in Defence that he had acted by a warrant from Middletown who was then Commissioner to the Parliament. But Niel says if yere was any such warrant it was certainly given posterior to the Injuries done him. However things stood yn in such way that Niel was not Likely to procure any Justice.

It is to be observed that after the Restoration Niel of Assint under went great disadvantages on accott of Montrose, [See Hist, of Macleods, 411-419. Wishart’s Life of Montrose, 877.] who had been unluckly taken in his country, and for which Niel was accused and pursued criminally at Edr., but he haveing proved that he was when Montrose was taken at no less than 60 milles Distance from his country, and that he had no hand in it, he was by an Assize assoilzied as innocent of the Sd process.

And to make it further evident that he had no hand in That barbarous Cruel action, he was put under So great hardships by the Ld of Seaforth and his friends that he was obliged in the year-1674 to procure a Remission (whereof yre is a noteriall copy extent) for defending his house of Assint, and tho the Sd remission containing all the Crimes1 that could be imagined or mustered up agst him there is not the Least mention made of his being accessory to the tragicall action qch could not possibly be if He had not been formerly assoilzied, as that crime was much greater yan all the Rest contained in the remission ; however, the pred-juices that had been conceived upon that Accott were so strong agst him that his Enemies had great advantage thereby wt respect to all their methods by which yey did effectuate his Ruine.

But the Claime upon qch the McKenzies did principally found their pretended right to Assints Estate was this which follows :—

Neil of Assint wt. McKenzie of Scatwell did unluckly become Catr. [cautioner] in a Bond granted by Ross of Little Tarroll for about 150 pds. Sterline, upon which anno 1656 apprising was Laid agst the Estate of Assint at the instance of the Laird of May, in whose person the Claim was intrust for McKenzie of Scatwell, one of the Cationers to whom the same was afterwards assigned by May* Scatwell assigned it to Sr. George McKenzie of Tarbat and Mr John McKenzie, Second Son to the Earle of Seaforth. Niel Represents that qn. he apprehended danger from the Claim he fell upon proper methods towards purgeing his Estate of ye same, but that he was disuaded from it by the Lord Tarbat his Cousin German, who promised, he says, and swore solemnly before many witnesses, that the Catry. and apprising should not militate agst him and his estate, and that his paying of the debt would irritate Seaforth agst him, as qt would disapoint another design of his.

There is also a Copy of an Instrumt., John McCurchy, Notar dated 21 Septr. 1667, desiring and Requiring Kenneth E. of Seaforth to receive the sd. sum contained in Little Tarroll’a Bond Prinlls. and rents [annual rents or interest], as also all the by gon feu duties that were resting, and that in the new Kirk of Edr., within 40 days after the date of the sd. Instrument, and its thot. that the prinll. Instrument as weell as the Instrument of Consigna’on wis among Assint’s papers when Spoulizied. Howevir some years yereafter, viz. in the year 1668 or 1699 or 1670, the Legal of the apprising being expired, Decreet of Mailes and Duties was obtained upon the claim agst. the Estate of Assint and ejection agst. himself. Upon pursueing this ejection in 1671, severall illegall steps were alleadged agst. Assint, particularly holding out the Castle of Ard< break agst. the King and his oyrwise violently opposing the

Ejection, whereupon Niel of Assint (who it seems had been negligent in defending himself agst. the forsd accusations) was denounced Rebell, and Commission of fire and sword was obtained in Jully 1672 agst. him and his people, directed to Ld. Strathnair [Strathnaver] and Lovat, Fowles, &c.

The Body of men ordred to execute that Commission to the number as Niel represents of 2300 invaded Assint the forsd year 1672, and committed most horrid Barbarities (particulary narrated in Niel’8 Informations), till all ye country of Assint was destroyed.

Niel haveing under the benefit of a protection gon to commune with Seaforth, he gave Niel a Certificate of his having obeyed the King’s Laws, and 15 days to advise about a proposition he had made him of his disponing his estate to him. But Niel thinking it not safe or fit.for him to return, resolved to go South to Edr. and to carry his Charter Chest wt. him. Seaforth being apprehensive, it seems, of the consequence of Assint’s goeing to Edr. immediately entered into Correspondence and concert about the matter with the Laird of May in Caithness. The consequence was: Assint being driven by unfavourable wind to the Orkneys, the Laird of May wt. a body of men seized him there, to be sure under the notion of an outlaw, and by Commission from Seaforth stripd him to his shirt, robbd him of everything, particularly of his Charter Chest and of all the Writtes and Evidents belonging to his family and Estate, carried them to the Castle of May qre he was keept prisoner in a Vault. From thence he was ^carried prisoner under a strong guard to Taine, and at last to Braen, Seaforth’s House. In Braen (to which place the Charter Chest was brought, as was afterwards proved in the Process of Spoulizie) Niel was many months detained prisoner in a Vault in most miserable circumstances, still threatened wt. worse usage if he would not agree to subscribe a blank paper, probably designed for a Disposition to his Estate, which was, it seems, the great thing designed to be procured from him by all this bad usage. At last Niel was brought South to Edr., where he arrived after being in 13 or 16 Prisons, and in end he obtained the Remission formerly mentioned.

Its evident that now the McKenzies had as great advantage as they could wish for effectuating yeir design agst Assint and his family and Estate. Their own great interest and power in these times is well known. Tho Assint was not at length found to have any hand in Takeing of Montrose, yet was he for many years harrassd and imprisond on that accott, and was under Cloud for it, it haveing happened in his country and perhaps some of his friends being concerned in it. He was in prison when the ejection was procured agst him. The steps taken in Law agst him, he was by reason of his great distance ignorant of it till it was too late, when he endeavoured to Correspond wt. proper Agents and Lawyers at Edr. for his own defence. He says his expresses or Posts were oftner than once seized and Imprisoned at Chanory. When he was in the South, the contributions of his friends for his support were intercepted; his friends were put to great hardships at home by their new master for showing any inclina’on to succour him in his distress. By all these means the uufortunate gentleman was reduced to great poverty and misery, and was disabled from procureing ye Interest or affording the Expense needful in order to obtain Justice agst such potent adversaries.

Though the claims to which ye McKenzies pretended when they first possessed his Estate were either formerly payd or now extinguished by their intromission, yet it was easy for them, being now possessd of his Estate, to get in old injust patched claims from such who had them, and, being possessd of his Charter Chest and of the retired Vouchers of Debts therein contained, by all these means to make additional Tittles to the Estate of Assint, while he, poor gentleman! besides his other misfortunes, was deprived of his writes and of all the Evidences needful to be produced in his defence agst. the claims of his adversaries.

As the McKenzies after possessing the Estate had all the ad ventages above mentioned wt respect to new Claims and additionall Tittles; it is not pretended to be now told what additional tittles they made. What yey founded yr first possession upon hath been already represented. If oyr grounds of Rights should be afterwards brought furth for McKenzie of Assint it is supposed that these concerned will be Seasonably acquainted therewith in order to give such informations as they can collect from such writtings as may be in their hands.

However, under all his disadvantages Neil endeavoured to do something towards obtaining Justice to himself and his family, and to that end he did Ao. 1679 and 1680 commence a process of reduction, <fcc., agst Seaforth and all oys [others] whom he knew to have or to pretend to have claims agst his Estate

In this process there are two Acts extracted (which are extent as are the Summts and their executions), and the Last of the Two tearms granted to the defenders having elapsed the 1st of November 1681 ; After intimation yreof and Calling of the Act there was Certification Creaved Nothing having been produced. To prevent ys two things were objected agst Niel, that he had no tittle In his person to the Lands of Assint, 2 That he was at the Horn, and so had no personam Standi in Judices. There is extant an information for Niel Ao. 1682, which contains very pertinent answers to yese objections qch may be Shewen if thre shall be occasion. But the Writes and Evidences that were needfull for Niel in the above and othr processes being taken from him qn he was Robbd of his Charter Chest, and being in the hands of his chief adversaries he was advised stop in his process of Reduction, and to commence a Process of Spoulizie agst Seaforth, May, and oyrs concerned in the Spoulizie and detention of his Chartar Chest and Writtes. Accordingly he raised a Process of Spoulizie agst Seaforth, May, Dumbeth, and some others. By the depositions taken in that process it appeared that the Chartar Chest was brought to Seaforth’s house. But Seaforth haveing dyed while the Process was in dependence there appears in the Process an Oath of his Successor, who Swears that he not then nor formerly had the Chartar Chest nor knew what was become of it; And as he was not charged with having a hand in the Spoulizie he was freed yreof and of the consequences of it by the Lords. Neil haveing given in an Inventar of ye writtes contained in his chest, his oath in litem was taken thereanent, And he referred his expense and Dammage to the judgement of the Lords. They did Ao. 1692 decern the Soum of 2000 Libs Scots of Expences and Dammages to be payed To him by the defenders, Supersiding the further modification of the dammages till the Sd Neil should give a more par’lar condescendance yereanent. But it is needless to insist more fully on this part of the information, Seeing a more full and exact view may be easily got by perusing the Decreet of Spoulizie now in the hands of-.

It is only to be narrated on this head that Neil of his own assigned the Decreet of Spoulizie above narrated to his nephew and Lineal Heir, Captain Donald Macleod of Gainzies, who has done dilligence thereon. The same remains as the. ground of a present depending Process Ao. l'i 3(5, for what yreof is unpayd.

The unfortunate gentleman Niel M‘Leod, Laird of Assint, being unabled by unparalelled bad usage, trouble, and poverty, and at length by old age, it does not appear that he went any further towards obtaining of Justice than what is above narrated in Relaton to the Process’s of Reduction and Spoulizie.

Tho Niel of Assint, under all these disadvantages, and especially by reason of the want of his writts, was able to Doe so little for himself and his family, his adversaries were not wanting to use their Endeavours to make ye best Tittles they could in Law {however its founded as to materiall Justice) and for this end harrassed him wt Processes of Reduotion, &c. The chief thing that was done this way was by Roderick M‘Kenzie of Preston Hall,1 who at length conveyed his claim and Tittles to Mr John M‘Kenzie of Assint,2 on condition of paying to him the soum of 10,000 merks, which is the foundation of the Claim presently insisted in by Alexr. M‘Kenzie of Frazerdale3 and Hugh Fraser of Lovat, Esqr., his son, agst the Estate of Assint, in relation to which Claim there will be a short information soon sent of objections and what else may occurr.

During the dependence of Niel’s Process of reduction above-mentioned, seeing he forsaw that he could not himself so easily be able to bring the same to the desired issue So soon as would be necessary for him; yet that his family and Estate might not altogether be lost to his Kindred and next Heir, he did make an agreemt. thereanent with his best and most considerable relation, John, Laird of M‘Leod, and did, for certain onerous causes, make a disposition of his whole Estate of Assint to him, dated at Ednr., Novr. 24th, 1681 years, which Disposition is now the foundation of a Process commenc’d by the present Laird of M‘Leod, his grandson, Ao. 1738.

From what is above briefly narrated, it may be easily perceived by what harsh and unjust and Crewl methods the M‘Leods were deprived and dispossessed of the Estate of Assint, their ancient inheritance. If more par’lar accotts are wanted the nearest relations of yt family, will be ready to give what further information they can from such old papers as are in their hands.