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Clan MacThomas

The name Thomson derives from the Gaelic Mac Thomais, other variants include MacCombie, MacCombe and MacComie. It is also often anglicised as MacTavish which is a common name in Argyll where the Clan Tavish was a minor sept of the Campbells descending from an illigitimate son of the Lord of Lochow. The main group of this name belonged to the Clan Chattan Confederation and their name was usually anglicised to MacThomas. This branch descend from Tomaidh Mor or Great Thomas, a descend ant of the Clan Chattan MacKintoshes who lived in the 15th century and who led his followers out of Badenoch to the other side of the Grampians to Glenshee. A charter in 1571 confirmed John McComy-Muir the lands of Finegand Glenshee, where the 4th chief Robert McComie was murdered. The MacThomases were named as one of the "broken" clans in the late 16th century, but their Gathering ground is still marked today near Glenshee. During the Civil wars the MacThomas chief apparently acted as a government agent, however Iain Mor, 7th chief joined Montrose at Dundee in 1644. The MacThomases were often involved in feuds amongst their neighbours, especially the Farquharsons. There was another branch called Thomason whose ancestor was the son of a MacFarlane chief called Thomas, who were septs of the MacFarlanes. In 1964 Sir Roy Thomson, proprietor of the newspapers throughout the world was created 1st Lord Thomson of Fleet, but the chief of Clan MacThomas is now Andrew MacThomas of Finegand.

Thanks to Robert Thomas for providing the information below on our Clans WebBoard

In considering the succession to the chiefship after the breakup of the clan, about the end of the seventeenth century, it will be convenient to recall for a moment the sons of Ian Mor. These in chronological order of their birth, were John, Alexander, James, Robert, Thomas, and Angus, all of whom are amply documented in the records of the period. Additionally, there was a child named Donald who is never mentioned as a son of Ian Mor in any contemporary document, but who is nevertheless held by tradition to have been his youngest son.

Of the six elder sons, John and Robert, respectively the eldest and fourth born, were killed in the skirmish at Drumgley in 1673, leaving no issue. Alexander, the second son, who married an Ogilvie and had a son, named Alexander, who traditionally, drowned in the Tay near Errol, while yet unmarried in 1697. Furthermore, the senior Alexander had a daughter, Elizabeth, who married Duncan Mackintosh, brother of Brigadier William Mackintosh of Borlum of fifteen (1715) fame. This Alexander died in October 1687, having been passed over in the succession to the Chiefship by his younger brothers: James (the third son), who succeeded as 8th Chief of the Clan in 1674. Likewise, Thomas (the fifth son), in turn succeeded as 9th Chief in 1676. Neither of them apparently leaving male issue. Therefore, upon the death of the latter the Chiefship of the Clan, which as stated earlier, was not at the time considered worth the trouble of claiming once the family lands had been lost and the clan scattered, lay in the family of Angus, the sixth son of Ian Mor, of whom we shall now treat.

As the actual dates of their respective deaths are not known, we cannot say with any certainty whether Angus outlived his immediate elder brother, Thomas, so becoming dejure chief of the clan, but there is some tradition that he did so, and he is accordingly reckoned 10th chief. He must have been born about 1647, and had been educated at St. Andrews University, in the county of Fife, from which circumstance he is frequently found referred to as Mr. Angus. Although apparently not actually present at the skirmish at Drumgley, he had taken an active part in the feud with Broughdearg, when he would have been in his early twenties. He is found several times from 1668 onward as witness to bonds and deeds by his brothers, and seems to have been last recorded as a consenter to the alienation of the Forter lands by Thomas in 1681. Family tradition has it that he afterwards settled at Collairnie, in the Parish of Dunbog, in the north of Fife, anglicizing his Gaelic surname of McComie (i.e. MacThomaidh) as MacThomas or Thomas, and marrying a younger daughter of the already deceased laird of Denmylin, Sir James Balfour, sometime Lord Lyon King of Arms to King Charles I, having by her had two sons, Robert and John. The former, who was born in 1683, and is said to have married an Antonia McColm from Kirkmichael, and is in due course, found recorded in the Dunbog parish register at the baptisms of his many children. From these entries may be seen the extreme fluidity of the family surname at this time, and the difficulty experienced in making a final choice. At the four baptisms occurring between November 1720 and May 1726 Robert appears as Robert Thom. In March 1728 he appears as Robert Thomas, in February 1730 as Robert Tam in Cullarnie Ground and finally, from May 1732 to June 1734, as Robert Thomas in Cullarnie. The surname Thomas was the one finally adopted, and was used by the family for upwards of eighty years.

This Robert, reckoned eleventh Chief, subsequently removed from Cullarnie and at his death on 29th April 1740, at the age of fifty-seven, is described on his tombstone in Monimail churchyard as tenant in Belhelvie. Belhelvie was a fine farm of considerable extent on the south bank of the Tay River. It lay in the parish of Flisk in Fife. Although he would have been of military age at the time of the fifteen, as would his elder sons have been during the forty-five, they do not appear to have become embroiled in the Jacobite rising, which added so richly to the history of so many other clans; doubtless remembering only too well the ruination of their family at the hands of the Stewart Restoration Parliament during the latter half of the previous century.

Robert was succeeded in 1740 by his eldest son, David Thomas, reckoned twelfth chief who, since he had been baptized on 29th July 1722, was still a minor at the time. He died on 12th January 1751, aged twenty-seven and apparently a bachelor, being succeeded by his younger brother Henry. This Henry Thomas, thirteenth dejure chief of the clan (baptized 17th, May 1724), continued to farm as tenant at Belhelvie, like his father before him. He married twice; his first wife being Margaret Miller, from Ceres, by whom he had four sons, William, Robert, David and Henry. Margaret died on 27th, November 1765, aged 37, and a little under two years later, on 14th, August 1767, Henry married Elizabeth Reid, by whom he had a further son, George, born in 1768, who was later to become a merchant in Dundee. Additionally, Henry and Elizabeth had a daughter, Christian. Henry died on 3rd January 1797, being succeeded at Belhelvie by his eldest son, William, fourteenth dejure chief, as appears from the notice of marriage of the latter and Helen Gardener, from the Muirhouse of Balhousie, Perth, two years later. It seems that William afterwards became a merchant in St. Andrews. He and his brothers all changed their surname from Thomas to Thoms, and it is William Thoms that he is recorded in the entry relating to his death at St. Andrews, on 15th, June 1843, apparently without issue. Lamentably all too little is known regarding the fate of the remaining issue of Henry Thomas's first marriage, but it has been assumed that by the time of William's death it had become extinct, and the dormant chiefship thus passed to the issue of the latter's half brother George.

William, 7th Chief of Clan Mackintosh and 8th Chief of Clan Chattan was the son and heir of Angus, 6th Chief of Mackintosh, by his wife Eva, the heretix of Clan Chattan. He succeeded his father in the chiefship of both clans in 1345, during the reign of King David II, when he would have been about 50 years old. He married twice, having children by both wives, as well as two concubines. We are told that it was after the death of his first wife that William, (being then very old) had two bastard sons, Adam and Sorald, by the second of these concubines, whose name has not been preserved.

Adam, the elder of the two, grew up to be a man of considerable size (in which he took after his father who, we are told, was of stature somewhat higher than the ordinary, of a lean body and of great strength). For this reason Adam was known as Adamh Mor (i.e. big Adam). He lived in Atholl for a time, but later moved north again and settled at Garvamore, in the Lagan district of Badenoch, a few miles west of Loch Crunachan, on the south bank of the Spey. His descendants, known as the Sloichd Adhamh Mhor Mhic uilleam (i.e. the tribe of big Adam, son of William), are reckoned 5th of the nine tribes of Mackintosh, but it would be a mistake to suppose that they were thought of from the outset as a separate tribe. The household of a single Highland gentleman could not by any stretch of the imagination be considered a clan, in the normally accepted sense of that term. Therefore, Adam and his near descendants; who it seems must have continued to dwell at Garvamore for some generations; were obviously regarded by themselves and everyone else simply as members of the main body of clan Mackintosh.

However, living as they did on the southern fringes of clan Chattan country it would be reasonable to suppose that they were not much troubled by the somewhat remote authority of the Mackintosh Chief. Consequently, they would have acquired a certain independence, which would have grown stronger as they gradually multiplied in numbers and gathered a following. About the latter half of the fifteenth century they emerged as a distinct clan under Thomas, the grandson or great grandson of Adamh Mor, and from him they took the name of MacThomas. Like so many others of his race, he too was a big man, and so was affectionately named Tomaidh Mor (i.e. big Tommy).

This new found autonomy of the MacThomases is perhaps best understood if it is seen as part of a general process of fragmentation, which appears to have been taking place in Clan Mackintosh at that time. Clan Chattan had by 1485 grown from a reasonably compact handful of clans into an unwieldy confederation of no less than fourteen separate tribes, each under its own chief. The larger the confederation grew the less effective became the authority of the Macintosh, as paramount chief, to bring to heel his own fractious Mackintosh cadets. During the chiefship of Duncan, 11th of Mackintosh and 12th of Clan Chattan, which lasted from 1464-96, several of them to become openly rebellious due to his mild disposition. It was during this period that Rothiemurchus was made over to Alisdair Ciar, founder of clan Shaw, whose following constituted the second tribe of Mackintosh (from which the Farquharsons, or third tribe of Macintosh, were to hive off during the following century). Additionally, Donald Mhic Angus removed to Atholl with his following, which are reckoned the fourth tribe of Mackintosh. Tomaidh Mor was almost certainly another contemporary of Duncan and, although we have no definite information as to when the MacThomases left Badenoch and settled in Glenshee, it would seem natural that this too should have occurred during the period of disintegration. The naming of the clan after Tomaidh Mor would certainly be consistent with it being he who led them across the mountains into that Perthshire glen, still more remote from Mackintosh's authority, thus asserting their independence as a separate clan, albeit acknowledging the over-chiefship of the Mackintosh.
Just as we cannot say with any certitude when the clan first settled in Glenshee, so we are somewhat uncertain as to the identity of the earlier chiefs. Tomaidh Mor is of course regarded as the founder and first chief of the clan, and his grandson Aye (i.e. Adam), who as Aye MacAne MacThomas was a party to the Clan Chattan band of 2nd May 1543, is considered third chief. Quite possibly the latter's predecessor was his father, Ane or Iain (i.e. John), but of this we cannot be sure. Roughly a generation later than Aye we find our first positive indication of a chief dwelling in Glenshee, and from then on there is a reasonably unbroken and well-documented line right down to the present time. In those days, of course, the language of the clan was the Gaelic, and the clan patronymic in that tongue was normally one or other of the diminutives MacThomaidh (son of Tommy) or, less commonly, MacThom (son of Tom). These are pronounced in English McHommy or McHom, so that we generally find the early chiefs variously referred to as McComie or McColme, or some such similar phonetic rendering.

The individual reckoned fourth chief, who may possibly have been the son or nephew of Aye, referred to above, was Robert McComie or McColme, as he is variously called. He is found as wadsetter, and later feur, of the lands of the Thom (situated just to the east of Shee Water, opposite the Spittal of Glenshee). Additionally, in 1595 he was one of several notables, who at Invercauld, gave an heritable band of manrent to Lachlan, 16th chief of Mackintosh and 17th of Clan Chattan, promising faithfully to serve and defend him as their natty chief. It was probably during Robert's chiefship that Clan MacThomas in Glenshee was mentioned in the act of Parliament of 1587, as one to the Clannis that hes Capitanes, Cheffis and Chiftanes quhom on they depends, and the MacThomases were again mentioned in the act of 1594.

Chief Robert McComie and his neighbours seem to have been turbulent characters. In 1594 together with Duncan McRitchie of Dalminzie, Robert was called upon to answer before the Privy Council for seizing the lands of the Spittal, which belonged to David Weymyss of that Ilk, and, failing to do so, was declared a rebel. Three years later he was involved in a potentially violent dispute with Duncan Robertson, in Duncavane, and the same year the privy council sentenced him to be incarcerated in Blackness castle together with several of his neighbours, for defying an order of the courts with regard to tythes. Whether or not these sentences were carried out seems doubtful.

Robert had married Barbara Rattray, presumed to have been a sister of Alexander Rattray of Dalrulzion. He eventually seems to have been killed by a band of Highland caterans, about 1600; two of his slayers: Donald na Slogg and Finlay-a-Baleia, were caught by John Robertson, 6th baron of Straloch (the MacThomases western neighbor), who hanged them from two birch trees in the woods of Ennochdhu. Afterwards Robert's widow married Alexander Farquharson, 1st of Allanquoich, whose younger brother John Farquharson, 1st of Tullycairn, married Robert's only daughter Elspeth. She was infeft in the Thom as heir to her father on 8th August 1616, and transferred the feu to her stepfather the same day, with her husband's consent. Although all this may have been perfectly fair and above board, it would not be difficult to see in this episode a sordid conspiracy, with the wretched girl's marriage as no more than a device to enable a grasping step-father to possess himself the MacThomas lands aided by the convenience of his brother and the infatuated widow of their former owner. This may well have been the first act of Farquharson aggrandizement at the expense of the MacThomases in Glenshee, whom they were eventually to supplant and bring ruin.

From Clach A' Choilich: The magazine of the Clan MacThomas Society.

Clan MacThomas: Days of Glory

Thomas, a Gaelic speaking Highlander, known as Tomaidh Mor (i.e. Great Tommy), from whom the clan takes its name, was a descendant of the Clan Chattan Mackintoshes, his grandfather having been a son of William, 8th Chief of Clan Chattan. Thomas lived in the 15th century, at a time when the Clan Chattan Confederation had become large and unmanageable. Therefore, he took his kinsmen and followers across the Grampians, from Badenech to Glenshee where they settled and flourished being known as McComie (phonetic form of the Gaelic MacThomaidh), McColm and McComas (from MacThom and MacThomas). To the government in Edinburgh, they were known as MacThomas and are so described in the Poll of the Clans in the Acts of the Scottish parliament of 1587 and 1595. MacThomas remains the official name of the clan to this day, notwithstanding the fact that few of its members have ever actually been named MacThomas.

The early chiefs of the Clan MacThomas were seated at the Thom, on the east bank of the Shee Water opposite the Spittle of Glenshee, the site is thought to be that of the tomb of the legendary Diarmid of Fingalian saga, with which Glenshee has so many associations. When the 4th Chief, Robert McComie of the Thom, was murdered (c. 1600), the chiefship passed to his brother, John McComie of Finegand. Therefore, the seat of the chiefs was moved to Finegand about three miles down the glen. Finegand is a corruption of the Gaelic "Feith nan Ceann" meaning "burn of the heads." This refers to the time when some tax collectors were attacked by some clansman, who cut off their heads and threw them in a nearby burn. By now, the MacThomases had acquired a lot of property in the glen and houses were well established at Kerrow and Benzian with shielings up Glen Beag. The time was spent breeding cattle and fighting off those seeking to rustle them, one such skirmish, in 1606, being remembered as the Battle of the Cairnwell.

The 7th Chief was John McComie (Iain Mor). His deeds passed into the folklore of Perthshire and Angus, wherein he is generally known as "McComie Mor." The legends surrounding this Highland hero abound. In defense of a poor widow, he single handedly put to flight some tax collectors, he killed the Earl of Atholl's champion swordsman, he slew a man that had insulted his wife, he fought his son in disguise to test his courage, he overcame a ferocious bull with his bare hands, and he said to have been familiar with the supernatural. Today, a large stone at the head of Glen Prosen is known as McComie Mor's Putting Stone, a nearby spring as McComie Mor's Well, and at the top of Glen Beannie a rock shaped like a seat is called McComie Mor's Chair.

Iain Mor joined Montrose at Dundee in 1644 and fought for the King's cause throughout the campaign. He personally captured Sir William Forbes of Craigivar, but after the defeat at Philiphaugh he withdrew from the struggle and devoted his energies to cattle raising. During this time the clan extended their lands and influence into Glen Prosen and Strathardle and Iain Mor purchased the Barony of Forter in Glenisla from Lord Airlie. Forter Castle had been burned eleven years earlier, as recounted in the ballad "The Bonnie House of Airlie." Thus, Iain Mor made his home at Crandart, two miles north of the castle. The government of Cromwell won Iain Mor's admiration for the prosperity that it brought to Scotland. However, this soured his relationship with Airlie and upon the restoration of Charles II in 1660 he found himself in trouble with Parliarment. He was fined heavily and at Airlie's instigation a lawsuit decreed that the Canlochan Forest, part of the Forter estate, belonged to Airlie. Iain Mor refused to recognize this and continued to pasture his cattle on the disputed land, which Airlie had rented to Robert Farquharson of Broughdearg. Broughdearg was Iain Mor's cousin but the dispute over the forest led to a bitter feud that culminated in a skirmish at Drumgley, just west of Forfar. At a spot known as McComie's Field, Broughdearg was slain on January 28, 1673, along with two of Iain Mor's sons. The fine, feud, and crippling lawsuit that followed ruined the MacThomases and following Iain Mor's death his remaining sons were forced to sell their lands.

The MacThomas Chief is mentioned in Government proclaimation in 1678 and 1681 but the clan was now drifting apart with some going into the Tay valley and changing their name to Thomson. Others went into Angus and Fife where they became Thomas, Thom, or Thoms. The 10th Chief, Angus, took the surname Thomas and later Thoms. He settled in northern Fife where his family thrived as successful farmers. Next they moved to Dundee and became prosperous merchants at the beginning of the eighteenth century. Thus, they purchased the estate of Aberlemno near Forfar. Still others of the clan moved into Aberdeenshire, where the name became corrupted to McCombie as well as Anglicized forms of Thom and Thomson. In Aberdeenshire, the principle MacThomas family was the McCombie's of Easterskene, who were descendants of the youngest of Iain Mor's sons. It is one of their party, William McCombie of Tillyfour, M.P. for South Aberdeenshire at the end of the last century, who is regarded as the father of the world famous breed of cattle.

Patrick Hunter MacThomas Thoms of Aberlemno, 15th Chief, was Provost of Dundee from 1847 to 1853. His hire, the eccentric George Hunter MacThomas Thoms, advocate, bon vivant, and philanthropist, became sheriff of Caithness, Orkney and Shetland in 1870. During his lifetime, he donated large sums to St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. Upon his death in 1903 he willed his vast fortune to St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, including the Aberlemno estate. Having lost Aberlemno, the chiefly family assumed the surname MacThomas. Years later, in 1967, the latter's great-nephew was once again officially recognized by the Lyon Court by the historic designator "The MacThomas of Finegand." Patrick MacThomas of Finegand, 18th Chief, married Elizabeth Clayhill-Henderson of Invergowrie in 1941. It was during his lifetime, in 1954, that the Clan MacThomas Society of Scotland was founded. He died in 1970 and was succeeded by his only son, Andrew, the 19th Chief, who is called in the Gaelic MacThomaidh Mhor (pronounced McHomy Vor).

The Great MacThomas-MacTavish-Thomson Mixup

The following article was printed in the fifth "Clach A' Choilich," the magazine of the Clan MacThomas Society. The material was researdhed and written by the late Mr. Roger F. Pye, our former Clan Historian and Vice President.


"On page 17 of the first issue of this magazine I started off the series "The Clan and its Septs" with a very brief note on the name MacThomas itself, from which it emerge that the name was a very rare one and that only two or three examples were known to me. On the same page, under the title "A Warning" I mentioned the extraordinary confusion between the MacThomases and the MacTavishes, and I promised to revert to the matter in due course. This I am now doing."

Within the last two years a family named MacThomas has been discovered in California, although unhappily it has not been possible to induce them to join our Clan Society. More important, however, has been the discovery, arising out of the correspondence regarding the McComie Andersons of Loch Tayside, in Breadalbane, that there were a number of people named MacThomas, living around the western end of loch Tay, during the first quarter of the 17th century. That these MacThomases should have used the alternative form of McComie is no more than we should have expected, and simply repeats what happened in Glenshee itself. The Shee being one of the minor tributaries of the Tay, it is not in the least surprising that some member or members of the clan should have migrated down into the Tay valley, and thence made their way up to Loch Tay at its upper end.

What is both surprising and disconcerting is that in close proximity of these 17th century Breadalbane MacThomases we find a considerable number of MacTavishes. Now the name MacTavish, like MacThomas, simply means "son of Thomas," with the difference that it is taken from the braid Scots form Tamas, rather than from the form Thomas. We have always (and rightly) insisted that the MacThomases and MacTavishes had nothing to do with one another and were utterly different and distinct clans. The former deriving from the MacKintoshes and dwelling in Glenshee, on the Perthshire Angus border and the latter dwelling in Argyll as dependents, and possibly descendants, of the Campbell Lords of that country. What then are we to make of these Breadalbane MacTavishes? Were they really MacThomases, or vice versa? Or was Loch Tay perhaps, as in fact seems most likely (and as a glance at the physical map of Scotland will confirm), the halfway house between MacThomas and MacTavish countries, into which small groups of both clans, one from the East and the other from the West, had migrated and settled?

Certainly the confusion between MacThomases and MacTavishes has been one of the major handicaps which our Clan Society has had to face, for all the popular text books on clans and tartans, even when published under the auspices of presumed authorities who might be expected to have expert knowledge of the subject, have simply lumped the two together, and the Thomsons in with them, as though they were all one, and MacThomas and Thomson are both treated as if they were all part of the tiny Clan MacTavish. The fact that there are MacThomases of MacKintosh derivation is occasionally recognized, however, to the extent that MacThomas is sometimes listed as a sept of Campbell of Argyll (i.e. the superiors and possible progenitors of the MacTavishes) or of MacKintosh. The same books normally allocate all the Thomsons to Campbell of Argyll (presumably through a MacTavish origin), despite the fact that Thomson is one of the most common surnames in Scotland and accounts for rather more than one percent of the entire population. The same tartan is attributed to all, and the unwary would-be purchaser of MacThomas tartan is quite likely to find himself sold the MacTavish/Thomson sett.

This almost unbelievable confusion of identity, which of course has largely arisen as a consequence of the three century long eclipse of Clan MacThomas, has led to a very serious loss of the latter's credibility, so that amongst the general public there is more often than not an almost complete disbelief that such a clan as MacThomas can ever have existed. To those who have read the five issues of this magazine it will, I hope, be obvious and beyond doubt that ours is a perfectly genuine and ancient Highland clan, but to the public at large the mere mention of Clan MacThomas is calculated to produce grins of incredulity. Who is to blame them when the popular text books and all tartan mongers conspire to deprive us of that distinct identity which is ours by historic right?

Until this has been corrected so as to enable the causal seeker after information to find the clan referred to in the popular text books in its proper historical context and with in its own particular tartan, the Clan Society can never hope to flourish. The first and most urgent concern of the Council should be to allow the authors, publishers, and shopkeepers no rest until the books and lists of names and tartans concerned have been suitably amended to include MacThomas as a clan in its own right with its own distinctive tartan. To go no as we are, in the face of almost total public ignorance and misinformation, is to court eventual failure, and there is nothing so vital to our survival as that we should go to the root of the trouble without further delay."

As can be seen from that above quoted material it is difficult, to say the least, for a once dormant clan to rise up and reclaim its former glory. Therefore, I encourage my friends with Thomas derived surnames to continue to research their own individual genealogies and determine as best as possible their true and rightful place among the various clans that claim them as septs. Again I stress the importance of the historical physical location of one's ancestor. It makes a great deal of difference to know if one's ancestor was from an area well known for its association with a particular clan or if he was from one of the areas, as noted above, where various clans migrated and intermingled together. Likewise, I must reiterate that Clan MacThomas is completely separate and distinct from both clans Campbell and MacTavish. We trace our line of descent back to "Great Thomas" a grandson of William MacKintosh the 8th Chief of Clan Chattan. I hope this information helps those with the Thom, Thomas, Thomason, and Thoms surnames.

God Speed,

Robert E. Thomas
NC State Representative
Clan MacThomas Society of Scotland

by Roger F. Pye

In 1651, the same year that he acquired Forter, Ian Mor also purchased from George Ogilvie the liferent of the lands of Wester Dalnacabock, in Winnygil. Approximately five years later he bought the liferent of three-eighths of the lands of Wester Inverharity, both of which had previously been in possession of the Campbells of Easter Denhead, to which family Iain Mor's wife Elspeth belonged. It is not known where Iain Mor dwelt during this period, because Forter Castle had been burnt and gutted by Argyll eleven years before he bought the property. However, in 1660 he built himself a "ha'-house" at Crandart, about a mile and-a-half to the north of the castle, and this became the seat of his family.

The contract relating to the purchase of the Forter property had specifically excluded the lands to the East of the Isla, as well as the Forest of Canlochan, lying on the West side of the stream between the burn of that name and the burn and corrie of Glas. However, notwithstanding this exclusion, Iain Mor eventually obtained possession of the Canlochan lands on wadset, together with royal letter of free forestry. Additionally, his prosperity may be gauged from the fact that in about 1660 he is stated to have been pasturing there no less than twenty milch kine and more than one hundred oxen, besides a number of horses.

From the very beginning of his possession of Forter, however, Iain Mor had been falling out increasingly with his neighbours and erstwhile friends and comrades in arms. The origin of these differences was political, for in 1651 (the year that he bought Forter) Cromwell had smashed the Scottish army of the Covenant at Worcester and then, almost without opposition, had occupied the whole of Scotland, from the border to the Pentland Frith, by the end of the same year. English garrisons had been set up in all the main towns and the country was ruled by English Commissioners, almost as an English province, to the impotent rage of the Scots, both
Royalists and Covenanters alike. What made this English occupation all the more intolerable, however, was the fact that the Scots found themselves governed better than they had ever been before; law and order was complete, trade flourished, and the country enjoyed peace and prosperity such as had not existed within living memory. An intelligent and just man, Iain Mor, who was himself prospering thanks to the improved situation, eventually became convinced that there was much to be said for a form of government resulting in so much common good, and accordingly cooperated with it so far as he was able.

This was too much for his fiercely nationalistic neighbours, the Ogilvies, who might have been able to forgive him had he joined the Covenant, but never for accepting the English. Thus, Lord Airlie, who originally had probably been quite content to let his land go to his father's old comrade, Iain Mor, now became determined to recover, by hook or by crook, whatever he could from one whom, had he lived in the present generation (c. 1970), he would doubtless have stigmatized as "that damned Quisling!" Accordingly, within a year of the Restoration of King Charles II in 1669, he had induced Royal Parliament to pass an Act of Decreet in his favour, restoring to him the Canlochan Forest and Letters of free forestry. Shortly after this, no doubt at Lord Airlie's instigation, Iain Mor found himself amongst those exempted from the Act of Indemnity passed by the same Parliament in 1662, and accordingly had to pay a fine of 1,600 pounds Scots for his collaboration with the Roundheads. However, Lord Airlie had not counted on the stubborn obstinacy of Iain Mor, who simply ignored the Act of Parliament that he considered unjust and continued to pasture his beasts as before in the disputed territory. Accordingly, in 1664, Lord Airlie brought a further action against him for contravention, presumably with as little practical effect as before.

In spite of these tribulations, Iain Mor remained unbowed, and in August 1665 he and his followers unexpectedly accompanied Lachlan, 19th of Mackintosh, on an expedition into Lochaber against the Camerons, which finally settled bloodlessly the three hundred year old feud between that clan and Clan Chattan.

About this time Lord Airlie let the grazings of Canlochan Forest to Iain Mor's second cousin, Robert Farquharson of Broughdearg, who thus also became embroiled in the dispute regarding these lands. There is no reason to suppose that the cousins had not been on good terms prior to this. Indeed there is a tradition that Broughdearg was engaged to Iain Mor's daughter. However, the quarrel between them was evidently coming to the boil by 10th November 1666, when The Mackintosh wrote to Lord MacDonald and Aros that he had "to go on Thursday morning to Glenylea to settle two near kinsmen who are like to fall out very foully." It would seem reasonable to suppose that the causus belli was that Iain Mor continued to insist upon pasturing his beasts on the grazings let to Broughdearg. If this was so it would have been very understandable if Broughdearg had broken off his engagement in his exasperation at the old man's stubbornness.

Over the next two years the quarrel grew into a serious feud, and on 1st January 1669 Broughdearg, with fifty or sixty armed men, surprised the old chief outside his house at daybreak. They carried him back to Glenshee, where they held him until the following day, when his sons gave a bond for 1,700 merks for his release. Four months later, on 14th May, a party of thirty eight of Broughdearg's following raided Kirkhillocks, at the southern end of the MacThomas Glenisla territory, and sowed and harrowed the land, thus destroying the crops sowed earlier by Iain Mor's fourth son, Robert.

In the summer of the following year, Alexander and James, the second and third sons of Iain Mor, with three followers, came across Broughdearg himself in the disputed Canlochan Forest, and he had to flee for his life; the MacThomases seizing two of his horses. On another occasion, when a party of his clansmen had allowed Broughdearg to escape from them after an encounter in Glenarmie, the old chief had cursed them roundly "for not taking from him ane legg, ane arme or his lyff."

In retaliation the Farquharsons seized some MacThomas cattle in the disputed territory in 1672. Whereupon Iain Mor "persewed a spulzie" against Broughdearg before the Sheriff of Forfar and got letters of caption against him. Broughdearg refused to give himself up to the burgh messenger sent to arrest him, saying that "no man should take him alive," but on 28th January 1673, accompanied by some seventeen of his followers, he went into Forfar "for his own defense of the said pursuit." The MacThomases, learning of this journey, also proceeded to Forfar, but the Farquharsons seem to have got wind of this and turned back for home.

The MacThomases, pausing only to collect the burgh messenger in Forfar in order to legalize their position, hastened after them and caught up with them near Drumgley, a mile or two to the West of Forfar, where they called upon Broughdearg to give himself up. This he refused to do, and in their efforts to apprehend him Robert, Iain Mor's fourth son, was shot outright, while his eldest brother John was dirked to death after falling wounded from the same discharge. The Farquharsons then made a dash for it, but Broughdearg was shot dead before he could get away, and his brother John was so severely wounded that he was expected to die.

The Farquharsons quickly made representations to the Privy Council, who appointed a Commission to apprehend the MacThomases concerned. Iain Mor with his sons Thomas and Angus (who seem not to have been present at the skirmish) soon afterwards presented themselves, but were eventually allowed to go home upon giving 5000 merks each as security. Alexander and James and three followers (who had been present) failed to appear and were declared fugitives. They eventually submitted a year later, and all five were tried by jury for murder on 10th June 1674, and acquitted. Earlier the same year, however, Iain Mor, already an old man, had died.

He was succeeded as eighth Chief by his third son James, who having with his immediate elder brother been on trial for his life, now had to raise the money to pay the very heavy costs of the proceedings. Such heavy costs may be imagined from the fact that the two leading Counsel for the MacThomases were no lesser personages than Sir George Lockhart, who had been Lord Advocate, and Sir George Mackenzie, who was about to become so. To do this the unfortunate new chief had no option but to raise bonds on his lands. He only survived his father by two years, being succeeded in the spring of 1676 by his brother Thomas, who thus became ninth Chief.

This Thomas, fifth son of Iain Mor, had been a merchant in Montrose at least as early as 1670, and may well have been associated with his father in his cattle business. His absence in Montrose appears to have kept him out of the feud with Broughdearg. He was served heir-of-line to his predecessor in 1677. Likewise, he is mentioned in the Proclamations of 1678 and 1681 amongst the subordinate Chiefs required to give bond for the good behaviour of their followers. In the latter year he was also included in the Royal Commission of Fire and Sword granted to Lachlan, 19th of Mackintosh and 20th of Clan Chattan, against the MacDonnells in Keppoch. This commission was never put into effect. In 1681, with the consent of his brothers, Alexander and Angus, he formally disposed of the Forter estate in favour of David, Lord Ogilvie. However, he retained a wadset of Burnside until 1694.

What became of him after this we do not know. No trace has been found of his death, and it has been suggested that he left no family. The present writer believes; however, that he had a daughter Isabella, who married Donald Ramsay of Cronaherrich, once a MacThomas shieling in Glenbeg, and who was known in the Gaelic for her beauty as Iseabal Bain, i.e. Fair Isabella.

The clan, which had for some time been drifting apart, now finally broke up completely and ceased to exist as an organized group. With its dispersal and the loss of their lands the chiefship became an empty title, not worth the trouble of claiming, and upon the death of Thomas, ninth and last of the old chiefs, was allowed to fall dormant. Thus Clan MacThomas disappeared into almost complete oblivion for well over an hundred years, until the great romantic revival of the early nineteenth century started to reawaken interest in it.

R. F. P.


We have seen how the Cockstane came to be named in consequence of the resistance strewn by Iain Mor to the kain-gathers of the Earl of Atholl (1), and it is curious to note that Finegand itself, for so long the seat of the MacThomas chiefs, also derived its name from an earlier and bloodier encounter with those same ever unpopular tax-collectors. It seems likely that this earlier affair took place before the MacThomases had settled in Glenshee, and so incensed were the glensmen on this occasion that not only did they slay their oppressors, but afterwards cut off their heads and flung them into the near-by burn, which duly became known in the Gaelic as Feith nan Ceann, meaning
John and Janet had (probably with other children) (3) a son, also named John, and on 7th September 1568 the three of them had a feu charter from Thomas Scott of Pitgorno of the four merk lands of Finegand and the shelling of Gormel, in Glenbeg (4). The MacThomases had clearly already been in occupation for some time, however; for in the charter they are stated to have been tenants and occupiers of the lands in question ab antiquo. Three years later they had a new charter of the same lands with the addition, in favour of the younger John, of the lands and shelling of Cronaherrich (5), which lay in Glenbeg immediately to the south of the Gormel shelling; both lying on the eastern side of the stream. About 1582 the younger John married Janet, daughter of William Farquharson, who was the eldest son of the Farquharson hero Finla Mor, and in November that year they had a charter of three-fourths of the town and lands of Binzean Mor (6), lying about a mile downstream from the Spittal.

When the fourth Chief was murdered by catarans about the turn of the century, his brother, John of Finegand, the Elder, traditionally succeeded him as fifth Chief. It is evident that the catarans were giving continuous trouble about this time, and in 1602 the biggest raid ever took place, when two hundred catarans from Glen Garry (7), said to have been principally MacGregors and Cattanachs; rounded up no fewer than 2,700 head of cattle and 1OO horses from Glenshee, Glenisla and Strathardle, which was precisely the area over which the MacThomases were spread. The robbers were hotly pursued and caught near the Devil's Elbow, as they drove the beasts up the hill road out of the glen A furious fight, afterwards known as the Battle of the Cairnwell, took place and the catarans were eventually defeated, but not before they had first butchered most of the cattle out of pure spite (8). This raid must have caused very great financial loss to the MacThomases, but one of the main victims was Finegand's brother-in-law, Rattray of Dalrulzion, who also had grazing lands in Glenshee and Glenbeg (9), and who was virtually ruined (10).

John McComie of Finegand the Younger is believed to have predeceased his father, and so it was his son, Alexander, who succeeded his grandfather as sixth Chief, some time before the end of 1606 (11). This Alexander married Margaret Small, who was presumably of the family of Small of Dirnanean, at the top of Strathardle, and on 5th December 1606 they had sasin of the town and lands of Corrydon (12), about half-a-mile upstream from Finegand. It was during his chiefship that the feu of the old MacThomas lands of the Thom was finally transferred to Alexander Farquharson of Allanaquoich on 8th August 1616, as previously noticed (l3), and it may be possible to explain his failure to take any effective action to prevent this alienation of the family property by the fact that, through his Farquharson mother, he was himself a reasonably close kinsman to Allanaquoich. Alexander was dead by 1637 and was succeeded by his son John; seventh and greatest of the MacThomas chiefs; better known to us as Iain Mor. We first come accross him as party to an agreement with Rattray of Dalrulzion regarding the sheilings in Glenbeg, signed on 18th May 1637 (14), and in 1644 he had wadset of the lands of Carrow, or Kerrow (l5), on the East bank of the Shee, about half-a-mile South of the Thom.

In the year before this last acquisition the Scottish Parliament, dominated by the Covenanters (16), had determined to go to the assistance of the English Parliamentarians, then at war against their King, Charles I, and in 1644 the Marquis of Montrose, in the hope of reconquering Scotland for the King, sent round the Firey Cross in order to raise the Highland clans, several of which responded nobly to the call. Amongst those who rallied to Montrose was Iain Mor (l7) with his followers, who joined the Royalist army at Dundee a few days after the Marquis's initial victory at Tippermuir (1st Sept. 1644) (18). Thereafter he served throughout Montrose's glorious campaign, with its brilliant victories at Aberdeen (where Iain Mor is traditionally credited with personally capturing Sir William Forbes of Craigievar) (19), Inverlochy, Dundee, Auldearn, Alford and Kilsyth. On I3th September 1645, however, the shattering defeat at Philiphaugh put an end to the hopes of the Scottish Royalists, who laid down their arms after terms had been agreed providing for the safety of the lives and property of most of them (20). Although he had fought loyally and bravely for the King, Iain Mor, unlike his Ogilvie and Farquharson neighbours, now withdrew entirely from the contest, and devoted his considerable energies wholeheartedly to the more remunerative business of cattle raising on his Glenshee lands

In 1668 he had a feu charter of the fourth part of Binzean Mor (21), thus giving him possession of the whole, and this purchase brought the property of the MacThomas chiefs in Glenshee to its greatest extent. It should be understood that Glenshee was never solely the preserve of the MacThomases. So far as can be ascertained the chiefs never possessed lands further South than the road to Glenisla, and even in the upper part of the glen there were groups of MacRitchies, Mackenzies and Farquharsons between whom and the MacThomases land changed hands fairly frequently, so that at one time one family would predominate; at another another. Generally speaking, the lands of the MacThomas chiefs occupied most of the West bank of the Shee, from about the Cockstane in the South to the Spittal in the North together with the greater part of Glenbeg. The East bank of the Shee was occupied by Farquharsons, Mackenzies and MacRitchies, and the latter also occupied the extreme North Western end of Glenshee at Dalmunzie. Apart from the property of the chiefs, however, there were many MacThomas clansmen scattered over what are generally considered as Spalding and Rattray lands further down the glen, and westward into Strathardle.

By 1651 Iain Mor had prospered so greatly as a cattle dealer that he was looking around for more extensive pasture lands and it was in that year that he acquired from Lord Airlie the lands and Barony of Forter (22), in Glenisla, which comprised roughly the whole of that part of Angus west of the Isla from Mount Blair right up to the Aberdeenshire border; a far richer property than his ancient patrimony in Glenshee, which he proceeded to sell to his second-cousin Donald Farquharson the following year (23). Thus, after having been seated in Glenshee for probably rather more than a century and-a-half, the MacThomas chiefs, now at the height of their prosperity, passed over to Glenisla and the stage is set for their final, sudden and complete ruin.

R. F. P.

1) Viz., p. 3.

2) Colin Gibson Bonnie Glenshee, p. 70.

3) A. M. Mackintosh Mackintosh Families in Glenshee and Glenisla, 1916 p. 44.

4) W. M Combie Smith Memoir of the Families of M'Combie and Thoms, 1889. pp. 6, 16 & 198, n. D.; also A. M. Mackintosh op. cit. pp. 4I & 43- 4. Sheilings were high moorland pastures where the cattle were grazed in summer; Gormel being about 3 miles up Glenbeg which forms a natural consummation of Glenshee joining it roughly at the Spittal.

5) W. M Combie Smith op. cit., p. 17- 8 & 199 n. F.; also A. M. Mackintosh op. cit., p. 41.

6) A. M. Mackintosh, op. cit., p. 44. The word town. in this context merely means a group of farm buildings.

7) The Glen Garry mentioned here lies in Atholl, just west of Blair Atholl and is not the glen of the same name in the Western Highlands; home of the MacDonells of Glengarry;

8) Colin Gibson, op. cit., pp. 2l &34.

9) The division between the MacThomas and Rattray shielings in Glenbeg was the subject of an agreement on 15th June l567. A. M. Mackintosh op. cit., p 44.

10) Colin Gibson, op. cit., p 34.

11) Latta MS. (viz., The Scottish Genealogist, Vol. XII N. 4, p. 91, n5)

12. A. M. Mackintosh, op, cit., p. 45. His grandfather (named in the Instrument <.Makcomas,>) had already been granted an Instrument of tolerance on 11th November 1577, allowing him to pasture his beasts there. ibid. p. 44 See also W. M. Combie Smith, op. cit. PP. 18-'9 & 199- n C:

13) Viz.,. p. 10.

14). A. M. Mackintosh, op. cit., p. 47.

15) ibid., p. 47; also W. M'Combie Smith, op. cit., p. 19.

16) The adherents of the National Covenant (to upho1d Presbyterianism). The power of the Presbyterian Church at the time is well illustrated in the Kirkmichael kirk session records, which shew that Iain Mor of Finegand was himself humbled by the Kirk, on 2nd March 1651, when he and two of his tenants made public satisfaction in sackcloth, and gave evidences of their repentance for deceiving the minister be causing hin1 baptize ane child gottin in fornication, under the notione of a lawll. chyld. .M'Combie Smith, Op. cit., p. 199, n. E.

17) W. M'Combie Smith, Op.Cit.p.165, mentions a tradition that Montrose and Iain Mor became personal friends, and infers from the formers letter to the Tutor of Strowan, dated from Glenshee on 10th June 1646 (9 months after Philiphaugh), that was then a guest at Finegand.

18) A. M. Mackintosh, op. cit., p. 52.

19) ibid., p. 53; also W. M'Combie Smith, op. Cit., p. 203-'5, n. N.

20) He appears in the Roll of those to whom the Major-Genll. has given Remissions and Assurances upon their enacting themselves betwixt and the 1st November 1646. (A. M. Mackintosh, op. cit. p. 53).

21) ibid., p. 47.; also W. M Combie Smith, op. cit., p. 20.

22) A. M. Mackintosh, op. cit. pp. 48-51; also W. M Combie Smith op. cit., PP- 30'- 6.

23) A. M. Mackintosh, op. cit., p. 48; also W. M Combie Smith, op. cit., pp. 28-31 & 200, n. I.

My thanks to Cathy, the Convenor of the US & Canadian Branch of Clan MacThomas Society for sending me in these pictures...

Chief Andrew MacThomas (on the rock) and Vice President Robin Thomas at the Cockstane.



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