Angus of Shiskine

On this day in 1563, a bond was signed at Brodick Castle between James Hamilton, Duke of Châtelherault, and Angus M’Rannald Moir M’Allister. As in most bonds, there is a grant of land (the ‘fourtie schilling aucht penny worth land of Kilpatrick and Drumgriner land within his gracis landis of Seskene [Shiskine], Ile and erldome of Arran’[1]), in return for which Macalister promises to be an obedient tenant and to make sure his own tenants are law-abiding and loyal. Noticeably missing, however, is any promise of service to Châtelherault. Dr Jenny Wormald concludes that ‘although no doubt in practice Angus Macallaster served Châtelherault in very much the same way as did those who made bonds of manrent in Arran, nevertheless their obligations and undertakings were different’.[2] Among Macalister’s obligations was a promise to assist the Duke in evicting any ‘rebellis and dissobeyaris’ from the island, leading W. M. Mackenzie to describe this Macalister as Châtelherault’s ‘henchman’.[3] Perhaps Angus’s role was similar to that of estate factor in later times.

This association with the Hamiltons might be connected to the fact that both groups were recent settlers in Arran. After years of making devastating raids against Arran and Bute in company with the Macdonalds, Macalisters had begun to settle in Arran by the early 1500s, about the same time that the Hamilton family began its rise to power there. Perhaps as newcomers the Macalisters were less reluctant than established families to enforce the Hamiltons’ unpopular decrees on their neighbours. Whatever the reason, the lands granted to Angus in Shiskine became closely associated with this clan. Although Allan Macinnes shows Arran as the territory of Macneill of Gigha & Taynish as late as the 1650s, by the time of the Revolution in 1689 it is Macalister territory.[4] Charles Robertson, speaking in 1936, said Macalister was the clan ‘longer associated with Shiskine than any other’ and recalled that

In my boyhood days the M’Alisters were the most numerous clan in Shiskine. They occupied positions of trust in our public bodies. In fact, they ruled us both temporally and spiritually. A M’Alister would take as naturally to a Kirk Session as a Kerr or Kelso from Lochranza, would take to the water.[5]

Despite Mr Robertson’s fears nearly a century ago that the name would soon disappear from Shiskine, there are still Macalisters living there today.

The identity of Angus M’Rannald Moir M’Allister is unclear, but the most likely reading of his name indicates that he was the son of someone known as Ranald Mòr and belonged to the Clann Alasdair. The fact that those living in Shiskine continued to use the name Macalister suggests that in this case it is in fact the family name rather than a changeable patronymic such as those being used at the time by Donald McAlester (MacDonald of Largie, whose father was Alexander mac Ranald Ban) and the chief of Clanranald (who appears in contemporary records as John Moirdearach Macalastair because of his descent from an Alexander in that family).

It seems reasonably certain that Angus belonged to the Loup family or one of its branches — most early Macalister landholders in Bute and Arran were members of the leading families of the clan. One possibility is that Angus descended from the first Macalister on record in Arran, Ranald Macalister (or Reginald MacAlexander) who died in 1458. This Ranald had held extensive lands in Arran, at one point including Lochranza Castle, but for the last twenty years of his life had managed not to pay any rent at all[6], which eventually led to the loss of his holdings. We don’t know for sure who Ranald was, but Mackenzie agrees that ‘he was probably astray from’ the Loup family.[7] Considering the years involved, however, it seems unlikely that Angus was this Ranald’s son. He might have been a grandson, but Reginald MacAlexander is nowhere referred to as Mòr, and if the term was added later to distinguish him from a son named Ranald, then Angus’s patronymic should be Mac Ranald Oig.

As far as I know, the only Loup family member on record as Ranald Mòr in the early 16th century was a younger brother of Alasdair of Loup; he is named in the Assedation and Rentals of Crown Lands in Kintyre in 1541 as holder of the Dewpin property.[8] My guess – and it is only a guess – is that Angus was a son of this Ranald Mòr. One problem with this theory is that neither of Ranald Mòr’s known sons was named Angus. However, at this point the younger children of landholders often did not merit notice by keepers of records, and there is no reason to think Ranald Mòr might not have had additional children.

Whoever Angus really was, unlike Donald of Langilwenach he did not later receive a more important grant elsewhere, and so it seems that he remained in Arran and established the clan there.[9]

copyright © Lynn McAlister, 2015

[1] W. M. Mackenzie, The Book of Arran, vol. 2 (Glasgow, 1914), pp. 86-7.

[2] J. Wormald, Lords and Men in Scotland: Bonds of Manrent, 1442-1603 (Edinburgh, 1985), p. 58.

[3] Mackenzie, ibid., p. 87

[4] A. I. Macinnes, Clanship, Commerce and the House of Stuart, 1603-1788 (East Linton, Scot., 1996), pp. 242, 244. This might reflect a Macneill forfeiture, as they were unequivocally Royalists during the Civil War – as opposed to Hector Macalister of Loup, who seems to have switched sides at least once and suffered little for his early allegiance to Alasdair MacColla.

[5] C. Robertson, “Clans of Shiskine Past and Present“, speech given 10 March 1936, Glasgow; printed by the Buteman, Ltd., no date given.

[6] Many of those whose lands were devastated by raiders from Kintyre were granted relief from their rents in especially bad years. Macalister however seems to have pushed this a bit too far!

[7] Mackenzie, p. 45

[8] Kintyre Rentals, 1505-1710, transcribed by Judge A. I. B. Stewart & Andrew McKerral, 1987; p. 10.

[9] There was also in Arran the Clan Alasdair Beag, whose connexion to the Loup family, if any, is unclear.

News of the Day

On this day in 1803, issue no. 5 of the Ayr Advertiser[1] went on sale. A copy of this issue, held by the South Ayrshire County libraries, is the earliest known surviving issue of Scotland’s first weekly newspaper. It was discovered in January 2015 in an attic in Edinburgh.[2]

Issue no. 5 provides an interesting snapshot of life in Ayr in the Napoleonic period. One article noted that the Ayr races for the season had been cancelled, as “almost every Nobleman and Gentleman is doing duty with one corps or another in defence of the country”.[3]

Charles Somerville McAlester, 12th of Loup, was at this time one of the ‘noblemen and gentlemen’ of Ayrshire. In the 1790s, his father Angus had (with Charles’s consent) resigned the family’s properties in Kintyre into the hands of trustees, to be sold in order to pay off heavy debts – an unfortunate position in which many Highland landowners of this period found themselves. (Most of these properties, after several owners, ended up in the possession of the Glenbarr family.) However, Charles’s marriage in 1792 to the heiress of the Somervilles of Kennox, in Ayr, had restored the Loup family’s fortunes and brought them to live in Ayrshire, where Charles seems to have quickly involved himself in the county’s social set. It is likely that this included maintaining an interest in horse racing, which was very much a part of Ayrshire landed society.

Although horse races had taken place since the 16th century all over Scotland, it was only in 1777, when the racecourse at Ayr was built, that racing really took off.[4] Many races were part of – though not the purpose of – annual local fairs, but racing as an organised sport was controlled by the area’s landowners: the nobles and gentry mentioned in the Advertiser article. These landholders were the only ones whose horses could be spared regularly from the demands of farming, and they also had the influence needed to protect a form of entertainment that did not always meet with approval from some quarters. John Burnett, in an interesting article on this topic, points out that it is no coincidence to find horse racing developing and surviving as a sport in places like Ayrshire and Renfrewshire, which had a large number of landed proprietors, rather than in places like Aberdeen, where this class of people were fewer.[5]

As it happened, however, in 1803 there was little point in holding the races. The Peace of Amiens – a treaty signed the previous year with France – had broken down several months before this, and Napoleon was now gathering his forces and preparing to cross the Channel and invade. The men who were needed to keep the races going – and no doubt many of those who just enjoyed watching them – were all away preparing to protect the country.

On the first of September 1803, Charles of Loup was serving as a captain with one of the corps mentioned in the article, the Ayrshire Militia. This force had been formed from the core of the 7th North British (Ayr and Renfrew) Militia, which had disbanded the previous year with the Peace of Amiens. It was reactivated (and renamed) in January 1803. The militias did not serve overseas, and as we now know, Napoleon never made it to Britain. However, local militias were considered an important part of homeland defence, and the Ayrshire Militia raised in response to the Napoleonic threat was not stood down until 1816.[6] On this day in 1803, they were stationed in Perth, with more important things to worry about than missing the races.

copyright © Lynn McAlister, 2015

[1] At this point it was actually the Air Advertiser; the spelling was changed in 1839 (British Newspapers On-line: Ayr Advertiser, accessed 31 August 2015).

[2] South Ayrshire Libraries, “Oldest known Ayrshire newspaper discovered“, South Ayrshire History blog, 10 January 2015.

[3] ibid

[4] John Burnett, “The Sites and Landscapes of Horse Racing in Scotland before 1860” in The Sports Historian, No. 18, 1 (May 1998): 64, accessed 31 August 2015.

[5] ibid, p. 57

[6] Records of the Ayrshire Militia, from 1802 to 1883 (privately printed in 1884; published 2011 by South Ayrshire Libraries).

Donald of Langilwenach

On this day in 1506, ‘Donaldo Makalester’ is named among the numerous men in the Isle of Bute to whom the king gave new grants of lands they held there. The grant describes those named as hereditary tenants and tells us they have held their lands ‘ab antiquo’ (from ancient times).[1] Many of these men do indeed bear names like Stewart and Bannatyne that are strongly associated with Bute. Macalisters have also been described as one of the ‘old native families of Bute’[2], but it is likely that in Bute, as in Arran, Macalisters in the early sixteenth century were still better known as ‘cursed invaders from Kintyre’, having raided there for generations.

The lands that are granted to these men are to be held in feu-ferm. Feu-ferm was a type of feudal arrangement in which tenants agreed to pay a specified rent in cash to their superior – in this case, the king — in return for which they had the right to occupy the land for the rest of their lives and often to pass the property on to their ‘heirs male’ (sons or grandsons). Although the king mentions that these tenants held their lands by earlier grants, it is not clear what kind of arrangement existed previously. During the middle ages, land was more often held by ward-holding, whereby the property was granted to the vassal in return for military service, with rent being being paid in kind (i.e., with food, livestock, crops, etc.). This made perfect sense in a pre-cash society that was prone to conflict over land and limited resources. But times were changing, and the Scottish king was perpetually short of cash. In 1464, James III convinced Parliament to revoke the grants issued by his father, who had been ‘misled by certain men then around him during his minority’, and allow him to feu them out.[3] Professor Mitchison tells us that although the Crown ‘had been feuing land occasionally since the thirteenth century … in the late fifteenth century the practice became more frequent. The tenants got security and the king got cash. . . .’[4]

Though I have no direct evidence, I suspect that this Donald was Donald Dùbh, younger brother of the laird of Loup and eventual founder of the Tarbert family. Most of the early landholding Macalisters in Bute and Arran seem to have had connexions to one or another of the leading families (indeed, the leading families were the only ones in this clan to hold land anywhere at this point), and I am unaware of another Donald of note in the clan at this time. It’s possible that before he was appointed keeper of Tarbert castle in 1540, Donald Dùbh had made his home in Bute, much as two hundred years later his descendant Charles, of Tor in Arran, made his home on that island before succeeding as the 8th laird of Tarbert.

Whoever Donaldo Makalester was, his lands (the southern part of a property called Langilwenach in the parish of Kingarth[5]) were not be passed on to his heirs — male or female. In or before 1555, Macalister sold his Bute property to John M’Wyrartie and his wife Katherin Glas.[6]

copyright © Lynn McAlister, 2015

[1] Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, AD 1424-1513 (James Balfour Paul, ed.; H M General Register House, 1882), pp. 635-636.

[2] James King Hewison, Isle of Bute in the olden time (Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons, 1893), p. 225.

[3] RPS, 1464/10/1
[4] 
R. Mitchison, A History of Scotland, 2nd ed. (London: Methuen & Co., 1982), p. 78.
[5] Register of the Great Seal of Scotland, pp. 635-636.
[6] Origines Parochiales, vol. II, part I, p. 216.

In Victory, Defeat

On this day in 1689, Jacobite forces under John Graham, Viscount Dundee, inflicted a spectacular defeat on the forces of William of Orange at Killiecrankie in Perthshire. Among Dundee’s forces, fighting with the young MacDonald of Largie in a regiment led by Sir Alexander Maclean, were Alexander Macalister of Loup, and (probably) Alexander Macalister of Kinlochkellisport.[1] (Tarbert and Balinakill – the other two Macalister lairds who had participated in the rising’s early stages – had remained in Ireland with King James.) The Grameid, a Latin poem written shortly after the battle, names in flowery language the various clans that joined Dundee; lines 394-396 tell us: “The hero Loupe was one most faithful to the King, among those whom the rebel land of Argyll begat. The mighty M’Alister, second to none in warlike spirit, summons his clan from the paternal fields.”[2]

Killiecrankie was the climactic battle in the first Jacobite rising, which began a few months earlier when the Argyllshire clans learned that William of Orange had taken the throne and King James VII had fled to Ireland. In fact, nearly the entire force of ca. 2000 raised by Dundee consisted of (mostly West Highland) clansmen – some, but not all, following their chiefs. The clansmen rallied to Dundee for a variety of reasons, including religion (most of the Jacobites in all of the rebellions were Episcopalians) and politics.  But Sir Alastair Campbell of Airds is probably correct in his assertion that their immediate motivation, “neither for the first nor the last time, seems to have owed much to a shared antipathy to Argyll and his Clan”.[3] Indeed, with a new, Protestant king in place partly thanks to the Earl of Argyll, the chiefly line of Clan Campbell seemed poised to rise from the ashes yet again, and a resurgent House of Argyll threatened most of its neighbours for one reason or another. When Sir Alexander Maclean was granted a commission by the king in Ireland to raise a force in Kintyre, he found what Paul Hopkins calls the ‘non-Campbell clans’ in the north of the peninsula “unable to resist alone for long . . . but anxious to rise”.[4]

Dundee’s force seems not to have been taken all that seriously initially. Although General Mackay, the head of William’s forces in Scotland, “considered the highlanders the finest untrained soldiers in Scotland”, according to Hopkins, “he did not understand their manner of fighting, and had an incredibly crude and mechanical picture of a chief’s powers”, believing that no clansman would dare to act independently of his chief – let alone against his wishes.[5] Mackay thus assumed that most of Dundee’s clansmen were there under duress rather than by conviction and would give way when faced with experienced military power. This view was shared by some in the government, who expected the Viscount’s clansmen would betray him when they learned there was a price on his head.[6] But the Highlanders did neither.

The immediate cause of the battle at Killiecrankie was the seizure of Blair Castle, ancestral home of the Murrays of Atholl, by Patrick Steuart of Ballechin on Dundee’s orders. Learning of the castle’s fall, Lord Murray hurried to its defence, but with a small force and little ammunition, he could only set up a blockade and write to the new government for help. In response, General Mackay headed north. On the 26th of July, Lord Murray withdrew by several miles, and Dundee with his Highland army arrived at Blair Castle. By the following afternoon, Mackay’s force – six battalions of foot and two troops of horse, with some ‘leather’ cannons[7] (about 3,500 men) – had arrived.

Mackay’s army considerably outnumbered Dundee’s, but the Highlanders had several advantages. First, in the words of John Roberts, “Dundee had executed what can only be described as a brilliant tour-de-force”[8]: instead of taking the main road to the site of battle, he had led his troops up a back way, so that by the time Mackay saw them, they were uphill from the government forces, gaining a tactical advantage. Then, Dundee withheld the command to attack for two hours. Although there was a practical reason for this – the setting sun was in his warriors’ eyes – it must have been unnerving for those awaiting attack below. Third, Mackay was overly confident in the ability of his trained soldiers and horse to defeat what was (despite the image of Highland clans as violent, feuding warriors) essentially an untried force, most of whom had never before faced a battle.

But the greatest advantage Dundee had at Killiecrankie was that a generation had passed since Montrose and MacColla overwhelmed their opponents with the Highland Charge. Lessons learned in previous wars had been forgotten, and Mackay’s army, arranged so that they stood only three deep (not nearly strong enough to withstand the charge), was unprepared for what was about to hit it.

Raymond Campbell Paterson tells us

Just after 7 o’clock, as the summer sun was sinking just beyond Strath Garry . . . Dundee ordered a charge. Rushing downhill in the fashion of those who had followed Montrose and MacColla, the Jacobites let off a single volley, before falling on the enemy with their broadswords, slicing into Mackay’s line, and carrying away virtually the whole of his left wing and much of the centre.[9]

Mackay’s forces didn’t even have time to attach their bayonets before the Highlanders were on them, causing appalling injuries with their swords. The whole thing was over in about ten minutes.[10]

For the Jacobites, it was an astonishing victory, but it came at a cost that would prove unsustainable. Mackay’s total losses were greater, but he had more men to lose: The 600 or so Highlanders lost made up roughly a third of their army. Worse, Dundee himself was killed. Although others stepped in to command the Jacobites after the Viscount’s death, there was simply no one else who could truly lead them. The momentum that should have followed such a victory failed to develop; within a month the Jacobites would be scattered at Dunkeld, and although the rising would stumble on for another year, any real hope of success had died with John Graham at Killiecrankie.

“[D]ispersed like flies are King William’s men,” wrote Gaelic poet Iain Lom, an eye-witness; “And we are in grief though we chased them away.”[11]

copyright © Lynn McAlister, 2015

[1] Macalister of Kinloch, as he was also known, is not named specifically in connexion with Killiecrankie. However, we know that he was with Loup and MacDonald of Largie at the start of the rising, that unlike Tarbert and Balinakill he apparently returned with Loup from Ireland, and that he was still with Loup and Largie (or Largie’s successor) when they finally surrendered the following year. It seems likely therefore that he also fought with them.

[2] James Philip of Almerieclose, The Grameid: An Heroic Poem Descriptive of the Campaign of Viscount Dundee in 1689 and other pieces, 1691 (published in 1888 by the Scottish History Society), p. 154.

[3] Sir Alastair Campbell of Airds, A History of Clan Campbell (Edinburgh University Press, 2004), vol. III, p. 65; other writers also stress the threat posed by Argyll to the clans involved.

[4] Hopkins, Glencoe and the End of the Highland War (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1998), p. 140.

[5] Hopkins, ibid., p. 137

[6] Hopkins, ibid., p. 151

[7] Chronicles of the Atholl and Tullibardine Families, collected and arranged by John, Seventh Duke of Atholl, KT (Edinburgh: Ballantyne Press, 1908), p. 299.

[8] Roberts, Clan, King and Covenant: History of the Highland Clans from the Civil War to the Glencoe Massacre (Edinburgh University Press, 2000), p. 188.

[9] Campbell Paterson, A Land Afflicted: Scotland and the Covenanter Wars, 1638-1690 (Edinburgh: John Donald, 1998), p. 288.

[10] Roberts, ibid., p. 190

[11] A. H. Millar: “Killiecrankie described by an eye-witness.” Scottish Historical Review, no. 4 (1906): 63-70.

McAllister’s Mill

On this day in 1836, a group of local abolitionists gathered at the home of James McAllister in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. McAllister and his family operated a mill on this property, and in the decades to come, the mill itself would serve the anti-slavery cause. 

The abolitionists who gathered at McAllister’s home went on to form the Adams County Anti-Slavery Society, one of the earliest such societies. The society did more than attend meetings, though. Society members established a network of safe houses around Gettysburg where slaves escaping from the south could find rest, food, and a place to hide between the legs of their journey. Between 1850 and 1858, hundreds of escaping slaves were hidden in McAllister’s mill, which became one of the first Underground Railroad stops north of the Mason-Dixon line.[1] This was risky not just for the slaves but also for the McAllisters. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 made it a crime to harbour an escaped slave, even in ‘free’ states like Pennsylvania, and with bounty hunters using hound dogs particularly active in Adams County, the risk of being caught was fairly high.

Helping their father shelter the fugitives made a deep impression on McAllister’s children, who grew up hearing the harrowing stories of the people who hid in their mill. “Is it any wonder I grew up to young manhood hating slavery with a mortal hatred?” James’s son Theodore wrote years later.[2] When the American Civil War broke out, five of McAllister’s sons went to fight for the Union, and one of them died in battle. Theodore himself was a prisoner of war at the notorious Andersonville camp in Georgia.

But history was not finished with McAllister’s property – or his family. On the first of June 1863, twenty-seven years after the meeting at James McAllister’s house, Union soldiers faced off against Confederate soldiers right on McAllister’s doorstep. Macalisters (of various spellings) fought on both sides. The Battle of Gettysburg – one of the best-known battles in US history (partly because of President Lincoln’s famous speech there) – continued for three days, causing the deaths of many soldiers and considerable damage to the property.[3] As the battle went on, James McAllister’s house became a de facto hospital for wounded Union soldiers; a confederate hospital was set up near the mill. McAllister’s daughters Mary and Martha were at home during the battle and did whatever they could to help the wounded. Many of the dead were buried near their home. 

James McAllister died in 1872. The mill had not been used in years, and after the family left, it sank into disrepair. Today, almost nothing remains of the buildings that saw so much action in the fight against slavery. Although the actual battlefield has been preserved as a historical monument, McAllister’s property, which is privately owned, was forgotten; for much of the 20th century, it was used as a municipal dump. In 2002, a local preservation group began pushing for the dump to be moved and the property to be marked as a historic site. Though the borough initially dragged its feet, McAllister’s Mill was finally recognised in 2011 by the federal government as one of several hundred US properties that have a verifiable connection to the Underground Railroad. A marker was erected, and with the cooperation of the current owner, tours began the following year. Gettysburg National Military Park hopes to purchase the property eventually.[4]

More information about McAllister’s Mill can be found at the McAllister’s Mill Underground Railroad site and the web site of the Historical Gettysburgh-Adams County preservation society

Sources:

copyright © Lynn McAlister, 2015

[1] The Mason-Dixon line, established in the early 1700s to resolve a border dispute between Pennsylvania and Maryland, took on new meaning in the 19th century, when it became a symbolic division between states where slavery was allowed and Pennsylvania, where it was not. Technically, once a slave crossed the Mason-Dixon line, he or she was no longer a slave. However, after 1850 people fleeing slavery could still be hunted down north of the line.

[2] McAllister’s Mill finally gets historical recognition” 

[3] After it was all over, McAllister put in a claim for $1,200 in damages, according to the Battle of Gettysburg website (accessed 29 June 2015).

[4] Scot Andrew Pitzer, “Underground Railroad site recognizedGettysburgh Times on-line (4 May 2011). 

Orders of Protection

In the summer of 1665, the Privy Council of Scotland, “having heard and considered a petition presented for Gory McAllaster of Loup”, granted the Macalister chief an order of protection, to last until the end of July. Further orders (or extensions) of protection were issued in 1671 and 1672.[1] Similar orders were issued for numerous other chiefs at various times.

These orders of protection tell us a few things about Godfrey Macalister of Loup. Like other Highland chieftains, Loup was required by law to personally appear before the Privy Council in Edinburgh each year, to sign bonds of caution for the good behaviour of his clansmen and tenants.[2] Like many of the others, Loup appears to have tried to fulfill this obligation. By the late 17th century, however, a majority of the chiefs, including Macalister, were heavily in debt.[3] In their own lands, surrounded by kinsmen and loyal tenants, they were relatively secure from vengeful creditors, but they knew that once they ventured out of their areas of influence, they would be at the mercy of those from whom they had borrowed. Many could not hope to “travel unmolested by creditors to Edinburgh in order to give their bonds”.[4] The Privy Council, writes Michael Fry, “which liked to see them once a year, had to issue them with passes against arrest”.[5] Allan Kennedy found record of more than sixty such orders of safe conduct issued between the years of 1664 and 1678.[6]

This widespread indebtedness had a number of causes. Travel to Edinburgh, both to make bonds of peace as required by the government and to pursue their own disputes through the courts, were costly. In the latter case, there were also legal fees. Furthermore, Kennedy notes that once these men were in town, there was a “tendency to make lengthy personal sojourns” in Edinburgh, which also cost money.[7] For example, the protection granted to Macalister (among others) at the end of 1671 was extended through January and then on into March as “the said business is not yet brought to a close”.[8]

As the Highland lairds interacted more frequently with their counterparts from the Lowlands and England, they also began to acquire the habits of their southern peers, leading to significant expenditure on clothing, gambling and other indulgences, and many families in this period also undertook expensive building projects, building or improving and then furnishing homes.[9] In the late 16th century and early 17th century, inflation worked in the chiefs’ favour – income could be increased in various ways, the real cost of debt declined as the money itself was worth less and less, and credit was easy to obtain. In fact, Douglas Watt concludes, many lairds appear to have borrowed “simply because they could”.[10]

Unfortunately, the second half of the 17th century saw the pendulum swing back. Deflation set in, reducing incomes and increasing the real value of debt already accrued. To make matters worse, the utter devastation of many lairds’ properties in the wars of the 1640s left tenants unable to pay rents, further reducing their chiefs’ income right when the money was needed to rebuild. Cash-strapped lairds then borrowed more to cover the gap.

Creditors in the early part of this period were often near kinsmen of the chief, which took some of the pressure off. Kinsmen, close neighbours and friends were less likely to pursue debts with the heartless efficiency of relative strangers in the Lowlands. Furthermore, quite a few cases are recorded in which a chief’s overwhelming debts were actually bought out by his kinsmen to prevent the chief losing his lands (which were considered by most to belong to the clan as a whole). However, as the seventeenth century wore on, Highland lairds were increasingly indebted to merchants and lawyers in Edinburgh as well as to Lowland lairds.[11] These creditors often found it difficult to get hold of their Highland debtors, whose lands in some cases were literally beyond the reach of law. The only thing they could do in attempt to be repaid was to raise apprisings on the property of the borrowers – something that made it difficult for the laird involved to get more credit but did little to recover the money he had already borrowed. The annual journey of the Highland chiefs to Edinburgh therefore presented a golden opportunity for creditors to pursue their debts. This naturally made the chiefs apprehensive about fulfilling their promises to the Privy Council unless the Council would guarantee their safety.

In many cases, the debts run up by one chief were passed on to his heir. This seems to have been the situation facing Godfrey Macalister. Godfrey’s father Hector, one of our more successful chiefs despite living in difficult times, is named as a debtor to Jonet Campbell in 1631, to George Campbell of Kinnochtry in 1637 and 1641, and to Ninian Lamont in 1643.[12] There was probably a financial cost too for his willingness in the 1620s to stand as surety for the good behaviour of Coll Ciotach Macdonald (who, with his son Alasdair MacColla, proceeded to behave rather badly as far as the government was concerned). Several of these debts continued to plague Godfrey. Letters of horning were issued against him in 1664 by Colin Campbell, the son of George of Kinnochtry, in attempt to force him to repay the debt owed by his father. The following year, Campbell obtained a decreet of apprising on Macalisters’ lands in effort to collect. In 1669, someone apparently caught up with Godfrey because we find him being held in the Tolbooth at Rothesay (Isle of Bute); the nature of his crime is not specified, but in light of his otherwise good behaviour, debt is the most likely explanation. In 1671 however, he is back in Edinburgh, still in debt and requiring once more an order of protection from the Privy Council.[13]

Sometimes members of the Highland elite were able to satisfy their creditors. In May of 1675, a contract between Gory Macalister and Colin Campbell of Kinnochtry set up payment plans for the money Macalister’s father owed to Campbell’s father. In return, the letters of apprising that Campbell had against Macalister’s lands were to be turned over to Macalister.[14] In the long run, however, the indebtedness of Highland lairds would have a devastating effect on the culture of the Highlands, with many chiefs either losing their lands all together or slowly becoming simply landlords, whose estates were run for profit and whose tenants and clansmen often paid the price. Alexander Fraser notes that the late 18th century saw “an economic landslide in Mid-Argyll . . . . The accumulated difficulties of more than one hundred years proved insupportable, and the landed families . . . failed, one after another”.[15] Among those families whose debts ultimately cost them their lands were the Macalisters of Loup and the Macalisters of Tarbert.

copyright © Lynn McAlister, 2015

[1] Records of the Privy Council of Scotland (series iii), vol. II, p. 58; A. Kennedy, Governing Gaeldom: The Scottish Highlands and the Restoration State, 1660-1688 (Leiden, Netherlands, Brill, 2014), p. 37, note 84.

[2] This requirement originated with the Statutes of Iona in 1609, which charged the Gaidhealtachd‘s natural leaders with maintaining peace and order on their lands.

[3] Ranald Macalister of Tarbert was also in debt. His lands were appraised at a debt of 4,706 merks in 1668 (Beaton, “How the Tarbert Lands Passed from the Macalisters to the Campbells”, p. 15).

[4] Kennedy, p. 37, note 84

[5] M. Fry, Wild Scots: Four Hundred Years of Highland History (London: John Murray Publishers, 2005), p. 36

[6] Kennedy, p. 189

[7] Kennedy, p. 37, note 84; D. Watt, “The laberinth of thir difficulties”, Scottish Historical Review, vol. 86, no. 219 (April 2006), p. 35.

[8] RPCS (series iii), vol. III, p. 430

[9] Watt, p. 36

[10] Watt, p. 37

[11] Watt, p. 40. He also points out (p. 37) that interest rates higher than 50% were not unheard of, so borrowing itself was an expensive proposition.

[12] The Clan Campbell, vol. 5: Abstracts of Entries Relating to Campbells in the Early Unprinted Records relating to Ayrshire, 1515-1650, pp. 201-2; Decisions of the Court of Session from its Institution to the Present Time, digested under proper heads, in the form of a dictionary, vol. XVII, case 15821; Inventory of Lamont Papers, p. 210, item 748.

[13] RPCS (series iii), vol. II, pp. 399, 403, 415

[14] Decisions of the Court of Session, vol. XVII, case 15821.

[15] Fraser, North Knapdale in the XVII and XVIIIth Centuries, p. 81.

He Said, She Said . . .

On this day in 1756, Angus Macalister of Loup married his widowed cousin Jean (or Jane – the names were interchangeable). Jean was the daughter of John Macdonald of Ardnacross and Grace McAlester, whose father had been the seventh laird of Loup. To put it mildly, the marriage got off to a rocky start.

The first hint we have of trouble between them comes in April 1758, when Jean went before the Commissaries of Edinburgh to institute a Declarator of Marriage and Adherence.[1] By doing so, she was asking the Commissariot to rule that her marriage to Angus was valid, because by this point he was claiming that it had never taken place.

Perhaps she could have seen this denial coming, as she was certainly not the first eighteenth-century bride to find herself in this situation.[2] Theirs was an ‘irregular’ marriage (although Angus had procured a minister to perform the ceremony),[3] and the young groom insisted that the marriage be kept secret until he could talk to his uncle, a Lamont of that Ilk. Angus was afraid Lamont would object to the union because of his youth and because Jean did not have a fortune.[4] Angus therefore returned to Argyllshire, urging his new wife to follow.

Before she could join him, however, Jean discovered that Angus had given her a venereal disease. Angus wrote to his surgeon in Edinburgh, asking the doctor to give his new wife the best treatment available, but to keep the marriage itself a secret. Eventually Jean set off for Argyll, no doubt anxious to share the news of her marriage with her family and friends. Angus, however, insisted the secret still be kept. Jean asked that she at least be allowed to tell her mother, to whose house she now retired, but when the news began to get out, Angus denied that there had been a wedding at all.

It was precisely this sort of conflict that the Commissariot of Edinburgh existed to resolve,[5] and so it was to the Commissariot that Jean first turned in effort to force Angus to recognise her as his wife. Initially, the Commissaries ruled in Jean’s favour, but when Angus appealed they reversed their verdict, determining that in fact no marriage had taken place. Jean then took her case to the Court of Sessions.[6] On the 4th of January, a decreet was issued in her favour. But Angus was having none of it: He appealed directly to the House of Lords.

In an interesting 1999 article, Leah Leneman notes that written evidence, “particularly in the man’s own handwriting”, carried a lot of weight when an irregular marriage was disputed.[7] The letter Angus had written to his doctor, naming Jean as his wife, was an important factor in the Lords’ decision to throw out his appeal, which they did on 2 May 1759.

With no one else to turn to, Angus seems to have given up trying to dissolve the marriage — but he didn’t exactly rush back to Jean’s side. In the summer of 1761, Hector McAlister in Arran wrote to his brother Alexander in North Carolina that “he [Loup] does not cohabit with her nor own her, but she has an annuity of thirty pounds a year off him” and that “his estate is much encumbered defending that unhappy plea with his wife”.[8]

As is probably to be expected, this was the usual result of a marital lawsuit. Leneman points out that winning such a case was unlikely to lead to a “happy married life, for the bitterness engendered in the course of the legal action usually made any prospect of an amicable relationship in the future out of the question”.[9] In this, however, Angus and Jean diverge from the norm. At some point not long after the correspondence of 1761, the couple evidently reconciled. In 1765, their son Charles (future 12th of Loup) was born. In 1772, Angus granted a bond in favour of “Mrs Jean McDonald his spouse”, making sure she would be provided for should she outlive him.[10] By 1775, there were three daughters in addition to Charles. And when Jean died in 1812, she was described simply as the “relic [widow] of Angus MacAlester of Loup, Esq.”[11]

copyright @ Lynn McAlister, 2015

[1] Thomas S. Paton, Reports of Cases Decided in the House of Lords upon Appeal from Scotland, from 1757 to 1784, Vol. II (Edinburgh, 1851), p. 31.

[2] Leneman, “Wives and Mistresses in Eighteenth-century Scotland”, in Women’s History Review, vol. 8, no. 4 (1999): 674.

[3] According to Leneman, a ‘regular’ marriage was “one for which banns had been called, and which was subsequently performed in church by a minister”. An ‘irregular’ marriage required neither banns nor a minister, simply the exchange of consent to marry – or even a promise to marry in future – followed by consummation of the relationship. Although fines were sometimes imposed to discourage irregular marriages, they were perfectly legal and recognised by the authorities (p. 673).

[4] Reports of Cases Decided, p. 30

[5] Leneman, p. 673

[6] Patrick Fraser, A Treatise on the Law of Scotland, as Applicable to the Personal and Domestic Relations, Vol. I (Edinburgh, 1846), p. 157.

[7] Leneman, p. 675

[8] McAllister Family Papers, Cumberland County, NC, 1747-1935 (North Carolina Division of Archives & History, July 1996), appendix II, no. 6, p. 3.

[9] Leneman, p. 687

[10] Argyll Particular Register of Sasines, RS 10, vol. 11 (25th March 1778); transcribed by the Clan McAlister of America Scottish Records Project.

[11] The Scots Magazine, vol. 74 (1812), p. 806

The Ascent of Tarbert

On this day in 1619, a bond was signed among the barons of Argyll. The bond dealt primarily with relationships within the Clan Campbell, so it is not surprising that all but three of the signators are Campbells. Among those who are not, however, is Archibald Macalister of Tarbert.[1]

The bond in question concerned a serious breach that had taken place within the Clan Campbell during the minority of the clan’s chief, the 7th Earl of Argyll. Competition between the various branches of that clan had resulted in the murder of Sir John Campbell of Cawdor in 1591 as part of “a foul conspiracy against Archibald, the seventh Earl”.[2] There were a number of people involved in the plot, but most of the blame fell on Sir John Campbell of Ardkinglas. Understandably this had caused hard feelings between the two families, and with their chief indefinitely out of the country,[3] there was a reasonable concern that the feud could lead to further violence. As part of the clan’s efforts to maintain law and order in Argyll during the earl’s absence, it was agreed that there should be a formal reconciliation between the families involved.[4]

Why Macalister of Tarbert was included is not clear. He and his chief, Macalister of Loup, had both been appointed a month earlier to help Campbell of Kilberry police Kintyre, but neither Loup nor Kilberry himself appear to be connected to this bond. It is possible that he simply happened to be on hand when witnesses were needed, but Campbell historian Sir Alastair Campbell of Airds indicates that he was actually party to the bond,[5] in the company of such men as Campbell of Auchinbreck, Campbell of Lochnell and Campbell of Otter. Evidently by this point Tarbert was seen as the head of a distinct house.

Although the Macalister connexion to Tarbert went back to the 1540s, it was not until the very end of the sixteenth century that these Macalisters began to act as a separate branch of the clan. They were not required to sign the General Band of 1587, suggesting that they were still very much under the authority of the Macalister chief, and as of 1591, they still held their lands as tenants of Loup rather than directly from Argyll. In 1596, they were included in a list of Kintyre landholders, but not given any particular prominence.[6] In fact, we first find Tarbert lairds acting independently at the start of the 1600s, when two of them, Hector and Archibald successively, are in trouble for raiding in Arran and Bute. Interestingly, in Archibald’s case his associates included the Earl of Argyll, suggesting that he was already on good terms with the chief of Clan Campbell.

I suspect the key to the Tarberts’ rise to prominence might lie in the status of the Loup family at this time. The head of our clan at the turn of the century was Godfrey 5th of Loup – a troublemaker in general (it was he who murdered his tutor in 1597 and instigated the Askomil incident) and a close associate of the even-more-troublesome Dunyvaig Macdonalds. Godfrey was followed as chief by Hector, who was a minor until about 1617. Thus for nearly twenty years the Tarbert Macalisters appear to have simply gone their own way. While the Loup family continued to adhere to the House of Dunyvaig, the Tarbert branch apparently deemed it wiser to cultivate the friendship of their Campbell neighbours. (Clearly, friendship with the Campbells did not keep the Tarbert lairds out of trouble, but getting into trouble with those in the king’s favour was likely to be less permanently disastrous than following the Macdonalds, who seemed to go out of their way to attract royal wrath.) It’s possible that it was during Godfrey’s tenure that some of the Tarbert lands were granted directly to that family, which would make Argyll their immediate landlord. Proximity to the Campbell heartland might also have been a factor. Whatever the reasons, in this period the Tarbert Macalisters appear more frequently in connexion with various Campbell lairds than with anyone else.

Although Hector of Loup was finally an adult by this time, recognised as one of the primary Kintyre lairds and included in the peace-keeping arrangement of 1618, it makes sense that it would be Tarbert rather than Loup who was called upon to be party to the Campbell bond. Though loyalties would vary from generation to generation, from this point on the Tarbert family were their own men, and they continued to play a prominent role in events in Kintyre well into the 18th century.

copyright @ Lynn McAlister, 2015

[1]My information about this bond comes entirely from Sir Alastair Campbell of Airds (A History of Clan Campbell, vol. II, pp. 175-6).

[2]John Taylor, The Great Historic Families of Scotland (London, 1889), vol. I, p. 287; Campbell, History, vol. II, pp. 100-103.

[3]Argyll had been granted permission to travel to England. Instead, he went to Spain, and he did not return when ordered to do so. In view of his dire financial situation – caused partly by other people’s failure to pay him rents and debts owed – it is hardly surprising that he wanted to escape, and as he had converted to Catholicism, Spain was a logical place to start again. Spain was not seen as a friend of Scotland at this time, however, and to make matters worse, once he was there the earl established friendly relations with a number of the king’s enemies, among them his own erstwhile foe, Sir James Macdonald of Dunyvaig. Eventually he was declared a traitor by King James, and although he spent his final days in London, he was never allowed to return to Scotland. (Wm. Anderson, The Scottish Nation, vol. I (1867), p. 555; Campbell, History, vol. II, pp. 174-5)

[4]Campbell, History, vol. II, pp. 175-6

[5] Ibid.

[6]Way & Squire, p. 204; Castleton, p. 167; MacPhail, pp. 75-78.

La Rochelle and the Highland Bowmen

On this day in 1627, Hector M’Allester, Lieutenant, arrived in Lochkilkerane (now Campbeltown) in response to a government levy of Highland bowmen. The Anglo-French War (part of the Thirty Years’ War) had broken out earlier in the year: Since June, troops under the Duke of Buckingham had been trying to take over Île de Ré in support of French Huguenots, who were under siege by their own government in nearby La Rochelle. Although many in Charles I’s realms might have genuinely sympathised with the persecuted Huguenots, the war had more to do with the breakdown of the 1624 Anglo-French treaty and English fears that France was building up its navy.

Gordon Donaldson writes that in the early 17th century, “it was a common occurrence for the Scottish government to grant licences to individuals for the raising of specific numbers of men for service” in the continental wars.[1] In fact, for centuries, service in foreign armies was a not-unusual career choice for Scots whose prospects at home seemed less than rosy. So when efforts began to relieve La Rochelle, it would not have seemed strange that King Charles commissioned the MacNaughtan chief, Alexander of that Ilk, to raise 200 men to assist Buckingham’s troops.

In retrospect, however, there are two things about this levy that seem a bit odd. First, as 19th-century historian Donald Gregory pointed out, by this point a request for bowmen is unusual. Although Scottish kings had tried in earlier times to encourage archery as a defence against the English long-bow, by the turn of the 17th-century weapons had come into use that rendered archery, if not obsolete, certainly far less useful. A list of required weapons for Highlanders being raised by levy in 1552 does not even mention bows. Nonetheless, “[w]hatever may have been the cause, . . . the bow continued to be made use of in the Highlands long after it had been forgotten in England and the Lowlands,” a fact made clear “from innumerable passages in the Criminal records, and the record of the Privy Council of Scotland”.[2]

Which brings us to the second point: Why resort to Highlanders at all?[3] Things in the Highlands had improved somewhat after 1603, when James VI became James I of England and suddenly had resources available to tackle Highland lawlessness, but it was still a dodgy place. The young century had already seen one major Clan Donald rising, in 1614, and the Macdonalds were certainly not the only clan still sporadically causing trouble in the western Highlands. In fact, one of the incentives Charles offered to encourage enlistment was the promise that he would grant remission to ‘suche highland personis as ar fugutive from our lawes for criminal causes’ should they join MacNaughtan’s company.[4]

In the end, only about 100 men were raised for this expedition, and they drifted in over the course of the next two weeks. On the 21st, Lieutenant Hector was joined by four more of his clan (though one, Duncan M’Allester Bane, might have really been a Macdonald). I am not sure who any of these Macalisters were. MacNaughtan himself described his soldiers as “men of personagis”, suggesting that some of them were at least locally important. Two of the group, a Robert Gordoun and a Robert Naper, are listed as ‘gentlemen’, and one – John Colhoun of Camstradane – was clearly a landholder, but the others are only identified by military title or role.[5] On the other hand, at least one of those identified only by military title – ‘Alexander M’nachtane, Capt.’ – is MacNaughton of that Ilk himself. The leading military role of Hector M’Allester (and perhaps his prompt arrival) makes it possible that he was one of our clan’s leaders at the time – perhaps even the chief, Hector, 6th of Loup – but I have no real evidence of this and have found no mention of it elsewhere.

Whoever these men were, they were too late for Buckingham’s attempts in La Rochelle. Their ship left Lochkilkerane on the 28th of December and almost immediately ran into severe weather. By the 15th of January they had only got as far as Cornwall, where MacNaughtan appealed to the Earl of Morton to provide them with clothes and food when they reached the Isle of Wight.[6] What happened after their stopover there is unclear. Gregory supposed that they took the course so often followed by Scots and joined their many compatriots fighting in the German wars. 

copyright @ Lynn McAlister, 2014

[1] Donaldson, Scotland: James V- James VII, p. 253

[2] Donald Gregory, “Notices regarding Scottish Archery, particularly that of the Highlanders; together with some Original Documents relating to a levy of Highland Bowmen to serve in the war against France, in the year 1627”, in Archaeologia Scotica, vol. 3 (1831): 250-251.

[3] According to P. Hume Brown, “This extraordinary notion had been put in the King’s head” by MacNaughtan himself (Brown, ed., Register of the Privy Council of Scotland, second series, Vol. II: 1627-1628, p. xii).

[4] Charles I to the Privy Council of Scotland, dated 12th August 1627 (Brown, ed., Register, p. 56).

[5] Gregory, “Notices”, pp. 253-4

[6] Brown, Register, xii