It doesn’t begin with Culloden. History is seldom so neat and precise that a single event can be identified as the start or end of a thing. Rather, Culloden was a hinge, a point at which events changed direction, when the door to the past was closed and one to a very different future opened.
You might say it really begins centuries earlier, in the long, bitter wars between England and Scotland that trace their roots to the Norman conquerors. But that’s too vague and longwinded. It would be better to say it the introduction to the story was written at Glencoe, in 1692, when Clan MacDonald was slaughtered by their guests, the Campbells.
“Ye loyal MacDonalds, awaken! awaken!
“Why sleep ye so soundly in face of the foe?
“The clouds pass away, and the morning is breaking;
“But when will awaken the sons of Glen Coe?
“They lay down to rest with their thoughts on the morrow,
“Nor dreamt that life’s visions were -melting like snow;
“But daylight has dawned in the silence of sorrow,
“And ne’er shall awaken the Sons of Glencoe.”
from Lament for Glen Coe by Mary Maxwell Campbell
That event scattered MacDonalds around northern Scotland, and started the slow burn of anger that would erupt in the Jacobite rebellion, 50 years later.
Some of the MacDonalds fled to Glen Urquhart, Inverness-shire, after Glencoe. From there they would leave for the New World almost a century later.
But it all came to a head at Culloden, the final battle of the Jacobite uprising that had begun so well and was now about to end in that rocky, soggy field. And that’s where I’ll begin this tale.
It was a rainy day, April 16, 1746, when the Jacobite army of Bonnie Prince Charlie faced the English army under the Duke of Cumberland, across the moor at Culloden. On the left wing of the Jacobite Army were three regiments of MacDonalds – of Clanranald, Keppoch and the MacDonnells of Glengarry, all in the Duke of Perth’s division. Clan Donald had almost 1,000 men in the line, of the 7-8,000 in the Jacobite army that day.
Among them were my relatives, MacDonalds (from Clanranald, if I understand the genealogy correctly). I don’t know yet if they were direct ancestors, or outside the direct line. But they were my blood, family members standing in the cold, wet morning, waiting for the English to arrive. Their fate would eventually spin among the threads of mine, centuries later.
Across the field, among the Royal (government) Army that arrived several hours later; included in that force was the frontline regiment called Barrell’s Foot, and also Barrel’s King’s Own (4th), and later known as the King’s Own Royal Regiment from Lancaster, where my family originated. Also on the field was the sole English Jacobite unit: the Manchester Regiment, a group of soldiers also recruited from the area where my father’s family comes from. There was a Chadwick in their ranks. I don’t know if he was a relative, but it would certainly be a curious footnote in our genealogy if our family lines met and fought together there.*
Between the two lines of soldiers was a swamp, a small stream, and the boggy, soft ground of the moor that made it difficult to move rapidly across the gap. That would play out when the battle commenced. That swamp would force the Highlanders to split their line into two to avoid it. It would reduce the speed and power of the frightening Highland charge, too. Low walls surrounding fields hemmed both sides of the battlefield, further constraining the action and provided shelter for a unit of English soldiers who could safely fire on the advancing Scots.
The Highlanders had been up all night, marching towards a surprise night attack, only to be discovered and forced to return. They were discouraged, hungry, wet and tired. Some had drifted away. The rest waited for the battle to begin.
The Royal troops were fresher, but not much: they had marched 10-12 miles since before dawn to be there.
The MacDonalds must have been angry to see Campbells among the English, but their enemies were on the other wing, and could not be directly challenged. They were more attentive to local issues: a spat between Clanranald and the Glengarry MacDonalds had caused many of their soldiers to leave for home instead of marching together. Plus the MacDonalds felt slighted at having been placed on the left wing, rather than the right.
The two armies began roughly equal in size: 7-8,000 depending on your source, but the Highlander Army was already melting away by the time they clashed and may have had as few as 5,000 soldiers left. Their forces were depleted, and morale was low.
The English had more artillery (including some hefty 6-pounders), and cavalry. It also had the advantages of training, supply and consistency: all of its soldiers used the same musket and cartridge. Plus the soldiers had been fed that morning.
Both sides stood in the open for some time, neither side attacking, while the English guns pounded the Scots from a mere 300 yards away. Casualties were mounting among the Highlanders, so Prince Charles decided to attack. He sent word among his troops and most obeyed eagerly, but the centre was forced to veer right to avoid the swamp, causing a confusion of men on the right wing as they obstructed each other in their hurry to cross the gap.
On the left, the MacDonalds hesitated. Their wing was much further from the English than the right, and the ground between them softer. Their progress was slow, preventing a charge, and the English fire cut into them as they approached. Already suffering many casualties from the sustain musket fire, the MacDonalds broke when Cumberland ordered his dragoons to charge their line as it closed the gap. The left wing crumbled.
The Highlanders on the right had crashed into the English line, but couldn’t sustain their attack. Enfilading fire from their right cut into them. The English line didn’t waver. The Highlander charge started to break.
Soon they all retreated, some of the army falling back towards Inverness, while Cumberland’s dragoons pursued them mercilessly and slaughtered many. An estimated 1,000 Jacobites died, compared to perhaps 50 British (with about 300 more wounded).**
Seeing the battle was lost, Charles Edward Stuart made his escape, fleeing, hiding and eventually making his way to the Isle of Skye and from there to France. The Jacobite cause had ended.
Culloden wasn’t the end of the matter. A brutal massacre followed, with much looting and pillaging of property and cattle. Butcher Cumberland gained his nickname then.
The English were determined to break the backs of the clans, to wipe out the family loyalties and drag the Scots into what the English saw as modernity. The army swept through the Highlands after the battle, driving deep into the clan territories, soon followed by bureaucrats. They set up local overseers, changed tax and land laws, and drove the Scots from the land to make room for English nobles to farm or manage.
The Highland Clearances, as they were to be known, radically changed the face of Scotland for the next two generations. Thousands of Scots emigrated to escape the tyranny and the poverty, or were pushed off their land and had little choice but to board a ship bound for the colonies.
In early July, 1773, 27 years after Culloden, an extended family of MacDonalds – their name is spelled McDonald in later records – boarded a small, aging sloop called the Hector, at Ullapool, Loch Broom, on the western shore of Scotland. Passenger lists compiled later showed 189 Scots on board, including 16 McDonalds from Invernesshire. There were 25 single men, 33 families, a piper and their agent aboard:
Although they were not the first Scots to arrive in North America they were the vanguard of a massive wave of Scottish immigrants to arrive in what is now Canada. In the century following the landing of the Hector more than 120 ships brought nearly 20 000 people from Scotland to the port of Pictou. By 1879 more than ninety-three percent of the region’s rural property owners had Scottish names.
Head of the McDonald family on the Hector was Donald McDonald. His wife, Mary, and two children, as well as some nieces and nephews, accompanied him. John (Iain) McDonald was the other adult male McDonald onboard. He may have been the grandson of another John MacDonald, who fled from Glencoe, in 1692. A John MacDonald of that family served in the Jacobite Army under Prince Charles, but the name was common enough.
The two-week voyage instead took two and a half months, arriving in mid-September. Smallpox and dysentery killed 18 of the children on board. Food had run out. As fall approached, the Hector limped into harbour at Pictou, Cape Breton. The dispirited, hungry and seasick passengers looked at the shoreline with a mixture of despair and fear. Winter wasn’t far away and the land they had expected to occupy was still wilderness, with no arable space for crops, and no shelter. The promised free provisions for a year never materialized. It would be a hard winter for all of them.
Both McDonald men would be granted a parcel of land – 350 acres for Donald, 200 for John – along the Middle River, the next year (all of which took many years to clear). And thus the families would live, and survive, in the wilds of Nova Scotia. Others from the Hector would move to Truro or Halifax. Scots would soon arrive on other ships to take their place.
These early McDonalds were my mother’s family (although it’s difficult to trace them back before the 1850s – in 1817 there were 19 Donald McDonalds listed in the Pictou census, but I may be conflating some data). Her grandmother, Lynn McDonald, married another Scottish descendant of a more recent immigrant family, David Dunlop, in the mid-18th century, merging Highland and Lowland lines. From them came my grandmother, Jean, who would marry William Pudney, son of Sidney, an immigrant from Kent, England, who arrived in Canada with his wife about the time David and Lynn married. My own father would arrive inn 1947, from Lancashire.
While I don’t trace my ancestry back to Culloden, directly (as far as I yet know; I may learn more in future), the battle plays an important part in the family history. It was the hinge that set in motion the events – tragic as they were – that would eventually see my Scottish ancestors arrive in Canada, 240 years ago. So on April 16, I will tip a glass of whisky in memory of that day.
* Lieutenant Thomas Chadwick — a “tallow chandler” from Staffordshire — seems to have been a secret Jacobite, or at least was sympathetic to the rebels, and was later executed for it. I have traced my father’s line back to Richard Chadwick, of Lancashire, b. 1689, but cannot find a link to this Thomas ( have actually traced the line further, but the connections before 1650 are somewhat unsure). I’m still looking for other and older records.
** Another historical footnote: James Wolfe was aide-de-camp for General Hawley, who led the cavalry at Culloden. Wolfe’s military career would end in 1759 as his troops were winning the battle to capture Quebec City and take the New World from the French. Canada was a thread being woven into this tale even at Culloden.