Little Rebellions – Gimme Shelter


Captain James Campbell via General Humphrey Bland
Sunday, 24th August 1746

As Sheilings are only Sheds made in the hills to Herds, for herding Cattle in the Summer time, and not habitable in the Winter; consequently they are of no Importance; therefor it is required they may be destroyed and thrown down by the owners, so as they be no shelter to the Rebels; and that the owners may not plead Ignorance thereafter, and what ever houses have been burnt and destroyed are not to be rebuilt, without a Sign’d Order from the General or Commander in Chief.

Deeply buried within the extensive annals of the Montrose Muniments at the NRS are three bundles of extremely interesting letters and lists that provide a visceral, microcosmic snapshot of the last Jacobite rising in Scotland. After seeking permission directly from the standing Duke of Montrose, I’ve been taken with transcribing the contents for use within my thesis and also for a discreet article or two, if timing allows.

Much of what is contained within these bundles highlights the uncomfortable predicament in which the then 2nd Duke found himself: trying to maintain and defend the lives and homes of his contracted tenants – whether Jacobite or not – whilst upholding his duties and loyalties to the Georgian government of Britain, even despite its heavy-handed tactics of rebellion-purging. In addition to some extremely tense back-and-forth correspondence between Montrose’s estate of Buchanan and the military authorities based in Fort Augustus, the files also contain lists of suspected rebels, declarations both for and against accused persons, and the recorded depredations of Montrose’s lands carried out by the King’s troops.

In short, Montrose did his very best to walk the line and support his tenants while visibly proving his due diligence by carrying out the often pitiless regimens insisted upon by the government.  It is an understatement to say that the two goals were mutually exclusive. He kept closely in touch with his factors, most notably Mungo Grahame of Gorthie, ensuring that the instructions passed down by government officials were enacted to catalogue every parcel of land rented out and assess the behavior and accountability of each soul under his jurisdiction. If innocent, tenants were to remain at home and to stay clear of any possible activity that would mark them as putative criminals in the critical eye of the government. If in collusion with the enemy, they were to turn in their arms and submit themselves immediately to local magistrates. Montrose was in a bind, having to carefully monitor and record  his entire estate in this manner, alternately condemning or fervently attempting to exonerate the men and women on his land. It didn’t help that many notorious MacGregors held tacks and farms under the Duke.

While the authorities in Fort Augustus and Stirling gave Montrose a modicum of respect that he was due as a Peer of Scotland, they also made it glaringly apparent that he was regarded as just another shifty enabler who was likely harboring state criminals guilty of the most odious charge of high treason. To wit, the government proved that it would much rather play it safely, indicting any even-questionable character and ordering the removal of any possible hiding place in which a rebel might sequester.

The attached snippet of a copy order from General Bland was likely one of many that went out to lairds and factors in obstreperous areas of the country, to be read in public by local ministers at their Sunday services. In it, Bland makes no bones about eliminating places to hide for those not inclined to the government’s authority. Any shelter still standing in the winter must be destroyed, and any new builds must be directly authorized by Bland himself or by a direct subsidiary. The owners of the land are expected to take an active role in ensuring this is carried out upon pain of intervention from the army. The order goes on to explain that if anyone is found harboring or selling foodstuffs or supplies to suspected or accused rebels, those persons will certainly have their belongings seized and their homes and property burned to the ground. A scorched-earth policy to maintain order if there ever was one. This is the very heart of civil war.

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