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Massacre of Glencoe

Boone Thompson Genealogy & History

February 13, 1692
The massacre of Glencoe. A dark cloud
in Scottish History. Another case of gross
injustice to the Scottish clans in the Highlands by the British.
 

 

The massacre of Glencoe as seen through the eyes of the Scots & the British.

Clan Campbell siding with King William’s orders, murders members of Clan McDonald. This massacre is still remembered today in Scotland. The Massacre of Glencoe has been written about, sung about and romanticized. It did, in fact happen pretty much as the song portrays. The independent chiefs had become over powerful, some say to the point of being barbaric. They would execute members of the clan whom they felt deserved this extreme penalty, and, most irritating to their settled neighbors, they lived only for cattle raiding and plunder. Clans MacDonald and Campbell were two of the most notorious cattle thief gangs and they mostly were stealing from each other. Towards the end of 1691, William III considered the best way to establish law and order would be to grant an amnesty and let bygones be bygones. However, a condition of this amnesty was that all the clan chieftains who had not previously done so must acknowledge allegiance by January 1, 1692. For some reason, pride, or otherwise, MacDonald of Glencoe (MacIan) was one of the last to comply with the terms of the government. On December 31, 1691, MacIan made his way to Fort William and presented himself to Colonel Hill, the governor, asking him to administer the required oath of allegiance. The colonel declined saying that according to proclamation, stating that only the civil magistrate could administer the oath. MacIan pleaded with him as to the urgency of the matter and the fact that there was no magistrate he could reach before the expiration of the day. Hill persisted in asserting his power, but advised MacIan to proceed instantly to Inverary. He provided him with a letter to Sir Colin Campbell of Ardinglass, sheriff of Argylshire begging him to receive MacIan as "a lost sheep" and to administer the necessary oaths. Hill also gave him a letter of protection and an assurance that no proceedings should be instituted against him under the proclamation till he should have an opportunity of laying his case before the King of the privy council. MacIan left Fort William immediately and traveled through almost impassable mountains covered with snow. Campbell was absent when he got there and MacIan had to wait three days till his return, Sir Colin having been prevented from reaching Inverary sooner due to weather conditions. Campbell, at first, declined to see MacIan as the time allowed for the proclamation had expired but MacIan threatened to protest against the sheriff should he refuse to act. Campbell yielded, administered the oath, and MacIan returned home believing himself free of danger. At the beginning of February, a company of 120 men descended on Glencoe under the command of Captain Campbell of Glenlyon, who was related by marriage to MacIan. Under the pretext of friendship and to obtain suitable quarters where they could conveniently collect the arrears of "cess and hearth-money", a new tax law laid by Scottish parliament in 1690, they received a hearty welcome. Captain Campbell and his troops were entertained by MacIan and his people for over a week. On the 12th of February, the order of "fire and sword" (to put everyone to death and burn everything) was handed down to Argyles regiment and they were ordered to proceed to Glencoe so as to reach the post by five o'clock the following morning. The instructions reached Glenlyon to "all upon the MacDonald's precisely at five o'clock the following morning and put all the sword under 70 years of age". After dinner and a card game with the sons of the chieftain, Captain Campbell wished them a goodnight and even accepted an invitation by MacIan to dine with him the following day. MacIan and his sons retired at their usual h, but early in the morning, one of the sons hearing voices about his house, grew alarmed and, jumping out of bed, went to Captain Campbell 's quarters to ascertain the cause of the unusual bustle which had interrupted is sleep. He found the soldiers all in motion and inquired of Captain Campbell the object of these preparations. Captain Campbell pretended that his purpose was to march against some of Glengarry's men and explained if he had intended any harm to the clan, he would have provided for the safety of his niece and her husband. Satisfied, young MacDonald retired to his house, but had not been long in bed when he was awakened by his servant informing him of the approach of a party of men towards the house. Seeing this company of 20 or so soldiers with muskets and fixed bayonets, he fled to a hill in the neighborhood where he was later joined by his brother who had escaped after being awakened by a servant. The massacre commenced at five o'clock in the morning February 13 at three different places at once. Captain Campbell undertook to butcher his own hospitable landlord and other inhabitants at Inverriggan. MacIan was shot while rising to receive what he thought were visitors and fell into the arms of his wife. The lady herself was stripped naked and treated with such extreme cruelty that she died the next morning. A third party fired upon nine men in a house sitting before a fire. One of these men had a protection in his pocket from Colonel Hill. There were clan members dragged from their beds and murdered in all parts of the glen. In all, only 38 clan members out of 200 were slaughtered. They burned the houses and carried off the cattle, thus preventing the inhabitants from returning to the Glen. Those that had fled, including elderly matrons, women with child, and mothers with infants at their breasts, followed by children were left to try to find their way through the snow covered mountains, many perishing from cold, hunger and fatigue. It all aroused a tremendous outcry in Scotland, even in the Lowlands where the Highlanders were mostly scorned. The authorities realized that they had gone too far and Stair (the King's advisor) had to retire from the scene for a while, but he was never punished and eventually was promoted to the Earl of Stair. *King William himself could not escape responsibility for he had given the orders of fire and sword on Stair's advice. Nothing was ever done in the way of punishment to anyone involved in the incident. However the Earl of Breadalbane was found guilty of High treason and he spent a few days imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle. The entire incident was hushed up and is now a part of history that is regarded as a sad and unexplainable blunder. It however has made both clans that were involved famous. Even today, some 313 years later, in some parts of Scotland it is not wise to admit you might be a Campbell especially around the Glencoe area. It was not so much the deed itself that brings about the continuing hatred, it was the way it was done. According to Scottish hospitality one clan did not wage war against the one clan that cared for you. If you had a grievance with y host, you left and then came back to fight with honor. However, they chose not to do it that way. The Campbell chose the coward’s way out and will live forever in infamy.

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The Campbell’s version

of the Massacre of Glencoe

Margaret Hamilton Campbell Pilcher’s View of the Massacre

Mrs. Pilcher attempts to excuse the massacre of the Macdonald’s at Glencoe with these words:

"The Campbell’s should not be so severely censured for this action, as they have been by many writers, especially McCauley [sic] in his History of England. They were officers in the King’s Army, and only carried out his orders."

Lord Macaulay’s Account: Although many clan leaders waited until the last few days before the deadline to take this oath, all except one man, MacDonald of Glencoe, successfully swore the oath before the expiration of the deadline. Macaulay tells us that: In 1688, the Protestants William III and Mary II had deposed the Roman Catholic King of Britain, James II. While the English were quite content with these new monarchs, for several years the Highlands of Scotland remained a hotbed of support for the deposed King James II. Finally in 1691, to obtain peace in the Highlands, King William agreed to an amnesty scheme, which had been negotiated with the clan leaders. The scheme included a requirement that all clan chieftains must take an oath of allegiance to William and Mary prior to 1 January 1692.

… no Celtic potentate was so impractical as MacDonald of Glencoe, known among the mountains by the hereditary appellation of Mac Ian. … among the Highlanders generally, to rob was thought at least as honorable an employment as to cultivate the soil; and, of all the Highlanders, the Macdonald’s of Glencoe had the least productive soil, and the most convenient and secure den of robbers." … The authorities at Edinburgh put forth a proclamation [in August 1691] exhorting the clans to submit to King William and Queen Mary, and offering pardon to every rebel whom, on or before the thirty-first of December 1691, should swear to live peaceably under the government of their Majesties. It was announced that those who should hold out after that day would be treated as enemies and traitors. … The thirty-first of December arrived; and still the Macdonald’s of Glencoe had not come in. The punctilious pride of Mac Ian was doubtless gratified by the thought that he had continued to defy the government … At length, on the thirty-first of December, he repaired to Fort William, accompanied by his principal vassals, and offered to take the oaths. To his dismay, he found that there was in the fort no person competent to administer them. Colonel Hill, the Governor, was not a magistrate; nor was there any magistrate nearer than Inverary. Mac Ian, now fully sensible of the folly of which he had been guilty in postponing to the very last moment an act on which his life and his estate depended, set off for Inverary in great distress. He carried with him a letter from Hill to the Sheriff of Argylshire, Sir Colin Campbell … it was not till the sixth of January that he presented himself before the Sheriff at Inverary. The Sheriff hesitated. His power, he said, was limited by the terms of the proclamation; and he did not see how he could swear a rebel who had not submitted within the prescribed time. Mac Ian begged earnestly and with tears that he might be sworn. … His entreaties and Hill’s letter overcame Sir Collin’s scruples. The oath was administered, and a certificate was transmitted to the Council at Edinburgh, setting forth the special circumstances, which had induced the Sheriff to do what he knew not to be strictly regular.

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Lyrics to "Massacre of Glencoe"

Written by Jim McLean in 1964

O cruel is the snow
That sweeps Glencoe
And covers the grave O' Donald
And cruel was the foe
That raped Glencoe
And murdered the house of Macdonald
They came in a blizzard
We offered them heat
A roof o'er their heads
Dry shoes for their feet
We wined them and dined them
They ate of our meat
And they slept in the house of Macdonald
O cruel is the snow
That sweeps Glencoe
And covers the grave O' Donald
And cruel was the foe
That raped Glencoe
And murdered the house of Macdonald

They came from Fort William
Wi' murder in mind
The Campbell had orders
King William had signed
Put all to the sword
These words were underlined
And leave none alive called Macdonald
O cruel is the snow
That sweeps Glencoe
And covers the grave o Donald
And cruel was the foe
That raped Glencoe
And murdered the house of Macdonald

They came in the night
When the men were asleep
This band o' Argyles
Through snow soft and deep
Like murdering foxes
Among helpless sheep
They slaughtered the house of  Macdonald
O cruel is the snow
That sweeps Glencoe
And covers the grave O' Donald
And cruel was the foe
That raped Glencoe
And murdered the house of Macdonald

Some died in their beds
At the hand of the foe
Some fled in the night
And were lost in the snow
Some lived to accuse him
That struck the first blow
But gone was the house of Macdonald

O cruel is the snow
that sweeps Glencoe
And covers the grave O' Donald
and cruel was the foe
that raped Glencoe
And murdered the house of Macdonald

END

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Still another interesting version of the

Massacre of Glencoe

http://www.mactavish.org/glencoe1.html

The Ballad of Glencoe/Massacre of Glencoe

Written by Jim McLean about the Massacre of the MacDonalds in the snowy Glencoe in February 1692. These are the original lyrics to this ballad originally named as "The Ballad of Glencoe" but has become known as "The Massacre of Glencoe" in more recent years.  

The Ballad of Glencoe

They came in a blizzard, we offered them heat
A roof for their heads, dry shoes for their feet
We wined them and dined them, they ate of our meat
And they slept in the house of MacDonald

O, cruel was the snow that sweeps Glencoe
And covers the grave o' Donald
O, cruel was the foe that raped Glencoe
And murdered the house of MacDonald.

2. They came from Fort William with murder in mind
The Campbell had orders King William had signed*
"Put all to the sword" these words underlined
"And leave none alive called MacDonald" 

O, cruel was the snow that sweeps Glencoe
And covers the grave o' Donald
O, cruel was the foe that raped Glencoe
And murdered the house of MacDonald. 

3. They came in the night when the men were asleep
This band of Argyles, through snow soft and deep
Like murdering foxes amongst helpless sheep
They slaughtered the house of MacDonald 

O, cruel was the snow that sweeps Glencoe
And covers the grave o' Donald
O, cruel was the foe that raped Glencoe
And murdered the house of MacDonald. 

4. Some died in their beds at the hand of the foe
Some fled in the night and were lost in the snow
Some lived to accuse him who struck the first blow
But gone was the house of MacDonald.

O, cruel was the snow that sweeps Glencoe
And covers the grave o' Donald
O, cruel was the foe that raped Glencoe
And murdered the house of MacDonald.

Properly called The Massacre of Glencoe
Written by Jim McLean in 1964.

Please feel free to send any corrections with any comments or reactions regarding this site.
Shelby (Lex) Riggs
 
Updated: Feb. 10, 2007

 

Please feel free to send any corrections

with any comments or reactions regarding this site.

Col. Shelby Alexander (Lex) Riggs II

930 Anchor Dr.

Henderson, NV 89015

702-565-5506

shelbyandsue@msn.com

Click on link for the Genealogy on the Riggs Family.

http://shelby-lex.tripod.com

Click on link for the Henderson City High School site.

Henderson, KY

My personal Tribute to fine group of student/athletes.

http://city-high-flash1955-56.tripod.com/

My high school yearbook, Henderson City High School

http://city-high-flash1955-56.tripod.com/hendersoncityhighschool1963/

Click on link for my friend Sue Thompson (no relation)

Sue recorded "Norman", "Sad Movies", "Paper Tiger"

http://members.tripod.com/suethompson2001/

Thanks to cousin Angelina Bennett, who did many years of physical research of the family.

A big thanks to WIKIPEDIA

http://www.wikipedia.org/

  (T), 2004-2012