The Clearances

A focus on the dramatic and immediate demise of the Highland Society in 1746 [Culloden] detracts from the role the clan chiefs later played as landlords in removing clansfolk from their land. Descendants of the same “petty tyrants” in the Appeal of Scotus Americanus are honored guests at today's Scottish-American functions.” - Highland Heritage: Scottish Americans in the American South by R. Celeste Ray

 

The clan system as it had been for over 1,000 years ended on the afternoon of 16 April, 1746 when the battalions of half-starved clansmen that made up the army of Prince Charles Edward Stewart suffered their first and final defeat at the hands of the English

led by the Duke of Cumberland on the fields of Culloden. The battle ended the Jacobite Rising of 1745. Soon afterward, the Hanoverian Regime sought to crush the Highlander society when Parliament passed the 1746 Disarming Act and the 1747 Act of Proscription, banning the wearing of tartan, bearing arms and the abolition of the clans' feudalistic system of government. No longer petty monarchs, the chiefs were allowed into the British aristocracy.

 

Left with control of their vast tracts of land, the chiefs began implementing a strategy for making more money from their properties. A transition from renting small farms (crofts) to a sheep raising model was a way for the chiefs to continue to upgrade their lifestyle and mingle with other nobles in Edinburgh and London. No longer needed for armies, their clansmen had to go.

 

The Duke of Cumberland targeted only the rebellious clans, but the attacks by the new aristocracy targeted them all. It was the pain and suffering created by their own chiefs that hurt most of all.

When the time came, it was the tacksmen who were the first to leave. Fortunately for them, they had the financial means to reinvent themselves. Soon thereafter, tens of thousands of the crofters were 'cleared.' Villages were burnt to the ground to make way for the sheep farms, grouse moors, deer stalks & pheasant shoots. There were edicts in some areas actually forbidding marriages among estate tenants! If the tenants refused to leave, old people, pregnant women, barefoot children and babes-in-arms had their homes demolished on top of them. For over a century the bayonet, truncheon and fire were used to drive them

from their homes - to the coast, to the cities and abroad, sometimes through indentured servitude.

 

An eyewitness of the time, Donald MacLeod said:

 

The consternation and confusion were extreme. Little or no time was given for the removal of persons or property; the people striving to

remove the sick and the helpless before the fire should reach them; next, struggling to save the most valuable of their effects. The cries of the women and children, the roaring of the affrighted cattle, hunted at the same time by the yelling dogs of the shepherds amid the smoke and fire, altogether presented a scene that completely baffles description — it required to be seen to be believed.

 

A dense cloud of smoke enveloped the whole country by day, and even extended far out to sea. At night an awfully grand but terrific scene presented itself — all the houses in an extensive district in flames at once. I myself ascended a height about eleven o'clock in the evening, and counted two hundred and fifty blazing houses, many of the owners of which I personally knew, but whose present condition — whether in or out of the flames — I could not tell. The conflagration lasted six days, till the whole of the dwellings were reduced to ashes or smoking ruins. During one of these days a boat actually lost her way in the dense smoke as she approached the shore, but at night was enabled to reach a landing-place by the lurid light of the flames.

  

It has been said that the Clearances were so long ago that they should be forgotten. But the hills are still empty, and in the whole of Britain, only in their straths and glens can real solitude be found. And, if one knows their sad history, little joy can be taken from the experience. The Chiefs remain though, in Edinburgh and London.*

 

*Where "lairds, unlike their forefathers, live at a great distance from their estates" and "natives [clansmen] are exclaimed against, as an intractable, idle and useless set of beings..." - Scotus Americanus, 1773

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