Saturday, August 29, 2009

Honest Fanatics & Criminal Lunatics: Sheriff MacPhaill on Dunavertie & the Kirk

In 1646, forces under the ultimate control of Archibald Campbell, 1st Marquis of Argyll, began to exact revenge on the allies of the Royalists in Scotland. A covenanter army led by Colin Campbell of Ardkinglass surrounded Lamonts at Ascog in June of that year. Sir James Lamont was brought to Ascog to persuade his clansman to surrender. After the fall of Ascog, the survivors were taken to Toward and then the kirkyard at Dunoon where thirty-five Lamont lairds were hanged in a single tree and some two hundred Lamont men, women, and children were fallen upon and murdered. Among the Campbell host was Reverend Colin MacLachlan, pastor of the kirk at Killin, who is believed to have enthusiastically urged on the Campbells in their bloody enterprise.

In Lamont and MacLachlan clan histories, or what is more accurately described as clan folklore, one "Sheriff MacPhaill" is claimed to have remarked subsequent to this massacre, "The difference between an honest fanatic and a criminal lunatic is difficult to define and of little difference to the victim." As it is used, the quotation conjures an image of a 17th century official stumbling across the aftermath of the carnage and remarking almost philosophically on the tragedy that befell the Lamonts. It would make for the final scene of a Hollywood film were made of these events with the sheriff and his men then mounting their horses or marching away after seeing to the disposition of the dead. A romantic image to be sure, but not one based in any reality.

Sheriff MacPhaill was a Scottish historian named James Robert Nicholson MacPhaill who lived from 1858 to 1933. He was the Sheriff of Sterling and edited a four volume set for the Scottish Historical Society called Highland Papers. It is in volume II at page 248 we find a piece entitled, "Documents Relating to the Massacre at Dunavertie".

Montrose's army was destroyed by David Leslie at Philliphaugh in September of 1645. Ardkinglass savaged the Lamonts in June of 1646. As the Marquis of Argyll slowly wrested control away from the remaining Royalists, Alasdair MacColla left a garrison of 500 men at Dunavertie Castle in May, 1647. Leslie laid seige to the castle and was able to secure its surrender under a promise of quarter for its defenders. Interestingly, promises of quarter had been used by Ardkinglass at Ascog and by Leslie himself at Philliphaugh. Much to what I would imagine to be the dismay of the prisoners, promises of quarter were frequently broken. Not that it should have been surprising, albeit somewhat disappointing, since the practice was not unheard of in the Royalist camp. Having thus surrendered, Leslie's men fell upon them and killed them to the man with the exception of one who was spared due to being a child.

MacPhaill's discussion tries to answer to two questions: Was there in fact a promise of quarter and who was responsible for the slaughter? He is able to make the argument there was in fact a promise of quarter made to the defenders of Dunavertie. As to who was responsible for the, he recognizes the Argyll probably influenced John Nevoy, a minister assigned to Leslie's command, who in turn talked Leslie into breaking his word. He also recognizes Leslie's cowardice in being unable to stand up to the representatives of the Kirk. Ultimately, however, it seems he places responsibility for this atrocity on James Nevoy and on the mindset of the leading faction of the Kirk at the time. Of James Nevoy, he writes:

A nephew of the Reverend Andrew Cant, and referred to withmuch appreciation in the Letters of Samuel Rutherford, Nevoy has most properly been held up to continuous execration. But though more notorious it does not follow that he was in reality worse than many of his neighbours, most of whom are fortunate in this, that their individual activities are not so clearly identified.Some exceptions, indeed, there are, such as the Reverend Colin Maclachlan, who took a leading part in the butchery of the Lamonts, and the Reverend David Dickson, whose ghoulish epinicion, ' the work goes bonnily on,' passed into a proverb. It must be remembered, too, that Nevoy was no obscure fanatic, but, like Dickson, one of the leaders of the Kirk (vide Professor Mitchell's General Assembly Commission Records, passim), and had been specially appointed by the Kirk to the Army. (Footnotes omitted.)

Continuing on page 253, MacPhaill continues with his description of the Kirk leadership:
The leaders of the Kirk at that time were, however, very different from the Knoxian Reformers. There were, of course, very many moderate men who cared more for the essentials of the Christian faith than for any special theological scheme or any particular form of Church government. But the theocratic theories of Andrew Melville and his associates had produced another and very unpleasant type. In the view of such men they and their followers were predestined from all eternity to be the Saints of God. All others were rebel's against the Almighty, and their extermination was the pleasant duty of the chosen people. Incidentally they claimed to have the power of the Keys and the right to make the lot of their opponents intolerable, not only in this life but also in that which is to come. Such a view of the universe, it is true, was not original—it was also wanting in perspective—and the scriptural language employed by its exponents sounds somewhat blasphemous to modern ears. It is not necessary to dispute their sincerity. But the difference between an honest fanatic and a criminal lunatic is difficult to define and is of little interest to the victim. (Footnotes omitted.)
One can only conclude the quote so often used in connection with the massacre of the Lamonts , and the participation in it by at least one MacLachlan, truly was made in the context of another atrocity nearly a full year later and then more generally in reference to the perspective held by those in power which led to acts of barbarism such as those at Dunoon and Dunavertie.

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Saturday, April 19, 2008


My great great great grandfather was a gentleman named Sylvanus Brown Corey. According to pension records obtained from the National Archives, he was not a large man being only 5' 6 1/2". He was of fair complexion, had gray eyes, and in his youth, brown hair. He was a harness maker by trade.

Sylvanus was born June 25, 1835, in Aroostook County, Maine. By 1857 he had made his way to Canton, Illinois, where he married my great great grandmother, Sarah E. McBain (cited at least once in records as McBane), on April 4, 1857. The ceremony was conducted by one Reverend Caleb Foster. Their only child, Frank Elsworth Corey, was born June 9, 1861, amidst the growing hostilities that would become known as the War of the Rebellion or, more commonly, as the American Civil War, Fort Sumpter having been attacked April 12 of that year.

In August of the following year, Sylvanus said goodbye to his family as he traveled to Chicago and enlisted in Company F of the 88th Illinois Volunteer Infantry. He would serve for almost three years before mustering out in June of 1865.

My great great grandfather would live long life, passing into the hereafter on July 27, 1914, in Elmwood, Illinois.

I told you that so I could tell you this.

It is part of the family lore that we are related to the navigator and privateer Sir Francis Drake. I have an unattributed abstract of the estate of the admiral which traces various lines of descent from his brothers as he had no children of his own. And, no, it doesn't appear as though I'm coming into any money as a result of my lineage. What is if value though is the wealth of genealogical information contained in the abstract.

Our alleged line of descent would come from Francis' brother, Thomas. At some future time I'll describe the details of the line, but for now suffice it to say that Elizabeth Drake married Thomas Corey on February 15, 1748. They had four children-Ester, Daniel, Gideon and William. That's where the abstract ends with respect to the Drake and Corey lines. Given that Sylvanus was born in 1835 and there is no mention of his parentage in the information I have, there has been somewhat of a gap to fill in.

Searching the web, I stumbled across a website that picks up where my information leaves off. If one goes to the page for Elizabeth Drake one sees that she had 7 children by Thomas Corey. The one of interest is Gideon Elisha Clark Corey born 1757. He married Abigail Hannah Clark on 1783 and they had 11 ( =:o ) children. One of their sons, Stephen Corey was born April 4, 1797. He married Sarah Cyphers Brown September 8, 1818. According to this website, they also had 11 children between approximately 1820 and 1841. One of the children born after 1830 is Salphenus Brown Corey.

I'm leaving the GeneaNet information for now. If one does a little research on the web, it becomes apparent that the Drakes and Coreys connected in Rhode Island. Within a few generations the family has located in New Brunswick, Canada. Aroostook County, Maine, has a common border with this Canadian province. During the 1830s there were disputed claims over territory between Great Britain and the United States.

I think a strong case can be made that Sylvanus and Salphenus are the same person. Could the variance be merely the mistake of a clerk who simply spelled it as he heard it or is there something more going on here. I'd be interested to know where the name of Salphenus Corey was originally recorded either in official records such as a census or in family papers.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


According to all the genealogies I've seen, 1804 is given as the birth year for James McLauchlan of Crook. If that were the case, then the 1851 census should list his age as 46 or 47. I say "or" because the information in that census is as of March 30, 1851. If James was born between January 1 and March 30, 1804, he would have been 47. After March 30, 1804, he would still be 46.

However, the 1851 census lists his age as 45. If that's true, then his birth date would be somewhere between March 31, 1805, and March 30, 1806. I am now curious about the origin of the "1804."

Saturday, April 5, 2008


In Britane’s distemper… Patrick Gordon of Ruthven mentions the efforts of “corronell M’Lachlen” during the battle of Alford. I assume this brief reference is the source taken by some chroniclers of Clan MacLachlan to claim, understandably given Gordon’s choice of spelling, the presence of a MacLachlan among the officer corps of Montrose’s army at Alford. This claim has further evolved to include the assertion that “corronell M’Lachlen” “ achieved the rank of colonel while in Montrose’s service and that after capture at Philliphaugh was taken to Edinburgh and hanged.

David Stevenson, in Highland Warrior: Alasdair MacColla and the Civil Wars, identifies Gordon’s “corronell M’Lachlen” as Major Thomas Laghtnan who was in fact captured at Philliphaugh and, along with Manus O’Cahan, subsequently hanged. Laghtnan was not from Scotland, but in fact came over with the three Irish regiments under MacColla’s command. I think support for Stevenson's position can also be found in fact that M'Lachlen is placed in command of a "braue regiment of Irrish foote" by Gordon rather than leading MacLachlan clansman.

Gordon, Patrick, fl. 1649. A Short Abridgement of Britane's Distemper, From the Yeare of God M. DC. XXXIX. to M. DC. XLIX. Aberdeen: Printed for the Spalding club, 1844

Stevenson, David. Highland Warrior: Alasdair MacColla and the Civil Wars. Edinburgh: John Donald, 2003.

Saturday, March 29, 2008


The imagination seems to yearn for colorful details about one’s ancestors. That one is descended from a person who barely existed by scratching out a living uneducated and impoverished is not nearly as compelling as the picture conjured by a clansman, targe and broadsword in hand, charging the enemy’s line while screaming a slogan shared by his fellow highlanders. But how far back do these battle cries actually go? Is there any evidence for their existence?

An example of the dubiousness of the battle cry can be found on the website for the Clan MacLachlan Association of North America. Here it is stated that the MacLachlan’s battle cry at Culloden Moor was “Life or Death!” How could anyone know this unless there is a record by those at the battle and why not provide the evidence of where it’s located? Is there a journal by a combatant of either side describing this? When did it appear in clan lore?

The clan system was already dying at the time of the ’45 and the Jacobite loss at Culloden dragged it to its grave and threw dirt in its face. I find the assertion that this war cry, if it existed at all, was used subsequently to be pure wishful thinking.

If it is indeed a fabrication of the Scottish Revival, I'd advocate the selection of a new war cry. "Life or Death!" suffers from an extreme lack of meaning and every time I read it I think of Eddie Izzard's "Cake or death?" bit from his Dressed to Kill special.


While I’m personally happy with the MacLachlans having two plant badges, the rowan (Sorbus aucuparia aka European Mountain Ash) and the periwinkle (vinca minor), I’ve never seen any reference to when or where these plants were originally associated with Clan MacLachlan. Is there a sheepskin scroll in gaelic somewhere linking these plants to the surname or is this another invention similar to the tartan fraud of the Sobieski Stuarts? Perhaps it’s merely a product of the revival of interest in things Scottish attributed to Queen Victoria’s visit to Scotland early in her reign.

Friday, March 28, 2008


I can trace my surname lineage as far back as the 1851 Census in Durham County, England. There is the entry for James McLauchlan, a schoolmaster in the village of Crook. The entry is not easy to read and the last name looks as though it is spelled “McLauchland” by the entrant.

I remember my excitement when the page arrived in the mail because I knew that the 1851 Census was the first one listing the place of birth for individuals. I scanned across the line for my ancestor to “Birthplace” to discover the entrant listed only “Scotland.” Good taste prevents me from fully describing my disappointed reaction.

I refer to this ancestor as “James the Schoolmaster” though I’ve seen his name listed variously as James W. McLauchlan, James W. McLauchlan, Jr., James McLauchlan, and (arguably) James McLauchland.

I once had a correspondence with a distant cousin in England who was in possession of some letters that James had written during a trip to Scotland. I subsequently wrote and asked for copies but never received any. That was some years ago and I don’t know if this relative is even still living. I need to dig out my research as I’m sure I saved this correspondence. If memory serves me correctly, he did mention the letters were written from two different Scottish towns, but he didn’t know if these had been James’ destination or simply towns he passed through on his way to or from.

Once I find these documents I’ll scan them and try to figure out a way to post them on this blog.