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A Dark Day in Scotland; the Clan Macdonald Massacre and Trap of 1692

History lives forever. Can we learn of mistakes of the past?

Marker of The MacDonalds Massacre of Glencoe

Marker of The MacDonalds Massacre of Glencoe

Map of Glencoe, Scotland

Map of Glencoe, Scotland

The Highland Clan Chiefs

Over 300 years ago, in the hills of Glencoe, Scotland, a treacherous slaughter occurred in Glencoe Scotland. It was a turbulent time when England, Ireland, and Scotland did not want a Catholic king. However, King James II was becoming Catholic and wanted his son raised Catholic, which forced him to flee Scotland. King William III would replace him.

It was decided that the Highlander Clans would be required to sign oaths to King Willam and Queen Mary. John Campbell, Earl of Breadalbane, also known as 'slippery John,' would offer to act as the organizer to bring all the Highlander clans together, offering them money as a bribe so they would sign the oaths. The British believed in his plan and gave him a substantial amount of money to pay the chiefs of the clans.

Chief of the MacDonald Clan, known as Macclain, had fallen on hard times and allowed his clan to steal cattle from the Campbells to survive. As John Campbell was distributing the bribe money, he told Maclain, "since you have been stealing cattle, I deduct that from your payment, and therefore you are do nothing."

There were rumors that Campbell never gave any of the money to the chiefs and keep it to himself. In the meantime, King James sent permission for the clans to sign their oaths since he was unable to gather finances to claim his throne.

John Campbell,  Earl of Breadalbane

John Campbell, Earl of Breadalbane

King William III

King William III

Deadline For The Oaths To Be Signed.

A deadline of January 1, 1692, had been set for all the chiefs to sign their oaths. Somehow, Maclain had waited some time, and as the deadline approached, he rushed to Ft. William in a winter storm to have Col. John Hill authorize his signature. Hill told him he couldn't confirm signature and said Maclain had to go to Invergarry. He did, however, give an affidavit to Maclain that he did sign. Invergarry was at least 60 miles further, and he would have to travel in a winter storm.

Maclain arrived on January 2 and had to wait for the sheriff for three days. Finally, the sheriff accepted Macclain's signature and letter of explanation from Ft. William about the delay. Maclain assumed his signature valid and returned to Glencoe.

Soldiers Orders Given by King William III

Sir John Dalrymple, Secretary of State for Scotland, was against the MacDonald clan of Glencoe and furious his signature was accepted. He convinced King William the MacDonalds to be punished. After receiving confirmation from the King, he ordered soldiers to Ft. William putting them on standby. The soldiers were expected to be housed with the clan under the pretext of collecting taxes.

Highlanders had a code of hospitality to open their home and hearth when needed. For ten days, the soldiers ate, drank, and slept within the homes of the MacDonalds. Some of the soldiers suspected danger was coming and tried to warn the clan. At one point, Hugh Mackenzie played his bagpipes and the song "Women of the Glen."

The soldiers received their orders from Robert Campbell, a pawn of Dalrymple, to begin the massacre. Again, some soldiers broke their swords to avoid the charge, and others helped some escape. Some 38 of the clan massacred, and estimates of 50-300 who escaped in the bitter winter died of exposure. Maclain was slain in his bed with his wife attempting to escape, caught, and her fingers were cut off to get her rings, throw in the snow to die of exposure and blood loss. Two of their sons did escape to the mountains.

Dalrymple was furious that the sons escaped and ordered a search, but no one followed his order. Finally, the pawn, Robert Campbell, drunk in a tavern, bragged about the massacre, and journalists became aware of this and published their account, and the public was shocked. All this time, King William was in France and chose to ignore what happened.

The betrayal was considered what Scotland called Slaughter Under Trust. But, unfortunately, it seems no one would be held accountable for this massacre authorized by the Scottish government.

Queen Mary was forced to order an inquiry but died in 1695. A second inquiry was initiated and determined that the massacre was an act of treason. Dalrymple was forced to resign, but soon his role was forgotten as he was made Marquess by the King.

Order to Massacre The MacDonalds

Order to Massacre The MacDonalds

Massacre at Glencoe

Massacre at Glencoe

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Glencoe Escape in Storm

Glencoe Escape in Storm

Where Did The Highlanders Go?

For many years the Highlanders, descendants of the Celts, lived in the hills of Scotland with several different clans mostly harmoniously. But by the 18th century, many left for America and Nova Scotia, Canada.

Catholic clans suffered terrible repressions if they tried to assert their independence. They were forbidden to speak their Gaelic language or to wear their traditional kilts. During the 18 and 19th centuries, the Highlanders were forced to leave their homeland, called the Highlander Clearance. There were differences in this emigration, and a major one was economic.

In July 2007, a 10-foot bronze statue, Exiles at Helmsdale, Sutherland, commemorates the people cleared by the landowners who left their homeland for Canada and America. An identical sculpture is on the banks of the Red River in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

Mmemories are long in Scotland, and the name Campbell is associated with a sad history of Scotland.

Statue Exiles

Statue Exiles


Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on October 12, 2021:

That I agree.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on October 12, 2021:

Very interesting and informative. 1692 is a long way back but it's good to learn of this event.

Maria Logan Montgomery from Coastal Alabama, UsA on October 12, 2021:

I knew the story, but enjoyed reading about it again. I have Scottish ancestry, and it breaks my heart and makes me angry every time I think of Glencoe, Colloden, etc.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on October 12, 2021:

Rosina, thanks for stopping by. Scotland has such a rich history and most of it is great with historical figures to be remembered.

Rosina S Khan on October 12, 2021:

This is an interesting but pathetic account of Scotland's history. I loved reading and learning about it. Thank you for sharing, Fran.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on October 12, 2021:

You'll welcome.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on October 12, 2021:

John, thanks for your visit. Scotland has such a rich history to be treasured.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on October 12, 2021:

Thank you for sharing this sad part of history, Fran. Not all is fair in love and war it seems.

fran rooks (author) from Toledo, Ohio on October 12, 2021:

Thank you for your visit. I do appreciate it.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on October 11, 2021:

I like the read. Thanks.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on October 11, 2021:

This is a good historical article, Fran. I'm glad they erected that statue. I enjoyed reading this article.

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