Here is the full series of Celtic Monthly articles from Vol 10 of 1884/5 Celtic Monthly on Major John MacDonald
Grateful thanks to Alasdair MacMhaoirn.
Back in 1983, our historian John Macdonald had recorded a conversation with William MacKay Coul, about his namesake Major John MacDonald Blarich (1722-1792). During their talk William had posed an intriguing question which remained unanswered until very recently.
It says on Major MacDonald’s gravestone that he was 45 years in the army. William said “He must have been 24 at the time of Culloden and it puzzles me which army he was in for 45 years. Can you imagine a MacDonald fighting for the redcoats?” he asks, but subsequently reflected “But, then again, there was brother fighting brother at Culloden.”
The Battle of Culloden was the final confrontation of the Jacobite rising of 1745 and part of a religious civil war in Britain. Bonnie Prince Charlie’s army were defeated there, and the results of that defeat were long-lasting – changing the Highlands forever. Culloden left a bitter legacy of hatred and suspicion that would remain for many years to come.
On which side did Major John fight?
Now we have an answer to William’s question, thanks to a discovery by Dr Alasdair MacMhaoirn of Muie. Taken from an old manuscript, said to be faded and difficult to read, an article in the Celtic Magazine vol 10 of 1884/5.
Major John Macdonald rose from the ranks. No mean feat in an age when whom you knew and from whence you came from in the rank of society had precedence over ability, experience and service.
He lies in the Old Cemetery of St Callans. His is one of a line of Macdonald burials to the north of the watchtower. Sir John A Macdonald, the first prime minister of Canada, is kindred.
He traces back to the Priory of Beauly and a Manach or Monk, who was a Macdonald. He had a son who became a Clerk to the town of Dingwall. This Clerk had a son John, Mac-a Clerach, Mac-a Mhannichie. He was sensitive to being called thus and could be raised with its use. As is so often the case, the more he resented it, the more it was used to rile him, so much so that the occasion came when it led to retaliation and the death of the tempter.
The victim had good favour with Macdonald, Lord of the Isles and Earl of Ross. So John Mac-a- Clerach decided it prudent to take himself elsewhere. He came into Braegrudy in the parish of Rogart, and here he settled. Ian MacInish, vic Uilliam, vic Hormaid, vic Mhurchie, vic Dhoill, vic Iain, vic Chlerich, vic a Mhannich.
He states, “They were known as Slioch a Mhannich. People of the Monk. That our burying place being in the outskirts of the churchyard show us being latecomers. Whereas Murrays, MacKays, Sutherlands and Douglases are centrical, and buried near the church wall.”
Enlistment and the early years.
Our story begins in 1739. John is aged seventeen. Along with his cousin William Macdonald, he was engaged to drive a herd of cattle over to a place called Moinbuy. On their way home, they stopped for rest at the Balchragan Inn (Invershin.) As fate would have it, the inn was full of soldiers, Col Deseureys Regiment of Foot, the 32nd. The servant to the Colonel was a distant relative to the cousins and so the lads were drawn into the company. A sergeant, always on the lookout for recruits, wished for them to enlist. William was for the idea, John less so, but, experienced in recruiting tactics, the sergeant used wile and persuasion in the form of strong drink and a convivial evening was spent. Next morning saw them surface the worse of the wear, surrounded by soldiers and at the Inn of Culrain. They had no recollection of having crossed the Oykel River.
They took themselves to a burn to freshen up and when John took out his pocket-handkerchief to dry his hands, much to his surprise, half a crown dropped out of it. He had accepted the kings shilling, as had his cousin. Life was to take a very different course. The troop made its way to Inverness Castle, where John was given his signing up guinea.
Times were difficult for any Highlander recruited into the King’s service. They were treated with much insult and abuse, viewed with great suspicion, looked upon as savages and passed over for advancement if any non-highlander could be found.
In the summer of 1740 they were garrisoned in Fort William, things were not much better, his cousin William took ill and he was very unhappy. Along with a pal, piper James Gunn from Golspie, he had thoughts of desertion. But then his luck changed. He was given another mess and found the corporal there to be a man of knowledge and humanity. This man, Edward Holloway, was from Dublin. He was a great reader and taught Macdonald how to read, encouraged by finding in the recruit someone willing to learn and someone of sober inclination. MacDonald’s initial signing up spree had been a lesson well learned.
Boxing was popular and some prestige was attributed to someone who could handle themselves well. In his mess, there was a man called Hamilton who had the reputation of being a great boxer. One day, Macdonald found a room-mate, Munro from Creich, with a swollen face and bleeding, due to Hamilton having had a go at him. He tackled Hamilton as to why he had done this and received a profane reply that “he would use every Negro Highlander in the house in the same manner.” MacDonald’s hackles went up and a challenge was made. A corporal stepped in and said that he would stand by to see that there was fair play. “A few hits did the business, being once down, and stunned, he was ordered but could not get up, and he was then declared beaten.” This gave Macdonald some respect among his comrades while the “blackguards kept their distance.” He was now a stronger more mature person.
It was while stationed in Fort William that he met the love of his life. She was of the MacDonald’s of Keppoch. “Her father having died while she was young. The family of a relative, MacDonnell, the Laird of Glengarry, brought her up. She was a great favourite of that family.”
He describes the occasion, “On meeting her so often at her uncles, I could not suppress an impulse very natural to my time of life at the sight of perfect innocence and no small degree of beauty.” But he harboured his desires; “I made no attempt to explain myself at this time.”
In 1741 the regiment was moved to Edinburgh and they got a new commander, Colonel Husk. This worthy man put a stop to the abuse and brutality to with which the highland was formerly subjected. Then fate played its hand once again, Janet Macdonald had been invited to Edinburgh, to live with an aunt. “She was not long in town till I found her out.” Marriage followed, and Janet found herself following the soldiers, a path of adventure, danger and hardship.
While in Edinburgh, life for the couple was idyllic, but, in 1742, a call came to embark for London. They were reviewed by King George and quartered that winter in Brugge.
Early in the spring of 1743, the Army was placed under the command of the Earl of Stairs and a march into Germany began. They crossed the Rhine and by May 29th were encamped near Frankfurt. They were nearing an encounter with the French army and the first attempt at an engagement saw the French side step them and a race began for the bridge at Aschaffenburg. Taking no provision or baggage with them, they took up defence at this bridge. The supply situation was critical, as the French had captured their bread supply. To survive, they took to raiding the countryside, strictly against orders and a hanging offence. Discipline was harsh and brutal in the army of that day. But hunger has within it desperation so after three days of nothing to eat; many of the troops took a chance and disobeyed the order.
Macdonald was one of them, although he admits that it was a chance that he never took again, and was fortunate that a roll call had not been ordered at the time when he was out in the countryside, seeking food for his comrades and the women followers. They got a big sow, of which they soon disposed. Next day he and fourteen men chanced going again. He got a goose, but on coming back, saw that the camp was well guarded, and had to sneak in by the rear, then, “sending the drummer for the women, who smuggled the Goose etc in under their petticoats.” The supply situation improved and there was no need to take this risk again.
His first encounter with the enemy
The Earl of Rothes ordered his major and a detachment to the village of Dettering. This they did and set up sentries. Climbing to the top of a rise, the Major observed the enemy cavalry fording the river Maine below them so he called up a sentry who happened to be Macdonald. His orders were to stay beside this apple tree to observe the approach of the enemy and if he thought that their strength was such that they should risk an engagement, he was to fire a shot at long range. This being the signal for the Major to advance with his party. “But if I judged them too many, to quit my post without firing and report what I had seen.
The enemy increased to three considerable bodies, moving towards where I stood, I did not think it proper to leave my post too soon, as they might halt or take another course. Then suddenly three Hussars sprung from the party nearest to me and one of them made full speed to where I stood. I attempted to make for my party but before I got any distance, looking behind, and being frightened at the appearance of such a desperado, I thought my best method to escape being cut to pieces was to go back to the tree. There we met, and I must admit to my shame, that what should have been done in an instant, took some time, but it ended in a puff of applause, which I was not conscious of meriting”.
The story of this incident went round and three days later, General Husk called upon Major Stone, desiring to see the man of his company “who behaved so well at his post.” He had long been advocated for promotion by his Major, but now higher brass were aware of him and General Husk promised that he would get a step up at the first opportunity, but life had its downs as well as ups and soon afterwards, when they were engaged at Dettering, the General was severely wounded and had to give up his command. “The new Colonel knew nothing of me.”
So our herd boy from the hills of Rogart found himself on the stage of history, being present at the Battle of Dettingen, fought on the 27th of June 1743. Involved were 55,000 British and Allied troops against some 70,000 French troops. It is famous as being the only battle in modern history, involving British Forces, which was led into action by a reigning monarch, George the 2nd. His part in a rather vicious and confusing battle was spent sheltering under an Oak Tree, his horse having bolted, but his forces won the day.
Taking the field that day was his younger son, The Duke of Cumberland. He got a bullet in his leg, an injury that troubled him all the rest of his days, but not enough to prevent him reach Culloden in April1746. Another participant in the battle was Lt James Wolfe, of Quebec fame.
They were ordered to leave their knapsacks, which made things easier on the day but worried him later when they were not recovered as he was carrying extra clothing for his wife, who was heavily pregnant. However, he was to find beef and bread among the slain French and a bundle of straw which sheltered his wife during the night of heavy rain which followed.
Of the action he records that on reaching Hanau, slightly to the west of Dettingen. They came under heavy cannon fire. Among the slain were General Clayton and Captain Campbell. The death of the latter had a significant effect on the outcome as he was in the act of delivering the Earl of Stairs order to peruse the flying enemy, when he was struck down. The order never came through and the French were not persued. The army stayed in Hanau for a few weeks, during which time, the MacDonald’s first child was born.
The army quartered in Brugge. “Where, for the comfort of wife and child, I took a house sharing with another soldier.” They started up selling ale and bread, which he got from a baker at a discount. Things were going well and they were able to put a little money aside for a rainy day. But come springtime and it was time to abandon the comfort of winter quarters.
Family life was difficult when they were on the march. He tells of many hardships, in particular, one occasion when his wife was very sick and fevered. They were ordered to strike camp and she was too ill to follow. He had no option but to “pack all on my back, slung the firelock, took the child in my arms and marched with the company on the great road to Lisle” The order came for to maintain silence in the ranks, but this was not understood by Macdonald junior who was hungry, tired and missing his mother so he cried and could not be silenced. The captain gave him permission to stay behind until the child’s mother could be found. The captain of the company following was not so compassionate and accused Macdonald of being a cowardly scoundrel avoiding the order to march to the front. He boldly answered the officer back and “this sent the gentleman into a great rage, swearing that he would run his spontoon through me if I did not rejoin my unit, this was quickly obeyed”. Thankfully, his company had halted not far ahead and so he caught up with it, mother arrived and peace was restored in the ranks. The next day a detachment was sent forward. The French lay in ambush for them and the first man killed was the captain who had threatened to run his sword through him.
The army remained in Lisle and they again started up a small beer shop, then hard luck struck again when his wife’s purse was stolen or lost. It contained all what they had been putting aside. They were left with one half penny, “which I happened to have in my pocket.” It was a blow which left both feeling down, but next morning their fortunes changed. When orders came to depart, John went to a friend in the Welsh Fusiliers and told of his misfortune. This trooper looked at the beer barrel in which they had shares, took it to the rear of the regiment then in ranks and sold it for a penny a pint below price. “He brought me nine shillings and eleven pence. I can give no idea of my happiness in getting this timely relief. It enabled me to send my wife and child to Ghent, where they had a comfortable room. The weather turned so bad that they would have perished were they to have remained in camp.”
He was hopeful of promotion and there were several vacancies for N C O. “But was again disappointed by General Skelton issuing a public order to the effect that neither Scotch nor Irish should be promoted to these vacancies, as long as there was an Englishman in the company who was fit for the duty.”
And the spring action began. The army left Brugge under the Duke of Cumberland and marched to the relief of Tournay. He put into storage his wife’s best things and the second hand clothes in which they had been trading. The regiment saw action on the 1stof May. His first attack saw him have to strike down one of his fellow soldiers. The man on his right hand who could not keep rank and fell behind him, holding onto Macdonald`s haversack,” as he was not liking the work.” The work, or action, seems to have been hot, of the fourteen men of his platoon going into the attack, “on coming out, only another and myself, and I had three wounds.”
In spite if this, when the Earl of Crawford called for a platoon of volunteers to cover his troop of Lifeguards, John stood in with eighteen others and was there when the last action of the field took place. Only then did he, overcome with fatigue, sit down and examine his three wound, the worst of which was a ball in his thigh “which troubled me very much.” The Lieutenant looking at me with surprise, asked how I could turn out a volunteer in such a condition.”
His Major ordered him to go to the Hospital, but he refused and was determined to try and rejoin his company. The army was moving slowly, so he managed to keep up until nightfall, when his leg had stiffened up and he was forced to rest up under a tree, attended by his wife.
The next morning he got going, hirpling along as best he could. They were very hungry, so he sent his wife into a village to see if she could get some food. “A little while after, two men of the 42nd, who were left behind to bury a sergeant, came up, and they, knowing me, expressed their concern for my condition. I asked them if they could give me anything to eat, they said no, but they would try some neighbouring houses and soon came back with eggs, milk and beer. There I sat in the middle of the road, until my wife arrived with bread. And then who dined better than my little family and I. The child made such signs of joy at the sight of eggs and milk.”
Eventually, they caught up with his Regiment, where his Major was just making up his return of the killed and wounded. The officer quickened his pace at his approach and came to meet him being concerned at his condition. He told him that his refusal to go to the hospital had been a fortuitous decision as it had been taken by the French.
The surgeon then set about extracting the ball from his thigh. “It was ragged and as long as the first two joints of my little finger. “Extracting it made me feel uneasy, but I soon cured, although the wound on my right shoulder made that arm weak ever since.”
It was not long after this that his aspirations towards promotion received another setback when his Major, who was on good terms with him and advocated for his advance, had a quarrel with his Colonel and sold himself out of the Army. This came just at a time when there were many vacancies and he had hopes of advancement, “but, while I was away for forage, Colonel Douglas filled up all the vacancies for sergeants and corporals, without the least knowledge that such a man as me existed.” Further misfortune came their way when the French raided Brugge and included in their booty were the contents of the MacDonald’s modest store and his wife’s valuables. They were destitute for the third time.
Macdonald was chosen, because of his sobriety and being of a reliable disposition, to be in charge of the baggage train. This duty he carried out and so impressed was the Captain that he asked him if he would accept the rank of Lance Corporal, to replace Cpl Hart, who had deserted to the French.
The captain also offered him a position as his batman, to take care of and groom his horses, for which he would get extra pay and be exempt from his ordinary duties. But he turned down this offer, as he felt that he was a soldier, not a manservant. The officer does not appear to have taken offence to this rejection. “But was rather well pleased to find such a spirit under such difficulties”.
Towards the end of 1745, the regiment was ordered home, “the rebellion being hot in Scotland.” They landed in Gravesend and set off north to meet Princes Charles and his army. But then they got word of the retreat from Derby and after marching as far as Stafford, which they reached on St Andrews day, the regiment retired to Croydon. Macdonald then handed back the keys of the storeroom with a completed inventory and reported all the baggage safe. Promotion to Corporal soon followed.
Also saw them back on the Continent, and taking part in the battle of Prague, of which he gives no detail, only that the Regiment wintered in Bromell, Germany.
It was at this time that he was chosen to accompany his captain on a recruiting campaign. They went as far as Edinburgh. There they received orders from the war office not to recruit Scots or Irish, no doubt on account of the rebellion being so recent. They rejoined the Regiment with the newly enlisted in time to be mustered to fight in the battle of Val, in Hungary, 1747. “Where a small ball broke the butt end of my firelock, when I had it at recover, ready to present. Had I had it in any other position, that ball must have gone through me.”
It was now decided that his wife “being in delicate heath, and tired of following the army, went to live in Sutherlandshire, where our second child was born”. This child died aged five, without his father ever having seen him. Such was the length of separation while he was under service. Janet Macdonald, “by her own industry, was able to support herself and the children over these five years.”
The troops returned to England and to Newcastle. At this juncture he became very ill with fever and was hospitalised on arrival, and “despaired of by the doctors, but by the will of providence, I recovered” Another problem was his arm, which had been wounded at Fontenoy, so his discharge was made out. On hearing of this, his captain pleaded with the Colonel “that Macdonald be allowed one more year to see if he would recover.” This was granted and the army went back to the continent, to Ostend.
There was trouble in the pecking order of the junior ranks. A great deal of ill feeling seems to have been present between Macdonald and a Sergeant Mackenzie from Gairloch, who along with his crony, Sergeant Clarke, made life miserable for our Corporal, especially when he was ill. He was ordered by his captain to assist these sergeants, but they would have none of it and “ordered me to get out.” The regiment returned to Reading. Macdonald was still with the sick and baggage and so travelled by water.
As a peace treaty had been signed and the army was downsizing, Macdonald again considered a discharge on account of his health, but because so many servicemen were seeking a pension, he was advised that his chance of getting one were reduced, on account of him not having lost a limb.
His captain again persuaded him to stay on and his fortunes took a turn for the better. In 1749, the regiment were sent out to Gibraltar and his arm “recovered amazingly.” Not only that, but his tormentor, Sergeant Mackenzie, had got into difficulty over pay deficiency and was reduced to the ranks, Macdonald being given his halbert.
He was again sent home as a recruiting sergeant. This time to London and he enlisted 26 men in three months, on returning to Gibralter, he was offered the position as paymaster and accepted.
In 1751, the garrison at Gibraltar was relieved. They set sail for Portsmouth and then marched north to Perth. “Where I met with my wife, in the deepest concern for her fine boy, nor was my own less.”
February 1755. Sergeant Macdonald was called upon to perform a duty more in line of what today would be the work of the police. “The Captain observed this to be the first thing of the kind to come his way” He was given a warrant and instructed to execute it.
The task was to capture a notorious thief and robber, David Gauld to name, who operated in the “Wilds Mountains of Braemar” Whither he was a true desperado or perhaps more of a Highland Robin Hood, is not told, but clearly his actions were a thorn in the flesh of the establishment.
Macdonald set off with a pass, fowling piece, powder, shot and also a guide. His pretence was to shoot white hares, but in reality it was to explore the wilderness for a lead to where this man was. He trudged the high hills for several days “in the worst of weather of all the weather of all that year.” He returned to base with no success, which did not please his Captain. So the following day he set off again, this time taking with him a grenadier who was a good marksman.
Two days later he sent word to the Captain to meet with him at Abergeldie, “a corporal and five picked men, the pretence being that they were in pursuit of three men who had deserted from Corpach. They trudged through eight miles of deep snow and high heath, which taxed them sore. Their guide, a young servant lad of Mr Stewart of Spittal of Glenmuick was kept to the rear as the snow was so deep. The ruse succeeded and they apprehended their man in the house of Mackenzie of Spittal and had him delivered to Braemar by the following evening, this pleased his Captain greatly. His duty in this affair ended when David Gauld was delivered to Aberdeen gaol.
He now went through a difficult spell. His captain had taken leave of absence and the Lieutenant in charge did not get on with Macdonald and made life difficult for him. Some of the men took advantage of this situation and “ took unusual freedom with me. This is always the case when they find an inferior in disgrace with a superior, but I was determined to be a sergeant altogether or not at all. I was forced to bring more to punishment than could have happened had my authority been supported as it ought.”
It ended with a grenadier who had caused a drunken riot being court marshalled and receiving five hundred lashes. “He could stand no more than three hundred at the first bout and I begged off the other two hundred. This confirmed my authority with the men.”
The next posting for the regiment was to the West Highland forts. John got a long needed leave and made north to Sutherlandshire, where he settled some family business
The regiment marched to Inverness. Moves were afoot to bring him a commission. “In September, I had a letter from my uncle Mr Hugh, (Sutherland) with one enclosed for the Earl of Sutherland. My letter informed me that he has spoken with the Earl in my favour.” He sough a letter of commendation from his officer and this was given.
He was once again put onto the recruiting trail, this time with Captain Ross. He became very friendly with this young officers father, David Ross of Invercassley, a man more of his own age. “This gentleman interceded with The Hon Captain Mackay of Skibo, then a member of parliament, to get me a commission.” He was now moving in the right circles.
Promotion from the ranks
In 1758 “when the Earl of Sutherland got the raising of a regiment to serve in Britain during the war” John MacDonald was promoted. The commission came with conditions none to favourable, no entitlement to half pay or any other reward for service, his friends in the 32rd advised him to accept. It was at least a foot on the ladder, even although the Duke of Argyll, who was in charge of filling up the commissions, allowed him no more than an ensignancy.
“In consequence of this ensigancy, I appeared at Dornoch in kilt on the 30th November 1759. After being twenty years and three months in breeches, long coat and spatter dashers, etc, and no man in the corp. used the native dress more than I did.” He set about instructing the new corp and was pleased to report that such was their enthusiasm that the task was an easy one and soon “I was exceedingly happy with them and so far in his Lordships favour, that he made strong application with the Secretary of War for my removal to an established corps.” In May 1762, the Earl joined at Aberdeen and “the regiment marched to Edinburgh and made an excellent review”.
In August, the Earl returned north, Macdonald was keen to have a more established and secure post and asked leave that he could travel to London and the war office to seek the promotion which had been half promised for so long but which still eluded him.
He travelled on the dispatch sloop of war to Gravesend and hence to Chatham, when he began an amazing personal campaign to get himself noticed. He had by now, learned the lesson that it was imperative that the people who pulled the strings at least knew of you.
For eleven weeks he paraded himself “I attended the secretary at the office as constant as his shadow, and I managed matters so with his attendants that I never missed an audience at his levee. In short, he was so tired of me that he that he began to think seriously of giving me something in order to be rid of my trouble”. He must have made quite a spectacle. “I always appeared in my full Highland dress, comprising a bonnet with a large bunch of feathers, great kilt, broadsword, pistol, dirk, large badger skin purse and a pair of locks as big as besoms. I had an amazing strut, to set the whole off in an amazing manner, though it was in measure a forced work.” His bold persistence was starting to pay off. The secretary granted him a position as ensign in the 101st. This was still not quite what he was after and he reminded the official of the promise of the Earl of Sutherland that he be given a lieutenancy. Macdonald informed him that far from being just a volunteer officer, he had over twenty-four years service as a regular and had battle honours, “and that the army looked on the Secretary of War as their father, expecting that that he looked on them as his family and would reward merit and long services liberally. When every youth who had never served an hour, but had a friend in favour with could get what commission they pleased” This seemed to have done the trick, as the Secretary “expressed his concern that he had not known this sooner and calling on the clerk, ordered him to set me down Lieutenant to the 101st.” He joined the 101st at Perth in January 1763. In March of that year, the regiment was reduced and he was free of the army. But he now had rank and some means.
1764 and back in civilian life, our hero took a seventeen year lease of land in Moy (Muie) and settled down to end his days as a farmer. Now aged 42, he had come a long way since being a drove boy.
The Earl of Sutherland continued his patronage towards him, and he was at ease in the company of the tacksman class of those times. He writes. “While my noble friend lived, I was not only too happy in his favour, but found myself as easy with every gentleman of the county as if I had been their college companion. When to my grief, I lost him; I did not feel their esteem abate in the least”. William, the 18th Earl of Sutherland, died in 1765 aged 31 and was remembered with affection, especially by the military class.
But the ways of war were not yet over for our veteran. In 1775, a re-call came from the war office for former officers who were willing to serve. He responded without hesitation, and was accepted to the 42nd Highland Light Regiment. (The Black Watch). He enlisted his son as well, the lad being 15 and eager for a career in the army. Although I was not in a position to purchase for him a commission.
They enlisted at Fort George, and joined the regiment in Glasgow. Their commander was Lord John Murray, who regarded Macdonald as rather a favourite and placed him in charge of the men and their money. More wary of him was Colonel Stirling, who was probably aware that a father and son combination might not be in the best interest of the corp.
They sailed from Greenock on the 12 of April in 1776, landing in Staten Island on the 4th of July. The significance of the date of their arrival lay in the future.
Their first action was not long in coming and the father was pleased with his son.” The enemy finding us came on furiously, and I had hot work, this was the first opportunity I had to see my son fairly engaged. It gave me pleasure to see him active and cool. But with only one company, there was no keeping of that ground, we retreated in good order, in this action I had a ball through the cuff of my coat. We had two Captains wounded and Ensign MacKenzie, mortally.”
He advocated for his son to be considered for a commission, but his superiors deemed that he was yet too young but to bide his time.
They were in action again during the attack on Fort Washington and it was a day of anxiety. “We lost each other in scrambling up the rocks and knew nothing of each others fate till the evening, when hot firing ceased.” The soldiers sat down under a tree to rest but Macdonald could not settle. “I soon observed to Colonel (Cluny) MacPherson that we had better look for our regiment. He answered that as there seemed nothing to be done, and we were as well there for the present. I replied, my dear Duncan, you have no son on this island today. Very well, says he, let us move and we found the corp. Colonel Stirling shook my hands with me and thanked me for my activity in dispersing the rebels at Morris House, adding, “your son has been with me through all this days danger, and trust him to me in future.”
The 42nd were involved in a lot of long marches. While at Princetown, “it happened my turn to go with the baggage of the army to Brunswick. The weather was very bad, with sleet, snow and frost. The road was still worse when returning with ammunition and prisoners. After marching for four days, that arrived back in Princetown only to find the 42nd had moved on to Trenton. It took another days march to catch up and only after a brief rest, was again on the march, back to Princetown. Arriving too late for to save the 17th from a mauling. Lord Cornwallis was anxious about the stores at Brunswick so they set off once again for that town. “I finished my eighty eight mile march with only one bad nights rest.” He was now aged 55.
On another occasion, he became separated from the regiment and his Colonel sent a party, including his son, to search for him. They came up upon him and he told of his story. “On the 10th of May, the rebels made a formidable attack on our front Piccquet, took the officer and sergeant prisoner after killing or wounding most of the men. When I came up with Major Murray’s company, I released them, and took a wounded officer with thirteen rebel prisoners. Our people were in humour to bayonet the prisoners; it took some time to put them in discreet hands with positive orders not to harm them.” Hearing firing, he went forward and found a wayward company about to encroach upon an enemy encampment. He managed to get them to retire a little out of danger; it was then that the search party came upon him. “Gratitude leads me to say that Major Murray’s company of the 42nd were the most alert, most decent, and best principled soldiers I ever had the honour to command or be connected with.”
The army came up to Chesapeake Bay. There he took ill with fever and was put upon a hospital ship. For a while he was very low, but by the time they sailed up the Delaware he started to recover, leaving the ship at Wilmington. These convalescent soldiers were then formed into a special Battalion, under a Major Macdonald of the 71st, who chose him to be Adjutant.
Eventually they arrived in Philadelphia and the officers and men were ordered to re-join their respective corps. He had the pleasure of meeting up with his son. Who has his own tale to tell.
He came under the wing of Colonel Stirling, that gentleman being aware that his father was not able to keep an eye on him. He was ordered out of the rank and given to act as a subaltern, until his father returned. There followed action in the battle of Brandy Wine. “So pleased with his conduct, that the Colonel gave testimony that he be considered for an Ensignancy, when a position would arise.” This came about on the 5th of October 1777, he was seventeen. His proud father had now been a soldier for thirty-eight years and had though of retirement, now that he had seen his son with his foot on the ladder of promotion.
But fate was not yet ready to let him retire. The army was feeling the strain of this war and endeavoured to raise provincial troops to assist the regulars. A Mr Chalmers of Maryland raised one such force, but not being a military man, he was anxious to procure experienced officers. He came into contact with Macdonald and offered him a Commission as Major, if he would leave his present position. Col Stirling gave his consent, as did his General, “graciously owning himself no stranger to my character.”
Macdonald now joined the Maryland Loyalists, as a Major in their first Battalion. The corp was soon recruited to the strength of 335 privates and 42 NCOs. This was in November. By April they were licked into shape and complimented on their alertness, appearance and ability on manoeuvres and exercises. But things were going downhill for the British, The Republicans were gaining in strength and the provincial troops began to change sides in droves. The Corp was ordered to Jamaica. Major Macdonald was on tenterhooks as rumour had it that, should an American ship vessel come in sight, they would mutiny and join the Americans. He withdrew the ammunition from the men and had it placed in a safe store. Ordering the Quartermaster “to lay there with it.”
The pressure of the unease among the troops, especially the provincials, along with the threat of a Spanish invasion and the constant state of alert for a whiff of mutiny, began to take its toll. He felt fatigued and unwell; his head broke out in blisters and swelling. But as there was no other officer available to replace him at that time, he struggled on and was highly commended by his General for so doing.
Things were drawing to a close. The British gave up the struggle to maintain their colony and capitulated. They retired to New York and honourable terms agreed. Macdonald set off for home, arriving in Portsmouth on 20th of January 1782. “Having received bad news that my trustees becoming insolvent my affairs mismanaged, my affairs were a wreck in the hands of those who never dreamed I should appear to bring them to account. My wife and daughter distressed.”
After a few days in London. He set off north, “I was obliged to march on foot from Dunkeld, engaging the Drumuachter in the memorable storm of March.” Arriving home at in Muie on the 6th of April. “In tolerable health.” He had ten more years of life.
So ends our saga with the knowledge available to us at this time. John Small Macdonald, grandson of the Major and a resident in New York, gave up the tack of Blarich and Muie in 1811.