1715 - Jacobite Rising

Rob Roy and the 1715

On 6 September 1715, John Erskine, Earl of Mar, raised the standard of the Old Pretender, James VIII and III, at Braemar. By the 16th he had seized Perth, but the arch-courtier turned out to be no match as a general for the energetic Duke of Argyll. All Mar's efforts were thwarted at the battle of Sheriffmuir, where his irresolution threw away his vastly superior advantage in manpower. However the rebellion was not yet over. James landed in Scotland that December at Peterhead, and meanwhile Rob Roy MacGregor, failed cattle-dealer, outlaw and free-booter, was taking the opportunity to terrorise Fife. Here are two letters to Alexander Archer, candlemaker in Hamilton, from another candle-maker in Leslie, where they were fighting off Rob Roy's men.

Dear brother, - I received yours this evening, but I find you have been quite mistaken about our condition. You date our freedom and liberty from the rebels long before its commencement; and for proof, take the following account of what passed here these last ten days: - Upon the 4th instant, Rob Roy, with one hundred and fifty men, came to Falkland, and took possession of the Palace for a garrison, from which they came through the country side, and rob and plunder, taking clothes and victuals, and every thing that makes for them, none to oppose them till this day eight days. The 6th instant there come thirty-two Highlandmen (I had almost said devils) to Leslie. We saw them at Formand Hills, and resolved to resist, and so man, wife, and child drew out. The men went to the east end of the town, and met them in the green, with drawn swords in their hands, and we asked them what they were for? They said they wanted clothes and money. We answered, they should get neither of them here, at which they stormed and swore terribly; and we told them, if they were come for mischief they should have their full of it, at which there were some blows; but they seeing us so bold, began to fear that we should fall upon them, and so they asked liberty to march through the town, and got not so much as the kiss of a caup [cup], and they were so afraid, that they did not return, but went down over the Hawk Hill, and east to the minister's land, and there they fait [turned] about, and fired ten shot in upon the people that were looking to them; but, glory to God, without doing the least hurt. And so they went off to the Formand Hills, and plundered all they could carry or drive, and threatened dreadfully they should be avenged on Leslie, and burn it. We sent off two expresses, one to Dunfermline to Rothes, and one to Burntisland. My Lord ordered two hundred and fifty of Dutch and Switzers from Burntisland for our relief. The sabbath proved stormy, so that neither they nor the enemy could come at us; but on Monday morning the King's [George i's] forces came most seasonably. Rob Roy was on his way to us on the head of a hundred men, and when they heard of our help they returned. Upon Tuesday the forces were for marching back to Burntisland, and so we were in worse case than before; but we almost forced them to leave fifty Switzers with us, which they did. And the [next] day Rothes came with one troop of horse, and two hundred foot, and turned back [those] of Burntisland, so that when we began to think ourselves safe they staid [but two] nights and two days. But upon sight we are cast down. Then comes an order to my Lord to march back to Dunfermline with his men, which he did yesterday morning. It was a sorrowful parting. He left seventy men with us, and called in the fencible men round about us for our help, which they do [give] very readily. We have four hundred men this night beside the town. All above was written on the 13th. On the 14th there is a garrison of the King's forces placed at Burleigh. Upon the 16th several parishes here were warned to go there, among which I was one, where a hundred volunteers engaged to assist that garrison. Upon the 18th I was obliged to go to Burleigh again with candles for the use of that garrison, and did wade to the boot tops for the most part of the way among snow, and was in hazard of my life, and the man that was with me, by a terrible tempest that arose on us by the way.

The rebels have placed a garrison in Balvaird, one in Naughton, one in Samford, and this day one in Balgonie, about which take the following melancholy account. This garrison of Leslie thought to have prevented them, and this morning they early detached twelve Switzers, twenty-five Kirkcaldy men, and when they came to Markinch there are a hundred and fifty rebels in the town, which they knew nothing of till they are in among them, who presently surrounded them, and took them all prisoners, and carried them to Balgonie with them. Several Kirkaldy men are wounded, one of whom is mortally wounded, and two Switzers dying in their wounds at Balgonie. Betty Key has a son among the wounded. It's thought they will all be carried to Perth to-morrow. It's said there are many of the rebels wounded; but we know not what number. So if speedy relief come not, this country will be full of garrisons of rebels, and so will be the seat of war, so that our circumstances are not so good as you think. If we could get fled I would remove all my family from this, but the storm is so great that it is not possible, and we are in constant expectation of the enemy. All friends are in ordinary health, and desire the sympathy of all friends with you at the throne of grace. I rest your affectionate brother, G.
L[eslie], Jan. 20, 1716.

Dear brother, - Just now I had yours of the 3d instant, and having presently an occasion I have given you this short answer. Know, then, that since my last we were in continual fear till the 30th of January, upon which day we got the doleful news of burning, and we having always been threat with the same fate we looked for no less, and our fear was no greater than there was cause for. Rob Roy had a commission to burn Leslie and all betwixt it and Perth. We having intelligence of it got all to arms. The Swiss and Dutch being all gone, we had a mind to stand for our defence, and so all the men in the town, and several of the country that came in for our assistance, stood in arms that whole night. But so it was that the time of our extremity was God's opportunity, for about two o'clock in the morning we had the good news that Roy and all his men were fled to Dundee, and his flying was after this manner. About twelve o'clock at night he had all his men save a few drawn out before the Palace of Falkland in arms to come to Leslie for its ruin, and just when he is coming off there come two expresses to him that the King's army was approaching Perth, upon which he changed his resolution, and presently went of for Dundee, as did all the garrisons of rebels in Fife, so that I suppose in twenty-four hours there was not a Highlandman left in Fife. And ever since we have been in peace and quiet; and all the King's garrisons in Fife are given up save Burntisland.

And to let you see how uneasy this country has been under these rebels, I shall give you but one instance. Those in Falkland continued there about a month, and for ordinary they were but about one hundred and fifty at most. In that time they eat and destroyed three thousand sheep in Falkland and the adjacent parishes next to it. But we, in this place, have much to remark of the preventing mercy of God. Our case was looked upon as most desperate by all since this rebellion began, and yet we of all the places in Fife, by-east Dunfermline, have been the easiest. Our ministers are now returned to their charges, and once more we have the Gospel in purity and plenty. O for grace to improve it!

I have nothing to write about the rebels' flight; for I suppose you will have the account as soon as we. Only we hear there are many of them dispersed, and some have got into the castle of Dunottar, and there are nine pieces of cannon gone from Perth, by Argyle's order to that place. I must leave particulars about the rebels' conduct here till meeting, for I design to see you if once my tallow were made up. My trade for ordinary is as good in June and July as it has been these two months past. I am surprised to hear of your cotton; it's strange how any man could send it out so. I have not got mine yet; but it is like it will come to me after the same manner. All friends are in ordinary health. My wife and I give our respects to you and your wife, and to your brother. We expect he will be setting his face homeward now. I rest your affectionate brother, G.
L [Leslie], Feb. 9, 1716.

The Correspondence of the Rev. Robert Wodrow, ii, ed. T. M'Crie, Wodrow Society, 1843.

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