An 1850 Appin Christmas and New Years Ceilidh Story, lest they forget.
A hundred years after the Battle of Culloden, an Appin teacher makes sure that her students knew what happened in Appin after the Battle of Culloden. Kate Thompson’s story about Mary McLaurin her mother-in-law and the post Culloden trauma on the Appin children. There is no doubt that the Editor K. W. Grant embellished the story, but the essence of Appin life is revealed.
Our cast of characters shortly after the Battle of Culloden:
Airigh-mheadhon - The middle shieling in the photo
Seumas Sasunmaoh - “English James” McIntyre at Achanacone
John McLaurin, Airigh-mheadhon, Glean-na-hyle ”middle shieling”, killed at Culloden 1746
Morag, “Mary” McLaurin nine year old daughter of the deceased rebel John McLaurin
Morag’s mother with four children, the MacIntyre widow of John McLaurin
Duncan MacIntyre, Morag’s maternal uncle, The Croft, Kilmartin
Flora, Morag’s paternal aunt at Port Glasgow
“Skipper” the kind Master of the “Maryanne”, a coastal sailing ship
“The Scarlett Lady” who tempted Morag aboard a grand vessel to America
A Jewish merchant couple in America who bought Morag
Peter Thompson, Morag’s husband that she married in Appin
Kate Thompson the Storyteller, Morag’s daughter-in-law
“A New Years Ceilidh”
Appin had been at one time to a great extent Episcopalian, and this, no doubt, was at the root of the observance of Christmas as well as new year’s Day. Not that it was held as a religious holiday, but, equally with New year’s Day, the youth of the whole district gathered for the great Shinty matches of the year.
As a counter attraction, the Teacher’s wife spared no pains in preparing home pleasures for her young people; one of which was to invite a few friends, both young and old, for the evening of both days, when a sumptuous tea was laid out in the best room, and the evening was prolonged till the quests chose to depart. So, when Kate Thompson arrived with a full set of shinties, she was retained to pluck fowls, and help all round. For ten days beforehand there were aromatic odours of ginger cake, pound cake, and shortbread with designs formed of sweets as hard as chucky-stones; oatcakes with carraway seed, and other delights pervading the atmosphere; and the final result was a triumph of culinary art. It was on the fifth and twelfth of January these holidays were kept.
No porridge was made on these mornings. The day began by giving the cattle a sheaf each of oats instead of the usual straw, and every other living creature about the house was regaled, each according to its capacity for enjoyment. The family breakfast was fried home-cured bacon and eggs, with soda scones, thin scones made with boiling milk and a bit of butter, freshly toasted curled farls of oatcake, and fragrant China tea.
But the tea-table in the evening was a picture to be remembered. Lighted by four stately, frilled candles in glittering brass candlesticks, the snowy linen, the glasses of cut crystal with ruby red currant jelly, strawberry jam, and honey, the plates piled high with all kinds of home-baked delights, all together suggested boundless hospitality and over flowing goodwill.
The feast disposed of, the tables, with folded leaves, were moved aside to give more room, and the quests made a wide circle around the brightly burning fire. There were quiet games for the children; riddles were given out, and answered; then, finally came the story-telling.
Old Kate Thompson told this story
The years after Culloden, began Kate, were sore years for us Highlanders. It became quite a profitable trade to kidnap people and sell them as slaves to work on the sugar and cotton plantations of the West Indies and the Southern States of Maryland and Virginia in North America. Highland children were considered to be lawful prey as often as they could be laid hands on. On one occasion seven boys left the island of Luing for the Lowlands to be hired as herd boys for the spring and summer, intending to return home in autumn after all crops had been housed. They looked forward to winter as the season for going to school. With cheerful hearts they set out for the Lowlands in a trading vessel bound for Port Glasgow, which was then the port of call for all Glasgow shipping craft. They were to land there and make their way as best they could to the outlying farm lands.
The lads could not tear themselves away from the wharf without a look at the big ships that lay alongside, loading and unloading their cargoes. They stood gazing with admiration at one beauty that had specially attracted their attention:-
“Would you like to have a look over the vessel before she starts, my lads?” asked a pleasant voice beside them. There was no need to wait an answer. Of course they would.
“Follow me then,” said the man, and he led the way on board followed by the unsuspecting boys, who were seen absorbed in examining the various parts of the ship. While still deeply engrossed the ship weighed anchor and set sail.
Before finally starting for America she called at an English port to take in further supplies. One of the boys was a bright, intelligent lad named James McIntyre. Him the cook took on shore to carry the basket of purchases to be made at a butcher’s shop near the quay. While the cook was bargaining with the shopman, James set down his basket and went to the door. First looking stealthily up and down the street he bolted round the nearest corner before the cook could reach the door.
James lived for some years in England and returned to his native island in the Western hebrides as soon as he had laid up enough to pay his way back. By that time he was able to take care that he should not again be entrapped by fair speeches into unknown dangers. It was only then that the fate of the other six boys became known to the sorrowing parents. James was ever afterwards known as “Seumas Sasunmaoh” -English James. His daughter was the mother of Allan Cameron, the grieve at Achananoon; and that daughter was one of my companions in early girlhood.
Another story was that of a little Appin girl, who was stolen when she was nine years of age. Her name was Morag. She was the eldest of four when he father died. The family lived in the Middle Shieling, a lonely spot up among the hills.
Morag’s uncle, her mother’s brother, had come to her father’s funeral from Kilmartin. It was arranged while he was there that he should take Morag and one of the younger children to live with his mother and himself.
The young widow and the two remaining little ones were to live with the Appin grandmother, and thus an opportunity was made for the children’s mother to earn her own living and theirs, by going out to field work or other labour.
The uncle, with his young charges, took passage in a coasting vessel, which was to leave them at Craignish, whence they could make their way to Kilmartin.
The children were but a few days in their new home when the grandmother missed a shilling which, she said, she had laid on a shelf of the cupboard with her own hands. She accused Morag of having taken it. Morag indignantly denied having touched the coin; she had not even seen it, she said, much less taken it. Despite the child’s vehement assertions of innocence, the old lady was firmly convinced that Morag and no other had pilfered the shilling. Morag keenly resented the insult. Her uncle was absent, having gone to attend a market at some distance. She could not appeal to him, and even if she did, he would be more likely to believe his mother’s version of the story than hers. The thought became unendurable.
Morag promptly resolved what to do. Her Aunt Flora, a sister of her father’s, lived in Port Glasgow. Her aunt knew her, knew that she was incapable of taking the shilling. She would set out for Port Glasgow in the early morning, before her grandmother was up, and before she could be missed. She would find her way to her aunt’s house, and once there was sure of a welcome.
No sooner was the sun up than Morag got up too, dressed herself quickly, slipped quietly out of the house, and took the road to Lochgilphead, en route for Port Glasgow.
When her uncle was returned, Morag was gone.
The grandmother told about the loss of the shilling, and that she had charges Morag with the theft. Her son was distressed. “And if she had taken it twenty times over you have been too harsh towards the child,” he exclaimed. “When knows whether she did take it? She does not seem to me to be one likely to do such a thing.”
“There was no one else within the door since you left; who could take it but she, the little brat!” cried the old woman angrily; “to have fled as she has done but proves her guilt.”
“I’m not at all sure of that,” said Duncan. “But, however that may be, it means that I must make another long journey to Appin; her mother confided the girl to my care and I am responsible for her.”
“You will find her there before you, take my word for it. She has doubtless run home to Mammie to be petted!”
“God grant I may find her there, as you say, mother,” replied Duncan. “Meanwhile, there is a fairing for you,” and he flung a tiny packet on the table.
“Good lad! It is mindful of you to bring a new supply just when it is needed,” exclaimed the mother, producing her snuff-box and beginning to refill it. There was a little over, so she reached down another old box from the cupboard shelf. On opening the lid, she paused, then upraising her left hand, she cried--” What came over me? How did I forget? Here is the shilling where my own hand placed it!”
“So you see Morag is not guilty after all, and I am right glad for her sake that the shilling has been found so quickly,” remarked Duncan.
With a short delay as possible, he set out for Appin, inquiring as he went whether a child of Morag’s description had been seen passing northward. But no trace of Morag could be found.
On arriving at the Middle Shieling, he found his sister still at home; but no Morag was there. He related his story with such evident sorrow that his grief, not withstanding her own heavy heart, caused her to control her feelings, and instead of laying any blame on him or on her mother, she sought to comfort him.
But what was to be done? They talked the matter over until there seemed to be no more left to be said. They mutually promised that whichever of them should first hear tidings of Morag should immediately send word to the other.
While still musing over possibilities, the grandmother suggested--”Do you think it at all likely that Morag may have gone to seek out her Aunt Flora?”
Duncan looked inquiringly at his sister. “Who knows but that the same thought may have occurred to her,” she said, answering his look. “Flora was always so mindful of her; but would Morag have the courage to attempt it alone.”
“We shall soon find that out!” said Duncan. “I will go home now in case she may have returned; if she has not, I will seek Flora out and discover whether she has heard or seen anything of the little runaway.”
The suggestion brought some hope and encouragement to all hearts in the Shieling. Because of it, Duncan departed with more cheerfulness and hope of success than he had dared to cherish until it was mooted. Still the three people who loved Morag most had now to enter upon a long period of suspense, which tried their faith and patience sorely, for in those days - not so very remote - there were neither steamships nor even penny postage, not to speak of the electric telegraph.
Short indeed had been Morag’s stay in her grandmother’s house; but, bent upon her purpose of reaching aunt Flora, she left it and and took the road to Lochgilpead. When within a short distance of the little town, whom should she meet but the master of the vessel in which she had come from Appin only ten days before. The skipper recognized her instantly.
“Whither away now?” he asked, stopping on the middle of the road in front of her and shaking hands heartily.
“I am going to see my aunt Flora.”
“Your aunt Flora - Does she live in Lochgilpead?”
“No, she lives in Port Glasgow.”
The master stared at the child. “How do you expect to get there?” he asked.
“I’ll cross the ferry and walk the rest of the way.”
The skipper looked serious. “How does it happen that you are setting out thus, all alone?”
Morag answered not a word.
“Come, come!” said the skipper, “whatever the matter is, you must not be allowed to wander about the country in this friendless fashion; I have no time to lose and the “Maryanne” leaves for the Clyde in three hours. Go on to the landing at Lochgilpead. I’ll take you on board on my return and I’ll see to it you are safely lodged with your aunt.” So saying the kindly skipper walked off, leaving Morag to find her way to the landing.
The little maid was overjoyed to find her difficulties vanish through the timely appearance of her friend. She readily picked her way to the landing, opposite which the “Maryanne” lay at anchor, with the incoming tide lapping against her sides.
Once on board the vessel Morag was quite at home. It was delightful to sail backwards and forwards from one landing place to another and watch the little bustle that their arrival caused, as the flitted along the kyles, and up the Firth of Clyde. The master and his crew were so kind to her that she was quite sorry to come with him to her aunt’s house, as the had now reached Port Glasgow. On seeing her safe under her aunt’s care he bade her good-bye, charging her to be careful and not to get lost in the busy streets that were so unlike her country home, as he should not be there to look after her again. So saying he went back to his ship.
Her aunt received Morag with open arms. Her quick, helpful ways made her a welcome quest in the household. She was a bright, intelligent little lassie, apt in learning whatever work she was set to do and doing it well.
Not long after her arrival, Morag was sent by her aunt for groceries to a shop near the Clyde. A glimpse toward the little forest of masts at the water side awakened pleasant associations. She would run down and see whether the “Maryanne” was still there; it would take but a few minutes.
Instead of the “Maryanne” she found there was large ship, oh, so much larger and finer than the one in which she had sailed up the Clyde. She stood still wrapt in admiration.
“Would you not like to see the inside of this grand vessel, my child?” inquired a soft voice at her side.
Morag looked up into the face of a lady clad in a long scarlett cloak, such as were common at the time. How kind of such a fine lady to offer such a treat! How good everybody in the world seemed to be!
Morag glanced at her basket and again at the ship. The lady saw the glance an understood her hesitation. “I am going on board now, it would not take long to have a look around. The vessel is starting almost immediately, so we must be quick, - come!” and the lady stepped on to the gangway. Morag was persuaded. She followed her conductress and was soon absorbingly interested.
Suddenly she missed the lady. At the same moment she realized that her aunt must be wondering at her long absence. She ran hither and tither in search of the lady. but nowhere could she be found. She climbed the companion ladder just in time to see the scarlett cloak disappear round the corner of the next street. She flew to the gangway to find it was being withdrawn. The anchor was weighed, the cables were being coiled up; the ship was under way. In vain did Morag implore the sailors to put her ashore. They gruffly bade her get out of the way!
Before night the ship was down the Clyde, and tossing on the open sea. Hungry and miserable Morag crept into a sheltered nook among the cargo on deck.
Her stock of English was but small, yet she was able to gather from what she overheard that the ship was bound for an American port. She also concluded, in her shrewd little mind, that the scarlett woman had purposely left her on board. Not without cause had the skipper given her warning to be careful.
Then suddenly there flashed upon the troubled child all the faithful counsel spoken by the lips of her dying father, and disregarded until now. Clearly and impressively the words came sounding back in her memory- “If you do not in time control your impulsive spirit it may lead you into trouble.” Morag burst into tears. She looked upwards to the clear, starry sky. There was the Plough shining on high as she used to see it when twinkling above Ben Bheithir. Again came her father’s words, dropping this time like dew upon her tarnished spirit- ”Put your trust in the Father of the fatherless.”
“Oh, my own darling daddy!” she whispered to herself, “you are far, far away; far above those shining stars, but I will do as you bade me. I will place my trust in the “Father of the fatherless”. I was impulsive in coming on board this ship, instead of doing at once what I was sent to do. Oh, how can I now help my mother as I so glibly promised!” and at these thoughts Morag’s tears flowed afresh.
But her tears were not now so bitter. A sense of the Father of the orphan being near and watching over her gave strength as well as relief. She dried her tears and considered how she should act. Her mind became clear and resolved. She would return home as soon as a way of escape offered, and said she”whatever happens, these men must not see me cry!” Then, cold and hungry as she was, she fell asleep.
The voyage was a temptous one. Morag was so much neglected that she was often nearly famished for want of food and lived by picking up any scrape that came her way.
One day a sailor, struck with compassion at her wretched appearance, gave her a plate of sowens. How delicious! It was a kind of food she used to get at home. Gratefully she sought out a coil of rope and ensconced herself comfortably in the centre in order to enjoy the food. She had but swallowed the first spoonful when a towering billow broke over the ship, sweeping Morag’s plate of sowens with it into the deep and all but carrying herself away too. Once more-only this once-Morag cried heartily! She had been so hungry.
At last the long, stormy voyage came to an end. At dawn, on a calm, sunny autumn morning, the ship sailed past a long island, and cast anchor in a fine haven. There was a small, straggling town, built along the shore. Dark woods rose behind it and a range of forest clad hills towered in the distance beyond.
Immediately on arriving, the vessel was surrounded by a fleet of small boats, the occupants of which clambered up the sides of the ship on to the deck. Most of those people spoke English, but a few spoke in a tongue which was unknown to Morag.
A middle-aged man with a pleasant expression was talking to the Captain. He had a flowing beard, clear, kindly eyes and a nose shaped like an eagle’s beak.
Morag observed him and thought in her own mind - ” What a fatherly look he has!”
As if he had heard the thought, he turned and looked at her attentively. The captain noted the look and drew the stranger aside.
The two talked in a low tone, giving Morag an occasional glance, which led her to understand that she herself was the subject of their conversation. She saw the stranger take out his purse and count down a sum into the Captain’s palm. Then he of the long beard came over where Morag was and said- ”Follow me, my child, you will make a nice little maid for my wife,” and Morag followed, not at all willingly.
The man who had bought her was a Jew. He and his wife were a God-fearing couple, who daily read the Old Testament Scriptures and whose lives were moulded in accordance with its precepts. They treated the orphan kindly, which soon made her feel at home in the family and she did her best to please them.
One day, in the late autumn, when she had finished her household duties, she was sent into the woods to gather withered leaves for bedding for the cattle. Joyfully she sallied forth with a sack over her arm and bounded to the woods, which were quite near at hand. She set the sack on the ground with its mouth wide open and began to gather the leafs into heaps, so as to stuff them more easily into the sack, when she noticed a fine large heap at the foot of a tree, seemingly gathered together by an eddying wind. She went promptly to take possession of the heap, spread out her arms to their widest reach, and giving a vigorous plunge took up a great quantity. The heap at her feet billowed tumultuously, and with a bewildering whirl and rattling noise, a huge snake uncoiled itself and fled into the depths of the forest, in sheer fright at the unexpected invasion of its winter retreat.
Morag’s terror was such that she gave but one spring aside and then stood motionless as if paralyzed. Her unceremonious attack upon the covering of the sleeping snake had, however, filled it with as great an affright as her own, and it fled precipitately, leaving Morag to gather her leaves unmolested for the rest of the evening.
On another occasion Morag went into the same forest to gather sticks for fuel. She wandered hither and tither, picking up fallen branches and gathering them into heaps, ready to be taken home. When she found she had collected enough, she discovered that she had strayed farther into the wood than she had been aware of. To find the way back baffled her, and her efforts only led her deeper and deeper into its mazes.
Night was approaching. There were bears and panthers in the less frequented parts, as well as deer, and other harmless wild animals. What was she to do?
“Put your trust in the Father of the fatherless.”
whispered the girl to herself, and she waited with a quieted heart, fearing to go further into the unknown dangers.
In the dusky distance a human form appeared. Morag called out and some one heard and approached. It was a red Indian. He would not eat her up, that was one comfort! He could not speak English, but he beckoned her to follow him. The Indian led her to his wigwam and gave her over to the care of his wife. He had shot two birds, which the squaw plucked and roasted, giving Morag a generous share. Supper over, the woman motioned Morag to lie down to sleep on a heap of feathers that were in a corner of the hut. Morag thankfully laid herself down on the strange bed. How much better there than out all night in the woods in danger of being devoured by wild beasts!
Next morning the Indian again beckoned his little guest to follow him. He led her safely through the forest until they were within sight of the town on the outskirts of which was her home.
Thus did the orphan find both the Jew and Indian more compassionate and kind than her own so-called Christian countrymen, whose better feelings were seared by the love of gain.
In the safe shelter of this quiet, well ordered Jewish household, Morag grew up into womanhood. She was a fine, capable girl, able to hold her own with most people and quite one of the family in her master’s house.
It was at this time that the Tea War - as it is called - broke out between Great Britain and her American Colonies. Troop ships, trading ships, ships of all sorts and sizes were kept continually running backwards and forwards between the two countries.
Morag’s master was among those whose business profited by the turn affairs had taken. Every boat that catered the harbour with cargo brought some consignment for his store.
One day he came home from his store in town with an expression of unwanted interest on his benevolent face. He carried an old newspaper in his hand.
“Morag,” said he, “can you tell me what part of the old country you belong to?” and without pausing far an answer he went on to say- “There is an old Glasgow newspaper which was wrapped round some goods and which bears the date of the year in which you came to us. Listen to this advertisement and see whether it had anything to do with you,” -thereupon he read aloud the words that had arrested him. They were to the effect that a child of nine, named Morag, had unaccountably disappeared and if a child answering to the description given below were found anywhere, the advertiser would be most grateful if she were restored to him. There followed a description of Morag and the name and address of the advertiser, Duncan MacIntyre, the Croft, Kilmartin. “That was my uncle,” said Morag, in wide-eyed wonder.
“Would you like to return to your native country, Morag?”
“Of course I would, if that were possible!”
“Then I cannot detain you,” said the Jew.
“Our law commands us to allow a bond servant to return to his home and kindred as soon as he has repaid in labour the amount paid for him, should he so desire. In a comparatively short time you will have worked for your full price and as soon as you have done so you shall be allowed to go home.”
There was a year, or a little more, to run before the joyful day arrived, but at last it did arrive and Morag was free!
Her master had heard of a troopship which was to take a company of Scottish soldiers to Glasgow; the wife of one of the officers need a maid and Morag was at once recommended. The lady was pleased with her appearance and engaged her without hesitation. This obtained for her a free passage and wages for her services.
On arriving at Port Glasgow, that port which she had so much cause sorrowfully to remember, she found a number of the soldiers were to be taken by another boat as far as Inverary, and left there to make their way on foot to their various homes. Morag took her passage by the same boat, and on landing at Inverary walked with the group of men who belonged to Appin up Glenaray to Port Seoacnan, where Loch Awe, was crossed. On they trudged by Kilachrenain into Glen Nant, past Bonawe to Connel, where Loch Etive was crossed. Only four miles more and Shian was reached and there were the Appin Hills, brown, rugged and heathery, with green undulating pastoral hills interweaving here and there, and only Loch Creran’s broad tide heaving between. As they were crossing the ferry, and nearing the Appin shore, Morag asked one of the ferry men whether he knew if John McLaurin’s widow were still alive?
The ferryman turned his face shore ward! and the replied,
“There she is, standing in the doorway of that cottage near the shore.”
There then, was her mother, watching the ferry boat with evident interest, little knowing who was nearing her, with each strong oar stroke.
Morag was not encumbered by much luggage. As she neared the door, her mother hastily withdrew, seeing a strange lady approach. Morag stepped in after her without knocking and asked if she might be allowed to take a seat as she was weary with her journey?
The mother set her a chair, eyeing her askance the while.
“Would you oblige me with a drink of water?” asked Morag. The drink was handed in silence.
“I should like to stay here overnight, if you have a bed to spare - I am not inclined to go further to-day,” said Morag.
“I have no suitable accommodation for such as you,” was the reply, given with chilling coldness.
“I should be very easily satisfied,” said Morag.” I’d be glad of any accommodation.”
“But I mean to remain; not a step farther do I go to-night. I see that you have plenty of room and you can’t put me out!” said Morag, in a tone of mock bravado.
“I will not on any account harbour you within my house!” exclaimed her mother with rising wrath. “How should I know who or what you might turn out to be - you who have come over the ferry with a boatful of redcoats!
After a little more teasing, Morag could hold out no longer: -
“Mother, mother!” she cried, “do you not know your own Morag?” and springing up she laid a hand on each of her mother’s shoulders, smiling down all suspicion.
There was no more talk of ejecting her; she had been adrift alas long enough. She settled down with her mother to be the prop and comfort of her old age, and never left Appin again. She was married to Peter Thompson, who had been a lad of sixteen when at Culloden, and died no so long ago, and I was married to Morag’s son. The End.”
Myth, Tradition and Story of Western Argyll, Oban Times Press 1925, edited by: K. W. Grant
Mary McLaurin the nine year old daughter of John McLaurin crofter at the Middle Shieling of Gleann na h’iola (56° 34′ 48″ N 5° 16′ 52″ W), between Blar-nan-laogh/Barnaley (field-of-cows) the shieling to the north and Airigh-mheadhon/Arymeyhne (middle shieling) the shieling to the west-south-west. Laughlin McLaurin an old man and John Bane McLaurin lived at Blar-nan-loagh in 1746, John Bane had turned in his weapons to Campbell of Stonefield the Sheriff, at Dunstaffnage Castle on 6 July 1746. The middle shieling was probably attached to Blar-nan-laogh as a single property a common practice. Google maps clearly shows this middle shieling which is very close to Blar-nan-laogh. I have three Testaments from Blar-nan-laogh McLaurins.
From this story we learn that another John McLaurin, from the same place, was killed at the Battle of Culloden. Many of these Blar-nan-laogh McLaurins’ descendants emigrated to Cape Fear, North Carolina on the ship “Maryanne” in 1790. A brutal overly long six week voyage, which made them short on water and supplies before landing in America. With a little girl delivered on the voyage. “Ships from Scotland to America, David Dobson, 1998
“Maryanne” is also the name of the ship in this story with the friendly Skipper, who made sure that Morag reached her aunt Flora safely. Could this be the same ship that had been carrying McLaurins and other Appin people around the wesc coast of Scotland for decades with a Skipper that knew the people very well.
This story also confirms a link between the people of Kilmartin, Glassary where Vicar Loarn of Kilmartin lived in 1355, to the McLaurins in Appin.
I did not find anyone named Thompson or MacThomas in the two 1746 Appin Lists of Rebels.
The “Plough” constellation is the known as the “Big Dipper” in the US.
We now have the probable names of two McLaurins’ killed at Culloden, John in this story and Neill (D-a) who tradition says was wounded in the head.
Copyright Hilton McLaurin, 2017
This story is one reason why I continue my campaign for the removal of the Appin Clan Marker on the Culloden Battlefield because, “London Donald MacLaren of MacLaren” and his $25 MacLaren’s in the “Clan MacLaren Society of North America” who think they know more about our family history that we do, desecrated the marker in 2006 with his Balquhidder “MacLaren” name. Donald and his courtesans, should be ashamed of theirselves.
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