Category Archives: 18th century history

Phantasmic art insights

I love to visit art museums, especially when visitors are allowed to take photos. It’s a wonderful research-gathering tool, especially if you’re looking for glimpses of how people looked and lived before photography came along.

That said, paintings of some eras and peoples are easier to find than others. Lately I’ve discovered that European cultures like France, Italy, England, and Germany are better represented than places like Scotland. On a visit to the Boston Museum of Art earlier this year, I found not one single painting by a Scottish artist. I even inquired at the information desk just to be sure. No, nothing about Scotland or by Scottish artists, I was told.

Therefore, being able to visit the National Gallery of Scotland in Edinburgh was a huge breakthrough. In honor of the October Hallowe’en month, I offer this example of one of my finds there, a painting called “The Spell.”

The brass plate beneath the painting reads:

Sir William Fettes Douglas (1822-1891)
THE SPELL
The superstition was common in many countries that it was possible, by word of power and magic, to force the dead to reveal the secrets of the unseen world. The Rosicrucians and Illuminati of the Middle Ages being especially accused of violating the tombs for this unholy purpose.

Beside the painting is a further explanation of the artwork (I also take photos of those so I can identify the paintings when I get back home):

The magician here is endeavoring to raise the spirit of a dead man. The mood of the painting is enhanced by the number of strange diagrams and mathematical calculations together with the glimpse of moonlit water and ancient standing stones.

It’s awesome to go to museums themselves for this type of elucidation about the art and artist, the time period, and more. The next best thing is exploring art images online. This week, for instance, I happened upon the Scottish artist Thomas Faed. His work is a wonderful glimpse into the life of Scots in the 19th century. Using Google search, type in “Thomas Faed artist” and then select images for a wonderful overview of his paintings.

Leap into the unknown

It’s both exciting, and nerve-wracking, to head out on an exploration without a plan. But I’ve found in the Highlands, and for that matter in book research in general, planning for the unplanned is an excellent way to go. While traveling in the Highlands, experience has taught me the true mettle of the people’s character tends to be veiled, as if hidden behind wispy, low-lying clouds. To find it, you have to enter the mist. Just as in book research, you don’t know what you’re looking for until you find it.

After my adventure exploring the valleys and byways of the River Nairn (see previous post), the following day, I hoped to make a journey along the River Findhorn (since several characters in the novel I’m researching came from parishes there). I first browsed the internet for local historic sites and museums, but turned up frustratingly little (just the usual castles and forts, not the stuff of my novel). As I got in the car on a dripping gray morning, I hesitated turning on the ignition. I could just skip it, I even thought. The gray weather made for a perfect opportunity for holing up with a good book, not for gallivanting across the countryside on verge-less roads (road shoulders in Scotland are called “verges,” which, from what I can tell, are non-existent). I checked the map one last time for Route A940, which follows the River Findhorn, then added a mental note to keep to the left side of the road at all times, then fired up the engine.

As I drove along, wincing every time a large bus or truck whooshed past within a hair’s-breadth of my little economy car, I noticed a sign for Logie Steading. Steading? It wasn’t a brown sign, like most tourist signs are in the Highlands, but offered shops and gardens and seemed open to the public, and said something about Findhorn Riverwalks, so I turned down the little lane. At the car park, I spotted Logie’s Whisky and Wine shop, and headed over to see about some samples to take home with me. Hence, encountered the Whisky Wall (the proprietor’s term for it, not mine. He invited me to take a picture).

No doubt, at this point you’re thinking: Wait, weren’t you there to research? Well, yes I was. I was also trying to keep my wits about me for driving, so I did not partake of the offered samples. (I did pick up several airplane-sized bottles to take home, naturally.) It being quite early, no one else was in the shop, so I spoke at length with the proprietor, who showed me something that would have been invaluable had I known about it from the get-go. A Scottish Environment Protection Agency (SEPA) map that gives you layers upon layers of maps — from roads to bike trails to hiking trails to topography. Double-click, and you can go in layer after layer to see the terrain, wherever you are, whatever you need to know. Amazingly helpful.

As you can see from the above, so far, I’d driven from Forres down the red route to Logie. It turned out the Logie Steading was started by Sir Alexander Grant, a baker who made his riches by inventing the, wait for it, digestive biscuit. It’s now the River Findhorn Heritage Centre, and has a terrific museum about the local people and customs throughout history. There was even a map on the wall outlining just the places I needed to visit.

First stop, Randolph’s Leap (in the Highlander’s typical flair for obfuscation, Randolph didn’t leap it, Alistair did).

The River Findhorn is especially turbulent and angry right now due to a summer of constant rain.

Next stop, Ardclach Kirk, just on the banks of the River Findhorn. Parishioners lived on both sides of the river. As there was no bridge, they had to travel across by boat, which led to several drownings.

The kirk was so low in the valley the bell could not be heard, so the enterprising Presbyterians built a belltower up above the cliff to sound the call to services, for funerals and so on.

The ochre color of the belltower may seem odd, but is actually the color of paint used in the era the tower was built, circa 1655.

Finally, I leave you with just one example of details in the Logie museum that are of use to the historical novelist. The drawing of a woman’s bonnet, with thorough description.

This woman’s bonnet is called a “mutch.”

Mutches varied from very fine ones with insets of lace, or an occasional coloured ribbon, to simple ones for everyday use or as nightcaps. … Many women had a special box in which they would carry a fresh mutch which they would put on just before reaching the church or the friends they might be visiting.

Before the mutch, women often wore the “toy,” described as “two long broad stripes of linen attached to a cap fitted closely to the head.” It makes me wonder, is this where the expression: “don’t toy with me,” comes from?

18th-century fisherfolk

I’m continually impressed by the diversity of characters living in the Highlands of Scotland in the 18th century. Yesterday, I came across a resource at the Inverness Library, a terrific summary of The Old Statistical Accounts. These accounts were sent to Sir John Sinclair in response to a lengthy questionnaire sent out to parish ministers. They often returned them with quite lengthy, colorful descriptions of their parishioners.

Here’s an example, a write-up about “fisherwives.”

The distinctiveness of the fisherfolk in the numerous fishing villages [of Scotland], especially those of the east coast, is [often] highlighted. … it is of the women that most of the ministers write. The account from Rathven, for example (taking in four fishing towns — Buckie, Port-easy, Findochtie, Port-nockie), states: ‘The fisher-wives lead a most laborious life. They assist in dragging the boats on to the beach, and in launching them. They sometimes, in frosty weather, and at unseasonable hours, carry their husbands on board, and ashore again, to keep them dry. They receive the fish from the boats, carry them fresh, or after salting, to their customers, and to market, at the distance, sometimes, of many miles, through bad roads, and in a stormy season. … many [women] are pretty, and dress to advantage on holidays.’

From “Parish Life in Eighteenth-Century Scotland: A Review of the Old Statistical Account.” Maisie Stevens, Scottish Cultural Press, 1995

What’s more, this drawing is supplied — a picture of the women carrying their fishermen:

Should you be studying your Highlander genealogy and what your ancestors may have experienced in the late 1700s, I highly recommend this book.

Maybe, maybe not

The story goes that my 4x-great grandfather was born on the Culloden moor in April of 1746, just before the Battle of Culloden. That information appeared in a typed history found in the family Bible. A visit to the Culloden Visitor Centre, however, revealed no such dwellings, just an empty, windswept moor (except for the Leanach House, a kind of memorial with a grisly history I won’t go into for the moment). The Culloden House, a large mansion of the Forbes family, was located on the moor, but burned down long ago.

At the Culloden Visitor Centre, I did find an old painting of the battle that showed the Culloden House with some small dwellings beside it. So as I’ve been researching in Invernessshire on the old ancestral turf, I’ve been keeping an eye out for records of the Forbes estate. I was thinking maybe the people in the dwellings on the moor worked for the Forbes estate? But so far, nothing like that has turned up.

Then yesterday, I was idly flipping through material on the bookshelves and happened upon a little one shilling booklet printed called Culloden Moor and Clava Circles. In it I came across a fold out map of the battlefield as drawn in 1746 by the military in command that day. And lo and behold, some wee cottage dwellings were drawn in, a number 3. by them designating them as dwellings of the Balvraid [Balvaird] Farm. And another two dwellings with the number 2. beside them designating them as the Culchunaig Farm.


(I’m only showing a partial image to give you an idea, as I’m not permitted to show the full image per photography restrictions here at the Archive.)
I’m trying not to get too excited, but it’s fun to speculate. Here in the Highland Archive Centre I’ve come across letters of the McIntoshes of Balnespicke and Balvaird. Could it be the lost is found? There are *so many* McIntosh families in this area, it’s nice to be able to narrow it down in scope. Then again, maybe not.

Regardless, it feels to me as if the existence of this Balvraid/Balvaird Farm on the Culloden Moor supports the story tucked away in our family Bible all these years.

Research is proceeding apace

Before heading off on this journey, I was nervous I wouldn’t find what I’m looking for. First person accounts by Scottish immigrants to the Ohio River area in the early 1800’s make mention of events — shipwrecks, infant births and deaths, ancestors signing the Covenant in their own blood — which I’m finding it difficult to verify.

The family history account of Duncan and Nancy Fraser begins thus:

Not wishing to rear his family in Scotland (after three of his uncles had been burned at the stake for their faith in Christ), Duncan Fraser (who was tailor to Lord Cavanough [sic]) started to America with his wife Nancy (both were Highland Scots from near Edinborough [sic]) and their four children — three girls and a boy, Daniel, in the year 1804.

It’s a mystery … since this account is about the turn of the 18th to the 19th century, the reference to three uncles burned at the stake for their faith in Christ seems out of place. The Covenant martyrdoms happened in the previous century, in the 1600s, didn’t they? So was this account referring to great uncles? or to 2x- or 3x-great uncles?

One place I hoped to glean more insights was at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh. I only had two days to spend, so prepared as much as I could in advance. Users of the library have to apply for a library card. I saved time by registering online here. I still needed to show an identification with my current address, but the process of getting a card definitely went more quickly.

Once in the library reading room, I began at the enquiries desk. If you want to take photos (which I did), I had to fill out paperwork and display a yellow card. First thing, I used the main catalogue to order documents not available on the open shelves (most of them), as it can take up to an hour for the material to be brought out.

And here’s where I messed up. The order slip in Special Collections had a blank for specifying my table number. Hence, I assumed materials would be delivered to my table, a common practice at other libraries. I sat waiting for a full hour before going up to make an inquiry (enquiry), only to learn I had was supposed to pick it up at the desk. My material had been there all along.

So, about those martyrs. Not sure I’ve found the event, but the book Martyrs and Heroes of the Scottish Covenant by George Gilfillan did a beautiful job of clueing me into the power struggles of the Scottish reformation. About Duncan Fraser’s “uncles,” however, I haven’t scored any specifics. It’s a tangent, anyway, not the main focus of this immigration tale. I was mainly interested in the historical context, and found great resources and voices.

Not in the National Library, but on the internet, I found a website indicating that 95 people in Edinburgh were executed for their faith in Christ in the 1600’s. What’s more, it’s estimated that “perhaps 30,000 may have died for their beliefs and Presbytery during the whole of the Scottish Reformation.”

“A shieling on the braes”

Last Thursday afternoon at Moniack, a group of us signed up for a hike. I expected the trek to be stepping out the front door — there were plenty of scenic hillsides near Moniack Mhor all around. Instead, though, we divided up and hopped into cars to get to the Abriachan Forest Paths, about ten minutes away.

“We have a choice of where to go,” the guide said. “To a forest of tall old trees, or up a bit to see a shieling.”

“Oh, a shieling!” I put in before anyone else had a chance. “I’d love to see one.”

No one objected, although I had a hunch most had never heard of shielings. I knew about them because of a description in Alistair Moffatt’s “Highland Clans.”

In springtime clansmen undertook the ancient journey of transhumance, driving their black cattle and sheep up the hill trails to the high pastures and the shielings. These were temporary huts and in the light northern nights they were where herdsmen (often women and children) summered out with their animals in the mountains. In Gaelic the shielings were known as summertowns and the clachans as wintertowns. Around the cooking fires in the high pasture tales were told, songs sung and away from the older people, understandings exchanged.

I had pictured a shieling as a wooden lean-to structure. No doubt the style of them varies from region to region. This shieling had a turf roof, so it blended well into the heather.

Boggy brogues

Research in books is all well and good, but I find conversations especially rich. Asking weird questions at improbable moments elicits some of the most intriguing ahas! Today, I was talking to this Irish guy about history, and Scottish history, and Ohio history. We were ranging over a wide variety of topics when I thought of an account I’d just been reading about an immigrant Scot in the mid-1700s taken captive by a Native Americans. I told him how I’d been especially impressed by the report of how the Native Americans had traveled great distances with their captive to avoid the British troops, running over 30 miles a day.

“So I’ve been wondering about that. How do you think the Highlanders traveled? I mean, other than by boat, do you think they ran? Before roads and carriages and such? They didn’t ride horseback, did they?”

“No, I don’t think by horseback,” the Irish guy said. “Actually, I doubt they ran. I think it’s more likely they trudged. It has to have been more like trudging, doesn’t it? The land here is so boggy.”

“Right, I’ve just discovered that, trying to walk in the woods out here,” I said. I had an inkling now of what he meant by boggy, having veered off into a forest near Moniack the other day for a quarter mile or so. I couldn’t believe what difficult going it was, the cushiony-deep, mossy ground. It was the oddest sensation, like walking across couches.

An example of boggy ground, the pillows of mosses and heather to the side of this spring

“Sure,” he went on. ” It’s like that in Ireland, too. You can see it in the brogues we wear. The bogs make for slow going, and they’re so wet. These holes in brogues originally had a purpose. The Irish designed them that way because the land was so boggy, when their feet got wet, all they had to do was lift up their shoes in such a way as to let the water run out of the toe holes. It’s one of the Irish contributions to the world, really.”

I gaped at him in disbelief, but tonight, a quick internet search proved him right. My Grandpa Lindsey, and my Grandpa Patterson, Scots-Irish and Scottish, always wore brogues. Hmm.

Scotland tales

As far back as I can remember, when growing up in a small mid-century home on the Southeast side of Cleveland, Ohio, there was this map at the end of our bedroom hallway.

It was actually pretty huge, about 2-1/2 feet wide by 3 feet tall, taking up most of the end of a hall lined with doors leading into the family bedrooms. So I saw it often, every single day of my formative years. I tell you what, without a clue what it was, that image captured my imagination. Does it, or does it not, resemble a witch with her skirts swirling around her?

When I grew older, my father impressed on me that it was there because it held family significance, it being the clan map of Scotland. “We’re Mackintoshes,” he used to say. “Touch not the cat bot a glove.” Apparently, Dad was quoting the motto on the Mackintosh crest, but again, for my young American English brain, life was full of mysteries. (It means, before you pick up a wild or feral cat, be sure to protect yourself with safety gloves.) The war cry of the clan was “Loch Moigh,” referring to their homeland in the Inverness region.

Today, after not a little effort and many hours of travel, I find myself ensconced very nearby Loch Moigh, just north of Loch Ness (Loch means Lake) at Moniack Mhor Writing Centre. While I’m feeling a bit jet-lagged, I’m oh so excited to have returned. As in, returned to Inverness-shire since a short visit here with Dave in 2015, and as in, returned to Inverness-Shire after my ancestors left this homeland for good circa 1803.

On the map, the Mackintosh clan laid claim to the upper shoulders of the witch, just beneath her head. Where all the muscular tension resides, come to think of it. The territory of the former site of the fateful 1746 Battle of Culloden.

I’m close, but I’ve actually missed the mark slightly. Judging by my rough calculation on the map above, Moniack Mhor is located in Fraser clan territory. Oh aye, now I’ve put my foot in it. But from what I understand, by the late 18th century, the clans weren’t warring so much with each other as they were struggling to survive under the “galling yoke” of England.

Or so first person accounts say, of those who emigrated in a last-ditch effort to escape the “galling yoke.” I’m looking forward to finding what I can about the Daniel Mackintoshes (McIntoshes) before they emigrated. They didn’t depart alone. Their exodus included the Roses, the McBains, the MacGillvrays, and others. A whole fistful of disaffected Highland Presbyterian Gaels, right at the scruff of things, it would appear.

So, after five days at this Tutored Fiction Retreat with Paul Murray, Amanda Smyth, and Jane Harris, my aim is to dig deeper and find out more.

Abroad and at home

This May, I had the privilege of visiting the Archives Research Centre in Inverness, where I took a peak at Croy Parish Church registers. The Kirk, as it was known in those days. Unlike modern church sessions (at least, those of the mainline denominations with which I’m familiar), these Kirk sessions included provincial trials of misdeeds such as fist-fighting on the Sabbath.

Here’s an excerpt from one such record:

Croy July 13 1740 James Mitter Gardiner in [Cabrach] & Margaret Gordon in Mitten Delated for undecent correspondence are appointed to be cited to our next meeting of the Elders appointed to enquire into the grounds of such report. …
Croy July 20th 1740 Compeard James Mitter & Margaret Gordon & refusing their keeping any undecent correspondence the Elders were enquired if they searched into the grounds of such report & answered that they found there was such a flagrant story passing at that part of the Parish but that after diligent search they could find no ground for it. Closed with prayer.

Can you imagine such a meeting of sessions at a mainline church today? People might actually turn out for the show. Strange words appear in the text: Delated. Compeard. Then again, it’s fortunate I didn’t have to decipher them from Gaelic.

“Delate” does appear in the Merriam-Webster, an archaic word that means to denounce or accuse. Not so the word “compeard.” Perhaps it is dialect? I don’t believe it is a misreading of the handwriting–here’s a sample of transcribed text of another such record I found in Google books:
book scots regional dialect

Back home, I found another tidbit of Scots 18th century history in the oddest place — the Genealogical Abstracts from Newspapers of the German Reformed Church 1830-1839, collected by Barbara Manning.
book genealogical abstracts
In an abstract from the Weekly Messenger of the German Reformed Church dated Aug. 9, 1837, is the following:

//LONGEVITY. RICHARD TAYLOR, the oldest pensioner in Chelsea Hospital England, died on the 10th of June, aged 104. He was a drummer boy at the battle of Culloden in 1745; his last action was that of Alexandria in Egypt where SIR RALPH ABERCROMBIE fell. //

Other than the fact that the Battle of Culloden occurred in 1746, let’s give this the benefit of the doubt and assume the rest is correct. The announcement tells me several things. First, that Richard Taylor was most likely a drummer boy for the British side of that engagement. Second, that if Taylor did live 104 years, he was a drummer boy in the King’s service at the young age of 13 years. Third, back in the day the Battle of Culloden was so well known that the editors of  this small German denominational newspaper in the U.S. felt this news from England worthy of note. Yet today, many people I talk with have never heard of Culloden.

Stumps in the road

When it comes to historical research, it’s all too easy to follow one thread, then another, until progress slows to the pace of a journey by horse and wagon in the 18th century.

Ohio near St Clairsville 2015

Ohio near St. Clairsville, 2015

Currently, in my studies of Scots immigrants to Ohio, I’m on the trail of pre-canal, pre-railroad travel. Via interlibrary loan, I’ve checked out a copy of Margaret Van Horn Dwight’s diary, published under the title “A Journey to Ohio in 1810.” A delightful account of an arduous trip delayed again and again, due to weather, flooding rivers, and a horse too exhausted to go on. Margaret and her companions were traveling from New Haven, Connecticut to Warren, Ohio. Below is a sample entry:

“Thursday night — Allegany (sic) Mtn Nov– 16 [1810]
We have had a warm & pleasant day till towards night, when it began to rain, as it has done every day for a fortnight — we are now at a tavern half a mile from the top of the Allegany Mt- this Mountain is 14 miles over- At the highest part of it is a most beautiful prospect of mountains- 5 or 6 ridges one after the other- … I pick’d a sprig of ivy from the top, which … came from the very backbone of America, as they all tell us — We have walk’d a great deal to day, & indeed we are oblig’d to every day, for the whole country seems one continued mtn…”

Because of the steep terrain, to spare the horse, Margaret and her companions climbed the mountains on foot, walking next to the wagon.

Another route over the Allegheny Mountains started out of Baltimore, Maryland. By the end of the 1700s, this road reached well into the Northwest Territory (present-day Ohio, Illinois, Michigan and Indiana). The first leg of the route from Baltimore went to Uniontown, Pennyslvania, a road cut in the 1750s by General Braddock’s troops during the French and Indian War. The second leg, Gist’s trace, was cut by white trader Thomas Cresap and his friend the Delaware Chief Nemacolin, and stretched from explorer Gist’s plantation in Uniontown as far as the Monongahela River at present-day Brownsville, Pennsylvania.

The third leg was cut by Ebenezer Zane around 1796. Called Zane’s Trace, it was a narrow, clumsily cut path through giant trees of the Ohio wilderness. Eventually, Zane’s trace extended from present-day Wheeling, West Virginia to Maysville, Kentucky. As the trees were felled by Zane’s men, the story goes, little care was taken about the tree stumps. As a result, wagons sometimes high-centered on stumps, or got stuck between them. It’s said that Zane’s Trace is where people first used the expression “to get stumped,” as in, stuck and going nowhere.

Huh. I know the feeling. Time for me to get off my research duff and start writing.