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The  Most  Famous  MacGregor  Of  Them  All

At the very commencement of the eighteenth century, there lived a MacGregor of the Glengyle line, who has done more to render the name memorable than any other by whom it was ever borne, namely, Robert MacGregor, otherwise better known as Rob Roy (Red Rob).  This man formed an admirable specimen of the class and race to which he belonged.  With talents which might have made him a great general, valuable to his country, under fitting circumstances, he passed his life as a freebooter on the pettiest scale.

The Lowland government in Scotland had grown in his time so strong that extensive forays there could neither with safety be attempted nor effected. Rob Roy, therefore, was under the necessity of sustaining his "following", partly by minor creaghs, and partly by taking ''black mail" from the quiet southern men in his vicinity, in return for saving them from the less scrupulous occupants of the interior Highlands.  Much of good and much of evil has been told of Rob Roy.  

Rob Roy MacGregor Campbell, which last name be took when his own was by law proscribed, was a younger son of MacGregor of Glengyle, and became tutor to his nephew, the head of that  branch, and claimant of the chieftainship of the clan.   It may detract from the romance of the man to state that he was a drover in early life - a master-drover,   however who purchased or bred the small cattle of the Highland hills, and carried them for sale to the south.     

But the Duke of Montrose condescended to be a dealer in the same line; and hence arose all the calamities of Rob Roy.   Whether  truly or falsely, he was charged by the duke, and others who employed him, with appropriating sums of money which fell into his hands in his  trading or agent capacity.  They prosecuted and persecuted him accordingly, and he became a "broken man", (a synonym in those day of someone who changed direction).

Another strong cause for the change has also been recorded. His patrimonial designation was that of Laird of Inversnaid, but he also possessed a property called Craig-Royston, which lies on the northern angle of Loch Lomond.  In 1712, in his absence, his house was visited by the Duke of Montrose, who turned out his wife, Mary MacGregor of Comar, (a daughter of the house of Campbell of Glenfalloch, heirs of Breadalbane) and her two  young boys into the winter weather, in an effort to seize Rob's furniture and chattels.

Rob Roy was born at Craig-Royston at Glengyle house at the head of Loch Katrine The Duke of Montrose, in consequence of the cattle speculation, got possession finally of  Rob Roy's lands at Craig-Royston.      

Determined that his grace should not enjoy his land with impunity, he collected a band of about twenty followers, declared open war against him, and gave up his old course of regular droving, declaring  that the estate of Montrose should in future supply him with cattle, and that he would make the duke rue the day he quarrelled with him.  

 He kept his word; and for nearly thirty years - that is, till the day of his death - regularly levied contribution on the duke and his tenants, not by nightly depredations, but in broad day, and in a systematic manner: on an appointed time making a complete sweep of all the cattle of a district-always passing over those not belonging to the duke's estate, or the estates of his friends and adherents: and having previously given notice where he was to be on a certain day with his cattle,  he was met thereby people from all parts of the country, to whom he sold them publicly. These meetings, or trysts, as they were called, were held in different parts of the country; sometimes the cattle were driven south, but oftener to the north and west, where the influence or his friend the Duke of Argyle protected him.     

When the cattle were in this manner driven away, the tenants paid no rent, so that the duke was the ultimate sufferer.  But he was made  to suffer in every way. The rents of the lower farms were partly paid in grain and meal, which was generally lodged in a store house or granary called a girnal, near the Loch of Monteath. When MacGregor wanted a supply of meal, he sent notice to a certain number of the duke's tenants to meet him at the girnal on a certain day, with their horses to carry home his meal.    

 They met accordingly, when he ordered the horses to be loaded, and, giving a regular receipt to his grace's storekeeper for the quantity taken, he marched away, always entertaining the people very handsomely, and careful never to take the meal till it had been lodged in the duke's storehouse in payment or rent.   When the money rents were  paid,  MacGregor frequently  attended.     

 On one occasion, when Mr Graham of Killearn (the factor) had collected the tenants to pay their rents, all Rob Roy's men happened to be absent except Alexander Stewart (called 'the bailie'). With this single  attendant he descended to Chapellairoch, where the factor and the  tenants were assembled. He reached the house after it was dark, and, looking in at a window, saw Killer, surrounded by a number of the tenants, with a bag full of money which he had received, and was in the act of depositing it in a dresser  cupboard, at the same time saying that he would cheerfully give all  in the  bag  for Rob Roy's head.  This notification was not lost on the  outside visitor,  who instantly gave orders in a loud voice to place two men  at each  window,  two at each corner, and four at each of two doors, thus appearing  to have twenty men.     

Immediately the door opened, and he walked in with  his  attendant close behind, each armed with a sword in his right hand and  a pistol  in  his left hand, and with dirks and pistols in their belts. The  company started  up  but he desired them to sit down, as his business was only  with Killearn,  whom  he ordered   to hand down the bag and put it on the table.   

When this was done, he desired the money to be counted and proper receipts to be drawn out, certifying that he received the money  from the Duke of Montrose's agent, as the duke's property, the tenants having  paid their rents, so that no after demand could be demanded of  them on account of this transaction;and finding that some of the people had not obtained receipts, he desired the factor to grant them immediately, 'to show his grace', said he,'that it is from him I take the money, and not from these honest men who have paid him'.    

  After the whole was concluded, he ordered supper,  saying that as he had got the purse, it          was proper that he pay the bill; and after they had drunk heartily together for several hours, he called his bailie to produce his dirk and lay it naked on the table. Killearn was then sworn that he would not move, nor direct anyone else to move, from that spot for an hour after the departure of MacGregor, who thus cautioned him - 'If you break your oath, you know what you are to expect in the next world. And in this', pointing to his dirk, he then walked away, and was beyond pursuit before the hour  expired.

We are not, however, to suppose the character, of  this distinguished outlaw was that of an actual hero, acting uniformly and  consistently on such moral principles as the illustrious Baird who, standing  by his grave, has vindicated his fame. On the contrary, as is common with  barbarous chiefs, Rob Roy would appear to have mixed his professions of principal  with a large alloy of craft and dissimulation, of which his conduct during  the civil  war of 1715 is sufficient proof.    

It is also said, and truly, that although his courtesy  was one of his strongest characteristics, yet sometimes he assumed an arrogance  of manner which wasn't easily endured by the high spirited men to whom it was addressed, and drew the daring outlaw into frequent disputes, from which he didn't always come off with credit.  From this it has been  inferred  that Rob Roy was more of a bully than a hero, or at least  that  he had, according to the common phrase, his fighting days.  

Some aged men who knew him well, have described  him  also as better at a taich-tulzie, or  scuffle  within doors, than in mortal combat. The tenor of his life maybe quoted to  repel this charge; while, at the same time, it must be allowed,  that the  situation in which he was placed rendered him prudently averse to  maintaining quarrels,  where nothing was to be had save blows, and where success  would have  raised  up against him new and powerful enemies, in a country where  revenge was still  considered a duty rather than a crime. The power of commanding  his  passions,  on such occasions, far from being inconsistent with the  part  which he  had to perform, was essentially necessary, at the period  when he lived,  to  prevent his career from being cut short.

One of the most extraordinary events in Rob's adventures was his visit  to London.  His numerous exploits rendered him so remarkable that his  name was frequently the subject of conversation among the nobility of the  English court.  He was there spoken of as the acknowledged protégé  of Argyle, who was often berated by the king for his partiality towards the  MacGregor.  On several occasions the king had expressed a desire to  see  the hardy "mountaineer"; and Argyll, willing to gratify him, sent  for  Rob Roy,  but concealed his being in London, lest the officers of state, aware of the  king's hatred, might take measures to detain him.

Argyll, however, took care to see that the king should see him without knowing who he was, and for this purpose made Rob Roy walk for some time in front of St. James's palace.  His majesty observed, and remarked that he had never seen a finer looking man in a Highland dress, and Argyll having soon after waited on the king, his majesty told him of having noticed a handsome Scots Highlander, when Argyle replied that it was Rob Roy MacGregor, his  Majesty said he was disappointed  that he did not know it sooner, and  appeared not to relish the information, having felt to be the object of a  dupe.

The period of the Rebellion, 1715, approached soon  after  Rob Roy had attained celebrity. His Jacobite partialities were now  placed  in opposition to his sense of the obligations which he owed to indirect protection  or the Duke of Argyle.  But the desire or 'drowning his  sounding steps amid  the  din of general war',  induced him to join the forces  of the Earl of Mar,  although  his patron, the Duke of Argyle was at the head  of the army opposed  to the Highland  insurgents.      

 The MacGregors, a large Sept of them at least, that  of Ciar Mohr, on this occasion, were not commanded by Rob Roy, but by his  nephew, Gregor MacGregor, otherwise called James Graham of Glengyle, and  still better remembered by the Gaelic epithet of GhluneDleu (Black  Knee)  from a black mole on one or his knees, which in Highland garb rendered  visible. There can be no question, however, that being then very young,  Glengyle must  have acted on most occasions on the advice and direction of  so experienced a leader  as his uncle.     

 The MacGregors assembled in numbers at that period,  and began even to threaten the Lowlands towards the lower extremity of Loch  Lomond. They suddenly seized all the boats which were upon the lake,  and, probably with a view to some enterprise or their own, drew them overland  to Inversnaid,  in order to intercept the progress of a large body of west country Whigs who were in arms for the Government, and were moving in  that direction.     

 The Whigs made an excursion for the recovery of the  boats.   Their forces consisted of volunteers from Paisley, Kilpatrick,  and elsewhere, who, with the assistance of a body of seamen, were towed up  the river Leven in long-boats belonging to the ships of war then lying in  the Clyde. At Luss they were joined by the forces of Sir Humphrey Colquhoun, and James Grant, his son-in-law, with their followers, attired in the Highland  dress of the period. The whole party crossed to Craig-Royston, but the MacGregors  did not offer combat.

If we were to believe the account of the expedition given by the historian Rae, they leaped on shore at Craig Royston with the  utmost intrepidity, no enemy appearing to oppose them, and, by the noise  of  their drums, which they beat incessantly, and the discharge of their  artillery  and small arms, terrified the MacGregors, whom they appear never to have seen,  out or their fastness and caused them to fly in a general panic to  the camp  of the Highlanders at StrathFillan.   The low countrymen succeeded  in getting possession of the boats, at a great expenditure  of noise and courage,  and little risk or danger.     

After this temporary removal from his old haunts, Rob Roy  was sent by the Earl of Mar to Aberdeen, to raise a part of the clan Gregor, which was settled in that country. These men were of  his  own family (the race of the Ciar Mohr). They were the descendants of  about three  hundred MacGregors whom the Earl of Murray, about the year 1624, transported  from his estates in Monteith to oppose against his enemies the  MacIntoshes,  a race as hardy and restless as they were themselves.   

Rob Roy's followers were in the Highland army, but  his  heart seems to have been with the Duke of Argyle's. Yet the Insurgents  were  constrained to trust to him as their only guide, when they marched from  Perth  towards Dunblane,  with the view of crossing the Forth at what are called  the  Fords of Frew, and when they themselves said he could not be relied upon.   

 This movement to the westward, on the part of the  insurgents, brought on the battle of Sherriffmuir - indecisive in its  immediate results,  but  of which the Duke of Argyle reaped the whole advantage.  In this action,  the right wing of the Highlanders broke and cut to pieces  Argyle's left wing,  while the clans on the left of Mars army, though consisting  of Stewarts,  MacKenzies,and Camerons, were completely routed.   

 During this medley of flight and pursuit, Rob Roy  retained  his station on a hill in the centre of the Highland position; and  though it  is said his attack would have decided the day, he could not be prevailed  upon  to charge.  This was the more unfortunate for the insurgents, as  the leading of a party to the MacPhersons had been committed to MacGregor.  

This, it is said, was owing to the age and infirmity  of the chief of that name, who, unable to lead his clan in person, objected  to his heir apparent, MacPherson of Nord, discharging his duty on that occasion;  so that his clan were brigaded with their allies the MacGregors.       While the favourable moment for action was slipping away, Mar's positive orders reached Rob Roy that he should presently attack, to which he coolly replied, 'No, no if they cannot do it without me, they cannot do it with me'.      

One of the MacPhersons, named Alexander, one of Rob's  original profession, videlicit a drover, but a man of great strength  and spirit,was so incensed at the inactivity of his temporary leader,  that he threw off his plaid, drew his sword, and called out to his clansman, 'Let us endure this no longer if he will not lead you, I will'.    

Rob Roy replied, with great coolness. 'Were the question  about droving Highland stoats or kyloes, Sandie, I would yield to your superior  skill; but as it respects the leading of men, I must be allowed to be the  better judge'. - 'Did the matter respect driving Glen-Eigasstots', answered the MacPherson, 'the question with Rob would  not be, which was to be  last, but which was to be foremost.'  Incensed at this sarcasm, MacGregor  drew his sword,and they would have fought upon the spot if their friends  of both sides had not interfered.    

 But the moment of attack was completely lost. Rob  did  not, however, neglect his own private interest on the occasion. In the confusion of an undecided field of battle, he enriched his followers by plundering the baggage and the dead on both sides.      

Notwithstanding the sort of neutrality which Rob Roy had continued to observe during the progress of the Rebellion, he did not escape some of its penalties- He was included in the act of attainder, and  the house in Breadalbaine, which was his place of retreat, was burned by  General Lord Cardogan.      

When, after the conclusion of the insurrection, he  marched  through the Highlands to disarm and punish the offending clans. But upon going to Inverary with about forty or fifty of his followers, Rob obtained favour, by an apparent surrender of their arms to Colonel Patrick Campbell of Finnah, who furnished them and their leader with protections under his hand.      

Being thus in a great measure secured from the resentment of Government,Rob Roy established his residence at Craig-Royston, near Loch  Lomond, in the midst of his own kinsmen,  and lost no time in resuming his private quarrel with the Duke of Montrose. For this purpose, he  soon got on foot as many men, and well armed too, as he had yet commanded.  He never moved without a body-guard of ten or twelve picked followers,        and without much effort could increase them to fifty or sixty.     

This was probably one of Rob Roy's last exploits in  arms. The time of his death is not known with certainty, but he is generally  said to have survived 1738, and to have died an aged man.  When he found himself approaching his final change, he expressed some contrition for particular  parts of his life, his wife laughed at these scruples of conscience,    and exhorted him to die like a man, as he had lived.   In reply,  he rebuked  her for her violent passions and the counsels she had given  him.  'You  have put strife', he said. 'betwixt me and  the  best men  of the country  and  now you would place enmity  between  me and my God.'      

There is a tradition, no way inconsistent with the  former,  if  the character of Rob Roy be justly considered, that, while on his  death  bed, he learned that a person, with whom he was at enmity, proposed to visit him. 'Raise me from my bed' said the invalid; 'throw my plaid around me, and bring  me my claymore, dirk and pistols - it shalt never be  said that  a foeman saw  Rob Roy MacGregor defenceless and unarmed.'Rob Roy's gravestone in the churchyard at Baalquhidder            

His foeman, thought to be one of the Maclarens, entered  and paid his compliments, inquiring after the health of his formidable neighbour,  Rob Roy maintained a cold, haughty civility during their short conference,  and so soon as he had left the house. 'Now', he said, 'all is over - let  the  piper play Hatilmitu Iidh, (we return no more;) and he is said to have expired before the dirge was finished.     

 This singular man died in bed in his own house, in  the parish of Balquhidder.     He was buried in the church yard  of the same parish,where his tombstone is only distinguished by  rude  attempt at the figure of a broadsword.                      

A Post-Mortem

Of course Rob couldn't have guessed,but in a later age, Sir Walter Scott, the best loved writer ever of Scottish lore, would romanticize him into the hearts of all people of the world. He became the stuff of legend, a Scottish Robin Hood that would have made even Rob blush.  Many people,some even in Scotland, doubt if Rob Roy even existed.  In the 19th century,Rob Roy acts were popular in Britain. Below is a theatre poster advertising one such event.

Thanks to Sir Walter Scott, through his novels such as 'Lady of the Lake, and 'Rob Roy MacGregor', Scottish culture became popular, such that commoners and Royalty alike wanted their own kilts and tartans even though most had not a drop of Scottish blood.   It was partially due to Scott that Highland games,  bagpipes, and all the other paraphernalia finally became the cultural events they are today.

The Canadian Connection

In the town of Smiths Falls in south-eastern Ontario, there is a quaint little place called 'Rob Roy's Pub,' owned and operated by Rob Peters (a MacGregor pseudonym).  It is without a doubt the most pleasant little British flavour pub in this part of the world.  The carpet is Rob Roy tartan, the walls are festooned with Scottish or English momentoes, and there is an outdoor patio with a splendid view of the Falls.  Over the fireplace mantle is a painting of Rob Roy himself with a sword in hand and bearing a tortured expression which effectively captures the pain he must have felt throughout his life as a born outlaw and a cast-off from society.  Any sensitive soul peering at this painting has to feel sympathy for the subject and for his clan.  To the right of the painting area few books, one of which is a "History of the MacGregor Clan."  This little pub and its owner have established proof positive that here in Canada, we honour our ancestors and the places they arose from.

ROBSPUB.JPG (76009 bytes)

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