Captain Charles MacDonell of the 78th (Fraser’s) Highlanders By the Editor

Charles MacDonell, fourth son of John MacDonell, 12th of Glengarry, was, like the majority of his family, a mere child during the Jacobite Rising of 1745-46 and suffered the hardships imposed on them when after the burning of Invergarry Castle on 29th May, 1746, a party of Cumberland’s redcoats who

“first pillaged the Memorialist’s dwelling house of Glengarry, burnt it and all his office houses down to the ground and by the indulgence of the Officers who Commanded, there were only given to the Memorialist’s Lady and Nine Children. Two small highland Cows, one Chest of Drawers and six pair of Blankets for their maintenance and Support and not so much as a Hatt left to Cover them, and upon this occasion the Memorialist’s whole furniture, plate, books. Charter Chest, and other writes, Cloaths. a great Stocking of Cattle of different kinds the Memorialist’s riding horses and in short everything he had….” (Glengarry’s Memorial 1750).

Glengarry and his large family and servants were

“ruthlessly herded to the hill, where, from a friendly shieling, they watched the flames rising from the chambers so lately their own.”

Glengarry having personally taken no part in the Rising, although his two eldest sons were very much involved, the Clan having been “out” under his second son Angus and the principal cadets, was not forfeited and eventually the family made a partial recovery. It was however, necessary for him to find suitable occupations for his younger sons and a favourable opportunity presented itself when the British Government of William Pitt, the Elder encouraged the raising of Highland regiments to fight the French in North America and elsewhere.

Through the influence of William Pitt, the Elder, later Earl of Chatham, the Hon. Simon Fraser. eldest son of the forfeited Simon, Lord Fraser of Lovat. was appointed to the command of a Highland regiment to be raised by him for service in North America. Within a few weeks. Simon Fraser had raised a corps of 800 men which was augmented by upwards of 600 more raised by the neighbouring gentry. Among the officers, whose commissions were dated 5th January. 1757. was Charles MacDonell, as a Lieutenant.

The regiment, entitled the 78th Regiment of Foot (Fraser’s Highlanders), embarked in company with the 77th Regiment (Montgomery’s Highlanders) at Greenock and landed at Halifax in what is now Nova Scotia, in June 1757. An intended expedition against the French fortress of Louisbourg in which they were to take part was abandoned and it was intended to change the uniform of the regiment as it was considered that the Highland dress was unsuitable for the extremes of severe winters and hot summers prevalent in North America; but the officers and men vigorously protested against the plan and received the full support of their Colonel. Simon Fraser, who persuaded the Commander-in-Chief to drop the proposal. In the words of a veteran of the regiment:

“we were allowed to wear the garb of our fathers, and. in the course of six winters, showed the doctors that they did not understand our constitution; for, in the coldest winters, our men were healthier than those regiments who wore breeches and warm clothing.”

Although Lieutenant Charles MacDonell was not specifically mentioned in the reports of the actions which resulted in the taking of Louisbourg (now beautifully reconstructed) in 1758 and Quebec in 1759 we can confidently conclude that he acquitted himself in the manner expected of a Highland soldier in the discharge of his duty.

After the taking of Quebec in September, 1759, General Murray, who had succeeded General Wolfe, on the death of the latter, was faced with the difficult task of holding the citadel, with a force reduced by sickness and the threat of a hostile population. By the end of April, 1760, his strength had been reduced by death and disease to 3000 effective men. Such was the situation when he received intelligence that a combined force of 10,000 French and 500 Indians from Montreal was approaching. After securing his outposts. Murray decided that he could not risk the dangers of a protracted siege and on the morning of the 28th April he marched his little army out of Quebec and formed it in order of battle on the Plains of Abraham. The Highlanders under Colonel Fraser were placed on the left wing of the first line. Observing the enemy in full march in one column. General Murray ordered his force to advance quickly to meet them before they could form their line. Murray’s light infantry coming in contact with the French advance, drove them back on their main body but pursuing too far. were vigorously attacked and repulsed in their turn. The French by their superior numbers succeeded in capturing two redoubts but were driven out of both by the Highlanders “Sword in hand”. By pushing forward fresh reserves, however, the French succeeded in forcing the left wing to retire. The French did not attempt to pursue, allowing the British to retire within the walls of the city. Among those wounded in this action was Captain Charles MacDonell.

In the summer of 1762, two companies of Fraser’s Highlanders took part in an expedition under Lieutenant-Colonel William Amherst to retake St. John’s Newfoundland, which had been occupied by a French force. The British force landed on 12th September seven miles north of St. John’s and in the main action which followed, in which Captain Charles MacDonell played such a significant part, Lieutenant-Colonel William Amherst wrote:

“On the 15th of August just before day break. I ordered Captain McDonell’s corps of light infantry, and. the provincial light infantry, supported by our advanced posts, to march to suprise the enemy on this hill (one of two commanding the whole ground from Kitty Vitty to St. John’s). Capt. McDonell passed their sentries, and advanced guards, and was first discovered by their main body on the hill, as he came climbing up the rocks near the summit which he gained, receiving the enemy’s fire. He threw in his fire, and the enemy gave way.

“Capt. McDonell was wounded. Lieut. Schuyler of his company killed, with 3 or 4 men; and 18 wounded.

“The enemy had 3 companies of grenadiers and 2 picqucts at this post, commanded by Col. Belcombe second in command; who was wounded; a captain of grenadiers wounded; his lieutenant killed, several men killed and wounded, and 13 taken prisoners.”

Writing from St. John’s on 20th September. 1762 to the Earl of Egremont. Lieut. Colonel Amherst says:

“Capt. McDonell of Col. Fraser’s regiment, having Sir Jeffrey Amherst’s leave to go to England, was to have delivered this to your Lordship; but his leg is broken by the wound he received, which keeps him here. May I humbly presume my Lord, to recommend this gentleman to your Lordship’s protection, as a really brave and good officer.”

Alas, the “Scots Magazine” for November 1762 records:

“Capts. Mackenzie (of Montgomery’s) and Macdonald (Capt. Charles McDonell of Fraser’s). dead of the wounds they received at the attack of Kitty Vitty. Newfoundland.”

Had Charles MacDonell survived it is probable that he would have risen to high rank in the British Army.

Sources include:

Glengarry’s Memorial, 1750.
History of the Highlands and of the Highland Clans: Browne
The Clan Donald: Revs. A. & A. MacDonald
The  Clan Ranald of Knoydart and Glengarry; Norman   H. MacDonald.
The Scots Magazine: November 1762.