Further Notes on the Macdonalds of Dalness by Charles M.H. Miller

In an article on this branch of the Glencoe Macdonalds published in No. 9 of the Clan Donald Magazine, reference was made to “The Clan Donald” account, by Revs. A. and A. Macdonald, as mistaken in several points of detail. It is perhaps advisable to correct their record now as far as possible, and also to give any further information that is at present available, even if it means repetition from the previous article. The sources are, as before, the papers in the legal Processes of 1750-64, the Settlements of John Macdonald and Coll Macdonald W.S., some other documents in the Register of Sasines, and the family letter written in 1905 by Coil’s granddaughter. I am grateful also to Mr. Ian M. Campbell W.S., for kindly providing me with copies of other Dalness papers, including extracts from the wadset of 1694 (not 1691 as stated before), and the Contract of Feu of 1764, which wound up the long litigation. Mr. Diarmid Campbell, of Denver, Colorado, has also raised several helpful points in correspondence with me.

To begin with the minor mistakes in the “The Clan Donald” account, in Vol.3, pp.216-221, it is said on p.217 that Alexander, second of Dalness, “flourished on to the end of the 17th century” and in 1695 obtained a Feu Charter of Dalness. In fact the Alexander who was a party to the wadset of 23rd June 1694 was “the eldest lawful son to umquhile Alexander Macdonald, i.e. he was Alexander Macdonald, third of Dalness, who had an Instrument of Sasine in his favour dated 7th Aug. 1694. The description of Alexander as “absolute” owner in 1695 is hardly correct; there were certain minor conditions attached to the Feu Right which need not be stated here.

A difficulty arises over the two marriages of Alexander, third of Dalness, and especially about James, the son of his second wife, but this problem must be left till later.

On p.218 it is stated that Alexander’s second son, Coll, was a Captain, R.N. This may be right, and he is called Captain in the Feu Contract of 1764. But in the official Navy List he is given only the rank of Commander in 1750, and ‘Gone’ in 1752. The terms Lieut., Capt., etc., now names of ranks, were probably then being used as the names of posts or appointments.

On p.219 the date of John Macdonald’d death is wrongly given as Dec. 1774. It was in fact 2nd May 1775, as both the “Courant” and the “Scots Magazine” say. Also on p.219 the brothers were those of Alexander Macdonald 4th of Dalness (as given on p.218), not 5th.

In the same paragraph we come to the mistakes about relationship which were indicated in the previous Magazine article. For “half-brother” read “uncle”, and of the two sons of James, Coll succeeded his “cousin” John, while John Macdonald executed a Disposition in favour of his “cousin” Coll. Further down the page Coll is again “cousin” not nephew. All this is made quite clear in the relevant legal documents.

John Macdonald of Dalness died intestate, so his Dispositions of Dalness and Gartencaber were not precisely in favour of any individual, but first of his own heirs male, failing whom of his heirs female, then of Coll Macdonald, then of any persons chosen as substitute heirs. In this case, Coll Macdonald W.S. succeeded to the Estates as nearest in kin, and was nominated Executor dative by the Commissary Substitute of Glasgow.

At the foot of p.219, Coll was admitted as W.S. on 18th March 1788, not 1786. His marriage (p.220) took pice on 22nd Oct. 1795. He was married, according to the “Courant”, at Fornighty, a hamlet a few miles South-east of Nairn. The same date is also given in his Testament. The wrong date of 1796 was probably taken from the History of the W.S. Society.

Finally the members of Coll Macdonald’s family were: James, Anne, Susan, Donald, Margaret Campbell, Duncan, Elizabeth, John, and Marjory Cameron, in (probably) that order. It has not so far been possible to discover some of the birth or death dates of the children for certain. Allowing for probability as well as certainty, they may be given as follows: James (1799/1800 -16.9.1845); Anne (1802-21); Susan 1803/04 – after 1876); Donald (1805 – 25.1.1855); Margaret Campbell (1807/08 – 2.1.1876); Duncan (9.11.1809 – 8.6.1842); Elizabeth (11.9.1811 – 22.8.1888); John 1813/14 – ?); Marjory Cameron (2.2.1816 – 10.3.1895).

We must now refer back to the problem of Alexander Macdonald’s two marriages. The facts and sources are these: Alexander Macdonald, third of Dalness, had a wife Jean Maclachlan, by whom he had four sons, Alexander, Coll, Dugald, and John. While the children were still quite young, as the Process papers tell us, Alexander moved with the whole family to Fort William, where he died in 1726. James his brother then looked after the family at Dalness until they went out into the world. So much for that marriage and family in the meantime.

But some very awkward problems arise over the other marriage to Janet Campbell, and their son James. Two documents in the Register of Sasines, dated 4th March 1703 and 21st November 1717, refer to Alexander Macdonald of Dalness, his spouse Janet Campbell, and their son James, who may be inferred by one sentence not yet to have ‘attained to the age of 21 years compleat’ by the latter date. James must therefore have been born between Nov. 1696 and March 1703. To this may be added a reference in a Sasine of 1723 to the Marriage Contract of Katharine Macdonald, eldest lawful daughter to Alexander Macdonald of Dalness, dated at Dalness 28th July 1714; and a burial stone on Eilean Munda, Glencoe, to Angus Macdonald, son of Alexander Macdonald of Dalness, died 22nd April 1794 aged 80 years. According to this evidence, then, we have Alexander Macdonald marrying Janet Campbell by 1696, and having Katharine, James, and possibly Angus in the first family.

It seems almost certain that Janet Campbell must have been Alexanders first wife, not the second as “The Clan Donald” has it. But if that is the case it is curious that her son James did not succeed to Dalness. In spite of “The Clan Donald’s” remark (foot of p.217) “of whom afterwards”, and the mistaken attribution to him on p.219 of two sons, it can be stated with certainty that they were the sons of James Macdonald, Alexander’s younger brother. Nothing at all is known of Janet’s son James beyond what has already been said. It is most remarkable that throughout the detailed history of the Macdonald family as told in the Process papers, neither Janet nor her son James is mentioned. What can be guessed, then, about this James? Either he must have died before Alexander’s death in 1726, or in some way or other he was disqualified from the succession, in favour of the sons of the second family. As for Angus Macdonald, he presumably belonged to the first family also, and the fact that he did not succeed to Dalness either before or after the other brothers seems to show that the same disqualification attached to him. Were the first family, and with them Janet Campbell, in some way disowned? She is spoken of as still alive in May 1718, but the terms of the document (RS/Vol.lll/Fol.424), a Renunciation by which apparently Janet lost life-rent and interest given in the 1703 Sasine (RS/3/83/Fol.22), seem to me to give slight hints that she is by then disabled and perhaps living away from her husband.

If Jean Maclachlan was the second wife, surely she must have married Alexander earlier than 1718? The Process papers tell us that in her family there were four sons, and when the two oldest were “advanced to the proper age for getting education, their father let his lands of Dalness to his brother James and in 1722 or 1723 went to Fort William with the whole family, where there was a tolerable school.” Further, the eldest, Alexander 4th of Dalness, immediately after his father’s death in 1726 went to sea and soon after died abroad. John and Dugald lived for some time in family with their mother; when she died soon after, Dugald, after residing a year or two with his uncle James, went into the army and died c.1748. John lived with his uncle James, but supported by his uncle Maclachlan, and about 1734 went to Jamacia, “without ever having received one single shilling from his uncle James”. It is reasonable to suppose therefore that the four brothers were born between about 1712 and 1720.

The long legal Process from which most of the family details are gleaned was started in 1750 by Capt. Coll Macdonald R.N. and continued by John, the youngest brother. That side of the family, or at least John, was attempting to show that Duncan Campbell of Inverawe (of Ticonderoga fame) was aiming at repossession of Dalness, with the suspected connivance of James Macdonald, who wanted to retain his lifelong tenure of the lands. That is why John is at pains to emphasise that neither he nor his brothers were beholden for any benefits from James. The authors of the “The Clan Donald” have no doubts, and roundly accuse James of villany, when he took steps to get Dalness into his own possession. The defenders, James Macdonald, Duncan Campbell and, after his death, his daughter Janet, Mrs. Pitman, present an entirely different view of the case: both Duncan and James were trying to rescue Dalness from financial difficulties in order to “quieten the children in possession of the lands”, as the legal jargon had it. Viewing the long Process as a whole, there seems little or no reason to doubt that Duncan Campbell and James Macdonald acted as far as was possible in the interests of the younger members of the family. At all events, the case ended in 1764 with a compromise that was satisfactory to both parties, who by then were John Macdonald and Janet Pitman. The Campbells of Inverawe, ever since the tack of 1608, and the Macdonalds of Dalness had always been on good terms; a Bond of Friendship and mutual assistance had been signed between them in 1679, – a fact which may have helped to save the Macdonalds of Dalness from being victims in 1692.