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Saturday, April 11, 2015


By - 'The English Rose.'

Not very long ago, Cheryl put up a post about the Indian Schools where Native American children were taken from their parents, had their hair cut off, and were forced to wear European clothes and only speak English. You might not be aware that a similar thing happened over here, in Scotland, so this time I thought I would share with you some information on the infamous Highland Clearances.

In the 1800s, the Highlands of Scotland were populated by many people living in small farming settlements, some large enough to have their own small ‘kirk’ or church. Others were just scatterings of small homesteads where the people worked on the rich heavy soil to keep their families fed. Some houses were built of stone, many were ‘soddies’ or long houses, made of turf with timber and thatch roofs. Often the thatch on the roofs was held down by nets weighted down with heavy stones, the winds in the Highlands can be fierce and that was the best way to keep your roof!

Most of these small settlements were sited on the large expanses of land belonging to Lairds or even Royalty, who allowed the settlements in return, of course, for rents and taxes.
Highland Clearances have been defined as ‘an enforced simultaneous eviction of all families living in a given area such as an entire glen’. They are particularly notorious because of the brutality of many evictions at very short notice (year by year tenants had almost no protection under Scottish law).

In the late 18th and into the 19th centuries, many Highland estates moved from arable and mixed farming, which supported a large tenant population, to the far more profitable sheep farming. ‘Surplus’ tenants were ‘encouraged’, often forcibly, to move off land judged suitable for raising sheep.

The long term effect of the Clearances was to destroy much of the Gaelic culture as, around the same time, the Gaels were also banned from using their ancient language, wearing tartans, bearing arms, or even playing the bagpipes, which were looked upon as weapons of war.

Planned towns, like Fochabers, Grantown on Spey, Inveary, Plockton and Ullapool took many of the migrants. The first big mass emigration was in 1792 and this became known as the ‘Year of the Sheep’, at that time most of the cleared clansmen went to America, Canada and Australia.
The Clearances devastated Gaelic culture and clan society, and drove people from the land they had called home for centuries, resulting in significant emigration of Highlanders to the sea coasts, where they were suddenly expected to take up fishing to provide for their families. In one particularly exposed area of Caithness, the weather was so harsh that as the women worked they had to tether their livestock and even their children to posts or rocks to prevent them from being blown over the cliffs.  

In 1807 the evictions began in earnest once more, in one area alone 90 families were forced to leave their crops in the ground and move their furniture, timbers and cattle to the land they were offered 20 miles away, on the coast, living out in the open until they had built themselves new houses. The plan was described as ‘a typical example of social engineering which met neither the hopes of the benefactor nor the needs of the beneficiaries, but produced social disaster’.

Tenants were generally treated according to due process of the law, being served with notices and given time (usually three months) to vacate. Many were reluctant to leave, so were evicted with force. The methods used were sometimes harsh and brutal, even by the standards of the early 19th century. Land agents would throw people out in person if they showed reluctance to go, and burned down their crofts to ensure they didn’t return. Evictions of 2,000 families in one day were not uncommon. Many starved or froze to death where their homes had once been.
The Duchess of Sutherland, seeing the starving tenants on her husband’s estate, remarked in a letter to a friend, "Scotch people are of happier constitution and do not fatten like the larger breed of animals."
Donald McLeod, a Sutherland crofter, wrote about the events he witnessed: "The consternation and confusion were extreme. Little or no time was given for the removal of persons or property; the people striving to remove the sick and helpless before the fire should reach them; next, struggling to save the most valuable of their effects. The cries of the women and children, the roaring of the affrighted cattle, hunted at the same time by the yelling dogs of the shepherds amid the smoke and fire, altogether presented a scene that completely baffles description — it required to be seen to be believed. At night an awful scene presented itself — all the houses in one district in flames at once. I ascended a height about eleven o'clock in the evening, and counted two hundred and fifty blazing houses, many of the owners I personally knew, but whose present condition — whether in or out of the flames — I could not tell. The conflagration lasted six days, till the whole of the dwellings were reduced to ashes.
Accounts like those brought widespread condemnation. Some of the older people evicted were too ill to go far. They were left exposed to the chill northern air and died soon after.
The view that the economic failures of the Highlands were due to the shortcomings of the Celtic race was expressed by two important Scottish newspapers, The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald. In 1851 The Scotsman wrote “Collective emigration is, therefore, the removal of a diseased and damaged part of our population. It is a relief to the rest of the population to be rid of this part.”
Similar views were held by senior public officials, one of whom wrote that ‘A national effort’ would be necessary to rid the land of ‘the surviving Irish and Scotch Celts’. The exodus would then allow for the settlement of a racially superior people of Teutonic stock. He welcomed ‘the prospects of Germans settling in increasing numbers – an orderly, moral, industrious and frugal people, less foreign (!) to us than the Irish or Scotch Celt, a congenial element which will readily assimilate with our body politic.’
On 23 July 2007, the Scottish First Minister, Alex Salmond unveiled a 3-metre (10 ft) high bronze "Exiles" statue in Helmsdale, Sutherland, to commemorate the people who were cleared from the area by landowners and left their homeland to begin new lives overseas. The statue, depicting a family leaving their home, stands at the mouth of the Strath of Kildonan, it was funded by Dennis MacLeod, a Scottish-Canadian mining millionaire.
An identical 3-metre high bronze "Exiles" statue has also been set up on the banks of the Red River in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.

As a final note, if you get the chance, please do listen to a song by folk band –Battlefield Band, it’s called ‘Road of Tears’, the verses alternate between the Scottish clearances and the Native American ones, I almost defy you to listen without choking up!

Phew, I hope this wasn’t too much for you. See you all again soon!


  1. Jill this is so sad. It seems the madness of wanting one race or another (?) decimated has gone on for centuries. I love that you are able to give us a view of things across the ocean. I know when the immigrants came to our shores from Ireland and Italy the two jobs offered the men in New York City were to be firemen or policemen. The two most violent jobs in the city. To this day that is why there are so many policemen or firemen who came from a long line of relatives who served. To imagine the Scotts were labeled as animals is unbelievable. The plight of the American Indian is just as deplorable.

    1. Thank you for coming by Barb, it is a sad story and has so much in it that coincides with the Indian story too doesn't it? I am glad you like hearing my stories, I will try to keep them coming. There is such a lot more about the Clearances but it would have been too much to put it all in here, and it's all too sad, I don't want to become known for just writing about sad things do I? Thanks for your lovely comments.

  2. Jill, not too much. The history of the world is that of one group of people, usually the stronger or more powerful, interferring with the lives of those less fortunate. Sometimes for a hoped for good, but many times for less honorable purposes, such as a financial gain. Folks just don't seem to get it right. A sad, but not unexpected truth. Thank you for sharing this piece of history. Doris McCraw

    1. Thank you for reading Doris. I hope you 'enjoyed' it (if that can be the right word?) Man's inhumanity to man knows no bounds does it? Thanks for coming along today.


  3. Jill,

    It's critical to not let these stories that tell the 'horrors of humanity' fall by the wayside. My trigger point on genocide (which can be argued is at the heart of the Clearances and Native American stories, too) is the Holocaust. I call it the "Lest We Forget" reminders. When we share these stories, we remind people that history can and does repeat itself when the 'masses' go unchecked. It has a vigilante justice ring about it, which is when a group of otherwise intelligent individuals succumb to the mania of the group.

    This line in a song in 'Mary Poppins' is applicable, “And although we adore men individually, we agree that as a group they're rather stupid.”

    And so is this Bertrand Russell quote: “Collective fear stimulates herd instinct, and tends to produce ferocity toward those who are not regarded as members of the herd.”

    So, for me, I hope to read more of these reminders. I believe they have relevance for us as authors of western romances for the same reasons Barb said in her comment about the limited and dangers jobs that were open for Irish and Scottish immigrants. When we include these real aspects of history into our storylines and in our characters' backstories, we're keeping these "Lest We Forget" memories alive in the minds of our readers.

    1. The clearances were definitely not an example of genocide. To think otherwise is to belittle other genuine cases of genocide, such as the Bosnian genocide which occurred in Srebrenica in 1995 (more than 8,000 people killed). Historians generally agree that very few, if any, people can have their deaths directly attributed to the clearances. The character of these events can be summed up either as failed "social engineering" (as in the Sutherland Clearances, where a huge amount of money was spent on the region, with little ultimate benefit for the tenants or the landowner), or the result of imminent or actual bankruptcy on landlords who desperately cleared their tenants in favour of sheep farmers who could pay much higher rents.

  4. Hello Kaye, I agree with you that there are many 'Lest we Forget' reminders which need to be told and told again, As you will have guessed my reminder is Scotland and particularly the Clearances. Maybe because I have ancestors who were there and who ended up in America, but its more about the Bertrand Russell quote you give I think, about seeing certain people as not being members of the herd. It's sad isn't it? Thank you for your comment, I am really glad you enjoyed my post.

  5. Excellent article. I've heard of the clearances, but did not have the time frame set in my mind, nor did I have a good understanding of the motivation behind it. As much as Britain tried to destroy the Celtic population, between the Scots-Irish who immigrated to the Appalachians and beyond and the Irish who came later, these people have become one of the great bedrocks of United States citizens of European descent.

    Robyn Echols w/a Zina Abbott

  6. Thank you Zina. I think maybe the Clearances are somewhere in the back of the minds of anyone who comes from Scottish stock, the memories of that time would have been so strong they would have been talked about for a long time, so maybe its in the unconscious minds of many folk over there. I expect if you dig into one of the old Scottish families in America, they will have their own tales. Thank you for dropping by today.

  7. As demeaning and horrible as the treatment of Scots was, It's only what I expect from the aristocracy. I guess my clan was lucky in a way when they were kicked off the Isle of Barra and sent to Canada and the United States back in 1746. They were able to avoid further humiliation and mistreatment in their homeland and it gave them time to get a foothold in their new homeland and make it their own.
    I think it's funny in a way that, the more they were determined to destroy Gaelic culture, the more pronounced it became. We celebrate the Scottish culture here in the United States and Canada as much as it was celebrated in the homeland. It will never die as long as there is a Scot drawing breath. Just sayin'... For years my Clan Association gathered the money together to buy back Kisimul Castle on the Isle of Barra and reestablished our chieftain there. That took dedication and heart for a culture and ideals.
    This was a very interesting blog. It really brings home for me the reasons for the exodus of so many from the British Isles and Ireland. You certainly presented a great piece here, Jill. Thank you for relating this history.

  8. Sarah, thank you so much for your kind comments. There are stories of various clans getting together in more modern times to buy ancient properties , castles etc, I think its good that there is such a strong bond within the people. Scottish culture is coming back big time now, there is an increase in the amount of schools teaching the Gaelic, there are hundreds of people learning the bagpipes, and kilt making is really taking off. I tried learning Gaelic, its such a difficult language, especially if you don't have anyone you can converse with! I do like to try using a few Gaelic words in my (non-Western) works, just to try and keep the thread alive. Was Barra the island where the whole population got together to buy back the island? That was a big story some years back I remember, just can't remember which island it was. That's the strength of the Scot for you. Thank you for coming by and commenting Sarah.

  9. Jill, I don't know if the clan buying back the Isle of Barra is the one in the newspaper, but I do know the McNeal (includes all the different spellings since it's the same clan) Clan Association collected money from clan members to buy back our island (at the bottom of the Hebrides). The castle was entirely renovated and sits in the middle of the lake. The chief of our Clan, BTW, lives in North Carolina, but goes to Barra from time to time.

  10. Thank you Sarah. I find it fascinating that clan chiefs can live so far away from their 'home'! But its great that these people think enough of their clan to do this.

  11. When the English kicked up off Barra for sinking that English ship, they kicked out our chief, too. Our chief has lived in America ever since. Now he lives in both America and Scotland. Cape Breton in Canada probably has more McNeals than Scotland. I used this tale to demonstrate how deep the Scottish culture is in its people. It doesn't matter what the laws are or what is forbidden to them; they endure. No one can really "clear away" your heritage, no matter how far from home they send us. Now I really am going to shut up about my clan and Scotland so I don't monopolize your blog with my comments. LOL

  12. LOL Sarah, I don't mind you monopolizing the blog, especially when its talking about 'the people', our people, I feel closer to Scotland than anywhere else even though I'm nowhere near there and won't be able to get back there again. I still feel I am a Scot, even though the closest Scottish blood is from my great grandfather. He was an Alexander, so that's my clan really.

  13. Wonderful post, Jill. I hadn't known about the Clearances. It is, unfortunately, an age-old story that keeps repeating itself.

  14. Hello Kristy. glad I was able to tell you something, no matter how sad it is. The story goes deeper, but there is too much to tell here, I've cut my original piece at least in half for this. It was a sad time in my country's heritage, As the Indian Clearances were in yours. And still it goes on eh? Sad. Thanks for the comment.