1792 Year of the Sheep

Rather than be exploited, they left — the action of a proud and self-reliant people. Marianne McLean

Lochbaer No More

John Watson Nicol, Lochaber No More, 1883 Fleming-Wyfold Art Foundation

The defeat of Bonnie Prince Charlie at the Battle of Culloden in 1746 brought the Jacobite Rising to an end. This accelerated the decline of the traditional clan-based society in the Scottish Highlands and the transformation of communal agricultural and land tenure patterns on which they were based. The introduction of sheep farming, often by absentee landlords, combined with rent rises, economic depression and famine resulted in mass emigrations from the Highlands. The Clearances lead to a diaspora of Highlanders around the world.

Some of the people were evicted from their clan’s estates in the Highlands where they had lived and raised their cattle for generations. Some moved down the glens to the sea where they tried to eke out a living by fishing and “kelping”. Others laboured for the “Laird”, or sought work in Lowland factory towns. But most chose to seek better lives across the Atlantic in the British Colonies of Canada and America.

In the early 1770s many of the early waves of Highland emigrants settled in the 13 American colonies. But only a few years later they were once again uprooted; this time by the American Revolution. Those who remained loyal to Britain abandoned their farms in the now-independent United States and fled north to Canada. Some of these Loyalists settled along the St. Lawrence River in what was to become Glengarry County, Ontario. Here, finally, a generation of Gaelic-speaking Highlanders prospered and they wrote to their families back in Glenelg and elsewhere in western Inverness encouraging them to come out to the new land. It took little encouragement for many of their remaining relatives to break with the untenable and deteriorating conditions in the Highlands, knowing that free farmland and their own clan would welcome them on the other side.

wpid-Photo-2011-05-27-714.jpg

Between 1784 and 1815, about seven voyages loaded with entire families departed western Inverness (Glenelg) and the adjacent islands (Skye) headed for Glengarry in Upper Canada. For many the turning point came in 1792, the “Year of the Sheep” (Bliadhna nan Caorach). This was not when The Clearances began but when the large white Cheviot sheep were introduced to Ross-shire and when the last significant resistance by the displaced Highlanders was put down by the Black Watch.

As if the sheep weren’t enough, early in 1793 Napoleon declared war on Britain. Although they had not been evicted, my ancestors anticipated that their future prospects were bleak and decided to leave the Highlands. They set sail from Glenelg in 1793 on board the Argyll.

Map of Upper & Lower Canada 1794. From New York Public Library website

The ones who didn’t depart in 1793 had to wait until 1802 when a lull in the wars with the French allowed them to escape. A number of ships, including the Neptune departed western Inverness destined for Canada.

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