Glencoe Massacre – Family History

| February 13, 2008


On the 13th of February in 1692, is a dark date for Scotland and for my ancestors. On that day British forces massacred families of the MacDonald and Henderson clans under authority of the King. This was in part to “make an example” of them for not being quick to pledge their loyalty to William of Orange, who and wrested control from the Stewart king (James VII).

The British forces were under the command of Robert Campbell, the direct orders from John Dalrymple were as follows:

“You are hereby ordered to fall upon the rebels, the M’Donalds, of Glencoe and putt all to the sword under seventy. You are to have special care that the old fox and his sons doe upon no account escape your hands. You are to secure all the avenues, that no man may escape…. This is by the King’s special command, for the good of the country, that these miscreants be cutt off root and branch. See that this be putt in execution without feud or favour, else you may expect to be treated as not true to the king’s government, nor a man fitt to carry a commission in the king’s service. Expecting you will not faill in the fulfilling hereof as you love yourself, I subscribe these with my hand. Master of the Stair (John Dalyrmple).”

The Campbells and the MacDonalds had been rivals in many parts of Scotland for centuries, and the events that took place only heightened the tensions between these two powerful clans.

The company of 120 or so men went to Glencoe, where they were welcomed (as was the custom) and sheltered and dined with the families of the area. When the orders came across on Februry 13 to carry out the massacre, many of the British forces were reluctant to kill civilians and non combatants in cold blood. Some historical accounts tell that the British troops used their rifles rather than blades, and shot well high and wide of their marks at first, giving most a chance to flee. The massacre began simultaneously in three settlements along the glen; Invercoe, Inverrigan, and Achacon although the killing took place all over the glen as fleeing MacDonalds were pursued.

Many hid in the hills and later died of exposure because of the blizzard that was raging at the time.


Recently on my trip to Scotland I was blessed by being able to visit Glencoe. It’s a wonderful, beautiful place in the Scottish highlands. Long ago the clan rivalries and blood feuds were put aside, and it is a peaceful, beautiful place more likely to see hikers enjoying the day than the ghosts of such a grisly past.


There is a memorial on one of the site commemorating the events over 400 years ago. It’s out of the way and a bit of a challenge to get to, but it was amazing to experience first hand this piece of family history.


The events of that ugly day in Glencoe became a rallying point for the Jacobites, and likely did more than a bit to enrage tension between the highland clans and the new “imported” british monarch. From Wikipedia:

Ultimately, it has to be said that stories of ancient clan rivalries have only obscured the real horror of Glencoe. It was an act of official policy, conceived by a Secretary of State for Scotland, executed by a Scottish commander-in-chief, approved by the King, and carried out by a regiment in the British Army. Indeed, Dalrymple deliberately chose the Argyll Regiment because he knew how their involvement would be perceived. Lowlanders, like Dalrymple, had oft expressed hatred of Highland ‘barbarians’. At Glencoe this hatred finally acquired a murderous form.

For more information on the events around the Glencoe Massacre, an excellent entry in Wikipedia is available as well as a fine write up at Rampant Scotland.

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Category: History, Main, Maps, Personal

About the Author ()

Bruce Henderson is a former Marine who focuses custom data mining and visualization technologies on the economy and other disasters.

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