BURNING OF BLACKFORD
The Jacobites were the supporters of King James VII (of Scotland) and II (of England) and his heirs.
James VII and II ruled Britain from 1685 to 1689 but because he was a Roman Catholic he was replaced by his daughter Mary and her husband, the Dutch Prince William of Orange. Those who continued to support the exiled James (‘Jacobus’ being the name in Latin) became known as ‘Jacobites’.
In 1689, the Jacobites were opposed by the Williamites, or Whigs, those Britons who supported the Protestant cause and would not tolerate a Catholic kingdom.
The three main Jacobite risings were the 1689 rising led by ‘Bonnie Dundee’ - John Graham of Cleverhouse, and quickly quelled; Mar’s Rebellion, or the ‘Fifteen’ (1715-16), provoked by the death in 1714 of the last Stuart monarch, Queen Anne, and the accession of King George I; and the ‘Forty-Five’ (1745-46), when Charles Edward Stuart - ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ - led a Scots army against the Hanoverian dynasty.
With the death of Queen Anne in 1714, the Elector of Hanover,George I, succeeded to the British throne.
On 14 March 1715, the Pretender, James Francis Edward Stewart, James VII’s son appealed to Pope Clement XI for help for a Jacobite rising: The Pretender believed the Duke of Marlborough would join him when he landed in Scotland.
On 22 October Mar received his commission from James appointing him commander of the Jacobite army. The Jacobite army outnumbered Argyll's forces by three to one and Mar decided to march on Stirling Castle. On 13 November at Sheriffmuir, the two forces joined in battle. The fighting was indecisive but nearing the end of the battle the Jacobites numbered 4,000 men, compared to Argyll's 1,000. Mar's army began to close in on Argyll's forces, who were poorly protected, but Mar did not order them to advance, possibly believing that he had won the battle already (Argyll had lost 660 men, three times as many as Mar). Mar then retreated to Perth. On the same day as the Battle of Sherrifmuir, Inverness surrendered to Hanoverian forces, and a smaller Jacobite force led by Mackintosh of Borlum was defeated at Preston.
On 22 December the Pretender landed in Scotland at Peterhead, but by the time he arrived at Perth on 9 January 1716, the Jacobite army numbered less than 5,000. In contrast, Argyll's forces had acquired heavy artillery and were advancing quickly. Mar decided to burn a number of villages in between Perth and Stirling, so as to deprive Argyll's army of supplies. On 30 January Mar led the Jacobites out of Perth and on 4 February the Pretender wrote a farewell letter to Scotland, sailing from Montrose the day after.
The following is an extract from The Annals of Auchterarder and Memorials of Strathearn by A G Reid:
According to our best information, a party of the Clans consisting of Sir Donald McDonald's, Clanranald's, Glengerry's, Lochiell's, Appin's, Maclean's, and Kepoch's men commanded by Clanranald, brother to him who was killed at Dumblain, to the number of five or six hundred marched from Perth, Tuesday the 24th of January 1716 about nine of the clock at night, and tho' the night was exceeding stormy and the snow lying very deep on the ground, they came to Auchterarder, a country town lying almost straight west from Perth ten miles, and on the road betwixt Stirling and it, at four in the morning Wednesday the 25th of said month. After they had lodged themselves in that place about nine of the clock in the forenoon of said day they detatched a party of betwixt two and three hundred foot and some few horsemen towards Blackford, another country town lying as aforesaid on the road betwixt Stirling and Perth, two miles to the westward of Auchterarder and about eight miles from Stirling.
This party had not marched much more than half a mile from Auchterarder when by a violent blowing and exceeding deepness of the snow they found themselves obliged to force a guide, tho' they had William Maitland son to James Maitland innkeeper at Blackford alongst with them who knew that country perfectly well, and as both he and his father were bigotted Jacobites and Rebels was most instrumental in the mine and burning of the country.
The guide's name was John Rebron farmer of a country place called Greenwalls, where several of those clans had quartered before and some days after the battle of Dunblain, and as he informed they came with no small difficulty to the said James Maitland's house at Blackford betwixt twelve and one. When they came one of the horsemen told James of the order they had from the Pretender for burning of the Country, and desired him if he had any friends in that place he would acquaint them with it, that they might save their cattle and throw their household plenishing (or furniture) out of doors.
When they came to that part of the road which is about half a mile to the northward of Gleneagles, some of the clans who had quartered there about the time of the battle of Dunblain, proposed to go to it, but the storm blew so strong and the snow was so deep that the rest did not agree to it; so they went on their way to Blackford.
When they came to James Maitland's house they halted, fed their horses, and then they sent out parties to all the houses of this town or village. A considerable party of them with one or two of the horsemen at their head went to the house of Jane Edie a widow woman, which lyes in the middle of that town and is one of the largest in it; she seeing them a coming shut her door and called to see what they wanted, telling them that if they would not plunder and destroy what she had she would willingly llow them to come in. To this they gave her no return, but threatened to shoot in at the windows, and fell a breaking of the door, and very soon forced it open, and immediately after taking what was most valuable and portable set the house on fire by sheaves of corn brought from the barn yard, and being a lofted house and much wood in it was very soon reduced to ashes. While this was a doing they sent about 100 men to the west end of the town to the house of James Brice, one of the men of most distinction of this place, and who had from the very beginning of the rebellion stayed with the King's army at Stirling. His wife tho' at that time very tender and sickly seeing them a coming left the house, and by the help of ane of her servants made the best of her way towards the mountains thro’ the snow that was exceeding deep: When they came into the house they caused put on a very great fire pretending they were cold and two or three of the horsemen rode round the house and yard which, as it is the westmost of that town, lyes nearest to Stirling, and one of them was heard say. What a pity that such a bonny farm and houses should be destroyed, as it is really by much the best in that place; however they set all immediately on fire, and burnt down houses corns and everything to the ground.
There was a poor widow woman called Isobell Brice who had a little house hard by and some young children with her; Ae not believing they would be so cruel as to set fire to her house whilst she and the poor children were in it, kept her door shut, but to that they had no regard but set fire to it, so that when the flames reacht her she and the children had much to do to get out.
At the same time they set fire to the house of David Holmes, and all the other houses of the town that they intended to burn.
When they were a burning the house of Alex' Gibsone mer one of the horsemen came up and said, I perceive this is a merchants house, save his shop; but to this the Highlanders gave no ear, they beat himself, rob'd him of what money was about him, took what was useful for them in the shop and burnt the rest. His wife seeing the bad usage of her husband fell down in a swoon, and the horseman who had called to save the shop, seeing a little child weltering in the snow, took it up and carryed it before him on the horse's neck to James Maitlands, to whose house when they saw all the houses and corns quite burnt down, the whole party returned. We do not know who that horseman was, but he was heard to say, that for no King in Christendom would he ever have a hand or be concerned in executing so cruel and barbarous an order. And so great an effect had the sight of the children's lying upon the snow and the women's crying and tearing themselves, that some even of the barbarous Highlanders were seen to weep.
When they came to James Maitland's, tho' he had been told in the beginning that his house was not to be burnt, yet to save appearances they caused his own son William Maitland set fire to one of his corn stalks, a little out house or byre at a little distance from the rest of his house, and caused burn a great deal of straw; so that when they left James's house it ppeared to all the Country to be on fire, but as soon as they were gone his son William, with the help of some of his Jacobite neighbours, got it extinguished and stayed in his father's house all the night after. They dealt much after the same manner by James Davidsone officer or Bayllif to a Gentleman concerned in the Rebellion, they put a smoke of straw in his house and left him to extinguish it, which he did.
But at their return towards Auchterarder they came to the house of Helen Edie, one of the most considerable Inns on that road and lyes at the east end of the town nearest to Auchterarder, and burnt it down with all that was in it to the ground ; so that before they left Blackford they believed all the houses, corns, hay and everything else to be burnt, except the two houses above mentioned.
The minister's house lyes at half a mile's distance to the westward of this town. He had stayed tt home, preached and prayed for King George and success to his arms till he was threatned, and parties sent to seize him from the garrisons of Tullibardine and Braco; upon which he was forced to retire and shelter himself with some of his well affected friends.
His wife seeing the flames at Blackford, and being informed by some of the poor miserable people who came running to her, of the Tragedy that was acted there, called for a trusty servant and by the force of money and promises prevailed with him to go to Stirling, which is within seven miles of that place, to give an account to the General and other officers there of what was done and acted at Blackford, and of the state of the country in general This seemed so extraordinary and incredible that there they rather looked on the messenger as a madman than gave any credit to what he related: so that they remained in a sort of suspense till next day that they had expresses and messengers from all the several parts of the country giving accounts of the same tragedies being acted in all the other parts of it.
We must still make this remark, that tho' the Country on the south side of the road betwixt Blackford and Auchterarder is very populous, and a great many Country houses in it, yet none of them was burnt or destroyed, because they for the most part belonged to persons and Landlords that were in the Rebellion.
It would be endless to give account of all the hardships and acts of barbarous cruelty done: It may be easily imagined, considering the season of the year, the vast load of snow that lay then on the ground, the poor people, man wife and child without the shelter of a house, without cloaths, meat, drink or anything to support them, and little or no hopes of relief, for within a day or two after, when they saw with their own eyes from the high grounds to which they were retired for shelter a second burning at Auchterarder, they were reduced to the outmost degree of distraction and dispair.
Declaration authorising relief to be given to those who suffered by the destruction of the villages of Auchterarder and Blackford, 26th January 1716, was not paid until 1777.
On 23 January 2016, Blackford Historical Society held a day of events commemorating 300th anniversary of the burning. The photographs in this article are from the events of that day, including performances by the Alan Breck's Regiment. The programme for the day is here and also included performances by Strathearn Pipe Band, Blackford Fiddle Group, Blackford Sings and Daoine Sith. Further photographs are available in Gallery 11