Letter from the 3rd Earl of Cromartie

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Letter from the 3rd Earl of Cromartie (1748 or '49)

Roderic MacKenzie of Akilibuy   \
George MacKenzie of Coigach    /


Your letter of 22nd August was delivered to me only the day before yesterday by Alexander MacKenzie of Bishopgate. It gives me great pleasure to prove that my friends in Coigach have not forgotin me, and that ye think of the present condition of me and my family which could not be represented to you in a worse situation than what by experience we find it to be. Any aid or assistance from my friends will be a seasonable relief to us and it will be a double pleasure to have it from my farmers of Coigach, because it will be a testimony of their friendship and regard for me which cannot be more than that which I still retain for them. What they think fit to give, may be sent to Medeat, who will remit it to me, and at the same time you may write me a letter with the names of those who do contribute officing their several names with their place of abode, that I may know them to whom I am obliged, and I hope to live to be so obliged - believe me to be very sincerely

Your humble Servant &
Affectionate Cousin

(Signed) Cromartie

The transcription of this letter is headed by it's original transcriber;

Copy of a letter written by the Earl of Cromartie which was found among my fathers papers at Three Rivers in October 1820

(Signed) Alexander MacKenzie

In the 1745 Rebellion George MacKenzie, Third Earl of Cromartie, raised a regiment recruited in large part from his tenants in Coigach and officered by their Tacksmen to fight for Bonnie Prince Charlie. The regiment was sent north early in 1746 to occupy SutherlandShire, and captured Dunrobin Castle there in the last siege battle fought in Britain. While rushing south to rejoin the main Jacobite army the regiment was captured by the Sutherland Militia the day before the Battle of Culloden.

Some of Cromartie's Regiment drowned trying to swim across Dornoch Firth to Easter Ross, others escaped across the mountains and slowly made their way home, but 218 were taken prisoner, including the Earl and his 20 year old son John MacKenzie, titled Lord MacLeod. One third of the prisoners died in brutal captivity, 152 survived to be transported to exile in Barbados. Jamaica, and the American colonies. A lucky ten were pardoned including Lord MacLeod, who was pardoned on condition that within six months of his majority (21st birthday) he convey to the Crown all his rights in the Earldom. He did so, and departed for a distinguished military career in Europe.

The captured Jacobite Lairds, including Cromartie, were imprisoned in the Tower of London, and sentenced by trial in the House of Lords to beheading. His sentence was commuted to a lifetime of house arrest in England after his pregnant wife pleaded for mercy with the King and Duke of Cumberland. Cromartie spent the next two decades locked away in poverty stripped of lands and title, till his death 29 September 1766 in Poland Street, London.

The first addressee, "Roderic MacKenzie of Akilibuy", was Tacksman of Achiltibuie, born about 1717, he served as a Lieutenant in Cromartie's Regiment and "at his trial he pleaded duress and was acquitted on that ground". The first rent roll after the Rebellion says Roderick paid yearly to the Commissioners of Forfeited Estates 78 pounds, 6 shillings, 8 pence Scots money, 3 wedders, 4 stones butter, and 1/2 a white plaid. There is no record how much he sent to the exiled Earl.

The second addressee, "George MacKenzie of Coigach", was Tacksman of Achnahaird, a large farm northwest of Achiltibuie, which at that time included the village of Reiff, and the cape of Coigach (Rhu Coigach) at Faochag. George was son of Cromartie's Factor, Alexander MacKenzie of Corrie. Like Roderick of Achiltibuie Alexander of Corrie had served as a Lieutenant in Cromartie's Regiment, but unlike Roderick he was not one of the lucky few pardoned, and was "transported" into exile aboard the ship "Frere" to Barbados 31 March 1747, listed as "deceased" in 1755 rental records. I have been gathering information on the Corrie/Achnahaird MacKenzies into a file at corrie.htm

"Alexander MacKenzie of Bishopgate" was a distant cousin of Cromartie, descended from the MacKenzies of Redcastle, and was a businessman in London.

The person referred to as "Medeat" was John MacKenzie of Meddat, another distant cousin of Cromartie, who is recorded elsewhere as raising funds to support the Earl and his family in exile.

As an interesting counterpoint to the support given by the Coigach tenants to the exiled Earl is an unsympathetic letter from Sir Alexander MacKenzie, IX of Gairloch, (the parish bordering Lochbroom to the south), sent 17 May 1749 to John MacKenzie of Meddat, transcribed in Alexander Mackenzie's "History of the Mackenzies";


I am favoured with your letter, and am extreamly sory Lord Cromartie's circumstances should obliege him to sollicit the aide of small gentlemen. I much raither he hade dyed sword in hand even where he was ingag'd then be necessitate to act such a pairt.

I have the honour to be nearly related to him, and to have been his companion, but will not supply him at this time, for which I believe I can give you the best reason in the world, and the only one possible for me to give, and that is that I cannot.

Alexander MacKenzie credited the quote to Fraser's "Earls of Cromartie," vol. ii., p. 230. He also comments;

"The reason stated in this letter may possibly be the true one; but it is more likely that Sir Alexander had no sympathy whatever with the cause which brought his kinsman into such an unfortunate position, and that he would not, on that account, lend him any assistance."


Regarding source of the letter from the Earl and the information in the notes above and below, most of the data came to me from the researches of Joan MacKenzie, Sigfrid Tremblay, Ben MacKenzie through Joan, Ann Urquhart at the Ullapool Museum, Ken MacKenzie Wright, and the Scottish Historian Malcolm Bangor-Jones.

Kenneth MacKenzie Wright, the Australian historian, writer, and Member of the Legislature of the State of Victoria left a note with the Ullapool Museum;

"Roderick MacKenzie of Achilitbuie born 1725 married Catherine, Daughter of Alexander MacKenzie of Ballone, with son James MacKenzie of Trois Rivieres born at Achilitbuie July 1753 - died 21 April 1799, and married Helen in Canada, daughter of McDonnell of Lundie, with son Alexnder MacKenzie born at Three Rivers 6 May 1798, Captain of the 21st Royal Scots Fusiliers and 67th Regiment. Believes Roderick was a son of James MacKenzie of Keppoch."

An excerpt from "Prisoners of the '45" in the Ullapool Museum subtitled "Cromarty's Regiment" gives Roderick's age in 1747 as 30, suggesting a date of birth of 1716 or 1717, which given Roderick is said to have had a son Alexander born 1737 agrees better than Ken's info as 1725 above.

Ben MacKenzie in an email dated 2002 refers to various sources that show Roderick MacKenzie of Achiltibuie as a son of James MacKenzie of Achendrean, who was himself son of Alexander I of Ardloch, a brother of the first Earl of Cromartie. That information explains the "cousin" relationship of the exiled Third Earl of Cromartie to Roderick MacKenzie. Ben also refers to the source of the letter in this file. Here is an excerpt from his email;

I have a handwritten copy (by my gr. grandfather about 1901) of a letter to his father, Donald Mackenzie (or as he spelled it many times, McKenzie) dated 1839 from his brother James ... which has their lineage listed for about 200 years, and ending with their grandparents. That letter also cites where the information came from;

"The original letter written by the Earl of Cromartie, I have seen in the possession of the late Mrs. Bell who preserved it in a large bible. Her brother Captain Alexander Mackenzie of the 21st Fuseliers now in New South Whales with his regement who gave the foregoing a copy of the Earl's letter has several other letters from that nobleman found amound his father's papers."

This file, and others dealing with history and genealogy of Coigach, links from my homepage at:


Any suggestions for additions or edits please feel free to email me,

Donald MacDonald-Ross, at:

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