I am glad to find that some of my countrymen are coming forward with communications to your paper confirming my statements, and expressing that gratitude we ought all deeply to feel for the opportunity you have afforded of bringing our case before the public, by so humble an instrument as myself.
Nothing, I am convinced, but fear of further persecution, prevents many more from writing such letters, and hence you need not wonder if some of those you receive are anonymous. They express a wish, which from various sources of information, I am inclined to think general, that my narrative should appear, as it now does, in the form of a pamphlet, and that my own particular case should form an appendage to it. I had no intention originally of bringing my particular case and family sufferings before the public, but called on, as I am, it appears a duty to the public, as well as myself, to give a brief account of it, lest withholding it might lead to suspicion as to my motives and character.
I served an apprenticeship in the mason trade to my father, and on coming to man’s estate I married my present wife, the partner of my fortunes, most of which have been adverse, and she, the weaker vessel, has largely partaken of my misfortunes in a life of suffering and a ruined constitution. Our marriage took place in 1818. My wife was the daughter of Charles Gordon, a man well known and highly esteemed in the parish of Farr, and indeed throughout the county, for his religious and moral character.
For some years I followed the practice of going south during the summer months for the purpose of improving in my trade and obtaining better wages, and returning in the winter to enjoy the society of my family and friends; and, also, to my grief, to witness the scenes of devastation that were going on, to which, in the year 1820, my worthy father-in-law fell a victim. He breathed his last amid the scenes I have described, leaving six orphans in a state of entire destitution to be provided for; for he had lost his all, in common with other ejected inhabitants of the county.
This helpless family now fell to my care, and in order to discharge my duty to them more effectually, I wished to give up my summer excursions, and settle and pursue my business at home.
I, therefore, returned from Edinburgh in the year 1822, and soon began to find employment, undertaking mason work by estimate, &c., and had I possessed a less independent mind and a more crouching disposition, I might perhaps have remained. But stung with the oppression and injustice prevailing around me, and seeing the contrast my country exhibited to the state of the Lowlands, I could not always hold my peace; hence I soon became a marked man, and my words and actions were carefully watched for an opportunity to make an example of me. After I had baffled many attempts, knowing how they were set for me, my powerful enemies at last succeeded in effecting my ruin after seven years’ labour in the pious work! If any chose to say I owed them money, they had no more to do than summon me to court, in which the factor was judge, a decreet,* right or wrong, was sure to issue. Did any owe me money, it was quite optional whether they paid me or not, they well knew I could obtain no legal redress.
In the year 1827, I was summoned for £5 8s., which I had previously paid [in this case the factor was both pursuer and judge!]: I defended, and produced receipts and other vouchers of payment having been made; all went for nothing! The factor, pursuer and judge, commenced the following dialogue:-
Judge – Well, Donald, do you owe this money?
Donald – I would like to see the pursuer before I would enter into any defences.
Judge – I’ll pursue you.
Donald – I thought you were my judge, sir.
Judge – I’ll both pursue and judge you – did you not promise me on a former occasion that you would pay this debt?
Donald – No, sir.
Judge – John McKay (constable) seize the defender.
I was accordingly collared like a criminal, and kept a prisoner in an adjoining room for some hours, and afterwards placed again at the bar, when the conversation continued.
Judge – Well, Donald, you are one of the damn’dest rascals in existence, but if you have the sum pursued for between heaven and hell, I’ll make you pay it, whatever receipts you may hold, and I’ll get you removed from the estate.
Donald – Mind, sir, you are in a magisterial capacity.
Judge – I’ll let you know that – (with another volley of execrations.)
Donald – Sir, your conduct disqualifies you for your office, and under the protection of the law of the land, and in the presence of this court, I put you to defiance.
I was then ordered from the bar, and the case continued undecided. Steps were, however, immediately taken to put the latter threat – my removal – my banishment! – into execution.
Determined to leave no means untried to obtain deliverance, I prepared an humble memorial in my own name, and that of the helpless orphans, whose protector I was, and had it transmitted to the Marquis and Marchioness of Stafford, praying for an investigation. In consequence of this on the very term day, on which I had been ordered to remove, I received a verbal message from one of the under-factors, that it was the noble proprietor’s pleasure that I should retain possession, repair my houses and provide my fuel as usual, until Mr. Loch should come to Sutherlandshire, and then my case would be investigated. On this announcement becoming known to my opponent, he became alarmed, and the parish minister no less so, that the man he feasted with was in danger of being disgraced: every iron was therefore put in the fire, to defeat and ruin Donald for his presumption in disputing the will of a factor, and to make him an example to deter others from a similar rebellion.
The result proved how weak a just cause must prove in Sutherland, or anywhere against the cruel despotic factors and graceless ministers; my case was judged and decided before Mr. Loch left London! I, however, got Jeddart justice,** for on that gentleman’s arrival, I was brought before him for examination, though, I had good reason to know, my sentence had been pronounced in London six weeks before, and everything he said confirmed what I had been told. I produced the receipts and other documents, and evidence, which proved fully the statements in my memorial and vindicated my character apparently to his satisfaction. He dismissed me courteously, and in a soothing tone of voice bade me go home and make myself easy, and before he left the country he would let me know the result. I carried home the good news to my wife, but her fears, her dreams, and forebodings were not so easily got over, and the event proved that her apprehensions were too well founded, for on the 20th October, 1830, about a month after the investigation by Mr. Loch, the concluding scene took place.
On that day a messenger with a party of eight men following entered my swelling (I being away about forty miles off at work), about 3 o’clock just as the family were rising from dinner; my wife was seized with a fearful panic at seeing the fulfilment of all her worst forebodings about to take place. The party allowed no time for parley, but having put out the family with violence, proceeded to fling out the furniture, bedding, and other effects in quick time, and after extinguishing the fire, proceeded to nail up the doors and windows in the face of the helpless woman, with a sucking infant at her breast, and three other children, the eldest under eight years of age, at her side. But how shall I describe the horrors of that scene? Wind, rain and sleet were ushering in a night of extraordinary darkness and violence, even in that inclement region. My wife and children, after remaining motionless a while in mute astonishment at the ruin which had so suddenly overtaken them, were compelled to seek refuge for the night under some neighbour’s roof, but they found every door shut against them! Messengers had been dispatched warning all the surrounding inhabitants, at the peril of similar treatment, against affording shelter, or assistance, to the wife, child, or animal belonging to Donald McLeod. The poor people, well aware of the rigour with which such edicts were carried into execution, durst not afford my distressed family any assistance in such a night as even an “enemy’s dog” might have expected shelter. After spending most part of the night in fruitless attempts to obtain the shelter of a roof or hovel, my wife at last returned to collect some of her scattered furniture, and erect with her own hands a temporary shelter against the walls of her late comfortable residence, but even this attempt proved in vain; the wind dispersed her materials as fast as she could collect them, and she was obliged to bide the pelting of the pitiless storm with no covering but the frowning heavens, and no sounds in her ears but the storm, and the cries of her famishing children. Death seemed to be staring them in the face, for by remaining where they were till morning, it was next to impossible even the strongest of them could survive, and to travel any distance amid the wind, rain, and darkness, in that rugged district, seemed to afford no prospect but that of death by falling over some of the cliffs or precipices with which they were surrounded, or even into the sea, as many others had done before.