Lea Wait, here. If you were told you only had a limited amount of time get your life in order, what would you do?
One thing I’ve decided to do is publish two books that readers, librarians and teachers have asked for, but that, for an assortment of reasons, have not been published before this. One of these (available soon, but not this week) is an historical set in 1848 Scotland.
Why did I write it? Because although today between nine and twenty million Americans claim Scottish descent, a surprisingly small number of them know the combination of circumstances that led their ancestors to leave their homelands in the Highlands of Scotland. FOR FREEDOM ALONE is the story of one such family. Here’s where title comes from:
“It is not for glory we fight, for riches or for honours, but for freedom alone, which no good man loses but with his life.” — Declaration of Arbroath, 1324. A Letter from lords and bishops of Scotland to Pope John XXI, insisting on recognition of Scotland’s independence and on the sovereignty of their king, Robert I
And here’s the prequel. It sets that stage for one family’s struggle to survive in the slums of an Edinburgh full of displaced Highlanders, those escaping the Irish potato famines, and others whose skills are no longer necessary because of the industrial revolution.
“Faither, tell us again. Tell us about mother and how brave she was.” Every night after the sun had set Faither told Meggie, Rab and Kirstie a tale. His stories were of Scotland’s proud history, or of Faither’s own life, or legends whose origin no one knew, and whose truth no one could vouch for. But this story was Rab’s favorite, because it was true, and it was about his own mother.
Faither lifted three-year-old Kirstie onto his knee, and began. “It was the spring of 1843. Green sprouts of heather were pushing their way up between the rocks on the steep hills overlooking the glen through which our Calvie River ran, clear and fine. The men were in the hills looking after the few Highland cattle that were yet ours, but the women were to home when a lad from a neighboring glen brought word Sheriff Taylor was coming to order us all to leave our lands.
“Lands we Rosses had farmed fer more than five hundred long years. Land we paid rent fer every month, as the laws said, to an Englishman, Major Charles Robertson, himself stationed with his regiment in Australia.” Faither looked at each of his three children proudly as he added. “Yer two grandfaithers served in the British Army. My own dear faither died in service in India, and your mother’s faither was in the Royal Regiment.”
“We know, Faither,” said Rab, leaning in. “Tell the part about Mother.”
“We’d feared it would happen. English called us savages. They wanted us gone from our cottages so they could fill Highland hills and glens with fancy Cheviot sheep, and with red deer fer English gentlemen to hunt. So when word came, the women of Glencalvie, one or more from each of its eighteen families, went to meet Sheriff Taylor. Yer mother, the brave Kirsten, my own dear wife, was one of those women, despite being heavy with you, Kirstie.”
“I was with them, too, Faither,” put in Meggie, as she always did when he got to this part of the story. “I was twelve, and I went with the women. Mother said I’d see what the world was truly like. I saw it all.”
“Indeed ye did, lassie; indeed ye did. Ye all walked the path toward the east end of the valley; a path so steep cattle sometimes stumbled along it. And ye women confronted Sheriff Taylor and three of his men just beyond the boundary of Glencalvie.
“`Ye shall not enter our valley,’ said yer mother, firmly and truly. And despite the men’s strength, our brave women held them back and forced up the hand that held the eviction notice. Young Mary Mathieson, not much older than ye are now, Meggie, set fire to that notice with a live coal she’d carried up from the valley in a leather pouch. And once the papers were burned and the men let go the women turned and headed down the slope to their homes. Until one of those cowardly men looked after them and fired a gun, and Mary Mathieson fell to the ground, shot in the ba
Meggie nodded, remembering, as Faither reached over and touched her arm under the heavy red and green plaid tartan she’d wrapped around herself. He looked at Rab and then down at Kirstie, in his lap. “Meggie and yer mother helped carry Mary to her home to die, a heroine of Glencalvie, and then returned to our own cottage, where yer mother gave birth to you that very night, my dear little Kirstie.”
Kirstie hugged Faither and he buried his face in her tangled brown curls.
“And then mother died,” ended Meggie. “And we lived one year more in Glencalvie before the English came again. In 1844 there were more of them, and they were fiercer. They burned our homes and drove us out of Glencalvie forever.”
“They did,” Faither said grimly. “And since then these many months we have been traveling to find a place that will welcome us.”
“A place where we will be free to have a home,” said Meggie.
“And jobs,” said Faither.
“And food,” said Rab, thinking of his stomach, which had been empty so long.
“Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland,” said Faither. “We are Scots. We are going to Edinburgh.”
For more about FOR FREEDOM ALONE, stay tuned!
I’ll be looking forward to this! My great-grandmother was Scottish. I remember when I was very young and we lived in her summer camp, she had an invitation in her dresser to the dedication of a Robert Burns statue. I’m not sure how she was related to Burns, possibly through her mother who was a Lindsay… and she had that invitation. So hard to believe but apparently true.
I’m looking forward to this one, even if I’m Irish! 🙂
One major character is Irish, so you won’t feel left out!–
Oh, so looking forward to this one, Lea. My ancestors on two lines came to the colonies because of the Highland Clearances. Thank you for writing the story.
That’s exactly why I wrote this book … my ancestors were actually lowlanders … but so many descendants of highlanders don’t know the stories ….
I’ve had the privilege to read For Freedom Alone and it is terrific!
Thank you, Barb! (Of course, the family I’m writing about happen to be Rosses …!)
I love your historical novels. I will look forward to this one because I have Scottish heritage – the Bruce family.
Can’t wait to read it. The highland ways have been preserved in Cape Breton…the music, stories, and recipes.
Hi. Most of the emigrants came from the Lowlands. Your novel sounds interesting but I have to take issue with “English called us savages. They wanted us gone from our cottages so they could fill Highland hills and glens with fancy Cheviot sheep.” In fact, as Tom Devine’s new, very scholarly work ‘The Scottish Clearances: A History of the Dispossessed’ shows, it was not the English who cleared people off the land. To quote Devine:
“Nationalism, clearances and victimhood soon became intimately linked by some polemicists, a tendency which has continued to the present day through the proliferation of social media. The contentions were that the historic tragedy of the Gaels had taken place during the Union and sometimes also, against all the evidence, that English landowners and sheep farmers were mainly responsible for the draconian acts of eviction.”
“Many third- and fourth-generation American Scots share the view that Scottish emigration across the Atlantic came from the Highlands and was initiated by force and coercion. The boring reality is that the vast majority left from the farms, towns and cities of the Lowlands and were mainly attracted to North America because they saw it as a fabled land of opportunity to achieve a better life.”
I’ve reviewed his book here https://roddymacleod.wordpress.com/2018/11/01/the-scottish-clearances-a-history-of-the-dispossessed/