The Jacobite Laird

Sir William Gordon, 5th Laird of Park is my 8th great-uncle, his father-in-law William Duff, 1st Earl of Fife, and the Earls descendants are well-connected with my own branch of Gordon’s and their descendants. They were the proprietor’s that my Scottish Walker ancestors (descendants of the Gordon’s) were at times tenants of during the 1800’s.

Below is the story of Sir William Gordon and his connection with the Jacobite rebellion and the Battle of Culloden.

Sir William Gordon, 5th Laird of Park

8th great-uncle. Sir William Gordon, 5th Laird of Park

Sir William Gordon, Park’s 5th laird, succeeded on his father’s death in 1727. In June 1745 he married Janet Duff, a daughter of William Duff of Rothiemay (later Lord Braco and the 1st Earl Fife), who eloped with him from nearby Rothiemay castle, leaping from a window into his arms. She was 18 years old, 15 years his junior. Her family, it seems, soon forgave him and he was later on excellent terms with his mother-in-law.

In August of that year Prince Charles Edward Stuart, Bonnie Prince Charlie, raised his standard at Glenfinnan and Sir William was quick to demonstrate his allegiance to the Jacobite cause. He joined the prince in Perth in September and was soon afterwards, in Edinburgh, commissioned a Lieutenant Colonel:

“Charles Prince of Wales, Regent of Scotland England France and Ireland and the Dominions thereunto belonging, to our Right Trusty and well-beloved Sir William Gordon of Park Greeting, We Reposing especial Trust in your Courage, Loyalty and Good Conduct Do hereby Constitute and Appoint you to be a Lieutenant-Collonell of his Majesties forces in the Regiment of Horse commanded by Lord Pitsligo ….

“Given At our Palace of Holyroodhouse the Eighteenth day of October 1745.”

The commission was signed C P R, for Charles, Prince Regent.

How extraordinary Edinburgh must have been in that “far away Autumn when the night-fires of the clans were lit on Arthur’s Seat, the wynds of the Royal Mile echoed to the wild pibroch of Lochiel’s Gathering, and a Young Prince in lace and tartan danced though the candle-light at Holyroodhouse .”

Sir William had little time to enjoy it, for he was soon sent on a mission to Paris to obtain urgent help from the French king.On his return he marched with the army to Derby “at that time dressed in a sort of Highland clothes.” He was a member of the prince’s Council and was present at its momentous meeting in which it was decided to retreat, much against the prince’s wishes. Sir William and the Duke of Perth were all for “going to Wales, to see if the Welsh would join in,” but the resolution to retreat was adhered to. It began on 6 December 1745 and ended in bitter defeat at the battle of Culloden on 16 April 1746.

During their retreat, on 8 April 1746, the Jacobites pillaged Cullen House near here and the Duke of Cumberland, Commander-in-Chief of the government forces, withdrew the protection he had granted to the house of Park. A contemporary account says, however, that before the government troops arrived “most of the effects were carried off from Park that were of any value.” Nonetheless, Lady Gordon seems to have been arrested in this period and was a prisoner in Inverness at the time of the battle at Culloden.

On 16 April, on Culloden Moor, some 30 miles West of here, devastating artillery fire and well-drilled government troops overcame the fearsome charge of the Highlanders and by late morning the Jacobite forces were in disarray and fleeing. Sir William escaped the carnage and next day wrote a hasty note to his young (and pregnant) wife:

April 17th 1746.
Dear Madam — As you have heard of our misfortune in general I have sent you this line to assure you that I am well, and most earnestly begs you’l take care of your health and my child’s. I wish you would goe to your own house as soon as possible. You can get leave that you may be brought to bed there, as the country you are in will be nothing but a scene of misery. When I can get a safe opportunity you shall hear from me. Till then, my dearest life, God bless you. Adieu.

Shortly afterwards, Lady Gordon was allowed to go to her mother’s house at Rothiemay, where her daughter Jean was born.

A few days after Culloden, Sir William and three companions, including the Chevalier Johnstone, were hiding in Rothiemurchas. One day while out in hills, the Chevalier collected cairngorms, yellow or wine-coloured rock crystals much used for decorating Highland dress:

“Having return to dinner, when my friends saw me enter with a large bag of flints, they burst into a loud laugh; and Gordon of Park exhorted me, very seriously, to think rather of saving myself from the gallows, than of collecting pebbles. He advised me to stay the night at his Castle of Park and I accepted his offer.”

Pursued by government troops, however, Sir William could not linger long at Park and he went to hide at the farm of Craigmartin, by Glenbarry at the foot of the Knock Hill. Government troops were sent to watch the house at Park and camped in the grounds. The remains of their encampment can still be traced in Rampart Field.

In July Sir William was ‘attainted of High Treason.’ He seems to have remained in hiding for many months before escaping to France, where his wife and baby daughter joined him. But after this first escape he returned to Scotland, presumably on urgent business, since the Act of Indemnity of June 1747 specifically exempted him from pardon. (While rash, this was not a unique venture. Several other attainted Jacobites also returned, among them Cameron of Lochiel’s brother.)

In October 1747 a party of soldiers from Banff and Cullen saw in the neighbourhood of Park a mounted and well dressed man crossing about a quarter-of-a-mile in front of them at a hand gallop. When a mounted officer went to investigate, the man “set spurs to his horse.”The officer and his Captain set off in pursuit but the man “drove through the boggs up a hill as fast as he could, but the officers in pursuing got their horses boggid and found themselves invironed with dykes and boggs, so that he fairly made his escape through his better knowledge of the country.” The officer closely questioned some local people, who admitted the man was Sir William Gordon of Park. Shortly afterwards, he again escaped to France, never to return.

Sir William served in Lord Olgilvie’s regiment in the French service. He fathered two sons, John James and William. He died, of a fever, in Douai on 5 June 1751 and was buried in the ramparts. Lady Gordon, left very badly off on Sir William’s death, returned to Scotland in 1752 and the following year married George Hay of Mountblairy, another Jacobite. She died in 1758.

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2 thoughts on “The Jacobite Laird

  1. Hello. I read these paragraphs with great interest. For years, I was investigating about my own ancestors, I could find every transcription about those times, mentioned on this excelent resumee about Gordon family
    I am descendant of John Elder who lived with his family in Skye (b. 1766), oldest brother of Sir George Elder, Mayor General under Wellington´s Army..

    There is a book named “Brave men of Skye”, with reference to Elder from Skye, mentioning that ancestors from both branches of the family, Elder and Stuart, were under Prince Charles army at Culloden.
    Following records of prisiones and soldiers at Culloden, there are only two mentions about Elders at Culloden, A John Elder, lurking after the battle, and a William Elder, taken prisioner before the battle with Mackenzie Clan and later embarked to Jamaica.

    In “Some scottish queries” there is an interesting reference about Sir William Gordon of Park, ” Sir William Gordon of Park was joined in the Rebellion of 1745 by his servants—David Wilson, John Chapman, John Elder, and John Grant.”
    https://www.google.com.ar/search?q=sir+william+gordon+of+park+servants+john+elder&source=lnms&tbm=bks&biw=1366&bih=638

    There another references about these names, Culloden Papers: “Sir William Gordon of Park who made his Escape cross the Murray Firth from Murray to Sutherland some months ago Is still Lurking by the name of Mr Grant in the County of Sutherland”

    The following pages were copied of the Book:

    Records of the county of Banff, 1660-1760, one hundred years of county government”, pages 372 / 373

    “Three months later Prince Charlie unfurled his standard at
    Glenfinnan, and was soon to be joined by the Convener of Banffshire,
    accompanied by four of his men servants. Appointed Lieutenant-Col,
    of Lord Ogilvie’s Regiment, he took part in the march to Derby, in the retreat to Scotland, and was present at Culloden, dressed, as a witness
    depones against him, in “a sort of highland clothes.” 1 The Chevalier
    De Johnstone gives a graphic account of forgathering with Park, Lord
    Lewis Gordon, Gordon of Avochie, and Park’s half-brother, Cobairdy,
    at Rothiemurchus after Culloden, and of their journey to Park. There
    the laird, attainted, lurked for nearly two years, more than once hunted
    from hiding place to hiding place by the King’s troops. 2 A report which
    reached the Government in November 1746 that Sir William Gordon
    with several others had escaped abroad in a Danish ship, which they
    had boarded in small boats from Arbroath, was unfounded. On 4th
    November 1747 the Earl of Findlater and Seafield reported to the
    Lord Justice Clerk that on the preceding Sunday a futile search had
    been made by two parties of soldiers from Banff and Cullen for persons
    attainted and exempted from the indemnity. He continues 3 ” Captain
    Gordon, of General Blakney’s Regiment, who commands in Bamff,
    writes me that on their road a well-dressed man crossed their front at a
    quarter of a mile’s distance at a hand gallop. Upon which the Captain
    thought it necessary to send an officer to examine him, which when he
    perceived he set spurs to his horse, and then both the Captain and the
    officer pursued him, on which he drove through the boggs up a hill as
    fast as he could ; but the officers in pursuing got their horses bogg’d,
    and found themselves invironed with dykes and boggs, so that he fairly
    made his escape through his better knowledge of the country, and that
    upon their examining the country people who saw him they said it was
    Sir William Gordon of Park. Captain Gordon further adds that by
    the way he came, it was imagined he had been drove from one of the
    houses searched by Captain Wheelock, the commanding officer at
    Cullen.”

    Shortly after this he escaped abroad, and was joined in France by
    his wife, Lady Janet Duff, eldest daughter of Lord Braco. He died
    in France, at Uouai, on 5th June 1751. The estate of Park, which
    had been entailed in 1713, passed under his attainder to his brother,
    Captain John Gordon, after a long litigation, 1751-54, in the Court of
    Session.”

    The four mentioned servants were Wilson, Chapman, Elder and Grant.

    http://www.yourphotocard.com/Ascanius/A_List_of_Persons_Concerned_in_the_Rebellion.pdf

    Actually, Im tryng to join the dots between this John Elder from Banff, Castle Park and that John Elder at Skye, probably born at Ross and Cromarty, in Mackenzie lands, close to Reid Castle.

    In some way, I believe that Sir Wiliam was lurking close to his servants for 2 years, before to escape to France. Probably some of these men were guards of Prince Charles on his scape to Skye, and some years later, an Elder descendant (Colin Elder Sr, son of that John Elder of Castle Park) settled at Skye, in MacDonalds land.

    Id appreciate any additonal information availabe about the escape of Sir William after Culloden. Some reference about Skye before escaping abroad a danish ship to France?
    Thanks in advance
    Miguel Mintzer

    • Hi, interesting note about David Wilson. As I am descended from the Wilsons too. And David Wilson, (is a distant uncle),
      Thank you very much for this information. I will see if I can find any links to your ‘Elder’ family and let you know.

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