Friend or Foe? – Christmas 1745

Anyone planning a visit to Dumfries just before Christmas 1745, would have been well advised to postpone the idea and to steer clear of the town. Prince Charles Edward Stuart was on his way, with the larger part of his force, which might relieve anyone they met of their purse, shoes and shopping.

The Provost of Dumfries, George Bell, and the Sheriff-Depute, John Goldie, frequently corresponded with reliable informants such as Dr. Waugh in Carlisle; Field Marshal Wade in the Midlands; the Duke of Queensberry, who was spending the winter in Bath; and George Clerk of Drumcrieff, then a soldier in Yorkshire. By these means and from dispatches in newspapers, they kept abreast of developments.

Provost Bell received three demands for money from Prince Charles which the Burgh Council ignored, and so it was with some trepidation that they heard news that the rebel army had reached Moffat on 5 November 1745. “The Highlanders continued their march and passed through Lockerbie where a party of inhabitants from Dumfries which had been left unmolested, raided the Prince’s baggage train, a reckless deed which in due course the town had cause to regret.”

On 4 December the Prince reached Derby, but then retraced his steps to Scotland, crossing the river Esk on 20 December. The London Gazette provided news of what happened in Dumfriesshire with dispatches from Annan, Dumfries and Edinburgh:

“Annan, Dec. 21. Eleven at Night. The Rebels, to the Number of about 3000, came here last Night, and staid till ten of the Clock this Forenoon, except about 4 or 500, who proceeded forward to Dumfries last Night….”

“Annan, Dec. 23. The Rebels, to the Number of about 4000 (as is computed) went from hence to Dumfries on Saturday last the 21st Instant, and remained there till seven of the clock this Morning, at which Time they began to march, and had all left the Town before Eight….”

“Dumfries, Dec. 24. On Saturday the 21st and the day following, the main Body of the Rebel Army came into this Place with the Pretender’s Son: Monday Morning he marched from hence with them, and proposed to lodge that Night at Drumlanrig.”

“Edinburgh, Dec. 26. ….Some Excesses were committed at Dumfries, especially with Relation to Shoes, of which, it seems they stood in great Need, a great many of them being bare-footed.”

The minister of Lochrutton wrote in his diary for Sunday 22 December 1745: “A melancholy day &endash; the rebels in Dumfries &endash; about 4000, with the Pretender’s son at their head, in great rage at the town for carrying off their baggage from Annandale, and for raising volunteers, and calling out the militia of the County in defence of the Government…. They were most rude in the town &endash; pillaged some shops &endash; pulled shoes off gentlemen’s feet in the street…. rebels robbing people’s stables &endash; pillaging some houses.”

Provost Bell had chaired the Council meeting on 16 December but then took the precaution of leaving home which he recounted in a letter to George Clerk dated 24 December at 4.30am. “I am now to advise you that I have been in exile since Saturday morning about 4 o’clock and came home last night.

“The rebells with their leader came to this towne on Saturday last. The Horse came first about day light and the Foot (with whome man they call their prince) came through the whole day untill day was near gone. He walk’d on foot all the way. God be thanked, that hellish and ungodly crew left this place yesterday…. They have done a world of mischief here. [They] ordered the town to pay £2,000, 1000 pair of shoes…. to have free quarters wch has been very havey on many poor people who are utterly ruined…. We have paid £1,100 [Sir Robert Laurie lent £40] wch was all the money to bee got in this poor toune, and the shoes, and they have carried Provost Crosbie and Wattie Riddle along with them for hostages….”

Another man who considered discretion the better art of valour was James Fergusson of Craigdarroch who was factor at Drumlanrig for the Duke of Queensberry. He stood down the armed men he had assembled in Thornhill on 21 December and took his family to Craigdarroch the next day. Here he received letters demanding that he “would cause kill a great number of black cattle and sheep, and provide a great quantity of meal” as well as quarters at Drumlanrig. He retired a further 8 miles into the hills until the 25 December, when he returned to his employer’s house at 11.00pm to assess the damage done by the Highlanders.

The whole episode can be summarised in the words of one of the few supporters of the Stuart cause living in south-west Scotland. He was a major in Lord Elcho’s regiment &endash; James Maxwell of Kirkconnel (New Abbey) &endash; who took part in ‘the Prince’s expedition’ and subsequently wrote his narrative while in exile in France: “The Prince, at the head of the Clans, marched to Annan. The horse of the Prince’s division, after a short halt at Annan were sent to take possession of Dumfries, which they did early next morning, and the Prince having halted a day at Dumfries, marched to Drumlanrig, and thence by Leadhills to Douglas, and from Douglas to Hamilton….”


The Cambridge Journal, and Weekly Flying Post &endash; Saturday, January 4 1746.

Narrative of Charles Prince of Wales’ Expedition to Scotland in the Year 1745 &endash; James Maxwell of Kirkconnell 1841.

History of Dumfries &endash; William McDowall 1867

Some Incidents in Nithsdale during the Jacobite Rising of 1745 &endash; James W. Whitelaw. Trans: D.G.N.H.A.S. No: II

Letters from Dumfries during the Jacobite Rebellion in 1745 &endash; W.A.J. Prevost. Trans: D.G.N.H.A.S. Vol: XL

Illustration: The Cambridge Journal, and Weekly Flying Post

© A.B. Hall