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The Clearances


Why MacLeans Live on Six Continents Instead of One Island

Mary McLean Hoff
The first Clearances occurred after the Jacobite rebellion and the Battle of Culloden (mid 18th century). It concerned the removal of Highlanders, who were tenants on the vast holdings of landlords, often the chiefs of the various Highland clans. I do not know a lot about other branches of the clan, but the MacLeans of Duart ceased to be landlords prior to the Clearances. Their lands and ancestral home (Duart) had been heavily mortgaged and forfeited for payment of the debt. The lands fell into the hands of the Campbells and their ilk and were later sold off. Duart castle quartered English soldiers for a time and then was burnt.
The early Clearances were, I believe, centered more in the northern Highlands -- Sutherland and Ross, with the Duchess of Sutherland and her factors, the cruelest of men, eventually stripping her lands of her clansmen and burning their homes before them. She already had more money than God, but she wanted to build the grand castle of Dunrobin.
The choice was not emigrate or hang. It was: live homeless -- exposed to the northern elements and watch yourself and your family freeze or starve to death; give up your attachment to the land and live in the slums of Glasgow and Edinburgh; or emigrate. Emigration was far from a desirable choice. It meant saying goodbye to family and friends, probably forever and more. Most Highland tenants had no money and could not pay theirs much less their family's passage. Enterprising ship owners and captains, however, were more than willing to transport them in return for indentured servitude. In a kind of slavery, the heads of households would agree to become the indenture of the captain in exchange for passage. Once they arrived at their destination, they would be auctioned off to work for landholders for a term of time sufficient to pay off the passage debt.