MILITARY STRENGTH OF THE CLAN DURING THE JACOBITE ERA - 1715
by James E. Fargo, FSA Scot
General George Wade in his report to the English government dated December 10, 1724 estimated that the military strength of our clan to be 800 men in 1715 and that an additional 2,000 Atholl men were also in rebellion then. Lord President Duncan Forbes of Culloden in his report in 1745 estimated that our chief could raise 200 men on his own estate and there were another 500 Robertsons who were tenants of the Duke of Atholl. The Atholl brigade was reported to be able to muster about 3,000 men in 1745.
The real fighting strength of the clan would, of course, have been smaller seeing that the clan would not have marched out of the district with every able-bodied man. At Sheriffmuir in 1689, 500 of the clan were present under the leadership of Struan yet the clan is reported to have been able to muster over 600. Had everyone gone, the clan lands would have been left defenseless against forays of caterans, attacks from neighboring clans or from government troops quartered in the area. The young boys, disabled men and old men would have remained as a home guard during any clan "expeditions" outside the area.
One instance of this occurred when the clan was called up for the Atholl brigade in 1715. One young man, Robert McIan, had been left in charge by his father, Ian Robertson of Drumachuine, to protect the family home while his father and two elder brothers were gone. The homestead was subsequently raided by some Cameron caterans and several horses were driven off. Gathering a body of remaining clansmen, he successfully counterattacked the invaders and not only recaptured the horses but killed in single combat the leader of the caterans. Unfortunately, near the end of the conflict he was captured by the remaining caterans and had to be rescued from their vengeance by the celebrated outlaw, Rob Roy MacGregor and his men.
Another instance occurred in 1745, when Struan mustered 140 of the 200 clansmen who still followed his command and placed them under the leadership of Donald Robertson of Woodsheal as part of the Atholl brigade. Over 500 more of our clansmen were mustered by Lord George Murray as part of the Atholl brigade since these men were tenants on the lands of his elder brother, the Duke of Atholl. When the clan marched out of Atholl in 1745, Donald Robertson of Woodsheal left his father, Robert Ban Robertson of Invervack who was then 72 years of age and his youngest brother, John, then about 16 years old in charge of a small party of clansmen to protect the countryside during the clan's absence.
With the Disarming Act of August 1746, the carrying of weapons was outlawed. The penalty for the first offense was a fine. If not paid, and if the offender was fit for military service, he could be sent as a soldier to serve in America. If not fit, then the penalty was imprisonment for six months. The penalty for a second offense was to "be liable to be transported to any of His Majesty's Plantations beyond the Seas, there to remain for the Space of Seven Years." These same penalties applied to the wearing of "highland garb" unless the man was a soldier in His Majesty's forces.
Heritable Jurisdictions were also eliminated at this time. This meant that a chief or his representatives could not make decisions on their own, but had to check with the government factor on the management of their estates.
In 1795, at the beginning of the Napoleonic era, Robertson of Auchleeks raised and commanded a regiment of clansmen for home defense distinguished with the appropriate name of Clan Donnachie Fencibles. This unit was disbanded when the real threat of a French invasion was eliminated by Admiral Adam Duncan's naval victory over the Dutch fleet at Camperdown in 1797.
From 1803 to 1809, General William Robertson of Lude raised at his own expense, the Loyal Clan Donnachie Volunteers for homeland defense against another possible French invasion by Napoleon. The battalion was composed of two infantry companies (Lude and Glenerochty), wearing kilts and red jackets with white facings (the Struan colors) while the Mounted artillery company wore blue coats and facings with blue breeches. The infantry companies wore the Atholl tartan with the addition of white stripes. This became the Robertson Hunting tartan. This was the last time our clansmen served in a strictly clan military unit.
"Historical Geography of the Clans of Scotland", T. B. Johnston & Col. James A. Robertson, 1899, pp. 26, 33, 38-46.
"Short History of Clan Robertson, J. Robertson Reid, 1933, p. 131.
"The Robertsons", Iain Moncreiffe, 1954, pp. 22-23.
"Story of the Atholl Highlanders", Sir Iain Moncreiffe, undated, p. 7.