Saturday, October 5, 2013

Military Monday - The Battle of Drumnacoub and the Origins of Clan Bain

When it comes to giving your brain a work-out, there is nothing like trying to follow the threads of a Scottish feud, and the internal feud of Clan Mackay is a doozy.
Mackay Clansman

Let’s begin with Phase One of the feud.  The trouble began in 1426 when Angus Du Mackay (1365-1433) was the seventh chief of the Clan Mackay of Strathnaver,  the valley (strath) of the River  Naver on the northern coast of Scotland.  The Strathnaver area was home to the Mackays in that era.  [Note to members of Clan Bain: Not this Mackay, but his cousin Neil was our ancestor. More to come below.]

Now, in 1426 Angus Du, with his son Neil, decided to invade Caithness to avenge himself on his hated enemy, the Sutherlands, who had killed his grandfather, the clan chief, at Dingwall Castle in 1370.  Angus Du got as far as Harpsdale, which is south and east of Halkirk, at which point the locals gave battle.

Sir Robert Gordon (1580 -1656), the author of the Genealogical History of the Earldom of Sutherland, later recorded  that “there was great slaughter on either side.[i]

Bass Rock, Firth of Forth
Though there was no clear victor, King James I got wind of the fight and rode north from Edinburgh to Inverness, where Angus Du submitted himself, offering his son Neil as a hostage.  Neil was promptly imprisoned on Bass Island from which he got his nickname, Neil Vass (a phonetic variation, sometimes spelled Wesse). 

At this point, we reach Phase Two.  Angus Du Mackay had three cousins—the brothers Thomas Mackay, Morgan Mackay, and Neil Neilson Mackay II, the latter of whom is ancestor to Clan Bain.  In 1427, Thomas Mackay got himself into serious trouble when he killed Mowat of Freswick in Tain, Ross-shire.

Old St. Duthus Chapel, Tain
A. J. Lawrence, author of The Clan Bain, explains it well, saying that Thomas, “held vast possessions, including the lands of Creich, etc., which he obtained from his cousin, Angus Du—probably to get and ensure his support; about 1427, he fell upon Mowat of Freswick for having betyrayed him, and pursued him into the Chapel of St Duthus, to which he set fire, killing Mowat.  Killing was one thing, in those days, but burning a consecrated Chapel could not be ignored.  Thomas was outlawed and his lands promised to whomever [sic] should capture him.  It so happened that his brothers, Morgan and Neil, had married daughters of Angus Moray of Cubin, a retainer of the hated Suthlerlands; and Angus [Moray], instigated by the Sutherlands, induced them to help him betray their brother, who was captured and beheaded.” (p. 35).[ii]

See.  I told you it was complicated.

Okay, so Angus’s son, Neil Vass, is locked up on Bass Rock, one nephew has been executed, and the other two have taken up with his mortal enemy, the Sutherlands.  But the chief still had one more champion, his illegitimate son, John Aberigh Mackay, who began to advise his aging father.  Morgan and Neil, along with Sutherland and their father-in-law Moray (pronounced Murray), desired to wrest the remaining lands of Angus Du from his hands. 

Angus Du sent word that he would resign all of his property to them except for Kintail, which was in Strathnaver, but this was not good enough for Morgan and Neil.  With the full support of the earl of Sutherland, the two brothers pressed forward against John Aberigh, who promised his 68-year-old father that he would retain the lands or die trying.

Site of the Battle of Drumnacoub
The two armies met at a place called Drumnacoub, which was two miles from Tongue, a coastal village where Angus Du resided.  One historian gives this account of the battle and its aftermath:

There ensued a cruel and sharp conflict, valiantly fought a long time, with great slaughter, so that, in the end, there remained but few alive on either side. Neil Mackay, Morgan Mackay, and their father-in-law (Angus Murray), were there slain. John Aberigh, having lost all his men, was left for dead on the field, and was afterwards recovered; yet he was mutilated all the rest of his days [apparently having lost an arm]. Angus Dow Mackay, being brought thither to view the place of the conflict, and searching for the dead corpses of his cousins, Morgan and Neil, was there killed with the shot of an arrow, by a Sutherland man, that was lurking in a bush hard by, after his fellows had been slain. This John Aberigh was afterwards so hardly pursued by the Earl of Sutherland, that he was constrained, for the safety of his life, to flee into the Isles.[iii]

Bass Rock with Castle
by Andrew Spratt
Now we reach Phase Three of the feud.  In 1437, Neil Vass managed to escape from Bass Rock with the assistance of a kinswoman who was married to the governor of Bass, Sir Robert Lauder.  Because he had been imprisoned for a decade, Neil Vass lacked the necessary military savvy to carry on the feud with his cousins and the Sutherlands, so a year later, he took up with his half-brother John, who obviously had plenty of military experience, and they advanced with 500 men towards Thurso in Caithness. 

Site of Sandside Chase
Soon they were joined in fight by the larger army of Caithness men. At Sandside, a violent conflict got underway.  John Aberigh’s men were able to corner Sutherland’s troops below Sandside House near the bay, driving many of them into the sea.  “Around the ancient fort of Cnoc Stangar between Sandside House and the sea, where the fight was fiercest, the bones of the slain may yet be dug out of the sandy soil.  This conflict is known as Ruaig Handside, [or] Sandside Chase.”[iv]
Afterwards, many of the clansmen sought to have John Aberigh made chief, but John conceded the leadership of the Mackays to Neil Vass, the legitimate heir.  Neil, in turn, bestowed on John lands in Strathnaver, though apparently over time, those lands eventually passed to the Sutherlands.

Loch Gairloch
Meanwhile, what about the sons of Neil Neilson Mackay II and Morgan Mackay, the brothers of the executed Thomas Mackay?  In 1430, three years before his death at Drumnacoub, Neil Neilson had received Thomas’s former lands in Gairloch in Ross. 
Olrig (top center)
However, after Drumnacoub, the tension between Neil’s widow and son, on the one side, and the family of Angus Du, on the other, was so severe that, in 1435, Neil Neilson’s widow could no longer stand the strain and was removed to Olrig in Caithness by her son, John.  A. J. Lawrence, Bain genealogist, stated that “they received a friendly welcome due to the knowledge that their troubles had been inspired by the Sutherlands.”  

"Et Marte et Arte" means
"By Strength and Skill"
(Tile available on
At this point, John took the name John Bane (“the Fair”) Mackay to distinguish him from other John Mackays, perhaps including John Aberigh Mackay, the illegitimate son and defender of Angus Du.  John eventually dropped the name Mackay, and the original spelling, Bane, was standardized to Bain in 1616.[v]  The Bains of Caithness and Ross are descended from this individual.
The Bain motto, Et Marte et Arte (By Strength and Skill), well expresses what it took for the descendants of John Bain Mackay to survive and thrive after their new beginning in 1435.

[i] Recorded in “Battle of Harpsdale.” Wikipedia.
[ii] The Clan Bain and Associated Families. Inverness: Highland Printers, 1966.
[iii] “Conflict of the Clans: The Conflict of Druimnacour.”
[iv] Mackay, Angus.  The Book of Mackay.  Edinburgh, 1906.  Available on Google Books; Mackay, Gary. “The Correct History of the Clan Mackay.” 9 May 1999.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Military Monday - Daniel Applegate: The Fifer Boy at Valley Forge

Washington at Valley Forge by F. Jiengling, 1876
Daniel Applegate, born about 1765, found himself motherless at the age of eleven, which was the fateful year 1776.  According to family tradition, he “was a stout boy” and was “put with a steady Dutch farmer” to be raised while his older brother, Benjamin, and his father, Richard Applegate, were serving in the Jersey Line in the Continental Army.  But wanting little of farm life when there was action to be had, Daniel ran away, traveling eighty miles to join his father and brother, but when he reached George Washington’s army, he discovered that the Jersey Line was serving elsewhere.  According to the story that was passed down in the family, “The officers were at a loss to know what to do with the boy, who like Jephet was in search of his father, and wanted to remain in the army until he could find him.  A kind-hearted colonel took him into his quarters, had him taught to play the fife, and had him enrolled as a fifer.  He also taught him to read, mostly from a newspaper, and he learned to write by imitating the common Roman letters.”  Other sources indicate that before the war was over, he served as a fifer, a drummer, and a color bearer.[i]

As fate would have it, little Daniel was with George Washington’s army at Valley Forge that terrible winter of 1777-78.  More than one drawing of that time shows a lad with a drum or a fife amongst the soldiers in the snow.  The engraving above, which appeared in the American art journal Aldine, shows General Washington himself with a drummer boy, and knowing Daniel’s story, one cannot help but wonder if it was originally intended to portray the Applegate lad.

Officially, Daniel is listed as part of the 2nd New Jersey Regiment under Israel Shreve. That outfit saw action in all of the following conflicts:

§  Battle of Brandywine, Delaware County, Pennsylvania, September 11, 1777

§  Battle of Germantown, Germantown, Pennsylvania, October 4, 1777

§  Battle of Crooked Billet, Crooked Billet Tavern, Hatboro, Pennsylvania, May 1, 1778

§  Battle of Monmouth, Monmouth Courthouse, New Jersey, June 28, 1778

§  The Sullivan Expedition, Iroquois Confederacy (current New York State), 1779-80

§  Battle of Springfield, Springfield Township, Union County, New Jersey, June 23, 1780

§  Battle of Yorktown, Yorktown, Virginia, September 28 - October 19, 1781

Daniel remained with the army until it disbanded in New York in 1783.  One source indicates that Daniel may have gone to sea for a time after the war, possibly with a son of Colonel Shreve, who was said to be a sea captain.[ii]  However, the Shreve who developed the steamboat and for whom the city of Shrevesport was named was not born until after the Revolution.  Shreve’s oldest son, John, who was born to Israel Shreve’s first wife, had joined military service with his father when he was only thirteen years of age, so it is highly likely that he and young Daniel became close during the war.  John Shreve was twenty-one at the time the war ended.  His autobiographical sketch has been published but, alas, includes no mention of seagoing, so it is hard to say with whom eighteen-year-old Daniel Applegate would have gone to sea after the war.

"Kentucke" 1784 (South and East of the Ohio River)
Daniel appears in the records again in 1788 when he and his brother Benjamin turn up in northern Kentucky in the Ohio Valley area where the white settlers were encountering stiff opposition from the Iroquois Confederacy. It is important to note that Kentucky did not actually become a state until 1792, so in Daniel Applegate’s time, the term  Kentucky (spelled variously as Kentucke, Kaintuckee, and Cantucky) was a general Iroquois reference to the area south of the Ohio River.  

In 1788, Daniel was located at Lindsay's Station (or Fort) in what is now Scott County, Kentucky.  Lindsay's Station was a settlement established by Anthony Lindsay, a veteran of the French and Indian War and the American Revolution.  Descendant Frank Lindsay Applegate described Anthony Lindsay as “one of the early pioneers of the ‘Dark and Bloody Ground,’”[iii] a reference to the period in which northern and southern Indian tribes, notably the Cherokee and the Shawnee, had gone to war for control of the area. 

Plan of Boone's Station in Kentucky.
Lindsay's Station may have been similar.

Ken Lindsay, writing in 2005, described the settlement as “a typical Two-Family Station of that day. Located high on a ridge overlooking a broad Buffalo Trace, a twelve-foot high stockade completely enclosed the area between two log block-houses. About two hundred feet apart, the houses stood at opposite ends of the stockade. Their only doors and windows were in the side of the wall which enclosed the two rows of logs that stood on end, making the stockade.”[iv]  There were other buildings as well, some of which served as a safe harbor for neighbors during Indian raids. 

The Revolutionary War had given way to the Northwest Indian War, which was a series of ongoing conflicts between the new American government and the Iroquois Confederacy, mainly over control of the Ohio Valley, including northern Kentucky.  The Shawnee and other Kentucky area tribes were none too happy that they had not been consulted by the Iroquois, who had by and large ceded Kentucky to the whites, and attacks continued on white settlers for a number of years.  By 1790, 1,500 settlers had been killed in the area, and Daniel Applegate is known to have been a part of efforts to protect settlers in the region.

On June 10, 1790, Daniel married Anthony Lindsay’s daughter, Rachel, and until 1797 farmed about fifty acres of land which adjoined his father-in-law’s land in Franklin County, Kentucky.   On March 13, 1799, Daniel received 100 acres of bounty land for his service in the Revolutionary War (Warrant 8084).  In 1802, he moved his family to Henry County, Kentucky, where he and Rachel raised their nine children.  Something must have riled him up in 1801 because there is a record that, on February 4, 1808, he was fined fifteen shillings and spent three hours in jail “for cursing” in the Henry County, Kentucky, Court![v]

Despite that incident, Daniel Applegate had a remarkable reputation.  Writing about Lisbon Applegate, a Missouri historian once wrote, “His father [Daniel] being a man of comfortable circumstances and of ideas with regard to education gave his sons good schooling which they did not fail to improve. . . .”[vi]

When the War of 1812 broke out, both Daniel and his oldest son, Elisha, volunteered, serving with the 13th Regiment, Kentucky Militia, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel Presley Gray.  It later became Lieutenant-Colonel John Davis's Regiment.[vii] Elisha did not survive the war, but Daniel returned to Henry County after the Battle of New Orleans.
Currently the home of the Overland
Historical Society in Missouri, this
log house was originally on
the Missouri River just west of
Wild Horse Creek Road.
In 1821, he was issued a one-year permit by the authorities of Henry County to operate a tavern in his home, but in 1822, instead of renewing the permit, he and Rachel left Kentucky for St. Louis, the capital of the Louisiana Territory. 
Daniel Applegate died in Missouri on February 11, 1826.  According to the records of the Missouri chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution, Daniel died in St. Clair County, Missouri, which is on the western side of the state south of Kansas City.  This may be true since three of his sons were living there at the time.  However, his remains were returned to St. Louis County for burial in the St. Louis Cemetery.[viii] 

©Eileen Cunningham, 2013

[i] Based on information submitted in 1938 by Frank Lindsay Applegate on his application for membership in the Sons of the American Revolution.
[ii] Information from Hugh Vorees’ work, The Applegate Family in America, cited by John C. Butler. “The Applegate Trail.”
[iii] Ibid.
[iv] Ken Lindsay. “Biography of Anthony Lindsay, Jr., (1736-1808): Soldier, Explorer, and Pioneer.
[v]Hugh Vorees.

[vi] History of Chariton and Howard Counties, Missouri, p. 917.  Available on Google Books.

[vii] U.S., War of 1812 Service Records, 1812-1815 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 1999.
[viii] “Revolutionary War Soldiers Buried in Missouri.”

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