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As John M'Comie advanced in life and found his personal strength diminishing, he was anxious that his eldest son and successor might be worthy of the family name, but seems to have had some doubts on this point, as although the young man, who was also named John, had obtained the cog- nomen of Mor, big, from his stalwart appearance, yet his quiet peaceable disposition had led the old chief to imagine he was too gentle - had, as M'Comie Mor tests his Eldest Son. he said, too much of the Campbell blood in him. This, according to M'Comie Mors opinion, was not likely to increase his courage; he therefore determined to put it to the test, and thereby set his mind at rest. Knowing that his son would be returning from Glenshee to Glenisla one evening about dusk by the pass of Glen Bainie, he there lay in wait for him at a sort of natural stone seat, still called M'Comie Mor's Chair. Having disguised himself as much as possible, he trusted to the deepening twilight sufficiently concealing his identity. No sooner, then, did his son appear, than, without uttering a word of challenge or warning, he at once sprang up, drew his sword, and attacked him. It has been already mentioned that M'Comie Mor was distinguished by the peculiarly graceful sweep with which he drew his sword when about to fight. His son fortunately observed this, and at once suspected both who his adversary was and the reason for this unexpected attack. Keeping his suspicions to himself, however, he at once began to defend himself, while demanding the reason of the attack. His demand meeting with no attention from his silent aggressor, he gave all his attention to the matter on hand, and exerting his utmost skill, strength, and agility, he began to press his opponent in the most determined manner, and at length disarmed him, and had him completely at his mercy. He then told his exhausted and - for the first time in his life - defeated assailant, that if he wished to save his life he must at once reveal his name, and give his reason for so unprovoked an attack. At the first sound of his father's voice, his son immediately began to reproach him for thus endangering both their lives, and told him that he could have slain him more than once during the combat, and probably would have done so, had he not suspected from his manner of drawing his sword and beginning the attack who he was, and reminded him of how awful a thing it would have been for the survivor had either of them slain the other; to all of which the old chief, highly elated by his son's unquestionable courage, strength, and skill, contentedly replied that all that was of no consequence compared with the now, to his mind, clearly demonstrated fact that his son was a true M'Comie.
Leaving tradition, we now come to the historical part of the history of John M'Comie, and it will be found that it is far more exciting and tragic than anything handed down by tradition. To understand how the strange and stirring events towards the close of John M'Comie's life originated, we must bear in mind that he had entered into possession of the barony of Forter during the time of the Commonwealth. In these unsettled and unsettling times, such a man as John M'Comie could not remain inactive. At the outset he had sided with the King's party, and in Chambers's ' History of the Rebellion in Scotland ' we find, in vol. ii., appendix, under date February 11, 1645, as forfaulted for "the invasione of the Northe," John M'Colmie. There is no doubt, however, but that he changed sides, and it is probable this was in great measure owing to his being married to Elizabeth Campbell, granddaughter of Donald Campbell of Denhead, near Coupar-Angus, who was a son of Donald Campbell, last Abbot of Coupar in Angus, and fourth son of Archibald, Earl of Argyll. It was doubtless this connection by marriage with a scion of the House of Argyll that induced John M'Comie to side with the Parliament and Cromwell latterly. This change of sides proved most disastrous to him and his family, for no sooner was the Restoration an accomplished fact, than the Royalists, who had before feared and respected him, began to harass him in person and property. Charles II. was restored in May 1660, entering London on the 29th of May, and in less than a year afterwards the Scottish Parliament passed an " Act and Decreit in favour of James, Earle of Airlie, against Johne M'Intosh, alias M'Comie, of Forthar," at Edinburgh, May 3, 1661. From which Act it appears that the Earl's father, James, Lord Ogilvie, had raised letters of free forestry for the forest of Glascorrie, commonly called Camlochan, in the reign of James VI., as M'Comie Mors Lawsuit with Lord Airlie. had also the then Earl in the reign of Charles I. Yet, notwithstanding, " The said Johne M'Intosh, alias M'Comie, upon ane secreit design to encroach upon the supplicant's glen of Glascorie, commonly called Camlochan, did eat the grass of the said forrest, cut down and destroy the growing trees, and kill the roes and dears haunting and feiding therein at his pleasure." John M'Comie had obtained a sight of these letters and " gave ane inventar subscryved with his hand for redeliverie thereof, . . . but flatlie refused so to doe." So cannot get them, though " neidfull to the supplicant and James, Lord Ogilvie, his sonne." "And the said John M'Comie, defender, compeiring personally with Mr George M'Kenzie and alledged that he ought not to redeliver the same Because be verteu of ane contract of alienation betuixt the persewer and defender The persewer is obleidged to deliver to him the said writs et quod frustra petit qui mox est restiturus. Whereunto it was replyed for the said persewer that he opposed the band and inventar subscryved with his hand for redelyverie of the same, To the which it wes duplyed for the said defender, that the yeers wherein the per- sewer had libertie to redeim the said glen of Glascorie from the defender not being expyred the time of the granting of the saids inventars, as they are now, he could not be tyed be verteu therof to deliver the same, his right to the said glen being now irredeimable, and the writs his oune. All which being set forth, His Maiestie, with advice and consent of the saids estates of Parliament," ordained that the letters of free forestry be given up. From which it would appear that the defense of John M'Comie lay, first, in the fact that the deed of alienation gave him the right to the letters, and that it was needless to give back to Lord Airlie what he would immediately have to redeliver again ; second, that the time which had been given to the Earl of Airlie to redeem the forest had expired, and that as the engagement to redeliver the letters referred only to the time during which the forest could be redeemed, the M'Comie Mors Lawsuit with Lord Airlie. 51 letters of free forestry were, like the forest itself, beyond recall, and were now the property of John M'Comie, not of Lord Airlie. In the Act there is no attempt to deny John M'Comie's statements. Judgment was simply given against him, the reason for which appears in certain phrases in an " Act and Remit, James, Earle of Airlie, against Johne M'Intoshe, alias M'Comie, of Forther." " Anent the supplication given in to the Estates of Parliament be James, Earle of Airlie, and James, Lord Ogilvie, his sonne, against Johne M'Intosh, alias M'Comie, of Forther, shew- ing That be ane contract of alienation passed betuixt the supplicant and the said Johne M'In- tosh, anent the alienation to him of the lands and baronie of Forther, Ther is expreslie reserved to the supplicant the forest and glen of Glascorie, comonly called Camlbchan, lyand within the parochen of Glenyla and Shereffdome of Forfar, and bounded within the particular meiths and marches mentioned in the said contract : Not- withstanding of the which reservation, the said John M'Intosh, alias M'Comie, haveing great power with the late vsurpers as their intelligencer and favourite, had these severall yeers bygone en- croached within the meiths and marches of the said forrest, and had pastured yeerly thereon above fyvescore oxen and twenty milk kyne with diverse horses. For remeid whairof the suppli- cant intendit action of cognition of marches and molestation against the said John M'Comie be- for the Shirreff of Forfar, founded vpon the Act of Parliament, In which action ther being diverse disputes, ansuers, duplys, and triplyes made for either partie and set doun in writ, The same wes at lenth delivered to Mr David Nevay, Shirreff of Forfar, to be advised be him, who being readie to pronounce interloquitur therein, The said Johne M'Comie, be his said moyen and favour with the English vsurpers, purchased ane advocation of the said persute, and produced the same befor the said Shirreff depute, thereby to stop and discharge him from any further pro- ceiding therein, Albeit upon most false and unjust grounds. . . . Since the production of the which advocation not only the forsaid action and per- M'Comie Mors Lawsuit with Lord Airlie. sute had sisted and sleeped, Bot also the said Johne M'Comie had continewed yeerly sensyne pasturing his goods and cattell vpon the said forrest, and eiting and destroying the haill grasse thairof, to the supplicants' great hurt, preiudice, and heavie oppression. . . . Thereupon His Majestie, with advice and consent of the saids estates of Parliament, having considered the said supplication, . . . and the said defender nor his said pro r - had proposed no reasonable cause why the desire of the said petition ought not to be granted," - thereupon remits to Sheriff to settle marches. Here we have the reason of the summary settlement of the matters in dispute. It is admitted that John M'Comie had had full and complete possession of the forest of Can- lochan for years past, and that he had got discharge "from any further proceeding" anent his right. But he had got all this, it was alleged, because of his "moyen and favour with the English usurpers," and on account of his "having great power with the late usurpers as their intelligencer and favorite." For such a one against a Royalist nobleman there was little hope of a favorable issue in any court of law of that period, and in Parliament none whatever. That Lord Airlie placed his hopes of success not on a decision according to law, but on the political feeling of the time, is shown by his bringing the matter in dispute, not before the ordinary legal tribunals, but before Parliament. To the Restoration Parliament the matter would appear very simple. Here is Lord Airlie, one of ourselves, who, while our party was held in subjection by the late usurpers, alienated a valuable part of his property to one in power and favor with these usurpers. This deed of alienation has become irredeemable, but Lord Airlie says this was owing to the position of the respective parties at the time, the usurpers having great power, the Royalists little or no power. Lord Airlie, therefore, wants his property back again, which we, as the party now in power, will now give him, putting aside all question of the legality or justice of our decision. As showing still further to what extent John M'Comie was a marked man, and disliked by the Government of the Restoration, we learn from the Acts of Parliament of Scotland, vol. vii. p. 426, that he was amongst the " exceptions from the Act of Indemnity, Sept. 9, 1662, in so far as may concern the payment of the sumes underwritten," - viz., "Johne Malcolme of Forthar, 1800 pds."
In 1665 John Mackintosh of Forter in Glenisla, with twenty-five Farquharsons under William of Inverey, and George Farquharson of Broughdearg in Glenshee, were among 500 men who attended the summons of the chief of the M'Intoshes, to meet at the Kirk of Insh. It is also worthy of note that Forbes of Skellater joined the M'Intoshes at the same muster. Broughdearg, opposite to Finnegand in Glenshee, and marching with the barony of Forter in Glenisla, was held in the time of John M'Comie by Farquharsons. The proprietor about the time of the Restoration was Robert Farquharson, who had sought the hand of John M'Comie's daughter in marriage, and had been accepted, but had afterwards changed his mind, and married Helen Ogilvie, daughter of Colonel Ogilvie of Shannalie. This slight no doubt rankled in the minds of the M'Comies, and had much to do with the bitterness that subsequently- existed between the two families. Some time after the decisions in his favor, the Earl of Airlie let the grazing of the forest of Canlochan to Farquharson of Broughdearg. But John M'Comie was far from acquiescing in or even obeying an Act of Parliament, when he thought it unjust towards himself. Although Farquharson of Broughdearg had got a tack of the grazing, he by no means got possession, as John M'Comie continued to send his stock to the forest as formerly. Farquharson of course resented this, and the bad feeling between the' two families increased, till it found vent in a series of events, so strange, lawless, and exciting, that one can scarcely believe they could have taken place little more than two hundred years ago in Glenisla and Glenshee, where today a serious breach of law or order is rarely or ever heard of.
But we are now on firm historical ground, as the events we are about to narrate are all duly chronicled in the Justiciary Records, or Books of Adjurnal, vol. xiii., 1673. From this we learn that, on the 1st of January 1669, Robert Farquharson of Broughdearg, and his brothers John and Alexander, with fifty or sixty others, went "under cloud and silence of night" to Crandart, with " swords, dirks, pistols, hagbutts, targes, halberts, axes, and other weapons," and having laid themselves in ambush, awaited till near break of day, when John M'Comie having "had occasion to come abroad about his lawfull affaires," they without giving him time even to put on his clothes, carried him off to Broughdearg. A strange scene truly, and one little creditable to the Farquharsons. To surprise an old man, not only unarmed, but only partially dressed, in the dark at his own door, was a poor feat for fifty to sixty men, bristling with arms and armor of all kinds. It is also to be observed that the Farquharsons were the first to use personal violence in the quarrel. The force employed, and the mode of capture, both show very forcibly the opinion the Farquharsons entertained of M'Comie Mor's prowess even in his old' age. But though the old chief had been thus entrapped, his sons were to be reckoned with. Accordingly, John M'Comie was kept all that day at Broughdearg, but at night was removed to Tombey, which is called in the indictment, "ane wilderness and desert place." It is about a mile or little more westward from Broughdearg, and has still a good deal of natural birch wood upon it, the name meaning the birch thicket or knoll. Here on the following day, John, Alexander, James, Robert, and Mr Angus (Angus it will be observed had been at a university and obtained his degree), came to enter into negotiations for their father's release, when they also were detained as prisoners, until the whole were compelled to give a bond for 1700 merks for their liberty. In the Farquharsons' indictment against the M'Comies, this visit of the sons for the release of their father is set down as a raid organized by Mr Angus for the murder of Broughdearg. Mr Angus is said to have collected twenty to thirty persons, all armed with "swords, dirks, pistols, and other weapons," and knowing that Robert Farquharson was at Tombey, they laid an ambush in a thicket of wood, near the house of Tombey, and on the highway, waiting for several hours till he should come out, on purpose to kill him, and that they detained several persons that passed by, lest they should have given Robert Farquharson intelligence of the ambush. No mention is made that Mr Angus's father was also at Tombey, in the power of the Farquharsons. To have slain Robert Farquharson outside the house of Tombey, while their father was inside it a prisoner in the power of the Farquharsons, would have been to have ensured his father's death, instead of procuring his life and freedom. And that that was their purpose is clearly proved by the fact that his release in safety was procured. It is also difficult to see how, if the M'Comies had gone with a force of twenty to thirty men, they could have been kept prisoners, apparently without any trouble. We can, however, believe it quite probable that Mr Angus and his brothers approached Tombey with caution, and also believe that if chance had thrown Robert Farquharson in their way, they would have seized him and kept him in their power, as a guarantee for the release of their father without ransom. But for the reason already given, it is manifest they would not, at that time, have made any attempt on Robert Farquharson's life.
So far the Farquharsons had been the aggressors, and might be supposed to be satisfied with their success, and the ransom for which they held the M'Comies' bond. Yet, on the 14th May of the same year, the Farquharsons and their retainers, to the number of thirty-eight, all armed with dirks, pistols, and other weapons, went to the lands of Kilulock, then occupied by Robert M'Comie, son of John M'Comie, and sowed and harrowed the land, although it had already been sowed and harrowed by Robert M'Comie Mors Feud with Broughdearg. At first sight it is difficult to see on what grounds the Farquharsons so repeatedly, and seemingly so wantonly, attacked the M'Comies in person and property. To understand this, it is necessary once more to consider the political situation. During the latter years of the Commonwealth the M'Comies had rapidly increased in power and influence. John M'Comie's marriage with a Campbell had still further increased his ascendancy. But in 1661, the very year that John M'Comie began to be harassed by his enemies, the Marquis of Argyll was executed. With the Restoration, John M'Comie's Royalist neighbors, and chief among them the Ogilvies, at once began to turn the changed fortunes of parties to their own account. " As John M'Comie's marriage with a Campbell was at one time a stepping-stone to power, and latterly a weight to drag him down, so Robert Farquharson's marriage to an Ogilvie, which would have been a drawback to his fortunes in the time of the Commonwealth, was now a powerful agency for his advancement. Although the cause of the breaking off of the marriage between Robert Farquharson and Miss M'Comie is not mentioned, it is highly probable that the marriage had been arranged about the time of the fall of the Commonwealth, and that Farquharson had drawn back when he saw the turn affairs were likely to take, and had chosen an alliance with an Ogilvie and Royalist, as likely to be far more to his advantage.
We have, then, on the one hand John M'Comie proscribed by the Government of the Restoration for the part he had taken latterly on the side of the Commonwealth ; already deprived in law of part of what he considered his own property, by the head of the Ogilvies ; and now attacked in person and property by Farquharson of Broughdearg, who was to enjoy what he had been deprived of. On the other hand, Farquharson, allied by marriage with the Ogilvies, and already, as it were, rewarded for the slight he had given the M'Comies, by receiving a tack of the disputed forest of Canlochan, would naturally think that the M'Comies were now become fair spoil for all who had the courage to attack them, and that they would be little likely to resort to law after their recent experience. In these times of civil war, those on the losing side were practically at the mercy of those on the winning side. On the most frivolous pretexts their right to property would be disputed, or forcibly taken from them, and an appeal to law was almost certain to go against them. Their only hope lay in their own ability to defend themselves and their possessions. And the Farquharsons were soon to see that M'Comie Mor was no longer to be trifled with. Old and failed though he was in person, and knowing that there was no one now with power to help him, his spirit was still undaunted, and he determined to withstand his enemies with his own strength in future, and to make retaliation when he saw an opportunity.