The MacGillivrays at Culloden

As you walk the battlefield here at Culloden you pass the memorial cairn and many clan graves, but you  also pass the ‘Well of the Dead’. This small spot on the battlefield stands at the point where the Chief of the MacGillivray clan supposedly fell during the battle and, as we are often asked about this spot, we thought we’d take this chance to look a little at the MacGillivray’s during the time of Culloden.

Stone at the Well of the Dead


The MacGillivray’s were strong followers of the Jacobites and came out to support the cause in both the 1715 and the 1745 Risings. They are a part of Clan Chattan, which was essential an alliance between several clans including MacGillivray, Mackintosh and Macpherson. In 1745 Clan Chattan the majority of Clan Chattan followed Prince Charles Edward Stuart in his cause.

However, an interesting exception to this was the chief of Clan Mackintosh who was serving with the Black Watch in 1745 and thus was unable to raise his men for the Jacobites. Thus it was left to his wife, Lady Anne Mackintosh to raise Mackintosh’s for Prince Charles. She herself could not lead the men in battle and so she appointed Alexander MacGillivray of Dunmaglass, the chief of Clan MacGillivray to help lead the men of Clan Chattan at Culloden. MacGillivray was a strong choice as he was a respected leader and fearsome warrior, standing some 6ft 5in tall.

Clach an Airm


Before the battle the stories say that Clan Chattan gathered to sharpen their swords at the Clach an Airm, an ancient stone which rested near the battlefield. Here the men queued in line to sharpen their blades on the four foot high stone, ensuring that their weapons were sharp and ready for the battle to come.

In battle it was MacGillivray who began the Highland Charge with Clan Chattan, making the first moves towards the Government men. The charge, lead by MacGillivray, was a ferocious effort to try and claim a Jacobite victory. MacGillivray led the clan against the Government cannons, grapeshot and musket fire and the Chattan clans were remarkably able to break through the first line of the Government army. They breached the Government men but unfortunately could not make any further progress. The Government ranks from behind moved forward and surrounded the Jacobite soldiers with heavy musket fire and ultimately forced them to withdraw.

MacGillivray himself was gravely hurt in the attack but managed to stumble back a little way before he began to succumb to his wounds. There is a story that tells of MacGillivray as he lay dying. A young drummer boy was moaning for water and MacGillivray, in his last act, was able to lead him to a spring in the moor. The spring is now known as the ‘Well of the Dead’ and is said to mark the point where MacGillivray died.

Well of the Dead at Culloden


After the battle MacGillivray was apparently buried in a mass grave with many other men who had fallen in combat. The graves were supposedly guarded by Government men for six weeks before the MacGillivray’s men were able to go and exhume his body. They then took him to the nearby kirk of Petty where he was given a proper burial.

As a consequence of joining the Jacobite cause the MacGillivray’s forfeited their lands for several years before they were able to regain them. Unfortunately bit by bit the lands had to be sold of to pay various debts. With life in Scotland proving tough many clansmen emigrated overseas to America and Canada. Included in these men was a Lachlan MacGillivray whose son, Alexander, would go on to become High Chief of the Creek Indians in Alabame and William MacGillivray who would become the superintendent of the North West Trading Company of Montreal and after whom Fort William in Ontario is named.

So, there you go, a bit more information about just some of the many men who fought here at Culloden. We hope you enjoyed it, as always please like, share, tweet, comment and next time you walk past the Well of Dead you’ll know the story behind it’s importance.

All the best, K & D



16 thoughts on “The MacGillivrays at Culloden

  1. Ich lese eure Seite sehr gerne, es gibt soviel interessantes Hintergrundwissen von euch. Vielen Dank!!! Vielleicht ist es mir einmal vergönnt nach Culloden zu kommen.
    LG und macht weiter so!!!


  2. Hi Folks.
    I am a MacGillivray from Fort William on the west coast highlands, and was led to believe that Alexander MacGillivray who led the charge at Culloden with Clan Chattan, was not the chief, but the old chiefs son, as the the chief was to old.
    Or have i read my history wrong.


    • Do you have any information about a grocers and provisions shop run by macgillivrays possibly early 1900s in Fort William high Street.
      Any information would be greatly appreciated.


  3. Interesting to read how the chattan clan was a big part of the jacobite fight. Being a chattin my dad mentioned we somehow were related to creek indians. Its hard to find info on the chattan clan.


  4. I did a bit of reading on Clan Chattan a few years ago, and came across lots information on this. for example, Clan Chattan was formed way back in or around 13c and was made up of various clans, to form a confederation of clans, some 10+ clans, obviously to make them stronger.
    I was affiliated to Clan Cattan a couple of years ago and received various information booklets etc. I would suggest you try logging onto the Clan Cattan website, good luck.


  5. The Clann Chatain Regiment broke throw the central part of the Brit army line. Barrell’s regiment of the Brit red coat army were on the Scottish orJacobite right flank which was the Brits left flank. You ancestors were in the centre and so could not have broken throw Barrell’s and Munro’s regiments whick along with Wolfe’s Brit regiments were completely wiped out by the Atholl Brigade under Cameron of Locheil and Appin Regiment under Stewart of Appin.

    You really need to do your research better to be honest and get things 100 percent correct. My people also fought for Prince Charles and the Gaedheal at Cúil Lodair and every battle of the 1745-1746 war. My people are also Clann Chatain.


  6. My mother was told as a child that her great grandfather was an Indian chief. We believed it to be just hearsay (as we are pale as snow). An old confused legend. After reading this I think perhaps not. I need to investigate further. Thank you.


  7. We influenced many nations and tribes around the world, also read we trained the Cossack Horseman, in an article never could find that article again, but read it in Macpherson place in Newtonmore in Scotland.


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