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.
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.
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.
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