Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/MacGregor, Robert
MACGREGOR or Campbell, ROBERT, commonly called Rob Roy (1671–1734), highland freebooter, the younger son of Donald MacGregor, by his wife Margaret, daughter of Campbell of Gleneaves, and sister possibly to Robert Campbell, who commanded at the massacre of Glencoe, was born in 1671 (register of baptism, 7 March 1671, in Buchanan parish, quoted in Scottish Antiquary, vii. 37). One consequence of the ill-fortune that overtook the Argyll family at the Restoration was the repeal in 1661 of the penal acts against the MacGregors, but as they were not restored to their territories possibly the only result of the clemency was to encourage their old freebooting propensities. The father was younger brother of the chief of the clan, Gregor MacGregor, and a member of the Gregor Dhu branch to which the chiefship had fallen on the extinction of the direct male line. The father's name figures as Lieutenant-colonel MacGregor in the bond of association signed at the castle of Blair, 24 Aug. 1689, the number of the men whom he brought to support King James being one hundred (Acts of the Scottish Parliament, ix. App. p. 60). He probably owed his rank to James's nomination after the revolution. He is no doubt identical with ‘the great robber Lieutenant-colonel MacGregor’ who on 11 Jan. 1690 was brought a prisoner to Edinburgh by a party of Lord Kenmure's men (Leven and Melville Papers, p. 369), and shortly afterwards obtained his liberty on promising to induce Macdonald of Keppoch and Macdonald of Glengarry [see Macdonell, Alestair Dubh] to come to terms with the government (ib. p. 394). The freebooting instincts of Rob Roy were thus strengthened by paternal instruction. The family held in Rob's youth a farm ‘in Balquhidder in feu of the Duke of Atholl’ (Appendix to Burt, Letters, ii. 348); but although nominally a grazier Rob's principal income was derived from the self-appointed duty of protecting those who purchased his goodwill, he himself being perhaps the most formidable robber against whom he afforded protection. In 1691 he or his father was the leader of an exceptionally daring raid called the ‘Her'ship [herryship or robbery] of Kippen,’ in which the cattle were lifted from the byres of Kippen because the villagers had attempted to prevent the capture of the drove of Lord Livingstone. But MacGregor had some tincture of modern civilisation; his letters show that he had received a good education, and he possessed many of the best characteristics of the highland gentleman. His personal appearance is best described by Sir Walter Scott: ‘His stature was not of the tallest, but his person was uncommonly strong and compact. The greatest peculiarities of his frame were the breadth of his shoulders and the great and almost disproportioned length of his arms, so remarkable, indeed, that it was said he could, without stooping, tie the garters of his highland hose, which are placed two inches below the knee. … His hair was dark red, thick, and frizzled, and curled short around the face. His fashion of dress showed of course the knees and upper part of the leg, which was described to me as resembling that of a highland bull, hirsute, with red hair, and evincing muscular strength similar to that animal.’
The part taken by the MacGregors at the revolution, and possibly their ‘activity in scenes of plunder,’ led to the renewal in 1693 of the penal acts against the clan. Rob therefore adopted Campbell as his surname, and during his most active freebooting period contented himself with the signature ‘Rob Roy’ (Red Rob). He continued to occupy Balquhidder, and on the death of Gregor MacGregor in 1693 became for a time the nominal head of the clan, as tutor to his nephew, James Graham of Glengyle. In the marriage contract of his nephew he is denominated ‘of Inversnail’ (Inversnaid); and he had ‘acquired an interest, by purchase, wadset, or otherwise, to the property of Craigroyston,’ a ‘domain of rock and forest lying on the east side of Loch Lomond’ (Sir Walter Scott). His territory lay between possessions of the rival houses of Montrose and Argyll, and he seems to have made it his aim to use that rivalry to his own advantage. For some time after the revolution he would appear to have been in special favour with Montrose, who had by advances of money greatly assisted him in extending his business as a cattle-dealer.
According to a ‘Memorandum of Rob Roy's Dealings in Cattle’ among the ‘Montrose Papers,’ he had for several years traded in bringing black cattle from the highlands to the lowlands in May or June for persons who had advanced the price in money the winter before; but ‘finding his affairs backward’ in 1711, he absconded with the money to the Western Isles, ‘with the intention of leaving the country’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. p. 381). On obtaining promise of protection from James Graham, first duke of Montrose [q. v.], to come to Glasgow, he returned home, but declined to take further advantage of the duke's offer (ib.) In 1712 his case came before the court of session at Edinburgh, when it was declared that he ‘did most fraudulently withdraw and fled, without performing anything on his part, and therefore became unquestionably a notour and fraudulent bankrupt’ (Burton, Criminal Trials, i. 55). In a warrant granted for his apprehension in October 1712 by the lord advocate, Sir James Stewart, he is described as ‘a notour bankrupt,’ who ‘by open fraud and violence hath embezzled considerable sums of money,’ and ‘refusing to come to any account’ keeps himself ‘with a guard or company of armed men in defiance of the law’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. p. 381). But the charge of fraudulent bankruptcy was ill-supported. Rob's principal creditor was the Duke of Montrose, and his aim in avoiding his creditors was to keep out of the clutches of the law, which as a representative of a proscribed clan he had good reason to dread. Moreover, an edictal citation was on 27 Nov. granted against him before his case came on for trial (Forbes, Decisions of the Court of Session, p. 635). According to his own plausible version of the dispute, as narrated in a letter to John Murray, first duke of Atholl [q. v.], 27 Jan. 1713, he had offered Montrose, who was endeavouring to ‘ruin’ him ‘upon the accompt of cautionrie, … the whole principal soum with a year's annual rent, which he positively’ refused. ‘The reasone why he did refuse it was he sent me a protectione, and in the meantime that I had the protectione his grace thought fitt to procure me order from the Queen's advocate to Funab [Campbell of Finab] to secure me.’ ‘This,’ adds Rob, ‘was a most ridiculous way to any nobleman to treat any man after this manner’ (Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. App. pt. viii. p. 65); and he ingenuously suggests to Atholl to ‘speake to the advocate to countermand his order, since it's contrary to law.’
During Rob's enforced absence to avoid arrest his wife and family were evicted in mid-winter at the instance of Montrose, and it was on leaving her homestead that his wife is said to have composed the pathetic piece of pipe music known as ‘Rob Roy's Lament.’ Rob now placed himself under the protection of John Campbell, first earl of Breadalbane [q. v.], and gathering a powerful band of followers declared ‘that the estate of Montrose should in future supply him with cattle, and that he would make the duke rue the day he had quarrelled with him.’ A fort erected by the government at Inversnaid was seized by him just as it was completed, and utilised for his own safety. For a time he was able to make good his footing in his native territory, and the unsettled state of the country following the death of Queen Anne enabled him to defy the law with impunity. It is affirmed that he signed his name to a bond in favour of the Pretender, and that the bond came into the hands of Campbell of Glenlyon, who was ordered to carry it to the privy council, and that Campbell and his party were stopped while on the road by a strong force under Rob Roy, and compelled to surrender the incriminating document (Millar, History of Rob Roy, pp. 86–8). Haldane of Gleneagles, writing from Glasgow on 1 Nov. 1714, reported that Rob a few evenings before appeared at the Cross of Crieff, and after drinking to the Pretender's health departed unscathed (Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. p. 378), and on 5 Feb. 1715 he wrote that Rob at his last appearance at Crieff had drunk ‘to those honest and brave fellows that cut out the gaudger's ear’ (ib.), an outrage committed in the previous December. After the arrival in Scotland of John Erskine (1675–1732), earl of Mar [q. v.], Rob Roy went north to Aberdeen to collect a part of the clan Gregor settled in that county, and while there was entertained by his clansman Dr. James Gregory, professor of medicine in King's College, Aberdeen (Sir Walter Scott). On his return south he collected a large force of clansmen, and seizing the ferry-boats and other vessels on Loch Lomond brought them to Rowardennan. On 27 or 28 Sept. he marched in the direction of the forces of Mar (Appendix to Loch Lomond Expedition, p. 18; Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. p. 380). During his absence the men of Paisley and Dumbarton, to the number of one hundred, sailed up Loch Lomond in four men-of-war boats, and succeeded in recapturing the boats that Rob Roy had seized. The narrative of the expedition gives the Paisley and Dumbarton volunteers the credit of having frightened the MacGregors by a vigorous discharge of firearms, but in all probability before they undertook the expedition they were well aware that the MacGregors had left the district (The Loch Lomond Expedition of 1715, reprinted and illustrated from Original Documents, Glasgow, 1834). Although Rob Roy followed in the wake of the rebel army, he did not actually join it. Robert Patten [q. v.] relates that at Sheriffmuir he ‘was with his men and followers within a very little distance from the Earl of Mar's army, and when he was desired by a gentleman of his own to go and assist his friends, he answered, “If they could not do it without me they should not do it with me”’ (Hist. of the Rebellion, ed. 1740, p. 171). Friendship for Argyll seems chiefly to have actuated him in holding aloof. When Mar retreated to Perth, Rob made a foraging tour in the south on his own account. On 9 Dec. he appeared at Drymen, where he proclaimed the Pretender and rifled the gauger's house and tore up his books (Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. p. 375; Appendix to Loch Lomond Expedition, p. 30). Afterwards he appeared at Luss (ib. p. 31). Graham of Killearn came up with him at the inn of Crianlarich, and made an attempt to seize him, when Rob, it is affirmed, taking up a position inside the inn door, ‘felled each intruder to the ground as he entered,’ until his followers, rushing to his assistance, compelled the Grahams to retreat (Millar, p. 157). He now passed eastwards into Fife, and on 4 Jan. 1716 seized Falkland Palace (Loch Lomond Expedition, p. 34). On the 21st, at the head of two hundred men, he attacked and captured a party of Hanoverians sent by General William, first earl Cadogan [q. v.], to occupy the Tower of Balgonie (Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. p. 375). After various raids in Fife and Stirling he returned with his followers in April to Craigroyston.
While he was stationed with a small band at Strathfillan, his house at Auchinchisallan in Breadalbane was burned by the enemy. He partly revenged himself by firing from the rocks and passes on the troops as they were retreating with their booty (Letter of Graham of Killearn, 11 April 1716, ib. p. 381). Shortly afterwards the homesteads of Glengyle and Craigroyston were also destroyed; and growing desperate, he by a bold coup de main seized Graham of Killearn while he was in the inn at Menteith collecting rents for Montrose, took the factor's money, and refused to set him free until he paid 3,400 merks for loss and damage done to his property, and obtained a promise from Montrose not ‘to trouble or prosecute’ Rob afterwards (Letter of the Duke of Montrose, 21 Nov. 1716, ib. p. 381). On the 27th he, however, set Graham free, with his books, papers, and bonds, but kept the money (Letter of Montrose, November, ib. p. 382). Not long afterwards Montrose, at the head of a body of his tenants, surprised and captured Rob at Balquhidder, but the outlaw escaped while crossing a river at nightfall (Sir Walter Scott). Thereupon the Duke of Atholl, who up till this time had been on friendly terms with Rob, offered to effect his capture, and on 4 June 1717, according to the duke's own account, Rob surrendered to him (Hist. MSS. Comm. 12th Rep. App. pt. viii. p. 71). Rob gave another version of his capture. According to him the duke arranged a friendly meeting with him on 3 June at Blair Castle, on a promise of security, and broke that promise (Declaration of Rob Roy, 25 June 1717, ib. 3rd Rep. p. 384). On 6 June Rob broke out of prison at Logierait. Probably through the protection of Argyll, and no doubt by the connivance of the clansmen, he contrived, by lurking in caves or in the woods, to carry on his depredations against Montrose for several years more. Various other instances, no doubt somewhat embellished by tradition, are given of his hair-breadth escapes (see Millar, History of Rob Roy). In appendix to Millar's ‘History’ is also an authentic account of the clever escape of Henderson, the laird of Westerton, from his clutches. He was present with a number of his followers at the battle of Glenshiels, 10 June 1719. In 1719 he amused himself by penning a challenge to Montrose to settle their disputes by single combat, which he said would save him and the troops ‘any further trouble of searching’ (Sir Walter Scott). Ultimately, however, through the intervention of the Duke of Argyll, a reconciliation was effected with Montrose, and on their advice Rob in 1722 sent a letter of submission to General Wade, in which he declared that while circumstances had forced him 'to take part with the adherents of the Pretender,' he had 'sent his Grace the Duke of Argyll all the intelligence' he could 'from time to time of the strength and situation of the rebels' (ib.) He was, however, apprehended, and was for some time confined in Newgate. In January 1727 he was carried, handcuffed with James, lord Ogilvie (d. 1735), to Gravesend to be transported to Barbados, but before the ship sailed they were pardoned (Weekly Journal, 24 Jan. 1727, quoted in Doran, London in Jacobite Times, li. 18-19). For the remainder of his life he lived peacefully at Balquhidder, his most eventful experience being a duel with Stewart of Invernahyle, to settle a dispute between the Maclarens and MacGregors regarding the possession of the farm of Invernenty. His opponent had the advantage of youth and wounded Rob in the arm. In his later years Rob was converted to Catholicism. He died on Saturday, 28 Dec. 1734 (Caledonian Mercury, quoted in Chambers, Domestic Annals, iii. 624), and was buried in the churchyard of Balquhidder. His testament dative, given up by his widow, Mary MacGregor of Campbell, and confirmed 6 Feb. 1735, is printed in Fraser's 'Red Book of Monteith,' ii. 449-50.
By his wife Helen Mary, daughter of MacGregor of Oomar, he had five sons : Coll, Ronald, James, Duncan, and Robert. Not long after his father's death Robert shot Maclaren of Invernenty when at the plough. He absconded, and his two brothers, James and Ronald, were brought to trial for the murder, but escaped on a verdict of not proven. Robert enlisted in the 42nd regiment, and after obtaining his discharge lived in the MacGregor country without molestation. James distinguished himself on the side of the Pretender in the '46, and was attainted of high treason, but succeeded by some secret means in making his peace with the government. James, Duncan, and Robert were accused of forcibly abducting Jean Key or Wright, a young widow (who had inherited some property by the death of her husband), from her house at Edinbellie, Balfron, Stirlingshire, 3 Dec. 1750, and compelling her to marry Robert. James was tried for his share in the crime on 13 July 1752. The jury brought in a special verdict of guilty under extenuating circumstances, but while the import of the verdict was under discussion he made his escape, and being outlawed went to France, where he died in great poverty in October 1754. Duncan, who was tried on 15 Jan. 1753, was found not guilty. Robert, who was apprehended in May 1753, and tried on 24 Dec. following, was condemned to death, and executed on 14 Feb. (Trials of James, Duncan, and Robert MacGregor, three sons of the celebrated Rob Roy, before the High Court of Justiciary in the years 1752, 1758, and 1754).
There is an engraving of Rob Roy in K. Macleay's 'Memoirs,' from a painting at one time in the possession of Mr. Buchanan of Arden. An engraving from a picture by J. B. Macdonald, R.S.A., in the possession of R. P. Greff of Coles Park, Hertfordshire, is prefixed to Millar's ' History.' A notice of various relics is given in Appendix to Millar's 'History.'
[The earliest life of Rob Roy is The Highland Rogue, or the Memorable Actions of the Celebrated Robert MacGregor, commonly called Rob Roy, digested from the Memorandum of an Authentick Scotch Manuscript, with Preface signed E. B., London, 1723. This is ascribed to Daniel Defoe. Sir Walter Scott's Introduction to Rob Roy contains a variety of information obtained from persons acquainted with the freebooter. He is the subject of a poem by Wordsworth. Many anecdotes recorded of him elsewhere have been at least embellished by tradition. Only two lives deserve serious attention: Historic Memoirs by K. Macleay, 2nd edit. 1819, reprinted 1881, and the History of Rob Roy, 1883, by A. H. Millar, who has utilised various papers in the Montrose MSS. collection, now published in the Hist. MSS. Comm. 3rd Rep. Further information is contained in the Athole MSS. catalogued in Appendix pt. viii. to the 12th Rep. Four letters are printed in Fraser's Red Book of Menteith, ii. 446–50. Several are in the possession of private collectors. Information has been kindly supplied by Mr. A. H. Millar of Dundee.]