Sunday, August 30, 2015

An Oath vs. Family Honor


“What is a Scotsman without his word? Aye, but what is a Highlander without his kin and clan to count on?”

                              --Storyteller Duncan Campbell Crary

A choice Major Duncan Campbell made one night in 1747 sealed his fate.

The major was an officer in the Scottish 42nd—Highland—Regiment. This group of soldiers was a fierce fighting force known as the Black Watch.

Original Inverawe.
Duncan Campbell was the Laird of the Scottish house of Inverawe. The legend states one night a desperate man with blood on his hands and kilt came knocking at his door. He begged the laird for sanctuary.

Duncan swore on the ceremonial dirk at his side that he would shelter the man. This oath was not taken lightly for Highland lairds were duty bound by their promises.

Fate took a dark twist when just hours later a group of men showed up at Inverawe to inform Duncan a highwayman had murdered his cousin, Donald Campbell. The men told the laird they had seen this man head toward Inverawe.


Duncan duty bound by a “sacred oath of protection” had no choice but to protect this man from the gang that stood at his door—so he told them he knew nothing.

Later that night he was awakened from his dreams by an awful moaning. When he opened his eyes, he saw the ghost of his cousin Donald, standing at the foot of his bed.

In a deep voice, Donald stated, “Inverawe! Inverawe! Blood has been shed. Shield, not the murderer!”

Donald’s ghost appeared several more nights pleading with Duncan to hand over the murderer. Duncan conflicted confronted the killer but remembering his promise he had to back down.

The ghost appeared one last time stating, “Farewell, Inverawe! Farewell, till we meet at Ticonderoga!”

This name held no meaning for Duncan and as the years passed he forgot these words. That is, until 1788 when the Major’s regiment was sent by the British Crown to help fight the French and Indian War in the Colonies.

The Major and his men marched north from Albany, New York to attack the French controlled Fort Carillon—later named Fort Ticonderoga—on Lake Champlain.

On the eve of this battle that occurred on July 8th Donald Campbell’s ghost once more visited Major Duncan Campbell in his tent. He told Duncan that he soon would pay for his betrayal.

The battle the next morning was the bloodiest of the war. There were more than 3,000 casualties. The Black Watch suffered the most of any unit on either side. Over 200 men of the 1,000 Scots that fought were killed. Over 250 were wounded—including Major Campbell.

Campbell's grave marker.
On it, Inverawe is spelled wrong.

He suffered a flesh wound to his arm, but this wound festered and turned gangrene. Nine days after the battle Major Duncan Campbell died.

When the Scottish author Robert Louis Stevenson was fighting Tuberculosis in the late 19th century in the Adirondacks of New York he heard the tale of Major Duncan Campbell.

In December of 1887, in Scribner's Magazine, he published a poem entitled Ticonderoga, a Legend of the West Highlands. His poem quickly became famous around the world.

Here is a link to this poem. In it, he misnames Duncan Campbell—Duncan Cameron.

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