Family Reunion Ancestor Roll-Call
Our Earliest Ancestors
Scottish surnames, as we know them today, are a relatively
modern invention. Although the name Shaw appears in some early Scottish documents
it does so as a given name, not a surname.
In Scotland surnames, as we understand them, were only widely adopted from
about the mid 17th century onward. Prior to about 1650 most people had their
personal name and then described themselves as the son of their father, or
descendent of their grandfather or some other prominent family member … using
the prefix Mc or Mac to that person’s personal name.
Clan Shaw is, in the context of Scottish clan history, also a relatively
modern clan … dating from about the year 1400. Before that date, and to some
extent for many years after that date, our ancestors owed allegiance to Clan
MacIntosh and the larger Clan Chattan confederacy.
The founding of Clan Shaw can, however, be dated with some accuracy as it
was the direct result of a well-documented historic event …. the “Battle at
North Inch” which took place on a marshy island (an “Inch” in Gaelic) outside
the City of Perth on 28 September 1396. The so-called “Battle” at North Inch
was, in fact, more of a mass duel than a “battle”.
For many years a bloody feud had raged between Clan Chattan and Clan Cameron.
Eventually the feudal overlords of those Clans became fed up with the disturbance
and damage the feud was causing on their estates and an agreement was reached
to settle the matter by a test of combat.
Arrangements and rules for this contest of arms were negotiated. It was
agreed that the combat would be fought, under supervision of the Lord High
Constable of Perth, by 30 chosen “champions” representing each side, armed
with cross bows (three arrows each), axes, swords and dirks, but without
armor and within the confines of a compound fenced by wood and iron.
It was also agreed the battle or duel would be fought in front of spectators
which, on the day, included Robert III King of Scotland, his queen, various
Scots nobles, knights and clergy, some royal visitors from France and what
was later described as “a multitude of local burghers, servants, craftsmen
and apprentices who had made the day a holiday”.
A man named Shaw Sgorfhiaclach … which means Shaw of the Crooked Teeth ….
was selected to act as captain for the Chief of Mackintosh and to lead the
30 men of Clan Chattan against the Camerons.
Early records report that “heads were cloven asunder and limbs lopped off
from the trunk by the great two-handed swords (the claymore)” and the combat
only ended when 11 of Shaw Sgorfiaclach’s men and just one Cameron remained
standing. Shaw’s single surviving opponent is reported to have “lept into
the Tay and swum for his life”.
The Battle at North Inch actually did little to settle the Chatten-Cameron
feud, which continued for many years, but as a reward for his valor and success
Shaw Sgorfhiaclach received, from his grateful kinsman Lachlan 8th Chief of
Mackintosh, the right of occupancy in the lands of Rothiemurcus in Badenoch
including the castle of Loch-an-Eilean on the loch of the same name.
Shaw Sgofhiaclach died in 1405 and is buried in the old churchyard at St.
Tuchaldus, near Doune, in Inverness-Shire (which is not the same Doune in
Perthshire from where our immediate ancestors originated).
Shaw Sgorfhiaclach’s son James was killed at the battle of Harlaw in 1411
but, through a number of ups and downs, his descendents held onto the new
Clan Shaw lands at Loch-an-Eilean until 1573 when bad financial management
forced their sale to the Gordons. However, over the 175 years between the
Battle of North Inch and the Laird’s bankruptcy in 1573, a sense of Clan was
firmly established among the Shaws.
By 1633 there was a sept of Clan Shaw settled in the Balmoral area of Aberdeenshire
at Craithienaird and in 1710 most of that group emigrated en masse to the
Glen Shee and Glen Isla area of Perthshire …. along the Dundee border a short
distance to the northeast of Doune Perthshire. Within that migration were
the men and women who are our direct ancestors.
Members of the Glen Shee and Glen Isla Shaws supported the Jacobite Rising
against George I and George II and in the rising of 1715 served under the
banner of their cousin and neighbor the Chief of Clan Farquharson, as part
of the Clan Chattan regiment. In 1745 they rose again to support Prince Charles
and, under command of Francis Farquharson of Monaltries, were in the front
rank at Culloden.
During less turbulent periods of Highland history the Glen Shee and Glen
Isla Shaws were farmers, mercenaries and both cattle drovers and rustlers.
Our earliest identified ancestor, Alexander Shaw was born at Kilmadock,
Perthshire around 1750 … within about five years of that final crushing of
the highland clans by English armies at Culloden. His wife, Margaret McKillop
was born 24 April 1763, at Kincardine by Doune in Perthshire, the daughter
of William McKillop and Agnes Ferguson. Their fathers may well have fought
under Farquharson at Culloden and, if not, their uncles and cousins fought
and died there.
Alexander Shaw and Margaret McKillop grew up during the Hanoverian reprisals
following the failure of “The ’45” … a time when the chiefs were dispossessed
and claymore, kilt and bag-pipe banned. Shaws up and down Glen Shee and Glen
Isla actively assisted their now “Outlawed and Rebell” kin and clan who had
“taken to heather” … by smuggling them food, clothing, weapons and the latest
military intelligence to assist them in evading the brutality of the English
Although we do not know the exact date, Alexander Shaw and Margaret McKillop
were married around 1785 and, in due course, became the parents of four sons
and five daughters born at Doune, Bridge of Teith and Broich, Perthshire.
Their children were; Agnes born 1785 (who married Peter Bain), Janet born
1791 (who married Joseph Halbert), Margaret born 1793 (who never married),
John Buchanan born 1795 (who married Margaret Keith), William Alexander born
1798 (who married Agnes Dunn), Jean born 1801 (who married Malcolm McLaren),
Alexander born in 1802 or 1803 (who married Margaret Cameron), Euphemia born
1804 (who may not have married) and James born in 1806 (who married May Anderson
and later Elizabeth Dunn).
Their second son, William Alexander Shaw, and third daughter, Margaret,
would emigrate to Upper Canada in 1832.