A GLENGARRY WARRIOR
"Big Alex" Macdonell was a son of John Allan Macdonell who was the standard-bearer for the Macdonell's at Culloden Moor. "Big Alex" enlisted with the British and was in Cornwallis's army under direct command of Captain John Graves Simcoe, afterwards governor-general of Canada. He was a powerful man of giant stature, fearless in battle, and resourceful in danger beyond anything even those stirring times could develop.
He was once courtmartialed for a deed which was typical of the man. One of the insurgents advanced between the opposing lines in what would now be called "no man's land," and from there hurled insults and challenges to the Royalist troops. "Big Alex," without consulting a superior officer, left the ranks and advanced to give battle to the boastful foe. His friend "the enemy" was soon put to rout, but "Big Alex" meant stern war, and overtaking his man well within the lines of the latter cut him down with a stroke of his heavy sword. The Americans closed in to take him prisoner, but undaunted he slashed his way through and made a dash across "no man's land." His good fortune saved him. Although his uniform was torn to shreds by bullets from the Virginian marksmen's muskets, he reached his company unhurt. The court-martial was dismissed, for even the Revolutionists sent a message of admiration for the lucky hero.
In the final battle before the surrender at Yorktown, he cut his way three times through enemy troops to carry messages to his commander and personally saved Cornwallis from capture. He received a severe wound in the head, and was left on the field for dead. He came to and forced his way through the now victorious Americans to the last stronghold of Cornwallis and arrived in time to close the heavy gates of the fort.
When the capitulation took place, "Big Alex" was sent with many of the troops to Charleston and from there was taken to an island off the coast. So safe was this prisoners' camp considered that the guards did not make the rounds. Our Scotch hero asked his companions for one volunteer to go with him to make the attempt to escape. Out at sea he noticed one evening a piece of wreckage drifting by.
"Is there one man who will come?" he asked.
A man named Macrae spoke up and said, "Yes I will go, for I have seen you come through so much that even this mad resolve cannot but have successful issue."
Both reached the stick of timber, but they could make no headway against the buffeting waves. `Big Alex" by almost superhuman efforts split a large slice off the spar with his dirk, and by using this for a paddle the two men reached the coast at break of day.
They walked by night for many miles until at last they came to a skiff on shore. This they commandeered and used to steal along the coast under cover of darkness past New York-on and on even to Nova Scotia. Here they learned that friends and relatives were settled In Glengarry. Again they set out and walked around the coast by Gaspe, up the St. Lawrence to Montreal.
The day they arrived in that city, "Big Alex" met his sister who had just been married and was about to leave for her future home at Summerstown, in Glengarry. Accompanying her, "Big Alex" remained with her for seven years.
Through the influence of his former captain, now Governor-General Simcoe, he received his back-pay, for he had forty-two years service to his credit. He was given a thousand acres of land, and settled at Glen Roy. choosing that locality because an old acquaintance, Black Archie (Roy) Macdonell, had already taken up land there.
"Big Alex's" direct descendants are very numerous. His son, Captain Alex. Macdonell, served in two - wars; his grandson, Donald the Captain, is still on the old homestead and has reached the age of ninety-five years. He has great grandsons who are priests, one of whom bears his name. He has a score or more of great-granddaughters who are Sisters of the Holy Cross. He had great grandchildren who fell in "no man's land" in the late world war. Many a time our grandfathers told us the story of his life before many a log fire, and-why wonder?
In the year 1775, the Bishop reported to Rome that Alexander Macdonell and Roderick Macdonell had just arrived on the missions [in the Highlands of Scotland]. Father Roderick replaced Father Aeneas McGillis, as priest in Glengarry-Father Alexander went to Uist."
"This is the earliest mention I find of the first two priests who came to Canada to minister to our Catholic forefathers. Why did these men study in Rome? What was the state of the Catholic religion in the Highlands in the times of their forefathers and during their time? It will be of interest to us to know.
We may state that, for nearly three centuries, the Catholic religion was a proscribed religion in Scotland. Not even the highly efficient bureaucracy of the Antonine emperors in pagan Rome ever succeeded in obtaining such a thorough submission of their people to the religion of the State-the cult of the Roman Gods. In Rome, at least, the early Christians had recognized hiding-places where the edicts of persecuting emperors were powerless to interfere; the pagans of Rome respected the resting-places of the Christian dead, and the Sacred Mysteries could be celebrated in the Catacombs. In Scotland, "the zeal of the Calvinists" knew no bounds-nothing was sacred.
If the far-away and secluded glens of the Highlands were at times left in peace, it was for the very obvious reason that they could not be reached, or because the political situation demanded less excessive measures. No priest could openly exercise his ministry; no Catholic children could be educated as such; no Catholic could hold any public office; no Catholic could inherit property; all Catholics who insisted upon professing their religion openly were banished from the Kingdom and had their property confiscated. The Kirk was all powerful.
When the Assemblies met in the different districts, it was to excommunicate Papists. For instance, "the sentence of excommunication the greater prononced yesterday (January 25. 1657) against Thomas Moncurr and Robert Smith, for their apostacie and defectioune from the true Protestant religion conform to the Presbiteries ordour" (Aberdeen Kirk Sessions, Record 134). It would certainly surprise many good Presbyterians of to-day, who are so filled with horror at the tales of the Inquisition in Spain, to know that we have the reports of Kirk Sessions, the Domestic Annals of Scotland, the Registers of the Privy Council of Scotland, and Records from many other sources (non-Catholic) to show that for hundreds of years our forefathers in the Faithwere constantly subjected to persecution and tyrannous decrees which make the tales of the Spanish Inquisition seem mere child's play.
I have chosen at random a few records of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries to prove this assertion. They are only a few of a great multitude. I have purposely inserted one relating to marriage. Only a few weeks ago, we read a letter in The Gazette, claiming that none but "Papists" interfered in affairs of State.
1630.-Orders were issued for the appearance before the Privy Council, of the following Catholics:-Robert Bisset, Alexander Gordon, Adam Smith, Malcolm Laing, Thomas Menzies, John Spence, Adam Strachan, Francis Leslie, all noblemen. These persons are declared to have been excommunicated, "this langtime bygane,@ charged with hunting and seeking all occasion for exercising their "false religion."
The priests named in the documents were:-Mr. Andrew Steven, Mr. John Ogilvie, Father Christie, Father Brown, Father Tyrie, and Father Robertson. It is commanded that "none presume to receive, supply, furnish meat, drink, house nor barboury to them, nor keep company with them." The Commissionersare to "follow, hunt and pursue them with fire and sword, asseige the said strengths or houses, raise fire and use all other force for apprehending of the said Jesuits and Papists."-Citations for Popery-R. P. C. III, 407.
1658.-Anent the Lady Meldrum, Anna Crightoun, relict of Umquhill, William Seatoun of Meldrum, who is maryed with George Ogilvy, are excommunicated Papist, and by a priest; as is alleadged, this Assemblie ordaynes thee Presbyterie of Gairloch to process the said Anna Crightoun for her scandalous cohabitation with this said George Ogilvy, and for unlawful alleadged marriage.-Records of Kirk Sessions of Aberdeen. 243.
l7O4.-~Father Robert Munro was seized in Knoidart, tried at Edinburg, banished from the Kingdom, returned to Scotland. While lying prostrate with fever in a miserable hut in Glengarry, he was discovered by some soldiers who carried him off to the Castle, where he was thrown into the dungeon, and where, after receiving the vilest treatment, he was allowed to perish. -Belleshiem: History.
1755.-Bishop Hugh Macdonell was seized in Edinburg, and was imprisoned on the ground of being a Catholic priest. His captor was awarded by the Royal Treasury.-Archives of Propaganda.
1756.-Bishop Macdonell was tried on the first of March, in Edinburg and in punishment for his refusal to purge himself of Popery, was sentenced to be banished from the Kingdom, never to return under pain of death.-Belleshiem, IV, 194.
1771.-Mr. Alexander Macdonell, priest, was apprehended:AVery lately in the County of Banff, where there are a great many Catholics, the judge despatched a company of soldiers to arrest four priests, all of whom, however, by the help of God, happily escaped, although still in great danger. Meanwhile, he ordered certain houses in which religious meetings were held, to be closed and sealed up, a fine of four hundred scudi being fixed as a penalty for the celebration of the Mass there in future. "-Memorial -Geo. of Daulis. Edinborg, 1771.
A True Story They Say - Austin MacDonell - St Alexander's Parish - St Finnan's - From A Pastor's Breviary -
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