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Amelia Volume 2 chapter 33

The Trial of three of Rob Roy MacGregor's Sons, 1752-3-4

[page 425]
THERE are no accounts of James mor MacGregor or Drummond in the few years immediately after the "45." He does not appear to have been molested by the Government, and was included in the act of indemnity. In December 1750, however, in company with his outlawed brother Robert, he committed a very serious offence against the laws of the land. Rob Oig had returned to Scotland from France, where it appears he was present at the Battle of Fontenoy, and had become a "widower, his first wife having been of the family of Graham of Drunkie; be resolved to seek his fortune by a second marriage with a young widow, Jean Key, heiress of Edinbelly and relict of John Wright. It is not known whether Rob had tried in lawful ways to obtain the lady's hand, but he with the aid of his brother James, succeeded in carrying her off and marrying her forcibly. For this crime the offenders were subsequently seized and brought to trial, beginning with James who was the first seized and tried, before the High Court of Justiciary, Edinburgh, July 13th, 1752. [1]  

The Indictment states that "Upon the 8th day of December 1750 years, in the evening thereof, under cloud and silence of night …….. Jean Key daughter and sole heiress of the deceased James Key, portioner of Edinbelly, and relict of John Wright, lawful son of John Wright of Easter Glins, who had died in the month of October preceding, leaving the said Jean Key his widow, then a minor, going in the 19th year of her age, (who) was then living at her own house at Edinbelly, in the parish of Balfron, and shire of Stirling, where she was lying and rising, nightly and daily, [page 426] under the protection of Almighty God and of his Majesty's laws and had then with her in her house, Janet Mitchell her mother, and Thomas Key, Tenant in Balquhan, her Uncle, or father's brother, and Annabell Mitchell, relict of John Fairlie, her Aunt, or mother's sister, with servants and other members of the family; and then and there, the said house was beset, invaded and violently entered by a crew of lawless ruffians, armed with guns, swords, durks, pistols, or other warlike weapons; amongst whom was the said James McGregor, alias Drummond, alias James More; and Robert McGregor, alias Campbell, alias Drummond, alias Robin Oig; and Ronald McGregor alias Campbell, alias Drummond - all three sons of the deceased Robert Macgregor, commonly called and known by the name of Rob Roy and which Robert, brother to the said James Drummond, at that time stood declared an outlaw and fugitive from the laws, by a sentence of fugitation pronounced against him by the High Court of Justiciary, up6n the 16th day of July 1736, for not appearing to underly the law, for the murder of John McLaren of Wester Innernenty, in the Parish of Balquhidder and shire of Perth: and the said James Drummond and his said two brothers, were then and there accompanied by Duncan McGregor alias Drummond, in Strathyre, and then prisoner in the Tolbooth of Edinburgh, and a number of other persons, armed as aforesaid, his accomplices in a most lawless and barbarous and wicked enterprise, to attack and invade the said Jean Kay in her own house, and violently and forcibly to carry her away from the same, in order to compel her to be married to the said Robert M'Gregor &c &c brother to the said James; and in prosecution of the said wicked design, he the said James McGregor alias &c &c with his accomplices, and armed as aforesaid, came at the time and place aforesaid, to the house of the said Jean Key, and having placed guards at the doors and windows of the said house, in order to prevent the said Jean from escaping, or any assistance being brought to her, he the said James, and the said Robert and Ronald, brothers to the said James, and others of his accomplices, did violently and forcibly enter the house of the said Jean Key, and not finding her in the room where the said James first entered, he or some other of his accomplices, did, with many horrid oaths and imprecations, threaten to murder every person in the family, or to burn the house and every person in it alive, unless the said Jean Key should instantly be produced to him; which obliged the said Janet Mitchell her mother, to bring her out of a closet to which she had retired in great fear and terror, in order to conceal herself; and that as soon as she was brought into the presence of the said invaders, he the said James McGregor, in a daring and violent manner told her, that he and his accomplices, were come there, in order to marry her to the said Robert, his brother. And upon her desiring to be allowed till next morning or some few hours, to deliberate upon the answer she was to give to so unexpected and sudden a proposal as a marriage betwixt her, then not two months a widow, and a man with whom she had no manner of acquaintance, [page 427] after some further discourse or expostulation he, the said James McGregor, or one or other of his accomplices laid violent hands upon the said Jean Key, within her own dwelling house as aforesaid, and in a most barbarous, cruel and most unbecoming manner, dragged her to the door, while she was making all the resistance in her power, and crying out for help and assistance, and uttering many bitter lamentations; and after she was thus dragged to the door, the said James McGregor or one or other of his accomplices did, with force and violence, most barbarously and inhumanly lay the said Jean Key upon a horse, on which the said Robert McGregor or one or other of his com¬pany, was mounted, placing her body across the horse upon the fore, or fore part of the saddle, after having tied her arms with ropes; and during all the time these horrid and barbarous outrages were acting, he, the said James McGregor or one or other of them, did threaten with execrable oaths, immediately to murder any person who should offer to give the said Jean Key the least assistance; and after having posted some of their number with their arms, as guards upon the said Jean Key's house, to remain for some time to prevent any persons coming out to alarm the neighbourhood, and procure assistance to rescue the said Jean Key, the said James McGregor and his accomplices, or some or other of them did in a violent, barbarous and cruel manner, carry off the said Jean Key from her own dwelling-house as aforesaid lying across the fore part of the saddle, with her arms tied, while she was crying out for help and assistance, and making many bitter lamenta¬tions, to the house of John Leckie, maltman and brewer at the Kirk of Buchanan, about six miles distant from Edinbelly, where the said Jean continued to give all the evidence in her power of the deepest grief and sorrow at her unhappy fate, and from thence, in a few hours the said James McGregor and his accomplices carried her by force and violence to a place called Rueindennan, and from thence by water to some part in the Highlands, about the upper end of Loch Lomond, out of the reach of her friends and relations, where she was detained in captivity, and carried from place to place for upwards of three months; and during this captivity, whilst her person and life were in the power of the said James McGregor or his accom¬plices, he and they, or some or other of them, in further prosecution of the wicked purpose, for which they were guilty of the hamesuckin and violent abduction afore¬said, caused to be celebrated the form of a pretended marriage betwixt him the said Robert M"Gregor alias &c &c brother to the said James McGregor, and out¬law and fugitive for murder as aforesaid, and they without the free consent and against the will of the said Jean Key."

The indictment goes on to quote certain documents.
1st. Sentence of fugitation pronounced in a Circuit Court of Justiciary held at Perth 25th May 1751 against the said James, his Brothers Robert and Ronald & five other accomplices for failing to stand trial,

2nd the sentence of fugitation pronounced by the High Court of Justiciary at [page 428] Edinburgh 16th July 1736 against the said Robert for not appearing to underly the law for the murder of the deceased John McLaren."

3rd the judicial examination and declaration of the said Jean Key subscribed by her hand in presence of the Lord Justice Clerk and one of the Lords of Justiciary, 20th May & 4th June 1751.

“Lastly a piece of evidence to prove that a pretended marriage was celebrated betwixt the said Robert, and the said Jean Key, two bills of suspension in which Robert is designed Jean Key's husband, seeking apparently to get disposal of the estate, and at which time James came to Edinburgh and acted as agent, solicitor or manager." The pannel was remitted "to the knowledge of an assize."

In the "Books of adjournal" is recorded a warrant, dated 18th March 1751, for the sequestration of Jean Key, the Court desiring to protect her from Robert McGregor and his party, and ordaining her to remain at the house of John Wightman of Maulsley in the Potter Row, near Edinburgh, till the 4th day of June next to come, in view of all possible contingencies, but to allow her mother and relations to have access to her. Jean Key, it appears, died 4th October 1751, but the cause of death is not specified. James MacGregor was brought from Fort William a prisoner to Edin¬burgh 18th December. 1751. While the evidence as to the forcible carrying off the young widow is perfectly clear, the witnesses give contradictory testimony as to whether or not, she afterwards became reconciled to her determined captor - the marriage it seems took place at Ruindennan (Rowardennan), a minister having been sent for to perform the ceremony. The following deposition by Henry Home of Kames, Esq" one of the senators of the College of Justice, and afterwards Lord Kames, is inter¬esting on account of his eminence at the Bar, in Literature, Agriculture, &c.

"That a few days before the date of the second Bill of Suspension, the deponent was applied to by Mr Alexander Stuart writer to the Signet, on behalf of Robert McGregor alias Campbell, who was fugitate by the Court of Justiciary; and he was told by the said Mr Stuart; that Jean Key, Robert's wife was come to town to solicit for him. The deponent having heard of the violent abduction, scrupled at all to engage in such an affair until he should know the woman's own sentiments and her present disposition: That there was a meeting in the house of Mr David Graeme Advocate, who was employed as a lawyer in the said affair: None present but the woman, Mr Graeme, Mr Stuart and the deponent. The conversation began upon [page 429] the force and violence used in carrying her off which she did not deny, though she endeavoured to alleviate, but as the principal point was the Woman's present disposition which the deponent wanted to know, in order to determine himself whether he would engage or not; he put any particular and pointed questions to her upon that head, exhorting her withal in the strongest terms to speak her mind freely; and for her encouragement promising her absolute protection and security. The result of the whole questions was this answer: That however matters were carried on, she was now absolutely reconciled to her husband, loved him and was thoroughly satisfied with her present condition. The deponent upon this having no doubt of her sincerity, agreed to serve her and Robert McGregor alias Campbell, and accordingly the consultation went on; the particulars of which the deponent does not now remember." "Depones that the woman appeared sensible and sedate, and cheerful, and answered the questions put to her, so as to satisfy the deponent, as he has said above, that she was quite well pleased with her present condition. Depones, That though he was satisfied from common report, that there had been very unjustifiable violence used in carry¬ing off the young woman from her own house, yet willing to hear what she had to say on that subject, he put a few questions to her; she wanted to excuse it as much as she could; but finding that she embarrassed herself, and could not make her story consistent, he dropt that subject and applied himself more particularly to inquire into her present condition and disposition of mind, as he has above deponed upon.

"William Baird maltman at Glasgow, depones that he, along with Mr Graham, merchant in Glasgow, being possessed with a warrant to apprehend the pannel and his brother, they met with young Glengyle and acquainted him thereof [2]   and that they wanted to have some conversation with the pannel and his brothers upon the subject of the said Jean Key's being carried away from her own house by them, and suggested to Glengyle that he intended to propose to them, that Jean Key should have leave to go to Glasgow to see her friends, leaving it in her choice, either to stay with them or to return to Robert Campbell her Husband as she should think fit: that Glengyle relished the proposal, and wrote a letter to the pannel, which he sent by his own servant to him; in consequence of which the pannel and his brothers met the deponent and Mr Graham, at Callander of Monteith next day, and Jean Key came along with the brothers. But he before the said letter was dispatched, gave his parole of honour to Glengyle, that none of the said brothers, should be taken up for 48 hours from that time: That at this meeting which was in Donald Macnab's, there were present, besides the brothers, and Jean Key the deponent, Mr Graham, Glengyle, Mr Fairfoull of Braindam, when the deponent renewed the foresaid proposal; adding that their agreeing to it would remove all objections, and they will get Jean Key [page 430] and the rights of the estate, and if they refused it they might repent it; to which the pannel answered, that he was in a worse condition, in the year 1745 when he was flying before the King's Army, carried in a litter; but since, that the strength of his own country and friends protected, and would protect him; adding, that he did not believe Jean Key would go to Glasgow and leave her husband: that he himself was satisfied she 'should go, and would advise her to do so."

The conversations ended in nothing, as although Jean Key wept sorely at not being allowed to go to see her mother, the two brothers would not agree to it. Witnesses for the defence were heard, and the case was closed, the pannel James McGregor being carried back to prison on the 5th August 1752. It was found proven that James McGregor with his brother Robert M'Gregor had forcibly carried off Jean Key.

"But they also all in one voice find it proven, For alleviation of the pannel's guilt in the premises, that the said Jean Key did afterwards acquiesce in her condition; and finally the assize all in one voice, find the forcible marriage and rape not proven."

Certain persons of the jury afterwards addressed a letter to the Lord Justice Clerk to explain that their unanimous design in using the expres¬sion of alleviation was to exempt the pannel from capital punishment.

"On the 6th August 'The Lawyers for the pannel specially desired of the Court that they might be allowed an opportunity to inform upon the debate.' Conse¬quently it was decided 'to supersede advising verdict and debate' till the 20th Nov. same year."

On that day the said "James Drummond not compearing nor brought to the pannel,"

"It was resolved that the Magistrates of Edinburgh and the Keeper of their tolbooth should be called. George Drummond Esq" late Lord Provost of Edin¬burgh and James Robb Keeper of the prison 'severally declared that in Sept. last having received anonymous letters acquainting them that the said James McGregor's escape from the tolbooth either by force or fraud was intended' made application to the Lord Justice Clerk for a warrant to commit him to the Castle of Edinburgh, and that he was delivered over to a party of the City Guard who delivered him over to the Deputy Governor; 'and that on the 16th instant he had made his escape.'

[page 431]
Warrants were issued for his apprehension, precognitions relative to the manner of his eacape were taken and the 'Diet was continued from time to time' till 10th March 1755 when it was adjourned 'ay and until the said James McGregors apprehension."'

The following particulars as to James McGregor's escape were published in the "Scots Magazine" for November 1752:

"James McGregor, alias Drummond, under trial for carrying off Jean Key of Edinbelly, made his escape from Edinburgh Castle on the 16th November 1752. The manner of it is thus related. In the evening he dressed himself in an old tattered big coat put over his own clothes, an old night cap, an old leather apron, and old dirty shoes and stockings so as to personate a cobler. When he was thus equipped, his daughter, a maid servant who assisted and who was the only person in the room except two of his young children, scolded the cobbler for having done his work carelessly, and this with such an audible voice as to be heard by the sentinels without the room door. About seven o'clock while she was scolding, the pretended cobbler opened the room door, and went out with a pair of old shoes in his hand, muttering his discontent for the harsh usage he had received. He passed the guards unsuspected; but was soon missed, and a strict search made in the Castle, and also in the City, the gates of which were shut, but all in vain. The sergeants and some of the soldiers on duty, were put under confinement &c"

"In the same Magazine for December 1752. it is added 'A return from London to the report of the proceedings of the Court Martial appointed to inquire into the manner of James Drummond's escape, arrived at Edinburgh Decr 30th. In conseqence of which two Lieutenants, who commanded the guard the night Drummond escaped, are broke, the sergeant who had the charge of locking the Prisoner in his room is reduced to a private man; the porter has been whipped and all the rest are released.'"

"Duncan McGregor alias Drummond, in Strathyre" was tried on January 15th, 1753, for the same offence, but as it appeared that he had joined his brothers "not thinking he was going about anything criminal," he was acquitted.

“When James McGregor made his escape from Edinburgh, he travelled in disguise, and directed his course towards England. On the Evening of the fourth day he found himself benighted upon a moor in Cumberland and heedless of his steps, which he could no longer guide, he retired into a wood. He heard the sound of voices at a distance, and ignorant whether his pursuers might not be at hand, prepared to stand on the defensive. Observing a ray of light to issue from the spot from which the [page 432] sound proceeded, he cautiously advanced towards it and observed an old woman holding a torch to three men who were placing panniers on their horses. Among these men he recognised an old acquaintance, a tinker of the name of Marshall, whom he had befriended in the North, and who now returned his good offices by protecting and sumptuously entertaining him for three days in his Cave and afterwards accompanying him till he got safe on board a ship and departed for the Isle of Man. From this place he retired to France."'

The trial of "Robert McGregor, alias Campbell, alias Drummond, alias Robin Oig," the actual abductor, took place on 24th December 1753. An attempt was made to show that previous to the "pretended hamesucken," etc., a courtship had been carried on between the parties, and that the marriage was solemnised with the lady's free will and choice, but this plea was not established.

"Compeared Henry Home of Kames Esq. one of the Senators of the College of Justice, who adhered to his former deposition; and being interrogate for the prosecutor Whether or not, after the 18th day of March 1751 when Jean Key was sequestrated in the house of Mr Wightman of Maulsley, he continued to give her his assistance as a lawyer? Depones that having heard that after she got in among her friends and was under their protection, she told her story in a very different manner from what she had done to him; that therefore he declined to be thereafter any further concerned in her affairs."

The pannel was unanimously found "guilty, art and part, of entering with other lawless people armed, the house of Edinbelly, which belonged to the deceased Jane Key, designed in the Indictment, in which she and family then dwelt; and in a forcible and hostile manner, within the said house, did attack, invade, and lay violent hands upon the person of the said Jean Key, and did carry her out and away from the said House." The sentence pronounced against Robin Oig was that he should be hung.

The following account of the execution of Robert McGregor is taken from the Caledonian Mercury, 17th February 1754:-

"Yesterday Robert Campbell, alias McGregor alias 'Rob Roy,' was executed in the Grassmarket, pursuant to his sentence, for the forcible carrying away of the deceased Mrs Jane Key, the heiress of Edinbelly. He was very genteely dressed, read on a volume of Gother's' works from the prison to the place of execution and for a considerable time on the scaffold. He behaved with great decency, [page 433] and declared he died an unworthy member of the Church of Rome. And farther said, That he attributed all his misfortunes to his swerving two or three years ago from that Communion; acknowledged the violent methods he had used to obtain Mrs Key, for which he has been condemned; and hoped that his suffering would put an end to the further prosecution of his brother James Drummond, for the part he acted in that affair. His body was delivered over to his friends, which they put into a coffin and conveyed away to the Highlands."' [3]  

Several facts as to Robin Oig's life after he was outlawed in 1736 can be gleaned from an "Information for James Drummond at the time or his Trial." Robert it appears went abroad to push his fortunes; having re¬mained abroad till 1744 he then enlisted with General John Campbell to serve His Majesty in the wars in Flanders; he was wounded at the battle of Fontenoy and taken prisoner by the French: returning home in 1746 he rejoined the Regiment, and served there till he obtained his Colonel's discharge. Thereafter he married his first wife with consent of her friends, a sister of Mr Graham of Drunkie. "He was either ignorant of or did not apprehend any bad consequences from that sentence of outlawry pro¬nounced in absence so many years before, as he was at no time afterwards challenged for that alleged murder, so during these latter years he appeared as a free subject "-the recital of these circumstances being sup¬posed to show that be was an equal match to Jean Key, and that her fortune could be no temptation to him to involve himself and his friends in such enormities.


[1] From "The Trial, of James, Duncan and Robt. McGregor, three sons of the celebrated Rob Roy, before the High Court of Justiciary, 1752, 1753, and 1755 Edin. 1818."

[2] From another deposition it appears this was on January 5, 1751.-Ed.

[3] Quoted in the “Trials”.