Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Forgotten Sons of Angus: Moonlight of the West

History – even relatively recent history – has at least two faces, depending on who is telling the tale.  Thomas Moonlight was a native of Boysack Muir, in St Vigeans, near Arbroath, born in 1833 and emigrated to America at the age of twelve, unaccountably bored with his situation as a junior assistant to a draper in Scotland.  For some years he was a farmer in the gloriously named  Kansas settlement of Kickapoo (probably not as exotic as it sounds), but then joined the U.S. Army in 1853 and became a famous and at times infamous soldier in the American Civil War and then the subsequent Indian Wars.

Broken hero?  Thomas Moonlight.

    Was there ever a better name for a dashing adventurer than Colonel Moonlight?  There is a legend about the origination of this distinctive name.  Some time in the middle of the 17th century an Angus farmer and his wife sitting at their hearth were disturbed by the sound of a crying baby at their doorstep.  They opened the door and brought the chilled and abandoned bairn inside.  There was no clue as to who had left the child there.  For some reason, whether it was whimsy or some odd superstition, they did not give the foundling their own surname even though they brought it up as one of their own, but they gave it the name of ‘Moonlight’, after the condition of the night on which he was found.  A twist to this ancestral fable is attached to Thomas’s contemporary, the intrepid George Fairweather Moonlight (1832-1884), a gold-digger who sought his fortune in America and then New Zealand.  Though he was actually born in Glenbervie in the Mearns, legend says he was discovered as an abandoned child on the hard, moonlit streets of Aberdeen one night. (Prosaic people may prefer to believe that the Angus surname actually comes from the place-name Munlichty.)
   When the war between the states broke out Moonlight enlisted for the northern states as an ordinary soldier.   Quickly rising to the rank of orderly sergeant, Moonlight went  from strength to strength in the subsequent campaigns and  he eventually became colonel of the Eleventh Kansas Cavalry.  He dazzled at the battled of Dry Wood, Pea Ridge and Westport.  Then he reigned in 1864 at the end of the Civil War.  Although one army veteran recalled more that 40 years after Moonlight’s death that ‘there was no better or braver man in the Civil War’, it remains hard to judge how effective a fighter he was in the campaigns.  He wrote his own account of his military adventures, but a recent analysis has concluded that ‘He caustically evaluated the performance of others while lauding his own actions’ (‘ “The Eagle of the 11th Kansas”:  Wartime Reminiscences of Colonel Thomas Moonlight,’ K. Lindberg,  M. Matthews, T. Moonlight, The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. 62, No. 1, Spring 2003.)
   The record of Moonlight’s reputation becomes distinctly darker when he re-enlisted to fight the native Americans in 1865.  Colonel Moonlight has been blamed for the disastrous Battle of Platte Bridge.  Moonlight was in charge of the famous Fort Laramie when he sallied out with 500 men in search of his native enemies in May 1865.  Unfortunately the force was led in entirely the wrong direction.  Things worsened the following week when, on the 26th May,  he captured two Oglala braves and had them hanged.  His men – or at least some of them – warned him against his subsequent move:  leaving the corpses twisting on the gallows, to the fury of the local population.  The following month there was a further misjudgement.  He led a lightning raid out of Laramie which exhausted the horses and let a large section of his force to limp back to their base.  A raid by Lakota braves deprived the remainder of their steeds and the men were humiliatingly forced to walk 60 miles back to their fort.  The colonel was said to have been drunk during the episode and, even worse, had not put a guard on his remaining horses.  The antagonized and ascendant Lakota Sioux and Cheyennes continued to raid army camps and ambush stagecoaches and on 26th July 1865 a native force of some thousands defeated the army at Platte Bridge.  There were relatively few army casualties, but the defeat was still humiliating.  On the 7th July Moonlight was thrown out of the army. 
Fort Laramie.

   And yet, Moonlight was not only a survivor, but proved by his native talent and character in the equally ferocious area of politics and diplomacy.  He became Secretary of State of Kansas in 1868.  Four years later he became a Democratic  state senator and in 1887 he was appointed governor of the Wyoming Territory.  He became minister to Bolivia in 1893 and died in Leavenworth, Kansas on 7th February 1899.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

The Stone and the Spirit of Independence

The most recent marketing campaign by Angus Council attempting to entice tourists into the county boasts that Angus is the birthplace of Scotland.  How true that may be is a matter for debate and their consciences, but it was doubtless inspired by the fact that the Abbot of Arbroath wrote, or at least sponsored, the Declaration of Arbroath of 1320, addressed to the Pope and expressing the case for Scottish independence and voicing support for their chosen king, Robert Bruce:
From... countless evils we have been set free, by the help of Him Who though He afflicts yet heals and restores, by our most tireless Prince, King and Lord, the Lord Robert.He, that his people and his heritage might be delivered out of the hands of our enemies, met toil and fatigue, hunger and peril, like another Macabaeus or Joshua and bore them cheerfully.Him, too, divine providence, his right of succession according to or laws and customs which we shall maintain to the death, and the due consent and assent of us all have made our Prince and King.To him, as to the man by whom salvation has been wrought unto our people, we are bound both by law and by his merits that our freedom may be still maintained, and by him, come what may, we mean to stand.Yet if he should give up what he has begun, and agree to make us or our kingdom subject to the King of England or the English, we should exert ourselves at once to drive him out as our enemy and a subverter of his own rights and ours, and make some other man who was well able to defend us our King; for, as long as but a hundred of us remain alive, never will we on any conditions be brought under English rule.It is in truth not for glory, nor riches, nor honours that we are fighting, but for freedom - for that alone, which no honest man gives up but with life itself..Given at the monastery of Arbroath in Scotland on the sixth day of the month of April in the year of grace thirteen hundred and twenty and the fifteenth year of the reign of our King aforesaid.

   It was on the site of the altar of Arbroath Abbey that the Stone of Destiny was surrendered, on 11th April 1951, after having been daringly liberated from Westminster Abbey.  The custodian of the abbey, James Wishart, gained a degree of fame in the press for finding the iconic stone, though not to the same extent as those students who brought the slab back from England.  Wishart was approached by a group of three men who had carried an object covered by the Scottish flag.  He asked if it was the Stone of Destiny and was told it was.  The custodian remained with the stone until the police came to recover it.  In my possession I have an old Ministry of Works Guide to Arbroath Abbey, with a photograph signed by Mr Wishart, showing the spot where the stone was deposited.
   The Stone of Scone was borne away, ultimately returned to the Abbey.  But there were rumours that the stone which was returned was not the original Stone.  The mystery of the whereabouts of the relic inspired widespread mystery. For some reason, American reporter Joseph Flanagan believed that the stone had been taken to the island of Iona, and journeyed there to find it, but all he discovered in January 1951 was knowing smiles. Was the rediscovered Stone of Destiny a duplicate and a fraud?  Remember that there had been tales which said the stone which Edward I of England was allowed to take from Scone Abbey was a monkish copy.

   Enter the Scottish Knights Templars and the pro-independence 1320 Club, who in the 1970s said that they had access to the ‘real’ Stone of Destiny.  This version of the story says that the stone was taken from Westminister Abbey in the late 16th century and spirited back to Scotland.  It ended up in St Columba’s Church, Logie Street, Dundee (across the road from the ancient Logie Kirk), under thecare of Rev David Nimmo.  The Stone of Destiny (or perhaps it was a copy made in the 1950s to fool the police?) was displayed in the kirk behind bars.  What is the truth and who knows?  The kirk was demolished in the early 1990s and replaced by a nursing home and the Stone was moved away elsewhere.

Programme of the 1950 Pageant at Arbroath Abbey.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

The City of Brechin - Culdees and the Round Tower

Brechin, like that other early beacon of Christianity, Abernethy in Perthshire, has a distinctive and rare round tower that is evidence of its importance to the Celtic Church.  It also gives a clue to the origins or at least overt influence of the clerics who operated here, as there are a large number of such towers in Ireland (76 at one reckoning) and just these two examples in Scotland.  Brechin’s tower, which was said to sway like a reed in the wind according to local tradition, is now joined on to the cathedral, though originally it was free standing.  Its elasticity was tested during storms by some locals who used to insert knives into the gaps in the stonework, and when they retrieved them the blades had been snapped by the movement of the building.  (You had to make your own entertainment in those days!)
Another clue as to the importance of the site in early medieval times is that it is recorded as having a settlement of those shadowy Christian clerics called the celi de, or Culdees, servants of God.  Although famous in Celtic studies partly because of the mystery about exactly who and what they were, there were actually few recorded Culdee settlements in early times, ranging from places of importance like Dunkeld, Lochleven, Monymusk and St Andrews, as far south as York.  The fact that there were two known monastic Culdees foundations in Angus – Brechin and Monifieth – is intriguing to say the least.

   The round tower at Brechin escaped the vandalising renovation which was inflicted on the adjacent cathedral in the 19th century, though plans to have it demolished in 1807 and have the masonry incorporated into the cathedral were thankfully scuppered, largely through the intervention of Lord Panmure and Mr Skene of Careston.  The architect’s plans were rebuffed, with an addition threat that the first man who touched a stone of the tower in the wrong fashion would promptly be hanged from it.  Even before this date the tower had been subject to attack – usually from the elements.  Although the tower is roughly 85 feet (26 m) high it is topped off with a relatively modern spire.  This again may have been the result of damage recorded in the kirk session records under the date 5th November 1683:  ‘The head of the Litl Steeple, blowen over.’  The tower may have been originally built probably in the 11th century, several hundred years before the adjacent cathedral.  The theory that such towers were originally constructed as places of refuge from rampaging Vikings is not proven.
   Another indication of Irish influence is in the name of Brechin itself, which may derive from an Irish personal name, Brachan.  There is however no specific mention of the place until the reign of King Kenneth II (971-995):  ‘Hic est qui tribuit magnam civatem Brechne Domino,’ signifying that the monarch gave the large city of Brechin to the Church.  There is no further substantial trace of this important ecclesiastic settlement until the reign of David I (1124-1153), when the Episcopal office was revived or at least modernised and a charter records rights given to ‘the Bishops and Keledei of Brechin’.  The continued recognition of the Culdees as an entity continues throughout that century, with local Episcopal grants being witnessed by members of the order such as ‘Bricius, prior Keledeorum de Brechin,’ ‘Gillefali, Kelde,’  ‘Mathalan, Kelde,’ and ‘Mallebryd, prior Keledeorum nostorum’.  By the mid 13th century the Culdees had fallen away and they were replaced by ‘regular’ church offices like deacons and archdeacons.  Many of the Culdees appear to have married and their role was hereditary, but in decline the abbot and others of the old order became a second-rate layman, and a fourth-rate member of society’ [The Culdees of the British Isles, William Reeves, Dublin, 1864.].

   By the 13th century the ecclesiastical power at Brechin was vested in individuals like Albin or Albinus (who died in 1269).  He is recorded as being the first precentor of Brechin Cathedral and later became the bishop here.  This was despite the fact that he was the bastard son of a bastard of David, Earl of Huntingdon, brother of King William the Lion.  His father was in fact Henry de Brechin, Lord of Brechin.  It was during his episcopate that a bull of Pope Innocent IV recorded (18th February 1250) that, ‘The brethren who have been wont to be in the church of Brechin were called Keledei and now by change of name are styled canons.’  Another sign that times were changing in Brechin was Albin’s introduction of a certain English monk named Egbert, a Carmetite, who was an expert in Arabic.  Although some of the priests and deans of Brechinst still maintained ‘native’ Gaelic names, another mark of the widening of the clerical horizon is in the name of the extremely obscure local martyr St Stolbrand, who sounds as if he would have been more at home in Germany than the Celtic kingdom of  Alba.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

The Louping Ague - The Mystery Illness of Angus

Some time between the years 1780 and 1789 a Dundonian physician named Dr William Farquharson wrote to the eminent professor of medicine at the University of Edinburgh, William Cullen, describing a disease or condition which had lately afflicted some unfortunate people in the county town of Forfar.  Several weeks previously a certain Dr Ogilvy had notified Dr Farquharson of a most unique condition which had afflicted some patients in the burgh.  The symptoms were so strange that Farquharson went immediately to see some of the patients and was astonished at what he found in the first family.  They had two children, aged 13 and 5, who had been ill with the condition for three weeks.  The teenage girl was affected a few minutes after he entered the house:
[She]... immediately fell upon her knees; with her head bent back betwixt her shoulders, her neck projecting outwards and very turgid, her eyes not at all disordered nor fixed in this posture, she remained half a minute; after which she got up in great confusion, ran to a large table, leaped up to it at once, though three feet high; her tongue making a circle in her mouth and producing a confused, blubbering noise; - her upper lip the only part of her face any way distorted.  When on the table, she tried to get off her shoes, after which she jumped three or four feet perpendicular for some minutes.  By this time the other was seized in a like manner, and went through the same operation.  Both ran to the table to the head of the bed; from this to the couple and joist of the house.
     But an even stranger sight was to follow.  A maid employed by the family, aged 19, who lived in a neighbouring town was struck with the same disorder.  While Farquharson was present she appeared, having run in a frenzy for over half a mile, followed by her hapless uncle, a fit young man.  In the house all three young people were contorted into a grotesque dance, leaping upon and tumbling over each other:
All this time they have their senses;  answer, as well as the contraction of the mouth permits, you questions distinctly;  but say, the disease, by them called It, forces them to do so and so, and they must obey it. ..These fits sometimes continue half an hour, sometimes longer; but when two of them meet, they leap hours together, mimicking one another, and going over the same process exactly... The people here believe it contagious... The tingling of bells...  brings it on; or even the sight of any of their distressed neighbours.
   Dr Farquharson had prescribed medicine for the sufferers to no effect and requested that Dr Cullen come and see the extraordinary malady for himself, but there seems to be no record that he ever did.  Although there were several other places in Britain that had outbreaks of a similar kind, other authors also noted that the illness was especially prevalent in parts of Angus and linked it to the known condition called St Vitus’s Dance, now more properly known as Sydenham’s chorea or chorea minor.  This infectious ailment is most common in children and is characterised by spasmodic jerking in the body.  Chorea major, meanwhile, was a sort of hysteria which was widespread in Europe between the 14th and 17th centuries. This disorder affected crowds of people who literally danced throughout their communities and may have been a collective hysterical disorder, though the actual cause remains unknown.

   Various writers in the 18th century noted the ‘louping ague’ in Angus, not least the local ministers who contributed notices of their parishes in the last decade of the century for the Old Statistical Account. Menmuir parish was supposed to be the place where the ague was first noticed and the Rev John Jamieson of Tannadice wrote:
Twenty or thirty years ago, what is commonly called the louping ague greatly prevailed... Those affected with it, when in a paroxysm, often leap or spring in a very surprising manner... They frequently leap from the floor to what, in cottages, are called the baulks, or those beams by which the rafters are joined together.  Sometimes they spring from one to another with the agility of a cat, or whirl round one of them... At other times they run, with astonishing velocity, to some particular place out of doors, which they have fixed in their minds before... and then drop down exhausted.  It is said, that the clattering of tongs, or any noise of a similar kind will bring on the fit.  This melancholy disorder still makes its appearance; but it is far from being so common as formerly.  Some consider it a nervous affection; others as the effect of worms...
   The Rev John Taylor, in Lethnot, noted that the area had been periodically affected by this condition for more than sixty years and said that the condition appeared to be hereditary in some families. By the time of the New Statistical Account, in the mid 19th century,  the minister of Craig, James Brewster, likewise noted its appearance there and stated the patients ‘have all the appearance of madness; their bodies are variously distorted; they run... with amazing swiftness and over dangerous passes...’  The contemporary minister of Kirriemuir, Thomas Easton, said that cold bathing was the only cure and thankfully noted there was only one person within his parish who was afflicted.

   The writer and traveller Elizabeth Isabella Spence (author of Sketches of the Present manners, Customs and Scenery of Scotland, 2nd edition, 1811) said that she heard of the ailment while staying at Forfar:
About forty years ago it was remarkably prevalent in Brechin and its neighbourhood... The patient is never strongly affected.  He is conscious of the approach of the fit, and under it suffers a temporary suspension of fear or a sense of danger;  or attention to any thing except the strange gamboling operation to which he is, perhaps, after all, only instinctively impelled.  He generally discovers a strong inclination to run, and to climb into situations at other times impracticable, or capable or exciting terror, but which at those times he performs with apparent ease and pleasure; and to interrupt him in it... is said to have distressing effects... I am told the person afflicted will scramble up the side of a wall with the rapidity of a cat, and leap over tables and chairs in a surprising manner... Though it is often tedious of cure, it is not known to have proved fatal...
   Local author Andrew Jervise, advised the condition had once been found in Stracathro, where, 'As in many other marshy places, the disease of the “loupin’ ague”... was very common among the younger portion of the population, and those afflicted by it are said to have sometimes run a mile on end without being able to stop.’ (Epitaphs and Inscriptions from burial grounds and old buildings in the north-east of Scotland, Edinburgh, 1875, p. 245.)  By his day, however, the mysterious illness seems to have nearly disappeared.

   Even the appearance of an article in the Edinburgh Medical and Surgical Journal (‘On some Convulsive Diseases common in certain parts of Scotland’, vol. 3, 1807, 434-7.) did nothing to dispel the mystery surrounding this extraordinary condition, noting the possibility of the condition running in families, some of whom resorted to great lengths to cope with periodic outbreaks.  One family near Brechin had to keep a horse always ready saddled, to follow the young ladies belonging it, when they were seized with a fit of running’.  And, though the anonymous writer noted similar ailments from other parts of Scotland and beyond, the outbreak in Angus seems to have been a highly localised and bizarre phenomenon.