The Grants of Strathspey…

Viking Invasion and Colonization

While many researchers have believed that the Grants came to England with the Normans, more recent research indicates that they actually came to Scotland from Norway and are descendants of the Vikings.  The first Grants appear in Scotland in the 13th century when they acquired the lands of Stratherrick.  Stratherrick is a strath (a wide valley), situated above the south-eastern shore of Loch Ness, in the Scottish Highlands.   During the Wars of Scottish Independence Clan Grant were supporters of William Wallace and John and Randolph Grant were captured at the Battle of Dunbar (1296).  The Clan Grant later supported Robert the Bruce in competition for the Scottish Crown.  The victory of Robert the Bruce confirmed the Grants in their lands of Strathspey and despite their southern origins they became established Highland chiefs.

The Norse line of Clan Chiefs however ended in the early 14th century.  As a result, the Grant Clan heiress Maud was married to an Andrew Stewart. According to tradition, Andrew Stewart (who may have been illegimate son of James Stewart) was allowed to marry the heiress under the conditions that he assume the surname of Grant and that he agree to maintain his residence in Strathspey.

Urquhart Castle on Lock Ness
Urquhart Castle on Loch Ness

It was in 1509 that Urquhart Castle was awarded to Clan Grant.  This is the ruined castle that sits beside Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands.  Currently the castle is in ruins that date from the 13th to the 16th centuries.  The castle played an active role in the Wars of Scottish Independence in the 14th century.  The castle was continually being assaulted by the MacDonalds, Earls of Roth.  The castle was strengthened several times to thwart these assaults but was largely abandoned in the middle of the 17th century.   It was further destroyed in 1692 to prevent its use by Jacobite forces and has subsequently decayed until placed in state care and opened to the public in the 20th century.  More about Castle Urquhart Castle and other Grant castles and manor houses in another story.  My daughter and I had the pleasure of visiting Urquhart Castle on our Scottish Highland tour back in 2004.  At the time of our visit we were not aware that the castle was the home of Clan Grant.

Clan Grant Tartan and Badge

The Grants actually fought on both sides during the Jacobite risings in 1715 and 1745.  During the Jacobite rising of 1715 the main part of the Clan Grant supported the British Government.  However in 1715 the Laird of Grant withdrew his forces at the Skirmish of Alness which led to the defeat of government forces.  Soon after the Clan Grant helped English forces retake Inverness from the Jacobites during Siege of Inverness (1715).  At the Battle of Sheriffmuir in 1715, Grants fought on both sides. The British government forces won the battle with many of the Jacobites surrendering to General Grant.

During the Jacobite rising of 1745 the chief of Clan Grant again supported the British Government. However once again he withdrew his troops which again led to the defeat of government forces, this time at the Battle of Inverurie (1745).

One branch of the Clan Grant, the Grants of Glenmoriston sided with the Jacobites and fought at the Battle of Prestonpans in 1745 and are credited with winning the day due to their timely reinforcement. The Grants of Glenmoriston branch also fought as Jacobites at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. Eighty-four Grants of Glenmoriston were captured at Culloden and were transported to Barbados, in violation of their terms of surrender, where they were sold as slaves.

Battle of Culloden – 1746

One of the main reasons that the Grants suffered identity crisis was based on religion.  The Grants were primarily Protestant while the majority of the other Highland Clans remained Catholic.  Their support of the government forces which were Protestant, against the Catholic Highland Clans would have been a difficult choice.  After the fall of the Highland Clans following the Battle of Culloden, the Grants remained on their lands near Strathspey.

Clan Grant was one of the few clans not to be affected by the Highland Clearances. The “Good Sir James” Grant (Clan Chief from 1773–1811) built the town of Grantown-on-Spey for the express purpose of providing for his clansmen to keep them from having to emigrate. While other Highlanders were emigrating in the face of the changes that were sweeping away the old Highland way of life, Sir James Grant was busy building an entire town, building schools, mills, factories, a hospital, an orphanage, etc. to provide for his Clan.

However, many Grants did migrate to America and to Canada before and after the Battle of Culloden in 1745.  The lure of land and religious freedom led them to the new United States in the early 18th century.   The earliest Grant ancestor found so far was born in Virginia in 1765. His name was John Grant.   He would have been my 4th Great Grandfather.  So far I have not been able to confidently say who his Father may have been.  However, I think that his Father was born in Virginia as well and may have fought in the Revolutionary War.  More research is needed to verify that relationship. What this does mean is that is the Grants came to America after the Battle of Culloden in 1746 and before the first Highland Clearances in 1773.  As with many Scottish immigrants, the lure of cheap land and religious freedom were powerful motivators.  We will hear more about him next time.

Scottish Christmas Walk, Arlington, Virginia