Stand-off at the Fords of Arkaig

The Stand-off at the Ford of Arkaig occurred in September 1665 at Achnacarry, about 10 miles (16 km) northeast of Fort William, Scotland. The Chattan Confederation led by the Clan Mackintosh assembled an army to challenge Clan Cameron in a 360-year-old dispute over the lands around Loch Arkaig. After a week of stalemate, the long-running feud was ended by a deal in which the Camerons bought the land from the Mackintoshes.

Stand-off at the Ford of Arkaig
Part of the Scottish clan wars

Mackintosh marched on the north bank past the outflow of Loch Arkaig into the River Arkaig. There was no bridge then.
Date 13–20 September 1665
Achnacarry, Scotland

grid referenceNN171884

Result No battle
Chattan Confederation Clan Cameron
Commanders and leaders
Lachlan Mackintosh Ewen Cameron of Lochiel
1500 1200
Casualties and losses
None None
Clan Cameron-Clan Mackintosh feud

. . . Stand-off at the Fords of Arkaig . . .

The Camerons and Mackintoshes had disputed the ownership of lands around Loch Arkaig and in Glen Loy[1] to the south since the beginning of the 14th century. According to Mackintosh tradition, before 1291 the land had belonged to Dougal Dall MacGilleCattan, chief of the ancient Clan Chattan.[2] In that year, his daughter Eva married Angus Mackintosh, 6th chief of Clan Mackintosh, uniting the two clans in the Chattan Confederation.[2] Angus and Eva lived in Glen Loy for a few years before Angus had to flee from the Lord of Islay, into exile in Badenoch.[2] The Camerons then occupied the lands,[2] provoking about 360 years of feuding over the area.[3] The clans fought their first battle, the Battle of Drumlui, in either 1330[4] or 1337.[2] William Mackintosh, the son of Angus and Eva, had his right to the lands confirmed by charters from John of Islay, Lord of the Isles in 1337 and from King David II in February 1359.[2] These charters and the marriage formed the basis of the Mackintosh claim on the lands, even though they were occupied by the Camerons for many years.

Lachlan Mackintosh of Torcastle became chief of Clan Mackintosh in 1660, and immediately pursued his clan’s ancient claim to the land. In 1661 he obtained a decree from Parliament assigning the lands to him, whilst Ewen Cameron of Lochiel was at Court pushing his claims to Ardnamurchan and the area around Loch Sunnart on the West Coast.[5] In a letter dated 7 June 1661 the Lord Chancellor of Scotland, Lord Glencairn, wrote from London to the “Lord President and Lords of Session” in Edinburgh telling them to freeze Mackintosh’s action until they heard again from the King, as he had a scheme to resolve the problem and reward Cameron for his loyalty[6] (Glencairn and Cameron had played large parts in the Royalist rising of 1651 to 1654). No more was heard from the Court, so in July 1662 Mackintosh obtained a Decree of Removal against the Camerons in the area.[6] Cameron sought an audience with the King, pointing out that the Camerons would not leave their ancient lands peaceably. The King was unwilling to interfere directly in the affairs of Parliament, so a letter was written on his behalf to the Earl of Middleton, another veteran of the uprising and now Lord High Commissioner to the Scottish parliament. This letter, dated 30 May 1662, urged Middleton to find a peaceful resolution. Meanwhile, a warrant had been issued for Cameron’s arrest, but he persuaded the Privy Council to defer it for a few weeks, allowing him to return home to Lochaber.[7]

Later that summer Mackintosh petitioned for a Commission of fire and sword against Cameron, unsuccessfully at first but in 1663 he had the whole of Clan Cameron declared outlaws. The commission against Cameron authorised various noblemen to implement it, but when approached by Mackintosh, they all told him to accept the financial compensation that had already been offered to him by Cameron.[8] So Mackintosh decided to take matters into his own hands and having failed to induce his neighbours to join him, resorted to bribery to get them on his side.[9] Meanwhile, in January 1665, the Duke of Rothes, Lord Chancellor of Scotland, ordered the Commission of Fire and Sword into abeyance until the Privy Council had decided what to do.[9]

Both Cameron and Mackintosh appeared before the Privy Council and agreed to be bound by its decision. Initially the Council told them to agree a sum of compensation between themselves, but when this proved impossible, the Council ordered Cameron to pay Mackintosh 72,000 merks[10] (about £3600 in English money of the time). Mackintosh tried to leave Edinburgh in secret, but was arrested and bound to keep the peace. However, as soon as he got home, he called on the Chattan Confederation to launch an expedition into Lochaber.[11] Some of his friends tried to dissuade him, but Mackintosh ignored them and led 1500 men to the south end of Loch Lochy.[12] Cameron assembled a force from his own clan joined by MacGregor men, a clan that had served Glencairn in 1653-4, and a small party of MacIans of Glencoe.[12] They numbered 300 bowmen, plus 900 men armed with guns, broadswords and targe shields.[12] They then marched for Cameron’s home at Achnacarry, which is in a strategic position on the south bank of the River Arkaig, on the isthmus between Loch Arkaig and Loch Lochy.

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