James Reid, a hero of the ’45

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This plaque in York's Tadcaster Road marks the spot where the town's gallows stood.
This plaque in York's Tadcaster Road marks the spot where the town's gallows stood.

Today, we post this article from our archives. The article was written by Tommy Pearston and published in the December 1989 Piping Times. His subject was James Reid, the only piper who lost his life because he was a piper.

Reid, a native of Angus in the east of Scotland, was executed on November 15, 1746 at York, England.

In November 2007 an event was held in York to commemorate the memory of 22 Jacobites, including Reid, executed for their part in the 1745-46 Jacobite Rising. It included a ceremony at the site of Tyburn Gallows, the place of execution. Perhaps, however, as Tommy suggests, it is time for pipers to commemorate Reid himself in an appropriate way? Send your thoughts to us at news@bagpipe.news

By Thomas Pearston

Thomas Pearston.
Thomas Pearston.

The following is an extract from Grattan Flood’s Story of the Bagpipe. “So powerful a factor was the Scotch bagpipe in working up enthusiasm for the Stuart cause that it was regarded as an instrument of war. This point is amply proved by the fact that James Reid, a Scotch piper, was tried at York for high treason, the capital offence being that as no Highland Regiment ever marched without a piper; therefore, his bagpipe in the eye of the law was an instrument of war.

“Reid suffered death at York on November 6, 1746, as is reported in the contemporary Caledonian Mercury.”

On checking this information in the National Library [in Edinburgh] it was noted that this information was given in the Caledonian Mercury of November 25, 1746. The following is the extract:

“On Saturday 15th James Reid was executed for high treason at York. He was of the Shire of Angus and a private man in Lord Ogilvy’s regiment”.

Lord Ogilvy was only 21 years old and commanded two battalions. He had held a commission in the French Army and was very popular with his men. The Angus men were supposed to be the best equipped and according to some accounts the best disciplined in the Prince’s army. They kept the retreating right wing at Culloden from being cut to pieces. Lord Ogilvy escaped to France via Norway and became a general in the French army. He eventually regained his estates. He died in 1803.

This plaque in York's Tadcaster Road marks the spot where the town's gallows stood.
This plaque in York’s Tadcaster Road marks the spot where the town’s gallows stood.

In the three volumes of Prisoners of The ’45 by Sir Bruce Seton and Jean Gordon Arnot (published in 1929) there are several hundred names of soldiers of Prince Charles Edward. Some of the pipers listed are as follows:

John Sinclair. Piper in Ogilvy’s regiment. Town piper of Arbroath. Discharged March 4, 1747.

John Ballantyne. Piper in Lord George Murray’s regiment. Taken at Carlisle. Tried at York on October 2, 1746 and acquitted.

Nicholas Carr. Piper in Glenbucket’s regiment; acquitted October 1746.

Robert Jamieson. Piper in the Duke of Perth’s regiment; captured at Carlisle and transported.

Allan MacDougall of Duke of Atholl’s and Lord Nairn’s regiments; served as a blind Highland piper and was taken at Falkirk. He was pardoned in 1747. What a blind man could do in an army had only one reason. He must have been an exceptionally talented and well known piper. Could this have been Blind MacDougall mentioned in Angus MacKay’s MS? His name is associated with the following tunes: The King’s Taxes, Farewell Donald, Lament For Captain MacDougall, the Nameless tune (Book 4 of the Piobaireachd Society Collection (three Nameless tunes are shown but which one is MacDougalls is not clear), Cumha Iain Cheir, The Duke of Perth’s Lament and Lachlan MacNeill of Kintarbert. Angus MacKay states that this MacDougall is Ronald MacDougall and it is not likely that there are two blind MacDougalls. It could be reasonable to assume that this blind MacDougall piper is the same man.

James Reid. Piper in Ogilvy’s regiment. Executed York on November 15, 1746. The relevant entry is:

2800. Reid, James. Piper, Ogilvy’s. 30.12.45 Carlisle; Lancaster Castle, York. Executed York 15/11/46. Angus. Taken at capture of Carlisle. It was pointed out at his trial at York on 2nd Oct. that he was only a piper, but he was found guilty but recommended to mercy. Nevertheless he was executed. The Court ruled that ‘no regiment ever marched without musical instruments such as drums, trumpets and the like; and that a Highland regiment never marched without a piper; and therefore his bagpipe, in the eye of the law, was an instrument of war.” – Baga, lxix. 193; S.P.D., 79-26, 91-77.

Also listed were several drummers and fiddlers.

Manson, in his book The Highland Bagpipe, states that Charles Edward had 32 pipers playing before his tent at meal times. The relevant papers a decisions about hanging Reid have been checked up in the [National] Library in Edinburgh and in London and I have yet to find any government decision to hang rebel pipers. James Reid was not the only piper – he was just the unlucky one as the rest got off or were transported.

It would appear that the decision to hang Reid was made by the court at York in isolation and not under any official directive. There is little record of pipers being harassed, imprisoned, or hanged for playing the pipes after the ’45 and we know that Joseph MacDonald compiled his Compleat Theory of the Scots Highland Bagpipe in 1760, 14 years after the troubles. It would be reasonable to assume that piping did not suffer unduly.

James Reid must be unique in piping history as the only one who lost his life because he was a piper.

In the collections of the Piobaireachd Society there are 18 pieces of ceòl mòr called Nameless. Is it not within our power to call one of these tunes, Salute To James Reid?

His date of death on November 15, 1746 could perhaps be remembered by us all.

November 3, 2007. The historical group Crann Tara holds a commemorate event in York to the memory of 22 Jacobites executed for their part in the rising of 1745.
November 3, 2007. The historical group Crann Tara holds a commemorate event in York to the memory of 22 Jacobites executed for their part in the rising of 1745-46.

Thanks are expressed to the Black Watch museum in Perth for help in the investigation of the story of James Reid:

John Porteous was tried next, who appeared to be Deferter from one of our Regiments: He alledged, in Excufe of his Offence, and as a Plea to ftop Sentence, that he had the Promife of his Royal Highnefs the Duke of Cumberland for his Pardon – Guilty.

James Reid was then tried, whom the Witneffes for the Crown plainly proved to have engaged with the Rebels, and to have acted as a Piper to a Rebel Regiment, tho’ it did not appear that he had ever carried any Arms; upon which he was recommended to Mercy by the Jury. The Court obferved upon this, that every Perfon who joined any Set of People engaged in an open Rebellion, tho’ they did not bear Arms, they were guilty of High Treafon; that no Regiments ever marched without Mufical Inftruments, as Drums, Trumpets, or the like; and that in an Highland Regiment there was no Moving without a Piper, and therefore his Bagpipe, in the Eye of the Law, was an Inftrument of War. The Jury upon this would have retracted their Recommendation, but the Court told them, it muft not now be permitted — Guilty. Then the Court adjourned to Saturday.

“On Saturday, James Main was firft brought to the Bar; but his Counfel moving for farther Time, upon Account of fome of his Witneffes being on the Road, the Court was fo favourable, as to poftpone his Trial.

“Then John Long was brought upon his Trial, and fix Witneffes were examined for the Crown, to prove that he had acted as a Surgeon’s mate in the Rebel Army; but the Proof not coming up to the Species of High Treafon laid in the Indictment, he was acquitted on the Motion of the King’s Counfel.

James McColley was tried next, and was proved by four Witneffes to have appeared in Arms at feveral Places: He did not attempt to contradict this in his Defence, but examined fome Witneffes to fhew that his Cafe was the fame with Charles Robinfon’s — Guilty.”