Highlanders preparing to march on Toronto

Introduction begins:

I was an eyewitness of the
scene,” the stonemason Donald Macleod wrote. Strong parties of men
“commenced setting fire to the dwellings till about three hundred houses were in
flames, the people striving to remove the sick, the helpless, before the
re should reach them. The cries of women and children—the roaring of cattle—the
barking of dogs—the smoke of the fire—the soldiers—it required to be seen to be
believed!” Macleod was writing of a Clearance, a forced eviction of families
living in a glen or a valley in the Scottish Highlands. He was describing
events of 1814, the Year of the Burnings, as they unfolded in Strathnaver,
a wide river valley in the Highland county of Sutherland.

The man supervising the
destruction, acting for the aristocratic landlord, had already ordered his men
to burn the hill-grazing areas so there would be no food for cattle and the
people would have no choice but to leave. When this failed, he escalated the
action to the destruction and burning of villages. He had the roofs of houses
pulled down and timbers set ablaze to prevent rebuilding. In the month of May
alone, he dispossessed and rendered homeless at least 430 people.

Those 430 farmers
were among the approximately 200,000 Highlanders driven from their
ancestral lands during the Clearances, with estimates varying
from 170,750 to more than 300,000. To argue that the Clearances
were the result of the inexorable advance of capitalism is to ignore the
cultural targeting of Gaelic- speaking, Roman Catholic, clan-oriented
Highlanders. . . .

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