“Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality” – Edgar Allan Poe
Names are important. If you call your child Wolfgang Messerschmitt, he’ll probably be a flying ace. If you name your boat “Titanic”, you better bring a life jacket and watch for icebergs or Leonardo Dicaprio. If a location’s name starts with “Devil” (Devil’s Hole, Devil’s Bridge, Devil’s Tower, etc.) it isn’t because a lot of pleasant stuff happened there. If everybody adds “the Terrible” to your name when they mention you, it isn’t because of your charming personality and casual outlook on life. We tend to call things as we see them. Similarly, when you join a British regiment affectionately called “The Black Watch”, it does not bode well for your future. Just saying some things are obvious. While I find its best not to be an 18th Century Scottish Laird on general principle, should one wish to avoid an unsavory fate, tempting said fate may seem an appropriately manly endeavor, but the odds are good that you will wind up dead in a ditch, and given the requisite fatalism necessary to deliberately poke the universe in the eye and dare it to mess with you, you will no doubt meet your demise forewarned of its precise time and location, but dead people also have this annoying habit of being cryptic, so to speak. This is exactly what happened to Major Duncan Campbell of Inverawe, who went to his death with the Black Watch at Fort Ticonderoga in July 1758.
After the Jacobite Uprising of 1715, the British government realized that they didn’t have the resources to keep a standing army in the Scottish Highlands, so they set about recruiting and forming six independent Highland companies from the clans that had ostensibly remained loyal to the British crown. Three of these companies were formed from the men of the Clan Campbell, and they were commonly known as Am Freiceadan Dubh, or “the Black Watch”. Some scholars have posited that this was a reference to their fashion choices, but we can probably assume that it was intended as a besmirchment of their character (plus, any self-respecting Highlander’s going to go with the tartan plaid), given their role as a police force over their fellow disgruntled Highlanders. Things started to settle down a bit, and they were officially designated as the British Army’s 43rd Highland Regiment of Foot in 1739, renamed the 42nd Royal Highland Regiment of Foot, when the original 42nd was disbanded after 1748. But everybody just called them “The Black Watch”.
The Black Watch had a rough start. In 1743 they were ordered to London for inspection by King George II, but it was suspected they would be shipped out to the West Indies theatre in the War of Austrian Succession. A bunch of the lads had a thing about contracting Yellow Fever or Malaria and immediately deserted and headed back to Scotland. The leaders of this particular movement were shot and the rest of the regiment was shipped to Flanders. The Jacobites got unruly again in 1745, and the Black Watch was brought back in expectation of a French invasion. This did not happen, and in 1747 they were sent to Ireland.
Round about this time, Duncan Campbell was lounging about as Laird of Inverawe at the family manor, as Lairds are often wont to do. Duncan had raised a regiment for the Black Watch in 1744 and was himself a valued member, rapidly promoted to the rank of Major. Tradition has it that Duncan was tall, dark, and handsome, the most fetching of the young Lairds in the Western Highlands. One evening, he was in the rambling old castle on the River Awe under the lee of the lofty mountain Ben Cruachan when he heard an insistent rapping upon the front door, and as a man of action, rather than wait for the servants to respond, he answered the door himself. He was face to face with a wild-eyed, disheveled fugitive, blood staining his tartan.
In a breathless voice begged for asylum. He went on to say that he had killed a man in a fray, and that the pursuers were at his heels. Campbell promised to shelter him. “Swear on your dirk! ” said the stranger; and Campbell swore. He then led him to a secret recess in the depths of the castle. Scarcely was he hidden when again there was a loud knocking at the gate, and two armed men appeared. “Your cousin Donald has been murdered, and we are looking for the murderer!” Campbell, remembering his oath, professed to have no knowledge of the fugitive; and the men went on their way. The laird, in great agitation, lay down to rest in a large dark room, where at length he fell asleep. Waking suddenly in bewilderment and terror, he saw the ghost of the murdered Donald standing by his bedside, and heard a hollow voice pronounce the words: “Inverawe, Inverawe! Blood has been shed. Shield not the murderer! “In the morning Campbell went to the hiding-place of the guilty man and told him that he could harbor him no longer. “You have sworn on your dirk! ” he replied; and the laird of Inverawe, greatly perplexed and troubled, made a compromise between conflicting duties, promised not to betray his guest, and led him to the neighboring mountain, and hid him in a cave. In the next night, as he lay tossing in feverish slumbers, the same stern voice awoke him, the ghost of his cousin Donald stood again at his bedside, and again he heard the same appalling words: “Inverawe! Inverawe! Blood has been shed. Shield not the murderer! “At break of day he hastened, in strange agitation, to the cave; but it was empty, the stranger was gone. At night, as he strove in vain to sleep, the vision appeared once more, ghastly pale, but less stern of aspect than before. “Farewell, Inverawe!” it said ; “Farewell till we meet at Ticonderoga!” (Parkman, 1899, p86-87).
Now, when you’re a Scottish Laird, I imagine you get used to this sort of thing, and the strange name “Ticonderoga” being utterly meaningless to Duncan, presumably he decided to get on with his life, confident that at least his word was his bond, despite the occasional haunting. In 1756, the Black Watch was called up and sent to North America for the French and Indian War. Some 6000 British regulars (including the 42nd Foot and Major Duncan) and 9000 colonial troops marched up the Hudson Valley to lay siege to the strategically significant French emplacement at the south end of Lake Champlain, known at the time as Fort Carillon. Unfortunately, it was only at this time that poor Duncan Campbell first heard the region called by its audaciously literal Iroquois name “It is at the junction of two waterways”, or more properly pronounced, Ticonderoga. Obviously, this bummed Duncan out hard. We have a lot of details on the day, as those 18th Century British military men had a thing about memoirs, and the British figured on quickly kicking some French derriere and settling in for some beer and pancakes. Everyone, except for Duncan, that is.
Rogers with the Rangers, and Gage with the light infantry, led the way in whaleboats, followed by Bradstreet with his corps of boatman, armed and drilled as soldiers. Then came the main body. The central column of regulars was commanded by Lord Howe, his own regiment, the fifty-fifth, in the van, followed by the Royal Americans, the twenty-seventh, forty-fourth, forty-sixth, and eightieth infantry, and the Highlanders of the forty-second, with their major, Duncan Campbell of Inverawe, silent and gloomy amid the general cheer, for his soul was dark with foreshadowings of death. With this central column came what are described as two floating castles, which were no doubt batteries to cover the landing of the troops. On the right hand and the left were the provincials, uniformed in blue, regiment after regiment, from Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, and Rhode Island. Behind them all came the batteaux, loaded with stores and baggage, and the heavy flatboats that carried the artillery, while a rear-guard of provincials and regulars closed the long procession (Richards, 1910, p17).
The French were heavily outnumbered by the British, but General James Abercrombie imprudently ordered a frontal assault on the entrenched French position without using field artillery, resulting in a decisive French victory and the bloodiest battle of the whole French and Indian War. Fully half of the Black Watch infantry and at least two-thirds of their officers were killed in the attack. Among the dead was Duncan Campbell of Inverawe, whose demise had been foretold by the ghost of an angry relative at a place he’d never heard of, nor had many ever called it by the name that would later go down in history, Fort Ticonderoga.
So, what can we learn from this, if anything? Don’t harbor the killer of your kinsman, even if you’ve sworn on your dirk? No problem. Most of us don’t own a dirk. Maybe ask somebody who they killed before you take an oath to hide them? Always keep a good Gaelic to Iroquois dictionary handy? In hindsight, it seems like there are a good number of ways to avoid a similar fate, starting with not being a Scottish Laird and not sheltering random fugitives that show up on your doorstep without asking questions. Personally, I’d be most concerned about joining an organization that goes by the nickname “The Black Watch”. That just can’t end well.
Parkman, Francis, 1823-1893. Historic Handbook of Northern Tour. Boston: Little, Brown and company, 1899.
Richards, Frederick B. The Black Watch At Ticonderoga And Major Duncan Campbell of Inverawe. [s.l.]: Fort Ticonderoga Museum Library, 1910.