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August 27th 1797

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The best of times, the worst of times..

If the excesses of the French Revolution generated fear and horror among the establishment in Scotland, the ideas behind the revolution gave hope to many of the ordinary people that something similar might happen in this country.

There were many secret and semi-secret societies operating in Scotland dedicated to changing the way in which it was governed. To the government, these societies were all seditious and constant attempts were made by spies and agents provocateurs to identify and punish the ringleaders.

It was because the government was unpopular, because it was afraid and because it felt that it was surrounded by hidden enemies that it passed the Militia Act. This proposed the enlistment of 6,000 men in Scotland. They were to be between the ages of nineteen and twenty three, either unmarried or married with less than two children. The names were to be chosen by ballot from the parish register and the Lord Lieutenant or his deputy was to supervise the ballot.

Those with means could escape the draft by paying a monetary fine and their place would be taken by the next name drawn from the parish list. The reaction was one of fury and violence. In Tranent where the colliers were proving particularly obstinate, the resistance was broken by English horsemen of the Cinque Port Volunteers who left eleven dead including a boy of thirteen. In Alyth when the ballot was posted on the kirk door it was pulled down and burned.

Later, a large crowd went to Banff House where the deputy lieutenant, Sir William Ramsay lived. He was away but his sister, with some difficulty, managed to persuaded the crowd to disperse without carrying out their threat to burn the house down.

At Blairgowrie, a crowd of about five hundred gathered in the town. Colonel Allan Macpherson, who was another deputy lieutenant, rode down to the town with several other gentlemen. He was later joined by the other two deputies, Ramsay and Farquharson, and all were surrounded by the shouting mob. A paper was thrust into their hands which they were urged to sign. It stated that they would never impose the Act upon the people of Blairgowrie. Though they were unwilling at first, eventually all three signed the paper. Later they signed a second paper in which they agreed that they had willingly signed the first paper. Only then were they allowed to return to their homes.

Later Col Macpherson was to write to the Duke of Atholl “we thought it prudent to yield to this most humiliating act of my life.”  Humiliated or not none of the deputies felt bound in any way by the papers they had signed.

A week later a company of the Sutherland Fencibles arrived in Blairgowrie, arrested the ringleaders of the mob, and the provisions of the Act were carried out.

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