Western USA Branch
Because we can trace our heritage to the High Kings of Ireland, the MacLachlans are acknowledged to be one of the oldest and most respected of the Highland clans.
The MacLachlans originated in Cowal of Argyllshire which comprises the parishes of Strathlachlan, Strachur, Kilfinan, Kilmoden, Inverchaolin, Dunoon and Kilmun. The area is bounded on the east by Loch Long and the Firth of Clyde, on the south by the Kyles of Bute and to the north and west by Loch Fyne. MacLachlans also lived on the other side of Loch Fyne in the parishes of Kilmichael-Glassary, the Knapdales and Kilmartin, all at the mainland end of the Mull of Kintyre.
MacLachlans were to be found 200 years ago in other parts of Scotland, since eastward migration had settled MacLachlans across the Highlands. Many dwelt on Mull and along the shores of Loch Linnie. Merchants and sailors settled in the Clyde towns of Glasgow and Greenock. There was always a two-way movement between southwest Scotland and northeast Ireland. In the middle of the last century, many Irish immigrants settled on Clydeside and in southwest Scotland. District registrars spelled surnames the Scottish way, and so some Irish McLaughlans became McLachlan or McLauchlan.
Spellings of the name are significant only to a limited extent. "Mac" and "Mc" were used indiscriminately until the commencement of compulsory registration in 1855; most Argyll registrars used "Mac" while the Clydeside and inland parishes used "Mc." Those families higher on the social scale frequently insisted on being recorded as MacLachlans. The inclusion of the "u" indicates an east coast family or one of a possible Irish descent. With the addition of a "g" the name almost certainly is from Ireland. Of course, many McLaughlans are more Scottish than other spellings because of a series of marriages with old Scots families.
Highland chiefs, lairds and tacksmen were considered "wealthy" only because ordinary Highlanders were quite poor. The feudal clan system broke up when the commerce and systems of government of the rest of the United Kingdom spread into the more remote parts of Scotland. After 1745, retributive measures by the government hastened this process. The property of the Chief's family was confiscated for its part in the Rebellion in which Lachlan, 17th Chief of MacLachlan, was killed. The lands were later restored to his son. Up to that time, a territorial chief had sub-let land through tacksmen who were "platoon" and "company" commanders in the Chief's "battalion" in times of strife. The holders of tacks were members of the Highland middle class; while their children were brought up with the children of their neighbors, there were no class barriers. The power of the chiefs and tacksmen was in the allegiance of the families living on their land.
With the decline in the Clan system, the tacksmen, who leased but owned little or no land, were among the first to leave Scotland. Some settled in North America; others traveled to the West Indies. Alexander and Dougald, sons of Lachlan MacLachlan of Fassafern in Lochaber, went to Jamaica in the middle of the 18th century and retired to live in the south of England later in the century. Their wills showed that they had owned plantations in the West Indies and mention, in one case, a son by a freed slave for whom provision was made.
Other tacksmen returned home to England. The sons of these families entered the army or became lawyers or merchants in English or Scottish cities. Some, less venturesome and less astute, tried to eke out a gentlemanly existence without money in the area in which they were born. Examples were Colin and Ewan, sons of Ewan MacLachlan of Laudale in Morvern parish, who succeeded to the property. In her memoirs a neighbor wrote of them, "In an evil moment they went security for some relative, with the result that their property had to be sold to meet the demand, and little indeed was left for them to live upon. They used to arrive as if to make a call, but it was well understood that a visit of a week or two was intended." Neither brother married, and they spent their later lives as house servants near Oban.
When Colin MacLachlan of Craiginterve died in 1804 his long-established landed family was declining socially and economically. They had been indebted to the Dukes of Argyll for several generations, and had intermarried with families of Campbells. Colin's heir was his daughter, Lucy, wife of Archibald Bell of Inverary, then the administrative center of the county of Argyll. Archibald and his two sons changed their surname to MacLachlan. He had owned 2,900 acres in Argyllshire in 1872 when he was 14 years old but when he died at Eastbourne in the south of England in 1949, his effects were worth only £727.
Besides having the effect of dispossessing most of the tacksmen and many of the minor lairds, the social change had another effect on the ordinary people. The greater ease of communication allowed individuals to change their abodes and expanding commerce allowed men, who would have died as shepherds or cottars at home, to become men of reputation and substance elsewhere.
After fighting British government forces in the 1745 Rebellion, many former Highlanders and their sons joined British Highland regiments. Their fighting tradition, ability to live in rugged surroundings and on short rations and family pride made them excellent soldiers. A commission in the British Army at that time was obtained either by purchase, by quota of men or by nomination by a senior officer who had rendered a distinguished service. Lachlan MacLachlan, whose family resided in Strathlachlan, was appointed an ensign in the 48th Foot Regiment in 1796 at the behest of his mother's brother, Lt. General James Campbell. The unusual feature of this appointment was that Lachlan was only six years old at the time. He never actually saw active service and remained on half-pay for most of his life, but his brothers James, Archibald, Alexander and Robert served to become a colonel, major-general, lieutenant-general, and captain respectively.
Although six years was too tender an age to actually serve in the army of the time, ten or twelve years was not. James Augustus MacLachlan went to Canada in 1811 to join his father, a Royal Engineer captain. On arrival he found that the captain had been ordered to the West Indies. The 104th Regiment adopted him and made him an ensign. He remained in Nova Scotia, married, and his descendants are still in Fredricton, New Brunswick, continuing a tradition of military service.
The migration of Scotsmen of the time is illustrated by nine master mariners and mates named MacLachlan born in Scotland in the first half of the last century. Five died or had their homes in Liverpool at the time of their deaths, one in London and three in Scotland. Of 13 MacLachlan army officers of the last century born in Scotland who died outside active service, only three ended their days there and one of those had probably never been out of the country. Of the remainder, one died in Ireland, one in New Zealand, another in Australia, and the rest of England. MacLachlan doctors of medicine were more inclined to stay at home. Of 33 born in Scotland, 16 died there. Of the remainder, 12 died in England, two in India, and one each in Australia, South Africa and South America.
Like other bearers of Scots Highland surnames, we MacLachlans are to be excused our pride in our forebears past, and the wish to know more about them is understandable. One of the finest attributes in the Highland Scot was his respect for his kin and his overwhelming desire to earn and retain their respect for him. Most families in any area of the Highlands were related in one way or another; every member knew his relationship with everyone else, and would stand by his mother's second-cousin or his father's aunt if the need arose.
People like Hugh MacLachlan of Burlington, Ontario, Canada have created extensive records of their co-descendants. His ancestor, Hugh, with his wife, Janet McLean, left Kilmallie parish on Scotland's west coast early in the last century and settled in Canada. The present day Hugh has traced the many hundreds of descendants of that couple. Much of this work can be done now while there are people alive who remember family stories of past migrations. When these clan "elders" are gone, no amount of research among records will adduce the information they could have given. As it is, countless generations to come will never know the name of their last ancestor to leave the shores of Scotland. Whether that ancestor was a near-impecunious tacksman or a totally impecunious crofter is of no importance. He was no doubt a man of sterling character and his name and origin are worthy of preservation by his family, present and future.
There is so much to be recorded in this history of the MacLachlans and so little on record. Not only are the events prior to 1745, when most of our ancestors lived in the Highlands, of considerable interest, but many later occurrences make good reading. If you are not one of the families that made the long journey across the Atlantic or to the Southern Hemisphere under sail, you have cousins whose families did. Ours is not among the larger clans, but it is one of the oldest and most respected and we should be properly represented in gatherings of the clans all over the world. There are established local groups in various parts of the world, but nothing of a cohesive organization.
Prompted by a suggestion by the 24th Chief of the clan, Madam Marjorie MacLachlan, a small group met in Glasgow on March 24, 1979, and resolved to form the Clan MacLachlan Society to fulfill the functions in the foregoing paragraph. Every MacLachlan family has a story to tell. Although one may be excused for not holding all one's relations in universal esteem, it is an experience to read of, hear from, or meet someone who shares forebears.
The name is the same whether it begins with "Mac," "Mc" or "O'," and continues "Lachlaine," "Lachlan" or "Lauchlin." We have all known our name to be subject to considerable abuse as to spelling, but it would be a bold man who claimed his to be the only correct way. Founding members have agreed to use the spelling of the Chief's family when referring to the Clan generally, but every effort is made to use the spelling preferred by an individual or family.
The 25th and present Chief of Clan MacLachlan, Euan J.R. Maclachlan of Maclachlan, makes his home in the ancestral castle on the banks of Loch Fyne. Castle Lachlan is in the parish of Strathlachlan, a few hundred yards from the stump of the old castle bombarded by the British Navy from Loch Fyne in 1746 soon after his great-great-great-great grandfather had been killed at Culloden. Euan succeeded his mother, Marjorie, in 1996, and she followed her father. He is married and has five children; his eldest son is Charles George Rome Maclachlan, Younger of Maclachlan. For more Genealogy of the Chief of Clan MacLachlan, click here.