Garthbeg Coat Of Arms

The Lost Families of Stratherrick, Strathnairn, and Dunmaglass, Inverness-shire, Scotland

John McTavish (abt 1701 to 1774)

John McTavish (abt 1701 to 1774)

The Will of John McTavish


(Most of the material below was obtained from Professor Harry Duckworth, of the University of Manitoba, not to be published without written permission)


What is known about John McTavish is rather sketchy at best.  He was the father of Simon McTavish; (Fur Baron of Montreal), and Tacksman of Garthbeg.  He was an officer, along with his brother, Alexander, in the rebellion of 1745-1746, participating in the battles at Falkirk and at Culloden.  They surrendered arms to the British army on May 17, 1746, however in 1747 it was enacted “that all King’s subjects in Great Britain should be pardoned of every treasonable offence against the State committed by them before the 15th of June in that year, with certain exceptions specially named, among whom we find the Master of Lovat; James Fraser of Foyers; Simon Fraser of Achnacloich; John Fraser (MacGillespie); Hugh Fraser, son of Alexander Fraser of Leadclune; John Dubh Fraser of Little-Garth; John Fraser of Bruiach, late steward to Lord Simon; and Thomas Fraser of Gortuleg [Mackenzie, op. cit., p. 488].  John Dubh Fraser of Little-Garth is John Mactavish of Garthbeg.  Perhaps the confusion about his surname helped John Fraser, alias MacTavish to evade the King’s agents in the period after Culloden.  

John was commissioned a Lieutenant his commission being dated 1/30/1757[1] with the 78th Regiment of the foot, or the Fraser’s Highlanders.  He left Scotland with the company in April 1757, and proceeded to Halifax for initial training, and then to Louisburg, where they had their first battles.  John never made it to the battle of Quebec, being left with the sick at Louisburg.  He was permitted to go home in the fall of 1761, “as it would be an act of charity to him and his family”[2] 

John was solidly entrenched in the Highland system of society.  He held the Tack of land called Garthbeg, and as such was the Tacksman of Garthbeg.  A Tacksman stood just below the region’s chieftains in the Highland scheme of things.  The Tacksman were looked to for leadership in their areas.  In return for the tack of land, they were generally expected to provide services to the chief, military or otherwise.  Once John rode into Inverness with some twenty armed men and coolly set about abducting one of the Highland capital’s principle residents.[3] 

We learn from letters between Simon McTavish and Lachlan MacTavish of Dunardry, that John fostered two of his sons, John and Duncan to Dunardry.  In the letter dated 2/26/1793 from Lachlan to Simon McTavish, Lachlan says: 

  “I can with great truth assure you that is afforded me infinite pleasure to receive a letter from the son of a Gentleman whom I had very sincere regard, although I had never the pleasure of being personally acquainted with him – I was however very intimately acquainted with two of your brothers, Duncan and John – Especially the latter who lived for some time at my father’s previous to his departure for the West Indies, and who, had he lived till now, would have done honor to his clan, but the poor fellow he died very recently after his arrival there.” 

Perhaps this was to reestablish himself politically after the mess of Culloden.  There continues to be speculation that the Stratherrick McTavish family had ancient connections to the Argyll McTavish families.  Legends of an ancient battle between the sons of the McTavish chief of Dunardry abound.  Was there an ancient connection, or are the McTavish families of Fraser stock?  Certainly the small tribe attached themselves to the Lovat branch of the Fraser clan, but they did maintain an independent identity as evidenced by the Bond of Confederation signed by the McTavish clan and the Fraser’s of Foyers.  Whatever the case, by 1700 the McTavish were considered to be and more important, considered themselves a Sept of Clan Fraser of Lovat.  

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[1] J K Harper, 78th Fighting Frasers. A short History of the Old 78th Regiment or Fraser’s Highlanders PP80-1, drawing on the Army lists.


[2] Amherst to Murray, Aug 11, 1761; PRO, WO34/3, f. 105.

[3] James Hunter, A Dance Called America 171.