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

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The Tacksman

The Term Tacksman is used so frequently in the history of the Highlands, what exactly was a Tacksman???

Information provided by Craig McTavish - New Zealand

Up to 1746, the Highlands operated under the clan system, but after the failure of the Stewart rising on the moor at Culloden, the Lowland government undertook the systematic destruction of the clan system. There were many changes within the next few years; among them the clan chieftains were deprived of their role in Highland society and their military power was removed, the wearing of the kilt and playing of the Highland bagpipes was also proscribed. As much as the Highlanders loved their land, this indignity was enough to make some want to leave. No longer were the clansmen able to live a life of subsistence farming, military service to their chief and cattle rustling.

The clan chieftain now became a landlord and was forced to gain an economic return from the soil. Under the clan system there was a hierarchical system of familial respect where a few substantial tenant farmers rented land from a tacksman (who was usually a blood relation to several of the tenants, cottars and often the chief himself). The tacksman was responsible for rallying the clansmen at a time of war and to aid the chieftain in administering land leases and providing work for the cottars and tenants. It was really a patriarchal system. With the changes after 1746, the tacksman's job became increasingly precarious. Below the tenant farmers in the order of things was the cottar to whom the tenants sublet small scraps of land. These cottars, who made up much of the population of the Highland villages, laboured for the tenants growing oats, potatoes, barley, and raising black cattle. For generations, until the changes of the mid eighteenth century, this system worked smoothly