Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Trad Tuesday - MacPherson's Rant by Old Blind Dogs

Jamie MacPherson was a Scottish outlaw, the illegitimate son of Laird MacPherson of Invereshie and a beautiful gypsy girl. He was acknowledged and raised by his father until his death, then claimed by his mother's people. He grew up "in beauty, strength and stature rarely equaled."

He became the head of the gypsy band and was a famous swordsman and fiddler. He and his men became famous as outlaws in Aberdeenshire. He was eventually captured and put on trial.

It was still at that time a criminal offence merely to be an Egyptian (Gypsy) in Scotland, and it was under this statute that MacPherson was tried in November 1700. MacPherson and three others were brought to trial at Banff before Sheriff Nicholas Dunbar, Sheriff of Banffshire (who allegedly was a close friend of Duff's), on 8 November 1700, accused of: "Being ye mercats in yr ordinary manner of thieving and purse-cutting, or of the crimes of theft and masterful bangstree and oppression", and they were found "Fyllen, culpable, and convick" and sentenced "For sae muckle, as you, James MacPherson, are found guilty of being Egyptians and vagabonds and oppressors of his free lieges. Therefore, I adjudge and decern you to be taken to the cross of Banff to be hanged by the neck to the death".

The actual proc├Ęs-verbal of his trial is still extant; the following is the text of the death sentence:

"Forasmeikle as you James McPherson, pannal [accused] are found guilty by ane verdict of ane assyse, to be knoun, holden, and repute to be Egiptian and a wagabond, and oppressor of his Magesties free lieges in ane bangstrie manner, and going up and down the country armed, and keeping mercats in ane hostile manner, and that you are a thief, and that you are of pessimae famae. Therfor, the Sheriff-depute of Banff, and I in his name, adjudges and discernes you the said James McPherson to be taken to the Cross of Banff, from the tolbooth thereof, where you now lye, and there upon ane gibbet to be erected, to be hanged by the neck to the death by the hand of the common executioner, upon Friday next, being the 16th day of November instant, being a public weekly mercat day, betwixt the hours of two and three in the afternoon....”

MacPherson wrote his Rant the night before he was hanged, though it was later reworked by Robert Burns. Supposedly, he played it under the gallows and asked for a member of his clan to play it at his wake. When no one stepped forward, he broke his fiddle over his knee and said "No one else shall play Jamie MacPherson's fiddle." The broken fiddle is in the MacPherson Clan Museum near Newtonmore.

The legends about the life and death of Jamie MacPherson are numerous and very interesting reading. He is still quite famous in Aberdeenshire. The lyrics to Jamie's Rant or Lament go like this: 
I've spent my life in rioting,
Debauch'd my health and strength,
I squander'd fast, as pillage came,
And fell to shame at length.
Sae rantingly, sae wantonly,
Sae dauntingly gaed he;
He play'd a tune, and danc'd it roon'
Below the gallows-tree.
My father was a gentleman,
Of fame and honour high,
Oh mother, would you ne'er had borne
The son so doom'd to die.
Ach, little did my mother think
When first she cradled me
That I would turn a roving boy
And die on the gallows tree
Farewell, yon dungeons dark and strong,
The wretch's destinie!
M'Pherson's time will not be long
On yonder gallows-tree.
O what is Death but parting breath?
On many a bloody plain
I've dar'd his face, and in this place
I'll scorn him yet again.
But vengeance I never did wreak,
When pow'r was in my hand,
And you, dear friends, no vengeance seek,
It is my last command.
Forgive the man whose rage betray'd
MacPherson's worthless life;
When I am gone, be it not said,
My legacy was strife.
It was by a woman's treacherous hand
That I was condemned tae dee
Aboon a ledge at a windae she stood
And a blanket she threw o'er me
Untie these bands frae aff o' my hands
And gie tae me my sword
There's no a man in a' Scotland
But I'll brave him at his word
There's some come here tae see me hang
And some tae buy my fiddle
But afore that I dae part wi' her
I'd brak' her through the middle
He took his fiddle into both of his hands
And he brak' it o'er a stone
Said, Nae ither hands shall play on thee
When I am deid and gane
Now farewell light, thou sunshine bright, "
And all beneath the sky!
May coward shame distain his name,
The wretch that dares not die!
A reprieve was coming o'er the brig o' Banff
Tae set MacPherson free,
But they pit the clock a quarter afore
And they hanged him from a tree.
Sae rantingly, sae wantonly,
Sae dauntingly gaed he;
He play'd a tune, and danc'd it roon'
And they hanged him from a tree.

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