Margaret MacKay lived from 1722 to 18 June 1814. She was a resident of Strathnaver who was killed during the Highland Clearances. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Margaret MacKay lived in Strathnaver all her life. In 1814 she was over 90 years old and living in the croft of her son-in-law William Chisholm, and her daughter, Henrietta, near Rosal in Strathnaver. Huge changes were sweeping across the Highlands and Islands of Scotland at the time. Traditional ways of farming supported large local populations, but earned very little for the landowners. During the latter part of the 1700s and early 1800s waves of "improvement" swept across the area, during which large numbers of people were cleared from their ancestral homes, many resettling in new villages on the coast, and many more emigrating to the new world. This was the era of the Highland Clearances.
The most notorious clearances took place in Sutherland, with as many as 15,000 people being cleared from the 1.5 million acre estates of the the Countess of Sutherland and her husband, the Marquess of Stafford (later to become the Duke and Duchess of Sutherland, in the years 1811 to 1821 so the land could be let to sheep farmers. 1814 became known as the "year of the burning", with, on one occasion, a witness reported seeing 250 crofts on fire from a single vantage point.
One of the crofts cleared by the estate factor, Patrick Sellar, was that of William Chisholm and his wife. During the eviction, the roof was set on fire, with Margaret MacKay still inside. She was rescued by her daughter and taken to a nearby shed, where she died five days later. As a result, Patrick Sellar was put on trial in Inverness in 1816 accused of arson and culpable homicide: but he was acquitted. Margaret MacKay's memory lives on as one example of the widespread suffering endured during the clearances.
This biography draws on research first published in "The Biographical Dictionary of Scottish Women".