The Highland Clearances (Scottish Gaelic: Fuadaichean nan Gàidheal [ˈfuə̯t̪içən nəŋ gɛː.əl̪ˠ], the "eviction of the Gaels") was the eviction, mostly during the 18th and 19th centuries, of a significant number of tenants in the Scottish Highlands. It resulted from enclosures of common lands and a change from farming to sheep raising, largely carried out by hereditary aristocratic landowners who previously had status as Scots Gaelic clan chiefs. The Clearances were a complex series of events occurring over more than a hundred years. A Highland Clearance has been defined as "an enforced simultaneous eviction of all families living in a given area such as an entire glen".
The Clearances relied on the insecurity of tenure of most tenants under the Scottish legal system. There was no equivalent of the English system of copyhold, which provided a heritable tenancy for many English counterparts of the Scots who were cleared from their farms. The cumulative effect of the Clearances, and the large-scale voluntary emigrations over the same period, devastated the cultural landscape of Scotland; the effect of the Clearances was to destroy much of the Gaelic culture.
The Clearances resulted in significant emigration of Highlanders to the coast, the Scottish Lowlands, and further afield to North America and Australasia. In the early 21st century, many times more descendants of Highlanders are found in these diaspora destinations than in Scotland. The Highlands itself now has a population density of about 9 persons per km² in comparison with an EU average of 116 per km² that is on a par with the northern parts of Finland and Sweden.
The enclosures in rural England in the British Agricultural Revolution started much earlier, during the Tudor period. Similar developments in Scotland have lately been called the Lowland Clearances by historians such as Tom Devine. But in the Highlands, the impact on a Goidelic (Scottish Gaelic)-speaking semi-feudal culture, which had included the fulfilment of obligations of a chief to his clan, led to vocal campaigning against the actions. There has been a lingering bitterness among the descendants of those forced to emigrate or to remain in crofting townships on very small areas of poor farming land.
From the late 16th century, laws required clan leaders to appear in Edinburgh regularly to provide bonds for the conduct of anyone in their territory. This created a tendency among chiefs to identify as landlords, rather than leaders of men. The lesser clan-gentry increasingly took up droving, taking cattle along the old unpaved drove roads to sell in the Lowlands. This brought wealth and land ownership within the clan, though the Highlands continued to be overpopulated and poor.
The recurring Jacobite Risings (1648–1746) brought repeated government efforts to curb those clans who supported James VII of Scotland and II of England and James Francis Edward Stuart and Charles Edward Stuart. Following the 1746 Battle of Culloden, the Stuarts' last major attempt to reclaim the throne, the established government responded with repression. Many of the battle's prisoners were executed, but most were allowed mercy and transported instead, under the Traitors Transported Act 1746 (20 Geo. II, c. 46)
The 1746 Act of Proscription, incorporating the Dress Act, required all swords to be surrendered to the government; it prohibited the traditional wearing of clan tartans and kilts. The Heritable Jurisdictions (Scotland) Act 1746 removed the virtually sovereign power which the chiefs held over their clans. The government's enforcement of the prohibitions varied and often related to the degree of a clan's support during the rebellion. But, overall these actions led to the destruction of the traditional clan system and of the supportive social structures, of small agricultural townships and run rigs.
From about 1725, in the aftermath of the first Jacobite Rising, Highlanders had begun emigrating to the Americas in increasing numbers. Under the Disarming Act of 1746 and the Clan Act of 1715, the Crown made ineffectual attempts to subdue the Scottish Highlands, and eventually sent in troops.[vague] Government garrisons were built or extended in the Great Glen at Fort William, Kiliwhimin (later renamed Fort Augustus) and Fort George, Inverness, as well as barracks at Ruthven, Bernera and Inversnaid, linked to the south by the "Wade roads" (constructed for Major-General George Wade). Fort Augustus and Fort William were deliberately situated to prevent hostile movement across the Great Glen. But, social conditions remained unsettled for the whole decade.
The Highland Clearances were part of the Scottish Agricultural Revolution but happened later and over a shorter time span than the same process in the Scottish Lowlands, in England and, to a large extent, elsewhere in Europe. The growing cities of the Industrial Revolution presented an increased demand for food; land came to be seen as an asset to meet this need, and as a source of profit, rather than a means of support for its resident population.(p38)
The distinction between the Agricultural Revolution elsewhere in Britain was that it was linked with Industrial Revolution. In the Gaelic speaking Highlands the dynamic of change was agricultural, with the industrial centres of the non-Gaelic Lowlands being the centre of industrial change.
Before improvement, Highland agriculture was based on run rig arable areas under the common management of the community and common land for grazing; those working in this system lived in townships or bailtean. With no individual leases or ownership of plots of such land, there is little incentive to improve it (for instance by drainage, or using crop rotation systems). Nor, with common grazing, could an individual owner improve the quality of his stock.(p27) Enclosure of the common lands and the runrig fields incentivised improvement, but, more importantly, allowed a change in land use. In many clearances, this change was the replacement of mixed farming (in which cattle provided a cash crop) with large-scale sheep farming. In most cases, shepherds were recruited from outside the Highlands to manage these flocks, so the entire existing population were displaced, either being removed to crofts on the same estate, going to other land in the Highlands, migrating to the industrial cities of Scotland or, more commonly in later clearances, emigrating.
Different landowners decided to introduce the improvements that required clearance at different times and for different reasons. The common drivers of clearance are as follows:
Replacement of the old-style peasant farming with a small number of well-capitalised sheep farmers allowed land to be let at much higher rents. It also had the advantage that there were fewer tenants to collect rent from, so reducing the administrative burden of the estate.
In some areas, land remained in arable use after clearance, but was farmed with more intensive modern methods. Some of the earliest clearances had been to introduce large scale cattle production. Some later clearances replaced agriculture with sporting estates stocked with deer. There are instances of an estate being cleared for sheep in the first instance, and then later being cleared again for deer. The major transition, however, was to pastoral agriculture based on sheep.(pp4, 24)
The most productive sheep breed was the Cheviot, allowing their owners to pay twice as much rent as if they had stocked with Blackfaces. The Cheviot's disadvantage was that it was less hardy and needed low level land on which to overwinter. This was usually the old arable land of the evicted population – so the choice of sheep breed dictated the totality of clearance in any particular Highland location.(pp32–53)
Some of those carrying out clearances believed that this was for the benefit of those affected. Patrick Sellar, the factor (agent) of the Countess of Sutherland, was descended from a paternal grandfather who had been a cottar in Banffshire and was cleared by an improving landlord. For the Sellars, this initiated a process of upward mobility (Patrick Sellar was a lawyer and a graduate of Edinburgh University) which Sellar took to be a moral tale that demonstrated the benefits to those forced to make a new start after eviction.
The provision of new accommodation for cleared tenants was often part of a planned piece of social engineering - a large example of this was the Sutherland Clearances, in which farming tenants in the interior were moved to crofts in coastal regions.(pp36–37) The intent was that the land allotted to them was not enough to provide all of their needs - so they would need to seek employment in industries like fishing, or work as seasonal itinerant farm labourers. The loss of status from tenant farmer to crofter was one of the reasons for the resentment of the clearances.(p403)
The planned acts of social engineering needed investment. This money often originated from fortunes earned outside Scotland, whether the great wealth of Sir James Matheson (the second son of a Sutherland tacksman, who returned from the Far East with a spectacular fortune), the more ordinary profits from Empire of other returning Scots, or English industrialists attracted by lower land values in Scotland.(p54) Large amounts of capital were used to start industrial and commercial enterprises or build infrastructure like roads, bridges and harbours - but the return on this capital was very low by contemporary standards. This wasted investment is described by Eric Richards as "a loss to the national economy to be set beside any gains to be tallied."(p410)(p20)
Some of this expenditure was used to build new towns, such as Bettyhill, which received tenants cleared from Strathnaver. This displacement has been compared to the movement of Glaswegians to Castlemilk in the 1950s - with a similar distance from the original settlement and a comparable level of overall failure of the project to produce the anticipated social benefits.(p175)
In the later stages of the clearances, when population reduction was the primary intention, the actions of landlords can be viewed as the crudest type of social engineering, with a very limited understanding of the likely consequences.(p415)
The kelp trade was badly affected by the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815 and had collapsed totally by 1820. Kelp (or seaweed) was harvested from the seashore at low tide, dried and burnt to yield an alkali extract used in the manufacture of soap and glass. It was a very labour intensive industry. Production had steadily grown from the 1730s to a peak level in 1810, with most production located in the Hebrides. The end of war reintroduced competition from Spanish Barilla, a cheaper and richer product. This, combined with the reduction of duty on the foreign import, and the discovery that cheaper alkali could be extracted from common salt, destroyed the seasonal employment of an estimated 25 to 40 thousand crofters. There was little prospect of alternative employment; the only possibility was fishing, which was also in decline at the same time.
The overall population of the Western Isles had grown by 80% between 1755 and 1821. The economic collapse of an industry that was a major employer in a greatly over-populated region had an inevitable result. Not only did the level of poverty increase in the general population, but many landlords, failing to make prompt adjustments to their catastrophic fall in income, descended into debt and bankruptcy.(pp42–43, 48, 52)
The Highlands, as an agriculturally marginal area, was the last part of mainland Britain to remain at risk of famine, with notable instances before the 19th century in 1680, 1688, the 1690s, 1740-1, 1756 and 1782-3. The history of the trade in meal suggests that the region balanced this import with exporting cattle - giving a substantial reliance on trade for survival, to an extent that was greater than anywhere else in Britain.(p44)
Crofting communities became more common in the early part of the 19th century. Particularly in the West Highlands and the Isles, the residents of these small agricultural plots were reliant on potatoes for at least three quarters of their diet. Until 1750, potatoes had been relatively uncommon in the Highlands. With a crop yield 4 times higher than oats, they became an integral part of crofting.(p49) After partial crop failures in 1836 and 1837, a severe outbreak of potato blight arrived in Scotland in 1846. By the end of the year, the north-west Highlands and the Hebrides had serious food shortages, with an estimated three quarters of the population with nothing to eat.(p371)
The Irish potato famine had struck a year earlier, and Ireland's misfortune created a philanthropic awareness that meant that the relief effort could be quickly mobilised for the Highlands before large numbers of people had died. The richer landlords were able to fund their own famine relief for their tenants. Others, though, were bankrupted by buying the necessary food. Conversely, some landlords were criticised for using the voluntarily raised relief funds to avoid supporting their tenants through the crisis.(pp255–256)
The Highland Potato Famine started to ease in the first half of the 1850s - but the years of famine had taken their toll. Beyond the human impact, the financial effect on landlords was overwhelming. Rental income was reduced whilst expenditure rose. With such an obvious disaster in front of them, some sold their estates, others realised they needed a stricter level of management, often leading to clearance. Others went bankrupt.
Many Highland landlords were in debt, despite rising commodity prices and the associated farm incomes which allowed higher rents to be charged. Much of this was due to profligate spending.(pp96–97) The landed classes of the Highlands socialised with southern landowners, who had more diverse sources of income, such as mineral royalties and windfall income from urban expansion. The low productivity of Highland lands made this a financial trap for their owners. In other cases, spending on famine relief depleted the financial resources of landowners - so even the prudent and responsible could ultimately be forced to increase the income from their estates. Lastly, investments in an estate, whether on roads, drainage, enclosure or other improvements might not realise the anticipated returns. The major financial pressure, though, was the end of the Napoleonic War, which had supported high prices for the small range of commodities produced in the Highlands.(pp63–83)
The extent of indebtedness among Highland landowners was enormous. The evidence of this is the very high number of hereditary lands that were sold, especially in the first half of the 19th century. T M Devine describes this as a "financial suicide" by an entire class of people.(p68) Debt was not a new problem for Highland landowners in the 19th century - it had been equally prevalent in the 17th and 18th. The change was in the lender. The further development of the banking system at the beginning of the 19th century meant that landowners did not need to look to family members or neighbours as a source of finance. The downside to this was a greater readiness of the lender to foreclose - and an increased willingness to lend in the first place, perhaps unwisely.(pp65–73)
Debt had three possible consequences, all of which were likely to involve the eviction of tenants. The landlord could try and avoid bankruptcy by introducing immediate improvements, putting up rents, clearing tenants to allow higher paying sheep farmers to be installed. Alternatively, the estate could be sold to wipe out the debts. A new owner was highly likely to have plans for improvement which would include clearance. They also had the money to fund assisted passages for cleared tenants to emigrate, so putting into practice ideas suggested in the 1820s and 1830s. As most purchasers were from outside the highlands or from England, they neither understood nor followed the Gaelic principle of dùthchas,[a] so removing a potential level of protection for tenants. Finally, the landlord might enter bankruptcy, with the estate passing into the hands of administrators whose legal obligation was to protect the financial interests of the creditors. This last case was often the worst outcome for tenants.(pp58–59)
The 18th century was a time of population growth, almost continuous from the 1770s onwards. This was not seen as a problem by landlords as people were considered to be an asset - both to provide a pool for military recruitment and as an economic resource. Landowners and the government sought to discourage emigration, an attitude that resulted in the Passenger Vessels Act of 1803, which was intended to limit the ability of people to emigrate.
The role of the Highlands in providing a source of recruitment for the army and navy was, in the words of TM Devine, "quite remarkable". Starting in the Seven Years War (1756–63) and increasing during the American Revolution, by the time of the Napoleonic Wars, one estimate put the Highland contribution to regiments of the line, militia, Fencibles and Volunteers at 74,000. This was out of a population of about 300,000. Even allowing for this estimate overstating the case, in time of war, the Highlands was seen as a significant recruiting resource.(p43)
The attitude towards increasing population was altered in the first half of the 19th century. First, the kelp trade collapsed in the years immediately following the end of the Napoleonic Wars in 1815. Most of those working in the kelp trade were crofters, with not enough land to make a living. Without alternative employment, which was not available, destitution was inevitable. The landlords (or in some cases the trustees of their bankrupt estates) no longer tried to retain their tenants on their land, either encouraging or assisting emigration, or, in the more desperate circumstances, virtually compelling those in substantial rent arrears to accept an assisted passage, with the alternative of simple eviction.(pp43, 48, 52)
The potato famine followed shortly after the collapse of the kelp industry. The human cost to the tenants and the landlords' liability for famine relief made the downsides of population more apparent.
In the decades following 1815, the ideological and political consensus changed. Surplus population slowly became thought of as a liability; their need to be fed could not be ignored in a philanthropic age. Therefore large-scale expatriation was considered as a solution to the social crisis in the Highlands. The Passenger Vessels Act was repealed in 1827 and in 1841 a Select Committee of the House of Commons concluded that the crofting parishes had a surplus population of 45,000 to 60,000.(pp184–185)
The primary motivation for clearance was economic. Associated with this was the suggestion by some theorists that the Celtic population were less hardworking than those of Anglo-Saxon stock (i.e. Lowlanders and, in some instances, English), so giving an economic element to a racial theory. James Hunter quotes a contemporary Lowland newspaper: ‘Ethnologically the Celtic race is an inferior one and, attempt to disguise it as we may, there is . . . no getting rid of the great cosmical fact that it is destined to give way . . . before the higher capabilities of the Anglo-Saxon.’ It is not apparent to what extent this had any practical effect on the decision-making of landlords - though Patrick Sellar, the factor employed by the Countess of Sutherland to put her plans into effect, often wrote of his support for these opinions.
With the development of scientific racist ideas from about 1850 , the Clearances were at times supported by the belief that the Celtic race was inferior to the Anglo-Saxon race. Although he did not propose the existence of a "Celtic" race, George Combe's popular and influential The Constitution of Man, published in 1828, provided a framework which would be used by some to support theories of Anglo-Saxon racial superiority. In 1850, Robert Knox published The Races of Men which asserted the inferiority of the Celtic race as compared to the Anglo-Saxon and Nordic races.
The view that the economic failures of the Highlands were due to the shortcomings of the Celtic race was shared and expressed by the two most important Scottish newspapers, The Scotsman and the Glasgow Herald, together with the more northerly Inverness Courier.
In 1851, The Scotsman wrote that:
Collective emigration is, therefore, the removal of a diseased and damaged part of our population. It is a relief to the rest of the population to be rid of this part.
Similar views were held by senior public officials. Sir Charles Trevelyan was co-founder with Sir John McNeill of the Highland and Island Emigration Society. In a letter to McNeill in 1852, he wrote that:
"A national effort" would now be necessary in order to rid the land of "the surviving Irish and Scotch Celts". The exodus would then allow for the settlement of a racially superior people of Teutonic stock. He welcomed "the prospects of flights of Germans settling here in increasing numbers – an orderly, moral, industrious and frugal people, less foreign to us than the Irish or Scotch Celt, a congenial element which will readily assimilate with our body politic."
The Reformation Parliament of 1560 made practising Roman Catholicism illegal, as well as the ownership of any property by a Roman Catholic. Latterly, Roman Catholicism became identified with Jacobitism in the Highlands. Roman Catholics had experienced a sequence of discriminatory laws in the period up to 1829.
The number of adherents of Roman Catholicism is difficult to estimate but it was a definite minority of the Scottish population, though a majority in some parts of the Western Highlands. In 1755 it was estimated that there were some 16,500 communicants, mainly in the north and west. In 1764, "the total [Roman] Catholic population in Scotland would have been about 33,000 or 2.6% of the total population. Of these 23,000 were in the Highlands". Another estimate for 1764 is of 13,166 Roman Catholics in the Highlands, perhaps a quarter of whom had emigrated by 1790.
However, religious discrimination is not considered, by some historians, to be a reason for evicting tenants as part of any clearance. Dawson and Farber note that 'although the landlords did not target people for ethnic or religious reasons, the effect of the Clearances was to destroy much of the Gaelic culture, which was dispersed along with the people that fled.'
Nevertheless, anti-Catholic sentiment (along with famine, poverty and rising rents) was a contributory factor in some Clearances. Whilst most historians relate the response to Jacobitism as being a key element in the sequence of events that covers the Highland Clearances period.
Some go further, with historian Eric Richards stating that in the "religious dimension in some of the west Highland emigrations" that "[Roman] Catholics felt the chill of landlord discrimination to such a degree that people of this faith left for North America in disproportionately large numbers, often effectively well stimulated by emigration agents perambulating the Highlands before the end of the century." 
Another wave of mass emigration came in 1792, known to Gaelic-speaking Highlanders as the Bliadhna nan Caorach ("Year of the Sheep"). Landlords had been clearing land to establish sheep farming. In 1792 tenant farmers from Strathrusdale led a protest by driving more than 6,000 sheep off the land surrounding Ardross. This action, commonly referred to as the "Ross-shire Sheep Riot", was dealt with at the highest levels in the government; the Home Secretary Henry Dundas became involved. He had the Black Watch mobilised; it halted the drive and brought the ringleaders to trial. They were found guilty, but later escaped custody and disappeared.
The people were relocated to poor crofts. Others were sent to small farms in coastal areas, where farming could not sustain the population, and they were expected to take up fishing as a new trade. In the village of Badbea in Caithness, the weather conditions were so harsh that, while the women worked, they had to tether their livestock and their children to rocks or posts to prevent them being blown over the cliffs. Other crofters were transported directly to emigration ships, bound for North America or Australia.
It was only in the early 19th century that the second, more brutal phase of the Clearances began.
Most notorious are the examples of landlords trying to exploit changing economic circumstances to their financial advantage by clearing uneconomical tenants from their land, making room for more profitable uses such as sheep, deer forests or tourism. Two of the best documented such clearances are those from the land of the Duchess of Sutherland, carried out by her factor Patrick Sellar, and the Glencalvie clearances which were witnessed and documented by a London Times reporter.
In 1807, Elizabeth Gordon, 19th Countess of Sutherland, touring her inheritance with her husband Lord Stafford (later Duke of Sutherland), wrote that "he is seized as much as I am with the rage of improvements, and we both turn our attention with the greatest of energy to turnips". As well as turning land over to sheep farming, Stafford planned to invest in creating a coal-pit, salt pans, brick and tile works and herring fisheries. That year his agents began the evictions, and 90 families were forced to leave their crops in the ground and move their cattle, furniture and timbers to the land they were offered 20 miles (32 km) away on the coast, living in the open until they had built themselves new houses. This plan has been described as a "typical example... of social engineering which met neither the hopes of the benefactors nor the needs of the beneficiaries, but produced social disaster."
The Sutherlands' first Commissioner, William Young, arrived in 1809, and soon engaged Patrick Sellar as his factor, who pressed ahead with the process while acquiring sheep farming estates for himself. The Sutherlands carried out extensive clearances between 1811 and 1820. Sellar personally supervised the eviction of any who showed reluctance to go, and the burning of cleared houses (especially the roof timbers) to prevent re-occupation.
Tenants were generally treated according to due process of law, being served with notices of eviction and given time (typically three months) to vacate. However, many were reluctant to leave, did not obey the eviction notices, and were evicted with force. The methods used were sometimes harsh, even by the standards of the early 19th century. Donald McLeod, a Sutherland stonemason, wrote about the events he witnessed:
The consternation and confusion were extreme. Little or no time was given for the removal of persons or property; the people striving to remove the sick and the helpless before the fire should reach them; next, struggling to save the most valuable of their effects. The cries of the women and children, the roaring of the affrighted cattle, hunted at the same time by the yelling dogs of the shepherds amid the smoke and fire, altogether presented a scene that completely baffles description — it required to be seen to be believed.
A dense cloud of smoke enveloped the whole country by day, and even extended far out to sea. At night an awfully grand but terrific scene presented itself — all the houses in an extensive district in flames at once. I myself ascended a height about eleven o'clock in the evening, and counted two hundred and fifty blazing houses, many of the owners of which I personally knew, but whose present condition — whether in or out of the flames — I could not tell. The conflagration lasted six days, till the whole of the dwellings were reduced to ashes or smoking ruins. During one of these days a boat actually lost her way in the dense smoke as she approached the shore, but at night was enabled to reach a landing-place by the lurid light of the flames.
Accounts like those of McLeod and General David Stewart of Garth brought widespread condemnation. Two old people evicted at Sellar's orders were too ill to go far. He left them exposed to the chill northern air and they died. He was acquitted on a charge of manslaughter, but the Duchess wrote: "The more I hear and see of Sellar the more I am convinced that he is not to be trusted more than he is at present. He is so exceedingly greedy and harsh with the people, there are very heavy complaints against him from Strathnaver." In due course Sellar was dismissed from his post.
Elsewhere, the flamboyant Alexander Ranaldson MacDonell of Glengarry portrayed himself as the last genuine specimen of the true Highland chief while his tenants (almost all Catholic) were subjected to a relentless process of eviction. He abandoned his disbanded regiment; its Catholic chaplain (later bishop), Alexander Macdonell led the men and their families to settle in Glengarry County, eastern Ontario, Canada.
As in Ireland, the potato crop failed in Scotland during the mid 19th century, and a widespread outbreak of cholera further weakened the Highland population. The ongoing clearance policy resulted in starvation, deaths, and a secondary clearance, when families either migrated voluntarily or were forcibly evicted.[vague] There were many deaths of children and the aged.[clarification needed] As there were few alternatives, people emigrated, joined the army, or moved to growing urban centres such as Glasgow, Edinburgh, and Dundee in Lowland Scotland and Newcastle upon Tyne and Liverpool in the north of England. Others squatted in Highland towns such as Tobermory, Lochcarron, or Lochaline. In places some people were given economic incentives to move, but in many instances landlords used violent methods.
Devine writes that, in contrast to earlier clearances,
evictions during the famine were often governed by an undisguised determination to expel the people. In addition, these clearances were unleashed on a population already ravaged by hunger and destitution and few attempts were made to provide shelter to the dispossessed.
The effect of the large scale evictions and the appearance of destitute Gaels in urban areas was to bring the problem of Clearance to the attention of Britain and lay the foundation for reform.
In 1851, following his tour of the Western Highlands and Isles, Sir John McNeill wrote:
The inhabitants of these distressed districts have neither capital enough to cultivate the extent of the land necessary to maintain them if it could be provided, nor have they land enough were the capital supplied to them.
Richards considers this observation to be "the central dilemma of the crofter economy". After the potato blight, there were more people than the land could support.
The potato famine gave rise to the Highland and Island Emigration Society which sponsored around 5,000 emigrants to Australia from the affected areas of Scotland.
The spoliation of the church's property, the fraudulent alienation of the State domains, the robbery of the common lands, the usurpation of feudal and clan property, and its transformation into modern private property under circumstances of reckless terrorism...
It has frequently been asserted that Gaels reacted to the Clearances with apathy and a near-total absence of active resistance from the crofting population. However, upon closer examination this view is at best an oversimplification. Even before the Crofters' War of the 1880s, Gaelic communities had staved off or even averted removals by accosting law enforcement officials and destroying eviction notices, such as in Coigach, Rossshire, 1852-3. Women took the front line in opposing the authorities, with their male relatives backing them up. Lowland shepherds imported to work the new sheep farms were subject to intimidating letters and maiming or theft of the sheep. More than 1,500 sheep were stolen on the Sutherland estate in a single year in the early 19th century. Many forms of resistance were practiced under the table, such as poaching. After the introduction of watermills at Milton Farm, South Uist, in the early nineteenth century, the tenants continued to hand-grind their grain with querns. As this was considered undesirable, the landlord had the querns broken; similar episodes were recorded in Skye and Tiree. Another important form of resistance was in rejecting ministers appointed by the landlords. After the Disruption of 1843, many Gaelic-speaking areas deserted the Church of Scotland in favor of the Presbyterian Free Church, which refused to take money from landlords and was often overtly critical of them.
Richards describes three attempts at large-scale resistance before the Crofters' War: the Year of the Sheep, protests against Patrick Sellar's clearance of Strathnaver in 1812-4, and the "Dudgeonite agitation" in Easter Ross in 1819-20, sparked by a local tacksman's organization of an emigration fund.
The Highland Land League eventually achieved land reform in the enactment of the Crofters' Holdings (Scotland) Act 1886, but these could not bring economic viability and came too late, at a time when the land was already suffering from depopulation. However, the Crofters' Act put an end to the Clearances by granting security of tenure to crofters.
However, the Crofters' Act did not grant security of tenure to cottiers or break up large estates. As a result, the Scottish Highlands continues to have the most unequal distributions of land in Europe, with more than half of Scotland owned by fewer than 500 people. Land struggles occurred after the First and Second World Wars as returning servicemen could not get crofts.
Many Gaelic poets were heavily influenced by the Clearances. Responses varied from sadness and nostalgia, which dominated the poetry of Niall MacLeòid, to the anger and call to action found in the work of Màiri Mhòr nan Òran. Considered one of the greatest Scottish Gaelic poems of the 20th century, Hallaig, was written by Somhairle MacGill-Eain about a cleared village near where he grew up on Raasay; many other of his poems deal with the effects of the Clearances.
Many songs were in the form of satire of the landlord class. Perhaps the most famous of these is Dùthaich Mhic Aoidh (Mackay Country or Northern Sutherland, a region hit hard by the Clearances), written by Ewen Henderson, who became known as the "Bard of the Clearances." The song mocks the Duke of Sutherland, his factor, Patrick Sellar, James Loch, James Anderson, and others involved in the Sutherland Clearances:
Ciad Diùc Cataibh, le chuid foill,
On 23 July 2007, the Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond unveiled a 3-metre (10 ft) high bronze Exiles statue, by Gerald Laing, in Helmsdale, Sutherland, which commemorates the people who were cleared from the area by landowners and left their homeland to begin new lives overseas. The statue, which depicts a family leaving their home, stands at the mouth of the Strath of Kildonan and was funded by Dennis Macleod, a Scottish-Canadian mining millionaire who also attended the ceremony.
The diaspora was worldwide, but emigrants settled in close communities on Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia (Antigonish and Pictou counties and later in Cape Breton), the Glengarry and Kingston areas of Ontario and the Carolinas of the American colonies. Canadian Gaelic was widely spoken for some two centuries. One estimate of Nova Scotia's population has 50,000 Gaels immigrating from Scotland between 1815 and 1870. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were an estimated 100,000 Gaelic speakers in Cape Breton.