A Murder in the Land of Heather and Clans
Everyone loves a good ghost story told on a dark night, during this, the season of goblins, witches, and fun-sized candy bars. Curl up with that bowl of candy you pretended to buy for trick-or-treaters and I’ll relate to you a dark tale which begins across the briny in the Highlands of Scotland and reaches its climax right here in the Adirondacks. The eerie part of this story is that the facts of the case are so well documented on both sides of the Atlantic.
On the rugged western shore of Scotland, the lands surrounding Loch Etive give rise to the great mountain Ben Cruachen. It is a harsh cold land, full of treacherous ravines and brush covered hills.
Nearby is the river Deergan and at its mouth are five boulders used as stepping stones. They have been named “Murderer's Ford” because of the foul crime committed there. The chasm through which the waters plunge is to this day called Glen Saleach, “The Dirty Pass.”
It was here that Stewart of Appin did murder Donald Campbell of Lorn. Fleeing the site of his misdeed, Stewart scrambled downstream to Loch Etive. He evaded a group of men who had taken up pursuit by leaving the trails to tread a harrowing flight along the cliffs and gullies, rushing headlong into the blackness of night.
Reaching Loch Etive, Stewart ran up the gentle knoll to Castle Inverawe, a tower house nestled at the base of Ben Cruachen and overlooking the River Awe.
The Laird of Inverawe, Duncan Campbell, had just settled in for a comfortable evening when a furious banging called him to the door.
An Unwanted Caller
Opening the door to address the shouts and banging, the Laird was met with the ragged figure of Stewart of Appin, exhausted and bruised from his flight in the darkness.
“Sanctuary!” cried Stewart, “I've killed a man in a duel, and a mob is following me, intent on killing me. Give me shelter, and swear an oath you'll not betray me!”
What you may not know is, in the tradition of his land, sanctuary must be given when asked. Duncan Campbell, Laird Inverawe, was bound by honor to take the man in. He hid him away in a secret room in the cellar, and had no sooner returned to the hall when a second clamor arose at the door, this one louder and more urgent.
A great crowd of his own clansmen stood before him. “Stewart of Appin has killed your kin, Donald Campbell. He set upon him wickedly and stabbed him in the back!”
Laird Inverawe sent the men away and hurriedly retired. Donald Campbell?! The very man who had saved his life years ago. Once, while returning home on leave from the Black Watch, he became lost amongst the crags and ravines high in the mountain. The stranger who gave him shelter that night turned out to be of his own clan. Duncan Campbell had made an oath to repay this act of salvation however he could.
An Unwelcome Visitor
You can imagine the mental turmoil that Duncan took with him to his sleep that night, a sleep that was short lived.
He awoke to a man standing in his room, a man lit by a glow of no earthly light. The visitor's eyes were wild, his face was smeared with mud, and his long wet hair clung about his face like ghastly tendrils. His clothes were torn and disheveled and he held his blood-covered hands forward in supplication.
“Inverawe! Inverawe! Blood has been shed!” he wailed in a quivering shriek, slowly looking down at his hands. Looking up again he continued his plea, “Blood must avenge blood!”
With that he turned his eyes away from Duncan, and as the glance was broken the apparition ceased to be.
You and I may not now what these words meant, but Duncan did. Donald Campbell of Lorn was calling in what was due. Duncan had promised to repay him for saving his life. The plea was for Duncan to avenge the death of his cousin. I don't know about you, but I wouldn't know how to deal with the situation. Duncan didn't know either.
In the morning he took Stewart high into Ben Cruachen to a secure hiding place, thinking he had discharged the duties of his oath. Having taken care of the earthly obligation, he returned home to Inverawe, feeling that things had gone about as well as they could have, under the circumstances.
That night the ghost returned and repeated his plea. “Inverawe! Inverawe! Blood has been shed! Blood must avenge blood!”
In the morning Duncan climbed to the mountain refuge to find the man had fled. Once again he thought he had executed his responsibilities as best he could and returned home.
A third visitation followed. “Inverawe! Inverawe! Blood has been shed! Blood must avenge blood! We shall meet again at Ticonderoga!”
The name was burned into Duncan's memory. “Ticonderoga.” The Laird made inquiries in all the towns around. No one had ever heard of the name.
By 1758, Duncan Campbell had risen to the rank of Major in the Black Watch, an officer of the 42nd Highlanders.
The British, under the leadership of General James Abercrombie, were involved in a campaign against the French between the British colony of New York and the French colony of New France. The 42nd Highlanders were part of the troops amassed to march on Fort Carillon, or as it was known to the British, Fort Ticonderoga.
Once Abercrombie learned the fort's name, and having heard Duncan's uncanny tale, he assembled the other officers of the 42nd Highlanders. They were instructed to refer to the fort as Fort George, so as not to cause undo stress on Campbell.
Getting the lay of the land before the battle, Major Campbell walked upon a small footbridge over the river between Lake George and Lake Champlain. Suddenly a man stood before him, a horrible vision all too familiar to him. The dead man locked eyes with Duncan in an icy glare and then was gone.
Campbell confronted his fellow officers. “I have seen him again: this is Ticonderoga,” he said with fatal resignation.
On July 8, 1758 the bloodiest battle of the French and Indian War was fought, called the Battle of Carillon, also known as the Battle of Ticonderoga. Each and every officer from the 42nd Highlanders was killed or mortally wounded. Major Duncan Campbell was shot on the battlefield and died of his wounds on July 17, 1758.
There has been erected at Fort Ticonderoga a cairn to honor the Scottish troops who gave their lives during the the Battle of Ticonderoga. The flag of St. Andrew is designed into the stonework above the door.
Ready to celebrate with friendly little ghosts? Check out this spooky, fun event - Children's Haunted hallway at the North Country Community College.
This week we dig up some ghostly Adirondack tales: