On this day in 1797 The Massacre of Tranent took place, when workers from the East Lothain town confronted the Cinque Port Light Dragoons to protest the conscription of men into the British Militia.
In 1793 Great Britain had entered the War of the First Coalition against France. Britain feared a French invasion, particularly in Ireland and Scotland, the latter having only been a part of the Union since 1707 and the Jacobite Risings still within living memory. The fear was not without justification, for the French had managed to land a small expeditionary force in Wales in February 1797, though it had quickly been dealt with by the local yeomanry.
In 1797 therefore the Militia Act was passed in Scotland, which empowered the Lord Lieutenants of Scotland to raise and command militia regiments in each of the "Counties, Stewartries, Cities, and Places" under their jurisdiction. The aim was to raise around 6,000 to 8,000 militiamen throughout Scotland who could be used to defend the country but could also be deployed elsewhere if needed. Furthermore, the militiamen represented a fertile pool for recruitment into the regular army, for while militia regiments were constitutionally separate from the army, from the 1790s militiamen were encouraged to volunteer, and did so in large numbers.
The act was initially deeply unpopular as it was believed the militia ballot would be used to enable the Crown to remove men from Scotland.
On August 28th a proclamation was drawn up by local people of Tranent to object to the conscription of Scots into the British Militia, to be used either for controlling their own people or for deployment elsewhere. The proclamation comprised four clauses:
The following day, the proclamation was handed to Major Wight, the commanding officer of the recruitment squad; it was initially ignored. Later, when a contingent from the local colliery communities, led by 'Jackie' (Joan) Crookston confronted the troops, their response was swift and bloody. Several of the protesters, including Crookston, were shot dead out of hand.
The protesters fled from the centre of the small town into the countryside, pursued by the Cinque Port Light Dragoons, who are reported to have cut down people indiscriminately, caring little whether they were involved in the protest or not. Casualty estimates range from around a dozen to twenty or more men, women and children dead, with more injured. After the slaughter the troopers are alleged to have carried out rapes and pillage in the small town.
The Light Dragoons' overall commanding officer was then Colonel Viscount Hawkesbury, (later 2nd Earl of Liverpool, and future British Prime Minister) who was not present. It was reported that "His lordship was blamed for remaining at Haddington, as his presence might have prevented the outrages of the soldiery."
These scenes were created by Dan Harris as part of a series of models on people and protest. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to see them first.
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