The Slaughter of Watertown

Not long after constructing Ardgrain, the Kennedies became embroiled in a bitter land dispute, which later became locally known as the slaughter of Watertown.

 

Clan Rivalry

Thomas Forbes, whose stately mansion with courtyards and stables was built beside the Ythan river to the east of Ellon, was in his middle years, with nine sons and daughters. John Kennedy, the hereditary constable of Aberdeen (this title tied to the Ardgrain site some years earlier) was the latest of a long line of Kennedies of Ellon.

Kennedy was the younger man to Forbes. The Kennedies had erected Ellon Castle as their Fortalice centuries before, and had acquired a huge landholding in the Ellon area. Kennedy had for some time been determined to construct a trench across a road or highway to drain a loch on the Kennedy lands. Forbes, it is said, was in opposition to this, possibly due to the scale of the project, the depth of the trench required, and the size of the loch to be drained. Another theory for the sudden Kennedy drive for the draining of the loch is that John Kennedy wished to build a mill, and a head of water would be necessary to drive the wheel. By draining the loch, he could divert the water to his mill. Either way, Forbes, whose land bordered the highway objected, and the argument escalated.

Tensions Escalate

As the ditch was being constructed, Kennedy could be seen close by, his fathers great sword close at hand. This sword, handed down through generations, belonged to John Kennedy Sr, and he as the father figure, himself became engrossed in wielding the great weapon should the Forbes' dare oppose the Kennedy plans. The morning of the 12th of February 1652, the trench had reached the highway, and an estimated 14 ft deep trench would be required to be cut through- blocking all traffic until a suitable bridge could be constructed.

The local Sheriff and church minister both stepped in at this point, and a "Civil Interruption" was made, effectively halting Kennedies plans until a public review could be made. The next day, while the Sheriff and church minister were at the Forbes estate discussing the recent events, a cry went up that a group of six Kennedies were again at the ditch, this time armed and ready. The records have varying accounts as to who was on the offensive as the Forbes's ran to he site, but shots rang out on both sides, and stones were thrown.

Slaughter of Watertown

The first on the Kennedy side went down after a matter of minutes, closely followed by the Sheriff, who had his arm almost severed by a blow from the great Kennedy sword. Both sides quickly lost more men to injuries, including a severe beating of John Kennedy himself, so the minister grabbed a sword and intervened between both rival parties. The fighting ceased. But minutes later a Kennedy cry went up, and work again began on the trench. Fighting immediately ensued, despite the ministers cries for peace. In the lull in fighting after the minister had intervened brandishing a sword, the Forbes's had replenished their weaponry with stones. When fighting recommenced shortly after, a Forbes stone struck Kennedy squarely in the face, knocking out three of his teeth, and breaking his jawbone. In a furious rage, Kennedy swung out with the great sword, carving a great 7 inch long cleft in John Forbes's skull.

Fleeing the Scene

It took four lingering months for Forbes to die. Two weeks after the incident, Kennedy spoke at Edinburgh, to try to win over the authorities. It was to no avail, and Kennedy was arrested on the high street on the 5th of March 1652. By 1657, the Kennedies had vanished and fled from the Ellon area. Their lands being sold, ironically, to the Forbes family through an intermediary.

Popular Ardgrain history articles:

Introduction to Ardgrain

Ardgrain

An brief tour through Ardgrains past, which spans nearly 600 years

 

Ardgrain Barony

Nether Ardgrain, or Ardgrain as it was originally known, has had tenants on this site from the late middle ages onwards, and historical records suggest a tenancy at Ardgrain as early as 1422.

Erected to Royal Charter in 1528 with the Crown as superior, the main house at Ardgrain is sited on top of a much earlier structure built by the Innes family.  Read more » 

Historic Scotland and the Scottish listing process

The protection and listing of historic buildings in Scotland, and the listing awarded to Nether Ardgrain

 

Historic Scotland

Certain buildings are protected in Scotland because they represent a key part of Scotland’s heritage. As well as providing a link to Scotland's past, historic buildings help to generate tourism and promote Scotland's culture and identity.  Read more » 

Aberdeen to Fraserburgh Road

The road that leads to Ardgrain was once the main Aberdeen to Fraserburgh route, which passed through the market town of Ellon before winding its way northwards

The main Fraserburgh road would have been a prominent position to site a Baronial house like Ardgrain, commanding views down the hill towards Ellon and beyond. Centuries after Ardgrain was built, a new road was to Fraserburgh was constructed, a few miles away.  Read more »