Keith Sanger has been compiling  a collection of documented and named Lowland pipers; the total is currently around 250, which begs an obvious question…

To generate copy the editor of Common Stock has evolved a new technique of asking questions to which there are no easy answers but do raise a challenge in trying to deal with them. In this case the question was 'what were the comparative numbers of highland and lowland pipers around 1700'. To have some chance of injecting a degree of accuracy, by mutual agreement that date was pushed forward to 1717, for reasons which will be more obvious later.
In trying to produce an answer the first hurdle that has to be jumped is what is defined by the terms highland or lowland piper? We therefore start by standing at the top of a rather slippery slope, but for the purposes of the rest of this article a 'highland piper' will be regarded as a Gaelic speaking piper usually to be found in the geographical area described as the Highlands and Western Islands of Scotland.
This immediately produces another problem in that the dividing line between Gaelic speaking Scotland and the rest of the country had been constantly moving over time and, to add another variable, so had the question of the size of the pot, as the total population of Scotland was also a changing variable; in other words it is a bit like shooting at one moving target from another. So to get our bearings let’s start by considering what is known about Scotland's population.
Population figures, at least before the nineteenth century censuses are mostly academic guesses but in our case there is one reference point when in 1755 an enterprising Church of Scotland Minister called Webster decided to request from his fellow ministers details of the size of their parish populations. This produced a total population for Scotland of 1.265 million people, (England at that time had a population about five times as large). Of that total the population of the principle counties of Gaeldom was an estimated 229,741 which had grown by 20% to reach 276,106 by the year 1800. However over the same period the total population of Scotland had grown by 43% to reach 1.608 million people.1  In other words, although the 'highland' population had grown in absolute terms, in terms of its percentage of the total population of Scotland it was in decline.
Turning to the population prior to 1755 we have to resort to a degree of speculation although what is clear is that population growth had not been one continuous upward climb. Starting from after the Black Death in the mid- fourteenth century when the population was certainly considerably diminished and remained so for over a century or more, the total population of England, Wales and Scotland together was thought to have been around 3 million with that of Ireland adding a further half million people.2  Or, to place that in context, the total population of Scotland was no larger than the current population of greater Edinburgh, although more evenly spread around the country, and with the Gaelic speaking proportion probably comprising around fifty percent or perhaps a little more.
Between then and our date of 1717 the upward growth continued to experience a number of setbacks. The plantation of Ulster circa 1610 resulted in a number of lowlanders, especially from the Borders and Southwest of Scotland moving to Ireland; another large emigration occurred when, partly the result of famines, between 1688 and 1715, it has been suggested, some 200,000 Scots again moved to Ireland, an extraordinary figure when compared to Scotland's likely population at the time.3   So taken together a reasonable estimate of the population of Scotland in 1717 is around 1.1 million people with the 'Highlands' being around a third of that total.
This would imply that on a simple population basis around the year 1717 in Scotland there would have been twice as many 'lowland pipers' as there were 'highland' ones. This of course assumes an even spread of the piping fraternity throughout the country, so we now have to look at what evidence there is to support or adjust that figure. Since by the nature of the problem we are relying entirely on contemporary written evidence then it is necessary to consider how thoroughly that covers the areas concerned and how far written records do reflect the actual numbers on the ground. Which brings us to the point of choosing the date of 1717.
Following the 1715 rising those on the Jacobite side had their estates forfieted and the first move made by the government was to send in lawyers to undertake Judicial Rentals to find out what they had got. This required everyone holding land on an estate, whether by a legal 'tack' or a verbal arrangement, to swear on oath what they held and the rent they had formerly paid to the forfieted 'laird'. If people were sitting rent free then they still had to take the oath and state what the rent of their holding would have  been if they paid one.
These rentals cover some estates which were otherwise light on surviving estate papers and taken together with the more complete surviving manuscript records from the estates of those on the government side form the most comprehensive early collection of estate records covering most of Scotland. One of the first points of note was the difference between the highland pipers and those in lowland Scotland where the pipers tended to have a variety of 'patrons' often at the same time.
For example, a burgh piper technically was employed by the burgh, but could still at the same time serve a local laird, or, as individual paying customers, the piper’s local population at weddings and so on. Burgh pipers were also, outside of their early morning and late evening Burgh duties, free to have a secondary occupation. The highland pipers on the other hand were patronised directly by their lairds (no burghs), and in what was almost a cashless society they received a holding of land effectively as their salary, which in turn should have appeared in those Judicial Rentals.
Taken collectively the written records present an interesting picture of two halves, highland and lowland, but within each half there was also some variation. Taking the 'highland' pipers first, there is  some circumstantial evidence which suggests that within the locus of their communities they had a higher degree of status compared to their average lowland counterpart. For example, the earliest appearances of highland pipers in the records are as witnesses to deeds or in one case contracting to be foster parent. This may well have been a result of the arrangement whereby they received land, or a 'tack' as it was known, in lieu of salary and thereby placing them on the same level as the other  'tacksmen' or clan gentry. They also noticeably feature less in the Kirk Session records than the lowland pipers but too much should not be made of this as there are other explanations and they certainly were not Saints and over the 17th Century feature prominently in the legal accounts concerning the internecine strife which occurred then.
The popular image of 'highland clan' history with every clan having a chief and every chief his piper, along with much else in that image simply does not stand up to close examination. Some of the 'chiefs' or nominal heads of clans themselves occupied rather small holdings and certainly did not run to providing for a piper. Even with the larger estates the presence of pipers was not always proportional to the size of the estate: the Campbells of Breadalbane for example had one of the largest holdings in the southern highlands yet rarely had more than one piper, nor did he actually sit rent free in lieu of salary but paid the full rent although at times receiving a 'meal' allowance.  At the other extreme the estate of MacDonald of Glencoe was small and very poor land and in 1717 there was no sign of a piper at all. Indeed the estate was so small that there were few enough 'tacks' for the chief’s own relations and although by 1745 a piper called Donald McHendrick appears he was a paying co-tenant of one tack.4 Further more as the 'tacksmen' were the officer class, McHendrick served through the 45 rebellion as one of the Glencoe military officers and not as a piper.
As far as the rest of the pipers in the 1745 Jacobite Army were concerned there seemed to have been more Lowland than Highland pipers involved, a factor which reflected the relative make up of that army. In fact the number of known 'highland' pipers involved was virtually matched by the number of Fidlers of whom there were six. In the surviving daily order book from that side, on the occasions when the pipers are mentioned the descriptions of the duties of the pipers (and drummers) would easily have also covered the job description of a Burgh piper or drummer.5  
Of course most of the employers of the better known families of highland pipers, having had their fingers burnt, along with estates forfeited in the previous rebellion of 1715, this time around tended to be less than enthusiastic supporters of the Government side. Therefore following the principle of he who pays the piper, it follows that most of the principle highland pipers were also nominally on the Government side as well. However, apart from the unfortunate MacCrimmon who managed to get himself shot, evidence for active participation from the other piping families or for that matter other highland pipers generally does not suggest an abundance of available pipers.
Following the '45, the estates of the participants on the Jacobite side were again forfeited and once more judicial rentals were taken which show very few pipers, consistent with the fact that most of those Highland Lairds employing pipers were on the government side. When the next demand for military pipers occurs in 1757, two of the known pipers came from one of the 'pro government' estates which was reducing the number of pipers it had supported. Some extravagant claims have been made in regard to the numbers of pipers and drummers recruited at that time, but the evidence does not tend to support them although regimental records for that period are incomplete.6  However we are on firmer documentary ground with the next attempt to find pipers for the 'highland' regiments being raised for the events in 1775 -1783.  By this point the Royal Warrants issued to raise a regiment had started to specify that there would be a grenadier company which would have two extra musicians on top of the normal complement of two drummers. Grenadier companies had been around for a while but had not differed from all the other companies in terms of men and drummers, so this change to the Warrants was clearly to cover the extra two musicians. For most infantry regiments the musicians were Fifers, but in the warrants for the Highland Regiments instead of Fifers they were given two Pipers.
However, having an establishment for two pipers and actually finding the highland pipers to fill it were two different things and the evidence again suggests that highland pipers were few and far between. In many cases even to provide musicians for the recruiting parties the regiments were mostly obliged to hire local Lowland Pipers to do the job. Ignominious as this may have been it does provide some further records of Lowland pipers, for example recruiting parties for the 71st (Fraser) Highlanders in 1775-6 used a William Hamilton for 79 days while at Cullen and Banff, and a John Philip while at Buchan.7
To replace the regiments sent to America a number of Fencible regiments were formed and when in 1778 the Duke of Gordon raised the 'Northern Fencibles', nominally, according to its warrant, a highland regiment with two pipers, the Duke’s own two Lowland pipers, Jameson (at Murlach Market) and Fordyce, were sent to help with recruiting. Indeed at St Sairs Fair 'Fordyce your Graces piper had his pipes broke' at the head of the recruiting party by 'some violous people',8  while in the muster roll of the completed regiment there was only one recruit whose previous occupation was listed as a piper and he too was a Lowlander one Arthur Strath from Tarvis in Aberdeenshire.9  
An extreme example of the problem occurs with the 77th Atholl Highlanders. This regiment was one of the last to be raised for the American conflict and when in 1778 it had its first muster the roll showed the positions of the two pipers as 'wanting'. Things did not improve and despite writing to a minister in Skye in 1781 no pipers could be obtained. The next move in 1781 was to have 'four promising boys' trained as pipers by old John MacGregor, but as the regiment was disbanded in 1782 following the end of the American war, when or if they made it onto the regimental establishment, it is clear that for just about the whole of that regiments existence its complement of 'Highland Pipers' had been unfilled.
One of the main intentions of the organisers of the 'Exhibition' in Edinburgh following the Falkirk Piping Competition of 1783, according to the account distributed by its organisers was, 'with the assistance of the public to establish a college for the instruction of such young men as may be sent him, ( John MacArthur),  to be bred to that ancient music, the utility of which in recruiting his Majesty’s army, and the military ardour with which it inspires the highland regiments, are too well known to say anything further. It is therefore hoped that those at the head of the army will in particular encourage so laudable an undertaking, that the highland corps may be better and more easily furnished with pipers than they have hitherto been’.10
The original Highland Society Competition that year had incurred some controversy due to a number of young boys taking part,11 (presumably they were the boys who had been intended for the disbanded Atholl Highlanders). The presence of relatively young competitors was a feature of most of the early competitions. For example, in 1786 John MacGregor, a boy of thirteen years of age, took part and in 1792 the third prize was won by another John MacGregor 'a boy of ten years of age'.12  This continuing presence of 'boys' among the competitors has some human physiological parallels with what might be called the 'reticulocyte' effect.
Reticulocytes are young red blood cells which still retain traces of their former nucleus when they first enter the blood stream. Normally red blood cells live for an average of 110 days before the old ones are then removed from the circulation. So in a normal healthy cell population as they are removed and new ones replace them the overall system should balance with the new 'reticulocytes' being less than 1% of the total circulating cells. An increase above that number indicates that there is a shortage of the  usual number of healthy adult cells.
The Highland Society of London Piping competition was set up to encourage an increase in the numbers of pipers. Once a piper had won the 'Prize Pipe' he was eliminated from further competition, thereby continuing to offer the carrot of a prize pipe to be won as well as continually adding to the overall stock of bagpipes in circulation. For the first few competitions the winners tended to be some of the oldest pipers there and as only one per year was removed from further competition, then if there really was a health reservoir of pipers the loss of one competitor a year should have had little effect.
However, the continuing presence of 'boys', (the 'reticulocyte effect'), suggests that there was a severe and continuing shortage of adult highland pipers. Even as late as 1825 the fifth prize was won by a John MacDonald, one of four competitors including Angus MacKay, who were described as 'none of them beyond 13 years of age'.13   Clearly, the initial evidence from the second half of the eighteenth century supports the suggestion that historically genuine highland pipers were a minority of the piping population. However, to still be struggling for numbers at that late date implies something else was also happening to affect the rate of maturing pipers.
Therefore to start at the root of the problem requires returning to the 18th century and to a point when both highland and lowland pipers were in a stable situation with supply roughly matching demand. The new formation of specifically 'highland regiments' for the 1757-63 wars represented an increased demand for which there was no great reservoir of highland pipers to fill. Evidence shows that at least two pipers in that conflict, both downsized from the same highland estate, failed to return, thereby indicating that the new demand for military pipers had its own built in loss factor.
Little improvement seems to have occurred by the next increase in demand for military pipers for the regiments raised between 1775 to 1780. In fact the potential pool of highland pipers may have been even lower if some contemporary evidence reflects a wider solution. The example of one lowland piper being recruited for the Northern Fencibles was given earlier but at least one line regiment, the 2nd battalion of the 71st Highlanders also had a lowlander, one Archibald Baxter as one of its two pipers when it sailed for America in April 1776.14   
Although the efforts of the Highland Societies to increase the numbers of pipers had got underway in 1781 any positive results over the initial years were probably negated by the commencement of the Napoleonic wars which although once more increasing the demand for pipers also had a counterbalancing effect of losses through military action. When at the end of hostilities in 1815 numbers of military pipers would have returned to their homes some of them were then lost through subsequent emigration.15  However, supply does eventually catch up with demand and the promotional efforts of Sir Walter Scott following 182216 and the 'invention' of pipe bands by the military circa 184017 ensured an ever-increasing supply.
Therefore the actual numbers of players of the Great Highland or Military Bagpipe18 continued to rise at an accelerating rate throughout the nineteenth century. However, the surnames of the pipers show an increasing diversification away from the traditional heartland of 'highland piping'. In fact, if the definition for a 'highland piper' used at the beginning of this article of a Gaelic speaking inhabitant of the highlands and islands of Scotland was applied today, the 'highland pipers' would once more be a minority, not just of the total numbers of pipers in Scotland, but with the increasing popularity of bellows pipes, probably also outnumbered by players using a common stock.
 1    MacInnes, I. Allan, Clanship, Commerce and the House of Stuart, 1603-1788. (1996), 221.
 2    Miles, David, The Tribes of Britain, (2006), 273.
 3    Pittock, Murray, The Myth of the Jacobite Clans, (second edition 2009). 51.
 4    National Archives of Scotland, (NAS), E754/1
 5    National Library of Scotland, MS 3787, pp 14,17,18,19,42,43 and 48.
 6    The 77th Montgomery Highlanders are frequently cited as an example of the rapid recruitment of a large number of
   pipers and drummers. However clothing accounts suggest otherwise as far as the pipers are concerned. see Sanger, Keith, One Piper or Two: Neil MacLean of the 84th Highlanders in The Highland Bagpipe, Joshua Dickson, ed. (2009), 129;    Nor does the case for drummers look any better as a letter from Colonel Montgomery written in Charlestown South Carolina to his senior officer Brigadier Forbes requests a drum major as ' we have not one drum in the Regiment and without a proper person to teach them'. (National Archives of Scotland GD45/2/87/1).
7    NAS GD44/47/1/17 and GD44/47/1/38.
8    NAS GD44/47/6/19 and GD44/47/8
9    NAS GD44/47/5/1/4
10    Circumstantial Account of the Exhibition on the Highland Great Pipes, in Dunn's Assembly Rooms, on Wednesday October 22. 1783.
11    Donaldson, William. The Highland Pipe and Scottish Society 1750-1950, (2000).
12    Competition report in 'The Star' (31 July 1792). This differs from the edited competition reports given in the front section of     Angus MacKay's A Collection of Ancient Piobaireachd or Highland Music, (1838), where the boy's age has increased to  twelve. All the contemporary newspapers agree with and specifically note the age of ten years, but as the first prize that year was won by Angus Mackay's father John, massaging the age suggests a greater degree of competition.
13    Edinburgh Evening Courant, 11 July 1825. MacKay's edited competition accounts only mention the winner of the fifth prize. The following year the now fourteen year old Angus Mackay won the fourth prize with another boy winning fifth.
14    NAS RH2/8/80, Order Book of the 2nd battalion, 71st Highlanders. The two pipers with the grenadier company were James Munro and Archibald Baxter.
15    For an overview of the subject see; Bumsted J. M, Scottish Emigration to the Maritimes 1770 to 1815, A New Look at an Old Theme, Acadiensis,  Vol 10. No 2 (Spring 1981); Emigration especially when linked to the clearances is always an emotive subject with a subsequent loss of perspective. The evidence of earlier famines due to weather or cattle diseases suggest that it was not necessarily a life of plenty before the coming of the sheep farms. Indeed the resettlement of those returning soldiers post 1815 who had been promised land as an incentive to enlist resulted in the break up of existing holdings into smaller and even less viable crofts. The potato blight, although handled better in Scotland than was the case in Ireland was also responsible for large numbers of people leaving the land. However, despite these problems the population of Scotland still more than doubled over the course of the 19th century.
16    A trend towards having an 'estate' piper was already underway as a result of the establishment of the Highland Societies of London and Scotland  with their members’ nostalgic attachments to estates on which they were rarely now resident. Sir  Walter Scott's romanticisation of the 'highlands' gave that process a boost which was completed by Queen Victoria's purchase of Balmoral and its imitation by a large part of the monied establishment also desiring to follow suite.
17    Since only two pipers were actually on the regimental establishment the extra pipers required for a band were initially funded through a levy on the officers. It was not until 1854 that the official establishment was raised to six pipers although as pipe bands usually had twelve or more pipers the practice of the officers contributing funds continued.
18    Most bagpipe-makers catalogues throughout the late nineteenth and most of the twentieth centuries continued to link both descriptions together to describe their products.

Keith Sanger
31 March 2012