Grant, Anne née Macvicar, 1755—1838
by Benjamin Colbert
Anne MacVicar Grant was born on 21 February 1755 at Glasgow, the daughter of Duncan MacVicar (b. 1731), an army officer, and Mrs. MacVicar, née Stewart (d. 1811).
In 1757 her father was posted to America to fight in the Seven Years War, and sent for his wife and daughter to join him in 1758. The family were frequently uprooted, though resided most in the vicinity of Albany, New York. Anne MacVicar saw little of her father but was taught to read by her mother. She took delight in learning about American and Indian cultures, but also in the lore of the Scottish Highlander soldiers among whom the family formed their closest society. At Albany, she also formed a lasting bond with Madam Margarita Schuyler, née Schuyler (1701-1782), the subject of her later Memoirs of an American Lady (1808), whom Anne MacVicar credited with opening up her imagination and broadening her education.
The war having ended, MacVicar’s father retired on half-pay in 1765 and amassed entitlements to land with which he purchased a substantial estate in Vermont, then part of New York province. When the family returned to Scotland in 1768 the estate promised a source of financial stability that proved illusory as the land was confiscated during the war of American Independence. Even before this event, however, MacVicar’s father had taken the post in 1773 as Barrack-Master of Fort-Augustus, Inverness-shire, where Anne MacVicar married the Fort’s chaplain, James Grant (c.1741-1801) in 1779. James Grant was by then also attached to the parish of Laggan, and Anne Grant worked hard to be accepted among the Highland community, adopting their customs and learning Gaelic.
After her husband died in 1801, Anne Grant supported eight surviving children on an inadequate widow’s pension afforded from one of her husband’s regimental chaplaincies, as well as the proceeds of her farm at Laggan. By this time she had gathered an extensive network of friends with whom she corresponded, many of whom had received poems written by her. The music collector and publisher George Thomson (1757-1851; ODNB), though not known personally to Grant, took the lead in organising a benefit collection of her poems, Poems on Various Subjects (1803), for which 3,000 subscribers were found. Thomson followed the success of the book by bringing Anne Grant’s name before the Literary Fund in London, linking her name with that of Robert Burns; the Fund voted £20 in her support.
Despite the success of her poems, Grant’s expenditure on her children – tending to them in illness or setting up prospects of employment for them – exceeded her meagre income. In spring 1805 she contracted with Longman for her Highland correspondence which appeared the following year as Letters from the Mountains (1806). The success of her book was clouded by personal losses; her daughter Charlotte died at the age of 17 in 1807, followed by her daughter Catherine, age 25, three months later. Grant, however, became well-known and much sought after as ‘the author of Letters from the Mountains' and her next two books carried this soubriquet: Memoirs of an American Lady: with Sketches of Manners and Scenery in America as They Existed Previous to the Revolution (1808) and Essays on the Superstitions of the Highlanders of Scotland: To Which Are Added, Translations from the Gaelic; and Letters Connected with Those Formerly Published (1811).
By 1810, Grant had moved to Stirling and then to Edinburgh, where she remained the rest of her life. She published one further book, Eighteen Hundred and Thirteen: a Poem (1814), but her reputation had been well established by her previous writings and she enjoyed the society of leading writers and intellectuals, including Thomas DeQuincey and Sir Walter Scott. After a fall down stairs in 1820 severely and permanently injured her, she walked with difficulty and much pain, but bore this with fortitude. She died at Edinburgh in 1838.
Grant, Anne. Memoir and Correspondence of Mrs. Grant of Laggan. 2nd ed. Ed. J. P. Grant. 3 vols. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans. 1845. Print.
Royal Literary Fund. Registered Case no. 150, Vol. 4: Mrs Grant, (late Miss Campbell ^or MacVicar^ of Laggan, Inverness-shire. 1804. MS. Loan RLF 1/150. British Lib., London.
Tod, Andrew. 'Grant [née MacVicar], Anne (1755–1838), author'. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. 23 Sept. 2004. Oxford University Press. Web. 23 Nov. 2017. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/11246
Upcott, William, comp. Distinguished Women. Vol. 2. Add MS 78687, f. 27. British Lib., London.
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