Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, waves of tenant evictions swept through northern Scotland in what would become known as the Highland Clearances. Wealthy landlords, discovering hardy breeds of sheep that would flourish in the severe Highland climate, replaced populated farms and villages with higher-revenue sheep farms. The former tenants faced the choice of migrating to other parts of Scotland or emigrating to other countries. Stonemason Donald Macleod's collected writings provide one of the few existing chronicles of the Clearances from the perspective of one of the evicted tenants.
The majority of contemporary reports of the Highland Clearances were composed by journalists or the parties who put the evictions into effect. Landowners did not maintain accurate numbers of evictions and the negative consequences that resulted. Villages were destroyed to discourage tenants from returning, often before they could remove themselves or their possessions, resulting in severe hardship and even death. Originally a series of newspaper articles grouped by topic and published over a period of many months, Macleod's writings have remained largely unread. MacGowan edits and annotates the letters to present a chronological and powerful account of the tragedy.