Angus Sutherland “Prince”, A First Settler

The narrative of the European settlement of Earltown District starts with two men arriving in the unbroken forest in the summer of 1813.   Historian George Patterson in his  “History of the County of Pictou”  credits Angus Sutherland and Donald MacIntosh as the first settlers.  We tend to imagine a lengthy treck into the forest and carving a clearing in isolation.

However both gentlemen took lots along the Pictou – Colchester border.  On the Pictou side,  a growing settlement had been in progress for four years.   Sutherlandshire and Ross-shire Scots moved into the West Branch area starting in 1809 and were approaching Colchester by 1813.  Consequently the eastern portion of  Earltown was initially an extention of West Branch.

Angus Sutherland was known as the “Prince”.   His facial features reminded people of paintings of Bonnie Prince Charlie.   He came to Scotsburn as the eight year old son of John and Catherine Sutherland in 1801.   They were among a number of families that arrived in Pictou from Rogart that year and settled as a group west of Scotsburn.   Angus witnessed his father’s toil in establishing a homestead in the forest and thus was an experienced homesteader when he arrived on his grant in the community that would eventually be called Clydesdale.   The grant was actually granted in the name of his father John.  It was located on the Clydesdale road about 1/2 kilometer east of the junction of the Stewart and Clydesdale Roads.  The first schoolhouse in the area was on part of this grant.   Angus’ co-founder, Donald MacIntosh, lived to the north at the junction of the roads.

After building a log home and clearing some land,  Angus returned to Scotsburn to marry Annie MacIntosh.  Annie or Nancy was also a native of Rogart who came to Scotsburn in 1801 with her parents,  William MacIntosh and Christy Murray.

Angus and Nancy had eight children.   The Sutherland Prince male line is no longer but there are many descendants to their daughters.

Nancy died in 1848 at the age of 47.    Angus died in 1872 at the age of 82.   They were buried in Scotsburn.

The Muiemore MacKays, West Earltown

© Copyright John A Ross and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

William MacKay and Helen MacKay were sub-tenants on Muiemore farm,  a desolate barren in the far northwest corner of the Parish of Clyne. They were near neighbours of a Sutherland family that lived across the river at Luib Bhig and who eventually settled near Earltown Lake.

We have no information to suggest that this couple ever left Clyne  however four of their children found their way to West Earltown around 1821.  They settled on the back portion of land granted to Jacob Heinzelbach, (Kisslepaugh),  who was an early settler on the Corktown Road.   Son Hector cleared a homestead on the headwaters of Baillie Brook.

Within a year of arrival, Hector’s sister Catherine married their neighbour and likely benefactor,  Jacob Heinzelbach.   Jacob was a German who had fought in the European Wars.  He settled on the road between Kavanagh’s Mills and Nuttby and was one of the small Roman Catholic community that became known as Corktown.   Catherine and Jacob had several children including Stewart Kisspelpaugh who was a well known and comical merchant in Tatamagouche.   Presumably after Jacob’s death in the early 1850’s,  Catherine moved with her daughter Jane Carter, (Mrs. George Carter of Truro), to Carterville, Montana.   She would have been among the first settlers of the ranch lands in the foothills of Central Montana.  Carterville is no longer on the map and is part of the community of Wolf Creek.   Her son, William Kisselpaugh, was also a rancher in that area.

Elizabeth,  another sister, ended up in Truro as a domestic where she met and married William Birrell of Onslow.  In their later years they lived on Queen Street, Truro,  on a property they called Brora House.  (Brora being the town nearest to Elizabeth’s birthplace).

The third sister, Anne, never married and remained on the home farm with her brother Hector.

Hector married Jane Sutherland who was born in Clyne in 1807.  She came to Caribou, Pictou County,  with her parents Robert and Annie.   No doubt this Sutherland family were known to the MacKays in the old country.  Jane likely came to West Earltown area with her brother William Caribou Sutherland  when he settled at The Falls.  This couple had five children but only one,  Ellen, married.   She married neighbour William MacKay “MacComish”.   Hector died in 1842, age 42 and is buried in Murray Cemetery.

The last of this family to inhabit the old homestead was Hector and Jane’s son,  Billy Hector.

Approximate location:

The “Ballem” Sutherlands

The Highlanders were rigid in the naming of children after grandparents and siblings which created a multitude of individuals with the same name.   John Sutherland is an example of a name that appears frequently in Earltown and West Pictou.    As in Scotland,  nicknames became an essential part of the vocabulary to identify the correct person.

One of the larger family groups in Earltown was the “Ballem” Sutherlands.    John Sutherland and Catherine Reid were crofters at Craigachnanarch in the remote northeast of Rogart Parish.   Two of their sons came to Earltown in the migration of 1819 – John, who settled near Rossville, and Alexander who settled at the foot of Gunn’s Hill.   They were known as Ballems.

Ballem was gaelic for balm or ointment.  This once common herbal remedy for sores and burns was a concoction made from resin of the balsom poplar tree.   It was commonly known as the Balm of Gilead,  a reference in the Bible to an ancient balm used in the time of Jeremiah.   This particular family had the recipe for the balm and were the  “go to” people in the event of skin irritations.   Once in Earltown, they were able to continue their skill as the poplar native to this region had a similar resin.

The Sir John A. MacDonald Connection

A number of families in the Earltown area claimed relationship to Canada’s first Prime Minister.

Sir John’s grandparents were John MacDonald and Jean MacDonald,  crofters near Dalmore in Rogart Parish, Sutherlandshire.   John left his Rogart roots and took a position in the shire town of Dornoch.   John was the father of Hugh MacDonald who settled for a time in Glasgow, married Helen Shaw, and begat a child who would become the founder of our nation.   A memorial stands at Dalmore proudly proclaiming Sir John’s ties to Rogart.

As the MacDonalds were not as numerous in Rogart as in other parts of Scotland, it would be plausible to think that other MacDonalds hailing from that parish would be Sir John’s cousins.   The Taylor – Gunn families, the Douglas family and some of the MacKays at Balfron had a particularly strong tradition of a connection.   Such traditions are often true but difficult to prove.   Over the past couple of years Tillie Tucker Armstrong, a descendent of the MacDonalds of Earltown Lake and mother of local MP Scott Armstrong,  has been searching for proof of the tradition.  Tillie and I were both independently corresponding with a Bill Machin in Britain on the puzzle.  Bill is a confirmed relative of Sir John A. whose MacDonald ancestors lived for a few generations in Ontario.

The Earltown connection is through a group of MacDonald families that settled on Taylor Lake Road.    Robert MacDonald,  (1778-1840),  arrived in Earltown from Rogart around 1818/19 and was given a location ticket for land on Taylor Lake.  Immediately to the west and surrounding Earltown Lake was a grant to a George MacDonald.    On the hill to the north of the lakes was the grant of  Robert Douglas and his mother,  Margaret MacDonald Douglas.   And to the east towards the Berrichon lived a family of MacDonalds from Rogart known as the “Soldiers”.

Robert seems to lived at the lake as a bachelor for many years.   Around 1833 he married a much younger Catherine MacKay, “Deacon”, who parents arrived in Earltown around 1819 and lived in the village.   Robert and Catherine had two daughters,  Janet or Jessie who married “Black” Robert MacKay at Balfron and Marion who married John Taylor of West Branch.   Marion and John took over the MacDonald farm.

Prior to 1818,  a Robert MacDonald,  first cousin to Sir John’s father, is documented as son and heir to Robert MacDonald and Janet Grant.  He disappeared from Scottish records thereafter and coincidentally at the time that Robert MacDonald “Lake” arrived in Earltown.   The naming of Robert Lake’s daughter  Janet gives some indication that his mother was a Janet.

Robert MacDonald and Janet Grant of Rogart also had a daughter Mary who married Martin MacLeod of Golspie.   They migrated to Pictou Landing.  Descendents have contemporary correspondence and documentation of their near relationship with Sir John.   The MacLeods also had proven ties to a MacDonald family in Pictou.

We now return to the matter of George MacDonald,  grantee of Earltown Lake.   This George is described in deeds as a resident of Pictou and appears to have never taken up residence in Earltown.   His death certificate clearly indicates that he was a son of Robert MacDonald and Janet Grant,  the presumed parents of Robert “Lake”.    George’s descendants continued to own the Earltown property up until the 1940’s before letting it go for taxes.  It was purchased by Helen Douglas Sutherland and her husband Lawrence,  also considered to be of the same clan.

At the end of the exercise,  the three of us have concluded that there is a high probability that Robert Lake is indeed the cousin of Sir John’s father.   The coincidence of emigration with the disapperance of Robert in Scotland,  the naming of Janet,  the verification of the parents of George MacDonald, his next door grantee and a profund surviving narrative gives a fair degree of credibility to the claim.

As for the Douglas family,  pioneer Margaret MacDonald Douglas arrived in Earltown at the same time as Robert and settled on an adjoining farm.  The late Willie MacKay “Coul” of  Rogart told me in 1983 that she was most certainly the daughter of a Norman MacDonald,  an old soldier who lived on the slopes of Knockarthur.   A subsequent book on the history of Rogart claims that all the MacDonalds in Rogart had a common ancestor, probably in the late 17th century.   A Norman MacDonald of that era can be traced as being a near relative of Sir John’s family.

The family of MacDonalds in the Berrichan known as the “Soldiers” is not as clear.   We know of a Hugh and John MacDonald coming out to Earltown from Rogart around 1820.   They supposedly had a sister Isabella who married Robert MacKay  “Black”, an early settler at West Earltown and ancestor of Tillie Armstrong.   There is much to be done on this family.




The War of 1812 and Donald “Pentioner” MacKay

The hot topic in Canadian history this year is the War of 1812.   I never gave much thought to that conflict and erroneously assumed it was mainly revlevant to Upper Canada and the privateer activity on the Atlantic.   It is well known that one of  Earltown’s settlers was involved in the Battle of New Orleans however I never made the connection to the War of 1812.   My thanks to Toni MacDonald of Brule for bringing the relevance of the War to my attention.

The Battle of New Orleans took place between December 12, 1814 and January 26th, 1815 with the major battle occurring on January 8th.  It was the last battle front of the War of 1812 with heavy losses for the British.   The worst losses were sustained after peace was negotiated but before word reached Louisiana.  Among the British soldiers was one Donald MacKay who was severely wounded in battle.

Donald was born in the Parish of Lairg, Sutherland, in 1770.   As a young man he enlisted in the army and served for 21 years.    After his severe wounds,  he was discharged and sent back to Britain.  After his recovery, likely in England,  he returned to his native parish.   He next appears living in the traditional MacKay country of Strathnaver.   In the far north Parish of Farr,  he married Barbara MacKay.    After the birth and death of their eldest son,  they moved to Tomich in Lairg where Donald found employment as a grasskeeper for Major Gilchrist of the 93rd Sutherland Regiment.   They also lived for a time in the Parish of Creich.

In the last great migration of 1831-32,  Donald and Barbara together with their young family emigrated to Pictou.  One version of their story claims they lived for a time near Blue Mountain with Donald’s brother James.  They came to East Earltown shortly thereafter and acquired a farm on the crest of the hill on Squire MacKay Road.   It was land originally reserved for the Deans of Kings College.   From this lofty situation,  they had a magnificent view three counties and two colonies.

Despite his wounds,  (some say he lost an arm in the war),  Donald cleared a productive farm.   He was known as “Donald Pensioner”  or simply “Pensioner” as there were nearly a dozen Donald MacKays in the surrounding communities at that time.   Descendants claim he received a life pension for his extensive service to the crown.

After an active life of military adventure,  herding cattle in the Highlands,  clearing a farm from virgin forest and active farming in an infant settlement,   Donald died in 1871 at the advanced age of 101.  He is buried in Gunn’s Cemetery,  a short distance from his homestead.  His wife Barbara is buried beside him.   A stately stone was erected when that small cemetery was at the side of an active country road.  Her epitaph reads that  “She was a woman of quiet piety and her example and memory are a sweet inheritance.   Far from the haunts of the busy world may their ashes rest in this serene and quiet place”.     One hundred and thirty four years later,  it is now a remote break on a dead end road, even further from the haunts of the busy world!

Map reference:

Earltown Gathering – Saturday, August 4th, 2012

The fourth annual Earltown Gathering will be held on the grounds of Sugar Moon Farm on the Alex MacDonald Road.   The event runs from 11 AM to 3 PM and will feature various forms of Scottish entertainment.  In lieu of admission, donations will be accepted on behalf of local cemeteries.

In conjunction with this event,  there will be a tour of the historic MacKenzie Cemetery.   Registration will be at Sugar Moon at 9:30 after which we will proceed to the cemetery,  off Church Road,  with the tour starting at 10 AM.    The tour will mainly consist of a series of stories concerning the history of the site and early settlers buried therein.   Glen Matheson will be doing the presentation.