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.