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.

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