Sons of the Bear on Matheson Brook


(The upland remains of Lettaidh with Ardachu in the distance)

An old Irish tribe named the MhicMathain, (Sons of the Bear),  arrived in Scotland in the 9th century and made their base at Loch Alsh.  There are fantastic legends of how a branch of the clan became established in Sutherland however the most plausible theory posits that they were planted in most of the parishes of the See by their kin,  Bishop Alexander MacMhathan, around 1400.   The main branch evolved along the shores of Loch Shin in the Parish of Lairg.

Another branch made their home between Lairg and Rogart on a remote upland above the River Leatty.  The earliest recorded generation were three brothers who were born in the 1760’s,  George, Angus and David.   George, the eventual immigrant, served in the British army in the 1780’s and later.  His notebook, still in existence,  mentions sailing on the Clyde in 1785 and being in Appleby, England prior to that.

Recently an article has surfaced in Calgary written by John K. Sutherland of Hanna, Alberta, and originally of North Earltown.  The article is written from the perspective of George’s military issue musket which was gifted to John K. when he left Earltown for the west.  The story tells that George was also in the Napoleonic Wars along with a brother Alex, who was a piper, and a Matheson cousin.  Their adventures took them to Portugal and then on to Spain where they were involved in several battles.  They were then sent to Belgium and saw action in the Battle of Waterloo.

After his discharge,  he returned to Rogart and rented a small farm on the Bratton of Leatty.  His brother Angus lived nearby and David lived a couple of miles east in Morness.

George married Elspeth MacPherson.  Between 1789 and 1808 they had eight children born on the Bratton.   Family tradition always claimed that they emigrated 1814. However correspondence in the Sutherland Estate papers indicate that George accepted an offer from the estate in late 1819 permitting him to remain on his lease until the following year provided he then leave without causing trouble.  George is the first tenant listed indicating he was singled out to lead the opinion of others.  Not all the neighbours accepted these terms.  It now appears that George arrived in Earltown in 1820 along with various tenants from Strathbrora who had negotiated similar terms of removal with the estate.

Years later we would learn why 1814 was burned in our tribal memory.    David Craig, in his book,  “On the Crofters’ Trail“,  shares a memoir of a lady who was living as a child in Inchcape, near Lettaidh, in 1814:

She remembered being woken by her mother and taken  to the window, and she looked out into the darkness and saw a red glow in the hills opposite.  She asked what it was, and her mother said in a grim voice, “They are putting fire to Lettaidh.  The people have been put out.”   The child was frightened, naturally enough, since they had relatives in Lettaidh themselves, but she was reassured when told it would not happen to her house, since all the men were still there.  All the men from Lettaidh had been recruited, by the Sutherland Estate factors, to go to fight in the Napoleonic wars, and then the factors seized the chance to evict the women and children without fear of resistance.

One tradition claims that when George and his family came to Pictou, they sought out former neighbours and relatives in West Pictou.   They located Donald MacIntosh,  a former resident of Leattaidh, who by this time was established as one of the first settlers at Clydesdale.   George “squatted” on land close to MacIntosh.   George never received a ticket for the lot but was directed to the bowl at the head waters of the Matheson Brook.   George settled a short distance east of Matheson Corner while his son Alexander settled meadowland west of the Church Road and son Donald settled at the corner itself.

They were joined by eldest daughter Annie who had been married in Scotland to Robert Munro, also of Lettaidh.  The Munro’s settled an unforgiving patch of land on the pinnacle of  Back Mountain but later moved to East Earltown.

Another daughter,  Jane,  married William MacDonald,  native of Rovie, Rogart and an early childhood settler of Earltown Village.   This couple settled a farm at the end of the Alex MacDonald Road.    The youngest daughter,  Margaret,  married Donald MacIntosh who arrived a few years later from Rogart.  They were the progenitors of the MacIntosh family near Earltown Village.

Meanwhile all three sons married Sutherland women and continued a tradition of weaving, a skill learned in the old country.

There are no Mathesons today on the Matheson Brook but there are several of that tribe still living in the surrounding area. Research has located descendants, at various times,  in New Brunswick, Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta,  British Columbia,  Washington, Oregon, California, Montana,  Illinois,  the New England states and likely the other states as well.

George and Espeth rest in the old section of the Earltown Village Cemetery.  They died in the 1840’s of “old age”.

The original homestead and the first generation homes are on this map: