The Achany Letters #1


The following letter was written by Nellie (MacKay) Munro of Langwell, Strathcarron, Ross, to her brother William in Earltown.   She was the wife of John Munro.

To Wm MacKay

new settler,  Earltown

Nova Scotia by Pictou

North America

Langwell Strathcarron 4th June 1832

Dear Brother

I embrace this opportunity to address you these few lines to let you know that I and my  husband and the family are in good health at present. I thank God and earnestly wishing that these lines my find you and concerns in good health.  We are happy to hear your arrival well in that quarter of the world.  You will learn by this letter that Mary & Bell is very desirous of going to America if they could induce us their parents to go with them, and they are pointing out that part where you are for their destination and therefour I earnestly wish you t forward a letter to us as soon as possible and let us know particularily how does the country agree with you and how are you and yours coming on since you have arrived in that country.  We wish you to give us all possible information concerning the country and its climate, And if so be that we shall be encouraged by your letter we may have a good chance of going over the Atlantic all next year – as we have every chance of being all removed next Whitsunday because they are to make five lots of all Langwell and there is few or none of the present tenants that can take a lot.

Strathcarron near Langwell   (c) Donald Bain

Strathcarron near Langwell (c) Donald Bain

This country is still getting worse every year.  I suppose there is a great number of the people of this country that shall go to America next year

We are happy to learn that you have 100 acres of land in your possession – let us know then if your sons are employed at cutting the wood and clearing the ground or have they in service some other where.

I was told by John Urquhart, (who read your letter), that Christy your daughter were in service in Pictou.  There is a dreadful plague raging in this Kingdom in England and Scotland called the Cholera Morbus – it carried away thousands in the south.  We have every reason to be thankful that it did not come north yet, we hope that it will not as it is dying away by grees in the south.

The Rev. Dr. M___  of Tain died lately.

Your brother and family are in good health, the boy _____ trouble with weakness is better these days and able to walk about.  I suppose you will receive a letter from him by this  –(ship?) that is about to sail from Cromarty.  Please let us know in your letter what (type?) of a house you have built and if other neighbours are close to your plantation.  Glad to hear that you have a cow.  How does she please you in that country.  Your mother in law is still living and they are all well –

I conclude now with own blessing to you and your family – let us know how your wife coming on and in hope that this will come to your hand and that you will write us without delay as we shall be anxiously expecting your answer,  I remain  Dear Brother your affectionate sister Nelly Munro

NB. Donald Ross MDonell and his family are well and send their best respects to you.  Mary is still in Tain with Dr. Munro and my husband is serving at Balnagown –   fare well N Munro

Editor’s notes

The letter clearly places William “Achany” and Sibella among the influx of settlers that arrived in Earltown in the 1830/31 era.

Nellie and John Munro never emigrated as planned.  Subsequent correspondence indicates that they relocated to Strath Oykel, a few miles to the north.

It is implied that there was still an active shipping lane between Cromarty and Pictou in 1832 thus making correspondence convenient for those literate enough to write.

The Achany Letters


Highland emigration to Nova Scotia is often portrayed as a traumatic event after which the emigrants permanently left their homeland thus concluding all contact with those left behind.   In many cases that would be true.  Those with the literacy skills to conduct correspondence  were in the minority, both in Nova Scotia and Scotland.  Some, like those from Clyne,  left communities that became totally vacant.  Others came as part of an extended family with little need to keep in touch with people back home.   Consequently there are very few surviving documents of communication between the old and new settlements.

Earltown did have at least one settler who not only kept in touch with family and friends in Scotland but actually kept the letters.   William MacKay “Achany”  corresponded for a number of years with siblings, nieces, nephews and old acquaintances in his home Parish of Kincardine as well as his wife’s family in Rogart and Dornoch.   We don’t have any of the letters written by William but a portfolio exists of original letters addressed to  “William MacKay, settler, Newfield, Earltown by Pictou, America”.

The letters give insight into the continuing struggles of the crofting class back in Scotland.   Some make reference to the unpopular moderation of the Kirk,  a precursor to the formation of the Free Church of Scotland in the 1840’s.   Certain writers inquire about the possibility of getting free land in Nova Scotia should they decide to emigrate.  A few letters give insight in the customs of the times such as providing mourners with a wee dram at a graveyard burial.

Many of the letters are difficult to follow.  The education of the writers may have been limited but the main contributing factor is that the writers were trying to convey their Gaelic thoughts in written English, their second language.   As one Mr. Murray writes  “I don’t know how to put the English to it”.

William MacKay “Achany” was born in the Parish of Kincardine, Ross, in 1783.  In adult life he lived at Invercarron at the confluence of the Carron and the Kyle of Sutherland.  This area was part of the Achany Estate, a one time Munro holding that straddled the boundary of Ross and Sutherland.  When William arrived in Earltown, he was nicknamed “Achany” to distinguish him from a number of other William MacKays. He married Sybella Murray of Rogart in Scotland.   Sybella’s brother and mother emigrated to Earltown in 1819, (the Stager Murrays), which may account for William and Sybella arriving in Earltown a few  years later.

William and Sybella’s homestead was located on the Campbell Road at Central Earltown.  Their sons William and John lived on this road as well.   A son, Kenneth, lived at West Branch while another son George settled on the Peter MacDonald Road at The Falls.  Their only daughter Christy married George Henderson of Kildonan and West Earltown.

Robert (Bob) Forbes, late of Denmark, NS, and a great, great grandson of William “Achany”, generously shared the letters several years ago.   Over the next few weeks, examples of the letters will be posted along with some background comments.