Part I

Baillie does not immediately come to mind when thinking of Highlanders who settled the forests of Northern Nova Scotia, yet they are a family at the root of many genealogies of the people of Earltown and West Branch.    Although the name appears among the clans of Scotland, family would be a more apt description in Nova Scotia as they all seem to share a common ancestor not too many generations before emigration and most came from a very defined locale in the Parish of Clyne, Eastern Sutherland.

There is a consensus among scholars that the family evolved from the Baliol bloodline, a noble family that entered the British Isles in the time of William the Conqueror. From there, they migrated north into the Lowlands.  Among their ilk was King John Baliol, a successful competitor to the Scottish throne with the backing of King Edward I of England.  King John abdicated the throne after losing to the English in 1296. His extended family, wisely, fell into line behind the successors to Robert the Bruce.  It was during this era that the family changed the name to Baillie to distance themselves from the unpopular King John.

The new name and new alliances quickly brought titles, lands and recognition to the clan.  The main line became associated with Lamington, a parish in Lanarkshire.  Sir William Baillie 2nd of Lamington married Isabel Seton, a lady with ancestry in many of the powerful families of Scotland as well as being a great granddaughter of the Sinclair Earl of Orkney and thus carrying the royal blood of Norway.  Of this union came Lady Margaret Baillie, wife of the 7th Earl of Sutherland.

There is no hard evidence of the birth of Lady Margaret but it is known that she died in late 1509 or early 1510 aged approximately 95 years.  Her husband, John, was bestowed the Earldom in 1442.  All subsequent Earls or Countesses descended from this union.  She was noted as being a woman of considerable beauty.

It has long been told that the Baillies became a fixture of the Sutherland landscape with the marriage of Lady Margaret to the heir apparent of the Sutherland title.  In those dangerous times, when marriage was often a means of a strategic political alliance, one might assume that Sir William Baillie sent an entourage of dependable cousins to ensure the safety and proper treatment of his young daughter.


Lives of the Baillies by James William Baillie of Culter-Allers has one sentence about the settlement of Baillies in Sutherland:  Certain persons from Lamington of the name of Baillie went to Sutherlandshire with Margaret Baillie,Countess of Sutherland, who have ever since been officers of the Sutherland family.. (1)

Another reference to the family dates to 1589 when Angus Baillie of Uppat effected the rescue of the Earl’s forces from a battle of vengeance with the Caithness men.

The family was planted in the Parish of Clyne, an area that was held directly by the House of Sutherland and not by intermediary gentry.  The designated area appears to be have been at the upper end of Loch Brora in the vicinity of Kilbraur and extending down the south bank of the Loch.   A brook or burn that enters the Brora near Kilbraur was commonly known as Baillie’s Burn although it is on the ordinance survey maps as Scottarie Burn.


The area to right of the right of River Brora, where it enters the Loch, is the homeland of many Baillie families as well as others who settled around Earltown, Nova Scotia.

It is in this township that we find most of the Baillie families that migrated to Pictou during the Sutherland clearances.  While there were a couple of families with homes a few miles upstream, most were small tenants in Kilbraur or on the nearby hill of Scottarie.

Few stories of their life in Strathbrora survive in Nova Scotia, the narrative being lost along with the Gaelic language.  We do know that they were small farmers.  Some held their holding direct from the Sutherland Estate.  Others were subtenants.  The tenants seemed to have some modest means with a cash income from selling cattle to the south.  The subtenants were of very limited means.   The structure of their farming was much different from Nova Scotia.  They had strips of arable land in the river valleys and then shared common pasturage in the hills.  Instead of isolated farmsteads, the homes were clustered in townships with the fields scattered nearby.

Education was limited.  A few were able to attend a nearby parish school when it operated. Some learned to read while working for periods in the south.  Many never learned to write.  Many of the original land papers in Nova Scotia are executed with their “x” in lieu of a signature.

What they lacked in reading and writing skills was compensated by a profound ability to remember and reason through anything they had heard.  This was particularly true with respect to scripture and religious dialogue.  Scripture could be quoted at length and sermons heard in distant parishes were recited back to those unable to travel.  In many instances these men were far more familiar with the Bible than the local minister and, in the case of Clyne, more inclined to follow its teachings.  There were two Baillies who were remembered for generations in Clyne due to their grasp of religious doctrine,  Angus Baillie and George Baillie. (2)

(1)  Baillie, James William  Lives of the Baillies, Edmunston and Douglas, Edinburgh, 1872

(2)  Munro, Rev. Donald, “Records of Grace in Sutherland”, Free Church of Scotland 1953 (A biographical collection compiled by Rev. Munro of Rogart in the mid 1800’s)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s