The Baillies (Part II)

Although most of the Baillies emigrated between 1814 and 1832, there was one exception in the late 1700’s.  A John Baillie of Sutherland, likely a soldier in the American Wars, settled on the Pictou – Antigonish border in a place known to this day as Baillie’s Brook.  Patterson in his history of Pictou County mentions that he was from Sutherlandshire but little else is known about him.

Much has been written about the Highland Clearances and, in recent years, more has been learned about the Sutherland clearances.  This was a social-economic experiment in converting from a cattle based economy to a sheep and wool industry.   The principal landowner of the day, the Countess of Sutherland, was counselled to clear out her small tenantry and create vast sheep farms.  There were many practical aspects to such a policy.  There would only be a handful of tenants to administer, the labour would be a fraction of what was required for cattle and the returns would be many times greater.

The disposition of the people was the main problem.  However the Estate made plans to relocate the small tenants and lotters to the coast where they would be employed in either the fishery, the local coal mine, the salt pans or, later, a distillery.  This did not go over well with the tenants.  They had been cattlemen for generations and had no love of either sea or coal pits.  Those with money made plans to emigrate to Nova Scotia.  Those without means rebelled.

The politics and atrocities are beyond the scope of this post.  In summary, a few leaders managed to extend their leases for a brief period, some were forcibly evicted,  the minister sided with the landlord, the military was brought in to finish the evictions, etc..   The end result was that a vast swath of the Parish of Clyne, including Kilbraur, was cleared of all its people and their homes were destroyed.

The next known Baillies to arrive in Pictou was an early player in this mass eviction.   Robert Baillie and his wife Marion (Margaret) were living near Kilbraur on lands that were part of the Carroll Estate.  The Gordon family had owned the Estate for several generations however the last resident owner, John Gordon, died in 1807 leaving his family with massive debts.  To clear the debt, his son and executor, Joseph Gordon sold the estate to the Countess on the condition that the tenants would not be evicted.  That promise was empty and the Sutherland estate began clearing Carroll in 1813.  (Joseph Gordon, greatly vexed by the broken promise, would become instrumental in relocating the evictees to Nova Scotia).

Robert Baillie, in a family of seven, arrived in Pictou in 1814 along with five other families from the same neighbourhood.  Their land petition, unique in its narrative, explains that the memorialists emigrated from the county of Sutherland in North Britain this month and had done so in consequence of their having been turned out of their possessions to make way for sheep dealers and were thus looking for asylum in Nova Scotia. They had certificates of character from their parish minister, “and have nothing to recommend them further but to assure your Excellency that they were faithful subjects at home to his Majesty and will now so continue.’

The group were awarded a generous 1400 acre swath of forest extending from Saltsprings to Lovat in Pictou County. This began the allure of a new life in a distant colony where one could own one’s farm and, for a pittance of taxes, be free of landlord whims forever.


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)