It’s Complicated …The Relationship of William Murray and Girzel Grant: Part III

This is the third part of the family of William Murray and Grace Grant. The previous two parts are found on Historylinks.  In this part we follow the three offspring who came to Nova Scotia.

Janet, the fourth child of the above couple, was born in Fluchary, Parish of Dornoch, in 1792. Around 1810 she married Alexander MacIntosh of Evelix and settled in that community. On February 23rd, 1812, the parish register gives evidence of the birth of their eldest daughter Grace.

The year 1812[i] was an eventful one for the young couple as they embarked on another life journey. They sailed to Pictou to join the expanding colony of Sutherland expats in the western part of what is now Pictou County. It would have been a challenging journey with an infant daughter only a few months old. Family tradition claims that Janet also brought along a cow which had been a wedding gift from her father William[ii]. They settled at the base of Mount Dalhousie on the boundary of the communities of Elmfield, Plainfield and Diamond[iii].

In addition to carving a farm out of the forest, Alexander also served as a school teacher for a period of time in the infant settlement. He had received a basic education in the homeland, something not every settler brought to the new world.

They had seven children of which we are aware:   Grace, who married David MacIntosh of Eight Mile Brook; Elizabeth who married the boy next door, Alex MacKay “Bratten”; Williamena, the wife of Sandy Murray, Scotsburn; Margaret who married George Munro of North Earltown and later settled at Elmfield; Catherine; Janet, wife of William Carson, Meadowville and one son Alexander who also lived at Meadowville.

We take note of this family in detail as there were a number of connections to Earltown. As noted, Margaret, or Peggy as she was called, married George Munro, a native of Leatty, Rogart, who came to the Back Mountain of Balmoral around 1818. They lived briefly in the Earltown area before permanently settling at Elmfield.   Williamena and Sandy Murray had two daughters at East Earltown, Annie, the spouse of Alex MacBain of MacBain’s Corner, and Margaret, wife of Robert MacKay “Achany” of MacBain’s Corner.   The Forbes family of Denmark descend from Margaret.

[i] 1812 is the year cited by their grandson, Rev. John Murray, in his “History of the Scotsburn Congregation”  Truro News Publishing  1923

[ii] This is a story my grandmother, Grace Murray Matheson, was fond of relating. She was a granddaughter of Janet’s brother Donald “Craig”.

[iii] “Illustrated Historical Atlas of Pictou County” 1879, J.A.H. Meecham and Company

Heritage Tour – MacKenzie Cemetery

Our tour is still on for Sunday,  July 24th starting at 3 PM at MacKenzie Cemetery.

For those who want to go directly to the site early:

  • Take Highway 326  northbound from Earltown Village or southbound from Brule Corner
  • Approximately 2 Km north of Earltown Village or 4 km south west of MacBain’s Corner, (East Earltown),  you come to Knox Cemetery.
  • On the opposite side of the road,  a gravel road leads north up a long hill for approximately 1 km.
  • At the top of the hill,  take the branch to the left.  MacKenzie Cemetery is approximately 1 km. in this road.

There is no parking lot. However volunteers will be on hand to assist you parking along the road.  A private farm is at the end of this road and we ask that you respect their privacy and turn at the designated point.

The presentation will be approximately one hour.  It will contain a broad review of the settlement of the surrounding area but will mostly focus on the settlers buried therein who experienced the infamous Highland Clearances first hand with Earltown being the land of contentment after a very distressing experience.




Heritage Tour 2016


In the early 19th century, the Countess of Sutherland embarked on an ambitious socio-economic scheme to convert her vast holdings into large sheep farms. Her tenants, residents of the interior valleys and glens for countless generations, were forced to move in mass. Some gladly left to join relatives in North America while others stubbornly resisted and were forcefully evicted.

This great upheaval gave birth to a homogeneous community of Gaelic speaking farmers in the Cobequid Hills which would become the District of Earltown.
Join us on July 24th at 3 PM at MacKenzie Cemetery for a guided heritage tour of the final resting place of these rebels and refugees. 
For those wishing assistance locating the cemetery, you may assemble at Sugar Moon Farm before 2:45 to car pool.  For more information, you may contact Glen at 902-957-0532 or 

Bonesetter – Part II

Due to the preponderance of the Murray surname in Northern Nova Scotia,  it was necessary for each Murray family to have a byname.  As would be expected, Peter and his descendants became known as the “Bonesetters”.

Peter and Eliza had twelve children:

  1. Alexander   (1817-1890)  married Christy Murray “Ardachu” and lived at The Falls.
  2. Janet  (ca 1818)  died young, possibly in Scotland
  3. Christy  (1821-     ) married Alexander MacKay “Post”
  4. Janet    died young
  5. John (1826-1917)   never married and remained on the home farm.
  6. Donald (1829-1890) married Jane Sutherland “Square” of The Falls.  Died in Waukon, Iowa
  7. Infant daughter
  8. Ellen   (1831-1908)  married John Sutherland “Elasaid” North Earltown
  9. Angus  (1832-        )
  10. Infant son
  11. William  (1835-1862)
  12. Robert (1837-1906)  married Lydia MacKay  “Judge”

Peter died in 1875 at the full age of 97 years.  As a boy and young man he experienced the centuries old rural lifestyle of cattle rearing in the uplands of Sutherland.  He witnessed the upheaval of the clearances, survived an ocean crossing and adapted to farming on the forest and stone clad hills of Earltown.  He helped found a church and cemetery.  He was the first elected spiritual leader in the surrounding area. Most notable was his lifetime of healing of fractures, sprains and various injuries.

Eliza’s life was no less notable.  She was cleared from her home not once but three times.  She ran a farm while Peter was attending to the physically and spiritually injured neighbours.  She brought twelve children into the world and lost four in infancy.  She died in 1898 at the advanced age of 103!!   What a story she could have told.

Of their surviving children,  Alexander took up residence at The Falls on the farm surrounding the Murray Cemetery.   He was known simply as Alex Bonesetter and may have practiced the skill in that district.

Christy married the boy next door,  Alex MacKay “Post”, who lived on a farm on the Nuttby Road.

Donald also moved to The Falls where he married Jane Sutherland, daughter of “Gib Square”.  He left his young family in the care of the Sutherlands around 1870 and went to Chicago with Jane’s brother in search of new opportunities.  He first settled in Minnesota where his young family joined him.  They later moved to Lafayette, Iowa, where they farmed and Donald made shoes.  He later took up a farm in Waukon where he died.  His widow later lived in Rock Grove, Iowa.

John Murray, son of Peter and Eliza, never married.  He took over the Sugar Moon farm after his father died.

Robert Murray acquired the farm immediately behind the Earltown Village Cemetery.  Like his father, he was an accomplished bonesetter.  This article best sums up his life story:

Truro Daily News, August 11, 1906:  Mr. Robert Murray, who died at Earltown, July 28th, is worthy of more than passing notice. He was justly famous over a wide district as a bone setter.  His skill in reducing fractures, dislocations and sprains, was wonderful.  With a light and delicate, yet firm hand, he did wonders in bone setting; with the least possible pain to the patient and many who passed under his hands will regret his death… The best doctors welcomed his assistance in serious cases.

The bonesetting skill also passed through the family of his daughter Ellen.   Ellen married John Sutherland “Elasaid”, (pronounced Allsage), who lived between Matheson Corner and Spiddle Hill.  Whether taught by Ellen or Peter,  her son Hugh Alan Sutherland was a noted bonesetter well into the 20th century.  He was still practicing in the late 1920’s when he set the broken hip of his mother in law, Mary Sutherland  “Ban”.  It was reported as a complete success.  The poor woman had another fracture in the early 30’s which was set by a local physician.  It apparently left her lame.   Whether the lack of success on the second fracture was due to lack of skill or advancing age, one might debate either way.

Peter Murray’s tombstone does not mention his unique vocation however signage at his homestead on the Alex MacDonald Road bears witness to his life calling.





The Bonesetter

Physicians, as we know them today, were not readily available in the remote valleys of Sutherlandshire nor in rural Nova Scotia. When they did become assessable to the rural population, their services dealt mostly with internal medicine. Routine matters, such as obstetrics, remedies for common illnesses, and skeletal injury fell upon traditional holistic practices by members of the community.

The herbalists, with their arsenal of natural plant material, seemed to be few in number among the immigrants to the Scottish neighbourhoods. The lack of familiar plant material in their new surroundings likely led to their demise. The midwife was an important member of all rural communities. Some practised at large while others tended only to their extended family. The lessor known medic today is the bonesetter.

The bonesetter, or fear fuidhachaidh chnamh, as known in Gaelic, was once ubiquitous in many cultures. As the name suggests, they primarily set broken bones – human and animal. They also repaired dislocated bones and joints and performed many of the treatments common to chiropractors today.

In Earltown, the earliest practitioner was Peter Murray, alias The Bonesetter.
Peter was born around 1778 and brought up in DailfeusaigDailfeusaig, Rogart  (Peter Murray) in the Parish of Rogart. This hamlet was located on the upper portion of the Brora River that formed the boundary between Rogart and Clyne. His father John was a labourer, likely a cattle herder, for a more substantial tenant of the Sutherland Estate. Both John and Peter show up in an 1812 militia list as living at Dailfeusaig with Peter listed as a “residenter”.

On November 3rd, 1814, Peter married a childhood friend named Eliza. She was born in 1795 at nearby Scibberscross to Alexander Murray and Christy Sutherland. Her father had moved to a remote area called Altandoin in the Parish of Kildonan when Eliza was a young girl. That family was uprooted by the clearances of 1812 and found refuge on the heights of Slettil Hill during 1813 before moving into Strath Halladale to the north. The young couple took their vows in the manse of Kildonan on the above date before Rev. Alexander Sage.

We assume that the young couple returned to Dailfeusaig where things were much more stable than in Kildonan and further north. However, this was not to continue. Dailfeusaig was part of a holding over which John Sutherland of Scibberscross was tacksman. Sutherland of Scibberscross was an antagonist of the Sutherland Estate management. It was no surprise when the Scibberscross tack was taken from John Sutherland and given to John Hall in 1818. In 1819 the area along the Brora, between its source and Scibberscross, was cleared. Most of the people took flight to Pictou including several families who eventually landed in Earltown that summer.

In the land petitions of 1822, Peter claims he was a recent arrival from Scotland. However various traditions, settlement patterns and other evidence would suggest he arrived in 1819 with brother in law Alex Sutherland “Ballan”, his former neighbour and militia buddy, Robert Douglas, and a host of other families that settled in the vicinity of Earltown Village.  Some of these early emigrants temporarily lived in the Scotsburn area with earlier emigrants while waiting for location tickets or made that area a home base while clearing their new land.

Peter, Eliza and their two eldest children settled on what is now Sugar Moon farm. Remains of an early dwelling  can be found on the Rogart Mountain trail. In its day, itBonesetter's ruin, Alex MacDonald Road (Peter Murray).jpg looked out over the blossoming settlement in the basin and surrounding hills.
Peter became a leader in both the spiritual and physical life of the community. He was one of the first elders to be elected after the Presbyterian church formally organized in the 1840’s. He was credited with being the one who selected the site of the Village Cemetery in 1824.

Peter’s most important contribution was his bone setting skills. This was something he obviously learned in the old country. During the settlement years, the nearest medical professionals were located in Pictou and, as already noted, were not apt to respond to cases involving broken bones. No doubt there were many bones to heal as land clearing was a dangerous task and few of the settlers had any experience with an axe or bringing down trees. Sprains and dislocations were likely rampant as well. The treatments were likely harsh and painful but the long term relief and rehabilitation endeared him to the community.

To be continued

Part II will deal with Peter’s later life and the bonesetters among his descendants.


  1. 1812/13 Sutherland Militia Muster Lists
  2. Correspondence and notes of Mrs. Ida MacKay,  Dartmouth, NS
  3. Whiston, Norris,  Land Petitions of North Colchester, NS
  4. Correspondence of Dr. James Hunter, Scotland
  5. Correspondence of Alexander Murray “Banker” , Inverness, Scotland

Joseph MacKenzie – Catechist of Strath Halladale

When Joseph MacKenzie was born, Strath Halladale in the Parish of Reay was still in the hands of the MacKays, ancient overlords of the far north of Scotland. The area escaped the wide scale clearances of the early 1800’s. In fact, the area was a refuge for people fleeing the shackles of the Sutherland Estate. That came to an end in 1830’s when MacKay of Bighouse, of the ancient MacKay lineage, sold his holdings to the Duke of Sutherland.   Thus the Sutherland Estate acquired a large slice of land in the Parish of Reay. Shortly after this out migration began which resulted in a few families from the area finding their way into Earltown.

Joseph was born in the township of Coull in Reay to Alexander MacKenzie and Ann MacKay. At the time of his marriage to Esther Bruce of Bighouse, he was living in Croik, a hamlet in the upper part of the Strath.   Around 1840, Joseph, Esther, their young children, Joseph’s brother Hector, and brother in law Hector Bruce sailed for Pictou. Hector MacKenzie remained in Pictou County.   Joseph located a farm at Central Earltown while Hector Bruce settled on Boodle Hill. (The Boodle MacKays appear to have emigrated at the same time).

Joseph’s grandson, Kenneth MacKenzie of Toronto, recorded the family story in a small book called “Sabots and Slippers”. Kenneth tells us that Joseph was a devout man and schooled in religious leadership. Upon reaching Earltown, Joseph became a leader at local prayer meetings and also travelled throughout the district teaching the Gospel.

It was on one such trip that Joseph became lost in a blizzard. His health rapidly failed thereafter and he died of pneumonia the following summer. This would be in the year 1848.

Many of Joseph’s offspring died young and are buried in the Earltown Village Cemetery including a daughter Josephine who was born posthumously but didn’t survive long. Only two sons continued with a full life.

William was a merchant who started a small trade in the family house at Central Earltown. He later moved the business to the village. The business has been in continuous operation to this day. The other son, Hugh, became a lawyer and conducted a successful practice in Truro.


William Murray “Inchure” – Catechist

The Murrays were inhabitants of Strath Fleet in Rogart for centuries. Their introduction to the eastern portion of Sutherland harkens back to the time of Bishop Gilbert of Moray, (d. 1245), when he and his extended family were planted there by the King to establish order in what had been a barbaric hinterland.   Gilbert was later known as Saint Gilbert of Dornoch.

From this saintly past came a humble family of Murray’s who lived in Acheilidh, one of the more fertile situations in Strath Fleet. They lived on a holding that was known as Inchure, a name that has been a descriptor of this line of Murrays to this day.

The father of this post’s subject was John Murray “Inchure”, a catechist in his own right, who tended to the flock of his native parish of Rogart during the later years of the 18th century. The biographies of the day make no mention of John however his term was short due to an untimely death.

One of his students in matters of Grace was his son William. William was born 1784 and, as a teen, would have been witness to his father’s spiritual work.   William, so the family tradition goes, also received the training to be a catechist although it is not known whether he practiced in Rogart before emigration.

William married Christena Matheson of Strath Cornaig, a remote part of Dornoch Parish bordering on Rogart. She was a near relation of Rev. George Matheson, a blind preacher in Edinburgh and writer of several well known hymns.

In 1822 this couple joined the tide of migrants to Nova Scotia. This did not seem to be caused by eviction but rather a need to find a better living in the soon to be prospering parts of Nova Scotia. They arrived in Pictou of that year and then took passage to the port of River John. From there they found their way to their new home on the Clydesdale Road. Traces of this homestead can be found near the junction of the Clydesdale and Captain’s Roads.

As mentioned in previous posts, it would be some time before the people of Earltown would have the full attention of ordained clergy. William was one of those who conducted neighbourhood prayer meetings and continued his calling to the catechisms without compensation.

It will come as no surprise that his teaching left an impression on two of his sons, William and Robert, who went on to study theology.   William, in addition to a successful ministry in the Annapolis Valley, also served as a missionary in Jamaica. Rev. Robert was less inclined towards pastoral care but aspired to become the editor of the widely read “Presbyterian Witness” for many years. In addition to sound writing on religious matters, Rev. Robert was a proponent for confederation and debated his preference in his paper in response to the anti-confederate views of Joe Howe. Robert was also a hymn writer, From Ocean unto Ocean being the better known.

William Inchure’s other children were: Nancy, (Donald Murray), of Spiddle Hill, John – customs officer in Halifax, Alex, (Ellen Sutherland), on the home farm, Christy died young, Catherine, (married twice – Robert Sutherland and Andrew Campbell), and Hugh, a prospector in the Yukon.

William died at the early age of 57 in 1841. He is buried in the Village Cemetery.




Goodwin, William Murray, The Inchure Murrays,   unpublished manuscript