The Catechist of Coiranscaig – Part II

We ended part I with George, Catherine and young family arriving in Pictou and being dispatched to Earltown.

It was August in 1822 when the Baillie family, along with others from their home parish, set out from Pictou to find their new home. Old friends and familiar faces were to be found along the way in the Caribou District, West Branch and finally in the Berrichan. The Caribou people were already well established. The Berrichan people, particularly the Baillies of Kilbraur, were two years into the pioneer experience.   Most of this group migrated down the Waugh River valley towards Tatamagouche and extended the 1821 settlement of West Earltown towards The Falls.

George took a 200 acre parcel on the west facing slope of Spiddle Hill. At the top of this slope is an outcropping of rock much reminiscent of the Carrol Rock near Coiranscaig in Clyne. This familiar looking landmark probably convinced George that this would be home.   According to tradition, he chose to clear the hilltop rather than the more fertile valley bottom next to the river.

In addition to the rigors of establishing a viable farm, George assumed a self appointed role of a Highland catechist.   It would be many years before the mother church would secure a permanent minister for the growing district. Thus George had a potential mission of several hundred souls to nurture.   In the years to come, William Murray and Joseph MacKenzie, both trained catechists, settled in the Earltown area and lightened the load.   However, George did not contain his zeal to Earltown. As evidenced by the marriage of several descendants into the Gaelic Presbyterian community surrounding Wallace in Cumberland County, it appears that he was a regular apostle to Kirk people in that area.   There were also strong associations with the Caribou District in Pictou.

“Records of Grace in Sutherland” relates how George Baillie “by his holy life, he continued to adorn the doctrine of God his Saviour” in North America. “One day, it is affirmed, he had occasion to go to a place some distance from his new home. On his return, he completely lost his way in the pathless forest. In his helplessness, he had recourse to prayer, and when he rose from his knees, he saw a strange dog approaching and fawning upon him and then moving in a certain direction. He followed the sagacious animal until at least he came in sight of his own log cabin.”[i]

In addition to weekly prayer meetings and catechising in the settlers’ homes, he continued to exercise his debating skills at four day communions in the scattered districts of North Colchester and Pictou. It was reported in a paper in the 1840’s that “prominent among the men speaking to the question at a recent Tatamagouche communion, was the venerable George Baillie of Earltown, whose grasp of the doctrines could match or exceed that of the attending clergy”. Therefore, George was a powerful speaker in both Gaelic and English, as Tatamagouche would not have conducted their communion in the tongue of the Gael.

Not everyone was enamoured by his religious zeal. An elderly lady once related to this writer that George Baillie was a regular visitor to her grandfather’s home.   Although her grandfather was an elder and pious, he dreaded these visits and would have the whole family hide in the hopes that Baillie would move along to the next farm.   Although the clergy describe him in the most flattering of terms, he could be very dour and not bashful about rebuking parents and children alike for lapses in their scriptural knowledge or attention to family devotions.

When a church structure finally came to Earltown, both the Kirk and the Free Church, George was one of two elders elected to represent The Falls District of the Earltown Congregation under the auspices of the Free Church of Scotland.

Of his family, his eldest son, Alexander, settled the lower 100 acres of his grant beside the river. Alex was more commonly known as “Doctor Baillie”, supposedly due to a practice of setting broken bones. His eldest daughter Christy married Alexander Sutherland, “Laughing Sandy”, of MacLeod Road. Several tales survive of “Laughing Christy” who apparently had the second sight for which her Grandmother Baillie was renowned.  Four daughters, Margaret, Ann, Mary and Elizabeth, married in the Wallace area as did a son John. Their youngest son, Dan, was a successful farmer at Balfron.

The August 12th, 1854 edition of the Presbyterian Witness gave notice of his death: “At Earltown, June 26th, Mr. George Bailie, age 72 years. Mr. Bailie was a native of the parish of Clyne, Sutherlandshire, Scotland. He gave evidence early of a saving acquaintance with God, and at the early age of 23 he became a member of the Church of Scotland. He emigrated to America in the year 1822 and on this side of the Atlantic he still maintained his Christian profession.   Possessed of an exceedingly retentive memory….”[ii]

His remains lie in Murray Cemetery, in the shadow of his home on Spiddle Hill.



[i] 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)

[ii] Presbyterian Witness, August 12, 1854 Microfilm   PANS

Iii Interview, Mrs. Gladys MacDonald, 1982

The Catechist of Coiranscaig (Part I)

Coiranscaig is a pre-clearance hamlet situated on a hillside overlooking the narrows of Loch Brora. It was a place long associated with the Baillies, probably back to 1500 or prior when they were a prominent family under the Earl of Sutherland.   By the late 18th century, Coiranscaig became well known as the home turf of a pious family of Baillies who ranked high among the laity of Sutherland.

One of “Men” of Strathbrora was a Hugh Baillie who was born at Coiranscaig in the mid 1700’s.   He was “a most impressive speaker, and, latterly, on account of his years and ripe experience, he was usually one of the first Strath Brora “men” to be called at Fellowship meetings. It was an inspiration to see him rise on a communion Friday. His venerable appearance, his solemn and subdued manner, and even the quiet flow of his address, always os fresh and savoury, drew upon him the eyes of hundreds in the congregation and sustained their attention until he sat down.”   Hugh was a fixture at communions throughout the Highlands, often travelling for a week over mountain passes and down glens to reach destinations on the west coast.

Hugh’s wife, whose name has not been documented, was outstanding among the women of her parish for her kindness and piety. She seems to have been gifted with the second sight. On one occasion, after entertaining some travellers with refreshments, she sensed that the men were going to experience something serious. Some of the travellers drowned later that day while crossing Loch Brora.

This good couple had only one child, a son George. George was born September 22, 1782 on Coiranscaig. He grew up being a witness to his father’s evangelism and often attended the sacraments with his father. “ In his religious training he was exceptionally favoured, for not only did he come under home influences greatly fitted for fostering true piety, but he enjoyed rare opportunities of associating with the many outstanding saints in the neighbourhood, at whose feet he considered it a privilege to sit.”[i]

In a time when the fathers of Sutherland were reluctant to bring young men into their saintly circle, George was granted a high standing among the catechists and elders. It was also an era in which full membership to the Kirk was reserved for people mature in biblical instruction and experience. However, George was confirmed at the exceptional youthful age of 23.

George was married twice. His first wife, Jane Stewart, died at an early age leaving George with a young son John. John was put in the care of his mother’s people who raised him. John’s descendants still live in Clyne.

George was married the second time to Catherine Grant on August 8, 1808. She was the daughter of Alexander Grant and Margaret MacKenzie, Alexander being one of the prominent churchmen of Strath Brora and a tenant of some means.   George and Catherine had six children at Coiranscaig of which four survived before emigrating in 1822.   A daughter, Mary, was born at sea in 1822.   Three more children were born in Nova Scotia.

As mentioned already, the Baillies were tenants of some means during their early tenure in Sutherland and held lands on the shores of Loch Brora.   With the ascendancy of the Gordon family, they lost their status and became small tenants of the Carrol Estate under the Gordon’s of Carrol.   They seemed to have had a satisfactory relationship with the Gordons for several generations. However, this came to an end in 1812 upon the death of John Gordon.   His heirs sold the estate to the Countess of Sutherland in order to pay off accumulated debts.   The Countess gave assurances to the heirs that the tenants would not be disturbed.[ii]

Agents of the Countess had other plans, and set out to gradually depopulate the estate to turn it into a large sheep farm. Portions were cleared as early as 1813 with the removals reaching their height in 1820.   In that year, George and Catherine were issued writs of removal.   We are not certain what became of them at that point but they most likely moved to the coast to claim a small holding being offered to the evictees. It was the grand scheme of the estate to use the displaced farmers as labourers in various industries around Brora. Like many of their former neighbours, they found the small lots to be unsatisfactory and longed to emigrate. By 1822, an opportunity presented itself.   Joseph Gordon, son of their former landlord, arranged for subsidized passage to Pictou. Gordon had solicited funds from merchants in Bengal, India, to assist the evictees in leaving Sutherland. He had motives other than of a benefactor. He wanted to “get even” with the Countess for failing to keep her promise with respect to his father’s former tenants.

George, Catherine and their six or seven children arrived in Pictou in August of 1822[iii] along with several dozen families from Strath Brora. A few were given location tickets in East Pictou but many were dispatched to Earltown where they joined family and friends who had preceded them in 1819 and 1820.

The next post will tell of George’s spiritual calling in the New World.



[i] 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)

[ii] Hunter, Dr. James, “Set Adrift Upon the World, The Sutherland Clearances”,   Birlinn 2016

[iii] Church records: Earltown Congregation, Family Register, Microfilm, Provincial Archives of Nova Scotia

iv Correspondence – Hugh Baillie, Brora, Sutherland


Cnoc na Gaoithe

As one travels towards Earltown from The Falls on the 311, one notices a ridge at the head of the valley. This same ridge is part of the view when entering West Earltown from Central Earltown. In the 19th century it was commonly known as Cnoc na Gaoithe, (pronounced Croc na Gee), and later became known in English by its translation, Windy Hill. It is named after a similar hill in the Parish of Clyne located to the north of Loch Brora and near Dalfolly. It was the ancestral home of several first settlers in West Earltown. There were once eight homesteads in this remote area. Most were vacant by 1930. They were served by the church at The Falls, the Brown School at West Earltown, and, for a period of time, a store at the end of the road leading into the settlement. Most of these people were buried in the Murray Cemetery. The first four homesteads along the main route through the settlement were settled by an extended family in 1821. They were the three Baillie brothers along with their sister who was married to a MacKay. We will notice their particulars as we proceed along the road.

The Baillies were raised on the Cnoc na Gaoithe in Clyne. Their home was supposedly on the opposite side of Strath Brora from other Baillies that came to the Earltown area around the same time.   They were certainly among the evicted of Strath Brora . Their land grant petitions suggest they came over in 1821.  They made their way to the Lovat – West River Station area where other Baillie families were already established.   There is a strong family tradition that they were near relatives to the Baillies that arrived in those settlements around 1814. They requested land in the West River area but were instead pointed to West Earltown, the preferred gathering place for Sutherland evictees in the early 1820’s. An older brother, Donald, chose to settle on the summit of Spiddle Hill on the farm recently restored by Edwin Cameron for buffalo pasture. The remaining siblings took a block of land along the ridge of Cnoc na Gaoithe.

Today one gains access to this area from the Kavanagh’s Mills Road. About 700 meters from the 311 highway, a road turns off to the left and heads south. About 500 meters along that road one comes to a cross road. The one to the left is a lane into the Robert Baillie grant. Part of the clearing is now a gravel pit however the ruins of the house were in existence as recent as 1990. Robert Baillie, (1799-1871), was a son of Alexander and Janet Baillie of Cnoc na Gaoithe, Clyne. He lived as a bachelor at this location for several years establishing a viable farm. Around 1833 he married Margaret Murray, (1812-1839), then living across the road from Knox Church. She was born to William Murray “Ardachu” and Margaret MacKay in Rogart and arrived in Earltown with them in 1831/32.   The 1838 census shows that Robert and Margaret had three children. We have only been able to identify one, that being a daughter Margaret, wife of Hugh MacKay “Uhr” of MacKay’s Hill near Kavanagh’s Mills. Margaret, wife of Robert Baillie, is buried with her parents in Earltown and is memorialized by an elaborate table stone. There are no markers for children of this marriage but one wonders if the unknown children expired along with the mother due to a virus. Left with at least one small child, loneliness, necessity and hopefully love led to Robert’s second marriage to an Isabel MacKay. Isabel was born in Scotland. Her grandson Geordie Sutherland “Macin” claimed that she belonged to the Uhr MacKays at Kavanagh’s Mills. If that is the case, she came to Nova Scotia subsequent to 1841 with a sister in law, Annie MacDonald MacKay, and her family as well as a clan of MacKays known as the Boodles.  The Boodle MacKays settled near Earltown Lake.   By this union, Robert had Margaret, (Mrs. George Sutherland “Macin”), Mary, Annie, (Mrs. Tom Mattatall of West Tatamagouche), Robert Jr., and Alexander.

Robert Baillie Sr. died in 1871 and the farm eventually went to his son Robert. This Robert married Isabella MacKay, “Black”, daughter of “Kicking” George MacKay and Janet MacKay “Deacon”, West Earltown.   Robert and Isabella, as well as his widowed mother, moved to Malagash in the late 1880’s. They had Jessie, (Mrs. Walter Craig of Niacom, Sk.), Bessie, (Mrs. Louis Langille of Waugh River), and Melville Baillie who died at Pashendale, France, on November 2, 1917 in the service of King and Country.

The Baillie’s sold this farm to Neil Murray of Earltown. Neil was a nephew of Margaret Murray Baillie, Robert Sr.’s first wife. Neil, (1854-1924), was a son of Donald Murray “Bible” and Janet MacKay “Tailor” of Earltown.   He had a first wife, name unknown, and a son John by that marriage. His second wife was Christena MacDonald, daughter of Neil MacDonald and Janet MacIntosh of North River. In addition to farming, Neil also operated a store in the house for the surrounding community.   Neil and Christena had four children: Maude, (Mrs. Charles Douglas, North River), Mamie died young, Gordon, (m. Catherine MacLeod of The Falls), and lived at Upper River John Road. The youngest child was Mabel, wife of Dan Robert MacLeod, The Falls and Trail, BC..  Neil spent his final years with his son Gordon on the River John Road.

The Alonzo, (Lonnie), Sullivan family were the next to occupy this farm. They were formerly of North River. In later years they built a new house near to the junction of the 311 and the Kavanagh’s Mills Road. Members of that family still live on parts of the original homestead.

Returning to the road on the ridge, another road turns to the right opposite the Baillie – Sullivan land. It leads into a clearing currently under blueberries. It seems that this parcel may have been part of the Hector MacKay grant.  This parcel seems to have been settled around 1848 by Donald MacKay and his wife Mary MacKay. Mary was a daughter of John MacKay “Post” on Gunn’s Hill. Donald’s origins are vague but tradition claims that he was one of the Achlean MacKays in the Clydesdale.   Donald and Mary had six children, William, John, Alex, Christena, Catherine and Jessie. Alex never married and worked as a carpenter around Denmark, N.S. .  John spent the his final years at the county poor farm in North River. Catherine died at home in 1927. Christy took over the farm and was first married to an Angus MacDonald. To date we cannot trace Mr. MacDonald.   Christy’s second husband was Neddie Tattrie of French River. They had an infant son. This couple lived to be elderly and are buried in Earltown. The farm has been vacant since. A roadway through this farm eventually continued over the hill to the Corktown Road passing through the farm of John S. Baillie.

Back on the road along the ridge, one ascends a half kilometer into the remains of the Donald MacKay “Macomish” grant.   The origins of the name Macomish is now unknown. The name appears in the rent rolls of the Sutherland Estate in the early to mid 1700’s, a time when many of the families had unique Gaelic surnames.   Macomish may have been an old branch of the MacKay clan or a tribe that took the MacKay name towards the late 1700’s. This family lived on the west bank of the Blackwater, a river flowing into Strath Brora from the North. In 1820, prior to emigration, Donald was living at Dalvait near the mouth of the Blackwater. Donald married Marion Baillie in Clyne. As previously mentioned, she was a sister of the Baillie brothers on the adjoining farms. Marion had a daughter prior to her marriage, also Marion, who was raised in the MacKay household. This Marion married Alexander Sutherland “Loib Bheg” of Central Earltown. Together, Donald and Marion had a daughters Janet, who was born in Clyne and died unmarried in 1867, Christy, wife of James Sutherland “Loib Bheg” or Lake at Earltown Lake, Margaret, first wife of Hugh MacKay “Gouda”, West Earltown, sons Alexander and William.   Donald and Marion are buried in Murray Cemetery. This grant was divided between the two sons.

William was given the original homestead and Alexander occupied a portion further along the road. William MacKay “Macomish” 1827-1872, was twice married. His first wife was Isabel Sutherland “Loib Bheg”, daughter of Robert Sutherland and Eliza MacKay, Earltown Lake. They had Marion, (Mrs. William Sutherland “Macin”, Corktown), Eliza, (Mrs. Jim Sutherland, Caribou of The Falls), Dolina, unmarried, Robert died in 1883 unmarried, Dan, (Mary Heughan) and William. Isabella died in 1864 leaving William with a young family.

He married a second time to Ellen MacKay, daughter of Hector MacKay and Jane Sutherland, West Earltown. They had a son Hector who died young. In the late 1860’s William vacated the farm on Cnoc na Gaoithe and moved to the New Truro Road about three miles south of Tatamagouche Village. A number of properties along that road had become available for settlement at that time. It was flat and considerably more arable than the mountain properties. William died shortly after the move and the farm was taken over by his young sons. Dan, known as Dan Macomish, was the eventual heritor of the farm which later passed to his grandson, Freeman MacKay.

Alexander Macomish, son of Donald, cleared the rear part of the grant. He was married to Annie Sutherland, sister of William’s wife Isabel and Christy’s husband James.  She was also a half sister of Alex Sutherland, the husband of Marion Baillie. The Macomish MacKay and Sutherland Loib Bheg families were greatly intertwined likely due to some close connection back in Clyne. Alex and Annie raised a dozen children on that remote and marginal homestead.   Marion, (married George Sutherland, Sawyer), Betsy, unmarried, Dan, Eliza, Robert, Janet, William, Betsy, Christy Ann, Isabel, (Mrs. Robert Morrison, Vancouver), and Margaret, wife of Big Donald MacDonald of East Earltown.   Some of this family left home young and their whereabouts became unknown.   Some died single on the home farm. The last of this family was Donald who was also known as Dan Macomish. He was a bit of an eccentric and roamed the back country at night by lantern light. He spent his last years as a border with Hugh Alan and Minnie Sutherland, Balmoral.

These Macomish MacKay farms bordered on the farm of the Black MacKay’s and the clearings were open to one another at one time. The Black MacKay’s entered their homestead from the West Earltown side near the Devil’s Elbow.

At the back of the MacKay clearing a road branched to the south east and eventually entered the Morrison clearing. This farm would be to the southwest of the old Brown School at West Earltown. It was only inhabited by one family for a relatively short life. We don’t know what circumstances brought William Morrison to Earltown. He was born in Scotland in 1820. He first appears in the official records marrying Betsy MacDonald at Tatamagouche in 1851. Betsy was born in the Parish of Reay, Caithness in 1826. She was a daughter of Donald MacDonald and Jane Murray and came to Earltown in 1832.   She was a granddaughter of Alex Murray “Corrigan” of Spiddle Hill who later emigrated from Reay. William and Betsy’s farm, although remote today, was only a couple of properties away from her parent’s farm above Ferguson Brook Road.

In 1873 William and Betsy vacated their farm and set out with the family for the American West. They chose to settle in Ardoch, North Dakota, a new settlement in the Red River Basin. William died there in 1886 and Betsy in 1915. They had ten children. What is most remarkable about this family is that they kept in contact with their friends and relatives in Nova Scotia. Five of the family married people originally from Earltown who had somehow tracked them down. The family was later centered on the outskirts of Los Angeles with two sons owning citrus farms. An elderly relative from Idaho once told the writer of visits to the Morrison homes as a child visiting Los Angeles. They remained true to their roots, were keen on the Scottish obsession with genealogy, and sang the old Presbyterian hymns as a source of entertainment.

The children were:   Robert, (m. Isabel MacKay, Macomish) and lived in Vancouver; Christy, (m. Alex MacKay, Gouda), Grand Forks, North Dakota; Jane, (m. John Murray, Bonesetter of The Falls), Pine City, Mn; Margaret; John, a rancher in Dakota who retired to California; Alexander, a farmer in San Dimas, Ca., (m. 2. Johanna MacKay, Canada); Elizabeth; Donald, San Jose, Ca.; Peter, a farmer in San Dimas, Ca., (m. Ellen MacKay, Tailor).

Back on the road leading to Corktown, we next come to the first of two Baillie grants. The first was granted to William Baillie, (1798-1844). He was the ancestor of a branch of the Baillies nicknamed the Jaffries. William was married in Clyne in 1820 to Margaret Anderson.   She was born at Badnellan in Clyne. Her people remained in Scotland and are still living in the area today. Their first home as a couple was on Alt Na Mhuillan above Aschoile Beg.  Family tradition claims they lived for a short period of time in the West River area while William was securing a permanent home. While at West River, their eldest son was born in 1821. They had at least four children: Alexander, settled on the next farm; Nancy, unmarried; Margaret, the second wife of Alex Baillie “Doctor” of West Earltown; and William who continued on the home place.

William Jr. , (1830-1908), was married to Isabella Sutherland “Macin”, daughter of John Sutherland and Christy Ferguson. They raised a family of nine in this remote setting:   Margaret, Mrs. Dan MacLeod, MacLeod Road; Christena, second wife of Jim Sutherland, “Caribou”, The Falls; Annie, Mrs. David Murray, Kavanagh’s Mills; William died young; Georgie, unmarried; Catherine, Mrs. William Sutherland, “Dearg”, East Earltown; John S. Baillie, Corktown; Alex S. Baillie, at home; and Bessie Baillie, unmarried. Alex S. Baillie worked for a number of years in the United States and came home to look after the homestead around the time his parents could no longer manage. After their deaths, he moved with his sisters Georgie and Bessie to the old Henderson farm on Studivan Mountain. This is still a remote setting but was a considerable improvement over the farm on the far side of Cnoc na Gaoithe. Continuing on through the Baillie grant, we come to former homestead of Alex Baillie, son of William. He broke with tradition and married someone outside the Gaeldacht, Margaret Jane Tucker of Corktown. They also had nine children: William, Hugh and Alex died as young men on the home place, James went west and was never heard of again, Margaret married Joe Dunford of Wittenburg, NS; Elizabeth was first married to Finley MacDonald of the Berrichan and later married Murdoch Munro of Loganville Glen; George Baillie married Bella Ross Meagher and they took over her first husband’s farm at The Falls; Annie married Alex Sutherland “Macin” and lived on the Kavanagh’s Mills Road; and John Baillie who lived at Waugh’s River and was married twice.

At this point the crosses into the New Annan District and the community once known as Corktown. The next property was granted to Alexander Baillie, the youngest of the Baillie siblings to settle along this road.   Very little is known of this man.   He married a woman by the name of Annie and had at least two sons, William and Alexander.   William went to Londonderry, (then known as Acadia Mines), to work where he met and married Margaret Spencer. He later appears among the early inhabitants of Calgary. Alexander Baillie the younger, known locally as Alloch, continued with the homestead. He married Janet Baillie, (1842-1910), a daughter of William Baillie, “Quilly” and Helen Sutherland of Clydesdale. Janet, known as Jessie, was a distant cousin.   They had four children, Robert who lived near Trenton, N.S.; Alex William in Trail, B.C.; Christy, Mrs. John Pugh; and John.   John went by the nickname Johnny Alloch, was a bachelor, and worked in the lumber camps most of his life. He died in Truro and was buried at North River. The land at this point is extremely poor. The continues through Baillie’s Bog and emerges on the Old Nuttby Road in Corktown.

The locations on this map are approximate: