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.