Fiddler MacIntosh

Robert MacIntosh 1819-1904

Robert MacIntosh
1819-1904   (Collection of Kathryn Sutherland, Mn.)

When not immersed in the never ending toil of farm and forest,  the Scots turned to the pipes or the fiddle to lift their spirits.  Every corner of the settlement had someone with the talent to play the melodies brought from the old country.

The most notable fiddler in the settlement during the 19th century was Robbie MacIntosh.  Robbie was born in Rogart in 1819, the eldest son of William and Betsy MacIntosh.  The family left Rogart in 1825 to come to Earltown and join up with William’s brother, Donald, who had come over a few years earlier.   This MacIntosh family settled on the west end of the Clydesdale Road – a short distance in from the Denmark road.  Robert was the eldest of six children and took over the family farm from his parents.  He had five siblings, none of whom married.

Robbie’s father was an accomplished fiddler in the Old Country and entertained his fellow passengers on the voyage to Nova Scotia.  Robbie took up the fiddle at an early age and became a well known musician.  He was in demand throughout Earltown and West Pictou at dances, fairs, folics and weddings.  He competed in contests and was often the victor.

His most noteworthy engagement was in 1860 when the Prince of Wales,  later King Edward VII, visited Halifax. A ball was held to honour the Prince and Robbie was invited to play the Scottish reels for the Royal Dance.  Robbie had an audience with the Prince and was given a tall silk hat from the Prince’s wardrobe.

Like many of today’s accomplished fiddlers in Cape Breton,  Robbie could step dance while playing the fiddle.  He was still able to master this technique at an advanced age.

When Fiddler MacIntosh became too old to look after the farm,  he went to live with the Graham family at the other end of Clydesdale.  He died in the care of the Graham family in 1904.  His grand silk hat was lost in a subsequent house fire.


Interview:  Josie MacIntosh Graham  ca. 1980

G.R. Sutherland : “The Rise and Decline of the Community of Earltown”  1980


Donald MacIntosh – Co-Founder of the Earltown District

Donald MacIntosh, 1763-1831,  along with Angus Sutherland “Prince”,  was a founder of the District of Earltown in 1813.  In fact he predated the naming of the community by several years and may not have been aware that he was creating a new district.

Donald, his wife Nancy Murray,  and four young children had lived in the Parish of Rogart, Sutherlandshire.   They farmed a croft in an upland township called Leatty which was located high above Strath Fleet.   People from Rogart had been migrating to Nova Scotia since 1773 so it was a logical destination for Donald when circumstances dictated that emigration was necessary.  By 1813 the Napoleonic Wars were over and sea travel was once again safe.  He arrived in Pictou and went to the Roger’s Hill area where others from his neighbourhood had settled.   At this point the closest ungranted land was located along the present day Pictou-Colchester county line.   His grant was located near what is now the junction of the Stewart and Clydesdale Roads and extended up the hill towards Gunn Cemetery.

Unlike his next door neighbour,  Mr. Sutherland,  Donald did not have the advantage of previous land clearing experience.  It is doubtful whether he had ever used an axe before coming to Nova Scotia.   There were other hardships such as starvation.  One historical account tells that during a particularly harsh winter, food ran scarce.  His neighbours were almost in the same circumstances.   Donald was ill at the time so it fell upon Nancy to walk to Dalhousie Mountain and get a bag of potatoes from relatives.  As it was late winter,  the crust on the snow was breaking.  It was reported that Nancy could be tracked for miles as her ankles bled from being chaffed by the broken crust.

Donald died at age 68 in 1831 leaving a widow and five surviving children.  In his will, he divided his farm with his eldest son Hugh getting the west portion and his widow and son John getting the east.   Hugh did not marry and appears absent for many years, likely working in the lumber camps.  John married Marion MacKay of Diamond whose people,  the Bratten MacKays, had come from Leatty as well.  Of Donald’s daughters,  Nancy married Donald MacDonald “Doolie”,  and Margaret married Kenneth MacKay Ächany of Central Earltown.

John’s son  Robert obtained the Hugh MacIntosh lot and another son,  Dan, retained the homestead.   Robert’s son Charles was the last to live on the MacIntosh grant.  It was vacated in the 1950’s.

These MacIntoshes were related to William MacIntosh who settled the Earltown end of the Clydesdale Road and to Donald MacIntosh who lived near Earltown Village.

Angus Sutherland “Prince”, A First Settler

The narrative of the European settlement of Earltown District starts with two men arriving in the unbroken forest in the summer of 1813.   Historian George Patterson in his  “History of the County of Pictou”  credits Angus Sutherland and Donald MacIntosh as the first settlers.  We tend to imagine a lengthy treck into the forest and carving a clearing in isolation.

However both gentlemen took lots along the Pictou – Colchester border.  On the Pictou side,  a growing settlement had been in progress for four years.   Sutherlandshire and Ross-shire Scots moved into the West Branch area starting in 1809 and were approaching Colchester by 1813.  Consequently the eastern portion of  Earltown was initially an extention of West Branch.

Angus Sutherland was known as the “Prince”.   His facial features reminded people of paintings of Bonnie Prince Charlie.   He came to Scotsburn as the eight year old son of John and Catherine Sutherland in 1801.   They were among a number of families that arrived in Pictou from Rogart that year and settled as a group west of Scotsburn.   Angus witnessed his father’s toil in establishing a homestead in the forest and thus was an experienced homesteader when he arrived on his grant in the community that would eventually be called Clydesdale.   The grant was actually granted in the name of his father John.  It was located on the Clydesdale road about 1/2 kilometer east of the junction of the Stewart and Clydesdale Roads.  The first schoolhouse in the area was on part of this grant.   Angus’ co-founder, Donald MacIntosh, lived to the north at the junction of the roads.

After building a log home and clearing some land,  Angus returned to Scotsburn to marry Annie MacIntosh.  Annie or Nancy was also a native of Rogart who came to Scotsburn in 1801 with her parents,  William MacIntosh and Christy Murray.

Angus and Nancy had eight children.   The Sutherland Prince male line is no longer but there are many descendants to their daughters.

Nancy died in 1848 at the age of 47.    Angus died in 1872 at the age of 82.   They were buried in Scotsburn.