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


Catechists in the New World

The traditional titles, offices and vocations of the pioneer mainline churches are largely unknown today in rural Nova Scotia, having slowly transitioned into more casual forms of religious observance or, in most cases, into a secular lifestyle with a Christian ethical code. Gone are the days of ruling elders, precentors, Clerk of Session, stewards, etc..   Long gone is the Catechist, the subject of this post.

The term Catechist comes from Greek meaning to teach by spoken word. It was a recognized position in the Catholic laity prior to the reformation and thus migrated into the early Protestant church.

By the 18th century, the Catechists were a highly regarded group of religionists in the North Highlands of Scotland. There were initially appointed from among the laity to assist the Parish Minister with Christian education matters, such as instructing parents on baptism, preparing adults for confirmation and presiding over what we now call “bible study meetings”.   The parishes in the north were geographically large and remote.   People living in the out lying areas would be unable to attend the Parish church on a regular basis therefore the Catechist would be dispatched to those areas to instruct a particular family or group of families in their homes.

These Catechists were chosen from the laity by the minister and occasionally by the people. They were men of unwavering piety, deep thought and high functionality in Gaelic. English was not necessarily required and they often supplemented the preaching of the ministers who were not necessarily as proficient in Gaelic.   Some had basic education and could read in both languages however many relied upon a high capacity to remember everything they ever heard including extensive tracts of scripture.   Some received a stipend from the Church of Scotland for those duties performed under the supervision of the clergy. Others simply served as part of a personal calling.

The Catechists were the core of a unique group in the northern shires known as “The Men”.   The Men would assemble at the various sacrament events in the neighbouring parishes.   During the four day communion, Friday was reserved for “The Men”.   A scriptural passage would be presented by a presiding minister and “The Men” would rise in turn and speak extensively as to the meaning. Some were very eloquent and philosophical. Others used the occasion to speak impressively but without substance. The minister would conclude the day long event by correcting scriptural references and summarizing the debate.   Some Catechists became quite famous over the whole of Highlands for their insight and speaking abilities.

By the start of the 19th century, just prior to the clearances, the Catechists had risen to great prominence, surpassing the elected elders and clergy in popularity. This was particularly true in the Parish of Clyne where the pulpit was occupied by Rev. Walter Ross.   Rev. Ross was an appointee of the Countess and, transparently, was a voice of the Sutherland Estate. He was a cattleman, often absent from his duties.   The Catechists filled the spiritual void and often conducted services in the outlying areas as well as in the school in Strath Brora.   In the messy politics of the Strath Brora clearances, Rev. Ross clearly took sides with the Estate.

It will come as no surprise that the Catechists received no special treatment during the upheavals of 1819 to 1822 in Clyne and beyond.   They were among those evicted from their homes and sent elsewhere to start over.   Three such men found their way to Earltown. They came from separate parishes and at different times. But none the less, they came as a result of social upheaval during which their church remained silent.

In Northern Nova Scotia, particularly in North Colchester, Pictou County and parts of Cape Breton, the Presbyterian population exploded in the first decades of the 19th century.   Ministers were scarce and of those that were established in the towns, most did not adhere to the Church of Scotland.   Although disappointed with the Church of Scotland, (The Kirk), the settlers out of the far north of Scotland still clung to it. It would be many years before the infant settlements, such as Earltown, would receive a settled minister.   In the mean time they traveled to Pictou, New Glasgow or Hopewell for baptisms and marriage. Occasionally a missionary would pass through the settlement and handle the backlog. Weekly worship fell upon themselves.

In the case of Earltown, the three Catechists filled the void. They visited families in their remote homesteads, presided over burials and conducted prayer meetings in homes or barns. By the mid 1830’s, Rev. William Sutherland was living at West Earltown as a farmer. He was never called but availed himself to those who would adhere to him. It appears that some families, for whatever reason, stuck with the Catechists until the arrival of the Free Church and a settled minister in 1846.

Proceedings of the Presbyterian Church indicate that the “Catechist” designation was still recognized as late as the 1860’s but only as it related to trained missionaries sent to labour in remote areas not served by a minister.   These Catechists appear to have been student ministers or experienced teachers aspiring to be in the pulpit. “The Men” in the communions of the new world included some former Highland Catechists but now included the elders who now had Christian education as part of their job descriptions.   As the Catechists of old died off, the elders became the sole leaders in education and outreach.

The three following posts will follow the travels of George Baillie, William Murray and Joseph MacKenzie, all active Catechists in Earltown.


MacPhail’s Edinburgh Ecclesiastical Journal and Literary Reviews:

     Letter to the Editor by anonymous Highland Parish Minister

 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)

 Patterson, Rev. George, “A History of the County of Pictou”, Dawson Bros., Montreal 1877

Report of the Proceedings of the General Presbyterian Council, Edinburgh, 1877

 Correspondence: Dr. Elizabeth Ritchie, University of the Highlands & Islands, Dornoch

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:

Settler’s Scottish Home the Site of an Archaeological Dig

For the past few years the Clyne Heritage Society under the guidance of Nick Lindsay,  a local archeologist, has been busy excavating and documenting ruins in the long vacant township of Kilpheddermore.

The former township is located on the bank of the River Brora and is located approximately nine miles inland from the town of Brora.  Its name indicates that it may have contained a cell or hut of an early monk by the name of Peter.   For at least a 1000 years, and probably much longer,  it was farmed by generations of crofters.  In May of 1820 the Sutherland Estate cleared the inhabitants to further sheep farming.  Prior to the clearance, the township contained a grist mill and smiddy shop on the bank of the river.

For several years the grist mill was operated by George Ferguson, (b. ca 1780), who seems to have originated in the neighbouring township of Urachyle.  He married Catherine Graham,  (1784-1865),  daughter of William Graham and Isabel MacKay of Urachyle.  Together they settled at Kilpheddermore and leased the mill from the Estate.

Clyne residents had been departing for Nova Scotia as far back as 1813 as a result of some small scale clearances.  It would be a matter of time before Kilpheddermore would suffer the same fate.  George started to make plans to relocate his young family to free lands in the Pictou area.  However he was strickened with cancer and died around 1817.   It was his wish that Catherine would establish their children in Nova Scotia.

In 1820,  Catherine emigrated to Nova Scotia and was directed to Earltown along with a number of families from Rogart.   She was accompanied by her sons William and Robert age 16,  John, age 10 and Donald, age 8 as well as daughters  Christy, age 12 and Georgina age 2.   Although two of the sons were 16,  it must have been a daunting task for the young widow to establish a homestead.   In a very short time,  she had a functioning farm behind the subsequently established Knox Church, in fact she donated the land for a church and cemetery.    William and Robert relocated to Balmoral when they came of age,  John cleared a farm on the Matheson Brook and Donald took over the eastern part of the home grant.  Christy married John Sutherland “MacIan” of Elanan, Clyne, an early settler at The Falls.   Georgina married Red Robert MacKay of Aschoilbeg, Clyne and settled next to her brothers on Back Mountain.

Erosion is threatening the ruins of Kilpheddermore site therefore the Clyne Heritage Society is being proactive in capturing its history before nature does its thing.   Among the interesting finds are fragments of old mill stones of which some may have been used or fashioned by George Ferguson.

For more detailed information on the site,  go to

Sandy “Salt” MacDonald, North Earltown

Among the arrivals in the great migration of 1831/32 was an Alexander MacDonald,  his wife Annie MacLeod and their young family.

Alexander, or Sandy,  was born in 1791 at Altindown in the Parish of Clyne and was the son of John MacDonald and Janet Fraser.   Altindown no longer exists but seems to have been a pre- clearance settlement on the coastal plains near the Clyne church.   Annie was the daughter of Hugh MacLeod and Janet Sutherland of Urachyle,  a settlement in mid Strathbrora from whence came several families to Earltown.

Subsequent to their marriage,  the couple settled in the village of Brora.   According to the Old Parish Register,  he was a saltmaker.  Saltmakers of that era trapped tidal water in the mud flats and allowed the water to naturally evaporate for a short period before finishing the process by boiling it down.   The finished product would be shipped off to the cities in the south.

Annie’s siblings, who may have been crofting at the time,  chose to emigrate to Nova Scotia in 1831.  Like many before, they decided to go to Pictou rather than the preferred destination of Oxford County, Ontario.   Her brother John settled at Braeshore near Pictou while the rest ventured to Earltown to join former friends and acquaintances.   Annie’s sister Ellen,  (George MacKenzie),  settled on the ridge beside the MacKenzie Cemetery, and Mary, (Hector Sutherland),  bought a farm at Balfron.

Annie and Alexander cleared a farm on the Church Road near its junction with the Matheson Brook Road.  It had been a popular winter campground of the Mi’kmaw for generations and the tradition continued well after European settlement.   Alex did not last long in the new world.  He died in the spring of 1837 at the age of 46.   Of their seven known children,   Margaret married John MacLeod of Urachyle and The Falls,  Janet married John MacKay “Black” at Balfron,  Hugh married Christena Sutherland “Square” and settled at Balmoral,  Alex died in the Klondike,  John married first to Eliza Campbell and secondly to Christena MacKay “Marroch” at Balfron,  Betsy married a Grant at Scotch Hill and George remained on the home farm.  He married Betsy Murray “Bonesetter” from The Falls.