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

Robert Murray, eldest son of William and Grace, was 36 years of age in 1819 and a single man. With limited prospects in his home parish, he chose to emigrate with a group evicted from the upper reaches of Strath Brora, likely on the ship Diana[i].   Although there is no evidence that this family were in any way connected to the people of the Upper Brora, Robert followed them west to the blossoming community of New Portugal as Earltown was then known. He received a grant of land in the narrow valley on the Nabiscamp Brook, approximately a mile southwest of MacBain’s Corner.

It would have been a lonely existence for a single man with no neighbours within his line of vision. However, he remedied the situation on April 23, 1821[ii] when he married Miss Mary Sutherland. Mary was born in 1799[iii] at Craigton, Rogart, to John Sutherland “Ballem” and Catherine Reid. Although her parents and many of her siblings chose to adapt to the new system of farming in Strathbrora, Mary accompanied two of her brothers to Nova Scotia in 1819, likely on the same ship as Robert Murray. Mary’s brother John settled on the original road between Rossville and MacKenzie Cemetery. This would be about two miles from Robert’s homestead. One can only wonder whether Robert followed her to Earltown having met her on the ship or whether it was a matter of pragmatic convenience. Whatever the circumstances, they begat nine children.

Two of the eldest children are buried in MacKenzie Cemetery, William and Elizabeth. Eldest surviving daughter Grace married John Ross of Loganville. Ellen married Robert Murray “Corrigan” of Spiddle Hill and they later pioneered in Maple Plain, Minnesota. Catherine “Kate” married Alex Sutherland “Ballem” of Gunn’s Hill. Alex died young and Kate later married William MacIntosh of Welsford.

Daughter Janet married Angus MacKay of Lovat, Pictou County.   In 1852 Janet and Angus booked passage to Australia on the Aurora. When boarding the vessel, or maybe a feeder vessel, at Pictou wharf, Janet was overcome with grief and feinted. Angus scooped her off the wharf and carried her aboard[iv]. After a short stay in Port Philip, Australia, the couple settled among other Nova Scotians near Waipu, New Zealand[v].

William, son of Robert and Mary, left East Earltown as a young man and followed others from Pictou County to the lumbering bustle on the Miramichi River in New Brunswick. He settled down in Chatham where he ran a store. He married Isabel Peters, a native of that area. The store later ran into difficulties after which William, Isabella and their family of ten moved to Cambridge, Ma..

Christena, the youngest daughter of Robert and Mary, married Dr. Neil Sutherland of West River. Dr. Sutherland was practising in Tracadie, Antigonish County, when Christena died in 1875 at the early age of 30. Dr. Sutherland and their only son John went west to Saskatchewan and later settled near Edmonton.

John Murray was the heritor of the homestead at East Earltown. He married Mary Ann MacMillan of Pictou County. They had five children.   John died young in 1874 and Mary married John Munro of Balfron. The Murray children later returned to the homestead. Their son John, styled “Little Johnny in the Valley” was the last inhabitant. He never married. He was a fiddler and fixture at dances in the surrounding communities.

Robert Murray died in 1862 and is buried in MacKenzie Cemetery. His stone lists him as “Robert Murray, Esq”.   He often used that style as land ownership was a source of great pride to one who grew up in a tenant household in Scotland.   To the locals, however, he was styled Robert Murray “Valley”.

[i] The obituary of Angus Graham of Elmfield, Colonial Standard, Aug. 22nd, 1882, mentions that Graham came to Nova Scotia in 1819 on the ship Diana along with a number of families who were the first settlers at Earltown.

[ii] As reported by the Pictou Bee

[iii] Rogart Parish Records

[iv] The late Wilbur Murray of Marshville, River John, related this story to the writer in 1983.

[v] The ship and destination are documented in an unpublished manuscript among the papers of the late Janet MacKay. Others from the Scotsburn and West River area were on this passage. This was around the time that the zealot, Rev. Norman MacLeod, led a large contingent from Cape Breton to Australia and New Zealand. John MacKay “MacIubh”, native of North Earltown and a schoolmaster in St. Anns, Cape Breton, may have been the connecting link between random people in West Pictou and the St. Anns community.

A Spiddle Hill Tragedy

The onset of active winter weather in 2013 brings to mind the harsh winter of 1900-1901.   The first few years of the 20th century were remembered as having particularly harsh winters.   The most notable year was 1905 better known as “The Winter of the Deep Snow”.  The winter of 1901 was also noted for its heavy snowfall.

The John Murray and Christy Sutherland family lived on the northeast slope of Spiddle Hill.   Both were born in Sutherland, likely in Clyne.   John emigrated in 1815 to Pictou County.   A few years later John and Christy settled on their remote homestead.  They had at least six children of which only one daughter married.   Three daughters and a son continued to operate the small farm after the parents died.

By 1901 only two elderly daughters were left,  Eliza and Kate.  One of them was completely blind and confined to the house while the other managed what was left of their farm.   During a particularly bad blizzard,  the able sister was stricken with either a stroke or heart attack and died.

The farm was off the nearest road which was not regularly travelled in the best of times.  It was several days before people were able to shovel themselves out.  A neighbour,  realizing that nobody had been past the Murray home since the blizzard,  ventured back through the woods and discovered both sisters were dead.   One story claims the blind sister was found frozen outside the house while another version claims she was found by the stove.  Her fingers had been burned trying to manage the fires.

The sisters are buried in the MacKenzie Cemetery.

How Spiddle Hill got its name ????

As children we used to take delight in talking about Spiddle Hill.  It was something about the phoenetics or rhyming that appealed to young people.

The settlement was located on a steep hill that separated the Waugh River settlement, (The Falls),  from the Matheson Brook valley settlement.  In the early 1960’s,  the community was completely devoid of people,  the farms returning to spruce trees and the houses windowless and tilted.  It was a haunting experience to travel the narrow road over the hill  and nightmares usually followed such a trip.

In its heyday,  the settlement contained ten farms which were settled between 1821 and 1845 by families mostly from Clyne.  The steep, stoney fields were a challenge to cultivate so it is not surprising that the homesteads were gradually abandoned in the early 1900’s.

The last settler to arrive was Alexander Murray “Corrigan”.  He emigrated from Strath Halladale in Lord Reay’s Country in the year 1845 at a very advanced age.  He was accompanied by his elderly wife, Christy Sutherland,  sons Robert and Donald, daughters Catherine and Ellen.    They started their married life at Tannachy on the Rogart side of Strathbrora.  Around 1810,  Alexander and a brother William moved their families to a remote croft near Altanduin in Kildonan.  In 1814 they were forcefully evicted by the estate.   They migrated north and found shelter for the winter in an encampment on Slettil Hill near the Caithness border.  They were once again removed and this time they found a permanent home at Craigton in Strath Halladale.   In 1819 two of their daughters settled in Earltown and a third one emigrated in 1832.   By 1845 the remaining family was ready for a change,  with the exception of one son who had married and wished to remain in Craigton with his wife’s people.

As for Spiddle Hill, it was always accepted that it was named after a place in Sutherlandshire.   Research on old maps and other Sutherland records have not yielded any clues for a place named  “Spiddle”.   There is a reference in the Earltown Presbyterian records to a Cnoc Na Spidail.  This did not help in the quest.  The only place close to Spiddle is Slettil Hill, one time home of Alexander Murray, Corrigan.

Alexander’s old home on Spiddle Hill is now owned by his descendent,  Edwin Cameron of The Falls.