NOTE: Maps, sketches and photographs may be referenced throughout the following stories. Please use the "BACK" button of your browser to return to the text in this document.

NOTE: Many of the topics are treated in much greater detail in my book, Our Ross Family Story, printed by North York Offset, 1978.

1. The Evictions 2. The First Emigrations
3. The Remaining Emigrations 4. The Cotter
in Scott and Minto Townships.

PART I: From The Homeland To The New World

The Evictions

When one reads about the "Highland Clearances", there's an immediate association with the introduction of black-faced Linton sheep from the Lowlands by John Lockhart to properties on his Balnagowan estate in 1762, and his granting of a lease on the farm to a southern grazier, Thomas Geddes. In 1790, the improved Cheviot sheep had made their way into the County of Ross, and the vast displacement of Highland families gained in momentum well into the 19th century. It is noteworthy, that the nominal chiefs of Clan Ross, representated by the Pitcalnie branch at Amat in Easter Ross, were best described as silent, arrogant, absentee lairds throughout this entire period. [Two attempts to obtain decrees recognizing this cadet branch as the rightful representatives after 1711 had been ignored by the Lyon Court.] After these most difficult of times, the Pitcalnie branch returned to lands emptied of the first elevated Clan in the Highlands. Our Ross family was subjected to a second, but equally effective, form of the "Highland Clearances".

During the War of 1812, Alexander Ross and Margaret Noble, born circa the end of January in 1795, were married, and they settled beside Margaret's parents, Alexander Noble and Margaret McRae, at
Spital Shore on the Redcastle estate, Black Isle. Margaret Noble's younger brothers were John (December 31, 1795) and Donald (January 27, 1798). As noted on several occasions, the earlier genealogy of Alexander Ross was directly related to the story of "The Silver Quaich".

The first five children of Alexander Ross and Margaret Noble were born as follows: Alexander (January 11, 1914), Margaret (December 7, 1817), Donald (May 17, 1820), Isabella (c. March, 1821) and Elizabeth (January 1, 1823).

In 1825, the Redcastle Estate on the Black Isle was sold to Sir William Fettes, an Edinburgh baronet, by the Mackenzie heritors for 135,000 pounds. This investment upon his retirement was purely opportunistic, even though the wool industry had forced the price up from the 25,000 pounds selling price of the estate in 1790. He would undertake the conversion of small run-rig farms into larger single-unit tracts, placing factors in charge of each one. This was the second form which the "Highland Clearances" took.

Roderick was born on July 15, 1825, as the family became aware of the intentions of the new property owner. When the youngest son of Alexander Ross and Margaret Noble, William, was born on August 9, 1828, the family was served with a notice of eviction compelling them to move within one year. The eviction was relatively unhurried and peaceful.

Reverend John Kennedy, pastor to our ancestors at Killearnan Church, reported a slight increase in population in his parish (in "The New Statistical Account of Scotland", Vol.XIV, 1845, p. 67). He observed that this was because of the "accommodation given by Colin Mackenzie of Kilcoy on his properties in this parish, to tenants removed from the estate of Redcastle; and also, in a more especial manner, from encouragement which the same gentleman gives to strangers expelled from various parts of the Highlands, to settle on his portion of the late Mill-Bui commonty, and on other woodlands on his property of Tore." His observations are at variance with those of John Prebble in "The Highland Clearances", who noted that the factor of Highfield, James Falconer Gillanders, drove out four hundred people from Strathconan in 1841, "and when they took shelter on the Black Isle he drove them from there too".

Kilcoy Castle was in ruin at the time and Colin Mackenzie was residing at Balmaduthy in the parish of "Kilmuir Wester and Suddy" to the east of Killearnan. Today's map shows that Balmaduthy is in Knockbain parish and that Suddy is located in Avoch parish. The Mackenzie properties were still vast, and our Ross family might have been indebted to the generosity of Colin Mackenzie when a 21-year lease at the shore of the Drynie Estate was accepted in 1929.

The eighth child of Alexander Ross and Margaret Noble was Catharine (June 1, 1831), who was born at the Shore-of-Drynie uphill from the village Kilmuir. They nicknamed their home on the site of 18 acres "Redhas", and it was here that their final child Agnes was born early in 1833.

The First Emigrations

An Annual Sheep and Wool Market at Inverness opened in July of 1817, the year in which their sister Margaret was born, and that industry continued to overshadow most others in the Highlands, with the possible exception of the distilleries. The "term days", May 28 and November 28, meant that horses and carts would fill Eccles Street as farmers engaged new servants at the "feeing markets". Another occupation, that of road construction, was becoming of greater importance in the north-east and it paid slightly higher wages.

As Alexander (Junior) entered his teenage years, he could find work at the "feeing markets" at the nearby towns of Dingwall and Inverness. The Cholera epidemic of 1832 and a General Crop Failure of 1836 slowed the economy of the region. These events were followed by the death of his sister Margaret at the age of 20, probably around the same time that Donald joined his brother in the search for work.

According to one family story, the brothers were hired by Donald Fraser, who was a road contractor from the Royal Burgh of Dingwall, and this was the link by which Alexander met his bride-to-be, Janet Fraser. Their first child, Donald, was born on September 15, 1840, in a separate dwelling on the same property as the family at
Redhas or Shore-of-Drynie. The farm imposed its own limits upon the number of people it could support, and they could only count upon the ten years remaining on their lease. Two daughters, Catharine and Agnes, born at Redhas, are mysteriously missing from the first detailed Census of Scotland in 1841, but they would have been aged 10 and 8 respectively.

On January 7 of 1842, Isabella Ross left the homestead to marry William Young of Drumsmittal. William had been born on April 6, 1806, in Knockbain Parish to parents Roderick Young and Helen Davison.

The Inverness Courier informed people about life in the colonies, and they knew about the evictions from Strathconon during the previous year. Schedules for ships were also published, and Alexander learned that ships from Aberdeen or Dundee would stop at Cromarty on the Black Isle before sailing to Canada if a sufficient number of passengers sent an early application.

Family and friends gathered at "Redhas" to wish Alexander and Janet a safe voyage. Tales of bygone days were retold as the parents, Alexander Ross and Margaret Noble, brought forth the only surviving relic from that past ... a silver quaich which had been inherited from David Ross and Isabel Dingwall after the birth of a grandson. Little may have been known about the Highland origins of the ancient wooden quaichs, but Alexander continued a family tradition when he presented his silver quaich to his eldest son ... while his first grandson Donald demonstrated those first shaky steps of a toddler. A second grandchild, still a baby, was cradled in Janet's arms as everyone exchanged their good-byes.

The ship "Brilliant" departed from Aberdeen on April 12, 1842, and picked up the passengers at Cromarty on the north-eastern tip of the Black Isle. John Prebble (in The Highland Clearances) noted that conditions for steerage passengers were very poor aboard ship. They paid a fare of six to eight pounds for a narrow berth and food, but adults were expected to perform additional duties during the voyage. The berth of pine shelves, stacked a couple of feet (60 cm) apart and measuring three feet by six feet (90 cm by 180 cm), was often shared by at least two people and lacked privacy. Defying obliteration in this unlit space between decks, a steaming stench was held captive from previous voyages. Food was prepared by one of the emigrants, whose provisions and imagination might limit the passengers to an unvarying diet of stew topped by an occasional dumpling or biscuit. If luck prevailed, a gruel of oatmeal and tainted water might serve for the final days of the crossing. Conditions below decks guaranteed a fast deterioration in quality of such staples as potatoes, onions or turnips, which were added to the ship's stores this year.

According to the records of Lloyd's of London, the 332-ton "Brilliant", owned by W. Duthie of Aberdeen, had been built there in 1814. After twenty-eight years on the high seas, maintenance details had to be assigned watches in the hold to repair leaky seams. Lack of ventilation encouraged fungi to attack the oak hull and to produce the ever-present dry rot. One day during the six-week voyage, while Alexander was on an assignment, caulking the hold of the ship, his eighteen-month-old son fell into a tar pot and was suffocated.

Captain Elliot docked the ship at the Port of Quebec on May 23rd of 1842, and thirty-eight surviving steerage passengers made their way to the immigrant sheds. Another ship, the Bark "James Dean" from Glasgow arrived with twenty-nine passengers shortly afterwards, and there was probably no need to confine either ship under quarrantine at Grosse Isle. In fact, only two of the ships carrying Scottish emigrants that year seem to have spent two days in isolation. The "Brilliant" continued sailing throughout 1842 and remained in the Lloyd's Registry until 1849.

Alexander and Janet proceeded with their baby to the Port of Whitby on Lake Ontario, and Alexander settled as a "yeoman" or agricultural labourer in the Township of Whitby, Canada West. According to family charts, the only remaining Scottish-born child of Alexander Ross and Janet Fraser died "in Whitby before they moved to Scott" two years later, and their first two children in Canada, Alexander Fraser Ross and James A. Ross, were born during this period.

In 1844, Alexander was joined by his brother Donald, who had taken a mere twenty-four days to cross the Atlantic aboard a sailing vessel. That Fall, both brothers made their way to Alexander's recently purchased property north of Uxbridge along the ruts and trails of earlier pathfinders. Between 1846 and 1848, long before the next emigrations of the family, a plank road was completed from Lake Scugog to Whitby in order to facilitate the delivery of grain to the harbour. Four-inch pine planks, twelve feet long, were laid diagonally on a high roadbed which government engineers had planned so that the grades over the ridges would be gradual. [This road was purchased by a private company in 1852, and their toll gates were in use for the next twenty-four years.]

The Remaining Emigrations

Several years remained in the twenty-one year lease that our Ross family held on the property above the small hamlet of Kilmuir, Parish of Knockbain. The eighteen acre property at Redhas was cleared and cultivated. All of the remaining Rosses grew with the changing times as their destinies merged.

The Scottish-born children of William Young and Isabella Ross, living at
Drumsmittal, were Helen (January 12, 1843), Margaret (September 4, 1845), Roderick (January 9, 1848), Isabella (February 13, 1850) and Elizabeth on October 18, 1853). News of the family and other events would reach the recent Ross emigrants in Canada, and their letters would return ... addressed to "Kilmuir" where a wee post office was established.

Several years before the Census of 1851, Roderick Ross obtained work assisting with the horses on the Mackenzie estate at the Mains of Drynie, where Isabella Mackenzie and her daughter lived. He was recorded as a "visitor" at Drynie with Barbara Cameron, "gentlewoman", a relative of of James Cameron, who was Colin Mackenzie's Factor. Roderick celebrated his twenty-first birthday as the Crop Failure of 1846 was becoming evident. According to one family tale, he was hired to manage the horses on the estate of a laird. These difficult times had been amplified by the removals from Greenyards and Glencalvie during 1845 by the Factor, James Falconer Gillanders, who had married the daughter of his Laird on the Robertson properties. In 1847, a Food Riot occurred at Avoch on the Black Isle, when a frustrated and starving population witnessed shipments of wheat, barley and oats being transported during the famine.

On January 24, 1848, Elizabeth Ross and Donald Fraser were married and they moved into the cottage beside the Ross home at Redhas. Taindore, up the rise to the east, was the birthplace of Donald Fraser (July 25, 1821) to parents James Fraser and Elizabeth Munro. Elizabeth and Donald had two Scottish-born children. A son James, born late in the year of the marriage, died during the Potato Failure, which preceded the 1851 Census. Their second child, Margaret C. Fraser, was born around July of 1850 and lived to her ninety-ninth year.

Economic conditions were never so good that all members of the Ross family could emigrate together. It was obvious that concern for the welfare of Alexander Ross and Margaret Noble was unwarranted after a ten-year extension on the Redhas farm was granted in 1850. The Census of Scotland for 1951 indicated that a fourteen-year-old herdsman from Inverness, named John Fraser, was a paid servant-labourer, who lived with them. William Ross (21) and Agnes Ross (18) were still with the parents, but Catharine (almost 20) was elsewhere. All males were designated as agricultural labourers.

William Ross departed from Scotland shortly after the 1851 Census, and he joined his older brothers in Canada. He farmed beside Donald in Scott Township for a couple of years, and he would be among the first pioneers in Minto Township. As if William's emigration and actions reflected some general family plan, a regular pattern of exodus from Redhas was about to unfold ... at three year intervals ... until all members were finally resettled near him.

In 1854, during an atmosphere of uneasiness, which prevailed during the Crimean War, Donald Fraser and Elizabeth Ross with their four-year-old daughter set out for Canada. We may assume that the Rosses were not fully aware of the massacres to the north occurring at Greenyards and Strathcarron under the direction of James Falconer Gillanders, since the Inverness Courier suppressed the news and the truth.

As the Crimean War ended, preparations were underway for the largest family exodus. On May 4, 1857, William Young obtained a recommendation from James Cameron, Factor for Kilcoy, stating that William had 'occupied a possession' at Drumsmittal for nineteen years under his management. The loss of Agnes to the family at Redhas may explain a most unselfish action by the Young family. "When the Young family were making plans to come to Canada, the parents of Isabella Ross Young, Alexander Ross and Margaret Noble, were going to be so lonely they left their daughter Margaret with the grandparents, and she and they came over about three years later." After a hasty elopement, Roderick Ross and Christiana Junor joined the Youngs and their children: Helen Young, Roderick Young, Isabella Young and Elizabeth Young. [This story is told elsewhere in more complete detail as a separate family tale.]

In 1857, the elder parents, Alexander Ross and Margaret Noble, aged 76 and 62, respectively, might have been content to live out their remaining years in Scotland, as one account suggests. Their loneliness was relieved somewhat by the presence of their youngest surviving daughter Catharine Ross as well as a grand-daughter Margaret Young, and therein lies evidence of their intent to emigrate.

The Cotter

When Alexander Ross Senior was baptized, his father David Ross was recorded as a "Servant in Parkton". There are old Gaelic sayings to the effect that "the servant of a servant has the devil for a master" and "the servant of the servant is worse than the devil".

David's father, John Ross, was likely born a year or so after the transfer of the Balnagowan estate in 1711, and he was frequently listed (with Colin Mackenzie, a Tacksman in Chapelton) as a witness to baptisms by Master Donald Fraser, the ordained Minister of the Gospel at Killearnan Church. By occupation, John was a mason at Chapelton. In 1845 the MacFarquhars of Redcastle brought a strong contingent from the Black Isle to join the forces of Lord Cromartie in support of Bonnie Prince Charlie. John Ross was with this group as they undertook several forays against the opposing forces, who were aligned with the British. On the day before the Battle of Culloden, which was fought on April 16, 1746, about 200 of Cromartie's force were ambushed between Skelbo and Dunrobin Castles in Caithness. Only one-tenth at the most escaped to equally perilous Sutherland. John was in the list of the rebels who escaped. Like the poet Rabbie Burns, it is probable that John Ross was also a Freemason.

Thus, Alexander Ross Senior came from an ancestry of cotters and, as a farmer, he was also a cotter.
The term "cotter" is derived from the kind of dwelling in which they lived --- a "cot" --- which had one door into the living quarters and no attic. The roof of the humble cot, in which the Highland cotter dwelt, was covered with thinly-cut turf laid much in the fashion of slating. The turf was generally covered with heath, which was not only cheap but could last one hundred years if properly executed. The typical structure, such as the relica seen at the Culloden Moor Information Centre, was composed of butt, benn and byar (a kitchen, an inner living quarters and a place for cattle). The "benn" was lined with sleeping boxes, and the warmest one was usually next to the "byar" wall. One sleeping box served as a partition between the "butt" and the "benn".

Within the first few pages of the first chapter in John Prebble's book, The Highland Clearances, The "cotter" is defined.

"The cotter was from birth a servant.
Tradition and customary right gave
him a little grazing for a cow on
the township pasture, a kail-yard
and a potato-patch by his round-stone
hut, and for these he paid a life-
time of service to the sub-tenant.
He was what other men were not,
herdsman, blacksmith, weaver, tailor,
shoemaker, armourer, axeman, and
bowman in the last rank of the clan."

On the occasion of my grandfather's funeral on July 28, 1942, his friend Reverend Dr. J. J. Coulter gave a eulogy, which included the following words:

"He was born into a good heritage. There is certainly such a thing as being well-born. Family qualities go a long way back into that Scottish home in Ross-shire. In the main, rugged Scotland produced rugged men --- and his folk were such. Broad-chested, solid, steady, he had a fine physical inheritance.
And there was family culture, and family piety. One visualizes the Ross family in Scotland, as that immortalized by Burns in The Cotter's Saturday Night. Certainly that was the Ross family life in Canada.


© The Ross-ter Collection