Nova Scotia Emigration: Clan Matheson

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The earliest recorded Mathesons in Nova Scotia date back to 1773. They were enticed to come to Pictou by a John Ross, agent for the Philadelphia Company which owned large tracts of land in Pictou County. In order to maintain their grant, they were required to settle and clear substantial acreage.

They were aware of growing discontent in the Highlands and employed Mr. Ross to recruit settlers by whatever means he could. Ross travelled throughout the Highlands the previous year and assembled 179 men, women and children for the voyage. His representations of life in Nova Scotia were misleading. He failed to point out in his glowing tales of Pictou that they would be sent to the interior to carve farms out of endless tracts of timber. The market town of Pictou was only six years old and very primitive to say the least.

With visions of lush pastures, fields of grain, and an abundance of food, the adventurers sailed from Loch Broom on the Hector in July of 1773.

The ship was late departing and encountered weather which delayed their arrival in Pictou by weeks. The provisions ran low and if not for the frugality of a MacLeod, who saved table scraps, many would have expired. The ship, a rotted freighter never intended for passengers, arrived in Pictou in September. In shock over the appearance of their home, some settled in rude huts along the shore while others drifted off to Truro to hire out as servants to the prospering Ulstermen.

On this voyage were William Matheson and wife Elizabeth MacKenzie, natives of Sutherlandshire, and a Charles Matheson also said to be of Sutherland. We have no further information on Charles who arrived a single man and no doubt moved on to the more settled areas of Nova Scotia. William and Elizabeth with their young family were among those who removed to Truro to hire out. The following year they and some other Hector passengers settled among the Ulster people in the Township of Londonderry. Their settlement became known as Highland Village and it exists today a short distance from Great Village. Matheson stayed there for sixteen years before moving to Roger's Hill in Pictou County. No doubt the move was a desire to be closer to the Gaelic speaking community. This community, now known as Scotsburn, was first called Bein Na Mathanach or Matheson's Mountain.

In the early 1780's the 82nd regiment comprised of Highlanders was disbanded. The veterans were granted farms in Nova Scotia as their pension. One such grantee was Thomas Matheson of Merigomish in Pictou. We can find no record of Thomas among the later inhabitants of that area.

A number of Mathesons left various parts of Scotland in the 18th century and settled in the American colonies. After the War of Independance some came north to Nova Scotia, (which in 1784 included New Brunswick), to remain loyal to the British Crown. A John Matheson settled at Shelburne at that time. However no further records exist leading us to believe that he may have joined his fellow Loyalists in New Brunswick.

We have no further record of Matheson emigration until 1801 - 1803 at which time a number of families arrived from Lairg and Dornoch. As previously mentioned this was a period of great poverty and unemployment. Sutherlandshire depended greatly upon the military for employment and the resulting pensions. During periods of peace the men returned to their native parishes only to find that the land would not support their numbers. The more adventurous chose to find new beginnings in North America. The family of Angus and Walter Matheson became early settlers of the Millbrook area on the Middle River of Pictou while Robert Matheson took up residence near White Hill. Widow Isabel Matheson and her three sons, Finley, John, and Robert were among the first settlers of an area named after their old home, New Lairg.

In July of 1817 Norman MacLeod, a spiritual leader from Assynt, Sutherlandshire, arrived in Pictou with followers from the West Coast of Sutherland. His people settled on the Middle River around Rocklin where they erected a log church. Among his people were Mathesons from Assynt, some who came to the area during the following two years. MacLeod became distressed over the lack of moral discipline in the area and herded his flock by ship towards Ohio. While passing Cape Breton a storm drove the ship ashore in St. Anns Bay where he and his people remained. In 1851 MacLeod again led his people to a new life, this time Australia and eventually New Zealand.

In 1818 additional Matheson settlers arrived from Shiness in Lairg and took land at the headwaters of the Middle River. The New Lairg Pioneer Cemetery contains monuments to these early settlers from the shores of Loch Shin.

Also in 1818 a George Matheson was cleared from his croft in Rogart and took passage to Pictou. He was granted land in Earltown in Colchester County among dozens of families cleared from the braes of Rogart and Clyne. During this era another George Matheson of Kildonan sought a home at Six Mile Brook on the West River.

In 1832 a latecomer by the name of Gilbert Matheson settled near Kemptown. He was a native of Golspie who was evicted in 1818 from the ancestral home. He lived for a number of years in Rogart before being uprooted once more.

William and Bella Matheson of Sutherland were the last known Mathesons to arrive in Nova Scotia from Scotland. They took up residence in New Lairg in the 1850's.

On Cape Breton Island we have already noted the settlement of Mathesons among the followers of Norman MacLeod in Victoria County. The Mathesons were also the predominant family at Little Narrows near Whycocomagh. These people as well as their neighbours came from the Isle of Lewis. Benbecula native Donald Matheson made his home at Little Bras d'Or.

Five brothers arrived direct in Cape Breton direct from Lochalsh. It appears that Big Marsh, River Denys may have been the original home at which Dougald Matheson continued. A brother John lived at St. Esprit in Richmond, Duncan at Marble Mountain, Alexander and Donald at Boularderie. These men were the sons of Murdoch Matheson who was killed rescuing his sons from a revenue cutter at Lochalsh.

Grand River in Richmond has many ties to the Lochalsh area of Scotland. Here we find descendants of the "Perth Canada" Matheson branch which is documented in "History of the Mathesons". The writer has also met Mathesons from Cape Breton County who claim ancestry in the Uists. Much of the Matheson story in Cape Breton remains to be compiled. We hope that some scribe will see fit to properly record the Clan's rightful place among the founders of that Island.

Taken from: The Matheson Clan in Eastern Canada: Selected Notes on the Clan's History and Migration to the Maritime Provinces.
by Glen M. Matheson.

Copyright (C) 1995: Glen M. Matheson

Included here with the kind permission of Glen M. Matheson
To Contact Glen Matheson

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