Experiences of Mathesons:

The Year of the Burnings

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Early Mathesons of Earltown

The patriarch of the Earltown Mathesons was named George. He was born in the Parish of Rogart, Sutherlandshire around 1760. Until recently very little was known about this man prior to his migration to Nova Scotia in 1814.

Clues to his early life surfaced in the home of Charles Gullon at Melville, Pictou County. Mr. Gullon has a notebook dating back to the late 1700's in which George states that he purchased the book in Appleby, England in 1784. A further notation mentions his sailing on the Clyde in 1785.

From these notes we have concluded that George must have served in the army which would account for his wandering far to the south and shipping from Glasgow on the Clyde. Many of the younger tenants of the Countess of Sutherland served in her regiment in those times. Subsequent entries in the book make reference to paying rent for his croft located in Bratten of Leatty (Lettaidh in Gaelic). His residence in Leatty is further confirmed in the Parish registers. The township of Leatty was located beside a river of the same name flowing near the border of the Parish of Lairg.

Sometime in the late 1780's he married Elspeth MacPherson and together they raised eight children.

It has always been assumed that George and Elspeth were uprooted from their native soil by the clearances. Local descendants had no lore pertaining to circumstances surrounding the emigration to Nova Scotia.

Recently this writer picked up a book entitled On the Crofters' Trail (Craig, David; 1990; Jonathan Cape Ltd.) in which he found a very moving account of the fate of Leatty in Rogart:

"... Bridget MacKenzie wrote from Lednabirichen, west of Dornoch, to say that the great-great-grandmother of her second cousin, a retired shepherd who lives north of Lairg, had seen the clearance of Lettaidh in Strath Fleet from her home at Inchcape, high on the slope opposite:

"She remembered being woken by her mother and taken to the window, and she looked out into the darkness and saw a red glow in the hills opposite. She asked what it was, and her mother said in a grim voice, "They are putting fire to Leattaidh. The people have been put out". The child was frightened, naturally enough, since they had relatives in Leattaidh themselves, but she was reassured when told it would not happen to her house, since all the men were still there. All the men from Lettaidh had been recruited, by the Sutherland estate factors, to go to fight in the Napoleonic wars, and then the factors seized the chance to evict the women and children without fear of resistance."

This all happened in 1814 the year traditionally held to be the year of George's migration to Pictou.

A few years ago a letter arrived addressed to the writer's deceased grandfather from a distant and elderly cousin in B.C.. She wrote of tales heard as a child in Earltown about the Mathesons being cleared from Rogart to the shore, their listening to a preacher positioned in a rowboat offshore as he was censured by the Estate from preaching on Estate land, and an account of a long and trying voyage through the Pentland firth and across the Atlantic.

Tradition has it that George first went to Scotsburn where a large number of his Rogart neighbours had settled ten years previous. With their aid he found a temporary home near West Branch. We find George in provincial documents in 1818 petitioning for land at North Earltown.

The petition was successful and George commenced to clear a farm at the headwaters of a stream now known as Matheson Brook. Two of his sons, Alexander and Donald cleared nearby grants while a married daughter, Ann Munro, settled with her family in Balmoral.

Despite the hard work of pioneering, George survived in the new land until 1847 at which time the church records note his death due to old age. It is believed that his spouse enjoyed the same fate.

His youngest son Angus remained on the homestead where he raised a substantial family. George's daughters all married men of Sutherlandshire origins. Four of his children married Sutherlands.

George is buried in Earltown Village Cemetery far from vacant hills of Lettaidh and the military marches of Britain. His legacy includes a stream which over the years has powered many industries and provides the ambience for a popular tourist attraction, the Balmoral Grist Mill, which last operated from profit by his descendants. His legacy also includes over 1200 descendants scattered over much of North America.

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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