The Kiltarlity emigrants

In the middle of the 19th century Scots were emigrating in large numbers to what is now Canada. In the early 19th century numbers were considerably smaller and the reasons for leaving were different. In the latter half of the 19th century poor and destitute Highlanders were forced out by the notorious Clearances; the earlier emigrations were of a different kind. In fact, many landowners did not want their tenants to leave, they needed a large work force for fishing or the kelping industry. It was only in the later years, they cleared their land for the more profitable sheep.

After the failed Uprising of 1746, the Highlands changed forever and the old clan system where people were living rent-free but owed military service to their laird, was gone. Now, military service was owed to the crown and tenants had to pay rent to the landowners. Living was poor, and most landowners wanted their tenants to work in newly developed industries, like fishing on the coast or even the building of roads and dams. Not all Highlanders were happy with these changes or liked the work they were made to do. These were farmers and farmers they wanted to stay. It seemd no longer possoble for those living in Kiltarlity parish along the Beauly river.

They emigrated to Nova Scotia, mainly as families and in large numbers. In summer 1801 the Sarah sailed to Pictou in Nova Scotia. Her journey is well documented. She had 350 people on board, some came from the West Coast but many from the area around Kiltarlity. Mostly families, like Cameron James, a labourer with his wife Janet and the sons James 6 and Donald 2. Another couple from Kiltarlity parish were John Chisholm and his wife Flora and the Farmer Donald MacDonald. Some women were travelling on their own, in the records they were all named spinsters. Another farmer, Donald MacGregor and his wife Isobel took six children along: Mary 11, John 9, Jean 8, Alexander 6, Andrew 4, Kate 2. Altogether 151 children were younger than 16 on the Sarah.

All those families from Kiltarlity were looking for a new life in a place where they could retain their own culture, their language and their traditions. It seemed impossible to do that at home any longer. They were not the first from this area to emigrate to Nova Scotia but in 1801 it was 51 from Kiltarlity alone.

The graveyards in Cape Breton around Pictou will probably look very similar to the one at home. The old church has long been a ruin. The graves of a generation are missing, mostly to be found across the Atlantic and not in Kiltarlity’s old cemetery.

There is a Kiltarlity in Cape Breton, too, near Inverness, just as there is in Scotland.

Liked the read? There’s more here…

Scotland for Quiet Moments is available @Amazon

The stories of this book have been discovered and gathered for my blog, Graveyards of Scotland, over many years. 

My main sources were historical travel guides from the 18th and 19th centuries, where the finds were scary, beautiful, funny, and sometimes, cruel. This unusual approach to a country’s history has produced amazing results. You don’t have to share my passion for cemeteries to enjoy this book; only a small number of the stories in this collection take place in graveyards, though they do all end in them, so perhaps it helps. 

Scotland for Quiet Moments is available @Amazon ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

sources and further reading:

David Dobson: Directory of Scottish settlers in North America, 1625-1825

J. M. BUMSTED: Scottish Emigration to the Maritimes 1770-1815

Ian Adams and Meredyth Somerville: Cargoes of Despair and Hope. Scottish Emigration to North America 1603 – 1803.

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