24. Tartan Day and Our Scottish Origins

Happy Tartan Day! It’s probably safe to say that most Americans don’t know about this commemoration of Scottish heritage, or that the U.S. Senate in 1998, the House in 2005, and the President in 2008 recognized it. Whether official or not, it has spread to other countries of the Scottish diaspora — notably Canada, Australia (although there it is celebrated on July 1st), and Argentina. It has even gotten back to the home country of Scotland, where regional councils are attempting to promote it as a global celebration [1].

Why April 6th? That was the date in 1320 that the Declaration of Arbroath was signed, declaring Scottish independence from England. I have written about the declaration previously on my Bolesbooks Facebook page. Considered by many a foreshadowing of our own Declaration of Independence, it denied the divine right of kings and left to the nation the choice of its sovereign.

Some Scottish Origins

In the case of my family tree it was understood from an early date, certainly the early 1960s if not previously, that we had discernible Scottish origins among its many roots. However, this came from an indirect assessment of surnames more than from direct evidence. Ancestral “Mc” surnames such as McCrosky, McFadden, and McIntire were recognized as most probably either Scottish or Scotch-Irish, even though repeated searches failed to turn up evidence of specific places of origin. The later additions of my wife’s ancestral families of McClain and McMurtrie fell into the same vaguely Scottish category.

Today we have hints of whispers of the origins of a couple of these families: Possibly co. Antrim, Ireland, for the McCrosky (McCoskery) family, and co. Antrim, Ireland, for the McMurtries, who in both cases were therefore most likely Scotch-Irish [2]. But actual hard evidence of specific geographic locations has been slow in coming. Below I’d like to highlight three ancestral lines for which hard evidence exists, namely the Ellyson, Boles, and McQueen families.

The Ellyson Family

I descend from Virginia’s Ellyson family through my mother. Her ancestor Deborah Harbour’s mother was a Thomas, her mother was a Jordan, and her mother was Susanna Ellyson, daughter of Joseph Ellyson, a Quaker of New Kent county, Virginia. From there the line is traceable to two Robert Ellysons, father and son, who lived in Gloucester and James City counties. The two are almost universally confused both because they shared their given name, and because they died nearly simultaneously (1668/9 in the case of the son, and about 1669 in the case of the father) [2,3].

Their distinctness, however, is attested by an extraordinary family Bible entry written in the late 1700s, reciting the ancestry of one Robert Allison (Ellison) three generations back to the younger Robert Ellyson, then to his father Robert, and finally to the immigrant ancestor John Allison. The entry concluded with a geographic payoff: John was stated to have come from Windyedge, co. Lanark, Scotland, sometime before 1625 [3].

This account has been sufficiently corroborated through other evidence that it can be taken as largely accurate. One thread of evidence is that an Alison family is historically known at Windyedge, a farm located in Avondale parish in the vicinity of Strathaven. One member was James Alison, born 1621, who resided at Windyedge. His sons John, Michael, and Archibald all took up the cause of the Covenanters, a nationalist Presbyterian movement that dominated Scottish politics between 1638 and 1651, but which was doomed to defeat by the forces of Oliver Cromwell and later King Charles II [3,4]. John was taken prisoner at the Battle of Bothwell Bridge in 1679, and banished to Virginia. Michael fled to Ireland after the military defeat at Airsmoss in 1680, and was at the siege of Londonderry in 1688/9. Archibald, however, was the most unfortunate. He was executed at Edinburgh in 1680, his dying statement appearing in the book A Cloud of Witnesses [3].

The Virginia Ellyson family, incidentally, provides a major royal descent from King Edward I of England, as well as from a raft of noble families. This thread came into the family from the marriage of the younger Robert Ellyson with a Gerard wife, about the year 1655 [2,3].

The Boles Family

I have written extensively about the Boles family origin in a previous post, 8. The Kelburn Castle Origin of the Boles Family: A DNA Success Story. The American ancestor was James Bole (1752-1836), who died in Armstrong county, Pennsylvania, and whose son William (my ancestor) added the friendly ending “s” to the name [2].

For many years we thought the Boleses might be English. However, their true origin began to emerge when it was discovered, from the apparent statement of a grandson, that James was born in Ireland. That, and his known Presbyterian religion, pointed clearly to a Scotch-Irish origin. In other words, James was almost certainly the descendant of a Scot who had crossed to Ireland, probably specifically to Ulster [2].

The next realization was the family might ultimately have been from Kelburn, Ayrshire, Scotland. This hypothesis emerged as it began to be appreciated that the spelling of the surname varied in American records, and Bole could sometimes appear as Boyle. A family named Boyle, now Earls of Glasgow, have been seated at Kelburn castle continuously since at least the late 1200s, plenty of time to generate cadet lines, one or more of which may have crossed to Ireland. Furthermore until early in the 20th century, the surname Boyle was pronounced in Ayshire as Bole, potentially explaining how the Bole and Boyle spellings could refer to the same family.

The Kelburn hypothesis recently received a ringing confirmation when it was discovered that a male-line descendant of James Bole has a Y chromosome with similar genetic markers to that from a male-line descendant of John Boyle (1688-1740), the 2nd Earl of Glasgow and a member of the Kelburn family. The relationship certainly was not close; my ancestor may have left the castle, never to return, around 1430. Nevertheless it affords a second specific Scottish location to feel a connection to, one that is all the more meaningful because it connects me to the origin of my surname.

The McQueen (MacQueen) Family

The family most appropriate to recognize this Tartan Day, however, may be the McQueens. Unlike the Ellysons and Boleses, who were Lowlander families having little to do with tartans, the McQueens were Highlanders and presumably did wear the plaid (see graphic).

MacQueen_tartan_(Vestiarium_Scoticum)
The MacQueen Tartan

I have written extensively about my ancestor Dugal McQueen (ca 1666?-1746) in two posts, namely 4. Dugal McQueen, Scottish Rebel and Gateway Ancestor to Royalty, and BRIEFLY NOTED: A McQueen 300th Anniversary. It is sufficient to say that he is known to have been of Pollochaig, Moy parish, co. Inverness, Scotland, a location made possible to identify through an English prison record establishing his Moy origin [2]. Today the manor house at Pollochaig is in ruins but can still be visited at its location near Tomatin.

Dugal’s known ancestry is very extensive, being known in his male line for an additional two generations back to 1644, with a family presence at Pollochaig likely back to about 1510, and for many generations back through his mother and numerous intermarried Scottish families [2].

Dugal came involuntarily to Maryland in 1716, exiled and probably in chains, having been captured in the Battle of Preston the previous year [2]. Whatever one’s views of the failed Jacobite rebellions of the 1700s, their participants saw them as nationalist expressions of freedom from English overlordship. That seems appropriate to recognize on Tartan Day.

Final Thoughts

The difficulty of genealogically “jumping the pond” to Scotland should not be underestimated. Looked at together, the three geographic locations I’ve described were all the result of unusual discoveries. They included a remarkable family Bible entry, a converging pair of Y-DNA tests, and an obscure prison record from a failed rebellion. Other families, like the McClains, McCroskys, McFaddens, McIntires, and McMurtries, have so far proved impossible to trace back to Scotland. In most cases this is due to the stretch of years taking family origins beyond available church records, and in some if not most cases due to intervening lost generations spent in Ireland.

Nevertheless unusual records sometimes exist, and they make good material for the genealogist’s craft. Keep weaving your threads together! But on today’s Tartan Day, feel free to celebrate your Scottishness no matter how it is known.


Notes:

[1] Information retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tartan_Day (2016).

[2] Boles, D.B. (2016). The Omnibus Ancestry: 589 Documented American and European Lines, 2nd edition. Available for download through Lulu.

[3] Boles, D.B. (2005). Snyder-Harbour Ancestry. Available for download through Lulu.

[4] Information retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Covenanter (2016).


Picture attribution: Owner Celtus, “MacQueen tartan (Vestiarium Scoticum).png”, retrieved from https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:MacQueen_tartan_(Vestiarium_Scoticum).png. Used under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license.

 

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3 thoughts on “24. Tartan Day and Our Scottish Origins

  1. I had read on Wikipedia that this MacQueen Tartan was a hoax. I quote from Wikipedia: “The Macqueen tartan, as published in the Vestiarium Scoticum in 1842. Today the Vestiarium is considered a Victorian era hoax”…”The Scottish Tartans World Register (STWR) notes that the Macqueen tartan is similar to the Fraser and Gunn tartans, which both have four bold stripes. However, the STWR considers it to be a combination of the Macdonald and Mackintosh tartans.”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clan_Macqueen

    What are your views on that? Thank you.

    James

    Like

    • Yes, I almost commented on the controversy in the original posting. I decided not to since anyone purchasing a MacQueen tartan scarf or tie will get the pattern shown. In effect, even though the tartan’s provenance is questionable, it has BECOME the MacQueen tartan by usage. After all, we’re now 174 years past the Vestiarium Scoticum. πŸ™‚

      I do appreciate the second chance to address the issue, so thanks for bringing it up!

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re welcome πŸ™‚ I’m glad it has become adopted by the McQueen Clan. It does look rather striking. I have adopted it on his profiles on my genealogy sites. Also, I’m very grateful for your research. Your work has helped me immensely, especially the MacQueen/MackIntosh lines.

        James

        Liked by 1 person

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