40. The Scottish Background of the Southampton Burnet Family

The Burnet descent is fully described and referenced in the book The Omnibus Ancestry: 619 Documented American and European Lines.  It is available for download through Lulu.

The patriarch of the Burnet family of Southampton, Long Island, NY, was Thomas Burnet, first known as a settler who arrived at Scout’s Bay, western Long Island, in 1640/1, and who died in Southampton in 1684 [1].  My wife descends from him by way of her Gullett ancestors.  Thomas’ great-great-great-granddaughter Jane Burnett (1820/1-1883) married in 1849, as her second husband, Joshua Gullett (1825-1863), in Washington county, Indiana [2].

For a number of years it has been claimed that Thomas of Southampton was the son of Thomas Burnet, a physician in Braintree, co. Essex, England, and grandson of Alexander Burnet, 11th laird of Leys, co. Kincardine, Scotland, a connection explicitly stated in E. A. Bailey’s Crannog to Castle (2000) [3].  The laird, whose wife was Katherine Arbuthnot, has extensive traceable ancestry that includes a descent from King Robert III of Scotland [4].

Crathes Castle, co. Aberdeen, Scotland, home of the Burnetts of Leys.  Land granted 1323, castle begun 1553, completed 1596 [5].

Grounds for Skepticism

Much as I would like to trace a royal line of descent on behalf of my wife, I have been skeptical of the stated connection between the Southampton and Leys Burnetts.  There are three major grounds for skepticism, as follows.

1. The reference given in Crannog to Castle for the Southampton to Leys connection was the “personal research notes” of a private individual. In absence of a description of the evidence, such notes cannot be assumed authoritative.

2. There is little similarity between the names of the children of Thomas of Southampton (John, Lot, Hester, Joel, Aaron, Miriam, Priscilla, Daniel, Lois, Mordecai, and Matthias) and those of the children of Thomas of Braintree (Thomas, Alexander, Frances), his wife (Jane), or his siblings (Alexander, Robert, Gilbert, Duncan, John, Janet, Margaret, and Elizabeth) [2]. It seems an important observation that the children’s names in the Southampton family appear to be solidly English, while several names in the Braintree family are commonly Scottish. But in any case, the lack of resemblance between the two families is a reason to doubt that one closely derived from the other.

3. There is also some question whether the chronology is consistent. The Braintree man did have a son named Thomas, who was b. 1612 [2]. However, the second child named in the Southampton man’s will, Lot, was m. 1675, and the third child, Hester, married a man b. 1649 [2].  These dates suggest that the first child, John (for whom no firm birth or marriage dates are otherwise known) was b. ca 1648? [6].  In turn that is suggestive that his father Thomas was born later than 1612, possibly closer to 1622.

While none of these points is definitive, together they provide ground for skepticism about the Southampton-to-Leys connection, at least as it has been described.

Support from Y-DNA Testing

A fly in the skepticism ointment, however, is that Y-DNA testing does in fact support a connection between the Southampton and Leys families.  Y-DNA comparisons have been made between two descendants of Thomas of Southampton on the one hand, and on the other hand, a descendant of Alexander Burnet, 11th laird of Leys (b. ca 1540?, d. 1578) and a descendant of Alexander Burnet, 9th laird of Leys (b. 1500, d. 1574).  The former match the latter in either 32/37 or 62/67 markers depending on the pairing [2].

These results appear definitive, establishing that there is in fact a genetic connection between Thomas of Southampton and the Burnett lairds of Leys.  But is the connection through the 11th laird?  The results indicate, on average across the outcomes, a 50% probability of convergence in 15.5 generations [7]. At 31 years a generation [7] and assuming an average birthyear of 1970 across the testees, that would indicate a common ancestor b. ca 1490? — i.e., more likely in the person of the 9th than the 11th laird.  However, the error margin is very high, and the results are consistent with either a much earlier or a much later convergence, including one with the 11th laird. Hopefully estimates will narrow as more tests are received.

Others of the Name

A final consideration is that there was no shortage of persons named Thomas Burnett in British records of the early 17th century.  Any of several could have been the American immigrant, instead of the son of Thomas of Braintree.  Thus those of the name born 1617-1627 in England include Thomas Burnett, chr. 1620 in Stepney, London, Eng, son of John and Elizabeth; Thomas Burnett, chr. and d. 1621 in Lincoln, co. Lincoln, son of John; Thomas Burnet, chr. 1622 in Fincham St. Martin with St. Michael, co. Norfolk, Eng, son of John; Thoms. Burnet, chr. 1623 in Otley, co. York, son of Thoms.; and Thomas Burnet, chr. 1625 in Adstock, co. Buckingham, son of Richard [2].  This list, of course, is only as complete as the church records from which it was compiled, and there were others of somewhat different spellings of the surname.

Earlier, there were the intriguing christenings of Mathias Burnet (1594) and Joell Burnet (1599), both sons of Thomae (Thomas) Burnet, in Holbeach, co. Lincoln [2].  There was also a Danyell Burnett m. 1631 in Holbeach, whose baptism was not recorded there [8], but who could have been another son of Thomas.  Mathias, Joel, and Daniel are three of the unusual names in the Southampton family, possibly suggesting a relationship.  However Tho. [Thomas], the apparent brother of Mathias and Joell (and possibly of Danyell), was chr. 1609 [2], raising the same chronological issue as the Leys connection.


That the ancestry of Thomas Burnet of Southampton, Long Island, ultimately traces to the Burnetts of Leys in Scotland appears indisputable, given the Y-DNA evidence.  However, there remain grounds for skepticism over whether the relationship was as close as a descent from the 11th laird.  If the line instead went through one of the other English families of record, such as that of Thomas of Holbeach, co. Lincoln, there could have been any number of connecting generations before convergence with the Leys family.

Unfortunately, for now that keeps me from claiming a royal descent for my wife [9].  But perhaps it offers the prospect of one, following some future application of the genealogist’s craft.


[1] He was not, as frequently asserted, previously of Lynn, Massachusetts.  See The Omnibus Ancestry for a discussion.

[2] Boles, D.B. (2017). The Omnibus Ancestry: 619 Documented American and European Lines, 3rd ed.  Lulu e-books.

[3] Leys is near Tarland, co. Kincardine. Although it was the original seat of the family, in the 16th century the Burnetts built Crathes Castle in co. Aberdeen as their home.  Crathes Castle is about 23 road miles ESE of Leys.  There was an earlier castle at Leys, located on a crannog (an artificial island) that today is almost inaccessibly surrounded by marsh.   Its foundations were destroyed during a 19th-century excavation.  It was reputedly the home of the Burnetts from 1323 to 1550 (information retrieved from https://canmore.org.uk/site/36684/loch-of-leys, 2019).

[4] Information retrieved from http://www.thepeerage.com/p19019.htm#i190189 & linked pages (2019).

[5] Information retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crathes_Castle (2018).

[6] Crannog to Castle stated that he was b. 1645, but there appears to be no basis for the assertion in primary records.  My estimate is based on the suppositions that Hester was about 4 years younger than her husband and was b. ca 1653?; Lot was about 25 years old at the time of marriage and was b. ca 1650?; and John was about 2 years older than Lot and was b. ca 1648?.

[7] Calculator at https://clandonalddnaproject.org/index.php/tmrca-calculator (2017).

[8] FamilySearch, LDS church (2019).

[9] If the ancestry of my wife, along with that of the Southampton-descending Y-DNA testees, converges with the Leys line anytime beginning with the 9th laird’s grandfather or later, they would be descendants of King Robert III.  The 9th laird’s grandfather, also named Alexander Burnett, had his children by his second wife Marjory Forbes.  Her ancestor James, 2nd Lord Forbes, was the son of a granddaughter of Robert III (www.thepeerage.com, op. cit.).

Picture Credit

Modification of “Crathes Castle (XVIe si\xe8cle), Banchory, Aberdeenshire, Ecosse, Grande-Bretagne, Royaume-Uni” (https://ccsearch.creativecommons.org/photos/d8c14647-6663-4132-9def-84f4e02142b7) by byb64 (en voyage jusqu’au 26) (https://www.flickr.com/photos/50879678@N03), licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0).


BRIEFLY NOTED: A McQueen 300th Anniversary

Make that the 303rd anniversary.  I’ve still got the flag pin and Drambuie and will make a toast later.


Today I’ll be wearing a Scottish flag pin and quaffing a dram of Drambuie in honor of my ancestor Dugal McQueen. It is 300 years to the day since he was captured at the Battle of Preston, setting in motion the legal proceedings that resulted in his transport to America as a rebel against the King. It was a sad day for him, to be sure, but a great day for the future of his family in America. For his story, see “4. Dugal McQueen, Scottish Rebel and Gateway Ancestor to Royalty”, archived under January 2015.


Picture Attribution: Public domain.

18. Witches, Wizards, Ghosts, and Things That Go Bump in the Night

A repost of an old favorite.  Enjoy!

Superstition and magic have no doubt played a role in society ever since there was society. By spanning many countries and several centuries, the genealogist’s craft occasionally uncovers interesting anecdotes that appeal to the modern sense of the offbeat, quirky, and downright spooky. What better time to stir them up from the bottom of a bubbling pot, than Halloween?


The most elaborate witch story in my background is that of the McQueen witch, who cast her spells around the end of the 17th century. John McQueen of Pollochaig, co. Inverness, Scotland, was a famous sportsman who went out one day hoping to kill a deer. After a long way he came across one, which went down when shot. But when John scoured the area for his prize, it couldn’t be found. He returned home empty-handed, and that night told the story at his fireside.


Certain he had killed his quarry, he returned the next morning to the spot. There he met an old woman, who said to him, “Black John son of Dougall, take the lead out of my foot which you put into it yesterday.” This he did, and when finished he asked her for a wish or blessing. She thought a moment, and replied, “Your best day will be your worst day, and your worst day will be your best day.”

Years later this prophecy became true, when John’s son was captured at the Battle of Preston and was subsequently transported overseas. It was John’s worst day for the future of his sept in Scotland.  But it was his best day for the future of his many descendants in America [1, 2].

Other ancestral lines had their witch anecdotes as well, of a much deadlier shade. In 16th century Germany, one of my direct ancestors through the Foster family was Gertrud Stuell, wife of Hans Stuell, a householder near Siegen. In 1590 she was accused of bewitching livestock, found guilty, and burned [1, 3].

Nor were family members absent from the other end of the legal system. My wife’s many-great-uncle John Emerson was one of the accusers in the infamous Salem witch trials in Massachusetts in 1692. That year his own uncle, a minister of the same name, contributed to the witch hysteria by claiming to have witnessed a shooting of three men, who then rose up and fired a silver gun with a type of bullet never seen before. Rev. Emerson wrote:

The Devil and his Agents were the cause of all the Molestations. The Ambushments of the Good People of Glocester were caused by Daemons in the Shape of Armed Indians and Frenchmen. [1, 4]

My favorite witch story, however, had a very different ending from the horrifying ones of Siegen and Salem. My ancestor Jeremiah Collet, Sr., from whom I descend through the Withers family, was a fishmonger of Devizes, co. Wiltshire, England, who immigrated to Pennsylvania. A few months later, in Feb 1683/4, he served on a jury in Chester (now Delaware) county, and heard the case of Margaret Matson. Matson was accused of practicing witchcraft, specifically of killing livestock by bewitching it and appearing in spectral form. After hearing the case, Jeremiah and his fellow jurors returned their verdict. The accused was found guilty not of witchcraft, but of “having the common fame of a witch” — for which she merely had to post bond for good behavior!

The case is considered historically significant in reflecting hostility in the Quaker colony toward witchcraft accusations, in sharp contrast to attitudes that would be revealed in Salem a decade later. There is even a legend, possibly apocryphal, that when dismissing the charge of witchcraft against Matson, William Penn affirmed her right to ride a broomstick [1, 5, 6].


The wizards in my family were Thomas Ashton (ca 1394?- aft 1445) and Edmund Trafford (ca 1393-1457/8), ancestors through both the Snyder-Harbour and Ellis families. These co. Lancaster gentlemen claimed to have discovered an elixir that restored youth and changed base metals into gold and silver. In my opinion their major claim to wizardry, however, is that in 1446 they managed to persuade the King to override an earlier law prohibiting alchemy, and to grant them a patent to practice it [1, 7, 8]. Otherwise I presume their deaths, if not their lack of riches, tended to discredit them.


The legend of the ghost of Phillip Babb (ca 1602?-1670/1), my ancestor through the Withers-Davis families, was known to author Nathaniel Hawthorne. Phillip, a fishing master on Hogg Island in the Isles of Shoals off the coast of what is now Maine, was held to have been a crew member for the notorious pirate Capt. Kidd [1, 9]. In 1852, Hawthorne reported:

Old Babb, the ghost, has a ring around his neck, and is supposed either to have been hung or to have had his throat cut, but he steadfastly declines telling the mode of his death. There is a luminous appearance about him as he walks, and his face is pale and very dreadful. [10]

As with all good stories of the supernatural, the legend became more elaborate as time passed. In 1873, a Shoals historian named Celia Thayer reported:

There is a superstition among the islanders that Philip Babb… still haunts Appledore [another Shoals island]; and no consideration would induce the more timid to walk alone after dark over a certain shingly beach on that island, at the top of the cove bearing Babb’s name — for there the uneasy spirit is oftenest seen. He is supposed to have been so desperately wicked when alive that there is no rest for him in his grave. His dress is a coarse, striped butcher’s frock, with a leather belt, to which is attached a sheath containing a ghostly knife, sharp and glittering, which it is his delight to brandish in the face of terrified humanity. One of the Shoalers is perfectly certain that he and Babb have met, and he shudders with real horror, recalling the meeting. This is his story. It was after sunset (of course), and he was coming around the corner of a work-shop, when he saw a wild and dreadful figure advancing toward him; his first thought was that someone wished to make him the victim of a practical joke, and he called out something to the effect that he “wasn’t afraid”; but the thing came near with a ghastly face and hollow eyes, and assuming a fiendish expression, took out the knife from its belt and flourished it in the face of the Shoaler … [10]

In 1929, Oscar Laighton went still further. In his account, also set on Appledore Island, Babb had dug for treasure – presumed to be Capt. Kidd’s – making a deep pit 30 feet wide. An iron chest being discovered at the bottom, Babb and a friend broke it open, upon which smoke and red hot horseshoes flew out. From his death until the Coast Guard built a structure on the spot, Babb’s ghost persisted near the cove’s head — to which no islander would come near [10].

Things That Go Bump in the Night

I end with an anecdote concerning Elizabeth Addams Bull Rossiter (1713/4-1810), my ancestor through the Speece-Robinson familes. In a letter soon after her death, a granddaughter wrote:

. . . our respected grandmother left this world in April; her illness was very short and she was quite sensible until the last few minutes. The day before she died she mentioned to her son and daughter that she had distinctly heard three little taps on the head of her bed, and on that hour the next day she would depart, as her father had heard the same, and she believed it a token for her to be prepared. At the hour mentioned she expired. [11]

Presumably my esteemed many-great-grandmother bequeathed her ancestral death taps to a child other than the daughter who was my ancestor. In my branch of the family they have not been heard this many a generation. But with October 31st fast approaching, one never knows. Happy Halloween!


[1] Boles, D.B. (2016). The Omnibus Ancestry. Available through Lulu.

[2] The story is traditional, but I am endebted to Donna Hechler Porter (http://theflyingshuttle.blogspot.com/2014_05_01_archive.html) for suggesting which day was the worst and the best, a point left vague in the traditional telling. It’s about as perfect an ending to the story as one could wish.

[3] Boles, H.W., & Boles, D.B. (1990). Foster Ancestors: Some Europeans, Immigrants, Colonists, and Pioneers. Decorah, Iowa: The Anundsen Publishing Co. Available through Lulu.

[4] Information retrieved from http://suite101.com/article/ebenezer-babson-and-the-1692-gloucester-massachusetts-mystery-a328784 (2015).

[5] Boles, D.B., & Boles, H.W. (1998). Withers-Davis Ancestry. Decorah, Iowa: The Anundsen Publishing Co. Available through Lulu.

[6] Information retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Margaret_Matson (2015).

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

[8] Boles, H.W., & Boles, D.B. (1994). Ellis Ancestors: Some Immigrants, Colonists, and Pioneers. Kalamazoo, Mich: Private print. Available through Lulu.

[9] Which however was certainly untrue, in that Kidd’s piracy did not occur until a generation after Phillip’s death (Withers-Davis Ancestry, op. cit., available through Lulu).

[10] Rutledge, L.V. (1965). The Isles of Shoals in Lore and Legend. Barre, Mass: Barre Publishers.

[11] Boles, D.B., & Boles, H.W. (1997). Speece-Robinson Ancestry. Ozark, Mo: Dogwood Printing. Available through Lulu.

Picture attribution:

“A Visit to the Witch” by Edward Frederick Brewtnall (1882). Public domain.

39. An Old Record and a New Insight into the Origin of the Boyle Family at Kelburn


15 Kelburn Castle front.6.89
Kelburn Castle, from the author’s visit in 1989

The origin of the Boyle family at Kelburn (or Kelburne), Ayrshire, Scotland, has long puzzled historians and genealogists.  The wording of the authoritative 1904 genealogy of the family is typical:

There seems to be no doubt that the lands of Kelburne in Cunningham were held by ancestors of the Earls of Glasgow for many years before 1292 … but the records of their tenure have disappeared: and for long afterwards the succession to the lands can only be inferred from the occasional occurrence, in records and charters, of the name and designation of Boyle of Kelburne. [1]

When more specific estimates have been proposed for the first appearance of the family at Kelburn, the dates have tended to be “deep” — as, for example, the modern suggestion that the family acquired Kelburn in 1143 [2].  As indicated in my recent book on the Bole/Boyle family genealogy, such suggestions may have derived from the legend that the family was granted the property because it was related by marriage to Hugh de Morville, a magnate who came to Scotland sometime after 1124.  Unfortunately, that logic seems to be confused, because the marriage relationship between the Morvilles and the Boyvilles (as the Boyles were then styled), did not occur until sometime between 1216 and 1272, and involved Boyvilles of co. Cumberland, England, not of Kelburn [3].

Recently, on rereading one of the few authentic records of the early history of the family for perhaps the hundredth time, I had an insight that suggests a less deep origin at Kelburn.  I propose that the property came to the family only about the year 1270.

The Record

The record in question was described in the 1904 genealogy:

Sir George Mackenzie, who died in 1691, mentions as extant in his time a ‘sasine of the lands of Kelburne given to Richard Boil, eldest son to Boil of Kelburn and Marjory Cumin his wife, daughter to Cumin of Rowallen, and this was in the reign of K. Al. 3,’ (i.e. between 1249 and 1285-86). [1]

Although I had previously read this closely when examining the relationship between the Boyles and the Cumins, I had never asked something obvious.  Why was Boil of Kelburn’s wife mentioned in the sasine?  A sasine, a term specific to land ownership in Scotland, was issued to show that an heir had lawful possession of a piece of property.  In most cases, property descended from a deceased owner to his oldest surviving son or brother.  In such cases, there was no need to name a spouse.

Yet there was Marjory Cumin, daughter of Cumin of Rowallen.  The insight came to me in the proverbial flash: Perhaps Kelburn came to the Boyles through their intermarriage with the Cumin family.  If so, there would have been every reason to mention Marjory in the sasine.

Supporting Circumstances

An important consideration is that Kelburn, as stated in the first citation above, is part of Cunningham, or Cunninghame, the northernmost district of Ayrshire north of the Irvine River.  The district was granted to Hugh de Morville in the time of King David I (reigned 1124-1153).  From the Morvilles it passed by inheritance and marriage to the lords of Galloway, a co-heiress of which, Dervorgille, married John de Baliol [4]. It appears that Dervorgille received the bulk of the Cunningham lands.

Thus in 1268, when John de Baliol died [5], it is probable that what is now Kelburn lay within the feudal domain of the Baliol family. This conclusion was also reached by Ayrshire historian William Robertson, who pointed out that when John de Baliol’s namesake son later became King of Scotland, “The Boyles of Kelburn therefore became tenants in chief of the Crown” [6].

A critical juncture in the story of Kelburn may therefore have been reached near the time of John de Baliol’s death. About the year 1269, Sir John Comyn, “the Black”, lord of Badenoch, married Alianora Baliol, the sister of the future King John Baliol [7].  In effect, through this marriage, two of the most powerful families in Scotland formed a military alliance.

Comyn is the same surname as Cumin.  As we have seen, the 13th century sasine summarized by Sir George Mackenzie ascribed the wife Marjory Cumin, daughter of Cumin of Rowallen, to Boil of Kelburn.  Thus was provided a vector by which the Boyle family may have acquired Kelburn. Specifically, it seems possible that because Cumin of Rowallen was a member of the newly allied Comyn family, the Baliols granted him feudal rights to Kelburn in return for military service.  In turn Cumin may then have granted Kelburn to his Boyle son-in-law.  Then after Boyle died, a sasine was granted to the couple’s son Richard Boyle, confirming his possession of Kelburn.

Not only are the linkages logical, they explain why there are no previous mentions of Boyles at Kelburn [9].  They imply that Richard Boyle was the first hereditary laird of Kelburn in the Boyle line, his father “Boil of Kelburn” having been so only by right of marriage.

A Tight Chronology

If this was indeed the scenario by which Kelburn came to the Boyles, events must have transpired along a tight chronology. This conclusion derives from another 17th-century clue to the family’s origins:

There is… a Chartor extant Granted by [Sir Gilchrist Mure, or More] to his daughter Anicia of the lands of Cuthsach, Gulmeth, Blaracharsan… [etc.]  [Portions of land] now not knowne by these names….  Ritchard a Boyle del Culliburne, having obtained fra Sr Walter Cumine ane an. rent [i.e., an annual rent] of fiftie schilling out of the lands of malsland… is supposed (& not vnprobably) to have obtained in marriage the forsd. Anicia, and wt her the land forsds. disponed to her by Sr Gilchrist, being certainlie lands of Polruskane… [8]

The gist of this difficult passage is that Sir Gilchrist Mure granted a charter of Polruskane to his daughter Anicia, who is believed to have been the wife of Richard Boyle.  Presumably he was the same Richard Boyle named in the 13th century sasine — for he had obtained a rent from Sir Walter Cumin.

The chronological relevance is that Mure died in 1277, and Sir Walter Cumin died before Mure [8].  Thus if the scenario is correct, within about 8 years of the Comyn-Baliol marriage alliance, in approximate order (a) Kelburn was granted by the Baliols to Sir Walter Cumin, (b) Kelburn was regranted by Sir Walter Cumin to —– Boyle, the previously married husband of his daughter Marjory, (c) —– Boyle died, (d) Richard Boyle received sasine to Kelburn by right of his Cumin mother, (e) Sir Walter Cumin granted rents to Richard Boyle, (f) Sir Gilchrist Mure granted Polruskane to Anicia, (g) Richard Boyle married Anicia Mure, (h) Sir Walter Cumin died, and (i) Sir Gilchrist Mure died.  Even if some events appear in the list out of order and the chronology extended somewhat beyond Gilchrist’s death, it seems likely that the Boyles acquired Kelburn about 1270.  They could not have done so later than 1286, the latest possible date of Richard Boyle’s sasine.

Genealogical Complexities

There are, however, certain genealogical complexities that accompany the scenario.  Chief among them is that Sir Gilchrist Mure was himself a son-in-law of Sir Walter Cumin of Rowallen [8].  That creates at least the appearance of Richard Boyle having married his own close relative when he married Gilchrist’s daughter, Richard’s mother having been a Cumin of Rowallen.

Closer examination, however, reveals that Anicia Mure could not possibly have been Sir Gilchrist’s child by his Cumin wife.  The reason is that Gilchrist married Isobell Cumin after the battle of Largs [8], which occurred in late 1263.  Thus any offspring of the couple could not have been of age, as was Anicia, to be granted land before Gilchrist’s death in 1277. Gilchrist must have had an unknown first wife, a supposition supported by his age, nearly 80, at the time of his death [8].  Anicia must have been Gilchrist’s child by that wife, making her unrelated to her husband Richard Boyle.

Interestingly, an argument can be made that Richard’s mother was the daughter not just of some generic Cumin of Rowallen, but of Sir Walter Cumin himself.   Diligent searches have failed to turn up any other Cumins associated with that location. Rowallen was in Walter’s possession by 1263 [8], and he may have been the first Cumin owner.  He was certainly the last, for after his death sometime prior to 1277, Rowallen passed to the Mures [8].

A Final Question

A final question worth considering is whether a circa 1270 origin for the Boyles at Kelburn allows the family’s legendary (i.e., undocumented) participation in the battle of Largs in 1263 (see blog entry 28. The Kelburn Thistle and the Boyle Family).  The short answer is “yes”.

If Anicia More was of age to be granted land prior to her father’s 1277 death, she may have been born (at a guess) around 1254. Her husband Richard Boyle may therefore have been born about 1250, and his father “Boil of Kelburn” about 1224.  The latter would certainly have been of military age in 1263, even if these estimates are off by a few years.

Furthermore, the father was probably of the district of Cunningham when the battle occurred.  This inference follows from his pre-existing marriage to Marjory Cumin, and her family’s possession of Rowallen at the time of the battle.  Rowallen — or Rowallan as it is spelled today — is in Cunningham and is located about 25 road miles SE of Kelburn. Although under the scenario, Boyle would not have been in possession of Kelburn at the time, he was likely from the district and could well have served in the battle of Largs.

4 Graffiti on south wall of castle
Graffiti on the south wall of the castle, 2016. To the right of the coat of arms is part of the original keep, probably 13th century.

Postscript: Unfortunately my “sabbatical” is not yet over.  I have composed this in a lull in the writing of my psychology textbook.  That lull is now over, so I return to that work.


[1] Boyle, R. (1904).  Genealogical Account of the Boyles of Kelburne, Earls of Glasgow.  No place, private print.

[2] Information retrieved from http://www.countryfile.com/days-out/kelburn-castle-ayrshire (2018).

[3] Boles, D.B. (2017). The Origins and Descendants of James Bole of Westmoreland and Armstrong Counties, Pennsylvania.  Tuscaloosa, AL: private print.  Available through Lulu.

[4] Chalmers, G. (1890). Caledonia: Or, A Historical and Topographical Account of North Britain. Paisley: Alexander Gardner, vol. 6.

[5] Robertson, G. (1820). Topographical Description of Ayrshire; More Particularly of Cunninghame. Irvine: Cunninghame Press.

[6] Robertson, W. (1908). Ayrshire: Its History and Historic Families. Kilmarnock, Scotland: Dunlop & Drennan, v. 2.

[7] The exact date appears to be unknown, but cannot have been many years off of 1269.  John, the son of John and Alianora, was one of the leaders of a Scottish army in 1296, and the following year had at least one child old enough to serve as a hostage.  Thus the younger John could not have been born much after 1270 (Paul, J.B., The Scots Peerage.Edinburgh: David Douglas., v. 1, p. 508, 1904-14).

[8] Mure, W. (1825). The Historie and Descent of the House of Rowallane.  Glasgow: Chalmers and Collins.  The original manuscript was written in or before 1657.

[9] A major reason to propose this scenario is the conclusion mentioned in the text, that Kelburn was part of the Baliol domain. Thus the question is how Baliol land came to the Boyles, and the scenario provides a possible answer. Alternatively, however, it is possible that the Cumin family, seated at Rowallen within Cunningham, had prior possession of Kelburn and that it came to the Boyles as a tocher (wedding portion) on the marriage to Marjory Cumin circa 1250.  While this would not change the scenario in one respect — Kelburn would still have come by way of the Cumins — it would change the date at which it occurred.





38. Token Ancestors: Coinage by the Youngs, Munford, and Samm Families

This holiday season, as you shop for gifts or dinner trimmings, spare a moment to think about the money you are spending. Not the amount, but the kind. Paper money is a relatively modern innnovation in the western world, being rooted in banknotes issued in the mid-1600s. But the coins you carry in your pocket or purse are in most ways similar to coins as they have existed throughout the ages, all the way down from the 6th century B.C. Varying in denomination, they allow for small change to be made as the leftover from larger purchases.

In one important way, however, our coins vary considerably from earlier ones. Early coins were minted under the theory that their face value should equal the value of their metal content. Thus they were typically made of gold or silver. For example, in early medieval England, 240 silver pennies could be minted from a pound of silver — thereby giving rise to the unit we call the English pound sterling [2].   In contrast, most modern coins are minted with face values greatly exceeding the value of their metal content. Today in the U.S., the “melt value” is only 2 cents for a dime, 4 cents for a quarter, and 8 cents for a half dollar [1].

We have, in other words, switched from a theory of content value to a theory of token value when it comes to coins. This switch occurred surprisingly recently, with 1964 being the last year that the U.S. struck silver dimes, quarters, and half dollars.

The late switch is surprising for how long it took to come about, because the theory of content value had repeatedly proved problematic when it came to ensuring a supply of coins. Over a span of centuries, governments were frequently forced to debase their coinage to relieve shortages. Debasement typically involved reducing the silver content of smaller-denomination coins. The reasons for most of the shortages are controversial (e.g., compare [3] with [10]), but one factor was that as fluctuations in prices occurred, at some point the value of a coin’s metal content would exceed its face value. At that point coins would be melted down, disappearing from circulation [3].

A 17th Century Shortage

One of the historical shortages affords genealogical connections. By the mid-17th century a persistent shortage of small denomination coins had developed in England. This had been a long time in coming. As early as the time of Queen Elizabeth, who reigned 1558-1603, patterns had been drawn up for the issue of copper coins but nothing had come of it [4]. Coin shortages became particularly acute during the English Civil War (1643-1651), when minting ceased [11].

By 1648, shortages had become so severe that merchants took matters into their own hands and began issuing coin-like tokens of their own, a practice that continued in most places until 1672. The tokens were given as change, and were often honored locally in other establishments, at least over an adjoining street or two. In theory they could be exchanged for official royal coinage, although the extent to which that actually occurred is unclear [4].

Ancestral Involvement

Three of our known ancestors or near-ancestors were involved in the issuing of trade tokens, as they were called, each valued at a farthing (a quarter of a penny). In Norwich, co. Norfolk, England, on the eastern side of the country, ancestor Anne Youngs (d. 1681), a grocer, issued a token under her married name Anne Munford. It showed her name as “ANN MVNFORD” with The Grocer’s Arms on one side, and on the reverse, “IN NORWICH – A.M. [her initials]”. A photograph appears at https://norfolktokenproject.wordpress.com/portfolio/williamson-174. Anne is a direct ancestor through the Bowers, Thomas, Jordan, and Pleasants families [5].

Also in Norwich, Anne’s son George Munford, who had been admitted a freeman of the city in 1653, issued his own grocer’s token. On one side it showed “GEORGE MYNFORD” with a merchant’s mark, and on the other, “OF NORWICH 1657” with The Grocer’s Arms [5]. A photograph appears at https://norfolktokenproject.wordpress.com/portfolio/williamson-175.

Further west, John Samm (d. aft 1695) issued a token in Clifton, co. Bedford, in 1664. It showed his wife’s initial as “H”, and displayed the Drapers’ Arms [4], indicating he was a draper (i.e., a cloth or clothing merchant). John is a direct ancestor through the Bowers, Stayman, and Stake families [5]. At least for the moment, a photograph appears at https://www.copperbark.com/products/bedfordshire-28-clifton-john-samm-1664.

Although these three ancestors and near-ancestors were either grocers or drapers, trade tokens were not limited to those occupations. Williamson [4] listed nearly a hundred livelihoods represented by tokens.

trade token Thomas Wood
Example of a farthing trade token, issued by Thomas Wood, a vintner of Oxford, in 1652. Made of copper alloy, it weighs less than a gram and is about 1.5 cm in diameter. Wood also ran a tennis court, and a tennis racquet is depicted.


Even after trade tokens began to be issued, the English government dithered. In 1649, the Council of State recorded, “The business of farthing tokens is to be considered to-morrow” — an interesting phrasing given that it implied abandonment of the theory of content value. In 1650, the Council declared, “Farthings ought to be issued.” A year after that, as if to stengthen their resolve, a report was presented to the Council giving reasons, which were summarized by a later writer [4]:

The report commenced by stating that money is the public means to set a price upon all things between man and man, and experience hath sufficiently proved in all ages that small money is so needful to the poorer sort that all nations have endeavoured to have it. It continues to recommend small pieces as ministering of frugality, whereupon men can have a farthing’s worth and are not constrained to buy more of anything than they stand in need of, their feeding being from hand to mouth; it recommends it on the ground of charity, saying that many are deprived of alms for want of farthings and half-farthings, for many would give a farthing who are not disposed to give a penny or twopence, or to lose time in staying to change money whereby they may contract a noisome smell or the disease of the poor. [4]

Further discussion took place in 1652, but it was not until 1672 that a royal proclamation was finally issued for the minting of copper farthings and halfpence. At the same time the use of private tokens was outlawed, which was obeyed with two notable exceptions where usage continued for a few more years (i.e., the city of Chester, and Ireland). When those practices ended, the time of the 17th-century trade token had passed.

Today it is possible to collect trade tokens. A “good fine” example of the John Samm farthing came up for auction in 2012, with an expected sale price of £40-50 [6]. A “very fine” example at the aforementioned http://www.copperbark.com site is currently priced at £100. A George Munford 1657 farthing came up for auction in 2013 [7], and an Anne Munford farthing sold in 2015 [8].

A Final Comment

I’ll end with one last comment about those coins in your pocket. As I wrote at the head of this article, most modern coins have face values greatly exceeding the value of their metal content. The penny is a notable exception. Its metal is worth 8 tenths of a cent, only a small difference in value [1]. After accounting for all expenses, it already costs more than one cent to manufacture a new penny. Ongoing debates over the coin’s future and its possible elimination are eerily reminiscent of the protracted deliberations of the Council of State over the farthing nearly 400 years ago, right down to the possible effect on charities [9].

Oh, and about those farthings? Britain hasn’t seen a new one since 1956, and they are no longer legal tender.

Descent from the ancestors mentioned in this posting, and what is known of their own forebears, is detailed in The Omnibus Ancestry (available for download at Lulu). Full references are given there.


[1] Information retrieved from http://www.coinflation.com/coins/basemetal_calc.php (2017).

[2] Information retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pound_sterling#Anglo-Saxon (2017).

[3] Sargent, T.J., & Velde, F.R. (2002). The Big Problem of Small Change. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

[4] Williamson, G.C. (1889). Trade Tokens Issued in the Seventeenth Century. London: Elliot Stock.

[5] Boles, D.B. (2017). The Omnibus Ancestry: 619 Documented American and European Lines. Available for download through Lulu.

[6] Information retrieved from https://www.dnw.co.uk/media/auction_catalogues/Tokens%2011%20Apr%2012.pdf (2017).

[7] Information retrieved from https://www.dnw.co.uk/media/auction_catalogues/Tokens%202%20Oct%2013.pdf (2017).

[8] Information retrieved from http://rarecoinsandtokens.co.uk/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=166&products_id=856 (2017).

[9] Information retrieved from https://www.thespruce.com/the-penny-debate-768872 (2017).

[10] Information retrieved from http://www.lse.ac.uk/Economic-History/Assets/Documents/WorkingPapers/Economic-History/2008/WP107.pdf (2017).

[11] Information retrieved from http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~fordingtondorset/Files2/Dorchestertradetoken.html (2017).

Picture credit: Modification of “17th century trade token of Thomas Wood, 1652“, by the Portable Antiquities Scheme, photographer Chris Edbury, used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license. The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) is a voluntary programme run by the United Kingdom government to record the increasing numbers of small finds of archaeological interest found by members of the public. The scheme started in 1997 and now covers most of England and Wales. Finds are published at https://finds.org.uk.

37. Happy Halloween! The Tale of the McQueen Candles

Readers of this blog know that my ancestral McQueens, of Pollochaig, co. Inverness, Scotland, had a reputation of the supernatural. Two Halloweens ago I related the story of the McQueen witch (“18. Witches, Wizards, Ghosts, and Things That Go Bump in the Night”). This year I’d like to relay the tale of the McQueen candles, complete with an abducted wife, fairy enchantments, and otherworldly revenge — and for my ancestors, the loss of their magical candles.

The story was recorded in 1835. I know it from its reproduction 60 years later. I have only lightly edited that telling, deleting a few words and splitting long paragraphs into shorter ones for ease of reading. Enjoy!

Reproduced nearly verbatim from Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness, vol. 20, pp. 35-7, 1894-6.

About the beginning of the 18th century the wife of one of the tenants in Druim-a-ghadha, upon the estate of Dunmaglass, had been carried away by the fairies, and was said to have been taken by them into a small hillock in that neighbourhood called ‘Tomnashangan,’ or the Ants Hill, and had been absent from her family for nearly a year.

No person, however, could tell exactly where she was, although their suspicion fell upon the fairies, and that she must be with them in the hill now mentioned. Several attempts were made to discover her, and none were bold enough to encounter the residence of the fairies.

At last Captain William Macgillivray, alias the Captain Baan, i.e, ‘White,’ son of Farquhar Macgillivray of Dunmaglass, who was resident at the spot, volunteered his services to endeavour to get the woman released from her long captivity in the ‘Fairy Hill’ if it was possible that she could be there.

The Captain being informed that John Dhu (M’Chuile) Macqueen of Pollachaik was familiar and on good terms with the fairies, and that he had wax candles in which there was a particular virtue, he despatched a messenger to the far-famed Pollachaik for one of his candles in order to assist him in discovering the lost female.


The candle was given by Pollachaik to the messenger, who got particular instructions never to look behind him until he reached home, otherwise something might happen to him, and he would lose the candle. This person heard so much noise like that of horses and carriages, accompanied with music and loud cries of ‘Catch him, catch him’ at Craiganuan, near Moyhall, that he was so frightened that he could not help looking behind him, and although he saw nothing, he lost the candle, then he made the best of his way home.

A second courier was despatched, who received another candle, and the same injunctions. In coming through the same place as the former, he withstood all the noise he heard there, but at a place near Farr it was ten times worse, and, not being able to withstand taking a peep over his shoulder, he lost the object of his message.

In this predicament it became necessary to send a third bearer to Pollachaik for another candle, which he also got, but on coming to the River Findhorn, it was so large that he could not cross, so that he was obliged to go back to the Laird [John Macqueen] for his advice, who, upon coming down to the bank of the river, desired the man to throw a stone upon the opposite side of the river, and no sooner was this done than much to his astonishment he found himself also there.

The River Findhorn at Pollochaig

He then proceeded upon his journey, and having taken a different route across the hills, even here he occasionally heard considerable noise, but he had the courage never to look behind him, and accordingly he put the virtued candle into the hands of the Captain Baan.

The Captain being now possessed of Pollochaik’s wax candle, he one evening approached the hillock, and having discovered where the entry was, he entered the passage to the fairy habitation, and passing a press [tight place] in the entrance, it is said that the candle immediately lighted of its own accord, and he discovered that the good lady, the object of his mission, was busily engaged in a reel, and the whole party singing and dancing, and dressed in neat green jackets, bedgowns, &c.

The Fairy Dance.cropped
The Fairy Dance, by Robert Alexander Hillingford

The Captain took her out of one of the reels, and upon obtaining the open air, he told her how very unhappy her husband and friends were at the length of time she had been absent from them, but the woman had been so enchanted and enraptured with the society she had been in, that she seemed to think she had been only absent one night, instead of a year, from her own house.

When the Captain brought her off with him, the fairies were so enraged that they said ‘they would keep him in view.’ The woman was brought to her disconsolate husband, and the candle was faithfully preserved in the family for successive generations in order to keep off all fairies, witches, brownies and water kelpies in all time to come.

Some time afterwards, as the Captain was riding home at night by the west end of Lochduntelchaig, he was attacked and severely beaten by some people he could not recognise. He got home to his own house, but never recovered, and it is said that the mare he rode was worse to him than even those that attacked him; so he ordered her to be shot the following day…

The third and successful bearer of the candle was Archibald Macgillivray alias ‘Gillespie Luath,’ i.e., Swift or fast Archibald…. Pollochaik said to him that he would have preferred the Captain to have sent for his fold of cattle than for the candle.

The ancestry of John McQueen, of Pollochaig, and of his wife Anne and son Dugal, is extensively traced and referenced in The Omnibus Ancestry (available for download at Lulu).

Picture credits:

Candles — Public domain.

The River Findhorn — Personal photo.

The Fairy Dance — Public domain.


36. Revisiting the McQueen Estate of Pollochaig

The ancestry of Dugal McQueen is extensively traced and referenced in The Omnibus Ancestry (available for download at Lulu).

Recently I came across two antique photographs of Pollochaig (Polochaig) [1], the home of our McQueen ancestors. That was the location in co. Inverness, Scotland, where Dugal McQueen (ca 1670?-1746) was raised before his capture at the Battle of Preston (1715) and his overseas exile to Maryland [2].

Aerial view of Pollochaig, northward, in 1910

Both photos were taken in 1910, looking northward from elevations that reveal quite a bit of the land associated with the property. The buildings were then in a good state of preservation, unlike in 2016 when my wife and I visited the tumbled-down ruins.

A close inspection of the photographed buildings suggests that most of the interpretation I previously published was basically correct (see “26. A Visit to the Home of the McQueens of Pollochaig”). I wrote of the lower building, the one shown in the first aerial view:

There appeared to be one large chamber with an attached byre…. There was no evidence of a hearth at any of the walls…. Perhaps the structure was simply a barn…


The intact structure in 1910, shown immediately above though with some blurring due to enlargement, did in fact have a large opening into a byre (animal barn) that comprised at least part of it. It is possible that the opening originally had doors to provide better protection against the elements. The entire structure, in the form of a backward “L”, was clearly unheated, as there were no chimneys. The rightward short leg of the “L” appeared to have an upper door to a hay loft.

Aerial view of Pollochaig fields, northward, in 1910

The second elevated picture is of particular interest in showing the house. After viewing its ruins in 2016, I wrote:

On inspection it became apparent that the upper, more distant structure had been a house, because a hearth and the lower remains of a chimney were built into the north end. One entrance, at least, had been through a door on the east side.


That interpretation appears to be correct, although the house also had a hearth at the south end as evidenced by a second chimney. I hadn’t been able to discern its remains in 2016, that end lying in almost complete ruin. The single entrance must have been on the east side, as there are only windows on the west side. It is clear that the house was quite modest, not much more than a cottage.

That in turn raises the question of whether there might have been a grander structure on the site at one time. As it happens, the remains of a much larger structure are in fact evident. They lie directly opposite, across the Findhorn River. They are visible in a blowup from the first picture, shown below.


They also appeared in one of my photographs, as a gray line across the river.

Shenachie, viewed from Pollochaig

Recently an anonymous visitor interpreted the remains on both sides, having located an informant:

A former local resident, born in 1922 in the glen, reports that although current maps mark Shenachie on the west bank of the river, the ruin was known as Polochaig and it is the grass covered ruins directly opposite over the river that are Shenachie. He says that Shenachie was once occupied by MacQueen, credited with killing the last wolf in the area. [3]

The “MacQueen” so mentioned was Dougal McQueen, our Dugal’s nephew, reputed to have killed Scotland’s last wolf about the year 1743 after it had devoured two children. If the legend is correct, Shenachie only passed into the hands of the McQueens at that time.  For the chief of Mackintosh [4], delighted that Dugal had killed the wolf in a dirk-to-fang struggle aided by a greyhound, is credited with saying:

“My noble Pollochock!” cried the chief in ecstacy; “the deed was worthy of thee! In memorial of thy hardihood, I here bestow upon thee Seannachan, to yield meal for thy good greyhound in all time coming.” [5]

The legend goes on to say that Sennachan was “directly opposite to Pollochock” and that its name means “the old field”.

In modern times, however, “Sennachan” has been transformed to “Shenachie”. In light of the story of the McQueen wolf, and another story about a McQueen witch (see “18. Witches, Wizards, Ghosts, and Things That Go Bump in the Night”), one has to wonder whether Scottish humor was at work in the transformation, for “Shenachie” can be translated as “teller of tales” [6].

Of course Mackintosh’s gift was literally of a field, and so it might be objected that the ruins at Shenachie could have been of a manor house held by the McQueens. This speculation, though, is dashed by the testimony of the traveller who recorded the wolf legend in 1830. He insisted that “the ruins of the interesting little mansion-house of Pollochock” were on the opposite side [5]. Thus it appears that McQueen descendants including me will have to be content with the manor, if it rises to that status, across the river at Pollochaig.

There is actually a hint in the historical record that the visible Shenachie ruins may have been of something other than a building. The following section of an Ordnance Survey map, surveyed in 1869-70, shows the Pollochaig buildings as filled-in polygons, but two larger polygons across the river as unfilled [7]. That probably indicates that they were not buildings at all but rather small, enclosed, rock-walled fields used for penning livestock. There does appear to have been a building represented by a filled-in rectangle between the two enclosures, but it was little, apparently between the sizes of the barn and house at Pollochaig. Possibly it was a sheep shed, with the enclosed fields having been of use during shearing.

Polochaig Ordnance Survey map.date.1869-70.cropped
Portion of an Ordnance Survey map, 1869-70

The same area was shown in a 1900 revision, below. Inexplicably, the Polochaig name had been changed to Shenachie.

Pollochaig.Shenachie.1900.Ordnance Survey
Portion of an Ordnance Survey map, 1900 revision

Also notable on both of the Ordnance Survey maps is a ford, located just south of all the buildings. That ford still existed in 1910, and a blowup of the first aerial view faintly shows a rope strung across the location.


Showing that some things never change, in 2016 there was a modern rope and pulley system at the same place so that one could, in theory, cross with dry feet while seated. Unfortunately as a visitor has advised:

The rope and pulley system used to cross the river there is kept locked, and the option to wade across at a ford is only possible if the river is low. [3]

My wife and I would certainly not have wanted to ford the river when we visited, for it was on one of the wildest, wettest, coldest days we’ve experienced in a Scottish summer. But now that I know more about the role of Shenachie in McQueen history, namely as a reward won for killing a homicidal wolf, I think I’d like to dip my feet on some upcoming, warm summer day.

I end this article with one last picture, a view of the Findhorn River looking south from Pollochaig. It truly does justify the description in 1897 as ” Pollochaig … a pretty Highland place” [8].

Southward view from Pollochaig


[1] Information retrieved from http://geoscenic.bgs.ac.uk & linked pages (2017).

[2] Boles, D.B. (2017). The Omnibus Ancestry: 619 Documented American and European Lines. Available for download through Lulu.

[3] Information retrieved from http://www.heritagepaths.co.uk/description.php?path=%20326 (2017).

[4] In 1743 the chief was Angus Mackintosh (d. 1770), a great-grandson of Sir Lachlan Mackintosh (information retrieved from http://www.thepeerage.com/p45051.htm#i450509 & linked pages, 2017), who was also the great-great-grandfather of Dougal McQueen of wolf fame (Boles, 2017, op.cit., & Lulu). The two descendants were therefore 2nd cousins once removed.

[5] The Westminster Review, vol. 13-14, Oct 1830, p. 364.

[6] Information retrieved from http://www.dsl.ac.uk/entry/snd/shenachie (2017).

[7] Satellite imagery available on Google Maps shows the same outlines that appear on the Ordnance Survey maps. The gray line on my modern photo appears to correspond to the upper of the two enclosed polygons.

[8] Fraser-Mackintosh, C. (1897). Antiquarian Notes, Historical, Genealogical, and Social (Second Series): Inverness-shire Parish by Parish. Inverness: A. & W. Mackenzie.

Picture credits:

Aerial view of Pollochaig, northward, in 1910, and blowups: British Geological Survey, image P000376, copyright by Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), used with permission.

Aerial view of Pollochaig fields, northward, in 1910, and blowup: British Geological Survey, image P000375, copyright by Natural Environment Research Council (NERC), used with permission.

Shenachie, taken from Pollochaig: Personal photo.

Portion of an Ordnance Survey map, 1869-70: Modication (sectional blowup) of a map retrieved from http://maps.nls.uk/view/74427045 (2017). Used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

Portion of an Ordnance Survey map, 1900 revision: Modication (sectional blowup) of a map retrieved from http://maps.nls.uk/view/75832309 (2017). Used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International license.

Southward view from Pollochaig: Personal photo.