On this day in 1685, the testament of Elizabeth Campbell was registered in Argyll. Elizabeth was the wife of John M’Alester ‘of Kendloch of Kelisport’, one English rendering of Ceannochcaolisport. This is one of the very few records I’ve been able to find concerning this family, but the little information available does tell us a few things. 

For one thing, we know where they lived. Ceannlochcaolisport means ‘at the head of Loch Caolisport’, which is exactly where this family’s lands were. Where they originated is less clear. Loch Caolisport is a fair bit north of either the Tarbert or the Loup lands, which makes it difficult to even guess which family these Macalisters belonged to – if either. But the fact that they are ‘of’ Ceannlochcaolisport tells us that they were a significant family in their own right by the time they first appear on record. Another piece of evidence for this is the inclusion of ‘Hector McAlister, son to Kenlochkeillisport’, in a list of those permitted to act as cattle drovers from June to October of 1684. Cattle rustling was not a new problem in the Highlands – one writer has called it a national sport – but at this point the government was making a fresh attempt to establish its authority in these parts, and “strict controls were enforced on the movement of beasts. . . . [A] drover was frequently a man of some standing, reflecting the importance of the cattle trade in the economy, even at this period.”

Available evidence also gives us a glimpse of the family’s politics. Government lists of those who took part in the Earl of Argyll’s rebellion in May 1685 include ‘McAlaster, fiar of Kin-lochshallifort at Kilmichael’.[2] This is interesting in light of the fact that both the Laird of Loup and the Captain of Tarbert actively (if ineffectively) opposed Argyll’s mostly-Lowland forces. Perhaps it reflects this family’s location, which put them closer to the lands traditionally owned by the Campbell chiefs. Or it might indicate a Presbyterian bent that those Macalisters further south had yet to acquire.

What happened to this family requires more research. It’s possible that their involvement in the Argyll rebellion cost them their lands. Although they are mentioned in the Statistical Account of Scotland (“there are four ancient chapels, which have suffered but little from the rust of time. A fifth was removed by the Macalisters of Ceannlochcaolisport, on account of its contiguity to their house”
[3]), by the time of the New Statistical Account (1840), the Macalisters of Ceannlochcaolisport appear to be no more.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[1] Alistair Campbell of Airds, A History of Clan Campbell, vol. 3, pp. 38-9; source is Register of the Privy Council.
[2] ibid., vol. 3, p. 56, from a combined list held by Argyll archives
[3] Stat. Acct., parish of South Knapdale, pp. 313-4.

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