A Freeholder of Argyll

On the 19th July 1790, a meeting was held at Inveraray of the freeholders of Argyllshire, who gathered to choose the shire’s representative for the upcoming parliament. Among the attendees listed is Angus Macalister, 11th of Loup.

In the Scottish context, a freeholder was a tenant-in-chief — someone who held his lands directly from the king. This had nothing to do with the landholder’s local prominence or personal wealth. Many well-established families in Scotland held their lands from one of the king’s vassals rather than from the king himself[1] — including the Macalisters of Tarbert, who were vassals, or subtenants, of the Campbells of Argyll. The Loup family itself held some of its properties from the Macdonalds of Dunyvaig in earlier times, and later some from Argyll. But the Macalister chiefs’ position as freeholders was important. William Ferguson tells us that “by the late seventeenth century the term [freeholder] was used mainly with reference to the electoral system, the freeholders or barons constituting the county electorate”.[2] In fact, “[o]utside the burghs virtually all Scottish voters” belonged to this group, according to Margaret Sankey and Daniel Szechi; as a result “county electorates were small, usually less than a hundred voters”.[3] Thus despite Angus’s relative insignificance compared to magnates like Argyll, he was one of the few Argyllshire men who could vote and his family therefore wielded considerable power.

It is not clear when the Macalisters first gained possession of the property from which their territorial designation comes, but they clearly were freeholders almost from the start. The first mention we have of the lands of Loup is in 1481, when the king granted them, along with many others, to John of Islay (Lord of the Isles). The property seems to have been granted by him to the Macalisters who, as a sept of the Clan Donald living in the heart of the Lordship, were already John’s followers. Certainly by the time of the final Forfeiture, in 1493, the Macalister chief was holding Loup as a vassal of Macdonald of the Isles.[4] At that point John’s lands in Kintyre reverted to the king, who apparently regranted Loup to the Macalisters, thereafter to be held directly of him. The rentals of 1506 and 1541 show the Loup property still in the hands of the Macalisters, and in 1605, Macalister’s charter for his crown holdings was confirmed.

In 1607, Kintyre was granted to the Campbell Earl of Argyll in response to the Macdonald-Maclean feud. Argyll’s grant was ratified in 1617, after more trouble from the (now landless) Macdonalds of Dunyvaig. The earl was instructed not to let any of his new lands to anyone named Macdonald, Maclean, Macneill or Macalister. However, Hector Macalister, 6th of Loup, held his lands of the king, not Argyll; additionally, Hector had been too young to be involved in the various disorders of the early 1600s, so no punitive measures were taken against him. Still, holding one’s land in Kintyre required a diplomatic balancing act: Loyalty to the king served the Loup family well when Argyll fell from favour, but during the 17th century it was often a liability. The Macalisters didn’t always get it right; they did however seem to know when it was time to give up: As an adult, Hector narrowly avoided forfeiture (or worse) at the end of the Civil Wars by quickly switching sides when it became clear that Alasdair MacColla’s rising was at an end; his great-grandson, Alexander the 10th of Loup, was accused of treason for his involvement in the first Jacobite rising and almost certainly would have been forfeited had he not surrendered before he could be arrested.

But different types of challenge presented themselves in the centuries that followed. Allan Macinnes writes, “The acquisitiveness of the Campbells at the expense of other Argyllshire clans [was] the most pronounced feature of landholding in the eighteenth century”.[5] Indeed, of the 57 heritors who appear on the 1751 valuation of Kintyre, nearly half (23) are Campbells.[6] Among those who had fallen victim to Campbell hegemony were the Tarbert Macalisters, who by 1751 had already lost most of their lands and were being sued by Argyll for failure to meet some of the terms of their tenancy. Yet the very fact of Angus’s inclusion on the list of voters for this particular election suggests one reason he had survived. As Sankey and Szechi explain,

Being returned to Westminster as a knight of the shire for a Scottish county . . . required a successful candidate to exploit his local and family networks to produce a coalition of friends, neighbours and kinsmen sufficient to vote him in.[7]

The unanimous election of Lord Frederick Campbell, a brother of the 5th Duke of Argyll, to the post[8] suggests that the men who met on this day at Inverary — including Angus Macalister of Loup — were those who had made themselves Campbell allies.

Ultimately, however, Angus’s political realism could not save him from the biggest threat to 18th-century lairds: accumulating debt. He had already been sued, in November 1746, by creditors of his father Charles in attempt to collect on Charles’s debts. Before the end of the decade, his lands in Kintyre would be sold off by trustees. Although the designation ‘of Loup’ is still held by Angus’s successors, he was the last of this family to be called a freeholder of Argyll.

copyright © Lynn McAlister, 2016

[1] A. Mackenzie, A View of the Political State of Scotland at the Late General Election (Edinburgh: Mundell & Son, 1790), p. 21.

[2] W. Ferguson, Scotland: 1689 to the Present, Edinburgh History of Scotland vol. 4 (Mercat Press, 1990), p. 72.

[3] Sankey & Szechi, “Elite Culture and the Decline of Scottish Jacobitism, 1716-1745” in Past & Present, No. 173 (Nov. 2001), p. 105.

[4] Origines Parochiales, vol. 2, part 1, p. 31.

[5] A. Macinnes, “Landownership, Land Use and Elite Enterprise in Scottish Gaeldom: from Clanship to Clearance in Argyllshire, 1688-1858”, in T. Devine, ed., Scottish Elites, p. 9

[6] L. Timperley, A Directory of Land Ownership in Scotland, c. 1770 (Scottish Record Society, 2014), pp. 28-46.

[7] Sankey & Szechi, ibid.

[8] A. Mackenzie, p. 59.

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He Said, She Said . . .

On this day in 1756, Angus Macalister of Loup married his widowed cousin Jean (or Jane – the names were interchangeable). Jean was the daughter of John Macdonald of Ardnacross and Grace McAlester, whose father had been the seventh laird of Loup. To put it mildly, the marriage got off to a rocky start.

The first hint we have of trouble between them comes in April 1758, when Jean went before the Commissaries of Edinburgh to institute a Declarator of Marriage and Adherence.[1] By doing so, she was asking the Commissariot to rule that her marriage to Angus was valid, because by this point he was claiming that it had never taken place.

Perhaps she could have seen this denial coming, as she was certainly not the first eighteenth-century bride to find herself in this situation.[2] Theirs was an ‘irregular’ marriage (although Angus had procured a minister to perform the ceremony),[3] and the young groom insisted that the marriage be kept secret until he could talk to his uncle, a Lamont of that Ilk. Angus was afraid Lamont would object to the union because of his youth and because Jean did not have a fortune.[4] Angus therefore returned to Argyllshire, urging his new wife to follow.

Before she could join him, however, Jean discovered that Angus had given her a venereal disease. Angus wrote to his surgeon in Edinburgh, asking the doctor to give his new wife the best treatment available, but to keep the marriage itself a secret. Eventually Jean set off for Argyll, no doubt anxious to share the news of her marriage with her family and friends. Angus, however, insisted the secret still be kept. Jean asked that she at least be allowed to tell her mother, to whose house she now retired, but when the news began to get out, Angus denied that there had been a wedding at all.

It was precisely this sort of conflict that the Commissariot of Edinburgh existed to resolve,[5] and so it was to the Commissariot that Jean first turned in effort to force Angus to recognise her as his wife. Initially, the Commissaries ruled in Jean’s favour, but when Angus appealed they reversed their verdict, determining that in fact no marriage had taken place. Jean then took her case to the Court of Sessions.[6] On the 4th of January, a decreet was issued in her favour. But Angus was having none of it: He appealed directly to the House of Lords.

In an interesting 1999 article, Leah Leneman notes that written evidence, “particularly in the man’s own handwriting”, carried a lot of weight when an irregular marriage was disputed.[7] The letter Angus had written to his doctor, naming Jean as his wife, was an important factor in the Lords’ decision to throw out his appeal, which they did on 2 May 1759.

With no one else to turn to, Angus seems to have given up trying to dissolve the marriage — but he didn’t exactly rush back to Jean’s side. In the summer of 1761, Hector McAlister in Arran wrote to his brother Alexander in North Carolina that “he [Loup] does not cohabit with her nor own her, but she has an annuity of thirty pounds a year off him” and that “his estate is much encumbered defending that unhappy plea with his wife”.[8]

As is probably to be expected, this was the usual result of a marital lawsuit. Leneman points out that winning such a case was unlikely to lead to a “happy married life, for the bitterness engendered in the course of the legal action usually made any prospect of an amicable relationship in the future out of the question”.[9] In this, however, Angus and Jean diverge from the norm. At some point not long after the correspondence of 1761, the couple evidently reconciled. In 1765, their son Charles (future 12th of Loup) was born. In 1772, Angus granted a bond in favour of “Mrs Jean McDonald his spouse”, making sure she would be provided for should she outlive him.[10] By 1775, there were three daughters in addition to Charles. And when Jean died in 1812, she was described simply as the “relic [widow] of Angus MacAlester of Loup, Esq.”[11]

copyright @ Lynn McAlister, 2015

[1] Thomas S. Paton, Reports of Cases Decided in the House of Lords upon Appeal from Scotland, from 1757 to 1784, Vol. II (Edinburgh, 1851), p. 31.

[2] Leneman, “Wives and Mistresses in Eighteenth-century Scotland”, in Women’s History Review, vol. 8, no. 4 (1999): 674.

[3] According to Leneman, a ‘regular’ marriage was “one for which banns had been called, and which was subsequently performed in church by a minister”. An ‘irregular’ marriage required neither banns nor a minister, simply the exchange of consent to marry – or even a promise to marry in future – followed by consummation of the relationship. Although fines were sometimes imposed to discourage irregular marriages, they were perfectly legal and recognised by the authorities (p. 673).

[4] Reports of Cases Decided, p. 30

[5] Leneman, p. 673

[6] Patrick Fraser, A Treatise on the Law of Scotland, as Applicable to the Personal and Domestic Relations, Vol. I (Edinburgh, 1846), p. 157.

[7] Leneman, p. 675

[8] McAllister Family Papers, Cumberland County, NC, 1747-1935 (North Carolina Division of Archives & History, July 1996), appendix II, no. 6, p. 3.

[9] Leneman, p. 687

[10] Argyll Particular Register of Sasines, RS 10, vol. 11 (25th March 1778); transcribed by the Clan McAlister of America Scottish Records Project.

[11] The Scots Magazine, vol. 74 (1812), p. 806

Mutineers on Trial

On this day in 1779, a court martial sat in Edinburgh Castle to try three soldiers for mutiny. The soldiers were additionally charged with having “instigated and incited others to be guilty of the same, in which mutiny several of his Majesty’s subjects were killed, and others wounded”.[1]

The charges against these soldiers stemmed from an incident in April, which historian Max Hastings summarises as follows: “Highland soldiers of the 42nd and 71st regiments, abruptly drafted to serve with a detested Glasgow Lowland regiment, refused the order and fought a brief, bloody battle with men of the South Fencibles.”[2] Several people died and many were taken prisoner, but these three alone faced a death sentence.

Among the men who made up the court was Captain Angus M’Alister of the West Fencibles. This M’Alister’s identity is unclear to me, but the fact that he was a captain in the Western (or Argyll) Fencible Regiment provides some clues. Fencible regiments “were different in constitution from the militia, afterwards substituted, as the men were regularly enlisted, and the commissions of the officers signed by the King.”[3] Although raised at time of war, the fencibles did not serve outside of Scotland itself; rather, “[t]hey formed a splendid army of reserve”.[4] The Western Fencible Regiment in which M’Alister served was raised in 1778 by members of the (Campbell of) Argyll family. The majority of its men were recruited from Argyll and the surrounding Highland areas, and leadership of the regiment was overwhelmingly Campbell. Although it is possible that M’Alister might be one of the minority recruited from the southwest Lowlands, the fact that he was an officer, in a regiment whose officers were almost entirely Argyllsmen, suggests that he belonged to one of the West Highland Macalister families who were tenants of the Duke of Argyll.

The soldiers on trial pleaded not guilty to the charges against them. Their defence makes clear how much still separated Highlanders from Lowlanders in the late 18th century. Two of the men, a native of Argyllshire and another of western Invernesshire, spoke no English; the third, from Caithness, could get by in broken English but was certainly not fluent. Furthermore, all three were accustomed to wearing the fillibeg and uncomfortable in Lowland garb. They had enlisted willingly, but each had specifically chosen a Highland regiment, where their own language was spoken and they were allowed to wear the clothes they had always worn.

Upon arriving at Leith in April, however, they were told that they were now to serve under English-speaking officers in regiments that required Lowland dress. This was more than an inconvenience. A “great number of the detachment” protested that they were “incapable of wearing breeches as part of their dress”[5], and for some of them it would have been impossible to understand orders given in English, let alone follow them adequately. It was certainly not what they had signed up for.

It is hard to imagine that M’Alister and his colleagues (more than half of whom belonged to regiments that drew men from the Gaidhealtachd and wore Highland dress) were unsympathetic. Until the sudden change of regiment, all of the accused had behaved impeccably, and they all indicated that they were happy to serve in any other Highland unit. The change of orders had not been clearly explained to them, nor were they told that they could appeal. Furthermore, several witnesses testified that they did not know whether the first shot in the altercation had been fired by the rebels or by the South Fencibles who had been sent to deal with them.[6] Nonetheless, the behaviour of these soldiers and their comrades violated several of the articles of war, and the court had no choice but to declare them guilty and sentence them to death.

Probably to everyone’s relief, this story ended happily. Right before the condemned were to be shot, a message arrived from the king; in light of their previous good behaviour, a full pardon was granted and the prisoners were released to return to their units.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2014

[1]Scots Magazine, vol. 41 (May, 1779), p. 271.

[2] Hastings, The Oxford Book of Military Anecdotes (Oxford University Press, 1986), p. 176.

[3] Peter Handyside MacKerlie, An Account of the Scottish Regiments with Statistics of Each, from 1808 to March 1861, Compiled from the old regimental record books, and monthly returns of each regiment, now rendered to the war department (Edinburgh, 1862), p. 45.

[4] Ibid.

[5]Scots Magazine, vol. 41 (May, 1779), p. 272.

[6]Scots Magazine, vol. 41 (June, 1779), pp. 305-6.

A Tarbert Legacy

On this day in 1705, the Scottish Parliament granted an “Act for four fairs and a weekly mercat in favor of Archbald Mackalester of Tarbet”. This act established four yearly fairs (as well as a weekly market) in the town of East Tarbert in Argyll. It was felt that such events, held “in convenient places”, were of significant benefit to the areas involved. The Tarbert Fairs were to begin on 10th May, 16th July, 19th August, and the 16th of October, and they were to continue for two days. Macalister and his heirs were granted the right to hold these events, to collect tolls and customs and to enjoy other privileges connected with the events.1

The Tarbert Fair did benefit the area – so much so that it outlasted both the original Scottish Parliament (which voted itself out of existence in 1707) and the Macalisters of Tarbert. In 1886, Dugald Mitchell called it “a great institution of the village”, and noted that although livestock and goods were still sold there, Tarbert Fair for most people had become a social event, a chance to meet up with friends and family from other parts of Kintyre and the Isles. By Mitchell’s time, the fair was being held only once a year, on the last Thursday in July, and lasted for three days.2

Today, Tarbert Fair remains one of Tarbert’s most important annual events. It now begins the last Wednesday of July and runs for four days; livestock have disappeared entirely, and instead the fair features music, carnival rides, and other entertainments.3 Instead of drawing visitors from only Kintyre and the south Isles, Tarbert Fair now draws people from all over the world. Archibald Macalister might not recognise the modern incarnation of the Tarbert Fair, but it is his legacy to the town nonetheless.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1]RSP,14 September 1705
[2]Mitchell, pp. 99-100; 77

Sam McAllister’s Sacrifice, or, Greater love hath no man . . .

On this day in 1799, Irishman Sam McAllister gave his life at the siege of Derrynamuck in Wicklow so that nationalist hero Michael Dwyer could escape. Dwyer, a Wicklow-born United Irishman, had taken to the wilderness after the rebels of 1798 were defeated and spent the next few years engaged in a guerrilla war against the king’s forces. Although he was not especially prominent among the leaders of the actual rebellion, his refusal to accept defeat made him locally beloved during his lifetime, and a legend after his death. 

About Sam McAllister, one of Dwyer’s closest associates, not much is known.[1] Based mostly on the fact that he had deserted from the Antrim militia, it has always been assumed that he came from the north; indeed, contemporary reports referred to him as a northerner. He seems to have been highly regarded by everyone, though this might be due partly to his heroic death. Dwyer himself claimed that McAllister’s spirit appeared to him on several later occasions, at least once saving his life again.[2]

What actually happened at Derrynamuck on the night of the 15th is not entirely clear. However, reports of the incident agree on a number of points.[3] Dwyer and his men had taken shelter from a cold, snowy night in three cottages clustered together. Someone tipped off the authorities, and before the men had time to flee the cottages were surrounded. Dwyer asked that the families who lived in these houses be allowed to leave, as they had not sheltered the outlaws willingly, and this was granted. Thereafter, those of Dwyer’s men in the first two cottages surrendered fairly quickly, leaving Dwyer and three others – including Sam McAllister – holed up in the third cottage. The house was set fire and a gunfight ensued, during which two of the men were killed and McAllister’s shooting arm rendered useless by a bullet. At that point, the Antrim desesrter made a fateful decision: He opened the door of the cottage and deliberately stepped into the line of fire. He was killed immediately.

If McAllister’s intention was to buy Dwyer time, it worked. Apparently acting on his comrade’s suggestion, Dwyer used the distraction to duck out of the house and run for his life. He alone escaped capture or death at Derrynamuck, and his campaign against British rule continued until 1803. According to Wicklow historian Chris Lawlor, the importance of that campaign is to be found not in its negligible accomplishments but in the hope it gave to “a Nationalist Ireland that was crying out for heroes” after the defeat of the 1798 rising.[4] If not for McAllister’s self-sacrifice, that hope might have died at Derrynamuck on this day in 1799. 

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1]McAllister is the spelling now accepted for his name, but contemporary reports also used McAlister and McCallister [Charles Dickson, The Life of Michael Dwyer with Some Account of His Companions (Dublin: Browne & Nolan Ltd., 1944), pp. 180, 218]. If his life is not well known, his death has not been forgotten: Aside from numerous songs written about it (most recently ‘Michael Dwyer’s Escape’ in 1991), McAllister was honoured in 1904 with a memorial statue in nearby Baltinglas.
[2]Dickson, p. 180; J T Campion, Michael Dwyer, or the Insurgent Captain of the Wicklow Mountains: A tale of the rising in ’98 (Dublin: H. G. Gill & Son Ltd.), p. 79.
[3]In the 1940s, Charles Dickson searched out the records and accounts that survive; he summarise their content and quotes from many of them in his Life of Michael Dwyer. ‘Michael Dwyer, the Wicklow Chief’,  a paper delivered by Chris Lawlor at the University of Melbourne in 2006, and intended to separate what facts can be known from the many fictions, reached the same conclusion.
[4]Chris Lawlor, ‘Michael Dwyer, the Wicklow Chief’, a paper delivered at the University of Melbourne, 1 August 2006.

A MacAlister Falsely Accused

By early 1746, Hanoverian forces led by the Duke of Cumberland had recaptured Carlisle Castle from its Jacobite garrison, and the tide appeared to be turning against Charles Edward Stuart and his followers. Eager to take advantage of the Bonnie Prince’s inexplicable retreat, and probably wishing to repay the Jacobite horde for having scared the wits out of London, Cumberland’s men set about rounding up as many of the Young Pretender’s adherents as they could find. At some time in February of that year, Archibald MacAlister of Glengarry was arrested near Perth on suspicion of being one of them. 

The reasons for suspecting MacAlister are not given, but his name and place of origin might have been part of the problem. Although the Tarbert chieftain at the time of the ’45 was a Hanoverian, the Macalisters on the whole had always been Jacobites, and most of those who actually turned out for the Rising of 1745-6 served in the regiment of Macdonell of Glengarry. A MacAlister from Glengarry might reasonably have been assumed to have Jacobite sympathies.

This particular MacAlister, however, protested his innocence. As evidence, he offered to obtain a letter from the Presbyterian minister in Glengarry attesting to his loyalty. (The denomination is significant: Although Presbyterians were certainly represented among those fighting for Prince Charles, the vast majority of the Jacobites were Episcopalians, with most of the rest professing Catholics.) In the end it seems that this letter was unnecessary. The authorities soon concluded that MacAlister was not involved with the rebels and he was released.[1]

 Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2013


[1] ‘Declarations of rebel prisoners at Perth’, Reference: B59/30/72(1) 

James Alexander, Earl of Caledon

On this day in 1800, James Alexander was created Earl of Caledon in the peerage of Ireland.

James was born at Londonderry in 1730. His great-great-great-grandfather, John Alexander, was an Ayrshire tenant farmer who followed his landlord, James Cunningham, to northern Ireland in the early 1600s. By his grandfather’s time the family had acquired land of its own, and his father became an alderman in Londonderry. James made his fortune with the Honourable East India Company, a relatively unusual path for an Irishman, holding several important positions in India before he returned to Ireland[1] with enough money to purchase the Caledon estate, as well as several other properties, in 1776. Caledon House was built in 1794.[2]

Although earlier genealogies claimed that the Caledon family descended from the Alexanders of Menstrie, no details of this descent were given, and as John Alexander’s parentage is not known, this connexion cannot be proved.[3] If they are related, then the Alexanders of Caledon, like the Menstrie family, belong to the Clann Alasdair. Regardless of their ancestry, however, the two Alexander kindreds are linked by history. James Cunningham, who obtained the Donegal lands on which John Alexander originally settled, had sold his family’s properties in Scotland to pay off his debts. The purchase of his Irish lands was made possible by means of two substantial loans: one from Robert Alexander, ‘a scion of the Menstry family’, and the other from Sir William Alexander himself. Several years later, when Cunningham’s creditors caught up with him, Sir William foreclosed on the loan. By doing so, he kept the property out of the creditors’ hands until Cunningham’s son was able to purchase it back in 1629, allowing the tenants, including the ancestors of the Earl of Caledon, to remain on the land.[4]

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012


[1]Service with the HEIC was quite common for younger sons of landed families in Scotland and England, and more than a few family fortunes were established or restored in this way, but few Irish families followed this path (Introduction to the Caledon Papers, p. 5, Public Records Office of Northern Ireland).

[3]Sources for the information about James’s descent from John are given at The Peerage.

[4]C. Rogers, ed., Memorials of the Earl of Stirling and the House of Alexander (Edinburgh, 1885), pp. 59-63

The Last Earl of Stirling

On this day in 1739, Henry Alexander, the fifth Earl of Stirling, died. The earls of Stirling belonged to the Alexander family of Menstrie Castle in Stirlingshire. They are thought to descend from Gilbert ‘de Insula’, a son of Alasdair Mòr, who settled in the Lowlands in the mid-1300s. Although the exact descent is unclear, it has always been accepted that the Menstrie family – unlike many other Scottish Alexanders – do in fact belong to the Clann Alasdair. Certainly earlier generations of this family had a good deal of interaction with the Macalisters of Kintyre.

The fifth earl was a private individual who refrained from civic participation, and little is known of his life. His family, however, once wielded considerable influence. They first appear on record in 1505, when Thomas MacAlexander ‘de Menstray’ is named as arbiter in a local land dispute. The fact that he is ‘of’ Menstrie suggests he was the owner of this property; his role as arbiter suggests some degree of local authority. Thomas’s descendant Sir William Alexander (d. 1640) was part of James VI’s court in Scotland and in 1603 he followed the king to London, where he served as tutor to both of James’s crown princes.[1]He was acclaimed as a poet and was an active coloniser, establishing a settlement in Ireland and a colony at Nova Scotia. He already held several titles by the time he was named Earl of Stirling in 1633. Sir William’s eldest son was knighted, briefly governed the Nova Scotia colony, and served on the Privy Council; the second son, a noted architect who served as King’s Master of Work in Scotland, was also knighted. Henry’s grandfather, the third earl, succeeded his brother as Master of Work[2]and established a trading company, and his father was elected Member of Parliament for Berkshire.

The Alexanders’ close association with the Stuarts cost them their position in Scotland after the Civil Wars, and by Henry’s time Menstrie Castle had long since passed out of their possession. With Henry, the family’s titles too would be lost. The fifth earl left no heirs, nor did his brothers, and when Henry Alexander died on this day in 1739, his titles fell dormant. Although the earldom has been claimed by other branches of the family[3], none of these claims have ever been recognised.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012


[1]Sir William’s first charge was James’s eldest son, Crown Prince Henry. After Prince Henry died in 1612, William became tutor to the second son, the future Charles I.
[2]R. S. Mylne, ‘The Masters of Work to the Crown of Scotland’, Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, vol. xxx (January 10, 1896).  
[3] Unlike titles in the English and, later, British peerage, some Scottish titles can pass to female heirs should the male lines fail. Although none of the 4th earl’s sons had children, some of his daughters did.

Macalisters in the First US Federal Census

On this day in 1790, the first federal census of the newly independent United States was taken. The states at that time were New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia (which included Alabama and Mississippi). Also enumerated were the districts of Kentucky, Maine and Vermont, and the Southwest Territory, now called Tennessee.

The results of this first census are extremely useful for establishing the approximate number, and the whereabouts, of Macalisters in the U.S. at that time. We can see, for instance, that although Pennsylvania had 31 Macalister households, there were none at all in Rhode Island or Connecticut. North Carolina had 21 Macalister households; Maryland had 16; New Hampshire, 14; South Carolina, 13; and New York, 5. Maine, Vermont and Massachusetts had 4, 3, and 2, respectively.[1] 

Unfortunately the picture is less clear for other areas. The returns for Virginia, Delaware, Georgia, Kentucky, New Jersey, and Tennessee were destroyed in the early 1800s – most of them when Washington DC was burned during the War of 1812. State censuses, tax lists, and other contemporary documents have allowed the Census Bureau to re-compile much of the information that was lost with these returns, but the dates vary slightly and the totals are less clear. In Virginia, for example, although numerous Macalister men are named in tax, military and other records between the years 1764 and 1801, the Records of the State Enumerations, 1782-1785 don’t list a single Macalister household. On the other hand, Bob McAllister of the Clan McAlister of America found at least 21 using the actual Virginia state census records of only a few counties. I found 14 in New Jersey and 22 in Georgia (including areas that now make up Mississippi and Alabama).  

Despite these limitations, the U.S. federal census of 1790 offers a valuable glimpse of the Clan Alister in that country’s early history. Fortunately, other countries also held censuses early in their history; future posts will look at what they have to say about their own Macalisters.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012


[1] One of the things I found particularly interesting was how consistently the name tends to be spelled within any given area. This is likely to be a reflection of the enumerator’s preference rather than a true indication of how individual families actually spelt their names.

After Culloden

On this day in 1746, about 85 members of Macdonell of Glengarry’s regiment surrendered to British military personnel in Inverness. These men had fought for Prince Charles at the battle of Culloden nearly a month earlier. Among them were six Macalisters: Alexander vic Evan, Donald vic Evan, and John Og of Blairy; Donald of Delcaitach; John vic Ian Roy of Clune Beg; William of Polmale; and Angus vic Ian, whose origins are not given.[1]

The majority of those who surrendered at this time were transported to the colonies. A few of them died in prison. The transportees mostly went to Barbados or Antigua, as large-scale transportation to North America had, for the most part, ended by this time.[2] Exactly what happened to these individual Macalisters is not recorded, but it seems likely that they shared the fate of their regimental brothers.

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012


[1] Muster Roll of Prince Charles Edward Stuart’s Army, 1745-6, p. 154. Another group from this regiment would surrender ten days later.
[2] The Prisoners of the ’45, edited from the State Papers, vol. 1-3.