Macalisters in the 1694 Hearth Tax lists

On this day in 1694, Alexander McArthur, subcollector of the hearth tax in the shire of Argyll and Bute, presented to the authorities his list of ‘hearths’ (or dwellings) in these shires. The hearth tax was levied in the 1690s to raise money for one of William II’s wars against Catholic France. Each hearth was assessed at 14 shillings, so that bigger dwellings – those with multiple hearths – paid more. (The very poor were not required to pay the hearth tax.)[1] The lists compiled for this purpose thus give the name of the landholder, the location of the dwelling, and the number of hearths in each.

These lists provide a glimpse into who was living in the area at this point, but some caution is needed as the accuracy and completeness varies from shire to shire. There are nine Macalisters listed in Kintyre; in Knapdale (part of which is now considered North Kintyre) there are eleven. They are settled in small clumps from as far north as Lochgilphead all the way south to the Mull of Kintyre.  The Alexander McAllester residing at Ardpatrick, which is where the Loup family lived at this time, probably represents that family; and John McAllester ‘of Lochead’ – Macalister of Ceannlochcaolisport – is also named. But some Macalister families known to have been in the area are omitted. The Balinakill estate is not listed under any name at all, although it’s possible that Balinakill was between residents and therefore lacked inhabitants to tax.[2] A more glaring omission is Archibald Macalister of Tarbert. There are two Macalisters in Tarbert proper, but neither is an Archibald, and the only Archibald living on Tarbert lands is found not in the castle but on a multiple-tenant farm at Glenakill.

There are also Macalisters who appear on the list in disguise, such as Isobel Campbell of Daill. Isobel was the daughter of Archibald Macalister of Balinakill. She married Malcolm McKellar, wadsetter of Daill, in 1673; staying on the property after his death in 1686, she married again, this time to a Mr Campbell.

Macalister hearths in Kintyre:

Hector & Angus McAlester – 2 hearths in Kilcolmkill (now Keil)

Ronald McAllester & Charles McAllester, 1 each in Kilirvan

Ronald McAllester – 1 in Campbelton

Donald McAllister – 1 in Ulodell (parish of Killean, Saddell & Kilchenzie)

Archibald McAllester – 1 in Bellochger (same)

Allexander McAllister – 1 in Auchaluskin & Killean (same)

Angus McIllester – 1 in Drumore (near Campbelton)

Hendrie McAllester – 1 in Putachan (Killean)

Macalister hearths in Knapdale:

Allexander McAllester – 5 hearths in Ardffadrick (Ardpatrick)

John & Hector McAllester (along with three Smiths, possibly brothers) – 5 hearths in Ashens

Archibald McAllester (along with three other men) – 4 hearths in Glenakill

Allexander and Coll McAllester (along with quite a few others) – 12 hearths in Tarbert

Charles McAllester – 1 in Lochhead

John McAllester of Lochead (probably Ceanlochcaolisport family) – 1 in Lochead

Allexander McAllester – 1 in Ellary

Ranald McAllester – 1 in Brenfeorlin

Duncan McAllester – 1 in Barbe (Barbrae Ross)

Copyright (c) Lynn McAlister, 2012

[2]John Dow Macalister of Balinakill died in 1693; five years later the estate was purchased from a Campbell family by Archibald Macalister.


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.