Wednesday, September 24, 2014

My McLeods In Scotland - Donald and Mary

McLeods Everywhere

Dunvegan Castle, Skye, Scotland
There are MacLeods (or McLeods and other spelling variations) just about everywhere. One of my personal favourites is Mary McLeod Bethune (1875-1955) an amazing African American leader. There are many reasons for the international spread of McLeods, one being the decades long Clearances in Scotland that took anguished McLeods away on sailing ships to the utmost parts of the earth. There was also the role Scots played in the slave trade. Another was the missionary focus of some Scottish Presbyterian churches that sent followers to many lands.

McLeod Clans

Macleod of Macleod crest badge
The MacLeod clan claims its descent from Leod, a younger son of Olaf the Black, one of the last Norse kings of Man. Leod who lived in the 13th century, married a daughter of the Norse steward of Skye, which brought the family to Dunvegan. It is said that Leod had two sons, Tormond and Torquil.  From them the clan divided into two main branches. Tormond began the line of the MacLeods of Harris and Dunvegan, whose chief is MacLeod of MacLeod. Torquil began the line of the MacLeods of Lewis, whose chief is MacLeod of the Lewes.  Clan MacLeod of the Lewes at its height held extensive lands in the Western Isles and west coast of Scotland, including Assynt. In the 16th century the MacLeods of the Lewes were involved in a succession of feuds with neighbouring clans and with members of their own clan. In the 17th century the main line of Lewis MacLeods became extinct, and the chieftainship of this branch passed to the MacLeods of Raasay. Thus the MacLeods of Dunvegan gained ascendancy.


Clan Macleod of the Lewes crest badge
There are recent genealogy and DNA projects that are challenging traditional MacLeod histories that can be found on-line and need to be taken note of.
These days both the Clan MacLeod of the Lewes and Clan MacLeod are represented by ‘Associated Clan MacLeod Societies’ and the chiefs of the two clans, with MacLeod societies across the world.  They hold parliaments and world gatherings.

Clan McLeod of Skye

My mother, Joy McLeod and her siblings got very interested in McLeod matters during the visit to New Zealand of Dame Flora McLeod, Chief of Clan McLeod in the mid 1950s. Although they never did any specific research on their ancestors the family subsequently associated with the McLeod seat at Dunvegan Castle on Skye.
Dunvegan Castle
About 1962 my mother had a private meeting and afternoon tea with Dame Flora McLeod followed by planting a tree together in the grounds of Dunvegan Castle. I don’t know exactly where.

Clan McLeod of Lewes

Farr Bay John Thomson Atlas of Scotland 1832
Farr Bay, Sutherland, Scotland
Research into my McLeod ancestors shows that my 4XG grandparents Donald McLeod and Mary McKay lived in Farr and Reay, Sutherland County, Scotland. I think it is likely (although I have no proof) that Donald McLeod’s family belonged to the Clan MacLeod of Lewes who were well established on the Scottish mainland, rather than the MacLeods of Skye and Dunvegan. Children of Donald and Mary were:
  • Christian born about 1780 in Farr 
  • William born about 1789 in Reay
  • John born about 1795 in Farr
These birth dates are calculated from later census records.

Crofter and Shepherd

Donald was a crofter and shepherd. Crofters in Sutherland were said to be very poor, but also frugal and devout. Life was very hard, for example, the year 1782 was a disastrous one in Sutherland. Severe weather in spring delayed the preparation of the ground and the sowing of the seed and, in the autumn, snow fell before the late harvest was gathered. A great many cattle perished for want of fodder and by April of the following year, the people’s own food supplies were finished. Six thousand bolls of barley and rye were sent to relieve the situation.
Limpits at Farr Bay which were used as a food source
At the croft the family were likely to have a few small sheep that were kept for milk, cheese, wool and occasionally meat. If Donald was working as a shepherd for one of the Farr or Reay landlords he would have been away from home for months on end leaving Mary and the children to work the croft and pay the rent probably in goods or services to the rich landowner.

Sheep farming

Various sheep farming ventures by wealthy landowners and tacksmen had been part of the Sutherland landscape for much of the 18th century and sheep farming was firmly established by 1800. The resulting clearances of crofters to make room for sheep were beginning. One name that catches my eye is a James Anderson, a wealthy fishing investor in Sutherland, who in 1789 was dealing in sheep possibly to feed fishermen. Some records show Anderson as a heartless and selfish man clearing tenants at whim. He is of interest to me as he left Sutherland about 1803/4 and leased the Ausdale farm. Ausdale, as a previous blog shows, was next door to Badbea and the two settlements were integrally connected.
Close up of the Borgue of Ousdale showing the remains 
of very old settlements

Borgue of Ausdale

Sometime in the late 18th century Donald and Mary McLeod also left Farr, Sutherland and took their family twenty miles walk across the Highlands to Ausdale. I don’t know why they moved, but with evictions starting things were grim. Donald was a shepherd and with new flocks of sheep being established on the Langwell estate, maybe Donald saw work opportunities there.

1744 Donald Mclowd at Ausdale
As well there had long been McLeods in Ausdale and I think they may have been clansmen. For example in 1744 there was a Donald McLowd in Alisdale (Ausdale) with a daughter Barbra baptised. In 1798 a James McLeod of Ausdale presented his baby daughter Margaret for baptism. The Latheron parish birth records from 1740 to 1808 show about 50 babies born to McLeod families during those years.
Looking toward the Borgue of Ausdale from the A9
Ausdale broch
Donald and Mary were able to lease a small patch of land at the Borgue of Ausdale down the valley near the ancient Pictish broch. About the time they moved there (give or take a few years) James Anderson leased Ausdale from Sir John Sinclair, turned up with his family and started farming sheep. The tenants who had been on the main Ausdale land for generations were evicted either by Sir John as part of the lease agreement or by Anderson. Many went to Badbea. Anderson promptly built himself a substantial house and started to establish the infrastructure needed for a sheep farm. He leased sheep off Sir John Sinclair. It is possible that Donald McLeod had met or even worked for Anderson in Sutherland and got work for him at Ausdale. With the amount of development happening there must have been labour needed and James Anderson certainly evicted anyone who was no use to him But the project was not a success. Donald Sage in Domestica Memorabilia says of Anderson at Ausdale:
  • "After building upon it [Ausdale] a most substantial dwelling-house, office houses, sheep fanks or folds, and cultivating not a little of the surrounding moor, he gave it up in disgust."

The Anderson house in 2011. Those evicted in 1804 when Anderson built and moved into this house had not a roof over their heads. The porch is a later edition. The bad angle is my camera not the house!

Evicted again

Whether he worked for Anderson or not, Donald and Mary somehow survived at the Borgue of Ausdale for perhaps a decade.
They were again evicted and had to trek back across Sutherland probably to Craggy in Reay, to live with their daughter Christy and her husband Hugh MacKay. Son William had joined the 78th (Highlanders) Regiment of Foot. Youngest son John stayed working on the Langwell estate as a shepherd.  When Donald and Mary died is not known, but they were most likely buried in the Bunahoun cemetery where Christy and Hugh were later buried.

Bunahoun cemetery the flat stone is 
Christy McLeod and Hugh Mackay's

Wild flowers in Farr Bay


  1. Donald and Mary McLeod are also my 4xG grandparents. My line continues through their son John McLeod and Christina Sutherland. John and Christina had 11 children. The second youngest son Farquhar McLeod married Jane Sutherland and immigrated to New Zealand in 1859. Many of his brothers and sisters followed. Farquhar and Jane's second son James G McLeod was born in New Zealand along with 8 other brothers and sisters. James McLeod married Ann Wilson in 1892. James and Ann had 8 children one being my grandmother Annie Florence McLeod born 1896. Annie married Robert Jessop in 1916 who had 8 children. One of those children Louis Jessop is my father. My name is Jillian Jessop and I live in New Zealand.

  2. Hello Jillian - I am so pleased to get a message from you. I have a lot of information about Farquhar and his family - I even have a good photo of him. I also live in New Zealand - I blog under a nom-de-plume. I realise that I have not blogged about the family of John and Christina McLeod so I have just started a new blog called McLeods of Rumsdale - but at the rate I am going it will take me ages to get to Farqufar and his family. I would really like to exchange some information with you. I network with a woman in Australia whose husband is also a decendant of Farquhar and Jane. Can you please send me an email to and I will get back to you so maybe we can talk on the phone. Best regards