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West Coast Region ~ Codroy District

Scottish Migration Patterns to Codroy District

Highlands Scots Migration to Southwestern Newfoundland: A Study of Kinship

Rosemary E. Ommer

Writers on the Highland Scots in Canada frequently hint at some kind of spatial ordering of the immigrant population and their descendants. Accents, customs, and folklore in Canadian areas of Highland Scottish settlement, such as Cape Breton, suggest that there still exist today local groups whose antecedents are rooted in particular Scottish source areas. Dunn (1968:141), for example, comments: "The Highland emigrants from each particular district of Scotland settled in groups together when they came to Cape Breton…. Today more than 100 years later, the offspring of these settlers speak Gaelic with a Lewis or a Barra or a North Uist or a South Uist accent, depending on the locality [i.e. in Cape Breton] in which they were reared." Yet, kinship as a rationale for the manner in which original Scots immigrants located themselves in the New World has not been examined.

Generally, the conclusions of most studies of trans-Atlantic migrations have been that mobility, with few exceptions, strains and weakens kinship ties. Handlin (1951), for example, emphasized the isolation and disorientation of the individual immigrants torn loose from all the familial ties of the homeland. Recently, studies of Canadian immigrants reveal that unrelated individuals or the nuclear family dominated the social structure of the immigrant stream across the Atlantic (see, for example, Mannion, 1974).

Since it would appear that the Highland Scots emigrations to Canada do not fit this model, it becomes essential to examine the mechanisms that operated to influence this seemingly atypical migration. Johnston (1971) has established the importance of kinship in the retention of population within an area; it is suggested that the importance of kin must be considered as a cohesive factor among social groups under conditions of mobility also. Despite the evidence offered by anthropologists, sociologists, and historians, the study of kinship has yet to achieve prominence in geographical research on migration. Even Mikesell, in a cogent argument for links between geographers and anthropologists, does not recognize the value of studies of complex kinship structure for geographers: " … with the possible exception of some highly technical work on kinship . . . virtually the entire range of anthropological research is both intelligible to geographers and relevant to geography" (1967:617-34). However, it is precisely this unwillingness to grasp what Wagner and Mikesell have called the "inner workings of culture" that has weakened and obscured the findings of those few geographical studies which do concern themselves with kinship. Johnston (op. cit.) in Britain, and Brunger (1973) and Bohland (1970) in North America reflect a general unawareness of the intricacies inherent in anthropological concepts concerning kinship: the first two confine themselves to same-surname (only agnatic) ties, while Bohland is constrained by simplistic definitions of kinship structure, specifically the conjugal/extended family.

A notable exception is Macpherson’s historical study of kinship and land tenure in the Scottish Highlands (1969: see also 1966, 1967, and 1968). He has uncovered an intricate and delicate balance in the functioning of familial relationships which operated locally in the peasant society of the Scottish Highlands, under primarily, but not exclusively, male inheritance patterns. It was on these complex relationships that land tenure patterns were based, and Macpherson has demonstrate that kinship was a critical elements in the social, economic, and territorial organization of the society as it operated until the mid-19th century. Whereas Macpherson studies a group of Highland Scots who had a fixed territorial base, this study will examine Highland Scots at the beginning of the 19th century when they began to emigrate. More specifically, it will examine the effects of kinship on the migration and subsequent settlement of Highland Scots from the West Coast of Scotland to Cape Breton and thence to southwestern Newfoundland in the 19th century.

The investigation proceeded retrospectively, identifying first the Cape Breton source areas for the Newfoundland immigrants and then the Scottish source areas for the Cape Breton immigrants. This was done in order that the reasons for spatial selectivity in these successive migrations could be determined. In so doing, it became necessary to refer back to the social structure of the Highlands society at its original source, particularly the clan system, regarded as the frame of reference without which the migration could not be fully understood.

The clan comprised three nested groupings: the clan itself, the sliochd, and the minor clann, the inter-relationships of which must be understood both diachronically and synchronically (Fig 8-1). Diachronically, the clan was an agnatic descent group, consisting of a number of major lineages (silochdan) each composed of a number of minor lineages (cloinne) of lesser generational depth.1 Synchronically, every living member of a clan was also a member of one of its sliochdan and of one of the localized cloinne comprising his or her sliochd. In a contemporary sense the Highland clan was a patrilineal structure of extended families. Territorially, men of the minor clann – brothers and close cousins – tended to possess conjoint rights to usufruct in a single farm, often in community with others. Under threat, or in any kind of transaction involving such rights, the principle of "ancient possession" was invoked, and support could be expected from the leading men of the sliochd to which the minor kin-group belonged; if the threat came from outside the larger clan, the chief could be expected to intervene on behalf of his clansmen; with the clan he would arbitrate disputes.

Marriage patterns developed over time between the various cloinne, and therefore sliochdan, as they grew sufficiently distant: marriage was usually confined to persons who were separated by more than two degrees of cousinship. A pattern of both clan endogamous and clan exogamous marriages developed, and both preserved existing rights (clan endogamous) and acquired rights (clan exogamous). ‘Follower’ clans were sometimes acquired in this manner, although they were also acquired as the result of political decisions.

The categories of clan, sliochd, and clann were also important as an identification system. A clansman could be referred to generically as, for example, "a Macdonald," or more precisely, "of the Slioch-an-Taighe branch of the Keppoch Macdonalds," or familiarly, as "Domhnuill MacAonghais ‘ic Neil’ ic Eoghain" (that is, by his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather). This system of patronymics served to identify clansmen, both to outsiders and to themselves, according to varying levels of familiarity.

For the purposes of this paper, what is important is that these categories defined the social and economic position of Highland clansmen regardless of where they might find themselves. Therefore, if facets of the clan system had been preserved during the trans-Atlantic migration, one could expect the Highland Scots migrants would be found in groups of families related to one another and aware of the precise nature of the relationship. Immigrant Scots in Codroy Valley, Newfoundland were examined in this respect.


The Scots in Codroy Valley

Codroy Valley lies in the southwestern corner of Newfoundland, facing the Gulf of St. Lawrence (8-2). An investigation of oral evidence consistently dates the Scots immigration as having commenced in the year 1841. Census data after this date are not helpful, in that all emigrants from Nova Scotia are classed as "British colonial" and are not distinguished by ethnic origin or religion – all being Roman Catholic. Parish registers become continuous only after 1867; prior to that date entries are intermittent. Oral evidence, parish registers, and government documents, taken together, combine to give a history of the immigration which indicates its continuation over a twenty-year period, ceasing about 1860. The source of the emigration, in all but a few cases, was Inverness County, Cape Breton, and the migrants were not only Highland Scots in ethnic origin, but also Irish and Acadian. Although precise figures of each ethnic group cannot be calculated because of incomplete census data, ethnic backgrounds have been generally identified from parish records and oral evidence. Surname data had to be treated with caution: for example, a name such as O’Quinn, which appears to be Irish in origin, was in fact an anglicization of Aucoin, an Acadian name; likewise the repeated occurrence of Scottish surnames did not necessarily indicate that people of the same surname were related. Different surnames, therefore, were used to indicate, not the correct number of original nuclear families involved in the migration, but its proportionate ethnic components. Of the 37 surnames in the study area, 15 were French or Acadian, 9 were Irish, and 13 were Scots.

Table 8-1 shows the distribution of ethnic groups in the study area twenty or more years after the migration. The Scots dominated Little River and Highlands, but almost all settlements had an intermingling of Scots and others.

Table 8-2 shows that from a total of 51 verifiable Scottish ‘moves’ into southwest Newfoundland, 19 had originated in Broad Cove (Inverness County), 11 in Margaree, 5 each in Mabou and Judique, 5 in other parts of Inverness County, while the remaining 6 were from other areas in the Gulf of St. Lawrence. A ‘move’ consisted of at least one nuclear family; some extended families also moved, but since their exact number could not be determined, the number of moves represents an underestimate of the total number of nuclear families involved in the migration. A breakdown of origins by settlement shows the highly restricted nature of the source areas over a twenty year migration interval, in which Broad Cove and Margaree were dominant. This suggests that a selective process was operating among the Scots. Broad Cove and Margaree were, therefore, examined in order to establish motivations for the movement to Newfoundland, and the social composition of the migrant stream.


The Scots in Cape Breton

MacDonald (1939:470) comments of the Scots migrants into Cape Breton: "They sent home such favourable accounts of the country that many of their friends and relatives were persuaded to join them . . . " By 1836, the population of Cape Breton was over 30,000, most of which resulted from an extended wave of Scottish immigration. This movement, which started in the late 1700s and continued to about 1850, included the majority of the initial settlers of Broad Cove and Margaree.

Table 1
Ethnic Components of Codroy Valley and Highlands c. 1880*
  English Irish French Scots Others Total % Scots
Codroy Harbour 18 7 4 3 -- 32 8.8
Highlands 4 2 -- 12 -- 18 66.6
N. Bank G Codroy River 12 13 3 4 1 33 12.1
S. Bank G Codroy River 8 12 25 23 1 69 33.3
Little River -- 1 1 37 11 39 94.8
  42 35 33 79 2 191 40.9
Sources: Searston Parish Mission Register, oral evidence, and cadastral map of Highlands.

*Numbers designate heads of household for all but Highlands, where they refer to pioneer males owning land.


It differed from an earlier wave of Scottish immigration into Canada in that it represented an exodus of poor people of lower social status than those involved in the 1770 migration (Adam, 1919:280-93; 1920: 73-89). Writers on this immigration have concluded that actual numbers will never become obtainable, since many immigrants did not enter Canada through the normal ports of entry. Flewwelling (1949:75) states that "If they were landed in Halifax, Pictou or Sydney, their arrival was usually recorded by customs officials or in the newspapers; if, however, they were set down in a lonely harbour or on uninhabited shores . . . no one knew how many began their struggle with the wilderness alone, or in pioneer settlements where their arrival was unrecorded."

However, for certain individual areas of immigration, an account of the personnel involved in the process of initial settlement may be, at least partially, obtained. MacDougall’s History of Inverness County (1922) offers valuable insights into pioneer history of the area, and similar books exist for other areas settled by Highland Scots. These throw light on such matters as pioneer population, the internal mobility of this population after initial settlement, the marriage patterns of the early generations, economy and land use, and inter-ethnic and kin relations of the pioneers and their descendants. Such valuable documentary evidence has been under-utilized by researchers, perhaps because of the awkwardness of the material (which is essentially a collection of genealogies with commentaries by the author), and because an appreciation of the diagnostic features of the clan system is needed before it becomes possible to analyze the information contained in such books.

Macpherson (1969) has used the joint criteria of surname, residential location, and juxtaposition with other surnames in a given area to identify clan affiliation in Scotland. The application of his criteria to the information presented in such a genealogical account as MacDougall’s History, corroborated and supplemented by census data, oral evidence, and parish records, provides a methodology for the assessment of a pioneer Highland Scots population in terms of clan structure. Religious affiliation has been found to be a useful adjunct to Macpherson’s original criteria. MacDougall’s genealogies reveal that the main Scottish source areas of the Broad Cove/Margaree areas were Arisaig, South Uist, Barra, Skye, and Lochaber. All immigrants came from territory historically under the domination of Clan Donald (Fig. 8-3); the major source areas were within the territory of the Clanranald branch of Clan Donald, while the other areas had, in Scotland, links with the Clanranald family through marriage.

The MacDougall genealogies and the National Census for Cape Breton (1861)2 also permitted the identification of the group of surnames found juxtaposed in Broad Cove and Margaree, as well as the particular Scottish location of many of the immigrants. For example, the genealogies show that MacLellans, MacIsaacs, MacDonalds, and Gillises, all from Morar (Scotland), were pioneers in Broad Cove/Margaree, as were MacIsaacs from Canna and MacLeods from Eigg. All were Roman Catholic. It is this evidence of surname, Scottish location, religious affiliation, and juxtaposition of surnames within the Broad Cove/Margaree district, jointly considered, that permitted the allocation of the pioneers of Broad Cove to Clanranald. For example, whereas the surname MacDonald alone could not define clan affiliation beyond the broad classification Clan Donald, MacDonald or Morar—Roman Catholic and living in the same location as Gillises and MacLellans – allowed specific identification with Clanranald. The pioneers of Margaree could not be identified with any one clan, but it will be shown later that the Newfoundland migrants from both Broad Cove and Margaree were clearly of Clan Donald origin, and most were specifically of Clanranald affiliation.

From the genealogical details found in MacDougall, however, these Broad Cove immigrants were linked not only by clan ties, but also by ties of close kinship. Some of the kin kinks were specifically recorded, as in the following excerpt taken from seven pages of genealogy devoted to the Gillises of Margaree: "Other Morar Gillises who settled at South West Margaree were Archy Gillis (Ban) Egypt, John Gillis (Mac Raoneuill ruaith ‘ic Alistair) an uncle and cousin, respectively, of Alexander Gillis (mac Ian ic Alistair) and Allan Gillis Ban (Mac Alistair ic Ian ic Dhugail)…" (MacDougall, op. cit.: 401).

The excerpt is important, not only because it supplies a clear example of the migration of kin from a specific Scottish source area to a specific locale in Cape Breton, but also because it exemplifies the continued usage of Scottish patronymics in the Cape Breton context. That these patronymic designations were preserved over four generations following the migration – MacDougall wrote in the early 1920s – emphasizes the continuing awareness of Cape Breton Highlanders of their kin connections. It also provides the researcher with an invaluable tool for the identification of kin who have not been grouped together in MacDougall’s genealogies, in particular for the identification of affinal kin, who might otherwise be ‘lost’. For example, the following excerpt, from a six-page genealogy of McLellans (op. cit.:393) shows how the patronymic provides precise identification of affinal kin links: "In 1826 James McLellan, his wife and his son Angus, and two daughters, . . . came here from Morar … . This James MacLellan was also the paternal uncle of the wife of John McLellan, big (Iain macAoghnais ic Neil) who lived at Rear Broad Cove… . He was also the maternal uncle of Alexander Gillis (macIain ic Alistair)… ." That is, James was the maternal uncle of the Alexander Gillis, who patronymic was given in the previous excerpt. The affinal kin links shown in MacDougall’s genealogies of Cape Breton Highlanders allows a more detailed analysis of Scottish kin networks than merely agnatic relationships would have permitted. This awareness of affinal links in Cape Breton was also found among the later migrants to southwestern Newfoundland and their descendants, and raises a question of one facet of Scottish kinship which has so far remained unresearched. Macpherson (1968), however, has noted that clan-exogamous marriage in Scotland was functional, in that it provided "new blood" for the local clann, whereas clan endogamy reinforced the cohesion of the whole clan. It may be that such a mechanism operated in Cape Breton as indicated by the specific awareness of affinal kin links shown above, and repeatedly, in MacDougall’s genealogies.

Clearly, the system of patronymics was transferred from Scotland to Cape Breton, and it was there adapted so that a newly-developing Cape Breton-based set of patronymics could serve to identify later generations in their Cape Breton context. One such example is that of the McLellan family of Broad Cove Marsh, of whom MacDougall comments. "There is that branch of the McLellan family locally identified as [Cloinn Fhearchair] branching out from five brothers, namely: Archibald, Donald, Alexander, John and Ronald . . . of B[road] C[ove] Marsh" (p. 369). It is significant that this identification systems was transferred to Cape Breton Island, both is usage and motivation, reinforcing the traditional Highland awareness of kin ties in a situation that might have been expected to sunder them. Quantification of information in MacDougall’s genealogies, based on the analysis of patronymics, reveals that the number of pioneer adult males who were already related to adults other than their wives on arrival in the Broad Cove/Margaree district was 134 persons out of a total adult male pioneer population of 188 persons. That is, 71 percent of the pioneer population of the district were related kin before they left Scotland. When the number of other adults in the Gulf of St. Lawrence to whom these 134 persons were related was calculated, the number of these with kin ties rose by a mere 4 percent, and these other relatives were spread throughout Inverness County, Pictou, and Antigonish. In other words, the pioneer population of Broad Cove/Margaree may be said to represent a core of related kin.

It is suggested that if a different district were examined and identical calculations made, similar results would be obtained. In this respect, however, it is important to note that such selectivity cannot have been a product of all migrations direct from the Scottish source areas. The mechanics of the Highland emigrations involved too many different methods of recruitment and passage: people left from Glasgow, Aberdeen, Edinburgh and from small bays in the Highlands such as tobermory, singly and in groups, and it cannot be concluded that they were all organized by kin at source. Indeed, a feature of the pioneer settlement of Inverness County is the considerable mobility demonstrated by some families for whom the initial migration process had resulted in their being scattered all around the Gulf of St. Lawrence. One example is that of a shipload of early settlers who arrived in Pictou in the year 1791, some of whom went to Parrsboro, in Cumberland County. MacDougall and oral evidence record the subsequent move of families from Parrsboro to Broad Cove Marsh and its vicinity, settling near families of the same Scottish source area and the same immigration: two Kennedy brothers from Canna and a McLeod and MacDonald from Eigg. In the following generation, intermarriage took place between the MacLeod and Kennedy families, and branches of the Kennedy and MacDonald families later migrated to southwestern Newfoundland. There, intermarriage again took place in the following generation, between the offspring of the (Newfoundland) marriage of a Kennedy daughter to a Campbell (who had himself originally come from Strathlorne, near Broad Cove, Cape Breton), and the offspring of the main Kennedy line; thus it was a second-cousin marriage, although it was not recorded as such in the parish register for Codroy Valley. Such marriages served to reaffirm kinship ties in a migration context, just as the clan-endogamous marriages in Scotland had served to reaffirm clan cohesion in a territorial sense.

The evidence for the Scotland to Broad Cove/Margaree migration indicates that the transfer of the clann had occurred. The concepts of lineage connection and the larger clan were also transferred in the migration, and operated in terms of social interaction and settlement in the early years, although the political, territorial, and economic complex of which they were an intrinsic part did not exist in the New World. However, the basic local kin structure of the clan system was not destroyed by migration.

Figures 8-4 and 8-5 show the Broad Cove/Margaree bias towards particular Scottish source areas and particular surnames. They further show that the emigration from these places to southwestern Newfoundland was not in any way a random selection of the pioneer population of Broad Cove and Margaree. In both cases, a large percentage of the migrants were of the surname ‘MacIsaac’; in the case of Broad Cove, the Scottish source areas for the Newfoundland migrants were predominantly Moidart and Canna, whereas in the case of Margaree, Moidart and Morar were the predominant Scottish source areas. In post-emigration Broad Cove and Margaree, the relative number of MacIsaacs decreased considerably, whereas the percentage of Gillises increased. After the Scots emigrated to Newfoundland, Margaree’s population was completely rearranged: the Irish were almost totally absent, according to the Census of 1861 and oral evidence. The brevity of Irish settlement can be accounted for by the fact that many of these settlers arrived late in the Cape Breton immigration period, occupied marginal land temporarily, and moved on within a generation, claiming that the best land had been taken up. The reasons for the selective Scottish emigrations are more problematic. Much of the Scottish in-migration to the Cape Breton shore was completed between 1800 and 1840, while the out-migration from this shore (not only to Newfoundland, but also to Upper Canada, New England, Australia and New Zealand) appears to have gained impetus as in-migration decreased (1840-1860). This time sequence may be indicative of land pressure; oral evidence, both in Cape Breton and the Codroy Valley, strongly supports this explanation.3

Reasons for the selection of southwestern Newfoundland as a destination are also difficult to establish firmly. However, Margaree and Broad Cove are similar in their physical features to Codroy Valley: both have wide flood plains and extensive intervale land. Furthermore, Margaree represented the ‘boundary’ of British settlement on the West Coast of Cape Breton. The shores to the north were settled by Acadians, and the next available area was across the Cabot Strait in Codroy Valley, where the quality of the land and a good salmon fishery were already known to the Margaree Scots by the year 1842. A Scots visitor from Margaree to Codroy Valley in the same year noted that he had heard, "the land on both sides of the river is of excellent quality and would admit of extensive settlement." And that the "Codroy was a very fine river for salmon."4

Although it seems likely that good land, a perceived need for an expanding frontier, and a similar physical environment were important factors in the migration to southwestern Newfoundland, oral evidence from the descendants of the migrants themselves provides further insight into their motivation. The prospect of confederation with Canada seems to have been important, threatening to impose financial penalties on all land not in production. Since the Scots held relatively large lots compared to other ethnic groups in the area—two to three hundred acres was common—much of it kept in timber rather than farmed—confederation would have restricted their methods of land holding.5 Insecurity of tenure in cape Breton, as a result of absentee landlordism, was also widely cited as an important ‘push’ factor in the move to Codroy. When land pressure is considered in conjunction with tenurial difficulties, the situation must have seemed reminiscent of these conditions which helped to promote the original Scottish migrations. It is not too surprising that the emigrants were a land-hungry people—a possible explanation for the large acreage of their New World lots—determined to prevent past deprivations from repeating themselves, as these emigrants seem to have thought they were threatening to do.

Yet, although these factors may comprise the general rationale for the migration, they are inadequate as an explanation for its selectivity. If such economic ‘push’ factors were the sole reason for the emigration it would be expected that late settlers, if forced to occupy marginal lands, would be amongst the first who would want to leave; and this was the case with the Margaree Irish. Likewise, the earliest settlers might find that their expanding families had insufficient land. Such factors did not affect all Newfoundland Scots immigrants; some were affected by one, some by another, and those who might have been expected to move first did not necessarily do so. In fact the opposite occurred: not all MacIsaacs owned poor or insufficient land, and one family was known to have owned as much as six hundred acres on the banks of Broad Cove; yet they sold out and were among the very first to come to Codroy, Newfoundland in 1841 (MacDougall, op. cit:326).

It appears that some social factor or factors operated to encourage an emigration of MacIsaacs. Within the context of an operative clan/kin system in Broad Cove and Margaree, rooted in a localized combination of Scottish source areas, it is unlikely that social pressures, derived ultimately from Scotland, were functioning to promote this bias. The MacIsaacs were socially unimportant in Scotland in the dying years of the Scottish clan system, and the immigration into Broad Cove and Margaree of more prominent Clan Donald/Clanranald surnames might have threatened their social status. It is clear from MacDougall’s genealogies that the Gillis surname, in particular, had been important in Morar and Moidart: many of the Gillis genealogies mention people of military rank, as well as some who were probably principal tenants or "tacksmen" in Scotland. MacDougall mentions two surnames in particular in his genealogies of whom this was true: Gillis and MacDonald, each of which also appears to have married preferentially with the other rather than to other surnames in the Broad Cove/Margaree district, although precise numbers have not been calculated. Genealogies include such persons as Captain Donald Gillis of Stole, North Morar; Catherine Gillis, nighean [=daughter] Eoghain an Obain [in Scotland the preposition "an" often denoted land-holding]; Colonel Gillis of Kenloch Morar; Captain Allan MacDonald; Alasdair Mhor MacDonald, whose son James married Margaret Gillis, daughter of Captain Alexander Gillis of the Fraser Regiment of Highlanders, and whom MacDougall specifically mentions as being "MacDonalds of the Kinloch-moidart family in Scotland, and ... descended from John, son of Allan, eighth Chief of Clan Ranald (op. cit.:370)

The likelihood of kinship factors being important in the selectivity of the migration is strengthened by evidence from southwestern Newfoundland, in the form of both oral tradition and parish records, of local prejudice against marriages between Gillis and MacIsaac families. It is said that the only Gillis-MacIsaac marriage in southwestern Newfoundland up to the present day that it resulted in a forced change of residence for the couple concerned in order to escape local censure. Reasons for this marriage ‘block’ were stated by the families concerned as being part of a long-standing tradition of antipathy between the Gillis and MacIsaac clans. Macpherson (1968:91) also notes a customer of avoiding marriage between certain families in the Scottish setting; and further weight is added to the argument when it is considered that, at least until the time of the 1955 electoral roll in Newfoundland, no Gillis and MacIsaac families settled in the same area, despite the fact that they are among the more numerous of the Scottish families in southwestern Newfoundland, and despite the fact that although other Scottish surnames are spread evenly throughout the district, Gillis and MacIsaac families remain discrete. It is therefore possible that the exodus of MacIsaacs from Broad Cove and Margaree resulted from the influx of Gillis families into the area shown on Figure 8-5. In a frontier situation, the MacIsaacs could remedy such a social threat by the simple expedient of removing to a new area where they and their kin would be numerically dominant.

Figures 8-6, 8-7, 8-8 and 8-9, represent an aggregate picture of data and material derived from three sources: MacDougall’s History, from which genealogies were constructed for some of the pioneer Codroy Valley families; oral evidence from Cape Breton and Codroy Valley; and the Searston parish register, in which sporadic references to degrees of consanguinity are found Figure 8-6 shows surnames and families by generation. Figure 8-7 shows the location of pioneer families of the same surname, who are known to have been related agnatically, for the years 1845-1870. The purpose is to express spatially the most basic kin relationships of the pioneer era. The family centred on Cb1 (grandparent’s residence) is the dominant kin group of the pioneer era of Codroy Valley; not surprisingly, these are MacIsaacs of Broad Cove and margaree. All Codroy Valley MacIsaacs, except those centred on Db2, are agnatically related, and are included in this kin group. They are reported by present-day inhabitants of the area as being amongst the first to arrive, and as having deliberately spread out all over the Valley on arrival in order to acquire the best land. This is borne out by their non-continguous locations despite early immigration and simultaneous arrival. In Figure 8-7, three main areal groupings can be discerned: (1) Db2 (MacIsaac);(2) Cb1 (MacIsaac);and (3) Aa3 and Ab1 (Gillis and MacLean). These are territorially discrete, and reflect three separate locations in the area: the coast with an economy emphasizing fishing, and the two rivers with their agriculturally-focused economies based on fertile intervale land. Figure 8-8 shows the known cognatic and affinal links of the pioneer generation, drawn to one member of an extended group only, to avoid visual confusion. The three main areal groupings remain generally discrete, but all MacIsaacs are now seen to have been related, and indeed only families Ec1 and Dc3 remain apparently unattached. Figure 8-9 shows the post-immigration marriages up to 1870. They reinforce extant relationships, and perhaps the most interesting feature is the continued aloofness of the coastal (Gillis and MacLean) group, especially in the light of earlier comments. The preponderance of Scots:Scots marriage is clear. The figures are:

Scots/Scots 12

Scots/English 3

Scots/French 1

Scots/Irish 1

Total Number of marriages 17

Figures 8-6 to 8-9, therefore, show the Scots in Codroy Valley to have been an extension of the Broad Cove/Margaree concentration of kin from the same general Cape Breton source area, who were themselves a concentration of kin from the same (internal?) source area of Clanranald territory in the western Highlands and islands of Scotland. Settlement in the pioneer stage took place in such a manner that the spatial pattern of kin networks reflected the three different settlement locations of the area; kinship patterns at the time of immigration were already those of a well-established network.

As stated at the outset of this paper, almost all the literature concerning the impact of mobility on kinship ties has argued that traditional bonds of kinship are frayed or sundered as a result of migration. In the history of the Atlantic migrations, by and large, it is held that the social composition of the migrant stream was one of unrelated individuals or nuclear families: the familiar supportive network of kinship was believed to have been unravelled by the upheavals of the Atlantic crossing. However, this study, examining one small fragment of the great migrations, has shown that the Highlanders of Codroy Valley crossed the Atlantic usually neither alone, nor as unrelated nuclear families, but in large extended kin groups. The social cohesion of these groups was generally maintained, despite geographical mobility, and despite the hardships of settling in an alien land. Indeed, on occasion, further mobility was the means by which strained kin links were reinforced. To quote Samuel Johnson on the emigration of mainland Scots to the islands (1773:323), "Whole neighbourhoods formed parties for removal, so that their departure from their native country is no longer exile … He sits down in a better climate surrounded by his kindred and his friends … they change nothing but the place of their abode … This is the real effect of emigration, if those that go away together settle on the same spot and preserve their ancient union." It was the Scottish clan in the homeland which suffered disruption and dissolution. MacKenzie (1946:186) commented on the Highland evictions that promulgated so many of the emigrations: "There is now scarcely one of the name MacDonald in the wide district once inhabited by thousands."

The persistence of kinship ties amongst the migrating Scots, although often intuitively recognized, has been difficult to establish for the following reasons: (1) analysing a kinship network requires a detailed knowledge of that network; (2) kinship can be established only when it is examined at the individual, rather than group, level; and (3) following kinship ties over periods of migration requires that they be traced, not only through time, but sometimes across considerable distances. Further difficulties arise from the unlikelihood of bieng able to trace affinal linkages, or even to establish that such links need to be traced. Finally, the establishment of clan affiliation among emigrant Scots was impossible until some diagnostic criteria for this became available, and until the necessarily detailed data were discovered. To this end, MacDougall’s History proved to be an invaluable document, providing detailed genealogies of emigrant Scots from the time of their arrival in the New World, recording, not only their surnames, but also their patronymics, and their location both in Scotland and in the New World. I is this complex of individual-specific information that made possible the identification of Scottish kinship networks over such a wide spatial and temporal migration span.

The importance of marriage with affines among the Highland Scots in the New World becomes apparent through an analysis of MacDougall’s genealogies. Whether this type of linkage, or marriage with cognatic kin, was important in the Scottish clan system in the homeland is unknown, perhaps because it tends to remain undeteced among the exogamous marriages of the agnatic kin-group. One explanation that must be considered is that the changed social and economic conditions of emigrants in the New World endowed affinal ties with a new importance. More generally, this pattern of affinal links may also exist in other New World kinship systems, either as an adaptation, common to all pioneer ethnic groups or societies in their life on an expanding frontier, or as a traditional kinship system carried from the homeland. Cognatic kin marriage would maintain the social cohesion of any isolated group, while its availability would prevent in-breeding; such a control might well be a natural device of any pioneer group operating within a genetically-restricted community.

Reasons for the persistence of kinship ties among the emigrant Scots are hard to establish. They may have clung together, not only because these ties had been traditionally cherished, but also because they believed that group movement would be economically and psychologically beneficial in the New World. The old blood ties of the Scottish Highlands were not merely, or even primarily, emotional, but rather functional. The clan system was no longer operating in its entirety by the time emigration to Canada was fully under way. As a political unit, the clan was no longer effective, the sliochd remained only as a symbol of the clansman’s awareness of his own particular ancestry; only the local clann can be said to have survived as an operating unit and transferred to the New World. It is, therefore, the functions of this local kin group which must be considered in explaining its persistence and survival.

The clann in Scotland was a functioning exonomic and social unit. From the point of view of transfer to the New World, it should be seen as the kin base from which joint farming operated; it was a compact unit, providing social and economic cohesion and security. During the "tacksman" emigration of the 1770s, the local kin-groups (cloinne) of "tacksmen" and their sub-tenants are known to have emigrated together, in an effort to preserve the ancient Highland social order; later, when the poorer people of the lower status left their homeland en masse, the persistent solidarity of kin groups was considerable. In addition, the mechanism of chain migration functioned efficiently through kin; immigrants already established in North America provided promise of shelter and economic support for kin wishing to follow. Such clann ties channeled migration flow from specific source areas to specific destinations in the New World. The migrations to Cape Breton occurred in this way and kin kies were a potent force even in the secondary chain migrations of Cape Breton Scots into southwestern Newfoundland. In this series of small migrations, no single element was discernible as being in control of decision-making in the migration process: women moved to marry and their kin followed later; families moved because of insecurity of tenure and their kin followed later; families also moved concurrently in large extended kin groups.

Gould (1965:24) has suggested that "nuclear families almost invariably appear to be merely phases in the developmental cycle," and such research as has been done on immigrating European peasantry to North America appears to support him. Future research may or may not show that most eastern Canadian pioneer families were nuclear at the time of initial settlement, and that over succeeding generations, if left undisturbed, they slowly evolved into extended kin groups; this was the case with the Cape Shore Irish of Placentia Bay, Newfoundland (Mannion, op. cit. And 1976).

The Highland Scots, however, did not experience this disruption in kinship. This study has discerned no break in the operating extended family network which was the basis of the ancestral society in the Old World. They retained a structurally complex and functionally sophisticated network of kin links through two separate migrations and subsequent settlement in an area which was ethnically diverse.

This experience of the Highland Scots may, or may not, be eccentric in the overall pattern of the great migrations. Greven (1970:72-3), for example, notes of Colonial Andover: "…kinship often served as an influential factor in bringing additional settlers to Andover … . From the outset there were several embryonic kinship groups settled together in Andover." Almost all studies, to date, of the social structure of migrating groups are overgeneralized and simplistic. Examiniation of the fine detail of actual kinship links for a small group of Highlanders has demonstrated the survival of a traditional kinship pattern over an extended time period, despite, or in some cases because of, considerable mobility of the migrants concerned. The demonstration of one exception to the generally-accepted pattern of social disruption among immigrants to the New World would suggest that careful examination, at the micro-level, of other ethnic groups which were involved in the European exodus is needed. Such studies, especially if they consider social conditions both before and after immigration, may well bring to light further examples of hitherto unsuspected social cohesion among the supposedly "uprooted" pioneers of North America.


  1. Clan is the name given to the complete kin group at its widest extend: sliochd is the Gaelic for "lineage" or "descent" and is formal; clann (plural cloinne) is the Gaelic for "children" and is more familiar. The terms are in common usage in Gaelic and are not a specialist terminology (see MacAlpine and MacKenzie, 1973).
  2. Census of Nova Scotia, 1861, Halifax, E. M. MacDonald.
  3. Land pressure, however, although referred to by various writers in Cape Breton, has not as yet been proven. What is important in this respect is the feeling of land pressure, real or imagined.
  4. Newfoundland, Department of Colonial Secretary, Incoming Correspondence 43 (1842) p. 34, Letter of Norman Campbell, dated September 10th and written from Margaree, Cape Breton.
  5. Census of Nova Scotia, 1861, Halifax, E. M. MacDonald.

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