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MacGregor alias MacAra of Glenalmond and Strathearn

By Dr Neil MacGregor, ©2012
In the 1822 list of Clan Gregor we find a cluster of 17 MacGregors who used the alias MacAra. These are shown in table 1 along with all the other MacGregors in the same locations in 1822. This list also shows the use of other aliases used in the area: namely: Roy (33), Drummond (19), Murray (14), Stirling (2), Seton (2), Comrie (1) and Skildoch (1). The most common are Roy, Drummond, MacAra and Murray and it is these who most likely have lived in the area for some time. The derivation of use of each of these aliases is very likely to indicate the origins of each of these groups. Therefore it is the aim of this document to assess the data related to the alias MacAra use by the MacGregors of Strathearn.

The proscription banned the use of the name Gregor or MacGregor and required MacGregor families to take the name of another family. The use of an alias by the MacGregors usually related to the association between a MacGregor family and the associated families actual name. The alias was usually associated with a prominent family living in a location and the MacGregors were either tenants of the prominent family or married into the family. An example was the chieftain of the day, Gregor MacGregor who changed his name to John Murray. His mother was a Sarah Murray, the only daughter of John Murray 5th of Strowan. The majority of the MacGregors in Strathearn took the name Drummond as can be seen by the use of the alias in table 1. The use of the alias Murray within this group seems to relate to the use of the Glenstrae family or its close relatives. This was the case up until the Jacobite uprisings and following the last uprising in 1745, when we many of the Macgregor families leave the glen. Two family groups stayed in Glenalmond and these were the alias Murray and alias MacAra families. Thus, investigation of the alias requires to not only determine the first use of the alias by the MacGregors, but to also differentiate the actual families from the MacGregor’s using the alias and the reason why they stayed in the glen after 1745.

MacAra in Strathearn.
The first known mention of the MacAra family as land holders in Strathearn is in 1670 (Scottish national archive; 26 July 1670; SIG1/105/12) when Donald MacAra was granted the property, Drumfingal. This Donald MacAra is reported to have married Catherine Glass, daughter of Thomas Glass, portioner of Pittentain (m 24 April 1648). Pittentain, as spelt in the early document, seems to refer to the property Pitlandy, just north of Fowlis village, see map (figure 1). The property name Drumfingal also seems to differ from the later descriptions, where the property is termed Easter Drummie or Drummy. A Wester Drummie is also in existence and it was in the hands of the family of a John Malcolm, a minister from Perth. This suggests that the original Drummie property may have been divided or simply misnamed in the official documents, as was common at that time. Therefore a Donald MacAra was a land titleholder from 1670 onwards.

A search for documents of this MacAra family reveal several wills and other documents which show that they fulfiled the role of a prominent family in Strathearn and therefore a family name the MacGregors may seek to use as an alias. Donald MacAra, the portioner of Drummie, had a will, dated 31/7/1683, which states that he resided in upper Glenalmond at Dalmore (Dunblane Commissary Court CC6/5/18). Why he lived in Dalmore in upper Glenalmond, when he had title to Easter Drummie is a mystery. This may suggest one of several possibilities; 1) That he was actually a MacGregor using the alias from an earlier time; or 2) that he had some run in with authorities and was in hiding with his relatives in upper Glenalmond.

Donald MacAra, the portioner of Drummie, is mentioned in a marriage contract between a Neil MacGregor of Craignafarrar and a woman who appears to be Donald MacAra’s sister, Margaret MacAra. A marriage contract exists for one of Neil MacGregor and Margaret MacAra's daughters, Christian and this refers to Donald MacAra, portioner of Druimie. The register of Deeds summary reads:

"February 22nd. 1666
"Marriage Contract, dated at Inver and Little Dunkeld 22nd February and 11th April 1666 between Duncan MacGregor in Sherriffmuir for himself and as taking burden on him for John MacGregor his lawful son on the one part, and Christian MacGregor lawful daughter to the deceased Neill McGregor sometime in Craignaferar in Glenamond and Margaret McAra her mother as Principals and Donald McAra portioner of Drummie and Alexander MacGregor in Buchandice as cautioners for the said Margaret on the other part. Christian's Tocher is 400 merks Scots. Recorded 31st March 1674." Register of Deeds.

This marriage contract states that Neil MacGregor and Margaret MacAra were married (date unknown but ~ 1630-1640). The document also indicates that Margaret MacAra was most likely the sister of Donald MacAra, portioner of Drummie. There is also a second document in the register of Deeds relating to this MacGregor family and this seems to occur after the death of Donald MacAra of Dalmore and his sister, Margaret, and may be related to the use of monies inherited from their mother or possibly from their uncle Donald MacAra.

July 4th. 1683
"Obligation Robert Gray of Pitlandie and Jean Fenton his Spouse as Principals, and David Gray their eldest lawful son as Cautioner; to Hew and Ewine McGregors lawful sons to the deceased Neill McGregor sometime in Craignaferar for 200 merks Scots. Recorded 24th November 1683." Register of Deeds.

This second document suggests that Hugh and Ewan MacGregor had loaned 200 merks to Robert Gray and Jean Fenton of Pitlandie, which was the property that their grandmother Catherine Glass lived upon as a child. These data support the relationships between the MacAras and the families living on Pitlandie or Pittentain, such as the Glass family to who they are related by marriage.

The Neil MacGregor appears to be the Neil McConneill VcNeil VcGregor listed in the 1649 MacGregor list, who died prior to 1666 and lived at Craignafarrar in Glenalmond. In other words, Neil, son of Donald, son of Neil, son of Gregor. Other Clan Gregor documents suggest that this Neil MacGregor, was the son of a Donald MacGregor who lived at Dallick in Glenalmond and may be a descendant from the Roro family from Loch Tay, and related to the Mallochs or Balhaldie Macgregors who became clan chieftains following the death of Archibald McEwen VcEandow (b~1659-d~1714) in Ireland. Archibald was the last of the Glenstrae chieftains of the clan.

Map of Strathearn between Culcrieff and Gorthy - NLS
A second will relating to Donald MacAra portioner of Drummie seems to relate to the death of his brother, Duncan (or Donald). Duncan MacAra’s will is dated 1686, and reveals a family residing at Castletoun, which is just east of Fowlis village and appears to be an adjoining property to Easter Drummie (see figure 1). Duncan (or Donald) MacAra’s will states his spouse was a Margaret McAlla and that they had five children; John, William, Duncan, Andrew and Margaret. The debtors in the will include the Minister?? of Dowly, John Allan in Milntoun of Carsehead, Robert Chrystie and Thomas MacAra of Bacheltoun. The locations of these can be seen on the map apart from Bachilton, which is the other side of the Balgowan estates further to the east toward Perth. The other MacAras mentioned in the will were John MacAra of Mains of Gorthy (shown on map) and Donald MacAra portioner of Easter Drummie. One of the witnesses was a John Malcolm who was the portioner of Wester Drummie. Thus, these MacAra families had significant interactions with the families around Fowlis Village and the properties to the east of Fowlis village where the land holdings of the family were. It appears from these evidence that Donald MacAra, portioner of Drummie was actually a MacGregor and that the MacAras of Gorthy and Bachelton may have been either the original MacAra family or other MacGregor alias MacAras related to him.

The Red Book of Perthshire suggests that Donald MacAra and Catherine Glass of Drummie had only one son, Donald who married Jean Drummond, daughter of Robert Drummond of Burnside of Calender (29 April 1685) (Register of sasines RS52/9). This marriage can be confirmed in the Drummond publication (Genealogical memoir of the most noble and ancient house of Drummond. Page 228). Donald and Jean had 5 children:
1. John MacAra b 6 Sept 1674 (Fowlis Wester). This John appears to have died young as his brother Robert gained title to the lands of Easter Drummie.

2. Robert MacAra b 2 January 1678 (Fowlis Wester GROS 357/000010 0089).
Married Margaret Murray daughter of John Murray 3rd of Ardbenny. He had sasine of the lands of Easter Drummie, which he sold to Moray of Abercainey in 1752 (GD24). Robert appears to have left a will which lists him as Late Stampmaster at Auchterarder (Dunblane Commissary Court CC6/5/27). Robert MacAra and Margaret Murray had a son
a. John b 3 December 1732 (Fowlis Wester).

3. Katherine MacAra married at Fowlis Wester on 24 April 1712 to John Philip of Cowden. John Philip and Katherine MacAra had 11 children. There is a court case listed in the National Archives of Scotland, dated 1737, where “Catherine MacAra and others” took action against Philips and others (CS181/4343). It is likely that this was over the settlement of the estate of John Philip and claims by the MacAras against the estate. (This needs to be checked, as the document is available in the archives but not online)

4. Janet MacAra b 2 October 1684 (Fowlis Wester). She may have married a John Brown on 1/11/1705 (GROS 357/0010 0428). No evidence can be found of any issue for this marriage.

5. Anna MacAra b18 February, 1686 (Fowlis Wester). No evidence of a marriage or issue to Anna can be found in the parish registers. She may have died young.

A search of historical documents finds the first record of a MacAra in Glenalmond is in connection with an incident in 1646, which was reported in the Scottish Parliament in 1649. This act of Parliament dated March 16, 1649 related to the tenants of lower Glenalmond. (Source: Records of the Parliaments of Scotland to 1707.). The document lists a Donald MacGregor in Dawlick, who appears to be the father of the Neil MacGregor of Craignafarrar who died prior to 1666. The document also lists Duncan Roy and William Roy both at Downie, the property next door to Dawlick. Thus, this document has evidence of the use of the Roy and MacAra names in lower Glenalmond as early as 1646, both of which were used as MacGregor aliases in the 1822.

The title of the document is “Act and decreet in favour of Sir John Brown of Fordell, knight etc., against John Ewing and others” and it lists the following MacAra and related names and their locations:
• Andrew MacCrae in Easter Fendoch,
• John MacCara in Wester Fendoch,
• John MacCara, sometime in Downy and now in Middle Lethendy.

This suggests that there were at least 2 MacAra families in lower Glenalmond by 1646, and possibly 3, if one includes Andrew MacCrae. Lower Glenalmond was under the control of the Murrays of Tullibardine and Athol, which they had owned since 1443. Thus a number of MacAra families also lived in lower Glenalmond in the 1600’s and these are likely related, directly or by marriage, to the land owning families of Donald and Duncan MacAra who lived near Fowlis village. The predominate male names in the MacAra family appear to be Andrew, John, Donald, Duncan and Thomas.

The MacAra MacGregor connections.
The Murrays had established the upper Glenalmond valley as a place for members of Clan Gregor to reside during the early days of the proscription as evidence in letter written between Patrick Murray and Campbell of Glenurchy in 1623. Also part of the upper glen is the property Auchnafree which was part of the Campbell acquisitions in 1476 when they acquired properties in Loch Tay. Thus the MacGregors appear to have arrived in Glenalmond around 1470-1480 as they moved east with the expansion of the Campbells and then became tenants of the Murrays of Tullibardine.

Upper Glenalmond was a strategically important location as a significant number of people as a group could not approach the area without being noticed by its inhabitants, if they were alert. The upper glen also gave the inhabitants several ways of exit even though they were not easy to negotiate in some instances. The strategic location had also been noted by the Romans as they located a fort at Fendoch many centuries earlier. The strategic nature of the upper glen all changed around 1726 when General Wade’s military road was built up the Sma’ glen and through to Amrulee. Thus a military force could arrive in the glen much more rapidly then previously was the case and this reduced the safety of the location.

The early 1700’s was also the period that the MacGregor inhabitants of the upper glen began to move down to the lower Glen. This followed the Murrays granting a tack over the lands of Glenalmond to a Gregor Murray, son to Alexander Murray alias John MacGregor :
"1712. The duke signed a commission of forestry to Gregor Murray son to Alexander Murray alias MacGregor in Coynachan for keeping tbe grazings of Glenalmond, and allowing no bestial which are not allowed to pasture in the same, and to exact three pound Scots for every ox, cow, horse, mare and follower and a merk Scots for every sheep and goat after Whitsunday. He also signed an allowance to the said forester of two pecks of meal per week of board wages, and at the rate of 24 pound Scots per annum of wages."

A second Tack was also granted 11 years later over a Murray property outside Glenalmond.
" 1723, Sep. The duke granted a fresh tack to Gregor Murray of the mill of Blair called Catherine's Mill and Ruidhchlacrie to pay Ł50 sterling, two good and sufficient mill-swine, twelve capons and four bolls of meal, mortified by the late Marquis of Atholl to poor old and decayed tenants of the parish of Blair Atholl."

John McGrigor alias Alexander Murray was born in ~1636, married Margaret Drummond and died in 1717 (Monumental inscriptions per 1855: Conychan grave yard, Ed. Alison Mitchell). John McGrigor and Margaret Drummond he had the following issue:
1) Grigor b 3/7/1680 (GROS 357/0010 0141);
2) Donald b 26/1/1683 (GROS 357/0010 0188);
3) Janet b 15/11/1687 (GROS 357/0010 02901);
4) Janet b 26/11/1694 (GROS 357/0010 0343);
The first Janet appears to have died young and a second girl, also named Janet was born in 1694. This family can be traced and their descendants used the alias Murray so they do not constitute the MacGregor alias MacAra family. This family appear to be cousins of the John Dubh MacGregor who was killed at Glenfruin and had married Sarah Murray of Strowan. They appear to have been the descendants of John MacGregor VcAlaster galt who was present in Glenalmond in 1649.

John Dubh MacGregor and Sarah Murray had three sons Gregor, Patrick and Ewan two of who became Glenstrae chieftains of Clan Gregor after the execution of Alexander in February 1604. Gregor MacEandow changed his name to John Murray during the early proscription to comply with the parliamentary requirement that all MacGregor change their name. This is recorded in the parliamentary records. The upper glenalmond property of Conychan was established as the property to support him as he had lost the MacGregor properties in Glenorchy to the Campbells after Glenfruin. The Glenorchy properties were restored in 1624 but immediately sold to the Campbells for 10,000 merks. The descendants of this family appear to have remained in Glenalmond on the Murray estates during the clearances.

Examination of the rolls of the recruits for the Jacobite uprising of 1715 from the Chronicles of Atholl and Tullibardine v 7 reveal the Jacobite soldiers, with MacGregor aliases recruited by Murray (see table 1). The Murrays highlighted in Red in lower Glenalmond appear to be from the Murray of Tullibardine or Buchanty families and are not MacGregors. The MacGregors using various aliases appear to originate from either; 1) the heirarchical family (Murray, MacAra, McComash, Drummond); or 2) from part-taker members of the clan (McCurrich, Roy, McLeish). The 1649 list of hierarchical MacGregors lists 3 members of the clan in Glenalmond, 1) John McGregor VcAlaster galt (from the Glenstrae family) whose descendants appear to use the Murray alias; 2) James MacGregor (from either a member of the Glenstrae family or the Glenlednock family) whose descendants appear to use the McComash alias; or 3) Neil McConneill McGregor (from the Roro family) whose descendants appear to use the MacAra alias. Also in the 1715 list is a Drummond who appears to be a member of the Balhaldies family of Roro origin. The non hierarchical MacGregors cannot be assigned to any known MacGregor family lines. The death of fathers and the adoption of babies in the early part of the proscription also make it difficult to trace these families on paper, but with the help of Y-DNA these groups may be better delineated.

Table 1. Recruits for the Jacobite Uprising in 1715 from Glenalmond.
Recruits for the Jacobite Uprising in 1706 from Glenalmond

What is noted in table 1 is that 15 of the 23 (65%) heirarchical family MacGregor individuals are in upper Glenalmond. All the alias Murray MacGregors are in the upper glen whilst all the alias Drummonds are in the lower glen. The MacAras are split 50:50 between the upper and lower glen and the MacComishs have two in the upper glen and one in the lower glen. Virtually all the part taker family MacGregors are in the lower glen (17 of 20, 85%). This is consistent with a pattern, where the most important hierarchical families are protected by the surrounding clan who could give warning if someone of ill intent arrived on the scene.

If we turn to the 1822 list of MacGregors (Table 2) and look for the alias MacAra families, we see several MacAra/MacGregor families. Importantly these families are still using the male name patterns seen in the earlier generations, such as Andrew, John and Thomas, which are not seen in any other of the MacGregor families in the glen. The families have now extended out of the glen and are noted in the villages of Monzie, Fowlis Wester and Crieff, with a new set of jobs. There are still some working as farmers, on Easter Fendoch and Mid Lethendy in the glen.

Table 2. MacGregor’s in the 1822 MacGregor list in Monzie/Crieff/Fowlis wester Parishes.
MacGregors in 1822 list  
Dallick The parish records show a number of families who still used the alias MacAra name who most likely changed their names back to MacGregor after 1780. Wester Fendoch
Lt Colonel Robert MacAra, KCB, who commanded the 42nd at Waterloo.
He was injured at Quatre Bras and subsequently killed while being taken from the field. Most commissioned ranks were obtained by purchase at this time with more being paid at each rank, His family must have been quite well off or obtained serious patronage to reach his rank. He had also been awarded the KCB (Knight Commander of the Bath) - this was often awarded to officers of Lt Colonel and above for gallantry

Lt Col Sir Robert Macara, K.C.B.
Born Perthshire 1759; Major in 42nd Foot 14 November 1805;
served in Peninsula July & August 1809;
brevet Lieutenant-Colonel 1 January 1812;
Lieutenant-Colonel 16 April 1812;
commanded 1/42nd Foot in Peninsula April 1812 to April 1814; wounded at Toulouse;
commanded 1/42nd Foot at Quatre Bras; wounded, and killed by Lancers whilst being carried from the field.

The death of Sir R. Macara at Quatre Bras was inexpressibly sad. " He was wounded about the middle of the engagement, and was in the act of being carried off the field by four of his men, when a party of French unexpectedly surrounded and made them prisoners. Perceiving by the colonel's decorations that he was an officer of rank they immediately cut him down with his attendants." His relations obtained Macara's Waterloo medal, which was for long in the Tancred Collection. A touching poem to Robert Macara's memory is to be found in the Waterloo Memoirs; the following are the last three verses of a paean of praise sung by the Goddess of Fame :

" Here the Goddess ceased her lay ;
Weak, her wings refused to fly ;
Faint, her voice forbore to say
How Macara dared to die.

"Be it, then, to friendship giv'n
Such a warrior's name to save,
While 'tis borne on breeze of heav'n
That he found a soldier's grave.

By unequal hosts oppos'd,
Still he proved his valour true ;
For his bright career was clos'd
On the plains of Waterloo ! "