The MacKinnons of Argyle
Jackson Ricker, in his book, ‘Historical Sketches of Glenwood and the Argyles', gives numerous references to the MacKinnons [which he variably spells ‘McKinnon'] of Argyle, and describes "the tallest figure" in their ranks as Colonel Ranald MacKinnon, who was born on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. In his early years, Ricker relates, he came to America as Ensign in a Highland Regiment, serving in the West Indies and in the Colonies. He fought in the war between the English and the French, and later - as a Lieutenant - in the war against the Indians, at which time he was wounded. In 1766, with peace restored between England and France, he was posted to Halifax and first visited the Argyles in a surveying party. There he discovered a land similar to his Scottish home and he opted to transfer to the militia and settle there. In consideration of his military service, he was given "extended areas of land making up what was later to be known as Argyle." In fact, it was he who changed its name from the Indian Abuptic to the Scottish Argyle.
MacKinnon's land grants, as outlined by Ricker, included "all of MacKinnon's Neck, Roberts Island and lands as far north as the former Eel Brook, now Ste. Anne du Ruisseau." as well as many of the larger islands offshore. He built his home "on what has for many years been known as Sargent's Hill but at first was MacKinnon's Hill" and he established a successful working farm. When Ricker was writing, almost 200 years later, the cellar of the house and fruit trees still survived, including a pear tree still bearing.
Some of MacKinnon's land was leased to other settlers. Ricker quotes a copy of such a lease taken from the Registry of Deeds in Yarmouth. Note the spelling inconsistencies (from the present day) of MacKinnon's surname and, indeed, those of Pothier or Pottier, Burke, Babine, and Surette, as well as other misspelled words and place names.
"LEASE, Ranald McKinnon to Dominique Potier, John Burk, John Babin, Paul Surat, Peter Surat, dated August 16, 1775. Eight Spanish Mill Dollars to be paid to the Sd. McKinnon yearly forever, that is to say the first payment of 8$ to commense Michelmas Day next ensueing. The said Ranald McKinnon did Demise, Grant and to Farm Lett, 230 acres, beginning the place comonly called the carring place on the Eastly side of Goose Bay extending North and bounded by Goose Bay and Eal Lake until you come to Eal Brook. Especially the Eal Fishery to be by them enjoyed in every particular."
Ricker also copied "an instrument [eleven years prior to the above] conveying certain lands from Ranald MacKinnon to Joseph Moulaison as follows:
June 27th, 1764
Ricker explains that the land thus conveyed to Joseph Moulaison was land he and his people occupied before the Scottish settlers came to Abuptic/Argyle and were given their land grants by the Provincial Government under British authority. "The fact," says Ricker, "that Ranald McKinnon gave Moulaison legal possession would indicate an act of friendliness on his part. This seems to be a gift to Moulaison" since no amount of money was mentioned in the document.
Ricker documents Ranald's rise through the ranks in a somewhat confusing manner. He states in one section of the book (p. 111) that: "In 1775 he received a Captain's Commission and in the following year was appointed Lieutenant-Colonel in the Militia." And yet, (on p. 87) he quotes a record "taken from the provincial ‘Commission Book' for 1793-1796", as follows:
"By His Excellency The Right Honorable
Lord William Campbell,
Again, the records used by Ricker in his research seem to confuse the chronology of events leading from Ranald MacKinnon's appearance as a Lieutenant in his Highland Regiment to his ultimate rank as Lieutenant-Colonel in the Militia. On p. 88 of his book, Ricker refers to "A sentiment against Britain on the part of the Captain [Jeremiah Frost] of the Militia in the Township of Argyle. The Governor and Council decided to dismiss Capt. Frost and to improve the Militia by appointing Ranald McKinnon, Esq., who had already a Lieutenant's Commission, as Lieut. Colonel, and to have under his command all of the Militia of Queens County.
"The Governor proposed further that Col.
McKinnon ‘do without loss of time, proceed to Argyle with twenty men of
the recruits now raising here for the King's service, and be furnished
with four barrels of gunpowder and ball in proportion, to be by him accounted
An explanation of such seemingly sharp rises in rank may be that an officer could hold one rank in His Majesty's Army at the same time that he held another, and higher, rank in the local Militia. Ricker explained that the "Militia in the British Colonies and under British laws was a body in reserve, especially for home defence." and that "Earlier in Britain it was made up of retainers who under the feudal system rendered military service in tenure of property." Thus, MacKinnon's land grants may have accrued from the service in the Militia.
Col. Ranald MacKinnon married a Miss Piggott of Halifax and they had a family of eight daughters and five sons. He died at Shelburne in 1805. One of his sons, John, inherited the part of his father's estate known as MacKinnon's Neck, where he built a home and farmed the land. He was the first man from Argyle to represent the former County of Shelburne in the Provincial House of Assembly. He served for three terms, covering the years from 1820 to 1832. He remained active in politics, with documents showing him nominating various candidates to stand for office as late as 1855. He was also a Major in the Militia, a Magistrate, and a Customs Officer. (It is interesting to note that his officer's rank was not acquired through military service, but was bought for him by his father.) Major MacKinnon married Elizabeth Frost and they raised ten children. After Elizabeth's death, he married a widow, Mrs. Martha Chandler. At the time of Ricker's history, none of these children settled in Argyle; one daughter lived in Newburyport, Mass., a son in Prince Edward Island, and the others around Yarmouth County.
Another son of Col. Ranald MacKinnon, Robert Colin, married Rhoda Kenney of Barrington and they had ten daughters and fours sons. Two of these, Elizabeth (wife of Matthew Jeffery) and Emily (wife of William H. Nickerson) were the only members of the family to settle in Argyle and, in Ricker's words: "Many years ago the name disappeared." It is amazing to think that so prolific a family left no trace other than the name of landmarks in the area.
(We are again grateful to the Argyle Historic Church Restoration Committee for the use of Jackson Ricker's book, ‘Historical Sketches of Glenwood and the Argyles', copies of which are available by sending a cheque for $14.00 - which includes postage - to the Argyle Historic Church, Box 25, RR#1 Glenwood, N.S. B0W 1W0.)
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Nov 4, 2001