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Articles by Marie Fraser of Canada
Chasing Ancestors

In the Preface to Some Fraser Pedigrees (1934), Duncan Warrand corrects many of the errors made by Alexander Mackenzie (1838-98) in The History of the Frasers of Lovat (1896) and by others who have written about Fraser history in the past. He also points out: "Traditions, however old, are dangerous, and legends handed down through grandmothers and grandaunts [or grandfathers and granduncles], however respectable, should be heard politely but without credulity." Major Duncan Warrand, who died in February 1946, was the fourth son of Colonel A.J.C. Warrand of Bught, and a great grandson of Major Hugh Robert Duff 3rd of Muirtown (1771-1832), Inverness, editor of the original volume of Culloden Papers (1815).

Duncan Warrand’s grandmother, Emily Mary Davidson Duff (1802-1864), who survived her husband, Alexander Warrand, M.D., 7th Madras Light Cavalry, was a sister of Huntly George Gordon Duff 4th of Muirtown (1822-1856) who married in 1847, as her first husband, Helen Fraser. Helen (b. 1828) was a granddaughter of John Fraser, of Achnagairn (1742-1825), a partner of McTavish, Fraser & Co., London. Although the Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Vol. 5, p. 562, and Marjorie Wilkins Campbell’s book on The North West Company (1957), refer to Simon McTavish (c1750-1804) as a "cousin" of John Fraser, no evidence has been found to confirm such a connection. In his will Simon McTavish left £1000 Sterling "to my godson John Fraser, son of my partner John Fraser, Esquire of London".

As a supplement to Alexander Mackenzie’s History of the Mackenzies (1894), Duncan Warrand also wrote Some Mackenzie Pedigrees (1965) in 1937, although publication of the second book was interrupted by the second world war and the author’s death. In the first book, Warrand questioned the parentage of Master Alexander Fraser, of Bught, Provost of Inverness, who died in May 1739; an obviously well-connected and influential man whose estimated date of birth does not seem to fit in with either of the families to whom he has been linked.

It only shows that we form our own interpretation of past events, not that our ancestors purposely set out to mislead us. Some of them probably would have liked to do so, but we now have the tools to dig through archives anywhere in the world in record time — once we learn where to look. All of which sounds pretty simple but, of course, it isn’t. The lesson to be learned is that we had better leave a well documented trail of our own lives [or not], because one of our descendants, or someone like you or me, will try to prove it wasn’t so.

This story evolved from a disagreement with Donald Whyte, a founder member of the Scottish Genealogy Society (1953), who was largely responsible, between 1977 and 1987, for organizing Scotland’s six largest family history societies. My name is mentioned in the Introduction to A Dictionary of Scottish Emigrants to Canada Before Confederation, Volume 2 (1995), compiled by Donald Whyte, F.H.G., F.S.G., among other volunteer members of Ontario Genealogical Society, who helped to computerize his manuscript, prepared using an ordinary typewriter. No one doubts his tremendous volume of work and dedication to genealogical research.

The disagreement arose from Whyte’s interpretation of the writings of Rev. Donald Sage (1789-1869) about the parents of John Fraser and the autobiography of Rev. Donald Fraser (1826-1892), son of John Fraser and grandson of the couple in question.

The entry in the original Dictionary (1986) reads as follows:

2961 FRASER, John, 22 Aug 1795-21 Dec 1852. From Bucht, Kilbean, Inverness, s/o Alexander F, merchant, and Annabella Munro. To Montreal, Que, 1837. Emp by the Canada Company and d at London, Middlesex Co, Ont, m (i) Lillias Fraser, Kirkhill, who d 1835, ch: 1. Alexander, qv; 2. Rev Donald, qv; 3. Rev William, qv; 4. Jane, qv; 5. Isabella, d inf, m (ii) 1839, Selina, d/o John Torrance, qv, further ch: 8. David Torrance, 1840-1902; 9. Edward, d 1852; 10. Lilias, 1845-91. DC 18 Jul 1979 and 29 May 1982. [Dictionary Correspondence. Letters to the author.]

Volume 2 of the Dictionary (1995) contains the following revision:

2961 FRASER, John, s/o William F, burgess of Inverness, and Annabella Munro, from Cadboll, according to Donald Sage, m (i) 12 Sep 1822, Lillias, 1803-35, d/o Rev Donald Fraser, Kirkhill, and Jane Gordon. SMD 318; FES vi, 474. [Memorabilia Domestica; or Parish Life in the North of Scotland, by Rev Donald Sage, edited by his son, Rev Donald Fraser Sage, Wick (1889) 2nd edn. (1899); Fasti Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ (1915-1981).]

In April 1995 we were contacted by the husband of a descendant of John Fraser (1795-1852). Having received a nice letter from Donald Whyte for helping to computerize his manuscript, I suggested to Mr. Watt that he write to the author in West Lothian, Scotland, from whom he received a polite handwritten reply:

Dear Mr Watt,

The change in the data relative to John Fraser, is due to better information. It comes from Memorabilia Domestica; or Parish Life in the North of Scotland, by Rev Donald Sage, reprint by the Albyn Press, Edinburgh, 1975. First published, 1889. Rev Donald, who died in 1869, knew the family personally.

My 2nd volume will come out at Toronto around April/May.

Sincerely, Donald Whyte

Town Plan of Inverness
Town Plan of Inverness

In September 1996, I discovered the Autobiography of the late Donald Fraser, D.D. (London: James Nesbitt, 1892) based on the handwritten manuscript of the author (1826-1892), second son of merchant and ship-owner John Fraser (1795-1852) by his first wife Lillias Fraser (1803-1835).

"I was born at Inverness on the 15th January 1826, when George IV was King. One of my very earliest memories is that of asking my father why he had put crepe on his hat, and being told that it was for the King’s death.

"My father, John Fraser, was a merchant and ship-owner, as his father had been before him. From his youth he had been of a devout spirit, and firmly attached to Evangelical doctrine. So he became at an early age an elder of the Church of Scotland, as, I may repeat, his father had been before him. He was also a citizen of great public spirit, and wielded much influence in the burgh. Politically he used to describe himself as a Whig of the Old School; and it was at some of the ‘Reform meetings’ of the period that he first revealed to his fellow-citizens his remarkable powers as a public speaker. I can recall the enthusiasm with which we lit up our house in the illumination which celebrated the passing of the Reform Bill in 1832.

"Soon after this my father became Provost of the burgh… My mother was Lillias Fraser, daughter of the Rev. Donald Fraser, M.A., Minister of the Parish of Kirkhill near Inverness. Of her I cannot say much from personal knowledge, for she died when I was little more than a child; but there stands full and clear in my memory the figure of a tall and graceful woman, bright, thoughtful, and always sweet and kind. Her early death, which was caused by some sort of fever, was a heavy blow to her husband and a woeful loss to the six children who survived her. (Only two of us now remain!)… My father could not bear the publicity, so his three sons represented him; and in such attire of woe!…

"Names in our house followed a definite routine. The first daughter was called after her paternal grandmother [Annabella], the second after the maternal [Jane]. The first son was named after the paternal grandfather [Alexander] ; I, being the second, got that of my maternal grandfather [Donald]. Having the name, I was often exhorted to walk in the steps of my Grandpapa ‘Kirkhil’. It was the custom to designate a good parish minister by his parish, as it is to name a Scottish laird after his estate. Now my grandfather ‘Kirkhill’ was a man of eminence in the Church, and a preacher of great repute. The feeling that I was expected to be like him, instead of firing my ambition, rather crushed it and nursed an aversion to the ministerial office which clung to me for many years.

"My father had his misgivings about such public schools as were within our reach, and provided us with private tutors. I must have been rather an apt scholar, as I always kept pace with my elder brother, and began my Latin at the age of six, and Greek at ten. Before I had completed my twelfth year I was actually a student of the University of King’s College at Aberdeen. But this was almost absurd. My father had gone to Canada, as Commissioner of the British-American Land Company, and our home at Inverness was broken up…

"Accordingly I went out to Canada in the autumn of the year 1842, starting from the house of my maternal aunt Isabella (Mrs. Black) at Glasgow. Never can I forget that first voyage! The Retrench was only a brig and under 400 tons. There was one cabin passenger beside myself, and there was one steerage passenger. The captain was a good man and knew his duty; but the first mate was a drunkard, and the second a landsman who had not been at sea for years. The ship’s company was quite a scratch crew. At one time there was an attempt to mutiny, which the captain, showing a pair of loaded pistols, put down, backed by no one but myself. The ring-leader we put in irons. Besides all this, the ship encountered heavy storms, lost her bulwarks, and sprung a leak. Yet by steady pumping and the good skill of our captain we made Quebec in about seven weeks. On her return voyage the Retrench was lost with all hands. I note this the more pointedly because no fewer than seven ships and steamboats in which I have crossed the Atlantic were lost on the very next voyage.

"I went to my father, who lived at Sherbrooke in Lower Canada, now called the Province of Canada. He had married again, his wife being Selina, daughter of John Torrance, Esq., of Montreal, whose memory I cherish with affectionate regard. My father had not seen me since I was a curly-headed boy of eleven, and now he found me at the age of sixteen almost a young man. I was tall, active, and fairly strong, though not athletic. In company I was shy, from the want of a domestic and social circle during my University course. I had in me, however, a love of society as well as of books. Happily I had not learned to drink or swear or gamble. I remember that my father was quite pleased to find that I did not smoke…"

British North America (Canada)
British North America (Canada)

Donald Fraser (1826-1892) had a brief experiment in business in Toronto and Montreal, where for a time he shared a room with his elder brother Alexander (1824-1883), a Sunday School superintendent. Donald entered the ministry and was ordained in the Presbyterian Church of Canada in 1851, serving as a Pastor in Montreal.

The burial of John Fraser (1795-1852) and his son Edward Ellis (1842-1852) in London is surprising since his early business appears to have been in the Montreal-Sherbrooke area, where his children by his second wife were born. The London site suggests a transfer related to his employment with the British-American Land Company which was also active in land disposals in Canada West [Ontario]. John Fraser’s widow, Selina Torrance (1814-1880), d/o John Torrance & Elizabeth Fisher, is buried in the Torrance family plot, suggesting that she probably returned to Montreal after the death of her husband.

Edward Ellice died 24 Aug; his father died 21 Dec 1852. Rev. Donald Fraser described the sad events:

"In the closing months of the year 1852, I had two sorrows. My youngest brother, Edward Ellice Fraser, a child of remarkable beauty and intelligence, and rendered doubly attractive by the grace of God which was on and in him, died at Kakouna, a watering place on the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Not only both his parents, but my dear sister, Jane Torrance, and myself were present at his calm and untroubled departure. It took a brightness from us. My father went back to London with his dead for the burial. Only a month or two passed, and he was himself suddenly removed by being thrown from his carriage. He fell on his head, and never spoke more.

[Ed: Cacouna, near Rivière-du-Loup, was a summer resort for wealthy families from Montreal and elsewhere in the 19th century, who came to the Lower St Lawrence in search of fresh air and the benefits of saltwater bathing. The village of Saint-Georges-de-Cacouna, with its beautiful beaches drew travellers who came to the region first on schooners and, as of 1842, aboard the steamers of the Saguenay Line. In 1851 nearly 600 summer people stayed in the village. During renovations to the Saint-Georges church undertaken in 1892, a belfry was added to the chevet to house the bell that had been given to Cacouna in 1820 by Seignior Alexander Fraser, owner of the Rivière-du-Loup seigniory, eldest son of Malcolm Fraser of the 78th Fraser Highlanders, from Strathspey, Inverness-shire, who had settled at Mount Murray, near Quebec. Malcolm Fraser (1733-1815) wrote to Simon McTavish (c1750-1805) in 1787 "relative to Alexander Fraser," asking him to consider the young man for employment with the North West Company, which may have been the reason that historians like W.S. Wallace believed that Simon McTavish was a "cousin" of Alexander Fraser (c1763-1837). Alexander became a partner in the NWCo, which he left in 1801.]

In 1859 Rev. Donald Fraser returned to Scotland, where he served in the Free High Church in Inverness until 1870, before moving on to Marylebone Presbyterian Church in London where he remained until his death in 1892, having twice served as Moderator of the Presbyterian Church of England. In the last chapter of his Autobiography, covering the period 1884-1892, his widow, Theresa Eliza Isabella Gordon (1830-1909), wrote:

"On Friday night the 12th February 1892, my beloved husband was taken away from us, calmly and gently falling asleep in Jesus.

"My husband had often expressed his dislike to the metropolitan cemeteries, and said he wished he might be laid to rest beside our two little daughters, and near his mother, in the family plot of ground in the Chapel Yard at Inverness.

"The office-bearers and congregation of Marylebone held a funeral Memorial Service in the church on Thursday, 18th February, at the conclusion of which the coffin, attended by a large cortège, was taken to the Railway Station, King’s Cross. A deputation of office-bearers accompanied the remains to Inverness, where they were met by the minister and office-bearers of the Free High Church, and conveyed to the church. On the following day a solemn service was conducted in the Free High Church; and at its termination numerous friends carried the remains of their townsman on a bier down the snow-covered High Street, the bells of two of the churches solemnly tolling, and the Provost and Magistrate of the burgh walking at the head of the sad procession. Thus his mortal remains were laid where he desired they should rest, in the Chapel Yard at Inverness."

A visit to the Inverness Chapel Yard Cemetery will reveal, inside Section 6, between rows 10 & 11, an enclosure with the following tombstones:

"Here lie the remains of Mrs Lillias Fraser, spouse of John Fraser, merchant and Provost of Inverness, who departed this life on the 19th February 1835, aged 31 years; here also is interred their daughter Annabella Fraser, who died 19th September 1823.

"John F. Russell, 3rd son of the late Rev. James Russell of Gairloch, born 23rd November 1820, died 3rd November 1850. In memory of his piety & affection his afflicted mother has placed this stone.

"In memory of Alick John Fraser, M.D., Colonel in the Army, Companion of the Bath, born at Edinburgh in 1821, died at Auchnacoy, Aberdeenshire, 7th November 1866. Served in South Africa and in Turkey. Represented HM Government in Syria from 1860 to 1863.

"In memory of Donald Fraser, AM, DD, born at Inverness, 15th January 1826, Minister of the Gospel for seven years in Montreal, for eleven years at Inverness, and for twenty two years in London, died in London 12th February 1892; also in memory of his wife Theresa Eliza Isabella Fraser, born at Eastbourne, 13th July 1830 - died at St. Leonards on Sea, 9th March 1909.

"Two sisters asleep in Jesus, Helen Millicent Fraser, died 10th January 1866, aged 4 years; Lillias Isabella Fraser, died 4th May 1869, aged 4 weeks. Daughters of Rev. D. Fraser, Inverness."

In October 1996 Mr. Watt sent another letter to Donald Whyte, suggesting he was inclined to believe that Rev. Donald Fraser would know the first name of his paternal grandfather, better than Rev. Donald Sage who would have been reminiscing in later years about the people he had known.

Donald Whyte responded as follows:

"I’m afraid your information leaves me somewhat in a quandary. The evidence seems equally balanced! Overleaf you will see that Donald Sage’s information is supported by the editor (Rev Donald Fraser Sage) of the 1889 edition of Memorabilia Domestica, who identifies Buchtie."

He enclosed an extract from the book which refers to letters received by Rev Donald Sage on the occasion of the birth of his first child, among them:

"Mr. John Fraser, banker and merchant, Inverness, was another of our friends who, on this occasion, sent his hearty congratulations. This gentleman was the son of Mr. William Fraser, a wealthy burgess of Inverness, who, for reasons which I never could ascertain, was, by his fellow-townsmen, called Buchtie. His only son John succeeded his father in business. His mother was the daughter of a Mr. Munro, tenant of the farm of Delnies, on the estate of Cadboll. Mr. John Fraser had several sisters who were married respectively to Mr. Hugh MacBean, minister of Ardclach; Mr. James Russel, minister of Gairloch; and Mr. MacBean, merchant in Florence, Italy. Some years before, Mr. Fraser had married Miss Lilias Fraser, eldest daughter of my near and very dear relative, Mr. Donald Fraser, minister of Kirkhill. In this same letter he intimates the birth of his third son William, which took place on 27th July, 1827."

Rev. Donald Sage (1789-1869) was a son of Rev. Alexander Sage, by his wife, Isabella Fraser. Donald Fraser Sage (c1840-1890) was ordained minister at Parkhill, Ontario in 1874 and in 1880 became minister of the Free Church at Keiss, Canisbay parish, Caithness.

At the bottom of the page, Donald Fraser Sage explains:

"Mr. William Fraser was proprietor of Buchtie, a small estate near Invernes. Mr. John Fraser finally removed to Canada, where he became a banker at London, Ontario. While there, he was the faithful friend and advisor of Highland Scotch emigrants, whom he directed to settlements in the surrounding forest-lands, which by industry they soon converted into fertile and fruitful fields. His third son William became minister of the Free Church of Scotland, first, at Gourock [near Greenock], then in Edinburgh, and lastly in the Presbyterian Church, Brighton, where he died suddenly in 1887, when preaching a special sermon to soldiers. Dr. Donald Fraser, the distinguished and talented minister of Marylebone Church, London, is Mr. John Fraser’s second son.- ED."

According to Fasti Ecclesiæ Scoticanæ (Vol. ii, 148), Rev. James Russell (1761-1844) in 1811 married Isabella Munro, daughter of Alexander Fraser of Bught, ship-owner, Inverness. In 1812 Rev. Hugh McBean married Ann Fraser. John Fraser, Banker, and Lillias Fraser were married at Kirkhill on 12 Sep 1822. The witnesses were Thos. Fraser of Newtown, Esq., Affleck Fraser Esq. of Culduthel & John Fraser Esq., of Achnagairn.

It is possible that Alexander Fraser [husband of Annabella Munro] was related to William Fraser, Town Clerk of Inverness [eldest surviving son of Alexander Fraser (d. 1739), Provost of Inverness]. William Fraser purchased the lands of Bught about 1741 and died in 1777. In Some Fraser Pedigrees (1934), Duncan Warrand noted:

"This property was purchased soon after by Duncan Grant, writer in Inverness, who had married Jean, daughter of Hugh Baillie of Dochfour. ‘Clerk Fraser’ was going with James Cumming, writer, to take infeftment on the lands of Wester Drakies, in 1775, and was ‘blown down by the wind’ — after which he was never the same."

According to the Inverness Journal:

November 13, 1812 "Died, at Bught, on the 4th curt., Duncan Grant of Bught, in the 82nd year of his age. His funeral was attended by every individual member of the six Incorporated Trades of Inverness, who to show their attachment to the remains of their cashier for the long period of 56 years, insisted on carrying his body to the place of interment."

December 17, 1813 "Died, at Bught, on the 7th curt., Mrs Jean Baillie, relict of the late Duncan Grant of Bught, in the 82nd year of her age."

The Inverness parish marriage & birth/baptism registers contain the following entries:


July 19th [1780]
Alexander Fraser, Assistant Teacher, & Annabella Munro.


June 12th [1781]
Alexr Fraser Schoolmaster and his Spouse Annable Munro had a Child baptized by Mr George Watson called / Isable / Willm Sharp, Stationer & Evan McPherson, Baxter. Wits.

June 25th [1783]
Alexr Fraser Schoolmaster and his Spouse Annable Munro had a Child baptized by Mr Alexr Fraser called / Alexander / Simon Fraser, Baxter & John Baillie, Square Wright. Wits.

October 1st [1784]
Alexr Fraser Schoolmaster and his Spouse Annabella Munro had a Child baptized by Mr Alexr Fraser called / Willm / Willm Sharp, Stationer & Simon Fraser, Baxter. Wits.

May 31st [1786]
Alexr Fraser Schoolmaster, and his Spouse Annabella Munro had a Child baptized by Mr Alexr Fraser called / Margrate Mackenzie / Hector Fraser, Late Gramer School m. & Simon Fraser, Baxter. Wits.

July 18th [1788]
Alexander Fraser Schoolmaster in Reighnings School & his Spouse Annabella Munro had a Child baptized by Mr Alexr Fraser called / Janet / Willm Sharp, Post Master; Willm Fraser, Mercht, and Alexr McDonald, Writer. Wits.

Jany 27th [1790]
Alexr Fraser Master of Rainings School and Anna Bella Munro his Spouse had a child baptized by Mr Alexr Fraser called / Ann / William Fraser and Simon Jameson. Wits.

August 3rd [1791]
Alexr Fraser School Master and Annabella Munro his Spouse had a Child baptized by Mr Alexr Fraser called / Ann / William Sharp and Alexr McDonald. Wits.

February 19th [1795]
Alexr Fraser Merchant and his Spouse Isabella [Annabella written above] Munro had a Child baptized by Mr Alexr Fraser called / John / Donald Fraser and Alexr McDonald. Wits.

May 2nd [1796]
Alexander Fraser Merchant & his Spouse Annabella Munro had a Child baptized by Mr Alexr Fraser called / William. / Simon Fraser, Boblanie, Donald Fraser, Writer & John McKenzie, Merchant. Wits.

In December 1996 Mr. Watt advised Donald Whyte:

"I have delayed my response to your letter of October 14th concerning the Christian name of John Fraser’s father until I had an opportunity to review this further with Marie Fraser.

"We must certainly agree with your conclusion that we do have a quandary, arising out of the respective sources of our information so many years ago. We naturally favour our source. This autobiography ties in very well many details obtained from other sources and specifically mentions the ‘naming’ pattern in his family which had produced ‘Alexander’ as the name of his eldest brother.

"Although you mention that Rev. Donald Sage knew the Fraser family personally, I am sure that you will understand our faith in the writings of John Fraser’s son, Donald… Is there any possibility that John’s father could have had both names, i.e., Alexander William?"

Donald Whyte replied:

"Thank you for yours of 20 December, and for your good wishes.

I can’t add anything to what I said before, but I understand your following Rev. Donald Fraser’s autobiography. I doubt if there would be a middle name at birth or baptism, although some people did use these later on, especially if there were several people of the same name in the same area, and this to distinguish them. Quite often, however, and this happened when they emigrated to North America, where middle names were more common, they took their mother’s maiden surname as a middle name. In one instance that I know of, a family of Penicuiks who emigrated to Illinois, actually changed to MacDonald, their mother’s maiden name, presumably because it marked them more clearly as Scots.

"If you are ‘reasonably content’ with your present conclusions, perhaps you should leave it at that."

It may be of interest to mention that Rev. Donald Fraser (1826-1892) married 28 Apr 1852, at Kingston, Theresa Eliza Isabella Gordon (1830-1909), d/o Lieutenant Colonel (later Major General) Gordon, commanding the Royal Engineers, Canada West, who was a natural son of the 4th Duke of Gordon. Rev. & Mrs. Fraser had 5 sons & 3 daughters.

Alexander Fraser, MPP (1824-1883) married 25 June 1850, at Toronto, Mary Mead Torrance (1829-1904), d/o Benjamin Torrance & Mary Mead, with issue, 4 sons & 8 daughters, all born in Cobourg, Ontario.

Thanks to Paul Lessard for additional research on the Fraser-Torrance family in Canada.

The above article was originally published in the Clan Fraser Society of Canada newsletter Canadian Explorer, September 2000, and may not be reproduced, without written permission.

Readers of this story may find it interesting to note the following quote from the Inverness Courier under date of October 10, 1827: "Died, at Inverness, on the 7th ult., in the 68th year of her age, Mrs Annabella Fraser, widow of Mr Alexander Fraser late merchant in Inverness, after a few days illness."

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