23 January 2017

McFadyens in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

This post is based on my article "From Isle of Coll to Cape Breton" in Vol. 33, No. 3 (2015) of Nova Scotia Genealogist. That issue of the journal was published last month (December 2016) in a catch-up project after an editorial hiatus.

The presence of several McFADYEN families in nineteenth-century Cape Breton does not indicate the Scotland origins of most. Curiosity led me to explore whether the others have kinship to my Donald "the soldier" McFadyen, or indeed if any also came from the Isle of Coll in the inner Hebrides of Argyllshire. Genealogical sources in both regions are limited or incomplete; alternative influences are authored works, local history, and customary naming patterns. I use the generic spelling McFadyen unless I am citing or referring to a document.

Basically, what I know about my Donald "the soldier": He was born about 1773 on Coll[1] and emigrated to Cape Breton in 1828 with wife Flory McLean and some children,[2] settling at River Denys. His parents are not verified since three Coll families in 1776 had an underage Donald.[3] For reasons beyond the discussion here, the most viable candidates are the couples Lachlan McFadyen and Flora McLean or Angus McFadyen and Mary McLean.
A page from the "1776 List"; NAS, CH2/70/1
As for "the others": Two single men came to Cape Breton sooner than my Donald. Alexander McPhaden aged twenty-two arrived in 1821.[4] Early on he is described as a tailor.[5] MacDougall says Alexander was the brother of Donald McFaden who was aged twenty-eight in 1825.[6] In his petition for a land grant, that Donald McFaden refers to his brother but does not name him. When that Donald died at Malagawatch without recording a specific birthplace in Scotland, his parents were said to be Lauchlin and Catherine.[7] Searching in Coll sources yields no appropriate baptisms and matching parents for the two men, based on their given ages, but the recorded events are not comprehensive.

Donald McFaden married Mary Ann Calder and settled at Militia Point near Malagawatch; Alexander married Margaret McQuarrie and settled at Lexington near Port Hastings.[8] Both men named their eldest sons Lachlan; both had daughters called Catherine. MacDougall’s History outlines at least the first generation of their descendants.
River Denys area, Cape Breton
 A third man, a Laughlin McPhaden applied for Cape Breton Crown land in 1821, having arrived that year, aged twenty-four and married.[9] Further records show that Laughlin and his wife Mary McLean had a son Archibald baptized in 1829 by a visiting cleric at Malagawatch.[10] It's unknown if this was their first son, i.e. possibly named after the paternal grandfather. A marriage for the couple has not been found 1795-1822 in any Old Parochial Registers on ScotlandsPeople and I find no later information about him.

I wrote a post regarding a Neil McFadyen whose father and family allegedly came to Cape Breton in 1827.[11] Neil was convicted of, and hanged for, a murder in Pictou County in 1848. However, the inquest revealed the family was from Coll's sister island, Tiree.

Finally, a Roderick MacFadyen settled, date unknown, in Cape Breton’s River Denys area. His death record in 1877 shows he was born Island of Coll and his parents were Lauchlin and Catharine.[12] His reported age at death infers a birth year of 1804-05 but his 1871 census age implies 1807.[13] Roderick/Rory married another Mary McLean and apparently did not apply for Crown land, purchasing someone else’s grant.[14] Describing him as a tailor, MacDougall says, “So far as we know, Rory had no relatives in this country.”[15] And yet, his location was a mere three lots away from my own ancestor Donald “the soldier.”[16]
Crown Lands Map Cape Breton; Donald the soldier's son Hector is shown upper left, Roderick's son Neil is lower across the river
The memoir of a Collach relocated in Australia says that two McPhaiden brothers from Totamore on Coll "went to America" in 1822.[17] Perhaps they sailed on Commerce of Greenock, as some historians assert it sailed that year (among other years).[18] Does this make a connection between these two brothers, Donald and Alexander, to the Cape Breton McFadyen brothers whose birthplace is unknown? Here, I am omitting research done in several directions but their ages do not necessarily match and all else is unsubstantiated indirect evidence.

Also in my (lengthier) article, I showed a correction to Roderick's parents. Coll historian and editor Nicholas Maclean-Bristol believes that the Roderick who died in Cape Breton in 1877 was born to Lachlan McPhaiden and wife Catherine Macdonald in Totamore, Coll.[19] However, the parents of the child Roderick baptized on Coll in 1804 were Lachlan McPhaiden of Grimsary and wife Catherine McKinnon.[20] The same couple had another son Roderick baptized 25 May 1807 — possibly indicating the first child so named had died. Either way, there seems to be no other Roderick from Coll to match the man who died in 1877.

Hector McFadyen house, River Denys
Roderick McFadyen’s potential relationship to my Donald the soldier or other McFadyens in Cape Breton remains a mystery. Roderick is clearly a generation younger than my Donald who did not have a known connection to Grimsary (or Totamore, for that matter) on Coll. The household-heads-only 1861 census tells us Roderick had five males and four females in his household, i.e. probably four sons at that time.[21] MacDougall mentions just four sons, adding that only Neil survived at the time of the book’s publication (1922).[22] In 1871, Lauchlin age twenty-four and Roderick age twenty-three were at home with sister Katy age twenty-six and two younger girls.[23] The names Lauchlin and Katy (Catherine) accord with Highland naming practice especially if Lauchlin was the oldest son. The family stone at Malagawatch cemetery shows the fourth son Allan of about the same age as Lauchlin.[24]

While oral tradition, written or spoken, may be a useful source in the absence of much original documentation, its probability as facts ranks lower on the credibility scale. Reliance on compilations and accounts of secondary information demands critical examination and caution about conclusions. I would be more than pleased to hear from any relevant McFadyens.

[1] The National Archives (TNA, Kew, England), WO25/527, Regimental Description and Succession Books, 91st Foot, 2nd Battalion, Pvt. Donald McFadden; Family History Library microfilm 0859630. Additional information came from Gerald Hamilton-Edwards, letter to author 11 October 1976, citing TNA, WO12/9319, General Muster Books and Pay Lists, 91st Foot, 2nd Battalion.
[2 “List of passengers in the Ship ‘Saint Lawrence’ ...,” J.L. MacDougall, History of Inverness County, Nova Scotia (1922; reprint Belleville, ON: Mika Publishing, 1972), 126-131.
[3] “1776 List of the Inhabitants in the Island of Coll Decr 2nd 1776” is found in Coll Kirk Sessions, National Records of Scotland (NRS), CH2/70/1/. The new Presbyterian incumbent that year compiled a list of every resident and their locations on the island to test catechism knowledge. Children under the age of seven were considered too young to be tested but they were listed. Both couples mentioned had an underage son Donald.
[4] “Cape Breton Island Petitions 1787-1843,” database, Nova Scotia Archives ( : accessed May 2008), Alexander McPhaden, no. 2754; citing Nova Scotia Archives (NSA) microfilm 15798.
[5] Nova Scotia census 1838, Inverness County, Canso Township, 19th page, Alexander McFadden; Library and Archives Canada (LAC) microfilm M-5220.
J.L. MacDougall, History of Inverness County, Nova Scotia (1922; reprint Belleville, ON: Mika Publishing, 1972), 177.
[6] “Cape Breton Island Petitions 1787-1843,” database, Nova Scotia Archives, Donald McFaden, no. 3053; citing NSA microfilm 15799.
[7] “Nova Scotia Historical Vital Statistics, Deaths 1864-1877,” digital image, Nova Scotia Archives ( : accessed May 2008); Donald McFadyen, 10 June 1869, Inverness County, register no. 1810, p. 36, no. 132.
[8] MacDougall, 177.
[9] “Cape Breton Island Petitions 1787-1843,” database, Nova Scotia Archives, Laughlin McPhaden, no. 2755; citing NSA microfilm 15798.
[10] St. John's Presbyterian (Belfast, Prince Edward Island) baptisms, 1823-1849, Archibald, son of Laughlan McFadden and Mary McLean “basin of River Denny,” born 13 February 1829, baptized 3 September 1829; LAC microfilm C-3028.
[12] “Nova Scotia ... Deaths 1864-1877,” digital image, Nova Scotia Archives ( : accessed May 2008); Roderick McFadyen, 28 February 1877, Inverness County, register no. 1810, p. 142, no. 44.
[13] 1871 Census Nova Scotia, district 203, Inverness, subdistrict D14, River Dennis, division 1, p. 21, Rory Mcfaden (age 64) household; LAC microfilm C-10565.
[14] MacDougall, 497.
[15] MacDougall, 496.
[16] MacDougall, 497. Also “1861 Census Nova Scotia,” digital image, ( : accessed 9 January 2016), Inverness County, polling district 14, abstract no. 2, line 31, Roderick McPhaden.
[17] “Donald Mackinnon, 'An Account of the Island of Coll and Its People',” West Highland Notes and Queries, Series 3, No. 17 (November 2011), newsletter of the West Highland and Island Society for Historical Research (
[18] Colin S. MacDonald, “Early Highland Emigration to Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island,” Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society, Vol. 23 (1936).
[19] Maclean-Bristol's Note 25 attached to Mackinnon, 'An Account of the Island of Coll and Its People',” West Highland Notes and Queries, Series 3, No. 17 (November 2011).
[20] Roderick McPhaden, baptism 24 August 1804; Coll Kirk Sessions, NAS, CH2/70/1/. The session minutes are mixed with baptisms and marriages beginning 1776. Marriages 1776-1819 and Baptisms 1776-1820 have also been transcribed by Ian Scott on Isle of Coll Genealogy (
[21] “1861 Census Nova Scotia,” digital image, ( : accessed 9 January 2016), Inverness County, polling district 14, abstract no. 2, line 31, Roderick McPhaden.
[22] MacDougall, 496-7.
[23] See Note 14.
[24] Nancy MacDonnell, transcriber, Malagawatch Cemetery, Inverness County, Cape Breton GenWeb ( : accessed 10 January 2016).

© 2017 Brenda Dougall Merriman