Part I of the McTavish-Thomson connection and Wellington County.

By the mid 18th century, many Highlanders were hindered in continuing in their way of life. English rule had banned Highland dress, the use of the Gaelic language and even the playing of the bagpipes. After the Battle of Culloden in 1746, many Scots felt the need to change their ways, or face harsh consequences. As a result, Highlanders were often treated like second class citizens and sought ways to overcome these biases, including Anglicizing their names in order to gain employment or even respect. I have found a few McTavish’s who elected to change their name to Thomson. In Gaelic, “Mac/Mc” , denotes “son of” whereas Tavish is translated to Thomas. So, McTavish means “son of Thomas” and in English has been translated to Tom’s son – or Thomson.

In the early 19th century, many Highlanders decided to leave their homeland in search of lands where they would not be persecuted and emigration became very popular, whether it be to Australia, the United States, Canada or elsewhere. All were seeking a new life, free from constraints. Sometimes the Highlanders, kept their Gaelic “Mc/Mac” names, sometime they used the Anglicized version, sometimes they had already changed their names and were given the Anglicized version upon their baptism and sometimes, they used their emigration as a new land to use a new name. I am not sure the reasons why but, I have some McTavish relatives who emigrated to Puslinch Township, Wellington County in the early 1830’s and used Thomson as their name.

Anyone familiar with the geography of Ontario knows that any township that borders another, despite the County, is often home to close relatives and friends. Puslinch Township borders Nassagaweya Township, although they are in different counties – Wellington and Halton respectively. A genealogist will always look at the layout of the different counties to understand who may live across the street in a different county. Not understanding the geography could lead to not seeing a close relative or family member because they live in “different Counties” and cannot possibly be related.

As my family settled in Nassagaweya Township, I wondered if any relatives or friends from Scotland may have settled nearby and hence, my investigation into Puslinch. I discovered there a family of Thomson’s…could they be related?

As I traced these Thomson families, I came to realize that they were also from Argyll, Scotland but a little further South than where I suspected my McTavish ancestors had come from – these were from the Kintyre Peninsula from the parish of Killean and Kilchenzie.

I found on the 1851 census for Puslinch, a Neil Thompson, aged 75y, living with his wife Mary (aged 73y) and children Jane (31 y) and Archibald (aged 29y), all born in Scotland, amongst a few McPhater’s. In the 1861 census for the same area, Neil is now 84 years, Mary is 82y and daughter Jane is 46 years. They are residing with presumed son Archibald (aged 43 years) and his wife Janet (aged 41y) and children Neil (age 6), Mary (age 4) and Mary (age 2). Neil apparently died in November 1862 and was buried in the Killean Cemetery in Puslinch.

1851 census Puslinch

1851 Census of Canada – Puslinch Township, Wellington County

Looking into the records at Scotland’s People, I found a baptismal record for an Archibald Thomson on 14 Feb 1817, in Beachmenach, Killean, Argyll, Scotland to parents Neil Thomson and his wife, last named McLean.

Arch Thomson birth Neil and Mary

Old Parish Register – Killean and Kilchenzie Parish – 14 February 1817

Reviewing the index of baptisms for a Niel Thomson and his wife McLean, showed a number of baptisms all in Killean including John (1803), Ann (1804), Isabella (1807), Mary (1809), Peggy (1811), Jean (1813) and Sarah (1819). On several of these baptisms, the wife “McLean” had a forename of Mary. Digging back a little further, I found a marriage for Niel Thomson from Beachmenach to Mary McLean of Killean on 23 Jun 1802.

Neil Thomson marriage to Mary McleanOld Parish Register – Killean and Kilchenzie Parish – 23 June 1802

A search for a baptism for Niel Thomson between 1762 and 1782 in Killean did not yield any results.

Going sideways in Beachmenach, I found a marriage for James Thomson to Betsy McPhater on 22 Jun 1803 and for Mary Thomson to Alexander Curry on 23 Dec 1805.

James Thomson marriage to Betsy McPhatterOld Parish Register – Killean and Kilchenzie Parish – 22 June 1803

A search for a baptismal record for James or Mary Thomson between the years of 1763 and 1790 in Killean, yielded one for James Thomson. He was baptized on 29 April 1774 in Glencardoch, Killean to parents John Thomson and Janet McPhaiter. Other children baptized to this couple included Donald Thomson in August1788 and Dugald McTavish in August 1788. Both were baptized in Crubisdale.

James baptism 1774Old Parish Register – Killean and Kilchenzie Parish – 29 April 1774

Dougald baptism 1788 McTavishOld Parish Register – Killean and Kilchenzie Parish – August 1788

Switching again back to Puslinch – a widowed James Thomson, aged 78 is found in the 1852 census, making his birth about 1774 in Scotland. He is living beside (or with) John Thomson (age 43, born in Scotland) and his wife Janet (age 33y) as well as children Jane, Elizabeth, Janet, Catherine, Isabella, Barbara and Christina (ages 11 through 1 year respectively, all born in Canada.).

John and Janet Thomson census 1852

1851 Census of Canada – Puslinch Township, Wellington County

The logs of Duff’s Presbyterian Church’s baptisms say that their mother’s maiden name was McCormick.

1845 page 2

Baptismal Records – Duff’s Presbyterian Church in Puslinch – 1845

From Scotland’s People, a baptismal record for John Thomson, son of James and McFaiter, dated 11 Jul 1808 in Beachmenach, Killean.

John Thomson so James and BetsyOld Parish Register – Killean and Kilchenzie Parish – 11 July 1808

Visiting the Killean Cemetery, I saw several headstones for Thomson’s, including James Thomson who died in 1852, his wife Betsy McPhatter who died in 1858 and a number of their sons who all died in the 1840’s. I believe his brother Neil Thomson is buried next to him, with his wife Mary McLean.

James and betsy headstone

Headstone for James Thomson and wife Betsy McPhatter – Killean Cemetery 

Neil Thomson headstoneHeadstone for James Thomson and wife Betsy McPhatter – Killean Cemetery 

Furthermore, I believe that there were other siblings that came to Puslinch with them. Betsy’s McPhatter’s brother Neil as well as Neil and James’ sister Barbara who was married to Archibald McCarmaig/McCormick in Killean in 1794 and died in Puslinch in 1845; sister Peggy’s husband Angus McStockair/Stalker who married Margaret Gardiner after Peggy died, and then emigrated to Clarke, Durham, Ontario; sister Catherine’s husband Alexander McQuilkan/Wilkenson who is also buried at the Killean Cemetery in Puslinch.

The County of Wellington Atlas page for Puslinch Township states that in 1832, lots in Concession 1 of Puslinch Township came up for sale and all lots were sold to Kintyre men. This referred to where they had come from in Scotland. Archibald Thomson chose lot 10 for his brother “Little John”, William Blue, the step son of Neil McPhatter chose lots 9 and 13, “Big John” Thomson grabbed lot 11 for himself and lots 20 & 21 for his father Neil Thomson, Neil McPhatter got lot 15 for himself and lot 14 for his son Matthew.

While we cannot conclude that they were brothers nor that the Thomson’s may have originally been McTavish, we do know that they emigrated from Killean, Argyll, Scotland and settled together in Puslinch Township, Wellington County. We also know that the Highland way of life, of creating communities of family living together, was prevalent in Puslinch. If we look deeper into the connections within Puslinch, we can see a close-knit community of friends and relatives alike, who shared a vision for their new life in Canada. I also cannot conclude if these Thomson’s are related in any way to the McTavish’s who lived a stone’s throw away. But, in my research I uncovered other ties to my family – through Clarke, Durham (where my Reavie’s and McConnachie’s settled) and also all the way to Ripley in Huron Township, Bruce County where my McTavish’s finally settled in Ontario. There, the Currie’s also settled after a stop in Durham. Even then, it was a small world!

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