Sinclairs of Argyll
A Genealogical Enquiry

From Roslin O Roslin Spring 1996 (Vol 3 No 2), Rory Sinclair, Editor

Lois Carson Boyce of B.C. writes to tell us some background information and to ask a question.

Her family are Sinclairs of the Argyll branch. Specifically John Lauchlan Sinclair (1751-1836) and his wife Mary Sally McIntyre (1759-1854) were baptized in the parish of Kilchrennan & Dalavich near Loch Awe in the Lorne district of Argyll.

Both died in Carodoc Township, Middlesex County, Ontario. Their children were: Lauchlan (died in Scotland); Anne (Nancy) who married Hugh MacPherson; John who married Effie Johnson; Mary who married Duncan MacLean; Peter who married Nancy Sinclair; Sarah who married another Duncan MacLean; Catherine who married Colquhon Campbell; and Duncan who married Nancy McKeller and Susan McNulty.

Lois's question concerns the relationship between the Sinclairs of Argyll and the Sinclairs of Roslin and Caithness. She has heard:

  1. the Campbells captured some Sinclairs at Glencoe and took them back as slave/farm labourers, and,
  2. there is no connection.

She says that the picture of Niven Sinclair in the last issue of Roslin O Roslin was a dead ringer for her father, Peter Sinclair Carson and she is sure there must be a connection which we have yet to uncover. She adds that she has a complete computer file on her family...

The editor responds with what he knows, to wit: all clan histories that he has ever read has made the point that the Argyll Sinclairs are unrelated to the Rosslyn/Caithness Sinclairs.

If there is any truth to the Sinclair-captured-by-Campbells story, it is unlikely to have been from Glencoe as that conflict involved the killing of a number of MacDonalds by Campbells. More likely is the capture of Sinclairs after the Battle of Altimarlach (see below) near Wick in 1680, which did involve Campbells and Sinclairs, but there is no evidence that such a transportation ever occurred.

The most reasonable explanation for the two branches has to do with the name Sinclair as pronounced by Gaelic speakers. The Argyll Sinclairs were reputed to be great craftsmen (in Gaelic: Mhic Nan Caerda). Sinclair sounds like "Tinkler" to a Gaelic ear and is a homonym for "tinker" or metal worker. Hence they became Sinclairs.

At the end of the day, your editor, if it were up to him, would say: "Sinclairs come from the Lowlands, the crucible of Scottish independence; from Caithness and the North with its Viking heritage and from the West Highlands of Argyll, heartland of the Gael. We Sinclairs collectively epitomize the best of Scotland. Welcome all!"

A further note of interest for Argyll Sinclairs concerns the famous Netherlorn Cantaireachd or "bagpipe language" as written down in the late 18th century by Colin Campbell, piper to Campbell of Netherlorn. Colin's father had played at Culloden for the Macdonalds of Glenalladale. He was rescued from prison and/or death by Netherlorn. His manuscript was only recognized for what it is this century and it has taken 100 years to extract over 150 piobaireachd or classical bagpipe tunes from the script, tunes that would otherwise have been lost.

Now to the Sinclair connection: Mary Campbell, a granddaughter of the writer of the Cantaireachd, married Duncan Sinclair a builder from Easdale only a few miles from the parish of Kichrennan where Lois's ancestors come from.

It is also noteworthy that another member, Kenneth Goodwin Sinclair of Newcastle, N.B. is also a descendant of Argyll Sinclairs. His grandfather was born in the parish of Kilmore, between Netherlorn and Kilchrennan. Guess what. His name was Duncan Sinclair!

Genealogical teasers anyone?


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