Article "The Sinclairs of Argyll: Some New Research",
introduced by editor Rory Sinclair, in the Summer 1999 issue (Vol 3 No 16)
of Roslin O Roslin.
In the editorial that begins this issue, your editor was extolling
the virtues of the Internet. What follows is an example of what is best
about being on-line.... you get to see and read things that you would never
see in any other context.
On the Sinclair discussion list administered by John Quarterman, there
is a very active Argyll Sinclair group in which Toni Sinclair of Grimsby
and Neil Sinclair of Toronto are very active. Another very active member
and who is down in the trenches doing hours of genealogical research is
Karen Matheson. She is Argyll to the core and came up with the following
paper which is a tribute to tenacity and keeping your wits about you when
the genealogical slogging gets tough.
The Argyll Sinclairs have been a bit of a puzzle as it is quite clear that they are not known
to be related to the Sinclairs of Roslin or Caithness. And if they
are not, how then did they acquire the name?
Alexander M. Sinclair,
the great Gaelic Scholar from Goshen, N.S. suggested that their acquisition
of the name came from their being craftsmen/tinkers which in Gaelic becomes
"tinkler" and hence became Sinclair. An inspired guess perhaps,
but Karen has unearthed another possibility. Her paper may, at first,
be hard to follow but, trust your editor, the rewards are great if you
stick to it. Also, make no mistake here: Argyll Sinclairs are part of
the broader family now. They are tough - we want them on our side!
McNokairds: The Early Sinclairs of Argyll
By Karen J. Matheson
How is it possible that the McNokairds of Argyll became known by the
surname Sinclair? For it is certain that the McNokairds of Argyll and their
descendants became Sinclairs in the late 17th and early 18th centuries.
The transformation of the name McNokaird to Sinclair was not as strange
and convoluted as may first appear. Instead, the transition can be easily
shown, its various stages occurring through the three languages that have
been used in Scotland over the centuries: Gaelic, Scots and English.
The name change took place on both a phonetic level and a literal, or
meaning, level. The same transformation occurred with the Gaelic Mac
an fhucadair, which meant "son of the fuller of cloth". The
phonetic Scots spelling became MacNucator, while the Scots meaning was
"wauker". The English version of this name became Walker. Thus,
many of the Walkers in Scotland descend from the clan Mac an fhucadair.
According to George F. Black's Surnames of Scotland: Their Meaning,
Origin and History, McNokaird roots are in the Gaelic Mac na
cearda, which means "son of the smith". Specifically, a cerd
worked in brass.
Anciently, the ceard was a craftsman par excellence. Black states that
these craftsmen created many of the fine old Highland plaid brooches of
brass, which are exhibited at Edinburgh’s Scottish National Museum
of Antiquities. However, "the term was degraded and applied to the
poorest class of itinerant artificers, patchers of pots and pans, and
equated with Scots tinker."
Black then quotes part of Robert Burns's poem The Jolly Beggar,
which I include more fully:
"When thus the caird address'd her:
My bonnie lass, I work in brass,
A tinkler is my station:
I've travell'd round all Christian ground
In this my occupation;
I've taen the gold, an been enrolled
In many a noble squadron;
But vain they search'd when off I march'd
To go an clout [mend] the cauldron."
So, at the time Robert Burns wrote the poem (1780s-1790s), we know that the
term caird was still associated with tinkler. One can imagine that this
nickname derived from the actual tinkling sound made by the pots and pans
as they were being re-shaped, pounded, molded and patched.
"Tinkler" replaced ceard and came to be negatively associated
with wandering, gypsy-like pot-patchers. The word has further been refined
to the English "tinker". Tinkler was found only once in the Argyll
parish records as a surname: Duncan Tinkler, son of Duncan Tinkler and Cristin NcTaylor [sic], was christened on 6 September 1668 in Inveraray
and Glenaray. No further reference to this family was found. A handful of
other Tinklers were found in Renfrew and Stirling. Therefore, it seems that
"tinkler" became a slang term, while Sinclair, as I will show,
became the surname for those descendants of the early mac na ceards or
Black makes specific reference to McNokairds in early records, a few of
which I include here:
- Gillecreist M'Conoquhy Duy VcNocarde in record in Arygll, 1574; again in
1580 as Gillcreist Makonchy Duff V'Nokerd, native servant to Campbell of Glenurquhy;
- Patrick Dow M'Nokerd in Auchinchalden and Angus M'Nokerd in Braklead, 1638;
- Archibald M'Nokaird was merchant burgess of Inveraray, 1695; and
- Dond. McNougard in Gerrich, ISLAY, 1741.
The lists of rebels and fencible men as seen in Duncan C. MacTavish's
The Commons of Argyll include McNokairds. The List of Rebels in
1685 includes the following:
- John McNokerd in Stonalbanach (Kilmichell parish, Glassarie);
- Martin Mcinkerd in Lagandaroch (Kilmartin parish);
- Gilbert Mcnokerd in Barbreckmore (Craignes parish); ;
- Malcom McNokaird in Durren (Dallaich parish);
- Martin Mcinkerd in Bovuy (Kilchrenan and Inchaell parishes);
- John, Duncan, Malcom McNokerd in Killean (Glenaray parish).
The 1692 List of Fencible Men lists numerous McNokairds. Included in
Kilmore and Kilbride "excepting Lochnell's and Dunstaffnage's
lands" are Ard. SINKALLAR and Jon SINKALLAR, as well as Ard. MCNACAIRD
and Hugh MCNAKAIRD.
The McNokairds lived in northern Argyll and into present-day Perth as
well, whose western borders adjoin Argyll. An article printed in The
Kist made reference to Sinclairs, known as McNokairds, who lived at
Coulfochan at the foot of Shira Glen in Argyll. "Their land stretched
from the south end of the Dhuloch to Portinstonich, where the salmon for
the table at Inveraray Castle was netted. The house of the Sinclairs has
long since disappeared but was probably sited near the present day lodge
house at the Boshang Gate, entrance to the Castle avenue. This family were
not really Sinclairs at all, but McNokairds."
Parish registers in Inveraray & Glenaray are some of the earliest
extant for Argyll. Available documentation does not show Sinclairs living
in Coulfochan, but instead reveal that McNokairds did, indeed, live in
Coulfochan: Donald McNokaird and Ann McNokaird of Cualfochan [sic]
christened their son Duncan on 25 April 1860, while Duncan McNokerd and
Mary McInturner lived in Cuilfochan [sic] in 1704.
Other residences for McNokairds noted in parish registers include
Brenthoill/Bromhoil, Auchinbreck, Bralockan, Killian, Penmore, Bracherban
and Stronshiray (spelling questionnable on all).
Analysis of families in Argyll reveal two in particular that appear
to be the closest thing to proof of the name change.
- The first family is that of Malcolm McNokaird and Ann
Crawford, who were "of Stronshiray" in Inveraray & Glenaray
parishes. Their first three children (daughters) were:
Then Malcolm SINCLAIR and Ann Crawford, "of Stronshiray" had the
following two sons christened under the name Sinclair, not McNokaird:
- Jonet, christened 17 Apr 1705;
- Margaret, christened 4 May 1707; and
- Mary, christened 30 May 1708.
The coincidence of same names and same locale, with the only variation being
the surnames of McNokaird and Sinclair, cannot be quickly dismissed. Indeed,
it suggests a definite time period when Malcolm’s surname underwent
its transformation. (The gaps in birth years of children is explained away
by many years when christening records weren't kept and various other
- Donald Sinclair, christened 7 March 1721; and
- Patrick Sinclair, christened 25 August 1723.
- The second suggestion or proof was also found in parish
registers and is illustrated by the following: Archibald Sinclair, son of
Neil Sinclair, married Janet Reid, sister of John Reid, on 14 November 1720.
When Archibald Sinclair and Janet Reid christened their daughter Mary on
13 November 1721, the witnesses were recorded as John Reid and Neil
McNokaird. It appears that the father Neil was known interchangeably as
both Sinclair and McNo-kaird. From the same family, it appears that Mary
McNokaird, daughter to the above Neil McNokaird/Sinclair, married Patrick
McGregor, a shoemaker. Their daughter Helen McGregor was christened in
November 1723, and Mary’s name was McNokaird. When their son
Duncan was christened in July 1725, Mary’s maiden name was given
as Sinclair. In 1727, Mary’s maiden name was recorded as McInkaird
[sic] and in 1728 again as Sinclair. Thus we have strong evidence of the
name change that took place in this particular family.
McNokairds were found extensively in the parish records for Perth as
well, under the spelling McIncaird. (A few McNokairds were also found
in Stirling and Moray Shires.) The same name change took place in Perth
as well, although the use of the McNokaird name continued here later than
it did in Argyll. It was in Perth parish records that definitive proof
of the name change was discovered.
- Donald MCNAKEARD "alias Sinclar" married Kathren
Anderson on 8"December 1739 in Kenmore parish, Perth. Six years later,
John SINCLAIR, born to Donald SINCLAIR "alias McIncaird" and
Katrine Anderson, was christened 7 January 1746 in Kemore. The fact that
Donald was known by both names, first McNakeard [sic] and later by Sinclair,
leaves no doubt that the name change did take place.
The use of the surname McNokaird died out by about 1750. The parish
registers and other records show the rising use of Sinclair in its place.
The increase of Sinclair appearances in Argyll records is due to this
changeover more than sudden populations of Sinclairs appearing in Argyll.
The name transformation also explains the close relationship between
the "Sinclairs" of Argyll and the Campbells at a time when the
Campbells and members of the traditional Clan Sinclair were engaged in
a dispute over the title and lands of Caithness. This dispute culminated
in the bloody battle at Altimarlach, near Wick, between these two clans.
It is certain that some of the Sinclairs in Argyll (possibly those listed
as "strangers" in the Cowal peninsula) came in response to
advertisements and demand for labor, and were members of the traditional
clan Sinclair whose origins can be found in Caithness, the Orkney, and
Lothian. However, most of the Sinclairs in Argyll are descendants of the
craftsmen par excellence who were members of the Clan Mac na
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