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Sinclairs in PEI

Brief History: Sinclairs of PEI

In planning a family reunion of Sinclairs from Glendaruel/Prince Edward
Island, I found myself composing a social history of the Sinclairs on
this Island Province and wanted to share this short history with those
of you that may be curious or inspired.

You may in turn recogognize many of the social patterns that your
ancestors may have moved through themselves as settlers.  For want of a
better subject handle it is the Sinclair History of PEI shared as
something of an over view. Perhaps it will inspire others to write on
Delaware and such places where their ancestors were affected by the
social and economic and political history of their times. PEI Sinclairs
are not all that different from many of the Sinclairs in other
geographies that we chat about on the Sinclair list.

All stories have a beginning someplace, and the PEI story starts in a
small clachan in Argyll in the mid 1700's, where a Sinclair family was
tenanted on the estates of John Campbell of Glenorchy in the Glendareul
valley. This was the same Campbell sept ran into some altercation with
the Sinclairs of Caithness in the previous century gaining the
reputation as having fought in the last clan war. Ironies aside, what we
have is very much a picture of rural agricultural life in the later half
of the 1700's.

Now a combination of historical factors started to come into play for
these crofters. An Ocean away the Nations of England and France were
deciding through force of arms, who would occupy and colonize the north
part of North America. There was the famous fall of the French forces of
Quebec and the transfer of the French holdings in North America to the
Crown of Britain through the Treaty of Paris. Now among the territories
so transferred was the Ilse of St John who had to be settled and
colonized. To all intents and purposes it was sparcely inhabited. As it
is frequently written "to the victor go the spoils" and the Island was
divided into a number of lots to be drawn by a lottery at the time
"among those deserving of reward for service to the Crown".

Well one of those individuals so entitled was Dougald Stewart who served
as the second in command to George Washington during the Seven Years
War. In fact George and Dougald remained friends even during and after
the American Revolutionary War. In any event the lottery having been
decided and lots divided, it then simply remained to gather a bunch of
settlers to make their home on the Island. The one stipulation was that
they had to be Protestant.

Word went out and a number of families in Argyll and Kintyre responded
to the opportunity to settle and eventually own their own lands. Now to
those that have an impression of a clan system being neatly divided in
defined settlements over a set piece of geography, all with the same
last names, we would respectfully point out that nothing could be
further from the truth. This was certainly true after Culloden and over
the south - west of Scotland by the end of the 1700's. English names as
well as a great many Highland Clan and Scottish names had settled all
through Argyll and the towns and cities of Scotland.

It was a wide variety of names and families in the region that
respoinded to the call to settle this new opportunity.  Now at different
points of history the motivations for departing Scotland were different.
In the following century it would be because of an economic revolution,
but during 1765 it was simply economic opportunity and the ability of
settlers to own some land of their own. One must recall that land
ownership during the period was the primary reason why opportunities
were sought in the Americas. While the purchase of ownership was not
impossible in Scotland, it was unusual and required more capital than
most tenants could ever hope to accumulate in their lifetime. This is
assuming that the lands be capable of sale and offered. Most 'titles in
fee simple' were not available to the tenanted class.

Now one of the settlement patterns for migration to the America's from
Scotland, had families travel with nephews together with their own
offspring. This allowed the remaining family a foothold in the
destination, should at some point residency qualifications for
settlement have to be met. Sending a child as an emmigrant was a
compromise at a point where their own resources did not permit their own
departure. Hence a younger generation may frequently proceed an older
generation in the patterns of some settlements.

In 1770 the Bark Annabelle set sail from Campbelton Kintyre to Malepeque
Bay on the north shore of St Jonh Island. On board was a what we assume
was Sinclair Family or perhaps a direct relation, and a young boy under
6 year old called John Sinclair. Now this John, obtained a reputation of
being the cabin boy on the voyage which culminated after 3 long months
in October 1770. The fall colours would have topped red sandstone cliffs
all across the Island as the first sight of what would be their new

Now one of the strangest things happened, the passengers and crew
disembarked, and the boat proceeded to sink to the bottom of the Ocean.
On board were all the settlers belongings and provisions for the winter.
Imagine a 6 year old lad, with no food, and no tools standing on the red
sandstone cliffs watching a white rabbit scurry by. All were
anticipating a climate that gets ice and snow within a few more months.
Of course he did not have a clue as to where dinner would be coming
from. He was not alone in this thought. Some 120 other individuals were
around him looking at the same white rabbit that might have ended up as
being someone's dinner that night.

Now survive somehow he did, and he became the first Sinclair to own land
in what later became Prince Edward Island having purchased it from
Dougald Stewart for fifty Halifax Dollars at the young age of 19. He was
the first Sinclair in PEI and the first in his family to own land.

 Later his youngest brother, who was a Drover of cattle though Argyll,
Scotland, met with either accident or illness and in either event died
leaving a widow and a brood of children with no support or livelihood.
Making the best of adverse circumstances they followed John in 1840. By
this time our young lad was not a young lad any more being well into his
60;s. From this simple Sinclair family of Glendaruel the Sinclairs of
Prince Edward Island obtained their heritage and roots. We do not know
what happened to the pioneers that may have accompanied our John, or the
pioneer settlement. All this has been lost in the sands of erosion.
However like so many stories that become common to Sinclairs around the
world as settlers, the family flourished and the descendants live from
Newfoundland to British Columbia, from Cape Cod to Los Angles. They have
served in politics, explored the South Pole, and the western indian
lands with the buffalo. They have married and raised ten generations, of
hundreds of descendants carrying their same DNA.  They built their
communities, some stayed on the island, some left to start over again.
Throughout they were caracterized by decency, hard work and social

In later years they were joined on the Island by other Sinclairs not
directly related but which came from Thurso and Caithness and elsewhere
in Argyll. Other Sinclair families appear from elsewhere in the
maritimes and Ireland then intermingled with the PEI population. The
world shrank in the 1800's and continues to do so at an accelerated
rate. This Sinclair story is not uncommon but as all stories that our
ancestors may tell, it reflects the times and society.

Our John likely never learned to read or write, he spoke Gaelic, he may
have played the fiddle. He worked with his hands and was frugal  He
sponsored his church, the local school and taught his children the value
of families and education. His decendants now hold doctorates from the
finest Universities today, circumnavigate the globe and fly airliners.
They tend farms a stones throw from the first house, and raise their
children. They have married into families from Jacques Cartier ship and
the Matyflower. Not a bad legacy.

I encourage you to find and obtain your own local Sinclair stories, and
give tribute, where due, to their adventure and courage. To share their
strength of character and to recognize their social contribution in
moving the Sinclair story forward. With a "yours aye yours" I want to
encourage other families of the Sinclair discussion list to perhaps plan
a family gathering for this year, as the first year of the century. So
from the Plains of Abraham, to George Washington's friend, through ship
wrecks and hungry times, the family in its many coloured coat moved

{Oh How did John survive winter in 1770?
Through two ironies of history. The Indians and the Acadians who were
the subject matter of being displaced by British settlement after 1770
came to the rescue. They shared what they had and taught the families to
hunt and fish!}

I thank you and hope in a small way this inspires you to do the same.
Have fun.
Neil Sinclair
Toronto/PEI/Forever Argyll
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