Many families have a story from the past that takes on mythic qualities in the retelling. In genealogy, however, it is important to examine the story critically and evaluate the evidence. (1)
The Fleming family’s story has been about the “laird of Cragganfearn”, the belief that Alexander Fleming’s grandfather had been “laird of Cragganfearn”, an estate of some 260 acres in the central part of the Atholl region of Perthshire. As the story goes, Alexander Fleming’s father, John, met his future wife Janet Ross at Cragganfearn where she was a servant. John’s father, the laird, banned the marriage and disinherited his son when John disobeyed. Very romantic, but how much is true? To be a laird means owning a substantial estate. Did a Fleming own that estate?
Others have wondered. In 2006 there was a heated thread at Rootschat in which three Fleming descendants sought information about the laird. One respondent (not a descendant) with the handle Tickle pointed out that the entire area had been owned by the Duke of Atholl in the 1700s, and that rental records at the Blair Estate in Blair Atholl (north of Logierait and Cragganfearn) would have the answer.
We examine the sources of this story, the information itself, and the evidence from land records and other accounts. We will see that the “lairdship” story began as wishful thinkin and continued thus.
The two recorded sources in the Fleming Family papers is a flyer for a family reunion held July 16, 1927, at Springfield Farm in Derby Township, Grey County, and an account of the Fleming migration to Canada that was read and distributed at the reunion.
Roy Fleming and his cousin C.A. Fleming prepared a printed handout with photo, sketches, and basic family tree information. Prominently placed at the apex of the tree on the back page was “Fleming, Laird of Cragganfearn.” (See image above.)
Further, the “Story of the Emigration of the Family of Alexander Fleming – Jean Stewart from Scotland to Upper Canada” that told of this laird was distributed to most of the 140 attendees at that reunion. William Fleming, Alexander’s son, was credited as the author.
“My great-grandfather Fleming was born about 1730 and owned a small estate called “Cragganfearn” of 270 acres which had been in the ownership of the family for two or three generations, situated in Perthshire about three miles east of Logierait and about one mile east of Tullymet house. We do not know his Christian name; he was known as the laird of Cragganfearn but disposed of the estate about 1795 to Laird Douglas (whose two daughters married Fleming cousins). He had in his employ one Janet Ross, with whom his son John, My grandfather became attached, and to prevent their union, the laird dismissed her; she returned to her home in Ross-shire to the north. My grandfather was not to be frustrated, and followed her to her home and married here; this would be about 1790. As this marriage was against the wishes of the father, the son received little or no inheritance”.
But what was the real origin of this story? In an earlier version of his history (probably done in 1910 when the family was gathering stories), William had written:
“Coming back from the birth of my father, thirty-three years for a generation, my great-grandfather was born about 1733. There is very little known about him, what profession he followed is unknown, but we do know that he employed labor, as he dismissed an employee, Janet Ross, because his son became attached to here” … He was possessed of considerable property for when his son married the afore mentioned Janet Ross, against our great grandfather’s wishes he did not give him much property”.
Roy inserted and initialled a line to the typed manuscript that “The Flemings owned and occupied Cragganfearn up till about 1790”.
In version 2 (see image below), which was read at the Family Reunion, William’s vagueness had been removed, and Cragganfearn is presented as the Fleming home. It would have been Roy who edited the text.
Roy in his writings on family history called Cragganfearn the “ancestral home of our Fleming family in Tulliemet.” He admitted that he based this on conversations he had had with John Fleming at Cragganfearn during a visit to Scotland in 1903. This John Fleming, known in the area as “The Yankee” because he had visited Canada – in fact Springfield Farm in Derby Township, recounted to Roy that “Cragganfearn was the only known home of the Flemings, owned for generations by the family, but sold to Laird Douglas of the neighbouring farm Drumin late in the 18th century. His father James Fleming and his uncle John Fleming both married daughters of Laird Douglas.” (2)
John The Yankee grew up at Cragganfearn – his mother was the Douglas daughter, Katherine, who married James Fleming (3); and his father, James, grandfather Donald, and uncle John had farmed Cragganfearn as tenants or sub-tenants . That much is true.
Also John the Yankee believed – as did Roy – that his line of Flemings was related to Roy’s – they called each other cousin. They are probably related, but we can’t connect the two lines. We have strong evidence from marriage and birth records that John The Yankee was descended from John Fleming who married Margret Scott before 1761, likely in Tulliemet region (4); and we have determined that Roy was descended from John Fleming who married Margrate Fleming in Dowally, 9 December 1753 (5). It’s unlikely that there would be two boys named John who were brothers. Perhaps they had the same Fleming grandfather, but records are sparse, and we haven’t been able to trace further.
John and Margrate Fleming likely lived at Mains of Kilmorich in Dowally Parish after they married. Their five children were baptisized in Dowally. Their son John moved to the Mains of Kilmorich with his wife Janet Ross where their five children were born during the period 1791 to 1802.
Roy, not having access to all records, came to believe, largely based on what John the Yankee had said, that his grandfather’s grandfather had been the laird of Cragganfearn before the Douglases. Roy had been warned by another Scottish relative that John had a reputation for embellishing stories (6.) But the story stuck until Ruth Larmour undertook new research.
Firstly, she found in the family papers correspondence between Reverend James Macdonald and Roy written around the time of the reunion in 1927 that refuted the claim: Roy suppressed the information.
The Reverend had grown up in the Tulliemet area in the 1860s and 1870s and was knowledgeable about Cragganfearn. He referred to Alexander Douglas as “the laird of Craggenfearn” and noted that Alexander’s ancestor “had bought the farm subject to a yearly feu-duty from the Duke of Atholl.” (7). He remembered Donald Fleming as a sub-tenant to Alexander Douglas and John Fleming as tenant of the entire estate under Dr. William Dick’s ownership. In his research, Macdonald found that neither Fleming nor Douglas was at Cragganfearn in 1704 – a fact we have confirmed from the same source, the Roll of Duke of Atholl’s Fencible Men 1705-1706. Instead, Camerons were at Cragganfearn. (8)
In 2004, Ruth employed a Records Researcher in Edinburgh to investigate, and the researcher found no record in the Perthshire Minute Books of Sasines that a Fleming had ever owned the Cragganfearn farm.
Nor do published sources show ownership. No Fleming or even Douglas was listed as a landowner in Logierait in Loretta R. Temperley’s A Directory of Land Ownership in Scotland based on valuation rolls and additions covering the period c1770 to c1790. (9)
Lastly, the researcher ‘Tickle” in the RootsChat forum did check the rental records at Blair Archives to find that Douglases paid rents to the Duke of Atholl for Cragganfearn from 1730 to 1815. (10) This might not have been as a tenant. According to the Reverend Macdonald, the Douglases paid a yearly feu-duty (11) – that is, he was a feuar and held the farm as a vassal to the duke for which he paid a “feu”’ – a feuar could inherit or sell the feu – and this conferred sufficient “ownership” for the feuar to be considered a laird.
We can’t entirely rule out that a Fleming forebear owned land at some time in Perthshire, but it would require tracing the Fleming family to before John Fleming (born c 1730) and his wife Margrate Fleming of Dowally Parish.
We’re not finished. I hope to examine Atholl rental records in Blair Archives myself in June 2018 to confirm the Cragganfearn report and, if possible, look into Mains of Kilmorich. But as to finding a Fleming laird in the family tree – not too likely.
- We are reminded of this by Amy Johnson Crow in her three-part series about evaluation.
- Roy F. Fleming, “Craggenfearn”, Fleming Family History, compiler Christopher (Kip) George Fleming, December 2000. This had been excerpted from Roy Fleming, “The Fleming Families of Athole”, c 1938. Fleming Family Papers.
- “Scotland Marriages, 1561-1910,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XYW2-XH8 : 10 February 2018), James Fleming and Catharine Douglas, 27 Sep 1834; citing Logierait,Perth,Scotland, index based upon data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City; FHL microfilm 1,040,382.
- According to the baptismal record, Donald’s parents were John Fleming and Margret Scott of Blairinraish (in Tulliemet) .Donald Fleming, birth record, 12/07/1761; “Old Parish Registers Births 376/ 20 33 Logierait” Page 33 of 392; digital image, Scotlands People, (https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/ : accessed 19 April 2018)
- Margrate Fleeming marriage record, “Scotland Marriages, 1561-1910,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XY3S-Y9F : 10 February 2018), John Fleeming and Margrate Fleeming, 09 Dec 1753; citing Dowally,Perth,Scotland, index based upon data collected by the Genealogical Society of Utah, Salt Lake City; FHL microfilm 1,040,078, 102,707.John Fleeming, marriage record, “Old Parish Registers Marriages 344/ 10 192 Dowally” page 192 of 244, National Records of Scotland; digital image, Scotlands People, (https://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/ : accessed 20 April 2018)
- In a letter after his 1903 trip to Scotland, Roy wrote to C.A. Fleming, “”Mrs (Elizabeth) Smith (a relative on the Stewart side ) told us that John’s word was not to be depended on – so we take it with a little salt.” (14 October 1903 )
- Rev James Macdonald, Durness Manse, Lairg Sutherland, Scotland, to “Dear Sir “, Roy F. Fleming, letter, 25 July 1927 ; Fleming Family Papers.
- Atholl, John James Hugh Henry Stewart, Duke of, et al. “Roll of the Duke of Atholl’s Fencible Men 1705-1706” in Chronicles of the Atholl and Tullibardine Families, Edinburgh: Ballantyne Press, 1908. Five volumes. Volumes 1 to 4 are digitized at the Internet Archive
- Loretta R. Temperley, editor, A Directory of Land Ownership in Scotland, Scottish Record Society New Series 5, (Edinburgh: Printed for Society by Ecoprint Ltd, 1976), p. 277.Duke of Atholl owned the lands including part Tullymet, Auchnasholier, Dalcapon. Listings were based on valuation rolls and additions covering the period c1770 to c1790.
- Tickle, “Re: Where is Cragganfearne? Looking for info on the Laird – Fleming”, Rootschat.com, 27 September 2006. (Re: Where is Cragganfearne? Looking for info on the Laird – Fleming: accessed 19 May 2018)
- Macdonald, letter to Roy Fleming, 25 July 1927.