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Mini Biographies of Scots and Scots Descendants (Mc)
McNairn, John


John McNairn, Scotland Native and United Empire Loyalist
by
Cheryl L. "Zetta McNairn" Grice

John McNairn was born December 8, 1745, in Penninhame, Wigtownshire, Scotland, the third of at least 4 known children of William McNairn and Agnes Chesney. It seems he grew up in the area of Newton Stewart on a farm called "The Knowe", of which his father, William, was the first Laird. William, who was determined to be an owner instead of just a tenant farmer like his father, had saved to purchase the farm, and according to old family letters had possibly gotten the money for the farm from engaging in "the contraband trade". William was the third son of Alexander McNairn and Helen M'Keand, and was raised near Barskeoch.

John was married about 1770 to Annie Elizabeth Kerr; he was 25 and she was 16. According to information from the McNairn Family Record, a document written by Norman A. McNairn in 1987, John, along with a party of Scottish settlers, his wife, and their eldest daughter Margaret, arrived in New York 1773. The party seems to have included James Forsyth, a friend and maybe a cousin, and probably others from Galloway. Since the Susquehanna River valley was just opening up, the McNarin group made arrangements to purchase farm lots from Sir William Johnson, who had patents to several miles along the Susquehanna and its main tributary. He settled down with his family and farmed in Tryon County, New York Province. (Montgomery County is now located where Tryon County used to be.) John McNairn remained loyal to the Crown, and was subsequently jailed twice for refusing to take part in the American Revolution and aiding refugees. He was finally forced to abandon his home and came to Canada in 1778. The women and children were soon accommodated in a refugee camp, and John enlisted in the King's Royal Regiment of New York, where he served as a sargeant in Bateau Company under Capt. Jost Herkimer. He was stationed at Coteau du Lac for the duration of the war.

In 1783 John McNairn & his fellow soldiers wrote an appeal to the Governor because they had lost all their personal property in New York, and had been serving in the King's Royal Reginmetn of New York some for five years or more. Jost Harkimer, Joseph Anderson, Rudolph Shoemaker, John Coyne, John McNairn, and eight others signed the document. Here it is in brief:

"To His Excellency Frederick Haldimand...Governour in...the Province of Quebec..." (This) Memorial...humbly showeth "Tha your memorialists having now no expectations of ever hereafter returning to the peaceable enjoyment of their respective properties in the Province of New York...in Consequence thereof have not dependence for the future living left them, wherefore wish to settle upon lands that they might with their industry get a living, and some dependence for ther prosperity. Therefore pray, that your Excellency would take into Consideration your Memorialists Deplorable Situation, and would be pleased to grant to them a Tract of Parcel of Land...at Fort Erie...extending in length twelve miles...and in dept..four miles, the said Tract or Parcel of Land having hertofore been purchased from the Indian Owners..."

It was eventually determined that every Loyalist veteran would receive at least a hundred acres of good land from the Crown, officers receiving larger but limited grants. John McNairn and his family arrived at New Johnstown (later renamed Cornwall) in May or June of 1784 to claim their new property, which was just the land; they had to build their own homes and make their own furniture. Numbered tickets were drawn from a hat to determine where they would settle, and John drew Lot 25 on the front of Cornwall Township. John's regiment was also disbanded about this time.

The Loyalists Claims Commission held hearings in Montreal in February, 1788, for Loyalist refugees who had not had the opportunity to appear in 1783. (John McNairn had not been able to appear then due to his duties and remote location of the regiment.) Among thoses who were there were John McNairn and his old friend James Forsyth. Here is the record of the testimony given to the Commission on the 9th of February 1788:

"337. Evidence on the claim of John McNairn, late of Tryon County, N.Y. Province. Claimt. sworn: Says that in 1783 he was on duty at Coteau du Lac. Major Leake carried his claim home.

He is native of Scotland and came to America in 1773. Before the war he was settled on the Susquehanna. He came to Canada in 1778. Before that he had been twice taken prisoner. He never would join them. He served during the war in the Bateaux Company. Produced a certificate from Capt. John McDonnell, N.Y. Regt. to Claimt.'s Loyalty and Character. Improvements on a farm on the Susquehanna, 15 acres cleared. With a house & barn & barracks, 5 horses, some hogs, 2 year old cattle, some furtniture & farming utensils. Witts., James Forsyth, Sowrn..."

In 1961 Norman McNairn visited the Public Records Office in London, England, and found a number of the original papers relating to this case. One of these was the certificate mentioned in the minutes of the Commission. It reads as follows:

"New Johnstown 5th Febry. 1788 These are to certify that the bearer John McNairn has always been a good Loyalist and that he harboured and supported several individuals who were forced to leave their places of abode on acct. of ther fidelity to His Majesty and attached to the British Government. To Whom it May Concern. John McDonnell, Captn. Late KsR1Rt.N.Y.

A further document in the Public Records Office indicated that the Commission granted in this case a compensation of sixty pounds sterling. In 1797 John McNairn received a royal patent to his farm in the name of the King, George the Third. This very document is currently preserved in the home of John's great-great grandson, Stanley McNairn.

In the year 1811 John McNairn drew up his will and testament: "IN THE NAME OF GOD, AMEN. I John McNairn of the township of Cornwall in the eastern disctrict of the Province of Upper Canada, yeoman, being weak in body but perfect in mind and memory, thanks be to God, Calling to mind the Mortality of my Body and Knowing that it is appointed for all men to die, do make and ordain this my last Will and Testament. First of all I give and recommend my sould in the Hand of Almighty God That geve it, and my body I recommend to the Earth to be buried in a decent Christian manner at the discretion of my friends. Nothing doubting but at the General Resurrection I shall receive the same again by the mighty Power of God, and as touching such worldly Estate wherewith it pleased God to bless me in this life, I give devise and dispose of it in the following manner and form..."

It is evident from the will that John's wife had already died; perhaps it was her death that prompted him to make his will. It is also interesting to note that in Scotland at this time it was usual for the eldest son to inherit the home property, but John McNairn sensibly provided otherwise for his elder sons and left the home farm to his youngest son, Alexander, a practice which continued through the generations. John left other farms to sons and stock to the daughters. The will was registered after his death, in the year 1814, thirty years after he and his little family first arrived on their homestead. He was 68. His friends buried John in the Anglican cemetery in Cornwall, though he was a Presbyterian, for that was then the only burial ground in the town. No marker remains to identify the spot.

John McNairn's youngest son, Alexander, and his wife Elizabeth Annable, went on to have at least three children, the third of whom was Elisha McNairn. Elisha married Catherine Fletcher and had four children, the second of whom was William Fletcher McNairn. William married Arazetta Stillwell, and they had four sons, the eldest being my grandfather, Oral Charles McNairn. Oral was the last of my line to be born in Canada; he married "Billie" Richardson, of New York, and they moved to New Jersey, where my mother was born. The entire family then moved to Ohio; I was eventually born in Indiana.

Most of the ancestors of John McNairn remain today in Canada, in Ontario and British Columbia. There are a few scattered about in the United States, and more descendants of Alexander M'Narine, John's great-grandfather, that remain in Scotland. There is little physical evidence left behind of John McNairn's existence; scattered paper trails here and there, stories passed down through the generations, and of course the original Crown Grant for the Farm. Sadly, even the farm which he cleared by his own toil has almost entirely vanished. If you visit Guindon Park in Long Sault, Ontario, you can look over the waters to the place where Mille Roches and the Homestead used to be; other than that, the only bit of the original farm that remains is the house in which John McNairn's grandchildren and great-granchildren were born. This house was lovingly moved, brick by brick, from its former location just outside of Mille Roches, to it's current location on Highway 2 in Long Sault. Family members still occupy the house, and it is here that the original Crown Grant proudly hangs in its antique wooden frame.

Although he was not a major figure in history, the proud legacy and heritage of John McNairn, United Empire Loyalist and Scotland native, live on in his descendants. I am proud to be one of them.


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