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