Clan Fraser of West Hill

In the year 900, Vikings, under the leadership of Rolf the Granger, conquered and settled the Normande Province of France. Over the next hundred years, the Viking and indigenous French populations intermarried and developed some of the most advanced military hardware of the age. Then in 1066, under the leadership of William, the Normans invaded and conqurered Anglo-Saxon Britain, with the help of such families as the Frasers, the "Strawberry Growers". Less than a hundred years later, in 1124, David, youngest son of King Malcolm Canmore of Scotland, became King of Scotland on the death of his older brother Alexander. Having grown up with the new Norman nobility in England, and wanting to "modernize" his communial celtic country to their advanced Feudal System, David left to claim his throne, taking with him many Norman friends to aid in his cause. Among those Normans accompanying David were the Frasers, the Gordons and--the Stuarts, whose descndants would eventually assume the throne of Scotland.

The Elizabethan age saw the creation of the British Empire and the flowering of such creative geniuses as William Shakespeare. However, with the death of Queen Elizabeth, King James Stuart the VI of Scotland, son of Mary Queen of Scots, was next in line of succession for the English throne as well. In 1603 he ascended the throne of England as James I, becoming King of both England and Scotland, although the counties remained independent nations. Under James, the King James version of the Bible was written and the Pilgrims set sail for America. His Stuart successors were the Monarchs of both Scotland and England until the death of Queen Anne in 1714. Eventually, under Anne, the countries of England and Scotland, not just their thrones, joined together as the United Kingdom of Great Britain.

By 1707, Scotland, as an independent nation, had ceased to be.

James V11 and 111 should have succeeded Queen Anne as king, but his Roman Catholicism was unacceptable to the English and he was passed over in favour of the Protestant Prince George of Hanover Germany, ending over a hundred years of Stuart reign. Then, in 1720, Bonnie Prince Charlie, the next Stuart in line for the thrones of Scotland and England, was born in exile in Italy.

John Fraser and Agnes Innes (1695--1746)

The late summer sun still hung low in the evening sky as a young woman stepped tiredly from the front door of her parent's home. She was weary from a day of heavy chores and now, the last of her mending done and her sewing kit neatly packed away, she finally had some time for herself. Agnes Innes crossed the dirt track in front of Dryburn Farm and walked to the nearby tumbled circle of great stones that had defined a sacred site of the ancient Picts. Her father, Alexander Innes, and mother Elspet, were aleady asleep, exhausted from a day of heavy labour and exciting evening conversation.

Agnes remembered playing amoung the stones with her sister Margaret, who was now married and living with Willaim Anderson in Culreigh. And now it was Agnes turn to marry and Agnes time to leave Dryburn and her parents. As she sat beside one of the great stones, she gave herself over to her feelings of excitement and sadness. She was leaving so many memories behind and so much history. Dryburn had been the home of the Innes family for generations. Soon she would be living in Upper Dallachy and would be Mrs. Agnes Fraser and raising a family of her own. But for now these stones were still hers and in the late summer sky the sun seemed barely to be moving at all.

It was just after the time Scotland's history as an independent nation had come to an end that we catch the first glimpse of our own family's history. Like Agnes Innes, John Fraser was born around 1720, although nothing is certain about his background at this point. Unlike Agnes, he may not have been from Moray at all, certainly no Frasers were invited to be witness to the birth of any of John's children. Somehow John ended up in Moray, met Agnes, and was deemed worthy of marriage to Alexander Innes oldest daughter. Moray is located in the North East portion of Scotland, south of Inverness, and was one of the seven major provinces, or mormaors, of the ancient Pictish nation. It was from Moray that Macbeth came to take the throne of Scotland in the year 1040.

John Fraser married Agnes Innes at Dryburn Farm Moray in the Parish of Bellie, about 1740. After their marriage they moved to the small village of Upper Dallachy, in the newly developing agricultural area along the eastern bank of the Spey River which was part of the estate of the Duke of Gordon. On the opposite side of the Spey River were the primary estates and properties of the Innes Clan. In Upper Dallachy Agnes gave birth to our direct ancestor Alexander Fraser on 10/30/1742 and to their daughter Elspet. Agnes mother may have passed away about this time, because shorty after Elspet's birth, John and Agnes moved back to Dryburn moving in with her father and, when Alexander Innes also passed away, Dryburn ceased to be the home of the Innes family and became the home of the Frasers for at least the next century and a half. At Dryburn they gave birth to William Frazer 12/7/1746, Andrew Fraser 3/26/1749, John Frazer 9/12/1750, Margaret Frazer 1/23/1753 (who would later become witness to the the Christening of her older brother Alexander's daughter Margaret)and Christian Fraser 3/5/1756 (who, along with George Geddes, witnessed the baptism of her older brother Alexander's son, George Fraser, in 1787)

As John and Agnes struggled to raise their large family and maintain the small farm that would one day be theirs, other tragic events were about to envelope them. Determined to regain the thrones for his father, and eventually himself, the Italian speaking Bonnie Prince Charlie had landed in Scotland in 1745, with seven companions. He succeeded in raising many of the Highland Clans to his cause and his army fought its way down deep into Britain in 1746, getting to within 120 miles of London. Unfortunately the French, who were expected to rally to the Stuart cause, failed to send the additional troupes and the monies Charles needed to finance his war. His army, hungry and exhausted, found itself deep within England, just as the huge professional British army began rousing itself to its defense.

Although undefeated in battle, the Scottish army began a weary retreat back to the protection of the Highlands. As they passed by Dryburn and crossed the Spey River from Bellie Parish, the massed forces of Great Britain, composed of German, English and Scottish troupes, under command of King George's son the Duke of Cumberland, were close behind and closing fast. It had been hoped the Spey River, the second longest and fastest flowing river in Britain, would slow Cumberland forces, but that was not to be. The two armies met at Culloden on April 16, 1746, just miles from John and Agnes Fraser's home It was to be the last battle ever to take place on British soil.

Not all Scots had rallied to Charles cause, indeed there were more Scots in Cumberland's forces than in the forces of Prince Charles. Even Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat,"The Old Fox", had tried to play one side against the other, seeming to be in support of both. But in late 1745 he had been forced to choose and the Lovat branch of the Frasers had formed two battalions of Prince Charles' army. The Fraser regiment of some 500 men were under the command of Lovat's eldest son Simon Fraser the Master of Lovat. Simon junior was only 19 and had been forced by his father to support the Jacobites (Latin for supporters of "Jacob" or"James", Charlie's father).

On the morning of Culloden, Simon Jr. was absent trying to rally additional Fraser forces for the battle. Exhausted, freezing, starving, out of supplies and ammunition, the remaining 300 Frasers were under the command of 21 year old Charles Fraser of Inverallochie. Just over 4,000 Jacobite supporters stood in the snow driven moors that morning, some had been up all night after their night march, all were starving, tired and worse for wear. The Frasers were near the right in the front line of the Jacobite army, and were one of the few units whose wild charge actually breached the government front line. However, having got through Cumberland's first line, the Frasers were shot to pieces by the government second line. Fully a fifth of the Jacobite army were slaughtered in the charge, and the army faltered and fled the field. Cumberland showed no mercy and had all the Jacobite wounded shot where they lay.

Although he took no part in the battle, Simon, the Old Fox, was captured and was the last person to be beheaded on Tower Hill on April 9th 1747. Just before the execution, one of the wooden grandstands set up for Londoners to watch Lovat's beheading collapsed resulting in many injuries and several deaths before Lovat himself went to the block, calmly trading jokes to the last with his executioner. Prince Charles went into hiding for five months before eventually escaping to France, and the bottle.

In Scotland, Cumberland's army made its way to Inverness to carry on the butchery, raiding homes looking for Jacobites. Any suspected supporters of the Prince were brutally bayoneted, sold into slavery, hung or burnt alive in their homes. The slaughter continued for five months, as his army moved around the Highlands stamping out any threat that Highlanders would ever again rise against England.

Alexander Fraser and Isobella Paterson (1742--1776)

Due to the defeat at Culloden and its crushing aftermath, John's son Alexander, and his siblings, would grow up in a land significantly different from the one his father knew. Under the Disarming Act only one blunt tipped knife was permitted any Highlander. Under the Act of Proscription, wearing the tartan, playing the bagpipes and highland dress were forbidden. English became the language of the schools and gradually replaced Gaelic in the streets and homes as well. The Heritable Jurisdictions Act, effectively disbanded the Clan system and many of Clan Chiefs moved to the Lowlands or to London, distancing them from their people and setting the stage for one of the most troubling times in Scottish history, The Highland Clearances. In this early act of "ethnic cleansing", John's world of Scottish tradition and culture faded into the past.

Young Alexander Fraser grew up through this turbulent period, and, at thirty years of age, married Isobella Paterson on April 19, 1772 in Bellie Parish, taking up the farming life of his father and grandfather Innes. His oldest son, and our direct ancestor, Alex was born, probably on Longhowe farm in 1775. Alexander and Isobella were also parents of James (1785-1841 who became a surgeon and married Elizabeth Hoyle), George (August 4, 1787) and Margaret (May 9, 1791) whose godparents were James Anderson and Margaret Fraser. By 1791 the family were residing in the Village of Upper Dallachy. Alexander and Isabella were not yet residing in Dryburn which was still the home of John and Agnes. Since there were six year intervals between each of their children, it is possible Alexander spent much of this time making a living away from Moray. Possibly he was enrolled in the army or sailed one of the great trading barques out of Kingston on Spey.

Impressed by the skill and courage of the Scots at Culloden, Brigadier General James Wolfe, who had served in the British force at Culloden, was instrumental in persuading the British to allow Simon Fraser of Lovat, son of the Old Fox, to raise a regiment from his own and neighbouring clans. While the majority of the men he raised were not Frasers, they were the cream of the Highland gentry and many of their clansmen. These men would be allowed to wear their traditional dress and the opportunity to regain the Lovat title became a possibility for Simon. Originally named the 63rd Highland Regiment of Foot, but changed to the 78th shortly after their landing in America, they were more commonly known as the Fraser Highlanders. Together, under the leadership of Wolfe, the Frasers helped defeat the French colonies in Quebec, and were instrumental in the creation of the colonies of Upper and Lower Canada. Despite their success, Simon was not given back his father's title.

Within a few years, fragmentary and incredible reports arrived from America that the British Colonies there had revolted against the arrogance of the nobility and the king, under the leadership of their Commander-in-Chief, George Washington. Only the newly founded colonies in Canada remained loyal to the Crown. The Fraser Highlanders were raised again, this time to fight for the Crown against the Revolution. This time the Frasers were defeated.

But those were distant and confusing tales from a world away and there were daily events on a much more personal scale happening at home. John and Agnes had passed away and Alexander and Isabella inherited the tenancy at Dryburn.

It was likely raining and probably cool as Alexander and his son Alex left Isobella and the other children by the smoky warmth of the family hearth and took their dogs for a run across the fields to the old Circle of Stones that marked the sacred site of the ancient Picts. Since the kilt was now forbidden, they wore trousers and shirts and heavy coats or heavy woolen blankets as protection from the rain. Did they wonder at the ancient tumbled circle of stones or even take refuge there against the cold for a while, discussing their plans for the future? Beside the Circle was the dry burn, a former creek bed, from which the Farm derived its name. Father and son likely forgot about the cold and the rain sweeping down from the Gampian Hills as they talked about their management of the farm. What repairs needed to be done, what crops to plant in the spring.

"Da, you'll no be goin' away now we've Dryburn to work, will ye?" Alex may have asked.

Alexander layed a hand on the hard wet stones he had known so well as a child, "No lad, I've come home. And its home I'll stay."

Alex Fraser and Jane Scott (1776--1803)

Under the ancient Clan system the land belonged to the family, the clan. The Clan Chief administered the land the way a parent would tend to a family, with regard for the best interests of all. After the defeat of Culloden, the Clan chiefs were living an expensive life apart from their clan, and now regarded the land as their own. Those members of their families who had lived and worked the land for generations, were now considered tenants on the Chief's property. Unproductive and unprofitable tenants at that. The Chiefs determined to "Improve" the situation and, in a massive betrayal of their families and their duties as Clan Chiefs, the Highland Clearances were to begin during Alex long lifetime.

After growing up on Dryburn farm, Alex married Jane Scott from neighbouring Upper Achenreath in 1793 when he was 18. Seventeen year old Jane was the third of four children born to William Scott and Isabelle Jack of Carsmuir, Bellie. Late in life, after the death of his wife, William Scott would be taken into Dryburn to be cared for by his daughter Jane. She and Alex would also be caring for Alex elderly father Alexander after Isobella Paterson's death. Alex and Jane both lived long lives and were parents to still another Alexander (1802 their oldest son who would become the fourth generation of Frasers to inherit and live at Dryburn), our ancestor James (December 4, 1803), Isobella (1806), Mary (1814 who married Alexander Hendry, a sailor who was to be lost at sea) and another sister Margaret (1817 who married master carpenter James Reid on December 21, 1843).

In 1782 the repressive Act of Proscription was finally repealed. But the damage had been done. An entire geneation had passed and many of the new clan chiefs had been born in the fine houses of London and the south of England and had never seen the land nor the people they now lorded over.

In Europe in 1789, inspired by the successful American Revolution a decade earlier, the French also revolted against their King and nobility. As news of this latest Revolution, so close to home, reached Scotland, it must have formed part of the family's evening discussion in the home of Alex and Jane. Then they would have been horrified as the Revolution, begun from the loftiest of ideals, degenerated into a blood bath of mobs, the guillotine and, by 1799, eventual chaos. By 1800, the French army restored order rescuing the country from anarchy by instilling Napoleon Bonaparte as Emperior. Under his leadership the French stopped fighting amongst themselves and turned their energies to the conquest of Europe. The might of Napoleon was so terrifying, mothers would put their children to bed, threatening them to be quiet or Bonaparte would get them.

One advantage to the Napoleonic wars was in keeping the demand for beef high, feeding Britain's large armies fighting overseas. This allowed the absentee clan chieftains to make some income from their still faithful clansmen rearing the great shaggy highland cattle in the remote hills and glens of the Highlands. However, after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo in 1815, the market for meat dropped sharply and the new noblemen faced imminent bankruptcy. The small rents they received from their tenant farmers was not sufficient to meet their new lavish lifestyle.

About the same time that the demand for beef and cattle dropped the demand for sheep and wool rose dramatically. The price of Highland wool in 1801 had been 15 shillings per stone but by 1818 it had more than doubled to 40 shillings per stone. The chiefs saw their chance to renew their fortunes and immediately started to replace the herds of Highlands cattle with flocks of hill sheep, being offered to them by the British Wool Society for ridiculously cheap prices in an attempt to corner the world market for meat and wool. Sheep did not take as much looking after as cattle and they could be left to roam the empty hills and glens with only a small handful of people to tend them. On average, one shepherd took up as much land as had been worked by 12-16 families (roughly 80 people). Soon the Scottish highlands were echoing to the high-pitched sound of the bleating sheep where once they had been lulled by the soft lowing of the great shaggy Highland cows.

It soon became clear that the small holdings of the remaining clansmen were getting in the way of the highly profitable sheep so the landlords started to move the people out of their homes, out of their jurisdiction and out of their conscience. In 1800 there had been 355,700 indigenous Highland sheep farmed in all of Argyllsire, Inverness, Caithness and Sutherland. By 1880 the number had risen to over two million, nearly all of them imported hybrid cheviots.

The landlords called this replacing of people with sheep "The Improvements" because they saw it as a way of improving the profitability of their land. The people referred to the improvements as "The Clearances" for they were simply cleared out of the way to make way for the hated sheep. To be "Cleared" usually meant that, often without warning, the factor, or landlord's agent, would arrive one morning at your home, order you out and burn down the house without even allowing sufficient time to remove people or property. Roof timbers were destroyed so that houses or even temporary shelters from the cruel Scottish weather could not be built in an area where trees are scarce. At the height of the Clearances as many as 2,000 homes were being burned in a day. Many of these small crofts had been occupied by the same family for as long as 500 years. Because many crofters were still loyal to their chieftain they often placed the blame for the Clearances and their hardships on the factors. It was beyond their comprehension that their chief would treat them in such a manner.

The previous year had been very difficult, the weather poor and the crops a failure. But spring was here again, and the day was cloudy and threatening rain as Alex and Jane set off with their two sons to walk the mile and a half distance to the new village of Port Gordon. The two boys were in high spirits, chasing each other in a make shift game of tag. Jane was in a good mood herself, looking forward to a rare day of shopping and visiting in town.

As Alexander reached out to tag James, the younger boy squirmed out of the way, twisted suddenly and, with a cry of triumph on his lips, ran straight into John Green at the enterance to Slackend Farm.

"James can you no behave yerself!" Alex chided, picking his youngest son up off the ground.

"Ah, there jest boys, Mr. Fraser" John Green laughted.

"Aye," agreed Jane, "But far too high spirited for their own good, betimes! You have our appologies, Mr. Green. But how is your good wife. Is she delivered of that new bairn yet?"

John Green smiled. "Oh aye. We've a new wee lassie in the family."

"And what will you be naming her, Mr. Green?" asked James, hiding safely behind his father's leg.

"Her name is Ann, Master James. And a bonnie wee babe she is too."

"Araugh, you no want to stand around talkin about bairns, do ye," James older brother pulled him away from his father's leg. "Come on I'll race ye to town."

And the two boys took off at a run, the Green's new baby already forgotten.

James Fraser and Ann Green (1803--1839)

James was the second son of Alex and Jane (Scott) Fraser, third generation tenant farmers of Dryburn. He had four siblings: an older brother Alexander (1802, who would marry and eventually take over Dryburn, as would his oldest son Alexander after him) Isabel (1806), Margaret (1817 who moved to the new village of Port Gordon and married master carpenter James Reid on December 21, 1843. Their grandson, George Reid married and their son is called Fraser Reid in honour of the Fraser connection. As of July 2001 he was still living in the family home in Port Gordon.) and Mary (who who also moved to Port Gordon and married Alexander Hendry, a sailor lost at sea off Troup's Head on December 1, 1867. Mary had three children, Alexander, Mary and James. Her daughter Mary married a McGregor). James was born on December 4, 1803 at Dryburn.

With Dryburn destined for his older brother, James moved to the new village of Port Gordon, recently founded by Alexander, the fourth Duke of Gordon. Here he worked in many different capacities. James never married but acknowledged fathering a child (William Fraser) by Ann Green in 1839. Since he and Ann never married, their son William was raised by Ann's parents John and Isabella (Sinclair) Green of Slackend Farm. The Greens were Roman Catholic and it could be that a religious difference prevented James and Ann from marrying. Ann, however, later married William Simpson a Catholic and a blacksmith at Longhill, Urquhart Parish in Moray. (Ann's son William would later marry Johanna Chisholm in this same church, presumably so that his mother could attend the ceremony). Together Ann and William Simpson had 4 half siblings to William (Ann, Mary, Isabella and Alexander Simpson).

The large crate was heavy and required all the strength of James and his two servents to lower it from the wagon to the ground at the back of his store. The crate had recently arrived by merchant ship at Port Gordon harbour and contained several sets of china. This made the crate both heavy and delicate at the same time and took careful handling.

As James took a handerchief out of his pocket and whiped his forehead, he noticed Isobella standing in the doorway.

"James?" she said.

"What is it Isobella, we're verra busy."

"It's the wee laddie. He's here."

James quickly put his handerchief away and turned to his helpers, "Don't touch a thing 'til I'm back, de ye kin?"

They both smiled, knowingly. "Aye," they agreed.

James and Isobella hurried through the store room to the rear enterance of the store where James held back in the shadows. Young William Fraser, in the company of his grandparents, the Greens, was looking longingly at the jars of candy behind the counter.

"He's growing into a fine strong lad," whispered James.

"Will you no go into the store and say hello, James?" Isabella asked.

Her brother shifted uncomfortably. "I've a lot to do," he said. "But you could give him one of yon sweets, if you think it suitable. Only one mind."

"Aye, James," said Isobella sadly as her brother returned to his tasks, having taken one last look at his son before he left.

James had a varied career in the town of Portgordon. He was harbour master, fish-curer, merchant, innkeeper of the Portgordon Inn, grain-dealer and finally (together with his sister Isobel) a grocer and general merchant. After James death, his sister Isobel carried on his grocery business for another decade. She may, at that point, have turned it over to her younger sister Margaret who is also listed as a grocer in the town of Port Gordon.