Jour­ney to trace an­ces­tors was ‘like go­ing home’

The Oban Times - - News -

AN AMER­I­CAN de­scen­dant of Lis­more’s last weaver, John MacDougall, re­turned to her an­ces­tral home­land this month to thank Lis­more His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety for help­ing her compile a book of let­ters be­tween John and his son, who em­i­grated to Min­nesota.

Mar­garet Miller, John MacDougall’s great­great-grand­daugh­ter, pub­lished her book last year, en­ti­tled: ‘My Dear Son: Let­ters from John McDougall (weaver), Isle of Lis­more, Scot­land, to his son, John, in Amer­ica’.

The 37 let­ters, hand­writ­ten be­tween 1870 and 1888, give an in­sight into the life and thoughts of a land­less cot­tar whose chil­dren had ei­ther died or left Lis­more to be­gin new, more pros­per­ous, lives in far­away lands. They in­clude news about peo­ple and events on the is­land, in Port Ap­pin, Oban and neigh­bour­ing com­mu­ni­ties.

Weaver John was born on Lis­more in 1803 at Bal­li­mackil­lichan, and mar­ried fel­low is­lan­der Cather­ine Mc­Cal­lum of Balure. The cou­ple raised their eight chil­dren at Bal­li­mackil­lichan, and lived there un­til Cather­ine’s death in 1886.

‘The clear­ances af­fected Lis­more,’ Mar­garet said. ‘Fam­i­lies were be­ing moved off the land, be­cause leases were not be­ing re­newed by the landowner.

‘John McDougall, a weaver, was for­tu­nate to stay, but all his chil­dren left Lis­more. I don’t know how they did it. They didn’t have much money. It called on their strength.’

One son born in 1837, also called John, set­tled in Red­wood County, Min­nesota, but his fa­ther’s let­ters also sent news to other Lis­more em­i­grants in the area, such as Cather­ine Mc­Cal­lum’s sis­terin-law Ann Mc­Cal­lum, and Ann’s chil­dren.

The chil­dren and grand­chil­dren of the younger John McDougall and his wife Isabel Mc­Cal­lum, who were born in the United States, saved the let­ters and gave them to the Lis­more His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety in 2011.

Mar­garet, who took four years to compile the book, told us: ‘I came back to Lis­more to un­der­stand what the let­ters were say­ing: a lot of ex­pres­sions didn’t mean any­thing to me. There was a heavy re-use of names; there were four John McCal­lums in the let­ters. I was pulling my hair out fig­ur­ing out who all th­ese peo­ple were. The peo­ple of Lis­more have been great – they opened up a lot of the char­ac­ters.’

One rel­a­tive brought to life was the younger John McDougall’s sis­ter, who also em­i­grated to Min­nesota in 1877 but who died sud­denly a year later.

Her hus­band took their three old­est boys, aged 10, 11 and 12, to work down the state’s cop­per mines, and put their three youngest boys up for adoption – one of whom was Mar­garet’s grand­fa­ther. Mar­garet is named af­ter her tragic great-grand­mother, who, she says, missed Lis­more ter­ri­bly.

Mar­garet Miller, who lives in Ar­ling­ton, Vir­ginia, vis­ited from Sun­day May 29 to Wed­nes­day June 1 with her brother Bob Wil­cox, who lives in Mu­nich, and their cousins Donna Pot­ter and Lee Ann Stearns from North and South Dakota re­spec­tively. They paid re­spects to the sib­lings who died or de­parted at a grave marker, which lists their names, in Lis­more Parish Church yard.

She told The Oban Times: ‘When I came to Lis­more, I felt like I was com­ing home.’

Mar­garet Miller, Lee Ann Stearns, Donna Pot­ter and Bob Wil­cox at Lis­more Parish Church, and, inset left, em­i­grants John McDougall and his wife Isabel Mc­Cal­lum and John in High­land rig be­fore he left for Min­nesota.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.