The Mystery of the Boisdale Connection

Moffatt family 1920

Moffatt family 1920

The family photo above is what started my quest on finding our family’s connection to the Macdonald of Boisdale clan. The young man on the right was my husband’s grandfather. This photo was taken in 1920 in what was then Fort William but is now Thunder Bay, Ontario. His father standing in the center was named John Henry Cornelius Boisdale Hender Moffatt. That’s quite a name! But there is a story there.

You see, he was born in 1876, illegitimate (but he didn’t know that!), to a widow called Mary Moffatt. She was already the mother of 4 older sons (all with the middle name MacDonald). She had John HCBH Moffatt (as we now refer to him to save time….lol), 3 years after her husband died in 1872.

Back then, no one really checked and when she registered his birth, she just said the father was Robert Moffatt, “deceased”. I spent years looking for his death record in the 9 months prior to John’s birth and could never find him. One night I had an “aha!” moment and thought maybe he didn’t die in that 9 months. Maybe he left, or emigrated or died at a different time. Sure enough, after not finding him on any census record or passenger list, I started going backwards to see if he died prior to 1875. I found him! He died in 1872. So Mary Moffatt became pregnant with our John but made sure he had names given to him to let him know that he was indeed descended from a proud family. Her other boys had the middle name MacDonald but our John had the middle name Boisdale.

This was the clue that I needed to find the connection to the Boisdale clan of Clanranald. His other middle name Hender turned out to be the maiden name of his grandmother. She was the wife of Hugh MacDonald IV of Boisdale. The photo of the little boy standing on the chair is John HCBH Moffatt, hand painted in 1877.

John HCBH Moffatt 1877

John HCBH Moffatt 1877

The next step in finding out more about John’s ancestors was to order his parent’s marriage record. This lead me to the next big break through. When I received it, it stated that Robert Moffatt was an Irish policeman and his wife was Mary MacDonald. His father is listed as a farmer (James) from Ireland and HER father was listed as Hugh MacDonald, “gentleman“.  This intrigued me because I knew enough about history to know that, in Liverpool, where the marriage happened, the Irish were not well liked in 1865. They had come over from Ireland in droves after the famine and were mostly poor, illiterate, working class people who lived in over crowded tenements in the city. I couldn’t understand how Mary MacDonald, daughter of a gentleman, could marry an Irish policeman. How did they even meet? They would have run in different circles no? Hmmmmmm. So I then thought. “I need to know more about this father of hers, Hugh”

It turns out that Hugh MacDonald was the son of Alexander III of Boisdale who I mentioned in the previous post. Hugh’s father was descended from Alexander I of Boisdale who was famous for telling Bonnie Prince Charlie to go back to France when he landed on South Uist. He didn’t think he would win over the island people to help fight in the Jacobite Rebellion.

Bonnie Prince Charlie

On the Wikipedia page entitled The Jacobite Rising of 1745 there is this mention of the exchange-

“Charles spent the night on Eriskay and returned to the Du Teillay the next morning. Alexander MacDonald of Boisdale, younger brother of the chief Macdonald of Clanranald, came to visit him. Boisdale was a Jacobite but believed the planned rising had no chance of succeeding and told Charles to return home. Charles replied: “I am come home, sir, and can entertain no notion of returning to the place whence I came. I am persuaded that my faithful Highlanders will stand by me”.[28] Charles sailed to the Loch nan Uamh and stayed at the Clanranald farm of Borrodale.”

Hugh’s father left the family in such debt that all their lands were put in trust and then sold off. By 1825, Hugh had left Scotland and moved to England.

He somehow ended up in Plymouth where he met Mary Hender. She was only about 16 when they met and he was 39! What happened next in the family is something out of a novel!


About tiesthatbindsite

I'm a genealogist with a passion for Scottish and English ancestry. I'm trilingual so I can also do research in French Canadian records and Italian records. My love for family history began 35 years ago and continues to grow every day. My family is very important to me and I hope to instill in them a love for "where they came from" so that they can better understand who they are. I also want to share my love of family history with anyone who understands how important it is to not lose site of their ancestors. They all have a story to tell.
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