History of Clan

Crest and Flag of MacKinnon ClanThe Isle of Mull is part of Argyll County, lying off the west coast of Scotland. Like much of Scotland, it is a land of beautiful and majestic scenery, with rocky mountains and coasts. However, there is very little arable land, the weather is cool, wet and changeable, and the population in the early 19th century was greater than the land could support. The cottars in Mull lived in turf houses, with peat fires for heat. Their diet consisted largely of oatmeal, milk and some fish, with the occasional chicken and eggs, and rarely beef or mutton. By the late 1700s, potatoes had been added to the diet, but other vegetables were neither cultivated nor eaten. Cattle were kept, but primarily for sale, so that rent could be paid on the land. Failure of a crop meant certain starvation for some of the population.

Charles the Bard TombstoneAlthough clearances were common in other parts of Scotland, those who left Mull were rarely driven away by landlords who wanted to populate the land with sheep. Rather, famine, bad weather or excessively high rents drove away up to 50% of the population of Mull in the first half of the 19th century. In addition, landlords sometimes aided poor cotters to move from Mull, assisted by emigration agents who gave falsely optimistic pictures of locations in North America.

The largest clan in Mull were the Macleans, whose chief lived in Duart Castle in southern Mull. Other clans included the MacQuarries and MacKinnons, whose lands were traditionally in Mishnish, in the northern part of Mull. The MacKinnons sent men to both the 1715 rebellion and the ’45, in which Prince Charles attempted to take back Scotland for his father, who would have been James III. In the years after the ’45, the MacKinnon lairds in Mull suffered, and their lands were sold to Campbells in 1774.

The first MacKinnon we know of was Charles the Bard MacKinnon. Family lore says that he was a great storyteller, and that his golden tongue got him out of trouble when he was taken to court over a money issue. It is believed that he had seven sons, who all left Mull for Prince Edward Island. However there is absolutely no documentary evidence to give us any details about Charles the Bard. Although the people of Mull were well versed in their history through oral stories and songs, very little was written down, and much of what was written, was destroyed in later fires and floods. As a result, the family stories that have been passed down are all the evidence that there is, and very frequently family stories have been distorted over the years.

Christina MacKinnon HeadstoneWhat we do know is that one of Charles the Bard’s sons was Charles, probably born about 1780. In April 1808, he married Christina Cameron, and about two weeks later set sail for Prince Edward Island. The master of the ship they took was Cuinduillie Rankin, who had joined the New Brunswick Fencibles in 1804, and was sent to Prince Edward Island in 1806. Cuinduillie was born in Coll, a small island just west of Mull. He had been trained as a piper at the Rankin college of piping in northern Mull. It is very likely that he and his family were friends of the MacKinnons, or at least acquainted with them. Cuinduillie was later responsible for arranging for immigrants from Coll to come to Prince Edward Island, and he may have also been the man who encouraged the immigrants who left Mull in 1808. Family tradition says that he befriended Charles and Christina aboard ship, and he probably also helped them after they arrived in Charlottetown. Charles and Christina named their eldest son, Cowan Dooley Rankin MacKinnon, after him. Those names, Cowan and Rankin, have been passed down through the family and there are still several Cowan MacKinnons or McKinnons alive today.

Cowan Rankin MacKinnonCharles and Christina went on to have five more children over the next 16 years. Flora was their eldest daughter, then Ann and Jessie, who was likely their first child born in Canoe Cove. William and Donald were both born in Canoe Cove as well. Through the marriages of these children, almost every one of the families that settled in Lot 65 is connected to this family. Flora married Roderick MacNevin, and her descendants include MacRaes, MacPhails, MacNeills, MacNevins, MacKenzies, MacEacherns, MacFadyens, Gorveatts and many others. Ann married Neil MacFadyen, but died young, and very little is known about her. Jessie married Hector MacNevin, and moved to Brae, Lot 9, in 1862. Her descendants include MacNevins and Taylors in Lot 65, and MacNevins, MacNeills, Wallaces, MacCaulls and others in the western part of the Island. William moved his family to the Mount Pleasant area, and his descendants are connected with the many Devon names associated with that area, such as Williams, Ford, Palmer, Grigg and Ballum. Donald settled in Knutsford, and again his descendants are married into all the local families, such as MacWilliams, Smallmans, Jelleys, and Carruthers.

Cowan Rankin MacKinnon, eldest son of Charles and Christina

Jessie MacKinnon McNevin

While the presence of MacKinnon descendants remains strong on Prince Edward Island, many family members have moved off Island. The first to leave was Charles McKinnon, son of Cowan Rankin MacKinnon. Charles served on the crew of the ‘Prince Edward’, which set sail for New Zealand in 1858. Hundreds of his descendants live in many parts of New Zealand, and in Australia and the western United States. The tide of emigrants began to swell in the 1880s, and by the early 20th century, large numbers of Islanders were leaving the Island to seek their fortunes in the Boston states, western Canada, or further a field. There are now descendants of Charles and Christina Cameron in every province of Canada, every state in the United States, and in many countries around the world, including Malaysia, Indonesia, Japan, England, Germany and Saudi Arabia.

Portrait of Jessie MacKinnon MacNevin