Most of my Highland ancestors departed Glenelg bound for Glengarry aboard the Argyll in 1793. Others would likely have followed soon thereafter but the outbreak of the French Revolutionary Wars greatly reduced emigration over the next nine years. Highlanders were recruited as soldiers to serve in the regiments being raised by the “lairds”. In exchange for military service by some of their tenants, the landlords curtailed rent increases and the creation of new sheep farms. The remaining family members were able to carry on, temporarily at least, with a semblance of their traditional Highland way of life.
In 1802, with the declaration of the Peace of Amiens, the regiments were disbanded and the fragile arrangements that had held the emigrations in check came crashing down. The sheep reinvaded, the rents skyrocketed and the evictions ruthlessly renewed. The bond of trust between laird and clan that had lasted for generations had finally and irrevocably broken. The floodgates opened and thousands of emigrants departed Western Inverness for the new world.
Some of the landlords, such as Francis MacKenzie (Lord Seaforth), of Kintail offered concessions to entice his tenants to stay but the Highlanders felt it was too little and too late. They had already endured enough and letters from kin and friends already settled in Canada convinced them that their prospects were much better on the other side.
And so, in late June 1802, Captain Boyd steered the Neptune out of Loch Nevis enroute to Quebec. On board were some 400 Higlanders and 150 children from Knoydart and North Morar, Glenelg, and Kintail and Lochalsh. The names of only a few who made the passage were recorded but amongst them were the McCuaigs, including Peter and his wife Helen Fraser, my 4x great grandparents. They were going to join Peter’s parents, John McCuaig and Catherine McLeod who had departed Glenelg in 1793 on the Argyll and were already well established in Glengarry.
Although the passenger list only records a few of the emigrants’ surnames it is thought that there may have been seven Morrison brothers and their families on board, all from Glenelg. My great great great grandmother, Sarah or Sally Morrison, who would have been a child about 6-years old at the time, and her parents may have been amongst them although I have no documentation for this assertion.
Most of the emigrants had spent everything they had to pay for their passage and arrived in Quebec after nine weeks at sea on 25 August 1802 without enough money to continue their journey to Glengarry. The Lieutenant-Governor of Quebec, the owners of the Neptune and 60 other subscribers contributed over £100 to assist the indigent passengers on their way upriver.
They arrived in Glengarry in September, and most, like the McCuaigs, were welcomed and accommodated by their relatives who had preceded them. By 1802 much of the best land in the county had already been allocated and some of the newly-arrived immigrants, including the McCuaigs, took up land in the adjacent Quebec county of Soulanges. The line on the map dividing Upper (Ontario) and Lower (Quebec) Canada was of little significance to the new settlers. The land was good and it was their own, with no rent and no sheep!