The Grays in the Highlands Part 2: Leaving Their Beloved Skibo, Scotland

Skibo Castle, Scotland from Wikimedia

This is the second installment of Chapter 2 of The Gray Clan with my research notes, questions and thoughts added. If you read something and have corrections or additional information I am all ears!

This second part of Chapter 2 contains information on pages 5-7. The content in italics is the original text from the book. My notes and research will appear below it and start with [KG].

Here are links to the other published portions of this series:
The Grays in the Highlands Part 1: The Memories of Thomas Gray

If interested, I’ve created a document where you can view/read the full transcription of Chapter 2 without my research notes.

We have, as yet, no certain knowledge of the exact time that Thomas Gray and his Wife, (Mary James Gray, also of Royal Family,) with their four children-four others born later-left this Scotland home and came to the “New Westmoreland” Wilderness to make their home in the new land, we do not know how much time was consumed, between their leaving Scotland and these beloved scenes, near to Dornoch Firth, but we do have positive proof of their arrival in the new land, because the Deed to the 419 A119 P land is still on record at the Butler County Court House, in Butler, PA. and it is dated April 13, 1792. Bought from the Provincial Government.

[KG] I have yet to research the deed but given the detail on the source, I would say this is a proven fact. I hope to get ahold of this and make it available on the website.

Thomas Gray made very positive statement, that he and his wife and family, were compelled to forsake their beloved homeland, rather than make concessions to prevailing oppressions, which would compromise their stern Calvinistic consciences. Thus, the day came when they prepared to leave Scotland, taking only what they could carry with them, of material things. A bit of clothing, some vessels to prepare their food in, the old brass clock, a prized possession, made in Edinburg, the beloved old Family Bible (Gude-Book) also printed in Edinburg, and most prized of all, their four small children. Sophia b 1784; James b 1786; William b 1789; and ‘wee John’ just cumin twa’. (This was the means of positive identification, to us, when they settled in the ‘New Westmoreland’. John Gray was a soldier in the War of 1812-14 and his Military Record stands, as also his edates on his Headstone, in the old White Oaks Springs Cemetery, on Route 69, out of Butler, PA. (There is also a tradition of some sort of a small Chest that was brought, but there seems no way of locating definite trace of this article.)

[KG] The statement regarding the need to leave their homeland coincides with the timing of the Highland Clearances and known historical facts that would back this sentiment. Finding John Gray’s military record is also on the research to-do list!

Letters were very unusual, rather of the type of a message, sent by courier, but someone had brought word back, from over the Sea, of a beautiful Country where they could live without oppression, with the ‘pull-haul’ of false leaders, who imposed the death sentence for the slightest infraction of law-just or unjust.

They were told that they could worship their God as they wished, no need to hide their inner-most heart-felt worship, no need to hide the cherished Bible, the Word-o-the ‘Gude-Mon’ for their guidance and comfort.

We know positively, that they left Skibo, in Northern Scotland, without formality of selling the broad Acres, the lovely Mountains, the small scattered Villages, the comfortable spots, where a “wee hoose” cuddled in a beautiful spot, sheltered from wind and storm, the heather covered hills rising back of it’ the deep roots of Centuries of living, the long and honorable struggle of a race, who wanted freedom of action, cleanness of living and conscience devoid of forced wrong doing.

They left their wealth of tradition, their home ties, their folk-songs lore, their William Wallace, and Robert Bruce, whose glories will never die, as long as Scottish memories endure.

Nostalgic memories of the faces, places and events, remain to bless and sear and burn, the slow tranquil passage of time, noted by Sundials, in the Garden, moon marks on the floor and window sill, or on the doorway, floors scoured bone white, where the sun shines straight through the house at even tide.

[KG] I found a quote in an article from The Society of the Propagation of Christian Knowledge in 1791 that “over the previous 19 years more than 6,400 people emigrated from the Inverness and Ross areas.” Ross lands were on the other side of the Dornoch Firth and according to the Scottish Antiquary passage mentioned in the first part of my research on this chapter, the Grays initially came to the north settling in Ross. It’s quite possible that they had friends or family members from those 6,400 people mentioned that had emigrated to the US and sent word. People often settled near other family members or acquaintances that had gone before them. I think it would be worth researching neighboring land owners in Butler County, PA to see if we could find details on where they were from. It may give us more insight on Thomas and Mary.

This passage also mentions the “wee-hoose”, again, this makes me believe Thomas never lived at Skibo Castle but elsewhere near or on estate grounds.

Some of the more fortunate owned clocks similar to the one made in Edinburg, like the one old Thomas brought with him.

In the gathering room of the old Scottish home, the ruling family-or owners, Laird, Lord, or Shireman, sat at the end on a sort of raised platform, a wee bit higher than the rest of the room, where the helpers, retainers, or those who lived in the Villages, which belonged to the Estate, gathered on a Sabbath eve. To listen to the ‘Laird’ read the ‘Gude-Book’ and read prayers, then join in the singing of the weird, four note sort of minor melodies, of that age. Always Psalms. These were learned and often were repeated to ward off spells.

The Schoolmaster came to the house and held School, the fireplace of this room made long enough to hold a great log. The space back of this front log large enough to cradle a Modern Ford. The chimney, not always drawing good, as the smoke casually floated over the heads of the ones on the crude benches, but it did provide both heat and light.

Some of these lucky youngsters were to become men of affairs. Doctors, at least dispensers of herbs, carrying their leeches’ their lancet, (for blood-letting), some songsters, with the Poetical gift and the musical voice, the strength and purity of tones, floating out over the hills and braes.

Their homemade garments, cloth spun by the prized spinning wheel, that held the place of honor, in the best gathering room, the trousers short and buttoned at the knee, sometimes laced with deer thong, many of these reciting long portions of the ‘Gude-Book’ will sometimes become worthy ‘Dominies and Ministers’-some become Barristers and Shopkeepers. And there was always the Storyteller, Bard or Rhymer, to promote the ancient glories of Scotland.

No work was done on the Sabbath Day. It was ‘The Lord’s Day.’ The best music was the favored music. The whole populace gathered to join the Melodies.

SKIBO! We have been unable to locate any published travels of the family of Thomas Gray and his family, coming from Northern Scotland. Excepting the tales told and retold and copied and filed, that came down through the years, from the teeming brain of our old Patriot, Thomas Gray himself.

SKIBO! The famous- the beautiful- suffered many vicissitudes through the Centuries Mr. Carnegie, in 1898, in search of a home site, traveled over this section, he noted the beautiful scenery. He wanted plenty of land, good trout streams and salmon, wooded hills, Lochs and streams, bordering on the Sea. He wanted, also a waterfall. We are told that he took a wagon at Bonar Bridge, (it was called a wagonette), driving along the peaceful highway, beside the Kyle of Sutherland, shimmering in the sunlight, grazing sheep in the meadows, the old old road mottled by the shade of the overhanging trees and the road outlined with lichen covered stone walls. The rustic beauty of the scene, the softness of the air, the sea and land and mountains blending into a true masterpiece of beauty. The Castle seat a mass of ruins, the cottages were shabby and neglected, as was the land, all of it in about as bad condition as decades of neglect would bring. He had the true Scot’s faculty of seeing its possibilities. He could vision the fascination of the sweep of the rolling lands, on his West the River Shin, one the East the River Evelix, (so named from the Celts having transferred the Celtic imagery of fire to its corsucating surface). These two Rivers are about 20 miles apart indicating the size of the Estate.

In 1898, Mr. Carnegie viewed the old Castle site, the crime of neglect, the Castle a mass of ruins, the Cottages, which were a part of the early life of the Estate proving that no master was there to cherish or rejoice. His archeological experts discovered traces of the medieval moats, which surrounded the Castle, the Monks walk recalled the Roman Catholic Era, following the sides of the Gardens. Some Yew trees 6 or 7 Centuries old, still flaunting rich foliage, the beechen hedge, also of very ancient ghostly past and St. Mary’s well bubbling away, as it has for Centuries, we spoke of the other authentic landmark, the gray stone cottage, Achinduich, located on an eminence that overlooks the Valley of the River Shin, some 20 miles from the Castle. A retreat where Centuries later, the Carnegies spent quiet days and soothing nights.

[KG] According to records about Skibo Castle on Canmore, managed by Historic Environment Scotland, “No part of the old Castle remains. The oldest part of the present castle was built about 1875, but most of the present building was built between 1899 and 1901.” Even though I don’t think Thomas lived at Skibo, I think it is possible he was familiar with the estate and castle, but the castle he was familiar with no longer exists.