The Grays in the Highlands Part 4: Was Thomas Gray Heritage Owner of Skibo Castle Scotland?

This is the fourth 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 fourth part of Chapter 2 contains information on pages 10-11. The content in italics is the original transcript 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
The Grays in the Highlands Part 2: Leaving Their Beloved Skibo, Scotland
The Grays in the Highlands Part 3: Contributions From Rev. Joseph C. Brown

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

SKIBO! Once upon a time, one of the most famous and beautiful establishments in Northern Scotland, through the Centuries, perhaps more beautiful, when the modern life began to seep in through the vacillated stone structures of the earlier era.

The grass growing to the doors of the homes, not far from this the bed of ‘simples’ for the housewife to use, the herbs (yarbs) for medicines, or seasoning foods, for the poulticing of any unhealing sores and stomach ache.

In the stormy winter evenings, the mothers sitting at the fireside, spinning, scutching flax, knitting the clumsy stockings, rows of apples roasting at the edge of the fireplace, the ‘Rymer’ telling tales of goblins, ghosts,haunted houses, and burial places, headless horsemen and the romance of the wandering singer and storyteller, the memories of the suffering and persecution, which rained upon their defenceless heads when the English Protestants persecuted them, over their native moors and wild recesses of their Mountains. Over the Mantles, the old flint lock gun, lay on deer horns above the fireplace, where the fire was never allowed to go out. The post of hot water on the hearth, stones heated were sometimes used to hasten cooking. Vegetables were backed in the hot embers-even fish or fowl, or sweet smelling loaves of bread. When a new fire was started, two sticks were rubbed together, or two pieces of prized flint to start the spark.

The weary shepherd, roaming all day with the flocks of sheep, which they had brought home at night, to the rude shelter, the goats climbing the eerie Mountain crags, browsing all day, at night slowly wended their way to the “Village of the Goats” a group of stalls where each Goat knew its own pen, these made snug with brush and dirt roofs and walls, and easy to protect from Marauding animals.

SKIBO! No Deed or Title could be given a new owner, by the ones who finally lived on the Gray Estates. Because, the real owners of Skibo, for the long weary years marching into Eternity, had ‘walked out’ on a matter of conscience and principle, and voluntarily had relinquished all claim to their age-old estate that lies between the River Shin, to the West, and the River Evelix, 20 miles to the East, midst the Grampian Hills of Northern Scotland.

[KG] Based on this description I’ve created a map of the Skibo Estate. I think this is probably off by quite a bit on the north. I don’t know that it would have gone inland this much, but for us Gray researchers, it gives us a general place to start when looking for old Thomas. I also recently found out that the Falls of Shin would have been in Skelbo estate lands, not Skibo estate.

We know that the day came when Thomas Gray confessed to his wife, gentle Mary, that he felt the only possible way out of an unbearable situation was to emigrate to the new Continent. Many of their relatives and friends had gone and reported back their deep pleasure and happiness in the change.

Mary grieved. How could she leave her beloved homeland, all she wanted was a place of her own in the World, without strife and loss of kin by sudden death. Her beloved ‘mon’ with her and the prattling children about her knees.——- But! Tammas! Whate’er ‘e says, we will do. We will ready oursel’ and just start quick like. She never quite overcame her burring Gaelic speech.

Reading thus far, we can, in a measure understand the heart wrenchings of those old Patriots, who left ALL for the unknown World in the “New Westmoreland” over the Seas.


[KG] Again, they mention relatives and friends who had already emigrated to the new continent. This could mean the U.S. or Canada, but given the area where they settled in Pennsylvania was called “Little Scotland” and its pioneer nature when they did, I have to believe (or at least hope) that there may be clues among some of their Butler County neighbors.

The Philadelphia Press of some time in 1898, as nearly as can be ascertained, had the following, most interesting item. We feel it should have a place here:

“The fact that Andrew Carnegie should be referred to as ‘Skibo’ that is to say, the name borne by the old Gray family, who for Centuries were lords of Skibo, and owners of the Castle of Skibo, serves to recall the fact that a blood-curdling curse rests on this same Castle. Now, everyone North of the Tweed is asking whether this curse will work against the new American owner of Skibo, the same way that the curse pronounced against the Lord Byron, who made a drinking cup of the skull of one of the old time Abbots of Newstead Abbey, continues to blight, not only all the descendants of the Lord Byron, but likewise the Webb family, who for the last forty years have owned Newstead Abbey; says the Phila. Press.

The ban on Skibo dates from the early part of Century, when by some foul wrong, the Gray’s who had owned Skibo for several hundred years, were deprived of their ancestral home, and possessions by some people of the name of Doul.

Misfortune overtook the latter, and since then Skibo has passed through many hands including those of the (Douls), MacKays, Gordons, Dempsters, Chirnsides and several others, ill luck pursuing them all until the place was acquired by Andrew Carnegie. In fact, since the Gray’s were ousted, near 200 years ago, no family has possessed it for more than one generation. At this time, Mr. Carnegie has the good wishes of all the District, into which he has brought much money and he is adding to the Castle in such a way, regardless of cost, that it promises to, before long, be one of the finest castles North of the Tweed. It is situated in the Northwest part of Scotland.” end quite.

[KG] Good luck to the latest owners with the curse! Maybe someone will eventually return it to the Gray family? 😉

Our Thomas Gray, 1761-1853, was heritage owner, and per present information, Lord Gray of Skibo, Scotland. Sometimes known as Newstead. Comprising a very large acreage and several villages. The waterfall of Loch-Shin included. The Estate lying north of Dornoch Firth.

[KG] And here we are, the claim of our Thomas Gray being heritage owner of Skibo. As much as I would love this to be true I’m just not convinced yet. I think there’s an element of truth here. It seems that the relatives who put this book together from different branches of Thomas’s children all felt that he was from Skibo and that he himself claimed to be from Skibo. Going with that, I think it is most likely that he identified as being from Skibo and was most likely a relative of one of the Grays of Skibo.

I recently came across an article on the blog for the Dornoch Historylinks Museum regarding how Highland men identified themselves. Here are a few quotes from the article that pertain to my hypothesis that Thomas Gray was not heritage owner of Skibo, but rather lived or worked on the estate, and/or was a relative of the Grays of Skibo. He may have felt a strong relationship and identity with the place even if he wasn’t the heir.

“Most men were clearly associated with one specific settlement, farm or estate in the mind of the community.”

“It was through length of years and the intimate use and organising of the landscape that they became identified with it, shaping their self-identity and their identity within the community.”

“Such a man drew his identity from his social status, his membership of a local family, his authority over the residents of the tack, and his association with that piece of land. Holding a tack was part of the old system of clanship, so his and his family’s connection with that land was embedded deeper in time than that of the plasterer and the gamekeeper, even the farmer.”

“Despite the mobility of the nineteenth-century, part of Highland masculinity was a deep identification with the places they were from, where they lived, where they worked, and which they shaped.”

Do you think Thomas Gray was heritage heir? I’d love to hear your thoughts!