The McCaig Family
Narrator: Brenda, nee McCaig, Law
Spirit Walk at Crown Cemetery
September 17, 2012.
Our family left the Kintyre Peninsula of Argyleshire in Western Scotland at a time
when the small holdings of Kintyre farmers proved too small to support several sons and
their families. Donald McCaig and his wife Mary, nee Cochrane were the first to come to
North America, settling at River Denys, Cape Breton, NS c. 1822. I am their direct
descendant, so I was asked to tell their story.
On arrival, Donald purchased land for his family as well as his siblings. He and Mary
were joined at River Denys by his brother James McCaig and his wife Catherine, nee
Taylor, c. 1828. They had worked in Ayrshire, Scotland for several years after leaving
their native Argyle. Then their sister Janet and her husband Archibald McPhail joined
them overseas. Life was difficult in the small Cape Breton clearings, so the men worked
away at lumbering. By 1836 they decided that they would move on to Upper Canada
where it was rumoured that the land was more fertile. James and Catherine's son
recorded in his autobiography that, "My father, after five years of struggle against an
inhospitable climate and untoward circumstances … when he could find no use for the
plough and harrow which he had brought out from Ayrshire, and the hoe and axe alone
continued to be the only implements of agriculture, he resolved to see further, and if no
better country turned up on this continent, he resolved to return to Scotland. … Having
collected money sufficient to leave the island by the preparation of hewn timber for the
English market, my father and uncle [Donald] left the island in May 1836."
Two years later, in 1838 Donald and Mary purchased Lot 17 in the rear of the 2nd
Concession (facing "The Third") in Puslinch and by 1840 James and Catherine had
purchased the farm next to them on Lot 18. Their sister Janet and her husband remained
at River Denys, raising a family of 8 there.
Like all of the early settlers in Puslinch, the McCaigs' time was taken up clearing
their land and developing their farmsteads, with early log houses on each property and
small log barns to shelter their stock. In 1842, Donald and Mary's second daughter
Catherine [Kate] married Neil Thompson of Conc. 1, a son of "Big John Thomson" of
Lots 20 & 21. Neil died 2 years later, leaving Kate to raise their young daughter Mary, b.
1843. Kate's brother Hector married Mary McKenzie from Lot 18, F. Conc. 7 in 1853
and a second log home was built on Lot 17, as he was the one who continued farming the
James' family replaced their log house with a larger fieldstone one in 1860
[confirmed on 1861 Puslinch census]. Donald and Mary's son Hector, along with his
Uncle James, had Preston-area framers – the Baers – build a Pennsylvania-style bank
barn on both of their properties in 1859. Then in 1873, Hector and his wife Mary, nee
McKenzie, arranged for a fieldstone farmhouse to replace their log home. Hector's
mother Mary had died in 1868, and his father Donald continued to live in the original log
house until his death in 1882.
An all-too-common-occurrence ended Hector's wife Mary's life when they were in
the throes of building their more substantial home. Mary died just two days after giving
birth to their ninth child – Murdoch McCaig – in September 1874, and Murdoch died a
few weeks later. Hector moved into the fieldstone farmhouse alone with the remaining 8
children the following year when the house was completed.
Hector's older brother Alexander had purchased Lot 17, F. Conc. 3 across the road
from the homestead when he married in the 1840s. He and his wife Janet, a daughter of
Archibald Cochrane of Puslinch, were in the prime of their lives when Alex met an
accidental death from a fall from a wagon at the age of 46 in 1869. This left his widow
Janet to continue running the farm and raise a family of six on her own. She eventually
sold the farm and moved with her sons and her youngest daughter to Manitoba.
Back in Puslinch, the eldest son of Hector and Mary McCaig on the homestead –
Donald – married Mary Jane, daughter of Angus McPherson of Crieff and purchased his
Aunt Janet's farm across the road. McCaigs have continued to farm it every since, and
this Donald and Mary Jane were my great-grandparents. They had a bank barn erected in
1892. The original log home of Alexander and Janet is part of the current house on the
McCaig farm where Neil and Janice, my brother and sister-in-law farm today.
Researching the background of a Scottish family is frustrating to say the least, as
sons were named after grandfathers and uncles and daughters after grandmothers and
aunts, bringing about a duplication of names that is difficult to untangle. In my direct line
the names Donald and James have been interchanged each generation, reflecting the
original brothers who pioneered in Puslinch. My great-grandfather was Donald, my
grandfather was James and my father was Donald. My grandfather James McCaig
followed in his mother's family's footsteps when he entered local politics. Angus
McPherson was Reeve of Puslinch in 1903 & 4, and Grandpa Jim was Reeve 50 years
later. Jim married Lila McFarlane of Puslinch and their sons Donald and Robert became
successful dairy farmers in the Township, followed by their sons Neil and Dave and their
As we celebrate the 175th anniversary of Duff's Church, we have told you the story
of the McCaig family. Along with other families being honoured at this Spirit Walk, the
McCaigs appear on the earliest roll of communicants in existence for Duff's, written in
1844. You will find the Widow McCaig [Kate], Mr. and Mrs. Donald McCaig, and Mr.
and Mrs. James McCaig all active participants of the congregation at the time that
Puslinch was establishing religious institutions. [Presbyterianism in Puslinch, 1839-1899,
pp.19 & 20]
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