John MacFarlane of Margaree


Donald J. MacFarlane


            John MacFarlane was one of the first of his family to be born in Nova Scotia.  Dougald MacFarlane and his wife Margaret MacDonnell, progenitors of  the MacFarlanes of Nova Scotia, arrived from Scotland with his extended family in Pictou in 1801 aboard the ship DOVE. 1  Dougald was at this time about 80 years old 2, 3.  They rented a farm for a short time at Antigonish Harbor then settled at South River, Antigonish County about 1803 or 1804. 4, 5 Archibald settled on a homestead about two miles south of his father. It was here in 1804 that John, the oldest son 6 was born to his parents Archibald (son of Dougald and Margaret) and Margaret Gillis. 7, 8, 9, 10


            In 1822 Archibald and his brother John moved with their families to the Margaree area of Cape Breton Island.   John moved to Margaree Harbor while Archie settled in South West Margaree on what became known as the Chapel Farm. 11  John,  Archie’s son, now about 18, went with him. 12, 13, 14, 15


            At 21 John and his brother Angus took up homesteads near the Outlet, the head of the Margaree River, close to where it drains Lake Ainslie.  In 1888 they were described as the best looking farms in North Inverness. 16  In 1834 John received a grant from King George III giving him title to 100 acres of land and also in 1834 a grant from King William IV to an additional 200 acres. 17, 18, 19   It was during this period that John married Jessie Gillis, from Judique, Inverness County. 20  They subsequently had a family of five boys; John, Dan Angus, James and Dougald, and five girls; Mary, Ann, Margaret, Jessie and Catherine.  21, 22, 23


            The 1871 Canada Census returns give a view of John’s holdings.  Land totaling 530 acres held one dwelling house, two barns or stables, two carriages or sleighs, three carts, wagons or sleds, four plows or cultivators, one horse rake, one threshing machine and a fanning mill.  The Return of Cultivated Land tells us John had improved 150 acres, with 115 acres in pasture.  One quarter acre was in gardens and orchards.  Two acres of wheat yielded 30 bushels of spring wheat.  In addition the land had in the past year yielded nine bushels of barley, 150 bushels of oats, 450 bushels of potatoes, 30 tons of hay 10 bushels of apples and 12 pounds of maple sugar.  Live stock and animal products seem to have figured prominently in John’s calculations.  His production of these products exceeds that of any of his immediate neighbors. 


            In 1871 his farm contained or produced two horses over 3 years old, two colts or fillies, two working oxen thirteen milch cows and fourteen other horned cattle.  In addition the farm contained 60 sheep and eight swine.  Five cattle, ten sheep and three swine were killed or sold for slaughter or export.  Seven hundred ten pounds of butter and four hundred thirty pounds of home-made cheese were produced, as was eighty-eight pounds of wool and eighty-nine yards of home-made cloth and flannel.  In addition the farm accounted for twenty muskrat skins.  The Return of Products of the Forest tells us that John’s farm produced fifty-two cords of fire-wood.  Then as now the Margaree River helped to provide.  John reported that he had eighteen fathoms of nets and seines of all sorts which allowed him to produce one barrel each of salmon, eels and trout. 24


            John and his family did not achieve this level of prosperity without reverses.  “He met with many losses in his early days of housekeeping.  In the space of three years he lost by fire two beautiful houses, a large barn full of hay and wheat, together with eighteen head of cattle, and a pair of horses.  He was always remarkable for his coolness and discretion.  When his last house was burned he was working in the woods and hurried home with his broad axe on his shoulder.  When assured of the safety of his family from the flames, he turned to the few people present and said ‘plenty of wood in Cape Breton to make another house’. “ 25


            John along with his brother Angus, who had a grant of land next to him, erected the first grist mill in the area.  Angus was ever after known as ‘The Miller’. 26


            It appears that along with his other concerns, John took an interest in politics.  “He was the confidential crony of the late lamented sir Wm. Young in his campaign in this county and was the leader of the 500 Scots who marched into Cheticamp in 1832, with their banners floating in the breeze, and the sound of the pibroch rending the air, stirring  the hearts of the gallant sons of Albion, but also terrorizing the sons of Gaul, there was no resistance given.  The day passed quietly, and on the pole being closed, Young was elected and Smith defeated.” 27


            John appears to have been a Christian in deed as well as word.  “His home was the home of the poor, he was a man of few words, and many deeds, to the needy, the widows, and the orphans, he delighted to give; and with the sorrowing he was an everready sympathizer.  As a citizen he did his duty conscientiously, faithfully and without ostentation.  As  a Christian he was always at the post of duty, and everready to do and give for the good of the church and his fellow man; and as a husband and a father while strict to duty and true to conviction, he ruled in love, with that beaming kindness and cheerful attention, that made home a great blessing, an earthly attraction to his family. 28


            John died December 19th, 1887.  His body was returned to St. Andrew’s, Antigonish County, Nova Scotia to lie with his father and grandfather in ‘McFarlane’s Burial Ground’, the first cemetery in the area, which was opened on his grandfather’s farm. 29, 30



1.           Passenger List of the ship Dove.  1801.  Public Archives of Nova Scotia, CMG II, Supp. 1, vol. 10  Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.


2.           J. L. MacDougall, History of Inverness County, facsimile reprint edition (Belleville: Mika Publishing, 1972), 403.


3.           Drummer on Foot, “South River,” The Casket, issue 61-1913-37-2, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada.


4.           Ibid.


5.           MacDougall, op. cit., 403.


6.           Anonymous.  “Obituary of John MacFarlane”  1888, Harold MacFarlane, Margaree, Nova Scotia, Canada.


7.           MacDougall, op. cit., 404.


8.           Raymond A. MacLean, History of Antigonish, vol. 1, (Antigonish: Casket Printing and Publishing Company, 1976), 101-102.


9.           1871 Canada Census (population), Nova Scotia, District No. 203 Inverness, Sub-district O 13 East Lake Ainslie, New England Historic Genealogical Society reel C-10566.


10.         1881 Canada Census (population), Nova Scotia, District # 4 Inverness Co., Sub-district Youngs Bridge, page 35, New England Historic Genealogical Society reel C-13165.


11.         Anonymous.  “Obituary of John MacFarlane”, op. cit.


12.         Drummer on Foot, op. cit., South River.



13.         D. D. MacFarlane, “Parish of South-West Margaree,” a series in The Casket, April & May 1896, Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada.


14.         MacDougall, op. cit., 403.


15.         MacLean, op. cit., vol. 1,101-102.


16.         Anonymous.  “Obituary of John MacFarlane”, op. cit.


17.         Land Grant to John MacFarlane from George III through Thomas N. Jeffrey President and Commander in Chief of the Province of Nova Scotia dated June 30th, 1834.  Public Archives of Nova Scotia, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.


18.         Land Grant to John MacFarlane from William IV through Colin Campbell, Lt. Governor of the Province of Nova Scotia dated September 17th, 1834.  Public Archives of Nova Scotia, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.


19.         Church, Ambrose F. Topographical Township of Inverness County, Nova Scotia.  Bedford, Halifax County, Nova Scotia, Canada:  A. F. Church & Co., 1884.  Public Archives of Nova Scotia, Halifax Nova Scotia, Canada.


20.         MacDougall, op. cit., 404.


21.         MacDougall, op. cit., 404.


22.         MacLean, op. cit., vol. 2, 120.


23.         MacFarlane, op.cit.


24.         1871 Canada Census, op. cit.


25.         Anonymous.  “Obituary of John MacFarlane”, op. cit.


26.         MacDougall, op. cit., 416-417.


27.         Anonymous.  “Obituary of John MacFarlane”, op. cit.


28.         Anonymous.  “Obituary of John MacFarlane”, op. cit.


29.         Anonymous.  “Obituary of John MacFarlane”, op. cit.


30          Drummer on Foot, op. cit., South River.