By Richard Gwynallen
In When Allans and Gwynnes came together, we introduced my paternal Allan/Allen line that left Scotland after 1746. That line was based since at least 1679 in what was once Banffshire in the northeast of Scotland. The area is now part of Abderdeen and Moray, including eastern parts of the Grampian Mountains down to the coastal lowlands.
With the former area of Banffshire being the cradle of one our primary family names, I thought it might make an interesting piece to describe how most Allans got to the general area.
Future essays can examine what life in the area was like for our ancestors, but, in brief, the 1851 second edition of Samuel Lewis’ Topographical Dictionary of Scotland describes Banffshire as a maritime county bounded “on the north by the Moray Firth, on the east and south-east by Aberdeenshire, and on the west by the counties of Moray and Inverness. “
The land is diverse with mountains and glens, woods, rivers, and lakes. Banffshire had a 30 mile coastline that was rocky and indented with small bays. “Salmon and herring fishing are extensive. The land is fertile and nearly one-half is under cultivation. There are quarries for limestone, freestone, gneiss, and granite. The principal manufacture is that of linen.”
On to how Allans got to the area.
All the information provided here is drawn from genealogical charts of Clan MacFarlane Worldwide, Inc., for which I am deeply grateful.
Allan M’Farlane was the common ancestor for the Allans of northeast Scotland with which we are here concerned. He was born about the year 1410, a younger son to Duncan, 6th Laird of M’Farlane, in Dunbartonshire, and Christian Campbell, daughter of Sir Colin Campbell of Lochow, and sister to Duncan, first Lord Campbell, ancestor to the family of Argyle.
In 1435 Allan relocated from the MacFarlane clan territory of Arrochar, northwest of Loch Lomond, to the northeast of Scotland, and married Margaret or Janet Innes, daughter of Sir Robert Innes of that ilk in Moray. There seems to be disagreements over whether she was Margaret or Janet, but for convenience we will refer to her as Janet from here on in.
Sir Robert had all the lands of Crombie, his daughter inheriting her portion of that part of the lands of Crombie then called Easter Crombie, in the parish of Marnoch, Banffshire. Allan and Janet held it not in what would later be called freehold but in what would be called heritable
wadset, which allowed for reversion to the original owners under certain circumstances, essentially making Allan a vassal of his father-in-law, who at that time possessed the whole parish of Marnoch in addition to his paternal inheritance of Innes in Moray.
The descendants of Allan and Janet assumed the surname MacAllan or Allan from their father’s proper name, as was common in those days, particularly when a new house was being formed, as occurred when Allan left the MacFarlane clan lands. However, Allan M’Farlane became known as 1st of Easter Crombie, thus assuming the name of the lands inherited by his wife, and the eldest child of each generation followed suit.
Their eldest son, Duncan Allan, succeeded to the lands of Easter Crombie and fro him descended the Allans of Crombie. Fom their younger children and the descendants of those children came the Allans of Auchurochan, Drummuir in Strathdon, Mar, Glenbuchat, Glenmuick, and Lismurdie. Family centers spread as far south as Markinch in Fife and even north to Balnagown in Easter Ross. (Buchanan of Auchmar’s Genealogy of the Clans and also in Nisbet’s System of Hearldry).
The settlement in the Valley of the Don River was an important Allan family center, but may not not have always been uncontested. The History of Clan MacFarlane notes that “According to tradition, the Clan Allan of Donside fought the Coutts, and were victors, at an early period.”
Alexander Allan was the 7th and last Allan laird of Easter Crombie. He died in 1614, leaving an only daughter, Margaret Allan, who succeeded to the estate and, bringing things full circle, married Robert Innes of Crombie, nephew to Sir Robert Innes of that ilk. Their son, Allan Innes was laird of all Crombie and sold the whole to Sir Thomas Urquhart of Cromarty, who again re-sold it to Meldrum of Laithers, who gave it to a younger son, George Meldrum, minister of Marnoch. His eldest daughter married James Duff, a younger son of Duff of Drummuir, and their son William Duff sold it to the Earl of Findlater in 1744. (A Genealogy of the Allans, Formerly of Easter Crombie, Banffshire, Compiled by Mr. F. Rose, or Ross – 1806.)
Thus we have the beginnings of Allan families throughout northeast Scotland, including the apparent cradle in Banffshire of our own family.
Meaning of Allan, Allen, and its variant spellings
While there are different suggestions as to the origins of the name, the most generally accepted seems to be that it is derived from the Gaelic ailín, which is the diminutive of ail “rock.” The History of Clan MacFarlane includes a quote from the 19th century historian, William Forbes Skene, supporting this interpretation, also suggesting it could mean “the man of the cliff or rock.”