By Richard Gwynallen

Our direct immigrant Allan ancestor was James Allan, who arrived in the American Colonies with his wife, Anne, somewhere between 1762 and 1770. We do not know their port of entry, but they appear on the Yadkin River in North Carolina in 1770.  I found little information about his parents at the time, but I have written a few essays on a couple of his aunts who remained in Scotland.

I have found a smattering of information about others related to James, a collection that includes both ancestors of James as well as folks descended from his family who did not emigrate. I decided to write this essay, focusing on where and how his ancestors lived.

I expect that this essay will be a work in progress.  As more information is found that adds to our understanding of our family, but that I don’t think fits an essay unto itself, I will add it to this essay.  Much of the information on our family lines is reasonably documented, but not all.  Where I have made family connections that are not well documented I have drawn them from what seems like reasonable agreement among others researching the same lines.  As documentation surfaces I will amend that qualifying language.  And if errors are pointed out to me or as I discover errors I will amend the essay appropriately.

On to our story

James father was George Allan, born on 2 January 1724 on Redhyth farm in Fordyce Parish, Banffshire, Scotland.  I am not going to take up the story of George Allan, and his apparent first wife, Margaret MacDonald, in this essay.  That story is looking like an interesting tale on its own.  George and Margaret were my 5th great-grandparents.

George’s father was James Alexander Allan, born 22 November 1699 on Hallyards farm in Fordyce Parish, Banffshire, Scotland.  James Alexander married Isabel Ruddach from Grange, Banffshire. They were my 6th great-grandparents.

James Alexander’s father was William Allan. The facts about William are a little elusive. He may have been born about 1670, but apparently not baptized until 3 March 1678 in Fordyce Parish, Banffshire, Scotland.  William married Janet Guthrie of Cullen, Banffshire.  There is a William Allan and Janet Guthrie married on 26 May 1688 in Cullen.  Is it ours?  Some say ours were married later.  In any case, William and Janet appear to be my 7th great-grandparents.

Wiliam’s father was Gilbert Allan, born about 1650 in Fordyce, Banffshire.  He married Anna Garden of Longforgan, Perth, Scotland on 7 November 1669 in Cullen. Longforgan is  a village and parish in the Carse of Gowrie, along the Firth of Tay, in Perth and Kinross They were my 8th great-grandparents.

The area in which these families were living in northeast Scotland in the late 17th and 18th centuries is shown on the map below.  The main towns referenced in this essay can be seen: Fordyce, Cullen, Grange, and Banff, plus Boyndie, another town of Allan interest in other essays.


Banffshire in the 17th & early 18th centuries

Banffshire remained largely Roman Catholic after the Reformation of the 16th century. Thus, it was a target for Protestant, Anglicizing, and Cromwellian forces.

A central and defining aspect of the 17th century in Scotland was what has been known as the British Civil Wars or the Wars of the Three Kingdoms and their aftermath. These “Wars” were comprised of an intertwined series of conflicts from 1639 – 1651, covering England, Scotland, and Ireland.  These conflicts culminated in the execution of Charles I by the English Parliament in 1649 and the defeat of Irish rebellions that same year by Cromwell’s New Model Army.  By 1651 the English Parliament under Oliver Cromwell was firmly in control.  Another set of conflicts continued throughout the 1650s that ultimately resulted in the restoration of the monarchy under Charles II as a constitutional monarch.

At the heart of the tensions were (1) the degree to which the monarch’s authority was constrained by parliament; most particularly around the right to raise taxes and armed forces, (2) the nature of a state religion, and (3) the national sovereignty of Ireland and Scotland.

These were the military and political conflicts that determined the future of Great Britain and Ireland as a constitutional monarchy with political power centered in London, ultimately culminating in the Union of the Scottish and English crowns in 1707.

The Earl of Finlater and Seafield

The largest landowners in the area discussed in this article were the Abercrombies, Innes, and the cadet branch of the Ogilvies centered around the Earl of Finlater and Seafield.  These two titles rested upon the same person.  Obviously we are not related to them, but since it appears that our ancestors were living on Ogilvie properties I thought I’d explain these titles.

The Ogilvies of Banffshire were a cadet branch of the chief of Ogilvie, the Earl of Airlie.  John Ogilvie was the ancestor of the Earls of Airlie, the branch recognized as chiefs of the clan.  From John’s brother, Walter, descend the Earls of Finlater.  Walter’s descendant was created Earl of Finlater in the Peerage of Scotland in 1638.  As these Scottish titles descended to first of line and not first male of line, his daughter inherited the title Countess of Finlater.  Her grandson, James, was given the additional title of Earl of Seafield in 1701.  James’ support for the Act of Union in 1707 split his immediate family as well as Ogilvies on his estates.  The title of Earl of Finlater is now dormant, but the title Earl of Seafield is extant.

Back to our story

We do not know if William Allan and Gilbert Allan were in the town of Fordyce or somewhere in Fordyce Parish.  However, William was on Hallyards farm by 1699 when James Alexander was born there, and William seems to have remained there.  James Alexander left Hallyards farm by January 1724 when the first child of James and Isabel, George Allan, was born at Redythe farm.  They had five children born at Redythe between 1724 and 1731: George, William, Isabel, Anne, and James.  James was born in 1731.  By Margaret’s birth in 1733 the family was at Bogtown farm in Fordyce Parish.  After Margaret came David, Cecilia, and Alexander.  Alexander was born at Bogtown in 1740.

Each of these properties appear to have been Ogilvie properties.  We do not have an Ordinance Survey for the time period in question, but we do have ones for the mid-19th century that identify each as farms owned by the Earl of Seafield, who was an Ogilvie.

The Ordinance Survey (OS) of Banffshire for 1867 – 1869 describes Hallyards as: “A dwelling house with a court of offices, and a farm attached, the property of the Earl of Seafield.”


Redythe was later known as Redhaven. The OS for Banffshire 1867 – 1869 describes Redhaven:  “A dwelling house with a court of farm offices, a garden, and an extensive arable farm.”  It notes that it is the Earl of Seafield’s property, and that the mansion house of Redhythe stood a little to the south of the farmstead that existed then, but that there were no remains of the mansion house.


The OS for Banffshire 1867 – 1869 describes Bogtown as: “A large farmhouse in good repair, near the Turnpike Road, having garden outhouses . . . attached.  The property of the Earl of Seafield.”  It further references “A small Croft near the farm of Bogtown, with gardens and a few acres of arable land.”


Other sources indicate an Ogilvie ownership of Redhythe and Bogtown going back into the 17th century.  The article, A Seventeeth-Century Pew-back from Moray,  which I found on  the Archaeology Data Service, references a Walter Ogilvie of Redhthye in 1636.


From “A Seventeenth-Century Pew-back from Moray”

Other documents indicate that an Ogilvie that was a cadet branch of the Earl of Finlater funded a trust from Bogtown receipts to support the education of boys in the area from about 1680.

Collections for a History of the Shires of Aberdeen and Banff, Volume 4, edited by Joseph Robertson, indicates that an Ogilvie had possessed Hallyards prior to the publication of the book in 1843.


I have not found a Hallyards reference further back, but it seems that at time of these ancestors residence the properties in question were most likely owned by the Earl of Finlater or cadet branches of that family.

The below map shows the position of all three farms – Hallyards, Redytyhe/Redhaven, and Bogtown – and their geographic relationship to Fordyce and the larger town of Portsoy.


We do not have any documents proving that any of these Allans held tenancies at these farms, but they were tenant farmers, crofters, artisans, or farm laborers.  Though the information is scanty, I’d speculate that William was a crofter or tenant farmer.

Below shows a restored example of a common 18th century croft house from northeast Scotland.  This one is located on the Culloden battlefield park.  It was most likely originally constructed on the Culloden estate in the early 18th century.  It now sites in isolation, but the area would have been more populated in an earlier day with the estate divided into small crofts.  We do not know for a fact if any of our Allans lived in exactly such a house, but it represents the kind of house a good percentage of the population lived in.

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James Alexander Allan went out on his own but stayed in the area and on Ogilvie properties.  James’ reasonably short stay at Redythe might indicate that he was an artisan moving from one Ogilvie property to another.  Laborers would probably have moved around more.  It seems like tenant farmers or crofters would have remained more years.

We cannot document Gilbert’s parents so the line cannot be proven before 1650, even by reference to the genealogies of other researchers.  There are Allans scattered around the area in the early 17th and 16th centuries who may well be related but it’s truly speculative at this point..  There are a few more than I will mention here for which there are some indications of a relationship, but the ones I have selected have appeared in enough genealogies connected to our Allan line that my confidence level in their relationship to our family line is fairly high.  Plus, the little bit of information we have about them tell stories about life of the time.

The Town Piper

Gilbert’s apparent brother James is listed as the Banff Town Piper in 1680 in The Waits Website: The Official Website of The International Guild of Town Pipers.  James was a 9th great uncle to me.

The Annals of Banff ( pp 159 – 160) records a payment to James Allan:  “Paid to James Allan, piper, for his goeing morneing and ewining throw the toun with his pyp frae Hallomes, 1680, to Hallomes, 1681, the sowme of sex pundis.”


Just to avoid any confusion, I’ll note that there is another James Allan who was the well known piper to the Duke of Northumberland.  Our James Allan would have been performing more humble services.

In the article, Town Pipers: A European Tradition by Brian E. McCandless,the town piper is described as “. . . itinerant busy-body who could deliver news and praise, song and dance – all at the drop of a hat . . .”  The town piper was somewhat of a civil servant whose function varied according to need.  We do not know what kind of bagpipe James Allan played.  It could have been the Great Highland Pipe (pìob mhòr), but many of these pipers in Scotland and northern England used the bellows-pipes which allowed them to issue announcements while playing.  It could be that he was experienced with various types of pipes and used the one most suited to the present duty.

A good picture of an 18th century bellows bagpipe appears in Town Pipers: A European Tradition.

The picture below is of a pìob mhòr that contains a set of 18th century drones and the most precious relic of Highland piping, the chanter of Iain MacAoidh, Am Pìobaire Dall (1656–1754). The originals are in the museum of the National Piping Centre, Glasgow.


The Wright

The Annals of Banff, edited by William Cramond, lists a James Allan who served as Deacon of the Wrights in Banff in 1707.  James appears to be a son of Gilbert Allan, born before 1680 in Fordyce.  James was an 8th great uncle to me.

The title of Deacon meant the represented the association of Wrights.  That he served as Deacon of the Wrights for at least one year indicates James was a skilled workman involved in construction, most likely a carpenter, and of some status among his peers.  A wright might be a shipwright, wheelwright, well wright, or other such title identifying his specific line of work.  We do not yet know what that would be for James.

The organized trades were the Hammermen, Wrights, Shoemakers, Weavers, Tailors, and Coopers.

James was residing and working in a town of ancient standing.  Banff received its first charter in 1163 under Malcolm IV.  King Robert II granted Banff the status of a Royal Burgh in 1372.  Despite having no harbor, Banff had been a busy center of trade since the late 12th century received its first charter in 1163 under Malcolm IV.  It held the status of a “free hanse.”  As a hanse, the burghers held the right of free trade within the burgh, and the privilege of associating in defence of their prerogatives.  By the 15th century Banff had become one of three principal towns in Scotland exporting salmon to the continent.

The origins of the name “Banff” are a little uncertain. Different Scottish Gaelic words have been considered: banbh meaning “piglet”; buinne, a stream; or a contraction of Bean-naomh meaning “holy woman.”  The burgh’s coat of arms which features the Virgin Mary).  Banff is Banb in the Book of Deer and Banbh in modern Gaelic.

However, the road to these associations represented a struggle between social classes.  The town councils were run by merchants, and were closely allied with the aristocracy.  The craftsmen were organizing to create a power base not governed by the merchants and aristocracy.

Legislative enactments of the Scottish Parliament in Perth in March 1424 instituted the office of Deacon, selected among the craftsmen, with the intention of the position ensuring the quality and honesty of the craftsmen. But in September 1426 Parliament restricted the power of the Deacons and created a position of Warden to regulate the wages of masons and wrights.  The Warden was appointed by town councils as opposed to the craft associations. In July 1427 another legislative act prohibited the office of Deacon altogether. The masons and wrights continued to hold their conventions,and in 1493 came into conflict with  James IV. The conventions of the masons and wrights ordained that “they should have fee as well for the holiday as for the work-day”, and that “where any begins a man’s work an other shall not finish it”.

Parliament responded by passing an Act in which the “makers and users” of the statutes in question were ordered to be punished as “oppressors of the king’s lieges”. The Act also restricted the powers of Deacons to a testing of the quality of the work done by their respective crafts.

Parliament acted again against the organized trades in 1540 by authorising the employment of “un-freemen” equally with burgesses.

In 1556, Parliament again acted rendering illegal any conventions of craftsmen other than those approved of by town councils. Queen Mary, on attaining her majority, repealed the Acts suppressing the Deacons  as injurious to the commonweal, and granted letters under the Great Seal restoring the office of Deacon and confirming the trades in the privilege of self- government, the observance of the customs that were peculiar to each, and the unrestricted exercise of all other rights which they had enjoyed under former monarchs.

James VI gave the magistrates of the town the right to select the Deacon, but only from a list of three provided by the craftsmen, and essentially confirmed the rights provided by Queen Mary.

The six incorporated trades formed themselves into a convenery to protect their privileges.  The rise of the crafts were recognized in 1657 when articles of condescendence were entered into between the town council of the Elgin burghs and the crafts, recognising the latter’s existence as independent corporations, and making regulations for the management of their respective bodies.

In 1700 the trades advanced a stage further. They claimed, and then in 1705 were accorded, the right to nominate their own deacons. And in 1706 the trades obtained the right to be represented at the town council board by three of their members—the         deacon-convener and two others selected by the town council from the deacons of the six incorporated trades.

In consequence, a considerable amount of political influence ended up in the hands of the crafts. For instance, the election of a member of Parliament for the Elgin Burghs—which then consisted of Elgin, Cullen, Banff, Inverurie, and Kintore—rested in the respective town councils of these burghs, each of whom chose a delegate. A majority of the votes of those delegates carried the election. The admission of the trades representatives placed in their hands the fifth part of the representation of the burgh. (Source: Electric Scotland, A HIstory of Moray & Nairn)

Returning to Banff where our James Allan served as Deacon of the Wrights in 1707, the Cullen, Deskford, & Portknockie Heritage Group summarized the crafts in Banff.  Between 1680 and 1840 the six incorporated trades had a formal status in running Banff. The Deacons representing each craft took turns as the convenor of trades. Certain privileges were associated with these trades.  As Deacon, James Allan would have had his own pews in church and a small pension. The merchants also formed a guild and considered themselves superior to the trades. However, no merchant was allowed to practise a trade, and thus were forced to deal with the trades.  Artisans as a class ended up with more rights than they previously possessed, but it did not end conflicts between the democratic craftsmen and the more conservative town council.  The conflicts arising in this new state of affairs is interesting but a story not needed for this essay.

Our James Allan served as Deacon of the Wrights in Banff during the earliest period in which the tradesmen had secured full rights.  Therefore, he would have been present in the years in which the tradesmen were struggling for those rights. He lived through an era of distinct change in the class structure of his world.