Saturday, December 3, 2016

The Glendinnings of Westerkirk

Near Westerkirk. JH photo

In 2008, when my husband and I visited Scotland for the first time, our tour guide took us to view Grey Mare’s Tail, a waterfall high in a pass between the hills of Dumfries and Galloway in southwest Scotland. I scrambled a short distance up the rocky path leading to the waterfall and photographed a couple of sheep that had wandered onto the road. It was a beautiful spot, but I remarked that this would be a pretty remote place to live. I had no idea that some of my ancestors had actually lived in the nearby parish of Westerkirk. 

I knew that my great-grandmother’s name was Isabella Glendenning. (Somewhere along the line, the spelling of the family name changed.) She was born in Scarborough, Upper Canada in 1834, married James Hamilton in 1859 and died in Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1912. When I researched her ancestry, I discovered that one of my distant relatives, Ian Glendinning, a genealogist in Aberdeen, Scotland, had spent years researching the Glendinning family. 

The enormous family tree he has posted online ( shows that our ancestors lived in Westerkirk parish, Dumfriesshire, as long ago as the 1600s. There is a place named Glendinning in Westerkirk and the ruins of a castle named Glendinning, but my ancestors were tenant farmers.

According to the Statistical Accounts of Scotland, in 1793 the population of Westerkirk parish was 655 people, 150 of whom were under 20 years of age, and 17,500 sheep. There was good pasture for sheep on the hillsides and the light loam in the river valleys produced good crops if it was well managed. The main crops grown were oats, barley, peas and potatoes. 

The church, built in 1788 and located near the center of the parish, was said to be one of the best country churches in Scotland at that time. There was a school next to the church and the church also provided money to help the area’s poorest residents. The parish roads were good and there were 16 stone bridges across various streams and rivers.

According to the Glendinning family tree, James Glendinning (born 1676) and Agnes Little (born c. 1680) were married in Westerkirk in 1701 and had seven children. Their death dates are unknown.
My direct ancestor was their second son, Archibald (1704-1751). He was an elder of Westerkirk parish church, and he and his wife, Jean Beattie (1724-1773), probably lived their entire lives in Westerkirk. They were both buried there. 

James Glendinning, the youngest of their five children, was my direct ancestor. Born in 1738, he was a tenant farmer of Johnstone of Westerhall estate at Glendinning, Westerkirk. In 1762, James married Isabel Beattie (1737-1815), daughter of Walter Beattie and Marion Black. They had eight children and 43 grandchildren. James died in 1810 and he and Isabel were also buried in Westerkirk. 

Their children were the first generation to leave Scotland for Canada. They were: Mary (Glendinning) (1768-1847) and her husband David Thomson, who settled in Scarborough, Upper Canada (now a suburb of Toronto, Ontario) in 1799; probably Walter Glendinning (1770-?), my direct ancestor, and his children, who also settled in Scarborough; James Glendinning (1774-1856), who moved to Streetsville in Upper Canada; and William Glendinning (1777-1866), who settled in New Brunswick. James and Isabel’s four other children remained in Westerkirk. 

In my next post, I will write about how the Glendinnings became founding settlers of Scarborough, Ontario.

Notes and Sources   This is the website of the Grey Mares Tail Nature Reserve. 

Westerkirk’s most famous son was Thomas Telford (1757-1834), a civil engineer who built roads, bridges and canals throughout Scotland and England, and the famous Menai Suspension Bridge in Wales. He was not related to my family.

James Glendinning and Agnes Little are listed at on Ian Glendinning’s family tree. From here, you can use the arrows to skip to other generations, consult the list of names or go back to the home page. The site also includes some photos and a map.

GB Historical GIS / University of Portsmouth, History of Westerkirk, in Dumfries and Galloway and Dumfries Shire | Map and description, A Vision of Britain through Time., accessed 28 Nov. 2016.

“Westerkirk, County of Dumfries, OSA, Vol. XI, 1794, Statistical accounts of Scotland, 1791-1854, p. 514-519,, accessed Dec. 2, 2016

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Thomas Whiteside and Sarah Murdoch, Scarborough Settlers

In 1822, Thomas Whiteside of Belfast, Ireland was 40 years old, the average life expectancy for men in Great Britain at the time. But Thomas must have been an optimist because that was the year he and his wife, Sarah, 33, and their four children started their new lives in Upper Canada. When he and Sarah both died in 1870, they had lived in Canada for 48 years.1

Thomas prepared carefully for the move across the Atlantic, bringing with him three reference letters.2 The first, a character reference dated April 11, 1821, said that in the 16 years Thomas had lived in Belfast, he had behaved honestly and soberly, and was “in every way a decent respectable man.” The second stated that he had served loyally for nine years in the Belfast 2nd Company of Yeoman Infantry (a militia unit). The third noted that Thomas had been in the service of Mr. Thomas Battersby of Belfast for 15 years. Whether these references were helpful to Thomas once he reached Upper Canada is not clear, because he became a farmer and his own boss. 

The Whiteside home was demolished in 1989. photo courtesy Scarborough Archives

The Whitesides were one of many immigrant families, mainly from Scotland and Ireland, who settled in Scarborough in the 1820s. Today Scarborough is a sprawling suburb in the east end of Toronto, but at that time the area consisted of virgin forests and fertile agricultural soil. Thomas bought two properties in 1822 from Ebenezer Cavers: he paid 100 pounds for Concession I, Lot 22 and he also bought Concession II, Lot 29. Seven years later, he purchased the adjoining Concession II, Lot 28.3
According to the 1861 agricultural census,4 Thomas put half of the 100-acre Concession II, Lot 29 under cultivation for crops, producing primarily turnips, oats, peas and fall wheat. Twenty acres were pasture and 15 were left wooded. At that time, he estimated the cash value of the farm at $8000. At first, Thomas and Sarah lived in a log house. In 1854, they constructed a handsome stone house, which was demolished in 1989 to make way for a hotel. 

Perhaps one reason Thomas and Sarah decided to leave Ireland was the ongoing political turmoil there. But Canada had its own problems in 1837 as rebels in both Upper and Lower Canada demanded more responsible government. A conservative in politics,5 Thomas no doubt disagreed with the rebels. According to a family story,6 Thomas and his two eldest sons, James (an ensign in the local militia) and Daniel, were involved in a skirmish between the untrained rebels and the local militia at Montgomery’s Tavern in Toronto. I have not yet been able to confirm that the Whitesides were there. Although the rebellion collapsed that day, a few years later responsible government was established in Canada. 

The Whitesides brought their four young children with them from Ireland: Margaret (c. 1814-1874), James (c. 1816-1889), Jane (1817-1872), and Daniel (1819-1904.) Three more children were born in Canada: Sarah (1823-1894), Thomas (c. 1824-1914) and John (1833-1896).7

Whiteside gravestone. JH photo.
Margaret Whiteside married local farmer John Glendinning. Their daughter Isabella Glendenning (the spelling of the name has varied) married James Hamilton and moved first to Saskatoon, then to Winnipeg.8 They are my ancestors, making Thomas and Sarah Whiteside my three-times great grandparents.

Daughter Jane Whiteside married a local man, William Abraham, and daughter Sarah also married a man from Scarborough, John Crawford. 

John, the youngest son, lived on Concession II, Lot 28 and married Margaret Brown. According to several family trees on, he died in British Columbia.

Thomas Whiteside Jr. took over Concession II, Lot 29 and married Jane McCowan. In 1892 he sold his property in Scarborough and bought Glen Farm in Innerkip, Oxford County, Ontario. 

Two of the Whiteside sons went far afield. James Murdoch Whiteside became a mining engineer and left for California around 1849. He spent most of his life in California with his wife Susan George and is buried in New Westminster, British Columbia. A few years later, his brother Daniel followed him to California and prospected for gold there, and in Australia and British Columbia. Daniel then went into the railroad construction business in California and lived in San Diego. After his first wife (name unknown) died, he married Ruth White. Daniel is buried in the same B.C. cemetery as James.9

Thomas and Sarah Whiteside died within two months of each other. The Whiteside gravestone in St. Andrews Presbyterian Church Cemetery, Scarborough, is tall and elegant and, although it is now discoloured, the words are still clearly legible. It reads, “Thomas Whiteside, died Dec. 7, 1870 age 88 years. Sarah Murdoch wife of Thos. Whiteside died Oct. 16, 1870 age 81 years.”

Notes and Sources

1. Thomas’s death certificate puts his age at death as 89.  It adds that he was Presbyterian, and was born in County Antrim, Ireland (now part of Northern Ireland.) At the bottom of the page, a note adds that Thomas and his wife came to Canada in 1822 and lived in Scarborough for 48 years.
“Ontario, Canada, Deaths, 1869-1938, 1943-1944, and Deaths Overseas, 1939-1947” digital image, (, accessed Nov. 7, 2016), entry for Thomas Whiteside, Dec. 7, 1870, citing Archives of Ontario; Toronto, Ontario, Canada; Series: MS935; Reel: 2.

2. During a recent visit to the archives of the Scarborough Historical Society, I discovered these reference letters in a box of Whiteside family documents (Scarborough Archives, Whiteside Papers, Ref. # 1.04.29). They were donated to the archives in 1983 by Helen Richmond Smith (Whiteside) of Sidney, B.C. 

3. This information was provided by the Scarborough archivist from microfilm of the Ontario land records.

4. “Census Returns For 1861; Roll: C-1087-1090,“  digital image, (, accessed Nov. 7, 2016), entry for Thos Whiteside; and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, citing 1861 Census of Canada, Library and Archives Canada; Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.


5. History of Toronto and the County of York Ontario, Volume II, Toronto: C. Blackett Robinson, publisher, 1885, p. 281.

6. This story is mentioned in an article about the Whiteside family in a printed binder called James McCowan Family from 1833, p. 82, available on the bookshelf of the Scarborough Historical Society.
7. The article on the Whitesides in the James McCowan Family from 1833, p. 82, lists the children of Thomas and Sarah and gives their birth and death dates. I looked for these individuals on, and and confirmed or corrected whatever I could find. Some of the birth dates are on the gravestones, others are calculated from age at death. 

8. Janice Hamilton, “Isabella Hamilton the North-West Rebellion,”, Nov. 8, 2013,

9. Most of the information about Thomas, James and Daniel Whiteside comes from the family history printed binder James McCowan Family from 1833, at the Scarborough Historical Society archives.