Saturday, March 29, 2014

Fanny in Philly

Fanny MacGregor Mitcheson

There is a big gap in my three-times great-grandmother’s story. Mary Frances (Fanny) MacGregor was born in Scotland around 1790, and she lived her adult life as a wife and mother in Philadelphia, so when did she come to America, and why?

Fanny was born in Port of Menteith parish, Perthshire and, according to family lore, she finished her education in Edinburgh. She was then said to have come to the United States with her brother John. I have not, however, been able to confirm that she had a brother named John, and I have not yet found Fanny’s name under any spelling on a passenger list arriving in the United States.

One possibility is that she was with “Mrs. McGreger and family,” arriving at the Port of Philadelphia in 1815. Or perhaps she had married in Scotland, came to America with a first husband and then found herself a widow. If she came with her brother, family members probably felt they would have a better future in America than in Scotland and arranged for their passage.

I have not yet found her marriage record, but she was married by 1818 when her eldest child was baptized. Her husband was Robert Mitcheson, born in 1779 near Durham, England. He had started his career in England as an iron manufacturer and came to the United States by way of Antigua. In his 1820 application for naturalization, he described himself as a distiller, but by the mid-1830s he was a “gentleman.”

Philadelphia city directories indicate the Mitcheson family lived on Coates Street (later called Fairmount Avenue) in Spring Garden, a primarily rural township north of the city. They owned a large lot, about the size of half a city block, and called their home Monteith House in memory of Fanny’s birthplace. But Philadelphia was quickly becoming an industrial powerhouse, and Spring Garden’s population grew from 3,500 to 28,000 between 1820 and 1840. A huge penitentiary and the Fairmount water reservoir were constructed near the Mitcheson home, and railroads and paved turnpikes appeared.

Fanny was in her late 20s when she married, and Robert was 10 years her senior, but that did not stop them from having a large family. According to the records of St. John’s Episcopal Church in neighbouring Northern Liberties township, their oldest child, Robert MacGregor Mitcheson, was baptized in 1818. Catharine, my future great-great grandmother, was baptized in 1822. Sarah Frances, born in 1826, was very ill when she was baptized and died shortly thereafter, aged four months. Duncan MacGregor arrived in 1827, Joseph MacGregor (who later reversed his given names and went by McGregor J. Mitcheson) was baptized in 1830, and Mary Frances in 1833. One last child, Virginia, born in 1836, did not survive.

I have the impression from reading their wills and other documents that the Mitcheson children had strong personalities and that sibling rivalry extended into adulthood, but that is another story. In her portrait, Fanny has a bit of a twinkle in her eye, so perhaps the children inherited their spirit from her.  
This painting by Catharine Mitcheson, Fanny's daughter, portrays the family home, Monteith House, Philadelphia.
 Robert Mitcheson died in 1859. Fanny died three years later of “valvular disease of the heart,” according her death certificate. They are buried together in the family plot at St. James the Less Episcopal Church.

Photo credits: both are in private collections. The caption was updated April 11, 2020, confirming that the painting shows Monteith House.

Edited June 3, 2014 to correct Catharine's year of birth.
Research Remarks:
For my blog entry about researching the Mitcheson family on historic maps, see

The port of Philadelphia was an extremely busy place, although New York outstripped it in the early 1800s. Located on two navigable rivers, the Delaware and the Schuylkill,  Philadelphia’s merchants traded with Europe, China, the West Indies and other east coast ports. Philadelphia passenger arrivals are listed on

Robert Mitcheson’s family appeared in the U.S. Federal Census in 1830 in the Spring Garden district, but census does not reveal much information about them. City directories are more helpful, listing the head of the household, address and occupation. Directories generally appeared every couple of years, and they can be searched by street address or by family name. They also included advertisements for local businesses and often listed government officials and people involved in community organizations. Some digitized Philadelphia directories are available on the website, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) has a collection of specialized directories:

I could not find the baptisms of the Mitcheson children online. Finally, I found them when I visited the HSP library. The children were all baptized at St. John’s Protestant Episcopal Church, Northern Liberties, Philadelphia. The HSP has the church’s records for Births 1815-1917, Marriages 1815-1916, Deaths 1851-1916. The church, designed by architect William Strickland, was constructed in 1815. Today it houses Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

I have been deliberately vague about Fanny’s age. There is a baptismal record in Scotland indicating that Mary Frances MacGregor was born in 1789, but according to her headstone, she was born in 1792. Either she lied about her age, or the first child died and my Mary Frances was another child given the same name. She died Sept. 29, 1862.

Friday, March 21, 2014

The MacGregors: Family Legend or True Story?

A history of the MacGregors, printed 1871
As a genealogy beginner, I thought I knew all about Fanny MacGregor’s family history. Family lore had it that Fanny, my three-times great-grandmother, (c.1789-1862) was descended from the chiefs of the MacGregor clan. I had inherited a copy of a booklet, printed in 1871, that supposedly described those ancestors, tracing back to the early kings of Scotland.

I read the booklet carefully until I got to the last page. Then it claimed that Peter MacGregor “had several children, among whom was Duncan MacGregor…. Duncan had a daughter Fanny ….”  After pages of detailed pedigrees based on oral records, this was suddenly too vague to be credible.

I have confirmed that Fanny’s father’s name was Duncan MacGregor, but that was a very common name at the time and I have been unable to identify his baptismal record. Then I contacted the Clan Gregor Society in Scotland and learned that Peter MacGregor, Fanny’s grandfather according to the booklet, had only one child, and that child had no descendants.

I realized that the booklet was a history of the MacGregor chiefs, with one paragraph about Fanny at the end and no solid evidence to tie her to them.

Furthermore, the family stories I had heard from my mother never mentioned anyone named Peter. Her stories said that Fanny was born near Stirling, Scotland (that was true) and was descended from Evan Murray MacGregor, a Jacobite officer during the rising of 1745 led by Bonnie Prince Charlie. Fanny’s ancestor was said to have had a price upon his head after he escaped from Edinburgh Castle. At some point, the story added, a baby was lowered in a basket from the castle.

I loved these romantic images, but what was true? I started to read more about the history of Clan Gregor.

Members of a Scottish clan were not all related; the clans were more like extended families, and included people who owed allegiance to the chief. There were four principal families in Clan Gregor in the 17th century, one being the Glencarnaig line, at that time mainly tenant farmers in the Balquhidder area of Perthshire. Members of the Glencarnaig family have been Gregor Clan chiefs since 1774.

There were bitter feuds between Clan Gregor and other clans, and the MacGregors lost their ancestral lands to more powerful neighbours around 1600. As a result, they fell out of favour with the king. The government passed a law abolishing the name MacGregor; anyone who used that name could be put to death. Off and on between 1603 and 1774, members of the Glencarnaig family used the alias Murray.

Meanwhile, many people in Scotland, especially in the Highlands, were unhappy with the king in faraway London. When Charles Edward Stuart, or Bonnie Prince Charlie, came to Scotland in 1745 to raise an army and try to seize the throne he claimed was his birthright, he found many supporters. They were called Jacobites. The Jacobites had some military success at first, but were completely crushed the following year at the Battle of Culloden.

Several hundred members of Clan Gregor fought for the cause. Robert Murray MacGregor of Glencarnaig was a Lieutenant-Colonel during the rising. He went into hiding after Culloden, but surrendered in 1747 and spent three years in Edinburgh Castle. His brother Evan was an aide de camp to the young prince.

After Culloden, government soldiers punished the Highlanders, burning their homes and taking their livestock. In an attempt to wipe out the traditional Highland clan system, the government banned people from wearing tartans and from carrying weapons from 1747 until 1782.  

    Rob Roy MacGregor’s grave in Balquhidder, not far from Port of Menteith, where Fanny MacGregor was born. It is clear that the MacGregors are not about to forget the clan's history. 
Fanny MacGregor was born just a few years after that ban was lifted. Whether or not she was related to the clan chiefs, to Peter, or to Evan, these events must have had a profound impact on her. She left for America and married an Englishman, but she never forgot the stories she heard about the banning of the MacGregor name, about the imprisoned Jacobite officer, and about the suffering of the Highlanders in the aftermath of the Jacobite rising.

All three of Fanny MacGregor Mitcheson’s sons, Robert, Duncan and Joseph, had MacGregor as a middle name. Eleven years after her death, Robert MacGregor Mitcheson gave the booklet about the MacGregor chiefs to his brother-in-law in Montreal, Stanley Clark Bagg.

At first I took that booklet to be factual family history, then I questioned its credibility when I realized there were holes in the genealogy. Now I recognize its value as part of the family’s heritage.
Photo credits: Janice Hamilton

Research remarks: The MacGregors called themselves Children of the Mist because they felt persecuted. Their history is also hidden in the mists of time, and I may never discover the truth about Fanny’s pedigree. Every family has stories, however, and it is important that genealogists and family historians try to untangle the myths from the realities.

Here are some sources I used: The website of The Clan Gregor Society includes a history of the clan, a list of associated family names, news about clan gatherings and information about a DNA study. This nicely illustrated site gives a broad overview of the Jacobite rising. “The Clan Gregor in the last Jacobite rising of 1745-46,” by Peter Lawrie, 1996.

Seton, Bruce Gordon, Sir. The prisoners of the '45 / edited from the state papers by Sir Bruce Gordon Seton (Bart.), and Jean Gordon Arnot. Edinburgh: Printed by T. and A. Constable ltd. for the Scottish history society, 1928-29. I found this book in the McGill University library. One of the most famous MacGregors was Rob Roy MacGregor, 1671-1734 . He became a legend, but he was a real person. As far as I know, he was not related to my ancestors.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Mary Frances MacGregor

Lochend, Port of Menteith

During our 2009 tour of Scotland, I said something to our guide about my three-times great-grandmother Mary Frances (Fanny) MacGregor. He teased me that the MacGregors were all ruffians and cattle thieves. I didn’t know much about her, but I was pretty sure she wasn’t a cattle thief. That was the spark that got me started researching my family history.

Five years later, I have learned a lot about my ancestors, but there are some questions I may never answer about Fanny and her origins.

According to the parish records of Port of Menteith, Mary Frances MacGregor was the “lawful daughter of Duncan and Catharine MacGregor in Lochend.” It says she was baptized on 26 December, 1789, however, her headstone gives her date of birth as 8 January, 1792. Perhaps she lied about her age, or perhaps the first child died and the baby born in 1792 was given the same name.

I have been unable to find a marriage record for Duncan MacGregor and Catharine MacGregor. Perhaps they had an irregular marriage, a legal, but informal, custom that did not require a church proclamation. I have not yet found any records of Fanny’s parents’ births.

The name MacGregor was proscribed, or legally banned, between 1603 and 1775. According to a family story, members of Fanny’s family used the alias Murray until they could once again call themselves MacGregor. Perhaps Fanny’s parents were born or married under aliases, which would explain why the records can’t be identified.

The Menteith district, where Fanny was born, is in the shadow of the Grampian Mountains, where the Scottish Lowlands meet the Highlands. There has been a large house at Lochend since 1715, probably built as the home of the estate manager. All the land in the area belonged to a handful of landowners and, when Fanny was a child, the homes of many tenant farmers would have dotted the landscape. On the shore of nearby Lake of Menteith was the hamlet of Port of Menteith, which has been in existence since at least the 15th century.  

The parish church, Port of Menteith
This area was once one the favourite hunting spots of the kings of Scotland, but in the late 1700s, it must have been a very poor. Most of the kirk sessions records, or records of the parish court, consisted of the names of parishioners receiving charity from the church. There was no mention of Duncan MacGregor’s family.

I also checked some tax records for the area, without success so far. If Fanny’s family had lived in a house with seven windows or more, they would have had to pay a window tax. If they had owned horses or watches, they would have paid taxes on those too.  

I do not know what Duncan’s occupation was. Whatever they were doing in Lochend, it appears they eventually left. According to a family story, Fanny finished her education in Edinburgh. She didn’t stay there, though. By 1817, Fanny had crossed the Atlantic and was living in Philadelphia, married to English-born merchant Robert Mitcheson.

Photos: copyright Janice Hamilton, 2012

Research Remarks:  Family stories linked my MacGregors to the Stirling area of Scotland, and Fanny’s home in Philadelphia was called Monteith house, so when I discovered there was a rural parish near Stirling called Port of Menteith, I suspected Fanny had a connection to it. Then I found a short biography of her son Joseph McGregor Mitcheson that confirmed it. I used to access the Historical Catalogue of the St. Andrews Society of Philadelphia, With Biographical Sketches of Deceased Members.

The Scottish Archive Network website is a searchable electronic catalogue of some 50 archives in Scotland. It told me that the kirk sessions records for Port of Menteith parish are not in the National Archives in Edinburgh, but at the Stirling Council Archives, in the city of Stirling.

There are digitized historical tax rolls on the subscription access portion of the Scotland’s Places website, Maps and many other resources can also be viewed for free on this excellent site. The Scottish Genealogy Society also has resources online at, including taxation lists, university graduates, military records, trades and professions and prisoners.

Members of this family used both the McGregor and MacGregor spellings of the name. Also, MacGregor was Catharine’s maiden name; Scottish church records used the woman’s maiden name, even if she was married.

Mary Frances was not a very common name and, with Scottish naming traditions in mind, I have attempted to look for an earlier Mary Frances, after whom Fanny might have been named. Fanny had a brother Andrew (baptized 1791) and a sister Christian (baptized 1793), so those also might have been family names. So far I’ve had no luck. Their grandparents would have used an alias, rather than MacGregor.

I found the reference to Fanny’s baptismal record on and viewed a copy of the parish record on the Scotland’s People website. There must have been numerous MacGregors in Port of Menteith parish at the time: besides the couple named Duncan MacGregor and Catherine MacGregor at Lochend, there were couples with the same names at nearby Auchreig, Cardross, Gartmore and Court Hill.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Mrs. Robert Stanley Bagg

Clara with daughters Gwen and Evelyn, grandaughter Clare.

I have heard two stories about my great-grandmother, Clara Smithers, otherwise known as Mrs. R. Stanley Bagg. One story described her as shocking her friends by pushing a baby carriage down the street herself, rather than having the nanny do it.

My mother told me the other story: when my mother was a little girl, Grandmother Bagg was very strict about making her clean all the dirt off her shoes before she got into her grandmother’s car.

A 1930 collection of short biographies of prominent Canadian women said Mrs. Bagg occupied “a leading place in local hospital and charitable work.” She was a governor of the Montreal General Hospital and the Children’s Memorial Hospital, and she volunteered for the Ladies’ Benevolent Society and the Day Nursery. According to her obituary, she was also active in St. James the Apostle Church, an Anglican church located near her downtown Montreal home.

In addition, she was a member the Imperial Order of the Daughters of the Empire (IODE), a federation of women founded in 1900 to promote patriotism, loyalty and service to others, and of the Art Association, Themis Club, Royal Montreal Golf Club and Montreal Hunt Club.

Clara was born in Montreal in 1860 to Charles Francis Smithers, an English-born banker, and Martha Bagnall Shearman, his Irish-born wife. The family lived in Brooklyn for many years while Clara was growing up, and returned to Montreal in 1879. Two years later, her father became president of the Bank of Montreal.

Clara married lawyer and businessman Robert Stanley Bagg in 1882, when she was 22 and Stanley was 34, and they had two daughters and a son: Evelyn, Gwen and Harold.

The Baggs were members of an elite group of English-speaking Protestant Montrealers whose values were those of the British Empire: good manners, duty, family, love of God, hard work. Their unquestioned role was to lead, and to preserve the status quo.

Clara would have been expected to respect her husband’s authority, to oversee the household servants, and to follow the rules of etiquette. She joined the previously mentioned organizations in order to meet her obligations of noblesse oblige, to socialize with the right people, and probably to keep from being bored.

There were some difficult times. Surviving family letters suggest that Stanley found his work very stressful, and that he was in poor health for some years. He died of cancer in 1912, while the family was on holiday in Kennebunkport, Maine. Presumably they had hoped the sea air would be good for him.

A few months later, 17-year-old Harold was driving his mother’s car when he accidentally hit a child, killing him. In 1939, Harold’s 34-year-old wife, the former Katherine Louise Morse, of New York, died. Harold died in 1944, age 49.

Clara lived in the Bagg family home at the corner of Sherbrooke Street and Côte des Neiges Road for more than 50 years. She did not remarry. Both her grown daughters, each of whom had one daughter, lived a few blocks away, but I do not know whether they were close emotionally.

She died in 1946, at age 85, after a long illness. My mother said her grandmother was “completely batty” by the end of her life. I assume that meant she had dementia.

Photo credit: Courtesy McCord Museum

Research remarks: The Social and Personal Column of The Gazette is amazingly informative about this generation of the Bagg family and their friends. The column often noted when they had house guests or went on trips, and the newspaper printed long lists of the guests at weddings and debutante balls. Clara’s obituary is at

Westley, Margaret W. Remembrance of Grandeur: the Anglo-Protestant Elite of Montreal, 1900-1950. Montreal: Éditions Libre Expression, 1990. Based on interviews with people who grew up in this milieu, this book paints a fascinating picture of the world in which Clara lived.

Several turn-of-the-century family letters and legal documents, including a reference to Harold’s accident, can be found in the Bagg, Abner and Stanley fonds (P070) at the McCord Museum in Montreal. The online description of the fonds includes numerous errors.

The biography of Mrs. R. Stanley Bagg is in a vanity publication, Women of Canada. Montreal, QC: Women of Canada, 1930. I have only the one page.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Clara Smithers Weds R. Stanley Bagg

It was one of the highlights of Montreal’s social calendar. The marriage of Clara Smithers to Robert Stanley Clark Bagg took place on June 8, 1882, at St. Martin’s Anglican Church, and the church was filled with what The Gazette reporter called “the elite of our inner social circles” long before the bride and groom arrived for the eleven o’clock ceremony.

“The bride’s dress was a rich and handsome one of white brocaded satin, with the traditional veil of costly lace,” the reporter noted. That veil of Irish lace was the same one worn by Clara’s mother, Martha B. Smithers, and later by Clara’s daughters.

Clara must have been flustered, or perhaps she was just thrilled to be a married woman. In the church registry, she signed her name as Clara Bagg, rather than using her maiden name. Fortunately, the minister recorded the marriage correctly.

Following the service, the wedding party drove to the residence of the bride’s father on University Street, where lunch was served. The newlyweds then left by train for Quebec City, where they boarded the SS Parisian for a two-month honeymoon in Europe.

Clara was the daughter of Charles Francis Smithers, an English-born banker. The eighth of eleven children, she was born in Montreal in 1860, but her father’s work took him to New York City, and Clara spent much of her adolescence in Brooklyn. The family returned to Montreal in 1879 and her father was named president of the Bank of Montreal two years later.

Stanley was born in 1848, the son of Stanley Clark Bagg, one of Montreal’s largest landowners, and Catharine Mitcheson Bagg, originally of Philadelphia. Like his father and grandfather, R. Stanley Bagg went by the name Stanley. He studied law at McGill and, after his father died in 1873, Stanley took over the administration of the family properties, overseeing rentals and sales.   

I do not know how they met, but there must have been many opportunities for young women to meet bachelors in their social circles. One day, Stanley wrote a short poem with a religious theme in Clara’s autograph book. It was more about loving God than loving her, but it did the trick.

This photo of a young Clara was taken in Brooklyn. It's all about the dress.
For the first years of their married life, Clara and Stanley lived next door to his mother’s house, Fairmount Villa, on Sherbrooke Street near Saint Urbain. Their first two children were born there: Evelyn St. Clair Stanley Bagg in 1884, and Gwendolen Catherine Stanley Bagg (my grandmother) in 1887. Harold Fortescue Stanley Bagg was born in 1895, after the family had moved to a more fashionable neighbourhood.

Stanley had a new house built around 1891. Made of red sandstone imported from Scotland, it was at the corner of Sherbrooke Street and Côte des Neiges Road, at the edge of the area known as the Golden Square Mile. Stanley died in Kennebunkport, Maine in 1912, and the widowed Clara lived in that house until her death in 1946.

photo credit: McCord Museum.

Research Remarks: The article about the wedding appeared in The Gazette, 9 June, 1882, page 3. Thanks to Justin Bur for finding it.

The image of the church registry can be viewed at Source: Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967.  Provo, UT, USA: Operations Inc, 2008. Original data: Gabriel Drouin, comp. Drouin Collection. Montreal, Quebec, Canada: Institut Généalogique Drouin.

Clara’s branch of the family is included in the Smithers Family Book, by Elizabeth Marston Smithers, produced by the Institute for Publishing Arts, 1985. This book provide a good starting point, although there are some errors and omissions in the early generations.  

I have not yet found baptismal records for Clara or her siblings, although I haven’t looked very hard. According to the records of Mount Royal Cemetery, her date of birth was 4 Feb. 1860.

Like most big cities, Montreal had a city directory that makes it possible to track the family’s home address and Stanley’s work address every year. Lovell’s Directory can be searched online at

Clara’s autograph book is in private hands.