The First Sutherland

Although I am fairly certain that the family line can be traced to William Sutherland and Hannah Avery in the early 1700s, the first Sutherland in the New World is a mystery.

A number of family trees on Ancestry.com claim that William Sutherland (1692-1772) is descended from members of the Earl of Perth Expedition in 1684. A group of families from central Scotland received a land grant from the Earl of Perth. A William Sutherland was one of these immigrants hoping to make his fortune in America. William Sutherland I is believed to have married Margaret Magregorie, the widow of Patrick Magregorie, a leader of the Expedition. The record is unclear after this point.

The “evidence” that they had a son named William Jr. appears to be largely based on coincidence. Both men were Sutherlands. Both men were named William. Both men lived in or near New York state around the same time.

There is also a problem with the younger William’s date of birth.  Several sources cite 1690-1692 as his birth year. Margaret Magregorie was not widowed until March 1691. Her first husband was killed during the Leisler Rebellion while Fort James was under siege. In addition, tax records from 1695 mention a Margaret Magregorie living in the South Ward of New York City. If she married William Sutherland I, it must have been after that date.

Other sources state that William Sutherland Jr (or perhaps his father) came to America as a British soldier. William Sutherland Jr purchased land in Connecticut and may have been a carpenter. He married Hannah Avery around 1718-1719.

While the William Sutherland I of the Perth Expedition is well documented and that story is far more interesting than a simple infantryman settling in Connecticut, there is no evidence that this first William fathered William Jr. I suppose it is possible but factual inconsistencies make me doubt that relationship.

Mark Sutherland-Fisher, the genealogist for Clan Sutherland, has also weighed in on the topic.
Almost every Sutherland in the US who is at least 6th generation has been looking for the origins of William Sutherland and Hannah Avery. I fear the only place the question will ever be answered is in America not here in Scotland. Rootsweb forum post from Nov 2006

Whether the first Sutherland was a land speculator or a British soldier or someone else, we do know that the family was in North America by the early 1700s. This means that our ancestor left Scotland before the tragedies that caused the mass migration of Scots later in the 18th century. They missed the Jacobite Rebellion in the Highlands and the oppressive laws that followed. These anti-Jacobite laws nearly wiped out the Clans. Our ancestor missed the Clearances and the grinding poverty that caused many Scots to flee to far away lands rather than starve in their own country.

They remembered Scotland before the hard times.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.