This past weekend, Phill McIntyre of Maine became the first direct descendant to lay hands on some historic documents signed by his Barra, Scotland, ancestor Neil McIntyre in 1772. To wipe clean an almost 250-year-old debt, McIntyre made a donation to P.E.I. Scottish Settlers Historical Society members Mary Gallant, left, and Myrna Babineau to support the goal of purchase the Glenaladale Estate in Tracadie to keep this historic property intact as part of P.E.I.'s unique Scottish heritage. GUARDIAN PHOTO BY MARY MACKAY
Sometimes stories of skeletons in the family closet linger on, despite the passage of time.
In the case of Phill McIntyre of Maine, his ancestral anecdotes had swirled around for almost 250 years. It’s only just recently that the truth behind those taller-than-tall tales have come to light — details of his Scottish-born ancestor Neil McIntyre fleeing Prince Edward Island in the ultra-early years of British settlement in the 1770s, using cloak-and-dagger aliases to elude discovery and avoiding a debt that remained unpaid until all of the pieces of this historical puzzle finally fell into place from some of his descendants more than two centuries later.
Even stranger than truth is that this genealogical journey also unexpectedly led McIntyre to discover his musical roots a decade ago, which he embraces with complete Celtic gusto to this day.
“Puzzles are about bits and pieces; until they fit all together (you can’t see the full picture),” says McIntyre, the director of the Skye Theatre Performing Arts Centre in Maine, who was in Charlottetown last week as part of his ongoing close connection with the ECMAs.
Until recently he did not know that there was a very direct family connection to P.E.I. as well.
“It started with genealogy. Many of us look for our roots and wonder who we are,” says McIntyre, who through this process happened upon a distant cousin, Denis Savard of Campbellton, N.B., who did the bulk of the research on this family-related subject.
The easy part was tracing the McIntyre family back to Charlo, N.B., to Neil McIntyre’s son, John Baptiste McIntyre, who died in 1850. His gravestone notes that he was born in 1766 in Barrow, Scotland, but there was no such place.
“In searching records, we (also) came up with his (paternal) parentage as being very conflicting. We also found Noel (McIntyre) and we found Eduard (McIntyre). So I went to Scotland trying to find information and was just going nowhere with it,” McIntyre says.
Oddly enough, something completely out of left field would soon take shape in McIntyre’s life. While in Inverness he was keen to experience some traditional Celtic music, so he visited the local interpretive centre.
“The gal at the desk asked where we were from and when she heard Maine, she said, ‘Why are you over here looking for Celtic music? You should go to Cape Breton and Celtic Colours.’ Now this was in 1999 and Celtic Colours had only been going for two years,” remembers McIntyre, who at the time was an auctioneer and ran a big salvage business. “And when I went to Cape Breton (in 2000) and I heard the music, it was like, ‘this is my music.’ I was just consumed by it, totally.”
This Cape Breton connection would be a changing point in his life in more ways than one. The next year the head of the official governmental department for the advancement of Gaelic culture in Scotland was there. McIntyre told him the story of the McIntyres who allegedly came from Barrow, Scotland.
“He said, ‘Barrow? No that would be Barra . . . ,’ ” he remembers. Another key factor was that after McIntyre joined the National Geographic Genome Project several years ago, this led to DNA matches with people in Barra as well. “The key was Barra and to look for the records of the people who had come from Barra, and (Denis) is the one that stumbled upon the documents of the Alexander (which sailed from Scotland to P.E.I. in 1772),” McIntyre says.
“The Alexander is the first organized immigration of Scots from the Highlands and islands to Canada. It’s the equivalent of the Mayflower.” At that time, Capt. John MacDonald, who was the laird of Glenaladale and Glenfinnan in Scotland, brought with him 210 Scottish Roman Catholics who became known as the Glenaladale settlers to the 20,000-acre parcel of land he’d purchased on what was then known as St. John’s Island. “Basically, the Catholic Church was the one helping him fund this project to come to settle Prince Edward Island, to be one of the original settlers. He was not able to fill the ship from the Highlands so he went to the islands — he went to the Hebrides and picked up people from Uist and Barra — and he was able to fill up the ship. They sailed in the spring of 1772 and landed here,” McIntyre says.
One of those families was Neil McIntrye, his wife, their eight-year-old son, John Baptiste, and two other children. For passage to P.E.I., some of the Glenaladale settlers had agreed to be indentured servants for four years, says Mary Gallant, who is secretary of the Prince Edward Island Scottish Settlers Historical Society Inc., which has been working to preserve Capt. MacDonald’s historic Glenaladale Estate in Tracadie that is presently up for private sale.
“And there were some who agreed to lease property for — get this — 3,000 years. So (MacDonald) was setting up another lairdship. That’s basically as it was done in Scotland. And the rent would increase on the property as it was developed,” she adds.
The crops were not good that first year and there were difficulties in getting in supplies for the coming winter, so McIntyre and other family members and friends from Uist and Barra wanted out of their contract with Capt. MacDonald. “To get out of the contract they had to sign a contract that indebted them to MacDonald for 50£ sterling. In 1772 with people who had absolutely no coinage of any kind, (that meant) they were still in servitude. These were thrifty Scots and they fled,” McIntyre says.
Some went to Pictou, N.S., others went to Cape Breton; Neil McIntrye and other family members headed for the Eastern Townships of Quebec. “So we’ve had this verbal history within our family that a couple of brothers fled Prince Edward Island and we didn’t know if they murdered somebody or stole something or what it was. But as the pieces of the puzzle all came together we discovered that Neil fled with his brothers and cousins into the Eastern Townships in Quebec and assimilated into the Acadian culture and people,” McIntyre says.
“He assumed two aliases because he was not wanting to get caught. And the aliases were Eduard and Noel. So (we were) trying to search ancestry for somebody who was on the lamb and using different names . . . . “What was interesting was that Neil had children. There were baptisms and marriages in Quebec and then later in the Charlo area (where he eventually stayed). Anytime he had to sign any document that had to do with the church his name was Neil McIntyre . . . . He did not to lie to the church.”
Last summer, Savard travelled to P.E.I. to meet with P.E.I. Scottish Settlers Historical Society president Myrna Babineau to learn more about the McIntyre connection to the Glenaladale settlers.
“We’re working on the ship’s list for the Alexander, and I doubt that we would have tracked down these McIntyres if they hadn’t tracked down (the connections) themselves,” Gallant says. “So it was a godsend for us to have them connect with us because we knew they came over but where did they go?”
The descendants of the Glenaladale settlers spread far and wide across P.E.I. and throughout North America. Phill McIntyre’s father immigrated from Restigouche, N.B., to Maine with his parents around 1918 when he was about eight years old. After finding his musical roots by attending Cape Breton’s Celtic Colours in 2000, Phill McIntyre switched gears entirely, closed down his large antique auto salvage yard in Maine and turned his parts warehouse into the Skye Theatre Performing Arts Centre.
“The music consumed me,” says this music man, who is now also director of New England Celtic Arts and artistic director of a festival that he founded called Crossroads International Celtic Festival that is patterned after the Festival of Small Halls in P.E.I. as well as Celtic Colours.
“I started working with the ECMAs 10 years ago to develop the New England market and I’ve been coming up here as a partner ever since. This is my third time in Charlottetown, but it’s only within the last year that we’ve been able to unlock all these keys (to solve the McIntyre family mystery).” After recently being sent an article that appeared in The Guardian about Capt. MacDonald, the Glenaladale settlers and the P.E.I. Scottish Settlers Historical Society’s goal to purchase the Glenaladale Estate in Tracadie to keep this historic property intact as part of P.E.I.’s unique Scottish heritage, McIntyre came up with a unique plan of pay-back action to wipe his ancestral debt slate clean. “I figured out the equivalent of 50£ sterling in today’s money and I made a donation to (the society) for the purchase of this house to redeem my family name,” he laughs. “I’m not paying any interest because I’m Scottish, but I am paying it back.”