The MacDonells of Leek

A Cadet Family of Glengarry

The third and final volume of The Clan Donald was published in 1904, thus ending a decade or more of painstaking research.  In the Preface to volume three the authors (The Revs A and A MacDonald Killearnan and Kiltarlity) state

In a work involving so much minute genealogical research, errors no doubt have unavoidably crept in; but these will be found to be few and of little importance.

Unfortunately not everyone agreed. The sheer scale of their undertaking inevitably attracted comment, much of it complimentary, some of it critical. One such example (of the critical variety) was the paper presented to the Canadian Catholic Historical Association in 1934/35 by William Louis Scott, K.C. (1862-1947) under the title The MacDonells of Leek, Collachie and Aberchalder. For the full text of this report go to


As will be seen from this paper the author argued that

The pedigrees there given (volume 3) for Leek, Collachie and Aberchalder are hopelessly astray.

He further reported that one the authors, the Reverend Archibald McDonald (sic) Kiltarlity had finally agreed with him in every particular regarding the genealogy of the Leek family. This is somewhat surprising as he, Scott, was also somewhat astray.

Some 45 years later (1979) the matter is alluded to once again by Norman H. MacDonald in his history of The Clan Ranald of Knoydart & Glengarry where he writes

Hitherto there has been a great deal of confusion between these families.

Norman then set out to clarify the historical record. He did so in the closing chapter of his book under the title of Notes on the Glengarry Cadet Families, and much of what follows has been influenced by this work. We have also been greatly assisted by documents from the Glengarry Papers held at the Highland Archive Centre.

The progenitor of the MacDonells of Leek was Iain Og, fourth son of Donald MacAngus, 8th of Glengarry. The line then descends through John  (Bond of Tack 1672; put to the horn 1696), Alexander  (signed the address to George 1 in 1714; died before 1721), John (Bonds and Hornings 1723 and 1725; last of this family to hold Leek). John; George ; and finally John Ignatius who died in 1900 and was last of the male line. This family we will refer to as Leek 1.

As noted above, John MacDonell of Leek (Bonds and Hornings 1723 and 1725) was the last of the original Leek family (Leek 1) to possess the property. He would have been John 4th of Leek (1). This assertion is supported by a wadsett of Leek dated 1727 in favour of Angus MacDonell Yr. of Drynachan,

but subject to existing Wadsett of 2000 Merks in name of John MacDonell of Leek with which the said Angus was burdened.

Hence Angus MacDonell Yr. of Drynachan became the progenitor of the new Leek family which we shall refer to as Leek 2. He received a further wadsett of Leek in 1735.

The MacDonells of Drynachan have a common ancestor with the Leek 1 family in Alexander Ranaldson VI of Glengarry (1501-1560) and are descended through his son Allan of Lundie; Donald Beag 1st of Drynachan; Allan; Alexander; John and then Angus who acquired the wadsett of Leek in 1735. Drynachan was wadsett to Angus, his wife Harriet, and John his eldest Lawful son in 1732, although it is possible that his father John was still alive. One of the witnesses to the bond of friendship between Glengarry and John and Patrick Grant of Glenmoriston of November 1, 1735, was a John MacDonell of Drynachan. But was this John the father of Angus, or John the son of Angus?. Further research is required.                   

By 1789 Drynachan had clearly passed out of the possession of the original family as in that year there is a letter dated 3rd March which refers to a Mr Macpherson as being the tacksman of Drynachan. Macpherson must have held Drynachan for a year or more prior to that date as it is reported that payment of his rent is seriously in default and he has been jailed for debt.

The adjoining estates of Drynachan and Leek lie to the west of the Caledonian Canal, close to Fort Augustus and roughly opposite Cullachy. In 1762 an Inventory of the Heritable Estate of Glengarry was drawn up following the death of Alasdair Ruadh.  This showed a rental income for Leek of £136-13-4d Scots and £72 Scots for Drynachan. The exchange rate was £12 Scots to £1 Sterling. By 1803 the Rent Roll for the Estate showed a rental income for Leek of £40 Sterling.

The Muster Roll of the Jacobite Army (1745-46) lists a John MacDonell of Leek together with three of his brothers Allan, Alexander and Ranald. These men were sons of Angus MacDonell Yr. of Drynachan/Leek. The date of Angus's death is uncertain. There is a record of him in 1744 but he is not recorded in the Rent Roll of 1762. His eldest son John had a joint wadsett of Drynachan with his father in 1732.

Of the many sons of Angus Yr. of Drynachan/Leek, John the eldest assumed the style of Leek while Allan (1719-1790) received a wadsett of Cullachie in 1754. and Alexander (died circa 1789/90) received a wadsett of Wester Aberchalder in 1752.

These three brothers, John of Leek, Allan of Cullachie and Alexander of Aberchalder, were the leaders of the 1773 emigration on the Pearl to New York. However, as can be seen above, they were not representatives of the original cadet families that their titles might suggest.

At the time of the departure of the Pearl (1773) we have the "original" family of Leek (1), no longer in possession of the land but continuing to use the Leek style; the "new" family of Leek (2) departing for America and thereafter to Canada, and assuming the Leek style in their new homeland.

This is the foundation of the confusion subsequently referred to by both Scott and Norman H. MacDonald. The confusion was further compounded by the fact that it was a John MacDonell (Leek 1) who lost possession of these lands in1727 in favour of a John MacDonell (Leek 2) together with his father Angus and mother Harriet.

As noted earlier John 4th of Leek (1) had a son John 5th of Leek (1). John 5th had a distinguished military career in Europe and latterly as a Lieutenant in Fraser's Highlanders in north America.  He died in 1807 aged 85 at Berwick. This duplication of the style of Leek in north America further added to the subsequent confusion among historians.

There is evidence however of a further (Leek 3) family. A Bill issued from Invergarry House on the 12th November 1783, required payment of £2-15-6 1/2d  Sterling by November 1784. The Bill is addressed to Donald McDonell senior, Tacksman of Leek and Donald McDonell junior. Donald senior was a younger son ( probably the youngest son) of Angus of Drynachan. The Clan Donald (vol 3) refers to him as afterwards of Leek. He was probably too young to be out at Culloden and we conclude he decided not to join his brothers on the Pearl. He is again referred to in a Bill dated 3rd March 1784 in the sum of £9-13-10 Sterling payable by the 15th June in the same year.

A Decreet of Removing dated 5th May 1806 lists the following Leek tenants

Alexander Breck Kennedy and Angus Kennedy in Leek; Alexander Macdonell junior in Leek; Alexander Macdonell senior in Leek; Angus McDonell in Leek and Paul McDonell in Leek.

In 1811 a document is raised by one Alex Fowler, Writer in Dingwall, in which he describes himself  as Trustee of the sequestrated Estate of Archibald McDonell, tacksman of Leek.  Exactly who Archibald was is unclear. He may have been a grandson of Donald MacDonell senior referred to in the Bill of 1783.

By 1818 Angus McTavish is recorded as tenant in Leek, of whom it is noted that

he is much in arrears...perhaps (he) ought to be warned out.

By the beginning of the 19th century therefore it would appear that the estate of Leek, in common with many others in the Highlands, was experiencing unsatisfactory tenancies and outstanding debts leading to sequestrations and removals.

After more than two centuries of possession it was a sad end to a once proud family.

By 1828 not only possession but ownership itself had been lost to the family of Glengarry. Were it not for the Pearl emigrants and many others like them, the name and traditions of the MacDonells of Leek would be but a footnote in history. Happily with their establishment of Glengarry in Canada new opportunities opened up, free from the feudal shackles of their homeland.

Charles MacDonell. 

Chris Alexander (Canada).


















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