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From Helen Widener 15 November 2005
I ran across The Caithness County Website and thought you might like another Mackay letter to add to your files. There is a considerable amount of genealogy in the letter written about 1821/22.
I also have a website for James Mackay at www.jamesmackay.us The website contains the birth records of all his brothers and sisters born at Arichliney, Kildonan, Sutherland County, Scotland as well as the birth records for the children of James Mackay and Elizabeth Long.
I would like to hear from anyone that might be a
member of this family. The parents of James MacKay born May 1, 1761 were
George MacKay and Elizabeth MacDonald of Clyth.
March 26, 1891
The following is a copy of an unfinished letter written sometime before the year 1822, by Captain James Mackay of St. Louis, Missouri, to this oldest son, John Zeno Mackay: (Copied by John Milton Barker from Original and recopied March 26, 1891 in Mexico, Missouri, recopied by daughter Leta Margaret Barker Turner, February 3, 1956)
"My dear Son:"
"As it is the natural desire of all persons to know their pedigree, and such knowledge being always pleasing and sometimes useful, I will endeavor to give you (for your satisfaction and that of all my family) as much information on that subject as my recollection can furnish, that you may know from what race you are descended and not remain in that ignorance which is the lot of the generality of those living on this side of the Atlantic, who not only know nothing of their European Ancestors, but have even lost their own real name. You, my dear son, are a descendant of the ancient race of O'Connor, one of the Kings of Ireland, which appears by the genealogy existing in our family these six hundred years. Prince Alexander, son of O'Connor, about the year 1200 came from Ireland with his followers and landed in the north part of Scotland, where he conquered a considerable tract of country, the most of which is still inhabited by his descendants (the Mackays). Alexander's son's name was Ay or I. about this time the great families began to use surnames to distinguish their families, consequently the sons of I were surnamed Mac I or Mackay, which name was ever after retained by their offspring. The word "Mac", or "Mack", in the old language of Scotland signified "son". I was born in Arrichiliney, Parish of Kildonan, County of Sutherland, North part of Scotland. My father, George Mackay, who was a Judge, and my mother, Elizabeth McDonald, both of exemplary virtue and goodness, now deceased, resided at said Arrichiliney, which was also the residence of my grandfather, James Mackay, whose father's name was John, and John's father's name was William, who was the son of Murdoch Mackay, who was called the Great Murdoch, being not only a man of power, in the dark age he lived, but also possessed prodigious personal strength. My memory is not sufficient to trace out the line of our ancestors beyond this great man last mentioned, being the seventh generation back from you. I believe that sometime before this day our family became the youngest branch and consequently was excluded from the paternal inheritance which according to the laws of that country became the right of the oldest son and is now the property of his lineal descendant, George Mackay…Lord Rae. From every information I ever could collect it appears that our ancestors were eminent for personal courage and for their integrity in every situation, public or private, which was their lot to occupy and that their conduct on all occasions was worthy of the noble race from whom they descended. I do not give you this relation respecting your ancestors that you may think yourself superior to other good men, but for the purpose that you may emulate their example and thereby render yourself worthy of the esteem and confidence of all good men, and honour and a blessing to your people, your country and yourself. And this maybe the last advice that I may ever be able to give you, I charge you, my dear son, not to neglect it. Remember it is the advice of a tender father who loves thee as his own life and whose advice is founded on a long experience, acquired in a life checkered with various scenes of good and evil inseparable from the rugged path of human life, through which you must also pass and perhaps commence its troubles without a father to guide thee. I am grieved at the thought of leaving you, your worthy mother and the rest of the family, in a corner of the earth removed from society and good examples, almost ruined by the injustice of government and now chiefly inhabited by a new population, the most of whom (considering property their chief good) stick at nothing to acquire it, and with few exceptions, those of them who amassed property since their arrival here, got it by fraud and injustice; therefore watch them as you would a wolf in the desert, for they will try to prey on you also. I do not mean to say that all the American race are of this description, for the Atlantic States (where people are civilized) morality reigns as in other civilized countries. But in all countries there are a certain description of persons, whose conduct is incompatible with the rules of a well regulated society, and of such are the generality of our new population. Men without honour or religion, disregarding even that natural duty which all mankind owes to t heir parents and other relations; the child prosecutes his parents and reduces them to poverty if he can; brothers and sisters are not ashamed to have their names called in court, against each other. Such is the present depraved state of society in this country, though I hope you will live to see an alternation for the better…and I have noticed it here merely to end that you may arm yourself against the danger of being tainted by the present infamous state of things. In whatever situation you happen to be, public or private, let the rules of rectitude and your conscience be your guide, let not even pity make you deviate from this rule…leave the events to God who can bring good out of seeming evil. Use civility to all persons and of every description; make as few enemies as possible for the meanest being may find means to injure. Have but few friends, for you will find few in this world worthy of that name. Therefore be circumspect in your choice of them and careful to preserve their confidence after you prove them to be deserving of yours. Honour thy mother, she is worthy of all good and of more than you can do for her; protect her and the sisters and all the family as long as you live. Never place your confidence in a man void of religion, for what the fine and empty men of the world call honour (if not supported by religion) is as frail and false as a shadow and will deceive, soon or late, all who will depend on it. I do not mean the external forms of religion, though that is also necessary. True religion consists of loving merely, acting justly and never forgetting that the Almighty Lord of the Universe is a witness, to all our actions. Preserve to the outmost the confidence and friendship of my excellent and constant friend, Colonel Anthony Soulard, and his family; above all others follow his advise and you will do right. I need not mention your grandfather, Captain John Long, for it is natural for him to be your friend and he will always be so. I have two brothers alive, Robert, who is a Captain in the British Army, where he served twenty years and is lately retired on full pay to a small estate which he owns near the City of Inverness, in Scotland. He has but one child, Magarete, who is lately married to a Major Mackay of the same army. His name is William. My other brother, George, the youngest of our family, is in Nova Scotia, has been overseer of the public works, and is, I believe, removed to the Island of Cape Breton. He has a large family my oldest brother, John, and his excellent consort are both buried on Long Island, near New York. Their three children, Eliza, Mary and Matilda, live with their grandmother, widow of Judge Paul Micheau, on Staten Island. I recommend them to your friendship for they are deserving. My brother William, younger than me, died many years ago at Petersburg, in Virginia, where he had been to establish a commercial house. My oldest sister, Jean, and her husband are dead and left a large family, some of them in the army and some in Scotland. My other and youngest sister, Catherine, married to George Mackay and lives in Doverary, in the County of Caithness, Scotland. They have a numerous family. Two of her sons, George and John, are merchants in Iverness. I have some relatives in Boston, New England, possessing much property. My Uncle, William Mackay, came to North Carolina with his wife, Isabella and Eleven children, in the year 1774. Before I left Europe, I was told by my father that they lived in Rowan County, before the Revolution, but I never heard anything from them since. I remember that they had several sons, the name of the oldest was James."
Transcribed by Helen Widener
From the 1956 Copy, typed August, 2002
Note: Captain James Mackay's wife was Isabella Long, daughter of Captain John Long, a Revolutionary officer from Virginia. He was a captain under General LaFayette and engaged in the Battle of Brandywine.