A Chisholm Miscellany

What follows here is a miscellany of stories by and about these Chisholms over the years. They are shown in chronological order of the times and the events that they described.

1200-1300's. The Chisholm Origins

The name is formed from the Norman “chese” which meant “to choose,” and “holm” which is a Saxon word that meant “meadow.”

According to one account, the kingdom of Gododdin was taken by the Northumbrian English in the 7th century and was then taken in turn by the Normans three hundred years later.  The early Chisholms came across the North Sea and the lands they claimed in Roxburghshire became a feudal barony.  The name of Alexander de Cheschelme appears on a charter from 1249, and the Ragman Roll of 1296, listing the supporters of England’s Edward I mentions Richard de Cheschelme and John de Cheshome.  The seal used by the family shows a boar’s head which represented the traditional story of two Chisholm brothers who saved a king from a wild boar. 

1600’s.  A Land Dispute in Chisholm Country

According to folklore legend, the Chisholm tenants and those of Seaforth in Kintail had disagreed as to the proper boundary between the estates of their respective chiefs.  The chiefs tended to look with disfavor upon these disputes.  But in the end they agreed to be the arbiters.

Their decision was as unique as the result was tragic.  A Kintail dairymaid was to be sent from Caisteal Donnan and a Strathglass maid from Beinnvean.  Where they met would determine the boundary line. 

Each set forth at the appointed time.  In due course they confronted each other west of Glen Affric, on a hillock between Loch-a-bheallaich and Altbeatha.

“You have come too far towards Kintail and I will go still farther towards Strathglass,”’ declared the dairymaid from Seaforth.

The Chisholm maid retorted that if she dared to pass a step further it would be the worse for her.  Heedless of the warning, the other advanced.  Her adversary then dealt her a fatal blow with her staff.  Thrusting the staff in the ground near the lifeless body, the maid from Strathglass marched back in triumph to Comar. 

Where the staff was found was called Cnoc-a-Chuaille, or the “hillock of the bludgeon.”  It was in this extraordinary way that the boundary was settled.

1600's.  The Chisholms and The Macraes

The Macraes had for a considerable period a stranglehold on the Chisholm lands.  Maurice Macrae was said to have loaned substantial sums of money to the Chisholm and received in return grazing land in Glen Affric. 

Maurice was said to have met his death through his own generosity.  Having met up with some Chisholms on the way home from a business trip to Inverness, Maurice took a drink with them at The Struy Inn.  He never returned to Kintail and was later found drowned in the River Glass.

The Chisholms were strongly suspected of the disposal of Maurice, but nothing could be proved.  Soon afterwards, a party of Macraes arrived in Strathglass to take back Maurice's body.  While passing Clachan Comer with his body, they noticed the burial taking place of one of the prominent Chisholms.  The Macraes stepped into the sacred burial ground amidst the Chisholm funeral party and seized the gravestone that was about to be laid.  It was said that they did this in order to try to provoke a fight so that they might then have the opportunity to avenge Maurice's murder. 

Legend has it that the challenge was not accepted.  The Macraes carried the stone block away all the way back to Kintail and placed it on Maurice's grave.  

1746.  Culloden Laments

Hugh Chisholm

One of the followers entrusted with the life of Bonnie Prince Charlie after Culloden was Hugh (Macphail) Chisholm.  He was said to have spurned a reward of £30,000 for betraying his prince.  The story goes that he would never shake the hands of anyone after having bade goodbye to the prince.  His sword was, much later, presented ceremoniously to the Chisholm.

A Widow's Lament

Most of the songs of the 45 are about men.  But what about the women and children who suffered?  William Chisholm fell at Culloden and his distraught wife wrote a bitter song “Young Charles Stuart, it was your cause that destroyed me, you took away from me all that I had.”

The song Cumha Do dh'Uilleam Siosal (Lament for William Chisholm) is also known as Mo Run Geal Og (My fair young love) and is the most famous piece of Chisholm music. 

1797. John Chisholm and The Spanish Plot

The Chisholms were said to have come to South Carolina from Drum in Scotland.  Ann Cutbirth, who had arrived there in 1738, remembered her two young nephews, John and Thomas Chisholm, in her will of 1762.

John Chisholm ran a tavern in Knoxville, Tennessee and was employed by William Blount, the state senator, for Indian liaison work.  In 1796, he sent the following message to Blount:

“Dog Warrior, the great chief of the whole Creek Nation, has decided to make peace with the Chickasaws and also for the first time to make peace with the United States.  I intend to go to Washington to see the Congress in session and to ‘confirm a peace that shall put a final end to the blood-shedding and stealing.’”

He showed up in Philadelphia (where Congress was in session) with Cherokee chiefs and warriors in 1797.  But his real intent was different.  He laid out plans there to Liston, the British minister, for an invasion of Spain's Louisiana and Florida possessions. 

Uncertain what to do, Liston dispatched Chisholm secretly to London on a chartered brig to meet with his superior, Lord Grenville.  When Chisholm showed up there, he was told to drop the matter.  But he was given a large sum of money, treated courteously, and advised to return to America.  “This is the last we know of Chisholm and no trace of him thereafter has been found.”

John Chisholm was between fifty-five and sixty years of age when he had sailed for England.  He was described as a large man with red hair, pugnacious by nature, and someone who cared little for who was ruling as long as he was in the action, preferably in a fight.  He could come to blows with friend and foe alike, as court records showed.

In his deposition at the impeachment proceedings for Blount (who had been implicated in the plot), the ship captain described Chisholm as follows:

"He was a hardy, lusty, brawny, weather-beaten man.  While drinking some porter, he appeared sociable; said that he was a back country man; that he had long lived among the Indians, and was with them during the last war; that he was well known to the Spaniards; that his name was Captain Chisholm; that he had been an interpreter to the Indians last winter in this city; that the 'Spaniards had frequently imprisoned him and treated him cruelly in Pensacola; that they dreaded him, and he hated them, and was now determined to take his full revenge on them.”

His son John married a half-breed woman and removed himself to the West with the Cherokees early in his life.

1801-1809. The Strassglass Clearances

In 1801, William, the 24th Chisholm, began the clearances in Strathglass.  In the period of one year, half of the clan were evicted.  Many left for Canada and Nova Scotia.

After William's death, his son was still a minor; but his wife Elizabeth continued with the evictions for one sole purpose - to pay for her son's (the future 25th Chisholm) education at Cambridge. 

Bishop Chisholm had pleaded with her to end the evictions:

"Oh! Madam, you would really feel if you only heard the pangs and saw the oozing tears by which I am surrounded in this once happy but now devastated valley of Strathglass, looking out all anxiously for a home without forsaking their dear valley; but it will not do, they must emigrate!"

She promised the tenants, who had gone to her for help, to come up with a solution.  But she never did.  Two sheep farmers, Thomas Gillespie and William MacKenzie, had convinced her that she should continue with the “improvements” to her land.

The evictions continued with the Cambridge educated son, Alexander.  He followed in his parents’ footsteps and totally depopulated Strathglass.  It was said that only one Chisholm remained.  Bard and poet in the old Gael tradition, Donald Chisholm, wrote these words:

"Our chief is losing his kin! He prefers sheep in the glens, and his young men away in the camp of the army!"

A man of the time described Alexander as wanting nothing so much as to replace all his people, "his family from the beginning of time," with sheep. And, unfortunately, it was true.

1801-1803. A Chisholm Exodus

1801.  In 1801, there emigrated from Strathglass to America the North River family of Chisholms and MacIntoshes, together with a number of other families from the region.  They sailed from Fort William to Pictou in Nova Scotia on the Sarah.  During the passage, some fifty persons died of smallpox, the disease having been spread by a family called Robertson.

The first Chisholm families at Long Point, Judique would appear to have been those of Colin, William, Alexander, John and Alexander Ban. They too came to Pictou from Strathglass in 1801.  They crossed over to Long Point a year later where they built grist and saw mills and, as soon as possible, established a school.  Soon after, Alexander Chisholm was killed by a falling tree.  He was the first person to be buried in the Long Point graveyard.  Over his remains was mournfully sprinkled consecrated earth brought by the emigrants from Strathglass.   

1803.  In June 1803, there emigrated from Strathglass Donald (Og) and Donald (Mog) Chisholm and their families.  They set out from a point near Fort William on the Aurora for Pictou.  During the voyage, Margaret, the eldest daughter of Donald (Og), fell sick and died.  Her remains were kept until land had been reached and she was then buried in the old cemetery at Arisaig on the Gulf shore.  She was only nineteen years of age and had been married for just five months.

Roderick, a son of Donald (Og), was drowned in the breakers off the southern shore in 1809.  But another son, Donald (Og), who lived until 1869, died at the ripe old age of eighty-four.  He compiled a record of all the Chisholms who had emigrated to Nova Scotia during his time.  His book also included a collection of Gaelic songs, as well as notes from sermons which had impressed him.  

1816. The Acquittal of the Factor Sellar

One house belonging to a man called William Chisholm was especially singled out.  Chisholm was a tinker, and probably a squatter, but this does not condone the act.  In the house was the mother of Chisholm's wife, a bed-ridden woman of over ninety.  When Sellar was told that she was too ill to be removed, he replied: “Damn her, the old witch; she has lived too long.  Let her burn!”'

The house was set on fire and by the time she was pulled out, the blankets she was covered with were also burning.  She was set down in an adjoining shed, which only with great trouble they were prevented from burning also.  The old woman died within the week.

The news of this, and other acts, began to ripple through the country.  Sellar was taken into custody and a trial began on 23 April 1816.  The jury consisted of 15 men; eight were local landed proprietors, two merchants, two tacksmen, and one a lawyer.  Most were magistrates and Justices of the Peace.  Sellar was charged with culpable homicide.

When Lord Pitmilly came to sum up, he instructed the jury to bear in mind the character of the tinker, Chisholm, versus the character of the accused.  The jury were quite clear what he meant and returned a verdict of not guilty in fifteen minutes.

Sellar's work as a factor for Stafford would be remembered as Bliadhna an Losgaidh, the year of the burnings.

1829. Gledswood

The Scots can be nostalgic,  The name Gledswood is said to have come from a Scottish property on the Tweed river, just below Sir Walter Scott's favorite view of the river, to which James Chisholm was also partial.

James Chisholm, an early settler in Australia, had accumulated vast sheep-rearing lands in the Goulburn district, 200 kilometers south of Sydney.  He acquired the Gledswood property in 1816.  Convict labor was used to build the Coach House, which was completed in 1829.

Gledswood has historical significance for its association with the early development of Australia’s wine industry. James Chisholm junior had planted a vineyard in 1830 and in 1847 vinedressers from Germany were imported to work it.  The convict-built cellar under the homestead was capable of holding 20,000 bottles of wine.

The house still stands as a prime example of early colonial architecture.  It is said to be haunted by the ghost of Polly Chisholm who was found dead in a dam on the property in the 1890’s.  She is still “seen” in the dining room of Caves House.

1830's-1860's. Robert Chisolm at Home in the Sea Islands

Robert Chisolm's town house was in Beaufort, looking out on the Beaufort river.  There are still to be found some ancient camellia plants which Robert had brought there in the years before the Civil War.  Most of the streets are covered with fine sand, deadening noise.   Mockingbirds can be seen in the middle of the streets, dusting themselves, swishing their tails and flying off only if the driver of the car or cart insists on passing.  The most striking characteristic of the town is the great number of large white houses with deep verandas.  Many have enormous pillars, fine fanlights, and decorative detail in the localities where money and labor were available.  They are made of wood with tabby understructures that were once used as service quarters.

Robert cultivated on Chisolm's Island.  This island, at the head of St. Helena Sound, is bounded on one side by the Coosaw river and lies near the outfall of another river, the Combabee.  In 1830 he set out an olive orchard on 1.3 acres.  The trees survived the freeze of 1835 (although the orange trees were killed to the roots).  Robert Chisolm made a success of the venture and shipped out olives up to the time of the Civil War.  The trees were then cut down by Federal soldiers for fuel.

1830's-1860's. The Travails of Henry Chisholm

In 1730, according to the family story, a Chisholm walked all the way from Scotland to London and being a great fellow in size, all six foot four of him, was given a place in the Royal Household.

A grandson of his, Henry Chisholm, after working as a secretary in a country estate, became a private secretary to Lord Grenville.  Lord Grenville also used his 14 year old son to write out letters, ministerial documents, and verse in various languages.  After he retired, the two Chisholms, father and son, were made senior and junior clerks at the Exchequer.

Unfortunately in 1829, Henry Chisholm allowed himself to be duped .by one of the most barefaced Stock Exchange swindles of the time.  He fled to Paris where he died in 1832 in the cholera epidemic.  In the grim years that followed, his son Henry had to support his mother and three sisters on his junior clerk’s salary.

Slowly, very slowly, things improved.  By the 1860’s, he received official commendation, culminating in his being thanked by Parliament in 1868 for three large volumes (affectionately known at the Board of Trade as "the Chisholms") on a subject nearest to his heart -- after his heroic fight against private penury and debt -- the National Debt.

Some years before his retirement, he and his wife moved to Church Lane House in Haslemere and he commuted to his London office.   The house was a large one near the station, with six acres of garden and a farm.  Two of his children went on to have notable careers; Hugh as editor of the Encyclopaedia Britannica; and Grace, with her husband William Young, as writers in mathematics.

1840's-1860's. Caroline Chisholm: The Emigrant's Friend

Caroline Chisholm died in poverty and obscurity in England in 1877.  The inscription on her grave simply read: "The emigrant's friend."

On her arrival in Australia with her husband in 1838, she had observed single girls being dumped on the Sydney wharves with nowhere to go.  So Caroline set up a Female Immigrants Home with the support of the clergy.  She soon became concerned for those families who, having migrated in the hope of better things, found themselves destitute.

Caroline then returned to England and became a publicist for Australia.  She formed a society to send out groups of families to Australia and agitated for better conditions on the vessels carrying these immigrants.  When she first chartered the ship Slains Castle, she supervised the embarkation and appointed a reliable surgeon to control the rations.  Two more ships followed.

However, Caroline's plans for the new families did alarm the established farmers and squatters in Australia who felt threatened by her Catholic faith and the possibility of her bringing Irish Catholics to Australia.

1877. Judge Chisolm and the Klu Klux Clan in Mississippi

William Wallace Chisolm had testified against the Klu Klux Clan before a US District Court grand jury in his capacity as magistrate for Kemper County, Mississippi.  This had so enraged the clan that they were determined to kill him as soon as a pretext could be found.  Several raids were made against him.  Matters came to a head when a clan leader was shot while riding back to his home in DeKalb.  

This newspaper account in the Birmingham Iron Age described what happened:

“On the evening of April 26, John W. Gully was assassinated on a road near his home.  He had been in town and was returning home about twilight, when, within half a mile of his house, he was shot by an assassin on the roadside. 

On the Sunday morning, a warrant was issued for the arrest of several parties suspected of complicity, including Judge Chisolm.  These prisoners were conveyed to the jail for their safety.   Chisolm’s family went with him despite the remonstrances of the officers.

A report was circulating that an armed body of men were nearby to rescue Chisolm.  So the crowd which had circulated outside made a rush on the jail and forced an entrance.  A number of shots were fired.  Chisolm’s son Johnnie, a boy of 14 years of age, was killed and his daughter Cornelia received a severe wound in the wrist.  Then Mr. Chisolm himself was shot a number of times.  His body was taken to his home where he died. 

The excited and infuriated people had seemed determined to avenge the murder of John Gully, a prominent figure in the county.”

A latter view was that “this was one of those deeds in which the perpetrators really overshot their mark.  Even those in political sympathy with them could not but repudiate such brutality.”  

1880's. A Crofter in Chisholm Country

“Alexander Chisholm who occupied the Culour farm, did not, as a rule associate with his neighbors.  His apparent aloofness may have been due to the fact that he was older than they.  But he could express himself fluently and eloquently in his native Gaelic, the only language that he knew.  At his own fireside, he was always at his best and never failed to entertain his visitors in song, story and romance.  He was a sober and industrious man, and no one could accuse him of spending his means in foolish ways.”

At the time William Macdonald was writing, Alexander was a man in his late sixties, his wife, Margaret barely fifty, and their three teenage children were living with them.  His brother was about to emigrate to New Zealand to join his two sons there.

1896-1971. The Life of Brock Chisholm

Brock Chisholm -- Doctor to the World traces the life of this Canadian over a full career of medical and social, military and pacific, national and international achievements. 

It describes his growth and maturation, his bravery in World War I, his medical studies, general practice and interest in psychiatry until World War II, his distinguished administrative career and military ascension to the rank of Major General, and thence to higher civil service as Deputy Minister of Health.

These national contributions would have been remarkable for any man, yet Chisholm enriched and expanded them with his international service.  It is these overseas distinctions, initially at the United Nations and subsequently at the World Health Organization, that have constituted his undoubted fame worldwide.

However, he is perhaps wrongly remembered in Canada as "the man who killed Santa Claus."  This came from his comments in the 1940’s that children should not be encouraged to believe in Santa Claus.  The Canadian public was not amused. 

1930's. Chisholme Border Talk

It may seem a foreign language to the ear or eye, but with some perseverance you can make a little headway.  Matt Rodger recalled this border way of talking from his childhood memories in the Borthwick valley during the 1930’s.

“Tom Scott o Mulsintoun’s wife wis Nannie Kirkpatrick o Chaipel Hill Ferm, wheech mairches wi the Chisholm Estate, on the waiter-shed atween it an Branxholm Hoose i the Ti’iot valley.  Ay, Mr an Mrs Scott hed twae bairns, Kathleen an Charles, whae ma sister an mei gaed tae the schuil wi.

Whan A wur ae laddie up Borth’ick, oral tradition hed eet at ae day whan Watt an his men wur abreid, herrien ither focks cattle, thay kam upo ae stack o hey an Watt wis reputit tae hae sayed til the stack, ‘gin yow hed fowre legs, A wuid dreive yow awa an aa, alang wi thaim bease.’”

The English translation would run as follows:

“Tom Scott of Mulsintown’s wife was Nannie Kirkpatrick of Chapel Hill Farm, which borders the Chisholm estate, on the watershed between it and Branksome House in the Teviot valley.  Yes, Mr. & Mrs. Scott had two children Kathleen and Charles, with whom my sister and I went to the school."

When I was a lad up Borthwick, folklore had it that one day, when Wat and his men were abroad harrying other folks’ cattle, they came upon a stack of hay.  Wat was reputed to have said to the stack: ‘when you had four legs, I would drive you away and all, along with them beasts.’”

1936. Aunt Sylvie Remembers

Sylvie Chisolm, a former slave on the Drayton Hall plantation in Charleston, was eighty eight years of age in 1936 when she was interviewed by the writers of the Works Progress Administration  

Sitting out in the sunshine in the yard of a small cabin on a warm day in January, she seemed very old and feeble.  Her answers to questions were rather short and she appeared to be preoccupied.

"I'se 88 year old now an' can't remember so much.  An' I'se blind!  Blind in both eye!

I been fifteen year old when de Yankee come - fifteen de sixth of June.  I saw 'em burn down me Massa's home, an' everythin'.  I 'members dat. Ole man Joe Bostick was me Massa. . An' I knows de Missus an' de Massa used to work us.  Had de overseer to drive us!  Work us till de Yankees come!  When Yankee come dey had to run!  Dat how de buildin.'

I was mindin' de overseer's chillun.  Mr.. Beestinger was his name!  An' his wife, Miss Carrie!  I been eight year old when dey took me.  Took me from me mother an' father here on de Pipe Creek place down to Black Swamp.  Went down forty-two mile to de overseer!  I never see my mother or my father anymore.  Not 'til atter freedom!  An' when I come back den I been married.  But when I move back here, I stay right on dis Pipe Creek place from den on.  I been right here all de time.

Atter I work for Mr. Beestinger, I wait on Mr. Blunt.  You know Mr. Blunt, ain't you?  His place out dere now.

Mr. Bostick was a good ole man.  He been deaf.  His chillun tend to his business - his sons.  He was a preacher.  His father was ole man Ben Bostick.  De Pipe Creek Church was ole Missus Bostick's Mammy's church.  When de big church burn down by de Yankees, dey give de place to de colored folks.

Stephen Drayton was de first pastor de colored folks had.  Dey named de church, Canaan Baptist Church.  Start from a bush arbor.  De white folks church was paint white, inside an' out.  It was ceiled inside.  Dis church didn't have no gallery for de colored folks.  Didn't make no graveyard at Pipe Creek!  Bury at Black Swamp!  An' at Lawtonville!  De people leave dat church an' go to Lawtonville to worship.  Dey been worshipping at Lawtonville ever since before I could wake up to know.  De Pipe Creek Church jos' stood dere, wid no service in it, 'til de Yankee burn it.  De church at Lawtonville been a fine church.  Didn't burn it!  Use it for a hospital durin' de war!”

Sylvie was the daughter of Simon and Dione Drayton and the sister of Stephen Drayton.  She had married Daniel Chisolm and they had ten children.

1978. The Early Recordings of Angus Chisholm

This album consists of all of the commercial recordings made by Angus Chisholm, the finest exponent of traditional Scottish fiddling ever to record.

His playing is defined by the exciting perfection of his brisk, articulate phrasing, each note shaped with total control and exquisite tone, the product of bowing almost too good to be believed.  And too, the feeling, the rare eloquence of his music is without peer.  Angus Chisholm's playing is the standard by which all Cape Breton fiddling is measured.

Cape Breton fiddle music was brought to Canada by Scottish immigants after the clearances.  Although fiddling has changed considerably since that time in Scotland, Cape Breton fiddle still preserves the traditional form.

2000. Chisholm's Kiltmakers of Inverness

The wearing of tartan had been forbidden by Government decree for four decades after the battle of Culloden in 1746, and it was only the romantic novels of Sir Walter Scott and their royal appropriation by both George IV and Victoria that saw it re-established in the 19th century.

Chisholms offers a complete service - both for purchase and hiring - not only to ensure you get the right tartan but also the full range of traditional accoutrements, the kilt pin, the sporran, belts, buckles, shirts and jackets as well as the ornamental, but still deadly, dirk (long dagger) and smaller, more exoctically named sgian dubhs - pronounced "skeen doo" (a knife secured in its scabbard in one's sock).