Families of Knapdale

Their History and their Place Names

Rev. Somerled MacMillan wrote "The Families of Knapdale" in 1960. The book compiles basic, historical information about the oldest Knapdale families: the MacSweens, the Campbells, the MacNeills, the MacAllisters, the MacTavishes, the MacIlvernocks (or Grahams), and, especially, the MacMillans. More than this, though, he includes an extensive list of Knapdale place names, Gaelic and Norse, with their English language meaning. As you will see, however, the original was typed, in a pre-computer format. Moreover, since this pdf is reproduced from my own aged and marked-up copy, it is far from perfect. But until the whole work is re-formatted, etc, it will have to do. To access the book, click on the picture on the left.


In composing this work, the Rev MacMillan used primary sources, in particular, "sasines". Sasines are legal records of feudal land transactions. My own experience has been that they are difficult to follow, because names and terms have changed over the centuries. Back in the day, people did not take 'spelling' as seriously as we do now. Plus, terms like 'merk' can stop you cold. These sasines were registered and described at the relevant court. They tend to be long and, of course, hand written.

For example, the following is an abstract (not the whole thing) of a sasine registered for Argyll, Bute and Dunbarton:

Sasine of the 12 merk lands of Knap in Knapdale (viz., the 2 merk land of Kilmoir, 2 merk land of Fernach, 4 merk land of Ballimore, and 4 merk land of Stronfyll) given by Hector M'Neill of Taynish, as baillie, to John Campbell, now of Knap, son and heir of deceased Archibald roy Campbell of Knap, on a charter of Lord Lorne, signed at Inveraray, 21 July 1631. Witnesses to sasine: Alexander Campbell, Apparent of Phanans, Dugald Campbell of Laggan, Hugh M'Neill in Fernoch of Ross-Knapdale and Niall M'Neill in Kendlochkylisport.. Registered 15 June, 1632: folio 295.

Keep in mind: "IN" versus "OF"

Hector McNeill is OF Taynish, which means he 'owns' it, that is, he holds it by virtue of the agreement contained in the 'sasine', in this case, with the Earl of Argyll. Hugh McNeill is IN Fernoch, which means he doesn't own it, and this Fernoch is not the one on Knap, it is on the west coast of Loch Sween ("Ross") John Campbell is now OF Knap, he is the heir of Archibald roy Campbell OF Knap, and now holds (owns) this property by virtue of a charter of Lord Lorne (who is the eldest son of the head of the Campbell Clan in Argyll.) In Germany, the "VON" is equivalent to this "OF". Boiled down, if you are Niel McNeill OF Taynish, you are a landowning aristocrat. If you are Niel McNeill IN Taynish, you just live there. For a history and overview of the Clan McNeill in the Southern Hebrides, go here!


This is a piece of land assessed at a particular annual rent. It does not refer to the size of a property, but rather, its value. That is, the richer the land's product, the smaller its area. It was not until the early 1800s that we see 'acres' appear.


This is the triangle of land between Loch Caolisport and Loch Sween. The farms of Kilmory Knap, Stronfield Knap and Ballimore Knap are always treated as a unit in these sasines. At one time, when the MacNeills and the MacMillans held Castle Sween, there were ten farms between the Castle and the head of Loch Caolisport (ie "Kendlochcylisport".) If you go there now, you will see a vast expanse of land untroubled by human activity.

Knapdale Gossip!

(If you don't like gossip, skip the following story.) On page 18 of Somerled MacMillan's book, there is mentioned an Angus MacMillan, who lived in Knap, (and who succeeded to his father's tenancy at Ardnaw Knap). Angus married Katherine Brown in January 1830, and together they had at least 8 children. Well, as it happens, among MY ancestors was an Isabelle Galbraith, who lived at Ballimore Knap. Isabelle had a sister, Florence, who married ANGUS MCMILLAN in January, 1827. Flory and Angus had 2 children: Catherine (Nov 1827), and then Marron (Oct 1829). At the time, Angus was a 'cotter' in Ballimore. Flory must have died along with Marron, as Angus married CATHERINE BROWN the following January 1830. To our eyes, this marriage was indecently hasty. However, such speed was not unusual, and given that Angus had a 2 year old daughter to care for, one can see why he would be interested in finding a wife, quickly. (Catherine McMillan disappears from sight after 1841, when she was a part of her other aunt's household in Kilmory Knap.)

Obviously, Angus and Catherine had a long and fruitful marriage. However, there were complications. Across the valley lies Stronfield Knap. And there lived RACHEL FERGUSON. In 1838, on the 10th of April, we have the interesting spectacle of two baptisms:
Archibald, lawful son of Angus McMillan and his wife Catharine Brown.
Archibald, natural son of Angus McMillan and Rachel Ferguson, cottar, Stronfield.

Three years later, according to the 1841 Census, Rachel was still living in Stronfield. She had 3 children: Mary Smith (8 years old); Archibald McMillan (3 years old); and Sarah McMillan (11 months old.) (Note that children, whether lawful or natural, carried the surname of their biological father.)

It is further recorded in the South Knapdale Parochial Board Minutes, September 17, 1846, page 26, that "Widow McMillan or Ferguson, residing at Stronfield Knap", would be struck off the full-time Pauper Roll because she was able bodied, at present in active employment, and further, some of her family was engaged in Herding. She remained, however, on the "Occasional List of Paupers." I do not know why Rachel is known as "Widow" McMillan. She was never married to Angus McMillan. According to Somerled McMillan, Angus lived a long and hearty life, well beyond 1850. Perhaps "Widow" was an honorific for a single or widowed older woman?