When and where was Thomas Strachan born?
(Click on the OPR scans to see a larger version)
The answer is it’s impossible to be certain. It’s likely that the Thomas Strachan born in 1749 in Muirkirk is the Thomas who married Susannah Alexander, but it could well be that the baptism of our Thomas wasn’t recorded or he might not have been baptised. The only evidence for the 1749 birth being the right one is that it makes Thomas aged 22 when he married, which is average for the time, and that his wife was born in Auchinleck, which is near Muirkirk. If the 1749 birth and baptism are him, then he was the illegitimate child of Thomas Strachan and Agnes Patrick, and his wife’s parents were John Alexander and Christian Reid. Thomas and Susannah had children they named with all four of these names, though not in the order you’d expect if they were using the Scottish naming pattern.
The 1749 baptism from the Muirkirk OPR reads: “Strachan Thomas. Bastard son of Thomas Strachan and Agnes Patrick was born 23rd of June & baptized on the 2nd of July in the kirk.”
There is no marriage recorded for Thomas Strachan and Agnes Patrick and no further children for such a couple recorded as baptized. So if this is the right Thomas, there are no clues as to how he spent his early childhood. He may not have known his father and been brought up by the Patrick family or whoever Agnes Patrick may have subsequently married. He may have grown up in Muirkirk, or may have moved elsewhere at an early age.
The OPRs contain a number of baptisms for an Agnes Patrick who would have been of child-bearing age in 1749, but none in Muirkirk, and without further clues it’s impossible to know which, if any, are the mother of Thomas Strachan. There is a marriage for John Ritchart and Agnes Patrick in Muirkirk on 7 August 1749, but this was only a matter of weeks after the birth of Thomas Strachan so is unlikely to be the same Agnes Patrick.
The Strachan name appears in the Ayrshire OPRs for the first half of the 1700s, which provides an indication of where Strachan families were living. Strachan baptisms can be found in the OPRs for the parishes of Auchinleck, Coylton, Monkton, Sorn, Dundonald, Tarbolton, Irvine, Kilmarnock, Kilmaurs, Ochiltree, Old Cumnock and Sorn. In the same period marriages of a Strachan are recorded in Mauchline, Kilmarnock, Kilmaurs, Kilwinning, Ochiltree, Riccarton, Ayr, Coylton and Dalry. There were also Strachan baptisms in Lanarkshire, in Douglas, Old Monkland, New Monkland and Glasgow, although far fewer than in Ayrshire.
The first verifiable record of Thomas Strachan, therefore, is his marriage to Susannah Alexander, so it is certain that by 1771 he was living and working in or close to Irvine on the Ayrshire coast.
Who did Thomas Strachan marry?
The marriage record in the Irvine OPR for 1771 reads: “ July 15 Thomas Straghen and Suzanna Alexander”. No more detail is given. It can be assumed, though, that they were both living within Irvine parish boundaries, although that does not mean they were living in Irvine town itself. Irvine town, however, did contain coal mines at that time, on the green, but there were also coal mines in the parishes of Dundonald and Dreghorn close to their borders with Irvine.
There was a Susannah Alexander born 18 October 1752 and baptised in Auchinleck, daughter of John Alexander of Birnieknowe, mother not named. This is most likely to be the John Alexander who married Christian Reid in Kilwinning on 8 November 1751, as they had at least one other child, Charles, baptised 17 August 1755 at Auchinleck. Thomas and Susannah Strachan called their eldest son John, their second daughter Christian, and their second son Charles, which provides some evidence for this being the same Susannah.
The movements of Thomas and Susannah can then be traced through the baptism entries for their children.
What happened to Thomas Strachan’s children?
The baptisms of ten children of Thomas and Susannah are recorded in the OPRs. These records show that Thomas was a coal hewer from at least 1784: to have been a coal hewer he must have been working in coal mines for some years by then. The older children were baptised in the parish of Irvine but then at some time between mid 1790 and early 1793 the family moved to the Glasgow area, settling south of the Clyde, as their younger children were baptised in the parish of Gorbals. There is evidence that one of their children went to Nova Scotia in the early 1830s but didn’t stay there long: there were riots in the Pictou coal fields in the 1830s due to miners’ dissatisfaction with working and living conditions, which may account for his return. But by the early 1800s most of his sons had moved back to Ayrshire. The children of Thomas and Susannah were were:
Elizabeth Strachan born 1772
Elizabeth Strachan was born 6 July 1772 and baptised on 12 July 1772 at Irvine. No further trace of her can be found so it’s possible she died before reaching adulthood. If she survived she would have been in her late teens when her family moved to Gorbals.
John Strachan born 1774 married (1) Agnes Neilson and (2) Jean Wallace
John Strachan was born 2 July 1774 and baptised on 4 July 1774 at Irvine. John is my ggg grandfather and was, like his father, a coal miner. He moved with his parents to Gorbals at about the age of 18 so would have been working down the mines for some years by then. In May 1794 he married Agnes Neilson at Gorbals and they had 13 children, 12 of whom were baptised so the movements of John and Agnes can be tracked.
1795 to 1799 – Gorbals, Lanarkshire
1802 – Campsie, Stirlingshire
1804 – Gorbals, Lanarkshire
1806 – Banton, Kilsyth, Stirlingshire
1810 – Greenend, Coatbridge, Lanarkshire
1811 – Coltburn, Muirkirk, Ayrshire
1814 to 1821 – Riccarton, Ayrshire
These are all coal mining locations, so it seems John and his family travelled to wherever there was the promise of work. Several of his younger brothers, all coal miners, also ended up in Ayrshire. What’s not know is whether their father Thomas Strachan stayed in Gorbals or travelled with his sons.
John’s wife Agnes died in about 1825 and he remarried in 1827 at Dundonald (Shewalton Colliery) to Jean Wallace. He then had two more children born at Shewalton. He died in March 1840 at the age of 65 and was buried at Irvine.
Christian Strachan born 1776
Christian Strachan was born 16 November 1776 and baptised on 17 November 1776 at Irvine. No further trace of her can be found except for a death record in Gorbals in
February 1814 of a Christian Strachan age 40. Our Christian would have been 37 so this may be her, as in pre-literacy times ages were often approximate. Nothing else can be found for her in the records.
Charles Strachan born 1779
Charles Strachan was born 23 May 1779 and baptised 29 May 1779 at Irvine. No further trace of him can be found, except there’s a baptism in Gorbals OPR in 1805 for Charles Strathern, born to Charles Strathern and Jean Gibson. Given the inconsistency of spelling at the time this could be Charles Strachan but the Gorbals registers also have Strachan spelled correctly at the same time so it’s perhaps unlikely that this is Charles Strachan.
Robert Strachan born 1781
Robert Strachan was born 5 September 1781 and baptised 9 September 1781 at Irvine. He was about 11 when the family moved to Gorbals in the early 1790s, but he returned to Ayrshire at some stage as on 25 December 1803 he married Jean Kelly in Riccarton parish. At that time the parish of Riccarton included the villages of Crookedholm and Hurlford, south of Kilmarnock, which was an area rich in coal. Robert and Jean had a large family, most of whom survived childhood, married and had children, and all their children were baptised in Riccarton parish. Some of their children subsequently migrated to USA and Canada. Robert and Jean used the Scottish naming pattern, naming their eldest son Thomas and their second eldest daughter Susannah.
In the 1841 census, Robert Strachan age 55 is a coal miner of Perceton Row near Dreghorn (see blog entry for Perceton cottages), living with his wife Jean, their 3 year old granddaughter Mary Patten, a domestic servant Janet Wallace age 15, who was the stepdaughter of his brother John, and a 15 year old lodger Robert McIntyre, a coal miner. In other cottages in the same miners’ row were Robert and Jean’s sons Andrew and John, as well as Samuel Strachan, son of Robert’s brother John. The men were most probably working at Perceton Colliery.
Robert’s wife Jean died some time after the 1841 census, and in 1846 Robert remarried, in Kilmarmock, to Jean Kerr. At the time he was living in Gargieston, which neigbours Dreghorn. In the 1851 census, Robert and his second wife Jean are at Gatehead, to the west of Riccarton, and Robert aged 69 is still a coal miner. He died in 1857 at age 76, with the cause given as “age and infirmity’, at Sandbed Street, Kilmarnock.
Peter Strachan born 1784
Peter Strachan was born 29 February 1784 and baptised on 7 March 1784 at Irvine: father Thomas is described as a coalier, which is the first documented evidence that Thomas Strachan was a coal miner. Peter would have been about 8 years old when the family moved to Gorbals. There is a marriage of Peter Strachan and Elizabeth Strachan in 1804 in Gorbals Parish and there is also the birth of Jean Strachan in 1805 in Gorbals Parish to Peter Strachan and Catherine Calderwood. However, a Peter Strachan and Mary Monroe had children baptised in Riccarton parish from 1809, including a daughter called Susan, and in the 1841 census Peter Strachan age 55 and a coal miner, born Ayrshire, is with wife Mary, four of their children and two lodgers, living in Croftfoot, Kilmarnock. Unfortunately, the 1851 census for Kilmarnock has not survived, and no death registration can be found for Peter so he must have died before statutory registration in 1855.
The Peter Strachan who lived in Riccarton seems to be the most likely candidate for Thomas’s son Peter but it cannot be proven. No marriage record exists for Peter Strachan and Mary Monroe.
Peter Strachan and Mary Monroe had 10 childen, 8 of whom can be traced to adulthood. They were all coal miners or the wives of coal miners, and they all lived in Ayrshire except for one son who moved to Paisley, in Renfrewshire. Peter’s daughter Susannah married David Findlay and her eldest children were born in Pictou, Nova Scotia, but the family returned to Riccarton after just a few years.
Susannah Strachan born 1786 may have married John Robertson
Susannah Strachan was born 30 May 1786 and baptised on 4 June 1786 at Irvine with father Thomas described as a coalhewer. Susannah Strachan, resident in the parish of Cathcart which neighbours Gorbals, married John Robertson in Gorbals in 1813 and gave birth to a son, John Alexander Robertson, six months later. Nothing else can be found in the records, but that this is the correct Susannah Strachan is given credence by the appearance of an Agnes Strachan in the OPR for Cathcart at the same time: Susannah had a younger sister called Agnes. In addition, Susannah Robertson nee
Strachan named her son John Alexander Robertson and Susannah’s paternal grandfather was called John Alexander. Unfortunately, nothing can further can be found for this Robertson family.
Agnes Strachan born 1790 may have married Robert Leckie
Agnes Strachan was born 1 April 1790 and baptised on 4 April 1790 in Irvine, with father Thomas described as a coalhewer. There is a OPR entry for Agnes Strachan having an illegitimate child to Robert Leckie in January 1813 at Cathcart, near Gorbals, with Robert Leckie, and Agnes Strachan and Robert Leckie were married on 14 February 1813, the entry appearing on the same page as that for the marriage of Susannah Strachan and John Robertson.
Thomas Strachan born 1793
Thomas Strachan was born 1793 and baptised on 13 February 1793 in Gorbals, father Thomas described as a coalhewer, so he was born after Thomas and Susannah had moved from Irvine. No further trace of him can be found in the records, and he may not have survived childhood.
Samuel Strachan born 1795 married Ann Miller
Samuel Strachan was born 1795 and baptised on 22 August 1795 in Gorbals, father Thomas is described a coalhewer. Samuel married Ann Miller in Kilmarnock in 1820. In the 1841 census they are in Cambuskeith, Kilmarnock where Samuel is a coal miner and they have seven children, the eldest being twins – twins are found quite often in 1800s Strachan families. Their eldest son was named Thomas and their second eldest daughter Susan. In the 1851 census they are in Crosshouse, Kilmaurs, and two of their younger sons are living at home working as coal miners. Their son George was born in about 1833 in Nova Scotia, so the family must have migrated some time after 1830 but returned before their youngest son Robert was born in 1837. In the 1861 census Samuel and his wife are still in Crosshouse, Samuel still working as a coal miner. He died in 1866 in Crosshouse at the age of 72 of asthma.
Where did Thomas Strachan live?
Thomas Strachan married Susannah in the parish of Irvine, on the coast of Ayrshire, worked as a coal hewer, and lived in that area until after the baptism of his daughter Agnes in April 1790. There were coal mines in Irvine town at that time and also in the parishes of Dundonald, Dreghorn and Kilwinning which border Irvine parish. There’s no indication in the records of whereabouts Thomas and Susannah lived. According to the 1791 Statistical Account, the parish of Irvine contained 150 coal hewers, exporting coal to Ireland was the port’s chief business, and the population increase since the mid 1700s had mostly taken place not in Irvine township itself but in the “suburbs or annexed part of the parish”: This was an area south of the river “being situated in the parish of Dundonald, and annexed to Irvine, quad sacra only” meaning it was considered part of Irvine parish for ecclesiastical purposes only. It is likely, therefore, that Thomas was working in the coal mines south of the river Irvine which were in the parish of Dundonald but was considered part of the Irvine Kirk congregation.
By 1793 the family had moved to Gorbals. Gorbals is now part of Glasgow but in the late 1700s it was a separate township on the south bank of the River Clyde. Maps of the early 1800s show coal mines within the Gorbals parish to the south and south-west, with a large coal works in the area known as Govan Hill. The Statistical Account of 1791 for the parish of Gorbals states that the area “abounds with coal. The Govan colliery has two excellent machines, one for drawing up the water, the other for bringing up coals 100 fathoms, which saves a number of horses. There are 3 seams of coal, the uppermost 14 feet thick … Upwards of 250 men are employed about it.” The Statistical Accounts for the neighbouring parishes of Govan and Cathcart both make reference to the “great Govan coal work”. This is likely to be the coal mine where Thomas Strachan and his sons worked on their arrival from Ayrshire.
Thomas and Susannah may have had coal mining friends or family who had already moved to that area, or Thomas and his sons may have been recruited by the coal master: there was such a shortage of coal miners in Scotland at the time that it was not unknown for agents of coal masters to travel to other coal mining areas and recruit miners, offering free transportation of their families and possessions. Thomas and his family may have been enticed by guaranteed work, better wages and improved living conditions to make the move from Ayrshire to Gorbals. Given the location of Irvine on the Clyde estuary, their actual move would more likely have been by boat than road. Although there are a number of OPR entries for Strachan and Alexander marriages and baptisms in the mining areas south of Glasgow in the late 1700s, no direct link between them and our Thomas and Susannah can be made but it could well be that other members of their extended family were living close by in both Irvine and Gorbals.
Thomas and Susannah would have been in their early 40s when they made their move: by then Thomas would have been a highly skilled coal hewer, with sons old enough to work in the mines, so would have been a welcome addition to a rapidly developing coal mine sich as Govan. Their eldest child Elizabeth, if living, would have been about 19. Their second child John accompanied them as he married in Gorbals in May 1794 and there are some entries in the Gorbals and Cathcart OPRs that may relate to “our” Strachans. But it is clear that several of Thomas’s coal miner sons had returned to Ayrshire by the very early 1800s, and that at least one of them, my direct ancestor John, was working in Campsie, Stirlinghshire in 1802 and in Kilsyth, Stirlingshire in 1806 before moving back to east Ayrshire via Coatbridge and Muirkirk. There is no evidence, however, that Thomas and Susannah moved back to Ayrshire: indeed there is an indication that they stayed in the south of the Clyde area.
When did Thomas Strachan die?
Unusually, the Gorbals OPRs include death registers. They contain an entry for the death of a Thomas Strachan in 1812. His age is stated as 70, but this would be the age his family gave or guessed. If this was “our” Thomas Strachan is puts his birth year as about 1744. The stated cause of death is ‘decline’. There is no way of knowing whether this is recording the death of “our” Thomas or not. No death record can be found for his wife
Little is known, therefore, of the life of Thomas Strachan except that he began his working life in the Ayrshire coal mines, mostly in the area in and around Irvine, and moved when he was about 45 years old, with his family, to the Gorbals area of Glasgow, where he most probably worked at the Govan coal mine.