Rand Greubel of Montrose, Colorado, has studied the history and genealogy of John Sinkler of Exeter, N.H., for clues as to the accuracy of the research which has led to our current views on his life and times. John Sinkler is generally considered to be one of the first Sinclairs in the New World and is ancestor to many generations of Sinclairs. Rand was kind enough to submit this brief commentary on his research for publication at this site. Feel free to correspond directly with Rand at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to discuss his research further with him.
My grandmother was the great-great-grandaughter of James St. Clair, the Revolutionary War soldier mentioned in Leonard Allison Morrison's book The History of the Sinclair Family in Europe and North America for Eleven Hundred Years. James St. Clair visited General Arthur St. Clair and together they speculated about their ancestry. My grandmother used to tell me stories about John Sinkler, an ancestor who came over from Scotland and was related to Scottish nobility. It seems that much of what is accepted as truth about John Sinkler is based on a combination of oral tradition such as this, and some very tenuous documentary evidence that mentions a John Sinclair in Caithness (born about 1613) as the son of a Henry Sinclair and Janet Sutherland. So far as I know, no one has ever established this connection firmly using primary sources ... nor do I know if it is even possible. While I think the identity of Sinkler as a captured soldier is pretty solid, an effort to to dig into primary records in Scotland in an attempt to more definitively demonstrate his parentage would be a fruitful and enlightening endeavor. What follows are my best efforts to piece together some of the historical records relating to this fascinating Sinclair ancestor.
|The question of John Sinkler's parentage and family connections has been pursued almost obsessively by several of his descendants, and the final chapter elucidating this mystery has yet to be written. Although several researchers claim to have found the truth, in fact definitive documentary evidence (by this I mean primary sources) establishing John Sinkler's parentage and place of origin in Scotland has not yet been discovered. However, in the words of L.A. Morrison, "many circumstances, [family] traditions, and suppositions point so strongly in a given direction, that in their cumulative force they amount almost to a certainty" (Morrison 1896:44). The certainty that Morrison refers to is John Sinkler's connection to the noble St. Clair family of Rosslyn, Scotland.||
John Sinkler is reputed to have been captured by the forces of Oliver Cromwell in the Battle of Worcester in September of 1651. For more information on this English Civil War battle and the fascinating life and times of John Sinkler, see "The Sinklers of Exeter."
About a decade before the close of the 19th century a genealogist by the
name of Leonard Allison Morrison began researching the ancient and modern
history of the various branches of the Sinclair family in Europe and
America. His research was financially supported by Charles A. Sinclair of
Portsmouth, N.H. The book that resulted from his research, The History of
the Sinclair Family in Europe and America for Eleven Hundred Years,
published in 1896, remains the main source for most of what we know about
our ancestor John Sinclair (as I will hereafter spell his name). Most of
the information that follows in this account is derived from Morrison's
book. Additional information was obtained from an account written by the
Hon. Charles H. St. Clair of Morgan City, Louisiana shortly after the turn
of the century.
The documentary evidence concerning our ancestor was gleaned by Morrison from land deeds, petitions, court records, and his last will and testament. The evidence concerning John Sinclair's family background in Scotland comes to us via orally-transmitted St. Clair family traditions that were set on paper by L.A. Morrison and Charles H. St. Clair. Two written versions of this family tradition seem to have come from Mr. Charles H. St. Clair, who imparted one version to Mr. Morrison while setting down a slightly more detailed version in his own account.
Major evidence concerning the arrival of John Sinclair in America was overlooked by, or perhaps not available to, Morrison and C.H. St. Clair. It was brought to my attention by Mrs. Marian Loeschner, past genealogist of the Clan Sinclair Association, U.S.A. It consists of the following statement in the book History of New Hampshire, by Everett S. Stackpole, worth quoting in full:
"An item of some importance in the early history of New Hampshire has been overlooked by historians. This was the bringing in, as servants, of some Scotchmen, who had been taken prisoners by Oliver Cromwell in the Battle of Dunbar, September 3, 1650, and the Battle of Worcester, just one year later. One hundred and fifty from Dunbar were sent to Boston in the ship Unity and there sold to pay their passage money of twenty pounds apiece. They were forced to work as apprentices from six to eight years, after which they had their liberty and received grants of land in towns where they chose to settle. Two hundred and seventy-two more prisoners came over from the Battle of Worcester in the ship John and Sara. A score or more of these Scots were employed in the sawmills at Oyster River and Exeter, that then included Newmarket, and some became permanent settlers in those places. Among them were Walter Jackson and William Thompson's son John at Oyster River, John Hudson of Bloody Point, and John Sinclair, John Bean, Alexander Gordon and John Barber of Exeter. The descendants of these include some of the leading men in the state." (p. 76)
Stackpole's statement is corroborated by information contained in an article published in the October 1927 issue of The Journal of the Massachusetts Historical Society. The article states
"The tax lists and other sources of information show that Exeter also profited by this chattel slavery, as Nicholas Lissen of the latter place is credited with being master of some of the Worcester prisoners." (p. 28)
Mr. Bernie Bean, an ancestor of the John Bean mentioned above, has authored a history of his family entitled The Life and Family of John Bean of Exeter and His Cousins. [Editor's note: According to Mr. Greubel, the material by Mr. Bean on his ancestor John Bean is available in the Mormon family history library in Salt Lake City but so far as is known, has not been published elsewhere.] Bean states that an expatriate Scotsman by the name of Nicholas Lissen "was operating two lumber mills near Exeter, N.H." in 1651 (Bean 1977:5). Following Stackpole, he states that "the seven men who were indentured to Nicholas Lissen were: John Bean, John Barber, Alexander Gordon, John Sinclair, John Hudson, John Thompson, and Walter Jackson. All were to be lifetime friends of John Bean." (Bean 1977:6)
If it is true that John Sinclair was captured at the Battle of Worcester and transported against his will to America in the ship John and Sara, as explicitly stated by Stackpole, one would expect his name to appear on the ship's list of passengers. Surprisingly, such a list exists; unfortunately, there is no John Sinclair listed on it. However, this in itself proves nothing. In the article published in the October 1927 issue of The Journal of the Massachusetts Historical Society, cited above, the author says of this list: "While [the list] is fortunate for historical purposes, yet [it] is not to be accepted as a true record of their correct names" (p. 19). Indeed, there are at least three illegible names on the list, one of which may be John Sinclair's. There is also a "Salaman Sinclare" listed; this may be our ancestor John, his name miswritten or misunderstood by a disinterested or less than competent clerk, or perhaps purposely altered by our ancestor for reasons unknown to us. Indeed, this theory is bolstered by the fact that after this time, there is no further mention of a "Salaman Sinclare" anywhere in the records of New England. It is interesting and telling that of the seven men described by Stackpole as being Battle of Worcester prisoners, only three (Walter Jackson, John Hudson, and John Bean [spelled "Benne"]) actually occur on the ship's passenger list. Another possibility is that John Sinclair was a prisoner from the Battle of Dunbar, which occurred precisely one year earlier than Worcester (although he does not appear on the list of transported Dunbar prisoners, either). After all sides of the argument are examined, Stackpole's information, John Sinclair's close association with confirmed Scottish prisoners of war, and the historical "coincidence" of his presence in America soon after the Battles of Dunbar and Worcester, all coalesce into the virtual certainty that John Sinclair was a Scottish soldier captured in one the military engagements of the British Isles in the early 1650s, and exiled to America in lieu of execution or continued imprisonment.
It is possible to tentatively reconstruct the sequence of events during the first few years of John Sinclair's presence on the American continent. The ship John and Sara docked at Boston Harbor on February 24, 1652. The surviving prisoners disembarked and were marched from Boston to Lynn, a two day trip. There, at a place called the "Saugus House" or the "Scotchmen's House", they were apparently sold into indentured servitude to the highest bidder. As noted above, our ancestor John Sinclair and several of his comrades were purchased by the Scottish expatriot Nicholas Lissen, a Presbyterian lowlander who had emigrated to America, via Northern Ireland, in 1637 (Bean 1977:5). Transporting his new laborers north to present day New Hampshire, he employed them in one of his two lumber mills in Exeter. There John Sinclair worked his way to freedom. It is not known how long he remained indentured, but he was a free man by January of 1659, when he purchased ten acres of land in Exeter. This transaction is recorded in a deed filed among the Old Norfolk County Records, at Salem, Massachusetts (Morrison 1896:65).
Who was John Sinclair? Historical records provide a sketch of his life in early colonial America, and scholars have established with reasonable certainty that he was a Scottish soldier captured and banished from his native land by English forces under the command of Oliver Cromwell. But where in Scotland was he from, what was his position in life, and what was his connection to the very prominent Sinclair families of this period? L.A. Morrison, among others, held forth the view, accepted by the majority of John Sinclair's descendants to this day, that John Sinclair was the great-grandson of George Sinclair, the 4th Earl of Caithness. While unproved, this remains a strong possibility, albeit there are inconsistencies in the evidence that have yet to be accounted for.
All original material on this page is copyright © Rand Greubel 1997.