Sunday, August 17, 2014

Great Granddad Was A Prince Edward Island Fisherman

In 1806, the "Spencer" a ship full of Scottish immigrants from Colonsay, Scotland, was bound for Prince Edward Island where the Earl of Selkirk offered them shelter, provisions and land. 

With heavy hearts and high expectations, these Colonsay pioneers crossed the Atlantic with their extended families, and on 22 September 1806, the "Spencer" landed in Pinette Harbour, Prince Edward Island.

The Colonsay settlers spent the winter at Pinette, with provisions and quarters provided by Selkirk. The following spring, 1807, they moved to the Wood Islands area of Lot 62 to begin their new lives in a New World.

My ancestors aboard the "Spencer" were

Duncan Munn -- my 5x great grandfather -- who was born 1746 in Colonsay and died 1821 in Wood Islands, PEI; and his wife Flora Brown who was born 1748 in Colonsay.

Angus Munn -- my 4x great grandfather -- (Duncan's son) born about 1774 in Colonsay, and died 27 JUL 1837 in Woods Island, PEI; his wife Margaret McNeill born about 1784 in Colonsay, and died 21 Feb 1871 in Little Sands, PEI; and their infant daughter Catherine Munn born 1806 in Colonsay.  

Catherine Munn -- my 3x great grandmother -- eventually married Angus McDonald who was born about 1810 in Colonsay, but was not a passenger on the "Spencer."

Also on the "Spencer" were Malcolm McNeill -- my 5x great grandfather -- (Margaret McNeill Munn's father) born about 1755 in Colonsay; and his wife Mary Livingston born about 1755 in Colonsay.

Other extended kin -- in my family tree -- arriving on the "Spencer" included McMillans, McDuffs, and additional McNeills

Angus McDonald settled on Lot 64 -- Cape Bear -- PEI and became a fisherman

While living at Cape Bear Angus McDonald -- my 3x great grandfather -- was engaged in both farming and fishing.  Angus and his family lived between Cape Bear and Murray River, and no doubt kept their boats at Murray Harbour.  

Being located at Cape Bear -- on the east end of the island -- gave them the ability to travel north to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, or go to the south side -- literally their backyard -- to the Northumberland Strait depending on the weather and fishing conditions.

Fishing was a "Island way of life" for many on PEI

Angus McDonald and other island fishermen worked mainly "inshore" and relied on small boats -- often built themselves -- such as a 12' to 18' dory,  A dory is usually rowed by one or two fishermen -- but sometimes a mast was attached so it could be sailed.
While hundreds of species of fish thrived in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Northumberland Strait only a few dozen had of any commercial value.  Primary species harvested included herring, mackerel, tuna, trout, salmon, and smelt.  

Island rivers were abundant with excellent trout, flounders, sturgeons, mackerel and salmon.

Groundfish found near the coast included cod, hake, ocean perch (redfish), and flounder.  Shellfish and crustaceans that abound include oysters, mussels, clams, crab, and lobster.

Irish moss (a seaweed) was harvested by pulling a special horse-drawn rake along the rocks or on the sea floor.

Occasionally walrus would to frequent the shores in large numbers, and were a source of considerable profit.  Harbor seals and harp seals floated on the ice towards the north shore in large numbers.  

Wild geese, wild pigeons, wild ducks, and Brant were also very plentiful in their seasons.

The McDonald children born at Cape Bear

Angus and Catherine (Munn) McDonald had the following children: Margaret McDonald born 1832, John McDonald born 1834, James McDonald born 1836, Angus McDonald born 1838 and Catharine McDonald born 1840.

Sometime before 1871, Angus removed to Stanley, Huron South, Ontario where he was still occupied as a fisherman.  Angus died sometime around 1876 in Ontario, Canada, and Catherine after 1881 in Goderich, Huron, Ontario, Canada.

The McNeils in Ontario

Angus and Catherine's eldest daughter Margaret McDonald -- my 2x great grandmother -- who was born 25 Sep 1832 in Cape Bear (lot 64) Prince Edward Island, married about 1850 to Duncan McNeil born 1821 in Scotland, and they had nine children.

The McNeil children -- all born in Ontario -- were Duncan McNeil born about 1855, Angus McNeil born about 1857, Mary McNeil born about 1859, Catherine McNeil born about 1860 in Paisley, Allen McNeil born about 1865 in Goderich, Annie McNeil born about 1866 in Goderich, Ellen McNeil born about 1868 in Goderich, John McNeil born about 1870 in Goderich, and Neil McNeil born about 1877 in Goderich.

Margaret died in 1881 from consumption (Pulmonary tuberculosis) which also killed many of her children.  No record for Duncan is found after 1882, so it is likely he also succumbed to TB.


  1. I am convinced that Margaret McDonald's husband Duncan McNeil b. Scotland c. 1822, is the son of Mary Bell McNeill, who died Mar 14 1879 in Elderslie, Ontario, Canada, and Duncan McNeill, who died in Colonsay, Scotland abt 1841.

    About the only fact we know about Mary Bell and Duncan McNeill is from their Marriage Bann, was 17 Feb 1810, in Colonsay, Scotland.

    Mary Bell McNeill had four other known children John, Donald, Margaret and Hugh all buried in Rusk's Cemetery in Elderslie.

    1. 2020 update: I now have several ancestry DNA matches that, in my mind, prove Mary Bell is my 3rd great grandmother.


    Song I wrote about the Spencer. I live on Colonsay.

    1. I'm an old guy that doesn't always trust modern technology, so it took me a long time to sign up for spotify. Your music is delightful. I'm sorry it took so long to reply. Thank you for sharing.