Tuesday, April 26, 2011


The year of 1498 appears to have been rather significant in the history of the McQuiston (et al.) family. That is the year the progenitor of our name passed away. Although there is no comprehensive history book to refer to, I have put together these notes to explain Hugh of Sleat and our link to him.

Hugh of Sleat was one of three known sons of one of the most powerful men in Scotland - Alexander MacDonald, 10th Earl of Ross, 3rd Lord of the Isles and Justiciar, or judge, of the Highlands north of the Firth of Forth. Though I say 3rd Lord of the Isles, Alexander's ancestors were known as kings or thanes of the Isles many generations back, however the title of Lord was only officially used for four generations, Alexander being the third.

The first was Good King John of Islay. The second was his son, known often as Donald of Harlaw. Third was Alexander and fourth was Alexander's son, John, brother to Hugh of Sleat.

Hugh's name was also written of as Austin, as Hucheon, and most important to us, as Uisdean. Uisdean was pronounced closed to Ooshdn, and his sons became the first McOoshdns, the first McUisdeans, the first McQuistons of all spellings.

The "Isles" for the most part consisted of the western islands off the coast of Scotland and particularly Kintyre and Islay. Hugh lived on the Isle of Skye and that island came and went as a possession of his McDonald family, through the centuries. One point of interest is that a chapel, which stood near one of our family castles – Caisteal Uisdean – was the seat of the Bishop of the Isle for almost five centuries, until it was abandoned also in 1498.

Coincidentally, or not, the author of the oft-quoted "Annals of Ulster" also died in 1498 of smallpox. This book recorded much of the oral and written tradition of the old kingdom of Dalriada, principally Northern Ireland and the Isles and some of the Highlands of Scotland - all heavily populated with Celts later mixed with Vikings.

There are stories of plagues throughout Scotland in that year, and so perhaps Hugh of Sleat, as he is typically known historically, passed away from smallpox or some other plague in that year.

Hugh was a member of the Highland and Island Clan Donald. Hugh's clan or family would become known as Clan Uisdean, Clan Donald North, and the Macdonalds of Sleat. The McDonnells of the Ulster county of Antrim, Northern Ireland were known as Clan Donald South. Their progenitor was Hugh's great uncle, John Mor, brother to Donald of Harlaw.

Hugh was most likely born in 1436, when his father married his mother, the daughter of Gillepatrick Roy, son of Rory, son of the Green Abbot of Applecross, of the O'Bealon family, former Earls of Ross. The O'Bealon family also has been known as Ross and Rose, and has connections to the Leslie family through marriage. There are conflicting official documents indicating Hugh was legitimate and elsewhere, illegitimate. It may be that he was illegitimate by Rome's standards, but legitimate by Celtic standards.

Hugh was most likely born in Dingwall Castle, just outside Inverness, Scotland, the same castle where Macbeth of Scotland, and of Shakespeare fame, was born. This was long the seat of the Earls of Ross. Hugh most likely died at Paisley Abbey, in Paisley, Scotland, in 1498, and was buried at a place called Sand, on the island of North Uist. Presently this burial ground is called Clachan Shannda, Clachan meaning "a small village with a church," and Shannda meaning "Sand" or "Sand Island" from the Norse.

John, last Lord of the Isles from the McDonald line, was the brother of Hugh and received his title in 1449, when their father Alexander died at Dingwall. There is some controversy over the exact date but it appears John gave Hugh a charter to the lands of Sleat on the Isle of Skye, off the western coast of Scotland, during the year 1449. John would have been about 15 years old and would have needed the blessing of his council. Hugh was likely 13 years old when he first became Hugh of Sleat.

Sleat is pronounced "slate" and this is proven by an old saying, within the McDonald clan, that "In the house of McDonald, the Sleats are on top." This is a humorous comparison of roof slates to the family of Sleat, which still leads Clan Donald to this very day.

Some historians say Hugh did not become "of Sleat" until 1469, however he witnessed a charter for John in 1461, disproving this theory. Hugh received a royal confirmation, by proclamation, of his Sleat land, in 1476, and a written confirmation, from the King of Scotland, in 1495.

It was likely in 1495 that Hugh retired to Paisley Abbey. It is often mistakenly said about Hugh's brother, John, that "the old chief of Clan Donald died at Paisley Abbey in 1498." However, John is absolutely known to have died in Dundee, Scotland, in late January or early February of 1503. He did not live at the abbey nor did he die there.

However, Hugh did die in 1498 and by this time, his lands on Skye were in the hands of his first son, John - the very first McQuiston.  He is likely the "old chief" being spoken of.

There is an interesting story concerning Hugh and the Earl of the Orkney islands, off the north coast of Scotland. While Hugh was still a pre-teen, his father, Alexander, was carousing with the Earl of Orkney and well into the night, the Earl invited Alexander to breakfast in the morning. Alexander boasted that he would have breakfast ready first.

The two men finally retired, however not before the Earl sent 12 men out to make sure no one sold firewood or meat to McDonald's party of men. However, one of Alexander's loyal followers secured some wood for the fire and a deer for a venison breakfast. When the Earl received his early-morning invite for a McDonald breakfast, he was furious. He growled, "Do you think to equal or cope with me in power and authority?"

Alexander explained that he had a young son at home, Hugh, who could in fact equal the Earl in power and would someday prove it. Hugh went to the Orkney Islands to attack the Earl a few years later, in 1460. Alexander was probably trying to insult the Earl by saying his young son, still a minor, could match the Earl in "power and authority". It just took a while for Hugh to become old enough to fulfill the threat.

It was after the Orkney incident that Hugh "got a son by the daughter of Gunn" in Caithness - this being Donald Gallach (meaning of Caithness). Donald was Hugh's second son. Hugh's first son, John, died without issue, although there is a possibility that all his children were killed in an act of revenge.

Hugh had six sons by six different women. Some from the Harris family also descend from Hugh, through his son Donald of Harris. Hugh also had at least one daughter.

All of Hugh's sons died early deaths during the contest over his title, Chief of Clan Donald of Sleat. However, his line has carried down through Clan Donald to the present day.

The present chief of Clan Donald (Godfrey James Macdonald of Macdonald), and the present chief of Clan Macdonald of Sleat (Sir Ian Godfrey Bosville Macdonald of Sleat) are both descendants of Hugh. The chief of the Macdonalds of Sleat bears the Gaelic patronymic MacÙisdein in reference to Hugh.

Donald Gallach's son, Alexander, took our name of McUisdean to Ireland, in 1565, to fight for his first cousin, Sorley Boy McDonnell, leader of Clan Donald South. Sorley Boy "and others" were the earliest known people to be noted as being "of the Scotch-Irish race," in a manifesto from Queen Elizabeth I, of 1573. It is most likely from Donald Gallach that we all descend.

Hugh's Sleat land was in the hands of the McDonalds of Sleat line until 1971, approximately 522 years. The Clan Donald Center on Skye still stands on Sleat land.

I looked further into the events surrounding 1498 in a book I've had for quite awhile. What I learned is that King James of Scotland had been to the Isles several times in 1494-5 in an attempt to settle down the struggles between various factions of the McDonald family over who should be the actual Lord of the Isles, once John (Hugh's brother) basically quit.

John's own son, Angus, fought against John culminating at the battle of Bloody Bay. John finally just gave up and sought protection under a pension from the king. Angus had a son by a Campbell woman, who he probably never even knew about. This son was kept a prisoner for 40 years, perhaps in a Campbell attempt to have a card up their sleeves to finally take over McDonald land.

So that was it for John's line. He was a pensioner, Angus was dead, and Donald Duhb was a prisoner.

Hugh's other brother, Celestine, had a son, Alexander, who, for awhile claimed the title, but was eventually killed. He also had a son named Donald who stuck his nose in this business to no real avail.

The final brother, the final son of Alexander, Earl of Ross, Lord of the Isles, Justiciar of the Highlands - one of the most powerful men in Scotland - the final brother was of course our Hugh of Sleat, who had been invested in his Dunscaith Castle, Isle of Skye land officially at least since 1469, and possibly earlier.

Hugh was followed by the first of our family, written of as John Makhuchone, John Hughson, John McHuistean, and as Eoin mac huistiuin. This John is said to have died with no progeny. Elsewhere, I have told a story that might explain how all of his children were killed in an act of revenge.

John's half bother Donald Gallach was in the background taking whichever side he believed in, in any battle that came along. When John (Hugh's son) gave up all the lands of Hugh to vassals of the king, Donald Gallach took Dunscaith back by force.

It is almost certain that it is from Donald Gallach McUisdean's line that we descend, that the McUisdeans of Ireland found their beginning, and that the current chiefs are said to descend.

Adding to all the confusion of who was the actual Lord of the Isles, Hugh's great uncle, John Mor, had established the McDonnell of Antrim dynasty, and his descendants, who had control of Kintyre and Islay (the main islands of the Lords of the Isles) also claimed that title.

Then there were the Campbells and other clans working for themselves or for the king who were adding to the confusion.

Alexander, Celestine's son, was killed by the Antrim and Kyntire McDonnell leaders in 1494. They were captured and later hung by the king in 1499.

King James came to the Isles in 1495 and met with, among others, John McUisdean of Sleat. Though James was in his minority, meaning under the age of 25, he made deals with nearly all the island chiefs to renew their deeds to their lands, in an attempt to quell the in-fighting and gain their allegiance.

It was probably then that the aging Hugh of Sleat accepted retirement to Paisley Abbey, perhaps even under a pension, like his brother John was receiving. The legend said the "old chief of Clan Donald" had lived at the abbey for about two years prior to his death in 1498. Since we are sure Hugh's brother, John, did not live at the abbey, did not die there, and did not die until 1503, this legend is most likely referring instead to Hugh of Sleat who did die in 1498 and was chief of the clan (but not Lord of the Isles), after John left the scene.

In 1498, something very significant happened. King James revoked all charters extended in his name during his minority, a move that was legal by Scottish law, and which was an obviously planned bit of trickery. This was the first time Clan Donald realized that their fate lay in the hands of Edinburgh lawyers, not in the centuries old claims to the islands.

The king entrusted the Campbells with carrying out law and order in the Isles and the title of Bishop of the Isles, for the first time ever, was held by an outsider. The seat was quickly moved off Skye to another location, probably because there were a lot of very upset McDonalds roaming around. The new Campbell Bishop could never have held court on Skye without fear of death. The chapel of the Isle was closed down in 1498.

James's revocation happened sometime before March 17, 1498, when he turned 25. The writer of the famous Annals of Ulster died in April of 1498. Hugh died before August 5, 1498, at which time his son John, the first McUisdean, signed over the land.

John McUisdean was most likely under some terrible pressure from within the clan, from neighboring clans working for the King, and from the Campbells. The fortunes of the Isle were apparently gone since both Hugh and his brother, John, seem to be living off the king.

John McUisdean may have decided to just walk away from the whole mess. He didn't last long as continued infighting saw five of Hugh's six sons dead over the next eight years.

The last man standing was the evil instigator, Archibald McUisdean, fourth son of six sons of Hugh, who was killed by his own nephews, one of those being Donald Gallach McUisdean, who then took Dunscaith by force. Donald's son, Alexander Gallach, took our name to Ireland to help the McDonnells of Antrim and Kyntire in their battle against the English and the O'Neills.

The title of Lord of Sleat eventually became an Irish title out of Antrim. However, the Chief of Sleat is still seated in Skye, though he lives in England.

There was so much happening from 1476 until the mid 1500s in battles over the remnants of a fallen kingdom - the Lords of the Isles. At least four men with an officially recorded name similar to McQuiston were in the thick of it. This is documented in many books and records, just not focused on specifically until my research and writings on the subject.

These men were Hugh's first four sons listed in the Black Book of Clanranald, written during the lifetime of Hugh's grandchildren. It would have been written in the lifetime of his sons had they not all been killed early. They are listed there as Eoin mac huistiuin (John), Domhnall gallach mc huisdiuin (Donald Gallach), Domhnall hearach mc huisdiuin (Donald Harris), and Giolla asbuig mc huisdiuin (Archibald, the real bad guy.)

One of Donald Harris's descendants was known as Ian Mac Uisdean, though he didn't play any role in the battle for the title.

John is also listed as John Roy Makhuchone in 1494 the first year King James went to the Isles to settle things down. His father was listed as Austin Roy McDonald in addition to Hugh, Hucheon, and Uisdean. So both men had Roy, the maiden name of Hugh's mother, as their middle name. John was also listed as John MacHuistean in another old book.

Donald was also written of as Donle VhicHuiston in an old record of Caithness, where he was born.

Whatever the case is found to be for an ambiguous DNA match with the current Chief of Sleat, there is no doubt that our name came from Hugh of Sleat as there is no other source found, and all tradition, including Clan Donald tradition says it came from Hugh of Sleat.

John, the first known son of Hugh, or McUisdean, was born just before 1460 as that is when Hugh went to the Orkneys on a raid and got a Gunn girl from Caithness pregnant with Donald Gallach. He already had a baby boy at that point, being John, by his first wife Finvola. Hugh also had at least one daughter, though her name isn't known, yet.

Hugh would have been about 24 when he attacked Orkney, still a minor according to Scottish law, but not too young to father a child. If we assume that his first son John was born at least by 1459, that would make our family name about 551 years old as of 2011. It is, at the very least, 550 years old, since Donald Gallach was born or at least conceived in 1460.

For 550 years the history of our family has lain hidden in hundreds of documents and books. Ed McCuistion alluded to some of our history, history that had been passed down by oral and written tradition through many branches of our family.

Now, after, three trips to Scotland and one to Northern Ireland, after purchasing a few hundred books, copying pages from many more at reference libraries, comparing one story to another, to historical timelines and logical motives and analysis, I have presented my best take on Hugh and our family. Though some facts may change with new discoveries, this posting, and other of my writings represent the most comprehensive view ever taken of Hugh of Sleat and his relationship to the McQuiston family of all spellings and pronunciations.

1 comment:

  1. Amazing work Jim. I am working on my family's history, starting with the McCuistons from Calloway County, KY.

    If you're still keeping up this blog, I'm sure I'll have some questions.