Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Clan Alexander
The Scottish Clan Alexander, which I am Chief of, is a small but important branch clan of Clan Donald, the largest clan in Scotland. We have “been there at the beginning” and played vital roles at the formation of three nations.
The first Earl of Stirling, Sir William Alexander of Menstrie, was the Secretary of State for Scotland shortly after King James VI of Scotland became King James I of England thus uniting the Crowns of the two close neighbors and often bitter enemies. At that time the Union of the Crowns was personal ~ that is the union was in the person of the King, not a formal union of the parliaments. However, it was the beginning of the united kingdoms that first were known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain in the early 18th Century with the political union of the Crowns of England and Scotland and a joint Parliament in London; then as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland early in the 19th Century when Ireland was formally added to the mix; and in the 20th Century the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The first Lord Stirling was instrumental in the founding of English-speaking Canada in the early 1600s. Canada, unlike the United States was not founded as a part of England (hence the term New England), but was founded as a part of the Kingdom of Scotland. The Providence of Nova Scotia was founded by Lord Stirling and the very words Nova Scotia are Latin for New Scotland. The then Sir William came up with the idea of selling off large estates in Canada to men of wealth in Scotland and along with the real estate (and a requirement to fund and send over so many settlers) the owners of the estates were created Baronets of Nova Scotia (later the term Baronets of Nova Scotia and Scotland was used) with a rank higher than that held by feudal barons in Scotland.
This was a matter that upset many feudal barons at the time, and one sometimes stills hears complaints over the issue, but what most people forget is that the baronets were also barons of their Canadian lands. The acquiring of baronial rights until modern times required a ceremony whereby the new baron received rights to his land, held in baronium of the Crown, upon his lands. At this ceremony the new baron was presented with a small amount of earth and stone from the caput of his barony. Since the lands in Canada were so very far away, it was decreed that the escapade below Edinburgh Castle was Nova Scotian land and did contain the caputs baronium of each barony in New Scotland/Canada. Thus the 17th and 18th Centuries baronets/barons could take formal possession (called sasine) of their estates and titles on the Scottish side of the Atlantic.
In ancient days all Scots peers were considered to be but barons with a higher personal dignity. The King was considered to be the chief of chiefs and he was crowned on what was called “Boot Hill” at Scone Abbey. The small hill was actually a man made mound created over the centuries by the earth and stones (from their own caputs) carried to the spot, at each crowning, by the barons, chiefs and peers of Scotland in a spare set of boots, hence the title “Boot Hill” ~ making Boot Hill the “caput of caputs” of Scotland. Today Scone Abbey is known as Scone Palace (for the former home of the Abbot) and the residence of the Earl of Mansfield and Mansfield (Earl of Mansfield in the Peerage of Scotland and also Earl of Mansfield in the Peerage of England). Boot Hill now has a nice small chapel upon it.
Sir William was “Sir” due to holding a knighthood but also became “Sir” on the basis of being a Baronet of Nova Scotia as that is the style taken by baronets. Scottish/Nova Scotian Baronetage Law does allow for female succession and there is at present one baronetess in her own right, she is allowed the styles of both “Lady” (which is what wives of baronets use) and “Dame” (as a woman who is knighted is called) and may also be addressed as “Madam” (a style used by wives of Chiefs and female Chiefs in their own right). Americans always snicker at “Madam” since the term is generally linked to a woman running a whorehouse in American history/culture.
Sir William was given title to all of Canada ~ of course the French King with his possession of New France/Quebec did not agree with this ~ and the land patent read “from the islands offshore in the Atlantic, to the islands offshore in the Pacific, down to that land held by the King of Spain known as California”. Thus we Alexanders became the largest land owners in history (outside of crown heads who at various times of history and in various places claimed ownership of all land in their domains). It also meant that Sir William was both an “outside of the box” thinker (his idea of selling land with baronetcies to colonize Canada) and a real estate promoter/developer, as well as being a well educated religious man, in fact he was one of the translators of the King James Edition of the Bible ~ three things which I, his successor as Earl, value greatly.
The land grant to Sir William formed the basis for the British claim to several northwest American states as well as to the west and northwest of Canada. America and the United Kingdom almost fought a third war over this area (the first war being the Revolutionary War; the second being the War of 1812), but the matter was settled by negotiations and compromise instead of arms.
Sir William also owned some land near what became New York City. It was an island actually, and was originally known as the Island of Matowack and renamed the Isle de Stirling in the early days (grant dated to January 1635 from the Council of New England). Today it is known as Long Island. Unfortunately neither Long Island, nor Oregon, nor Washington State, nor North or South Dakota, etc. went with the titles that I successfully called out of dormancy in 1999. In this case, not even close, and certainly no cigar.
My late father (and his father before his death over 80 years ago) and I spend a great deal of time researching our ancestry and heritage. One of the interesting things that we discovered was that we are also Edwards and that our Edward ancestors owned a farm on the outskirts of early New York City, about 40 acres or so. The Edwards leased this land to the Crown before the Revolution and never were able to secure its return after the Revolution. Later some buildings were built on the farm….the Empire State Building and a few others.
It is simply too late to obtain clear title to the land now. Damn, I could have made The Donald (Donald Trump) look like a poor man. Again, not even close and no cigar.
The fifth Earl of Stirling, in the early 18th Century acquired some land in the Hudson Highlands in New York State, it is today Sterling Forest (yes they use the English spelling of Stirling not the Scottish spelling) and a fantastic preserve with the most diverse and largest amount of animal and plant life in the state of New York.
The famous wine growing area of California known as Alexander Valley was named after an Alexander who managed a massive Spanish land grant and was paid for his troubles by being gifted with some of the land. Until sometime in the 20th Century his descendents still lived on part of the estate.
The Alexander and Baldwin Sugar Company was founded by Samuel Timothy Alexander and his in-laws the Baldwins. This Samuel was from Vincennes, Indiana and went to Maui, Hawaii as a Christian missionary. His family ended up owning vast amounts of one of the most beautiful islands on Earth. His great-granddaughter (she and her husband sit on the A& B Board of Directors) and I call each other cousin; however we are really more distant kinsmen.
The third nation that the Alexanders played a key role in founding was the United States of America. About a year before the American Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776, my kinsmen in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina (from the Scot-Irish branch of the Clan) were the ringleaders in a forerunner declaration ~ the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence signed on May 20, 1775. The later and much better known American Declaration of Independence, dated July 4th 1776, incorporated many of the terms in the earlier declaration. Of the 27 signers of the Mecklenburg Declaration 6 were Alexanders (Col. Abraham Alexander, Col. Adam Alexander, Charles Alexander, Ezra Alexander, Hezekiah Alexander and John McKnitt Alexander).
A William Alexander, who was the Surveyor-General of the Providences of New York and New Jersey (his father had held the position in New York before him) went about claiming the then dormant Earldom of Stirling and related titles and great offices-of-state after the fifth Earl died without male issue. This William had Scottish law courts declare him to be the successor to the Earldom due to a descent from a common ancestor of the first Earl. This is something allowed under Scots Peerage Law, but totally unknown under English Peerage Law.
He moved to London and voted in the then representative election by Scots Peers for 16 members to sit and vote in the United Kingdom Parliament in London. However, he was connected to those around King George II and when King George II died and George III took over this William Alexander got caught up in the backstabbing. The House of Lords ruled that he could not take up his title “until he had successfully made out his claim” as he had been challenged in a proper legal venue over his assumption. He eventually went back to the Colonies, somewhat mad one might expect.
He became an early supporter of the Revolution and served first as a Colonel, then as Brigadier General, and finally as a Major General in the American Revolutionary Army. He was a close friend to Major General George Washington and perhaps the most important financier behind Washington and the Revolution. When Washington would take leave and briefly return to his estate at Mt. Vernon, Major General Lord Stirling would assume command of the Revolutionary Army.
At the Battle of Long Island, he personally saved General Washington and his Army from a trap by holding a key bridge allowing the American Army to escape from General Lord Cornwallis. Eventually, as he kept allowing more and more of his men to leave, after the Army had gotten over the bridge, he was taken prisoner of war with only a few men remaining from his brigade.
Lord Cornwallis paid his enemy a great honor by saying, “Lord Stirling fought like a wolf”. Eventually, he was released as part of a high level POW exchange during the war, but, unfortunately, he died before the war was over. It is believed that his imprisonment was a contributing factor to his health’s decline and to his eventual death.
Major General Lord Stirling had been a very wealthy man, but almost bankrupted himself in the fight to make America a free nation. He died without living male issue.
There were three famous noblemen who fought as generals on the American side in the Revolutionary War, Major General Lord Stirling was one and Major General the Marquis de Lafayette was another. One of Lafayette’s direct descendents, Jeff DeVillez, is one of my oldest and best friends. Our friendship dates back to grade school. I am godfather to Jeff’s sister Claudia’s son, Ian Samples, who is, of course, also a direct descendent of Lafayette. Jeff is a record producer and we have often joked about cutting a record, Lafayette and Stirling ~ Back Together Again”. The original Lafayette and Stirling were neighbors at the Valley Forge encampment.
A very important group of Alexanders were those who lived in Virginia. These Alexanders owned a plantation next to what is now Washington DC. Eventually this plantation was sold to George Washington’s stepson, his wife Martha’s grandson who was adopted and raised as a son by George and Martha and whom they named George Washington Parke Custis.
The Custis estate was eventually taken into a branch of the famous Lees of Virginia by the marriage of the daughter of George Washington Parke Custis to Robert E. Lee. This was the famous General Robert E. Lee, leader of the Confederate Army during the American Civil War. This officer had been offered command of both the Union and Confederate Armies and chose to fight for Virginia and the South and took command of the Confederate forces.
Jacqueline Lee Bouvier Kennedy was born into a branch of this family. During the Civil War the union army crossed the Potomac River and seized the Lee Plantation. In order that the Lee family never again use the estate, President Lincoln ordered that union war dead be buried on the grounds of the estate. Before the Alexanders and before the Custises owned the plantation it was known by the old pre-revolutionary name “Arlington”. It is today known as Arlington National Cemetery. The Pentagon today sits on reclaimed swampland once a part of the Alexander/Custis/Lee Plantation. The 9/11 attacks took place on part of once was key Alexander land (the Pentagon) and close to land (in Manhattan) owned by my Edwards ancestors.
Originally when the states of Maryland and Virginia donated the land that was to become the District of Columbia they retained the right to take back, at a future date, any of the land that had not been incorporated into the City of Washington by a process known as retrocession. In the early 19th Century Virginia elected to reclaim, via retrocession, some of the unused land it had donated to the District of Columbia. This land was located in the County of Alexander; there being two counties within District of Columbia at that time ~ Washington County and Alexander County. That land which underwent retrocession to Virginia now forms the City of Alexandria, Virginia. Congress allowed General Washington to select the site for the capital of the United States. The primary reason, that many historians feel that he selected the site that became Washington DC, was the fact that his stepson’s plantation, the former Alexander plantation, could overlook the new capital.

1 comment:

johna said...

I was so pleased to come across this site today and have e - mailed Lord Stirling advising him that in my view it is great to have a chief of the Clan and especially one who is so knowledgable, all the info about prominent clan members in the early days of the American Revolution was fascinating even to me, a non - American down here in New Zealand. I will return often.