Evidence Explained

Yet historical truths are rarely rooted in either shortcuts or comfort.

–Elizabeth Shown Mills

I guess this is the ultimate nerd moment: excitement over Elizabeth Shown Mills’ 800-page bible of accountability: Evidence Explained: Citing History Sources from Artifacts to Cyberspace. Not being a professional historian, I wasn’t familiar with this book until I read about it on Michael Hait’s blog, at which point I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

My practice on this web site may fall a bit short of her exacting and exhaustive standard of documentation, but many things are becoming clearer thanks to Mills’ lucid explanations of not only how to record your sources but why. As she says in the Foreword:

As students, when we were introduced to research principles, we may have been told that identifying sources is important for two reasons. First, we provide “proof” for what we write. Second, we enable others to find what we have used. Both purposes are valid, but they miss the most critical point of all:

We identify our sources–and their strengths and weaknesses–so we can reach the most reliable conclusions. (10)

In the next 700+ pages, she walks us through the documentation of every imaginable kind of source, from a quilt to a videogame. Not interested only in the “output” of a clear and useful footnote or bibliography, Mills starts with the “input”–the steps we must take while researching to record and evaluate each source…and to maintain the flexibility to re-evaluate it later on, as our knowledge and range of contexts grow.

She also reminds us that “family-history standards require a higher level of proof than does most litigation” (18) and in fact can accept no margin of error at all, because “Correct identification is the foundation upon which all else rests.” (19)

If you’ve never had a systematic introduction to research, this book is your crash course. If you’ve been over all this stuff before, but don’t always remember how to apply it, here is your right-hand helper. Far more than a set of templates–though plenty of those are provided–this book is a thorough course on the fundamentals of sound research and evidence analysis.

For someone like me, moonlighting out of my own field, it’s a very powerful torch.

Progress on building the site

In Slavery’s Legacy, I’ve finished the pages for the wills of John S. Magruder and his son Roderick McGregor, also for the William & Matilda Bowie family, and for Washington and May Magruder. African American surnames that show up on those pages include: Magruder, Bowie, Dodson, Godfrey, Henry, Buchanan, Vermillion, Chapman, Shaw, Chase, and Stewart. I can’t list all the first names, but you can use the Search function to look for them–that’s why I type out all the names, even when I’ve uploaded an image of the document they come from.

I thought I knew this material backwards and forwards, but in fact there was a lot to learn. Writing out the details, listing the names and ages, checking the sources, I stumbled on a couple of new connections and several  unanswered questions.

I also invented some new curse words for the broken Search page on the Archives of Maryland “Beneath the Underground: The Flight to Freedom” site. Good thing I compulsively download and save copies of just about everything…and can even occasionally find them.

Why you won’t see much about Clan Gregor on this site

Like many American Magruders, I was raised in the belief that Alexander Magruder was a member of Clan Gregor. I love MacGregor history and have studied it in detail all my life. Sadly, modern research makes clear that we Magruders are not related to Clan Gregor.

In Scotland, Don McGruther has ransacked the historical records for evidence of association between that clan and McGruders, and has found none. Nor is there any tradition in Scotland associating the two lineages. This lack of connection is confirmed by a small Magruder-McGruther DNA Project, which shows no close relation between well-established MacGregor markers and a small number of McGruder / Magruder men who volunteered to be tested.

The American Clan Gregor Society was founded in 1909 by descendants of Alexander Magruder, including my great-grandfather, and the ACGS is still family to me; but I can’t pretend that I still believe in our Clan Gregor descent.

I am, however, very interested in how, why, and when American Magruders came to believe it. We know that in 1820 one John Smith Magruder, of Upper Marlboro, Maryland, changed all his children’s surnames to McGregor. (It took a special act of the Legislature.) There are claims that the belief dates back to Revolutionary times, but as yet I have found no evidence for that.

(If you are a Magruder, and somewhere in your family is a record showing an early belief in the MacGregor connection, please share!)

It could not have been handed down from Alexander himself, nor from anyone who knew him, because it is clear that 19th c. American Magruders believed they were descended from MacGregors who had survived the rigors of the Proscription–the details of which they probably drew from the writings of Sir Walter Scott. (John S. Magruder read Scott’s books aloud to his children, for example.) It is also possible they got some of their details from early tartan books published by Scottish woolen mills from the early 19th c. on. The mills had an interest in spooning every Scottish surname into a Highland clan, to sell more tartan, and their information was often spurious.

As for the “traditional” belief that the Magruders/McGruders/McGrouthers were descended from Gillespie the Cruiter, or Harper, a younger son of a 14th c. Clan Gregor chief, I can trace it no further than the speculations of Henry Latham Magruder, of Chicago, who undertook in the last years of the 19th c. to find evidence for the MacGregor-Magruder connection. It is clear from his correspondence that he found no such evidence, but instead formed a theory that the name evolved from a patronymic, MacCruiter or MacCruither, meaning “Son of the Harper.” He never says anything more certain than “It is my belief..” and he does not say from what source he derived his conviction. Gaelic linguists deny that this is the meaning or origin of our name, in any of its spellings.

In fact, in his correspondence with ACGS founder Dr. Edward May Magruder, Henry Latham Magruder argued passionately for the founding of a Magruder society, not a MacGregor society. When he could not prevail, and the ACGS went forward as Clan Gregor organization, he asked that his correspondence be preserved in the society’s archives. Thus, you can read it yourself, right here–

Henry Latham Magruder corr 1

Henry Latham Magruder corr 2

It is clear in the correspondence that Edward May Magruder, the principal organizer of the ACGS, sought information from Henry because his research, conducted in Scotland with help from a researcher there, was more extensive than that of any other American Magruder. Before this time, Magruders had believed their name was a variation or corruption of MacGregor, or that it had been adopted when the name MacGregor was proscribed in 1603. Once researchers like Henry Latham Magruder had traced the McGruther / MacCrouther name to at least the middle of the 15th c (150 years before the Proscription) and uncovered Alexander’s true origins–in a family and community far removed from Clan Gregor’s troubles–they had to find another way to connect him to the MacGregors. We have to remember that they worked under the assumption that the connection was true, an assumption that influenced their interpretation of facts.

Thus was the “Son of the Harper” born, and Gilane or Gilawnene McCrouder–our first documentable ancestor, who signed a document in 1447–was claimed to be his son. Henry Latham also filled in a genealogy between Gilawnene and the next documented man of the name: James McGruder, who in 1547 was pardoned for having taken part in a Protestant attack on Queen Mary’s governor the previous year. James was a page to to David, the second Lord Drummond. And if we are correct in our identification of Alexander Magruder’s parents, this James was his great-grandfather.

We can’t blame the founders of the ACGS for believing what their families had taught them. Even Henry Latham Magruder, as he argued for a Magruder society, was vehement in his continued belief in the Clan Gregor story, claiming it went back in his family to Revolutionary times. But we have resources they did not have and we cannot ignore what both the historical record and the DNA record tell us. We should take Henry’s advice and embrace our Magruder heritage for its own sake.

Maybe someone should design a Magruder family tartan, to ease the way.


Don McGruther: MacGrouthers in Scotland before 1855. Self-published, 2007. Issued jointly with Sue Emerson’s CD, Magruders in America, under the title Wha’s Like Us?

Henry Latham Maguder: Correspondence 1894-1909. American Clan Gregor Society Collection, Series IX, Box 10. University of Baltimore, Langsdale Library Special Collections. Used with permission.

Magruder-McGruther DNA Project

In which battle was Alexander Magruder captured?

I admit to changing my mind a few times about this question. The candidates are the Battle of Preston, 1648; the Battle of Dunbar, 1650; and the Battle of Worcester, 1651. At the moment (June 2021) I am leaning toward Worcester. Here are the arguments.

In an essay published in The Yearbook of the American Clan Gregor Society, Vol. LXIII (1979), Charles Kurz wrote:

Tradition is that Alexander McGruder served in the Scots Army of King Charles II, was captured after the Battle of Worcester on 3 September 1651, and was later transported to Maryland. In the context of Scottish and Maryland history, students of Alexander Magruder’s life have difficulty accepting the tradition that he was captured after ‘the Battle of Worcester’. The time span from the purported 3 September 1651 capture is difficult to reconcile with a time for sentencing as a rebel, a 3- to 6-month voyage to Maryland, a period of indenture, and two land assignments of 50 acres each on completion of indenture–all within 26 months–by 19 November 1653…According to T[homas] G[arland]. Magruder, Jr, it is very possible that Alexander McGruder could have een captured at the Battle of Preston on 17 August 1648. (68)

I have argued in the past that it’s most likely Alexander was captured at Dunbar on 3 September 1650–two years after Preston and exactly one year before the Battle of Worcester. The defeat at Dunbar was huge and Scots prisoners many. Accounts I have read differ in some details, but agree that hundreds, if not thousands died on a forced march to Newcastle, even as their captors debated what to do with them. In true Puritan fashion, a committee was appointed–which quickly determined that those healthy enough to work might be sent to the coal and salt mines. As early as September 16th, the committee was receiving petitions from entrepreneurs who wanted to profit by transporting prisoners to the colonies as indentured labor. Thus, these captives from Dunbar became the first prisoners from an internal war to be transported–barbadoed in the slang of the day–a decision that was unprecedented and notably scandalous. From these accounts, I think it unlikely that Alexander, or anyone else, was transported to the colonies after the Battle of Preston two years earlier. 

However, prisoners from Worcester, a year after Dunbar, were quickly marched south to London, thousands dying on the way, to be prepared for transportation to the colonies. A strong argument for believing that Alexander was among them arises from the way regiments were raised and commanded. There was no “Scots army,” as Kurz puts it; regiments were raised locally and personally by titled and landed gentry, from among their tenants and allies. Lord Madderty’s brother commanded a regiment at Worcester that was overcome, with many (including Lord Madderty) captured–a perfect fit for Alexander, whose father was Lord Madderty’s chamberlain. Given his father’s status, Alexander would have served as an officer in such a regiment. (I have seen American accounts assigning him a rank but this is, pardon the pun, rank speculation.)

For Scots prisoners shipped to New England in these years, many records survive, including their names, the ships they arrived on, and where they were sent to work. Unluckily for us, no such records survive from Maryland or Virginia.

In the Yearbook of the American Clan Gregor Society for 1952, Herbert T. Magruder published “Some Notes on Circumstances Surrounding the Transporting of Alexander Mac Gruether as a Prisoner of War; and His Landing in Maryland in 1652.” He writes that

[r]esearch by William H. Gaines, Jr., an editor of Virginia Cavalcade, a publication of the Virginia State Library, has brought to light a record of the fact that a fleet of two warships, the JOHN and the GUINEA, and  several armed merchantmen was fitted out by order of the Parliament in the summer of 1651. The ships sailed from England in the fall of that year. Among the passengers were six hundred Scottish prisoners of war, who were being sent to do penance in the colonies. The voyage was by way of Barbadoes, which was a center of Royalist resistance as was the Virginia colony. The weather at the season may also have been a factor in plotting the course; for the  John was lost at sea; and the Guinea lagged behind. The merchantmen therefore arrived first off the Virginia capes in January 1652, and anchored offshore to await their armed escort. At length Governor William Berkeley and his Council were brought to terms of submission by the Parliamentary Commissioners; and the fleet sailed up the Chesapeake to bring the Maryland colonists into line.

It is certainly probable that Alexander Mac Gruether was one of the six hundred Scots on board those transports[.]

If Alexander was captured at Worcester, the timeline in this account could explain the rapidity with which he reached Maryland. Historians say that Cromwell disliked the costs of housing and feeding prisoners, and moved rapidly to dispose of them. Chris Gerrard, research director of the Scots Prisoners Project at Durham, has given me his opinion that Worcester is entirely feasible as the place Alexander McGruder was captured. There is, however, nothing to connect Alexander or his fellow Drummond retainers to the burials at Durham.

That said, the Scottish Soldiers at Durham project is well worth following, as they study (and try to identify) the remains of prisoners from the battle of Dunbar, imprisoned and later buried at Durham Cathedral. A victim of the Reformation, the building was empty in 1650 and had not been used for worship for several years. Mass burials of the 1,600 men who died there (out of 3,000 imprisoned) were discovered in 2013 in a routine construction project. Read this wonderfully informative interview with Christopher Gerrard, leader of the research team, at the Council for European Studies.

Some further background…Maryland had been plundered by Puritan freebooters as early as 1645, when its Catholic governors were arrested and sent to London in chains. Those with the resources to flee had hightailed it back to England, or at least to Virginia, leaving the colony to the lawless rule of Puritan-backed thugs for the next two years. By the time the Calverts returned in 1648 (bringing with them a Protestant governor to appease their enemies) St. Mary’s City held fewer men than had founded the colony in 1631, all other survivors having scattered into the woods and swamps for self-protection. It was in this atmosphere of desperation, as the Calverts struggled to keep hold of the remnants of their colony, that the famous Act Concerning Religion–so often touted as the first American law to guarantee freedom of conscience–was passed by the hastily reorganized Assembly. It failed in its first purpose, however–to convince the Puritans to keep their hands off Maryland. In the following year came the Regicide and Cromwellian rule, followed in due course by the battles of Dunbar and Worcester, and the final submission of Virginia and Maryland to the forces of Cromwell’s Parliament.

This was the Maryland to which Alexander was delivered.

Several sources give the number of prisoners still on board when the Guinea reached Maryland at 150. Wherever he was captured, and however long the hell of his ordeal, it is probable that Alexander Magruder was among them.

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