Alexander Magruder / McGruder / McGruther / MacGrouther / MacGrouder / MacGrowther
was born in Perthshire, Scotland, about 1610. (At least, we think so.) Alexander arrived in Maryland as a transported prisoner of war, probably in 1652, and was sold into indentured servitude. His time as a servant was short–perhaps something less than two years, much shorter than the standard period of bondage–and he began immediately to acquire land.
There are several theories as to why his time in bondage was so short. He might have bought out his indenture, with his own money or help from connections in Scotland. Men with an artisan’s skills often received shorter indentures; others were allowed to earn money to purchase early release by performing services for others. It is known that on arrival Alexander’s indenture was purchased by two men jointly, suggesting that the price was unusually high. At the end of his indenture, their land grants to him were signed with a mark of X, indicating that they were illiterate. Basic literacy (enough to sign one’s name) ran about 50% in the early years of the Maryland colony, but full literacy was rare and public affairs were conducted orally. If Alexander was fully literate, as his (presumed) family background suggests, his services as clerk or scribe would have been valuable indeed.
Literacy rates in Scotland were higher than in England–possibly the highest in Europe–and the record shows early and persistent literacy in the McCrouther/McGruder family. The earliest undisputed signature of the family name–by one Gilawnene McCrouder–dates from 1447, while the oldest possible specimen is from court records of 1264. Duncan MakGruder–likely the great-uncle of Alexander the Immigrant–matriculated from the University of St. Andrews in 1545, while in 1573 one Andrew McGruder was a university student in France.
Standardized spelling is a 19th c. invention. Something like 21 different spellings of Alexander’s surname can be gleaned from documents made during his lifetime; many more spellings survive in Scottish records. “Magruder,” found only in America, is the spelling on his will and was adopted by most of his descendants.
At least by 7 October 1653 (date of the earliest surviving deed) Alexander was acquiring land, and the deed for his second 50-acre “headright,” signaling the end of his indenture, is dated November 19 of that year. At the time of his death he owned about 2400 acres of what had been Piscataway and Patuxent Indian land, along the Patuxent River in Southern Maryland. (Most former servants in his generation owned 50-400 acres.) He also owned, at his death, four indentured servants and a slave–“one man Negro named Sambo.”
Russell Menard, a leading historian of early colonial society in the Chesapeake, says that in Alexander’s generation 75% of men who survived their indenture went on to hold some kind of government office, such as constable, juror, or surveyor of roads. Alexander was among the 25% who did not.
Here is a transcript of Alexander’s will.
About Alexander’s life in Scotland we know next to nothing. He is believed to be the second son of Alexander McGruder (elder) and Margaret Campbell of Keithick. Margaret was the widow of Andrew Drummond and as such held a lifetime right to Balmaclone, now Nether Belliclone farm, Madderty Parish, Perthshire, and that is where most believe Alexander was born.
If we are correct about Alexander’s parentage, we can say that for several generations his family had been tenants and privileged servitors to the family of Lord Drummond (who had been elevated to Earl of Perth by Alexander’s time). Thus, their fortunes were directly tied to the actions and loyalties of the Drummond ruling families through the tumultuous years of the 16th c. Reformation, the 17th c. Civil Wars, and the 18th c. Jacobite Rebellions.
Alexander’s father was Chamberlain to James Drummond, Lord Commendator of Inchaffray Abbey (a Drummond cadet line). His eldest brother, James McGruther, was Chamberlain to the Earl himself, and as such sat on a committee of war following the regicide in 1649, planning a defense against Cromwell’s expected invasion. It was in one of the ensuing battles–at Dunbar or Worcester–that Alexander was captured. In the next century, as Alexander’s grandsons were establishing themselves as prominent landowners and slave owners in Maryland, the Scottish family was embroiled in the Jacobite cause. Following the Jacobite Uprising of 1745-46, most of the McGrouther men died in exile, and the name declined into rarity.
By contrast, Alexander Magruder has something in the order of 15,000 known descendants in America. “Known” means documented; it also generally means white. No one knows how many people living as African-American are also Magruder descendants.
Alexander married at least twice in Maryland, perhaps three times. If we are correct that he was born in 1610, he was about 42 when he arrived, so it’s likely he also was married in Scotland.
About his Maryland wives, the only thing we can be sure of is that no two people agree about who they were. Traditionally, he is said to have married a Margaret Brathwaite, daughter of a cousin of Lord Baltimore, who once served as a temporary governor of the colony. No record confirms this, and (as Charles Kurz points out) there is no evidence that Alexander received patronage from that family–the Calverts–who were known for generosity to their own. A number of land records, from 1663 through March 1671, include a wife named Sarah. Her surname is unknown, but after Alexander’s death the interests of her children were aggressively supported by Ninian Beall and Samuel Taylor. Alexander’s last wife was named Elizabeth, possibly Elizabeth Hawkins or Elizabeth Green.
Alexander names six living children in his will. (In his generation, most surviving wills name 1 or 2.) The youngest three–Alexander, Nathaniel, and Elizabeth–are identified in the will as the children of his last wife, Elizabeth. Some genealogists believe that some or all of these three were Elizabeth’s children from a former marriage and were adopted by Alexander. Their birth dates lend credence to this: Alexander, the eldest of the three, may have been born as early as 1671, a year in which the previous wife, Sarah, was still alive; while the two youngest were born in the two years preceding Alexander’s death at age 66. Legal adoption did not exist in colonial Maryland, so no records of that kind would be available.
The elder three children–Samuel (b ~1660), James (b ~1658-61), and John (b 1659 or later)–were the children of Sarah.
John died young, without issue. Elizabeth lived to marry but died without issue. Samuel, James, Alexander, and Nathaniel all had children…who had children. This is an extraordinarily high reproductive rate for Alexander’s times, and explains why there are so many of us today, interested in his life and grateful for it.
What shaped Alexander Magruder?
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See Sources for full citations, some with links or PDFs.
Charles Kurz, “McGruder Lineage in Scotland to Magruder Family in America.”
Charles Kurz, “Margaret Campbell of Keithick.”
Charles Kurz, Research notebooks.
Gordon MacGregor, The Red Book of Perthshire, pp 491-493.
John MacGregor, “The McGrouthers of Meigor in Glenartney.”
Don McGruther, MacGrouthers in Scotland before 1855, especially pp. 13-18, 42-125.
Russell Menard, Economy and Society in Early Colonial Maryland.
Sue Emerson, Magruders in America.