Alexander Magruder, the Immigrant

Alexander Magruder / McGruder / McGruther / MacGrouther / MacGrouder / MacGrowther /  McCrouther (1610-1677)

was the first of his name in America. Born about 1610 at the small estate of Belliclone (now Nether Belliclone farm) in Madderty Parish, Perthshire, in Scotland’s Central Highlands, Alexander was the son of Alexander McGruder, the elder, and Margaret Campbell of Keithick. He is believed to have arrived in Maryland in January1652 as a prisoner of war, having been captured during Cromwell’s invasion of Scotland late in the civil wars that attended the Protestant Reformation.

Upon arrival, Alexander was sold into indentured servitude. In the disease-ridden Chesapeake, half of all indentured servants died within a year. Those who survived their term–most commonly five years–received their freedom and a “headright” to 50 acres of unimproved land—which they first had to find, before paying a surveyor and, for a fee, registering their ownership. Alexander received his first of two headrights in November 1653, indicating that he served a remarkably short indenture. He went on to be one of the largest landowners among formerly indentured men of his generation. Historian Russell R. Menard, who studied men who arrived as indentured servants from 1648-1652, identifies him as one of only three who owned more than 1,000 acres when they died.

We cannot document how Alexander became so successful. We do know that for several generations in Scotland his family had been among the highest officials serving the titled and powerful Drummond family, as clerks, scribes, and chamberlains. Alexander’s older brother, James McGruder, was Chamberlain to the Earl of Perth, while their father was Chamberlain to James Drummond, the first Lord Madderty. It is probable that through these connections Alexander was able to buy out his indenture and begin acquiring land at an early date.

It is also true that men with skills (such as carpenter, mason, or beekeeper) 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 his price was unusually high. At the end of his indenture, their land grants to him (by which he received his two headrights) 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 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.

Around twenty spellings of the name can be gleaned from Maryland records—including Magruther, Magrowder, Magruda, McGrudie, McGrooder & McGruer—and forty or more from Scotland. The Magruder spelling, with which Alexander signed his will, is uniquely American and was adopted by most of his descendants.

Alexander was married at least twice in Maryland, and his will names six living children, three times the average in extant wills of former indentured men of his generation. Four of his sons also reproduced, and their descendants spread throughout the colonies and states along the general patterns and migrations of white settlers. With few exceptions, the many thousands of Magruders and McGruders in the United States descend from this one man.

The McGruder Family in Scotland

About Alexander’s life in Scotland we have almost no direct evidence. He is believed to be the second son of Alexander McGruder (the 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 we believe Alexander was born. (To see why I believe we have identified the right Alexander, see Was Alexander Who We Think He Was?)

There is no “Magruder Clan,” nor were the MacGrouthers ever more than a small family. Early records of the name suggest they may have emerged from a monastic community at Dull, near the foot of Glen Lyon, as early as the 13th century. The first indisputable instance of the name is the signature of Gilawnene McCrouder, who witnessed a charter signed at Comrie in 1447. Gilawnene is derived from gille Eonain, servant of Eonan, another name for Adomnán, patron saint of the monastery at Dull. It is also suggestive that linguists say MacGruder most likely means son of the brewer, from the Gaelic grudair, brewer. In a time when plain water was unsafe to drink, many brewed beer at home, while larger breweries were strongly (though not exclusively) associated with monasteries. The first record of the name in Glen Artney, which came to be known as the McGruder heartland, is a tenancy circa 1481-1499.

Glen Artney from Trion House Photo: Susan Tichy, 2014

Glen Artney, photo by Susan Tichy, 2014

Sometime in the 16th century, Alexander’s ancestors became established tenants at Craigneich, a farm near the mouth of Glen Artney. James MakGruder, the first designated “in Craignocht” (the use of in indicating he was a tenant, not landholder) had a son James (called James II by family historians), who in turn had at least two sons: Alexander, the father of the Immigrant, and John. In 1620, John McGruder acquired lands at Meigor, in Glen Artney, making the rare step up from tenant to landholder, the first of ten generations of the McGrouthers of Meigor. (The designation of Meigor indicates land ownership.)

As tenants and servitors to the family of Lord Drummond, the McGruder family 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. David, the second Lord Drummond, and his kinsman Andrew Drummond of Belliclone, were among the “Protestant Lords” who resisted the rule of the Catholic Queen Mary. Among their supporters charged with acts of rebellion in the 1540s were Alexander’s grandfather, James McGrudir (II), along with his brother Duncane McRudir.

Alexander’s father, Alexander the elder, was born at Craigneich and rose to be Chamberlain to James Drummond, Lord Commendator of Inchaffray Abbey (a Drummond cadet line), later also receiving the title Lord Madderty. Alexander the Immigrant’s eldest brother, James McGruther, was Chamberlain to the Earl of Perth, and as such sat on a committee of war following the execution of King Charles 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. McGruther Memorial, Tulliechettle Graveyard Photo: Susan Tichy, 2014A monument erected at a McGruther graveyard at Tulliechettle, near the foot of Glen Artney, memorializes the last male MacGrouthers of Meigor, all of whom died in prison or abroad.

By contrast, Alexander Magruder, the Immigrant, has something in the order of 25,000 known descendants in America. “Known” means documented; it also generally means white. No one knows how many people who identify as African-American are also Magruder descendants.

See also Was Alexander Was Who We Think He Was?  / Alexander’s Family Tree  /  Magruder-McGregor-Campbell-Drummond: Are You Confused Yet?  / Tempest in a Teapot? Or Actual New Information about Alexander Magruder? / In Which Battle Was Alexander Magruder Captured?

Alexander Magruder in Maryland

Alexander’s two headrights, each entitling him to 50 acres of unimproved land, were recorded on 7 October and 19 November, 1653. Most former servants in his generation owned 50-400 acres. At the time of his death, Alexanderowned about 2,400 acres of what had been Piscataway and Patuxent land, along the Patuxent River in Southern Maryland. Among his plantations were Cragnight, Dunblane, Alexandria, Good Luck, and Anchovie Hills, where he died. (Notice how Lord Madderty’s seat, where Alexander’s father served as Chamberlain, degraded in Maryland from Inchaffray to Anchovie. In Gaelic, the syllable inch is pronounced anch.) Alexander also built or acquired Magruder’s Landing—a tobacco shipping point on the Patuxent River—for the export of tobacco to Europe. This gave him a steady source of income not tied to the unstable price of tobacco itself. The inventory of his estate shows that in addition to a few books, some old furniture, a sealskin trunk, clothing, farm implements, livestock, and of course tobacco, he owned several parcels of land, four indentured servants, and “one man negro named Sambo,” the first of thousands to be enslaved by Magruders in America.

This inventory reflects the changing patterns of labor in Colonial Maryland, where slavery at first existed alongside indentured servitude, not fully replacing it until the start of the 19th century. Land without labor was worthless—in the 17th century a good cow was worth more than 50 acres of uncleared land—so the economic factors driving the transition to enslaved labor are easy to analyze. Astonishingly, however, not a single document has survived from 17th century Maryland that records an attitude, a thought, or a reflection on the new concept of chattel slavery or the emerging ideology of race. Maryland’s first census, in 1790, shows 45 Magruder households in three counties, of which 41 owned slaves.

When Alexander arrived in Maryland, twenty years after the founding of the colony, more than 300 crude plantations were strung up and down the Patuxent River, growing tobacco for export and subsistence crops for survival. The word plantation originally referred to an entire colonial enterprise, such as the Jamestown Plantation in Virginia–think of it as a colony planted on the continent–but came to designate individual homesteads or tracts of land. In Alexander’s day it had no connotation of grandeur or wealth. Buildings were of log or mud-wattle and livestock roamed free. Labor-saving methods for clearing and farming the wet, wooded riverbanks were learned from the Yoacomoco, Mattapanient, Piscataway, and Patuxent people whose land the colony had purchased. White women were scarce, men worked their own fields (with or without the help of indentured labor), and both sexes married late. Perhaps half the children born lived to their twentieth birthday.

Alexander married at least twice in Maryland. If we are correct that he was born in 1610, he was about 42 when he arrived, so he may have been 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 there is no evidence that Alexander received patronage from that family–the Calverts–whose wealth dwarfed his own, and who were known for generosity to their kin. 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. Most genealogists believe her surname was Hawkins, but Green has also been suggested.

In Alexander’s generation, most men who possessed enough property to write a will name only one or two living children. Alexander names six. The youngest three–Alexander, Nathaniel, and Elizabeth–are identified in a codicil to 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. Formal adoption did not exist in colonial Maryland, so no records of that kind would be available. The elder three children–Samuel, James, and John–were the children of Sarah. John died young, without issue. We know little about Elizabeth, not even her place in the birth order. In both Alexander’s original will and the codicil she is named last, so many have assumed she was the youngest, but it would not be unusual to list a daughter after all her brothers. Tradition says Elizabeth lived long enough to marry, but died soon after–perhaps in or following childbirth–but evidence is slim. Her brothers 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.

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.

See also Alexander Magruder’s will   /  Inventory of Alexander Magruder’s Estate  /  Alexander’s will (transcribed) / How Do We Know Alexander Was Indentured in Maryland?  /  Anchovie Hills & Magruder’s Tobacco Landing

What shaped Alexander Magruder?

* * * *

See sources under the Bibliography tab 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.


6 comments on “Alexander Magruder, the Immigrant

  1. […] HomeAlexanderWas Alexander who we think he was?Alexander’s Family TreeMarylandWhat was it like in Alexander’s Maryland?Native Americans in early MarylandMagruder plantationsScotlandAf-Am MagrudersGeorge Washington “Wash” MagruderAf-Am Magruders in P.G. County MD Slave Statistics, 1867Slavery’s LegacyWill & family of Nathaniel Magruder, d.1785John S. Magruder & McGregor slavesWill of John Smith Magruder d.1825Will of Roderick M. McGregor d.1857William & Matilda BowieRunaways from R. McGregorMedical Records R. McGregor plantationInterrelationsMullin/Mullen familyMagruder-Hamilton slavesWill of Elizabeth Magruder d.1827Will of Eliza Hamilton d.1860Dodson familyWills of John Read Magruder, Sr. & Jr.BlogSourcesMagruders in Scotland & AmericaEarly MarylandSlavery & Freedom in MarylandNative Americans in Early MarylandContact Bookmark the permalink. […]

  2. Michael says:

    Nicely done! Forward this onto by children for a family history lesson….bravo!

  3. link says:

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  4. kerri gander says:

    thank you so much this valuable insite into my family.

  5. williebobs says:

    I thought that the plaque on this farmhouse currently for sale may be of interest here:

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