The Crooked Lake Review

Summer 2006

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Clan Colquhoun and

Patrick Colquhoun


David Minor

Part 2, Part 3

Part 1


First off is the name. In 1828, about the time our peripatetic Scotsman James Stuart was making his way about the New World, a fellow countryman back home, Patrick Fraser Tytler, published the first volume of his "History of Scotland". In the appendix to the second volume he cites a "learned friend" who speculates on the clan name Culquhanorum. This fount of information guesses the name comes from the Gaelic 'Gillen-au-con', meaning 'keeper of dogs'. We don't know what dogs have to do with anything (there are two dogs in the family crest), but the name eventually became Colquhoun. Emerging in the 13th century it's applied first to a region in Dumbartonshire, west of Glasgow, then to the Lowlander clan that occupies that region.

Now, clan history can be quite complicated. Somewhere in the Colquhoun past, around 1246, a certain Humphry de Kilpatrick was granted lands in the barony of Colquhoun and assumed the Colquhoun name. A few centuries later a descendant, Sir Robert de Colquhoun, married an heiress of the Luss clan, from the Loch Lommond region, and assumed the title of Colquhoun of Colquhoun and Luss. Now, if you didn't quite follow that last bit, don't worry. There will be no test; we're just really concerned with the Colquhouns.

Down through the centuries clan Colquhoun, etc. etc., made prominent appearances on the outskirts (or should it be 'out-kilts'?) of Scottish history. In 1439 Dumbarton governor Sir John Colquhoun, an adherent of James I (then being held prisoner in England), made many enemies among the Highlands' Macgregor clam, punishing them severely when they were caught making raids from out of their hills. The raiders made peace overtures to Sir John. When he went out to meet with them he perhaps got the last, fleeting look of his life at the Bonnie Bonnie Banks of Loch Lomond, leaving son John to carry on the family name. Which he did.

Under James III he held office as comptroller of the Exchequer, lord high chamberlain of Scotland, and governor of the castle of Dumbarton for life. The latter didn't last long; the castle was besieged around 1478 and a cannonball deprived the castle of a governor and Scotland of a lord high chamberlain. Other generations of Colquhouns followed.

In the 1590s Sir Humphry Colquhoun made his appearance in Scotland's history. Castles didn't seem to be too conducive to protection and long lives where the clan was concerned. In 1592 the Macgregors had begun making incursions into the area again. That July Sir Humphry rode out and attacked the invaders, but was forced to give way and retreated into nearby Bannachra Castle. One of Sir Humphrey's servants was in the pay of the enemy. He was leading his master up the winding stairway to the bedchamber that first night. By pre-arranged signal, as his master was passing by a loophole in the wall, the traitor quickly moved his candle up to Colquhoun, presenting a waiting enemy archer with a brief but ideal target. They say you can still see the fatal loophole today, although the stair is long gone. As is Sir Humphrey.

And so it went, with Macgregors and Colquhouns slaughtering each other down through the years. We'll skip some of the ensuing mayhem and get to our main man next time.


"I like having a lot of people against me, because the more there are, the more they get balled up and start talking at cross-purposes, giving me ammunition to use effectively against them."
—New York developer John R. Todd, from Daniel Okrent's Great Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center (New York, Viking, 2003)


For a more complete history of the Clan Colquhoun you can go to the Electric Scotland web page at
It's part of their "Official Scottish Clans and Families" site, the 'official' referring to those clans "registered by the Court of the Lord Lyon." You'll find links to clan names from Abercromby to Young, in addition to "Historic Families of Scotland / Scots-Irish Families / Information on other Scottish Names / List of Sept Names / List of Names Associated with Clan Names."
You won't find Luss listed, it's not an official clan.

Beannachd leat !!


Stormy Times Brewing

When Patrick Colquhoun and his twin sister Ann were born at Dumbarton, Scotland, on March 14, 1745, they were firmly ensconced in the middle layers of their distinguished clan. Their father, Adam, Registrar of the Dumbartonshire Records, was closely related to Sir James Colquhoun of Luss and, back up the line, to chief of the clan Sir Robert Colquhoun, Fourth Baronet of Nova Scotia. It's not known that a Colquhoun before Patrick ever set foot out of Europe, by the way. An unsubstantiated web source claims that Sir Robert died in Nova Scotia in 1647, but this seems improbable. The majority of the 109 New Scotland baronets never set foot on Canadian soil.

When Patrick was eight his father passed away, sometime shortly before the birth of third son, Adam. When Patrick reached the age of sixteen, being the second son, he did as most others in the same situation almost always did; his relations decided to send him abroad to seek his own living. He sailed for Virginia in 1761.

Very little is known of the five years Colquhoun spent in that colony's Eastern shore, down on the tip of the Delmarva Peninsula. If he left Scotland in the spring he would have dodged the hurricane that struck the coast that September. He must have missed another September hurricane exactly five years later, the year he returned. None of the accounts mention any schooling before he set out, but he seems to have had a natural affinity for business, which he polished during his stay abroad. According to the Dictionary of National Biography, "It was the general custom of the inhabitants of this district to cross the Chesapeake Bay twice a year, in order to transact business at the seat of government; and such were the qualifications for public business manifested even at this early period by Mr Colquhoun, that many were in the habit of trusting their concerns to him, instead of going to the general mart in person."

During these jaunts to the colonial capital at Williamsburg he apparently developed an interest in the law as well. Perhaps he crossed paths with a couple of budding young students of the law by the names of Henry and Jefferson. In May of 1765, the year before Colquhoun left, the former would stand before the House of Burgesses and publicly deplore an act of Parliament designed to raise revenue through the forced sale of government stamps for legal documents.

It's said Colquhoun left Virginia in 1766 for reasons of health. Perhaps all of those boat trips across the bay were taking their toll. It's even possible he smelled the political storm to come over the next decade and, as a foreign national, decided his fortunes lay back in his native land. Whatever the reasons, he was back in Scotland by year's end, nose to the grindstone, launching a number of enterprises. Having settled down in Glasgow, within a few years he felt prosperous enough to take a wife, marrying distant relative Margaret Colquhoun, daughter of the provost, or chief magistrate, of Dumbarton, on the 2nd of October, 1773.

By this time relations with the colonies were deteriorating rapidly. Before the year was out, serious thought was given to legally curbing British emigration to the colonies and a band of faux Indians were brewing up a harbor-sized cuppa in Boston.


"The act of felling a tree is, relatively speaking, the briefest of events; it is to the timber business what the act of conception is to raising a family: a beginning that really happens in the middle. And both acts capture the imagination for similarly cataclysmic reasons; they are thunderous and defining moments, after which nothing much is certain except the knowledge that the hardest labor lies ahead."

—John Vaillant - The Golden Spruce: A True Story of Myth, Madness, and Greed
(New York, Norton, 2005)


A short history of the early Scots landholders in Nova Scotia, created by King James in 1621, can be found at:

You'll find a short history of the land grants, including a chart of the grantee and the date granted. James's son Charles I continued the grants for awhile, then turned around and ceded the territory to France.

Further details of Nova Scotia prior to 1700 can be found at:

Busy Young Man

England's James I called tobacco a "noxious weed". Which got His Royal Majesty nowhere. In 1630, five years after his death, England was importing close to half a million pounds; in ten years that would triple. The major supplier of all this pipe fodder was Virginia. I haven't found any accounts of Patrick Colquhoun's five-year visit to the New World, between 1761 and 1766, that mention tobacco specifically, but it was the major crop of the Eastern Shore of Virginia during the time he lived and did business there, so many of his commissions would have dealt with the crop.

In the years before the Industrial Revolution got underway in western Scotland, Glasgow merchants made huge profits from the Virginia trade. The business infrastructure being in place positioned the city for its rapid growth just about the time Colquhoun, back on Britain's side of the pond, was creating his own personal boom.

The American Revolution had broken out by this time, cutting off tobacco supplies from America; Colquhoun turned his energies in other directions. He fully backed his government in the struggle, joining together with 13 other prominent Glaswegians to fund the establishment of an overseas regiment. At the same time he backed legislation to expand British trade with Ireland, traveling to London in 1780 to lobby for an act removing restrictions on trade. One of the beneficiaries was the Irish glass industry. In 1781, as his militant countrymen rampaged through Virginia and the Carolinas, Colquhoun promoted efforts to erect a coffee-house and commercial exchange in Glasgow, the same premises usually serving this dual purpose at that period. The following year he founded the Glasgow Chamber of Commerce and Manufacturing, serving as its first chairman.

Back in 1768 Parliament had authorized the building of a canal connecting the River Clyde with the Firth of Forth, thus providing a navigable water route between Glasgow and Edinburgh, off to the east. It would not be completed until 1790. Realizing the growing importance of canals to commercial enterprise, Colquhoun stepped up to the plate, taking over as chairman of the committee managing its construction. 1785 found him off to London on another lobbying trip, this time to help obtain relief for the languishing cotton trade.

Glasgow published its first directory in 1787 (no, he didn't work on that particular project). His listing locates the merchant on Argyle Street just off Robertson's Court, several short blocks to the north of the Clyde in the central city, in business in the linen trade together with a Mr. Ritchie or two—both an Alexander and a Henry Ritchie are listed. His listed affiliations include Members for the Management of the Merchants House (the coffee-house, presumably); The Committee for the Management of the Chamber of Commerce; The Committee for the Management of the Forth and Clyde Navigation; The Members of the West India Club; The Committee for the Management of the Tontine (an early form of the reality show Survivor, in which the last one voted off this mortal coil wins the loot, and leaves it to his lucky heirs); and Governors of Mr Wilson's Charity.

Here was someone who probably didn't rest on the seventh day.


Tobacco, that outlandish weed
It spends the brain, and spoiles the seede
It dulls the spirite, it dims the sight
It robs a woman of her right.
—Dr. William Vaughn, 1617

You'll find our QUOTE of the week, along with other early Virginia lore at Jamestown's National Park Service site. "TOBACCO: The Early History of a New World Crop" will provide you with an illustrated brief overview of the controversial crop, along with a bibliography:

A link at the bottom of the page will take you to other subjects related to Colonial Jamestown, such as: Role of Women at Jamestown; Powhatan Indian Lifeways; Jamestown in the Civil War; and Time Lines; Personalities; Manufacturing and Industries (including TOBACCO: Colonial Cultivation Methods) The latter for informational purposes only; I'm not suggesting you grow your own.

Part 2, Part 3
© 2006, David Minor
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