The McCullys of Early Nova Scotia

  November 2018 

There are still significant unanswered questions about the early Canadian McCullys, but three groups can now be separated with some confidence, and substantial lines of descendants have been traced from each of the three. Because McCully was an unusual name in early Maritime Canada, and because all three families were in Colchester County, Nova Scotia, more or less contemporaneously, there have been a number of attempts made to link the three families [1]. It seems likely that at least two of the families are closely related; if not in Nova Scotia, then in the previous generation in Northern Ireland. However, nothing links the third group, and so far no concrete tie has been found between any of them. For now, each line should be treated separately.


Family Number One: Samuel and Elizabeth ([2]) McCully almost certainly came to Nova Scotia from Northern Ireland in 1761 on one of Alexander McNutt's ships, probably Hopewell [3]. The Northern Ireland origins of most of the approximately 250 people in McNutt's party are undetermined, but of sixteen families whose geographic origins are known, ten were from County Donegal and four were from County Derry. One speculation based on this is that "at least four-fifths of McNutt's settlers were from the Foyle and Swilly districts and that most of the remainder were from the valley of the lower Bann" [4]. The limited records that have survived from Northern Ireland in the 1700s show McCullys in those same geographical areas, with names that are the same as the Nova Scotia settlers: there were Samuels in Lisnvavaghorg and Banagher, Londonderry; and Dernaflau, Londonderry, had William, Joseph, John, and Andrew. Somewhat removed from the above locations, Ballywitticcock and Drumgooland, County Down, also had Samuels [5]. 

One reason to be relatively confident that this McCully couple came on Hopewell is that their son, Joseph McCully, was reportedly "born in the barracks" in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1762. This information was not put into print until 1900 [6], but the birth year is corroborated by cemetery records [7]. McNutt's ships did not reach Halifax until October 1761, too late for the new arrivals to get settled on the land before winter, so the Government provided quarters for them [8]; ergo"in the barracks." 
   We have been unable to find any primary sources of information on this Samuel McCully. In fact, his name is known for certain on the basis of one 1788 land deed, wherein his sons Joseph and Samuel identify themselves as "the heirs of Samuel McCully Senr. (Senior) Deceased" [9]. From what we can gather from the few family records, land deeds, township books, and cemetery records, the following speculations seem reasonable:
   1. Samuel and Elizabeth were only recently married when they departed Northern Ireland in 1761. Assuming a typical age for first marriage at that period, Samuel might have been born ca 1735 to 1740, with Elizabeth perhaps as late as the early 1740s.
   2. Samuel and Elizabeth had only three children, all born in Nova Scotia: Joseph (1762), Samuel (1764) and Elizabeth [1765-1766].
   3. Because both Samuel and Elizabeth were Irish, it is likely that they named their children by Scots-Irish tradition. If so, Samuel's parents could have been Joseph and Elizabeth McCully, and Elizabeth's father could have been a Samuel. 
   4. Samuel died in 1764 or 1765, after conceiving daughter Elizabeth but possibly before she was born, and before the first list of Londonderry, Nova Scotia, grantees was published in October 1765. His widow, Elizabeth, is named as the grantee [10].
   5. By 1767, Elizabeth McCully had married 2nd Hugh Teakles/Tackles. The 1770 census of Onslow, Nova Scotia showed the Teakles household with one man, one woman, two boys, and three girls [11]; undoubtedly they were Hugh, Elizabeth, Elizabeth's McCully children Joseph, Samuel and Elizabeth, and Elizabeth's first two daughters with Hugh Teakles, Isabel and Mary Ann.
   6. The daughter of Samuel and Elizabeth, Elizabeth McCully, married James Clarke in Onslow in 1787 [12]. Hugh Teakles died in 1795 [13]. Elizabeth and Samuel's son, Samuel McCully, had married and moved his family to Hopewell, Albert (then, Westmorland) County, New Brunswick, by 1797. By 1799, Elizabeth and several of her Teakles children had also moved to Hopewell. In 1803, she was living there in the household of her son, William Teakles [14]. She undoubtedly died in either Albert or Kings county, New Brunswick, but no death date or burial site has been determined, so far. By 1800, the only descendants of Samuel and Elizabeth living in Nova Scotia were from the families of their eldest son Joseph McCully, and their daughter Elizabeth (McCully) Clarke.

Family Number Two. William McCully, reportedly born in Ireland ca 1746 [15], was probably the William McCully named as a grantee at Londonderry, Nova Scotia, in 1765. (Some have suggested that it was an older William, the father of this man, who was the original grantee, but I think there is ample evidence to refute that argument. See below.) As he was present in Londonderry in time to be a 1765 grantee, he almost certainly arrived with the McNutt Hopewell party in 1761. He would have been about 15 years old when he left Northern Ireland. At that age, he could have been traveling on his own, but it would seem an unlikely coincidence if he wasn't associated with McCully Family Number One. Nevertheless, to date nothing has come to light that clearly ties the two families together.
   After the 1765 Londonderry grant listing, the next certain record of any William McCully in Nova Scotia is from 1770, at which time a William reportedly owed money to the estate of the late Andrew Gamble [16]. Presumably it was that William who married Isabella, who was probably a daughter of James Wilson [17], about 1772. The 1774 Londonderry census showed William McCully as head of a household comprised of a man, a woman, and a male child, the adults born in Ireland and the child in America [18]. The child would have been William's and Isabella's first son, Samuel McCully, born 1773. 
   William and Isabella lived out their lives in the Londonderry area, and had children Samuel, Mary, William, Hugh, Margaret, John, Elizabeth, Isabella, and Robert. A number of the children continued to live there, and there are currently descendants of William and Isabella in Colchester County.
Although both were Irish, it does not appear that William and Isabella followed a traditional Scots-Irish method of naming children [19]. 

Family Number Three. This Samuel McCully, the earliest known of his line has not been discovered in Nova Scotia records (or anywhere else) before 1774. He is known for certain from only three documents. Some time prior to 26 August 1788, he purchased from John Mahon 600 acres of land at Great Village, near Londonderry, Colchester County, Nova Scotia. Samuel McCully was deceased before Mahon drew up the deed, and the property was granted to the McCully heirs [20]. Samuel died intestate [21] and no probate papers have been found, so his heirs were not identifiable until the property was sold, again. 
   On 12 April 1809, Samuel's oldest son, William McCully, sold to his brothers John McCully and Samuel McCully, for £60 his rights to the Great Village property. At the time, all three brothers were living in Horton, Kings County, Nova Scotia [22]. Some time before April 1812, John and Samuel sold the property to William Spencer of Londonderry for 110 pounds, and both left Horton soon after [23].
   Three earlier documents probably involve this Samuel McCully [24]. On 16 April 1774, a man of this name was witness to a land sale between Samuel Nichols and Joshua Lamb, both of Onslow, Colchester County, Nova Scotia [25]. A March 1775 inventory of the business records of the late Henry Glen, a merchant who did business in both Londonderry and Truro, showed a Samuel McCully owing a debt of a little over one pound [26]. Finally, on 30 November 1778, a Samuel McCully sold to William Martin 500 acres of land in Londonderry, for 40 pounds [27].
While others have conjectured about this Samuel McCully's origins and family connections, he cannot be identified with any certainty until 1774-1775 when he was involved in "adult" (at least 18 years of age?) activities. Except for acting as witness to an Onslow land sale, he is known only from Londonderry. However, he is unaccounted for anywhere between 1778 (sale of Londonderry land) and 1788 (deed for Great Village land), so it is possible he was not living in the area all the time.
   Nothing is known about Samuel's wife, either before or after his death. Their first known child was born ca 1781, suggesting a marriage about 1780. Combining this estimate with his first known "adult" transactions may provide a reasonable date of birth for Samuel around 1755. After Samuel's death ca 1788, his wife may have remarried; the fact that she is never named in later documents, or mentioned in family reminiscences, may mean that she also died relatively young.
   Samuel McCully and his wife had three known children: William McCully born ca 1781; John McCully born 25 August 1784; and Samuel McCully born ca 1787.


  Complicating determination of family relationships (if any) is the belief by some that the William McCully born ca 1746 was not the original Londonderry grantee, but that it was his father who obtained the land grant. In that scenario, the senior William brought his entire family to Nova Scotia in 1761, along with his brother Samuel and pregnant wife (Family Number One). Oral tradition describes "William Senior" as being badly injured in a fall from a horse shortly after arrival in Nova Scotia, but perhaps surviving as an invalid into the early 1800s. In this same tradition, his wife (name unknown) died at about the time of the American Revolution [28]. Other information (not necessarily arising from the same source) includes in "William Senior's" family the William-born 1746, plus siblings Joseph, Elizabeth, and Samuel (the latter sometimes assumed to be the Samuel from Family Number Three) [29].
  I think there is adequate justification to discount the possibility of an earlier William McCully family in Nova Scotia
   1. No tombstone or death record has been found for any earlier William, his wife, or his alleged children (except for William born 1746, and Samuel from Family Three, if he was indeed part of this family). This is not entirely surprising, as finding death evidence from the 1700s is difficult for many families. I do find it curious that absolutely nothing has survived for any of them.
   2. The record is clear from both 1765 and 1775 that only two grants of land were given to McCullys in Londonderry, Nova Scotia. The first, granted to Elizabeth McCully in lieu of her late husband Samuel, is well accounted for until sold by Samuel's heirs. If there was more than one other McCully of adult status, why wasn't more than one other share granted? William "Junior" (in this scenario) was apparently old enough in 1765 to qualify for land, and he certainly was in 1775. If there was a Joseph McCully in this family, he would have qualified in 1775 - and in 1765, if he was an older brother to William. The record is clear that Samuel of Family Three - whether or not he really belongs in Family Two - did not get a grant in Londonderry in either dispensation.
   3. Deeds and other transactions: No record of a Joseph McCully is found in any document in Londonderry, except for the sale of Elizabeth McCully's original land grant by her sons, Samuel and Joseph McCully of Onslow, Nova Scotia. Samuel McCully of Family Three is first recorded in 1774 (see above). A William McCully is named in several contexts during the 1770s; while there is no way to tell if these involved an older or younger William, the types of activities recorded - serving on a jury, being executor of a will - do not seem like those to be undertaken by a man who had been an invalid for some years.
  The earliest deed found for a William McCully is from 1794, and clearly involved William-born 1746 and his wife Isabella. Each subsequent deed until 1805 are also clearly identified with that William. In 1805, William-born 1746 sold land to his son William, and on the deed they are identified as "William Senior" and "William Junior." Subsequent deeds through 1817 always showed the "Senior" and "Junior" designations [30]. If there had been an elder William, would these have been the identifying terms?
   4. There is only one census available for Londonderry prior to 1800, that taken in 1773. Only one McCully household is included, that of a William McCully. The census found one man, one woman, and one boy - two Irish and one "American" (in this case, born in North America). There seems to be no question that this was William-born 1746, his wife Isabella, and their first son, Samuel, who was born in 1773. It has been suggested that other McCullys might have been living in other households, so they are unrecognizable in a census that only names the "head of household" [31]. That would certainly be feasible for the three alleged siblings of William, but it seems highly unlikely to me that an invalid patriarch William (and possibly his wife, at that date) would have been "farmed out."
   5. I noted above that William and Isabella McCully do not seem to have followed the traditional Irish naming pattern for their children. While not unheard of, it would be unusual for two families direct from Ireland to have deviated greatly from tradition. Birthdates of some of the known children are not known, some have been estimated from marriages and other later events, and there is room chronologically for several currently unaccounted for children to have been born to the couple. If the currently understood naming pattern is a reflection of incomplete data, rather than the actual naming sequence, it is unlikely that William's father would have been named William.
   6. I've been unable to determine how long ago the current tradition of an earlier William McCully surfaced, but it seems possible that it was as recently as the 1970s or 1980s [32]. 
If that was the case, long-term remembrances could have become confused with erroneous information that appeared in print in more recent times. For example, a paper from 1967 wrongly identified Samuel, the first son of William and Isabella (Family Two), as Samuel, the second son in Family One [33]. The misplacement of the latter Samuel into Family Two brought with him his two siblings, Joseph and Elizabeth. When the error of the Samuels was discovered, it left an "extra" Samuel in Family Two, along with a misplaced Joseph and Elizabeth, who had to be accounted for. My speculation is that it was this "phantom family" that became the rest of the presumed early family of William McCully-born 1746 [34].

*   *   *

   The only part of the tradition of the early family not explainable from the above is "the patriarch's" fall from a horse, and subsequent infirmity. Accidents involving horses appear to have been very common in early Canada and America, and "early incapacitation or death would explain the absence of data regarding the career of William the grantee" [35]. While that is true, such an accident could have happened to any number of McCullys in the 200-plus years since the settlement of Londonderry. The incident may have occurred, but not necessarily to the person memorialized in oral history [36].

*   *   *

  No concrete evidence connecting Family One and Family Two has yet been found, but the fact that both family heads - Samuel (through his widow Elizabeth) and William - were named as Londonderry grantees in 1765 is strongly suggestive that both arrived on the Hopewell in 1861. From there, it is an easy step to surmise that they had traveled together from Northern Ireland as some sort of family unit. From the information available, the nature of that relationship - brothers, cousins, uncle and nephew - is not so easily determined.
  So far, beyond the McCully name and the location, there is nothing to tie Family Three to either of the other two.


1. The most recent attempt to link the McCully families: Campbell, C., and J. F. Smith. 2011. Planters and grantees of Cobequid, Nova Scotia, 1761-1780. Truro, Nova Scotia: Colchester Historical Society. Pages 630-636.

2. Elizabeth McCully's family name is unknown. Because her granddaughter, child of Joseph McCully, was named Elizabeth Brown McCully (Public Archives of Nova Scotia. 1761-1841. Book of records for births, deaths, and marriages for the Town on Onslow begun in the year 1761. Halifax, Nova Scotia), Campbell and Smith (op. cit., p. 631) suggested that, since "the McCulley/McCully family followed the traditional Scots/Irish custom of naming their eldest children after grandparents... Descendants, therefore, might reasonably speculate that grantee Elizabeth McCulley's birth surname was 'Brown'." Actually, Joseph and Mary (Upham) McCully did not follow Scots-Irish tradition, which is not surprising in that the Upham side of the family were English. Joseph McCully's first son was named Richard; by Scots-Irish tradition, he should have been Samuel, after his paternal grandfather. The second son, William, should have been Richard, after his maternal grandfather, Richard Upham. Their daughter was named Elizabeth, the same as her paternal grandmother, but it was also an extremely common name among both the Irish and English of that period. "Brown" was a common surname in Northern Ireland in the 1700s (Kernohan, J. W. 1918. A list of all the names of the Protestant house-keepers in the several baronies of Dunluce Walke. Belfast, Ireland: Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland. Preserved as an on-line database at, 2002). There were several Brown families in the Onslow area when Elizabeth was born, so a local familial or friendship connection can't be ruled out.

3. Eaton, A. W. H. 1912. The settling of Colchester County, Nova Scotia, by New England Puritans and Ulster Scotsmen. Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, Third Series, Volume 6, pages 221-265.

4. Murphy, J. M. 1976. The Londonderry Heirs. Privately published: Middleton, Nova Scotia. Page 83.

5. Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (Belfast): Irish Freeholders' Lists, 1727-1793; Dissenters' Petitions, 1775; Irish Religious Census, 1766.

6. Piers, H. 1900. Biographical review of the province of Nova Scotia. Boston: Biographical Review Publishing Company. Page 104, biographical note on William McCully, great grandson of Samuel and Elizabeth McCully.

7. Public Archives of Nova Scotia, Halifax. Cemetery records from Onslow, Nova Scotia. Record MG5 - Volume 21, No. 7, Onslow Cemetery: Joseph McCully died March 1810, age 48.

8. Eaton, A. W. H. 1913. The settling of Colchester County, Nova Scotia, by New England Puritans and Ulster Scotsmen. Proceedings and transactions of the Royal Society of Canada. Third Series 6(2):221-265.
Page 255: "On the 9th of October (1761) the ship (Hopewell) reached Cornwallis Island, in Halifax harbour, and there the passengers disembarked. In his memorial to the Lords of Trade of August 1766, Lieutenant Governor Francklin (described the arrivals as) 'indigent people, without means of subsistence,' who 'chiefly remained at Halifax the ensuing winter and were supported by the Government, the charitable contributions of the inhabitants, and some provisions borrowed by Colonel McNutt from the Government'."

9. Public Archives of Nova Scotia - Colchester County deeds, Book 2, page 333: 27 December 1788, Joseph and Samuel McCully sold 500 acres in Mass House Village, Londonderry (their mother Elizabeth McCully's original land grant), to Robert McElhenny.

10. For many years, it was believed that no copy existed of the original 1765 list of grantees at Londonderry, Nova Scotia, and the "official" list was one that was compiled by the British Government in 1775. This later list reflected changes in the population due to deaths, children coming of age qualifying for land grants, people leaving the area, and people entering the community. It was not a true list of who was in Londonderry in the early 1760s, but the differences were unknown. A copy of the 1765 list has seen been found (transcribed on pages 541-543 in Campbell and Smith, op. cit.); there are differences between the two lists, but the McCully information remained the same: one share to Elizabeth McCully, one share to William McCully.

11. Public Archives of Nova Scotia. 1770. Census of Onslow, Colchester County, Nova Scotia. RG 1, Volume 433.

12. Public Archives of Nova Scotia. 1761-1841. Book of records for births, deaths, and marriages for the Town on Onslow begun in the year 1761. Halifax, Nova Scotia.

13. The will of Hugh "Tacles," proved 17 April 1795 as recorded by the Halifax Registry of Probate, is preserved in the collections of the Nova Scotia Archives, Halifax: RG48 T1 (cited in Campbell and Smith, op. cit., page 908).

14. Sewell, B. 1979. List of inhabitants, Township of Hopewell, 1803. Generations 1(2):20-22.

15. From the Acadian Recorder (Halifax, Nova Scotia), a death notice on 29 March 1834: "At Londonderry, on the 23d inst in the 88th year of his age; Mr. William McCully an old and respectable inhabitant of that place."

16. Public Archives of Nova Scotia, Halifax Registry of Probate collection, RG48 G4 (cited in Campbell and Smith, op. cit., page 634.

17. Campbell and Smith, op. cit., pages 634-636 and 1016-1017.

18. Public Archives of Nova Scotia (Halifax), Manuscript RG1, Vol. 443, No. 17.

19. The birth dates of some of their children are unknown [Stacy Culgin and Jane Wile, manuscript 1996], or can only approximated from other events (e.g., marriage dates), so their assumed birth sequence may be somewhat incorrect. It does seem significant that no James (the name of Isabella's probable father) appears in the line-up.

20. Colchester County, Nova Scotia, Deed Book 2, page 321. John Mahon signed the deed 26 August 1788, acknowledging receipt of one hundred pounds from the since-deceased Samuel McCully: "I John Mahon of the Township of Londonderry... for and in consideration of the sum of one hundred pounds... paid by the deceased Saml. McCully of the Province & Township aforesaid (Londonderry).." The deed was recorded 8 September 1788. The names of heirs are not provided in the document.

21. See Note 4.

22. Colchester County, Nova Scotia, Deed Book 6, page 81: "I William McCully of consideration of Sixty Pounds... paid by John McCully and Samuel McCully both of Horton... (sell) a certain tract of land... originally granted to John Mahon Esquire of Londonderry and deeded to the heirs of Samuel McCully of which heirs I the said William McCully am one."

23. Colchester County, Nova Scotia, Deed Book 6, pages 494-495. The deed selling the Great Village property was recorded 20 April 1812, but the actual date of the transaction is obscured, with only the partial date of 20 November visible in the deed book. The sale could have occurred in November 1811, but November 1810 seems more likely. John McCully was purchasing land in Kings County, New Brunswick, in April 1811, and identifying himself as "of Hillsborough" (Albert County, New Brunswick) at that time. 
Pertinent language in this deed: "...John McCully and Samuel McCully of Horton... for One Hundred and Ten pounds... Whereas Samuel McCully late of Londonderry aforesaid deceased had in his lifetime purchased a certain tract of land from John Mahon Esq late of Londonderry... the said Samuel McCully died intestate... leaving three sons William John and Samuel then minors but now at lawful age being heirs and lawful owners of said tract of land, and William the Eldest having sold and transferred his title... to his brothers.."

24. The three earliest records I ascribe to this Samuel McCully (between 1774 and 1778) are based on process of elimination: with information currently available, there seems to be no way they could have involved a different Samuel McCully in Colchester County. One older Samuel McCully had died by 1767. That Samuel's son, Samuel McCully, was born 1764, so would have only been about 10 in 1774. The only other Samuel McCully known from that early period in Colchester County was not born until 1773.

25. Colchester County, Nova Scotia, Deed Book 1, page 298. This is the only record that suggests "our" Samuel McCully had connections with Onslow, as well as Londonderry.

26. Halifax County Registry of Probate record at Nova Scotia Archives and Records Management, Halifax - RG48 G44; reproduced in: Campbell, C., and J. F. Smith. 2011. Planters and grantees of Cobequid, Nova Scotia, 1761-1780. Truro, Nova Scotia: Colchester Historical Society, Page 407.

27. Colchester County, Nova Scotia, Deed Book 2, page 218. Both Samuel McCully and William Martin were described as "of Londonderry." No record has been found that tells when Samuel originally acquired this land, although later deeds for this land show that he obtained it from the original grantee, John Clark. Campbell and Smith (op. cit., page 173) suggested that the transaction occurred in 1775 or later, after the Londonderry land grants were updated and formalized. That fits with other facts and speculations about Samuel McCully's age. However, there is evidence that the Clarks had departed Colchester County prior to 1775; since the land was originally granted to Clark in 1765, he would have had the right to sell it prior to 1775.

28. Muriel (Cottam) York, in Campbell and Smith, op. cit., page 634; Stacey (McCully) Culgin (Debert, Nova Scotia), personal communication September 1996.

29. P. R. Blakeley. 1967. Jonathan McCully, Father of Confederation. Collections of the Nova Scotia Historical Society 36:142-181.
Fletcher, E. L. 1984. Scotia Heritage. Hantsport, Nova Scotia: Lancelot Press.

30. I have copies of all these deeds, obtained on a visit to the Provincial Archives of Nova Scotia, in Halifax.

31. Campbell and Smith, op. cit., pp. 634-635.

32. I don't mean to imply that the story tradition is no older than the 1970s or 1980s, but the details as currently told may be no older than that. According to Stacy (McCully) Culgin (personal communication to me, 1996), her uncle Curtis McCully had recited to another Nova Scotian a tale that presumably originated with Curtis' grandfather, Burton McCully (1838-1905). Curtis McCully was not born until 1907, so he did not get the story direct from the source. Young men usually do not pass on "oral history" to outsiders, so it seems likely that he did not tell his tale until perhaps the last 15 or 20 years of his life. He died in 1988.

33. Blakeley 1967, op. cit.

34. Fletcher 1984, op. cit., pages 167-174 and 379-380. In addition to surmising the earlier family, Fletcher made a number of obvious errors relating to the McCullys: (1) she believed that the original Londonderry grantees, William and Elizabeth, were married to one another; (2) she showed Elizabeth (McCully) (Skinner) Clarke as both sister (pp. 379-380) and daughter (pp. 440-441) of William McCully-born 1746 (she was his daughter); (3) her transcription of the Londonderry census is incorrect, showing six people in the household, all born in Ireland, instead of the correct 3 people, one American-born; (4) when Samuel McCully (of my Family Three) sold land in Londonderry, she reported that he had obtained the land "by inheritance," when the records show clearly he had purchased the original Londonderry grant of John Clark; and (5) while she correctly identified the Baptist minister Samuel McCully as the son of William and Isabella, part of her "proof" actually refers to the son Samuel of Family One. Taken together, I think there is ample justification for not crediting her discussion of the "earlier" William McCully and family.

35. Campbell and Smith, op. cit., page 634.

36. A story passed down through the family of another William McCully, the eldest son of Samuel of Family Three, illustrates how oral history can change over time. "Kollock McCully," the grandfather of the narrator, was described as a Quaker with Loyalist leanings escaping to New Brunswick from the turmoil of the American Revolution. The true story is that the "relative" in question is a blend of two grandfathers, William McCully being one and Simon Kollock the other. William McCully apparently arrived in New Brunswick from Nova Scotia fairly peacefully (but clearly not as a Quaker), while Simon Kollock fought actively with the British forces against the American rebels and arrived in Nova Scotia as a Loyalist whose offenses against the new republic were considered too severe to be pardonable. This major distortion occurred within two generations, not the five or six that had elapsed before the telling of the Londonderry story.


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