Tex McLeod's Ancestors

The Spelling of Names

Names were spelt in various ways before the 20th century - a curse for genealogists! In Scotland, a name like McLeod could be spelt as McLeod, MacLeod or M'cLeod; McAskil could be spelt MacAskle, McAskill or McAskle. There is an interesting discussion of Scottish and Irish names at the following link: [138]. There is the same problem with the name Milligen - Milligan is much more common but the variations seem to have been used interchangeably.

The various documents I have referred to regarding Tex's ancestors use various spellings but for consistency I will use McLeod and McAskle in the text.


Alexander Dennis (Tex) McLeod was born on 11 November 1889 in Gonzales County, Texas and died in Brighton, Sussex on 1 February 1973. It has proved difficult to trace Tex's family and the full story may never be known. The simplified pedigree chart below summarises his ancestors to the extent that I have been able to trace them with confidence.

Simplified pedigree chart for Tex McLeod [14]

Paternal Ancestors

Tex's paternal grandparents Donald McLeod (1826-1900) and Georgina McAskle (1815-1880) were both from Assynt, Sutherland, Scotland. I have been unable to trace this side of the family further back because Scotland census data was culled by a penny-pinching bureaucrat many years ago, leaving summary data that is vague and of limited use.

History of Assynt

Assynt is a small area of beautiful, but unproductive, land in the far north-western corner of Scotland and about 20 miles south of Cape Wrath. Legend has it that Assynt was granted to the clan MacNichol by the Thane of Sutherland but, by 1343, King David II of Scotland granted a charter of the lands of Assynt to Torquil McLeod of Lewis in return for the service of a 20-oared Hebridean galley.

Modern map showing Assynt and surrounding area [136]

The type of galley referred to was a wooden vessel known as a birlinn and very similar to those used by the Vikings. They could be powered by as many as forty oars and had a square sail on a single mast. They were the dominant type of vessel in the Hebrides until as late as the 17th century. The second photo below shows a 1991 reconstruction of a sixteen-oar berlinn named Aileach after a Scottish princess who sailed across to Ireland to marry. It is now kept at South Uist.

Image of a Birlinn from a 16th century tombstone in Oronsay [97]
Reconstruction of a sixteen-oar Berlinn seen at Mallaig [180]

Assynt is a remote and inhospitable place with thin poor soil and few economic resources. The largest settlement in Assynt used to be Inchnadamph, which contained Assynt's parish church - believed to have been built by Angus McLeod, laird of Assynt 1436-1443. The burial vault of the McLeods is about all that is left of it.

Assynt McLeod Burial Vault
Remains of the McLeod Burial Vault in the churchyard at Inchnadamph [139]

The McLeods built two strongholds on Loch Assynt. Nothing remains of that on the tiny island Eilean Assynt, but there are picturesque ruins of the other on the peninsular of Ardvreck, where the McLeods constructed a castle in about 1490.

Ardvreck Castle
Ruins of Ardvreck Castle [137]

The ownership of Assynt changed as a result of the English Civil War. In 1650, the wife of Neil McLeod sheltered fugitive Royalist commander James Graham in the castle - but then handed him over to the 'Covenanter' forces who executed him at Edinburgh. Charles II held the McLeods responsible for the loss of his commander and, after the restoration of the monarchy, Ardvreck Castle and the Assynt territories were taken over by the Mackenzies of Wester Ross. Kenneth MacKenzie built a more modern home called Calda House, using stones taken from the castle.

In the 18th century, the MacKenzies were obliged to dispose of the estate by public auction due to financial difficulties. Two buyers competed for the purchase - William MacKenzie, Earl of Seaforth and William Sutherland, the Earl of Sutherland. Sutherland won, but Calda House was burned down in 1737 by MacKenzie supporters [137].

The estate later passed to Elizabeth, 19th Countess of Sutherland who married George Leveson-Gower in 1785. He became Marquess of Stafford in 1803 and was known as Lord Gower. Following the receipt of a huge inheritance, Leveson-Gower is considered to have become the wealthiest man in Britain in the 19th century. One of his many roles was to be Ambassador to France at the outbreak of the French Revolution.

Elizabeth Duchess Of Sutherland George Leveson-Gower
Portraits of Elizabeth, Countess of Sutherland by George Romney and of George Leveson Gower by Thomas Phillips [97]

Farming methods in Scotland hadn't changed in centuries and it is generally acknowledged that they were inefficient. A period of 'Agricultural Improvement' started in the Scottish lowlands in the 18th century. New methods of ploughing, drainage, land enclosure, the use of lime, crop rotation and new crops including rye grass, clover, turnips, potatoes and cabbage were introduced.

During the 18th century, hundreds of thousands of lowlands cottars (labourers provided with a cottage in return for labour), and tenant farmers, were displaced. Many were given jobs on the consolidated farms or went to live in newly created villages. Others migrated to industrial centres like Glasgow, Edinburgh, Northern England, or to Canada and the United States.

Similar changes to farming practices were to follow in the Highlands in the 19th century. A small number of powerful families owned enormous tracts of land in Scotland and wanted greater financial returns. Leveson-Gower and his wife believed that the subsistence farming in Assynt was unsustainable, and it is certainly true that the population of Assynt, though small, was growing and had reached 2,395 by 1801. It was true that there had been recurrent famines and periods of great hardship, but Leveson-Gower realised that he could make more money out of his lands from sheep-farming than from the low rents paid by his tenant farmers. Whether the action taken by the Leveson-Gowers and the other big landowners, referred to at the time as 'removals' but which, at a much later date, came to be known as The Highland Clearances, was driven by a wish to alleviate hardship, or to make more money, is a matter of opinion. It was probably a bit of both - but there is no doubt that their action in Assynt caused enormous social upheaval and increased hardship; the resentment they caused lasts to this day.

In Assynt, the first phase of clearance was to relocate people from the inland areas to coastal villages, with the intention that the former tenant farmers would become crofters and supplement their incomes with fishing, quarrying or collecting kelp. They were not consulted of course. In 1813, more farmers were evicted from the Strath of Kildonan. This led to a long confrontation that was resolved by the intervention of the Army. There was a dreadful incident in 1814 when factors set fire to a cottage in Strathnaver, not realising that there was still an old and infirm woman inside; she died shortly afterwards. The Sutherlands tried, without success, to suppress the publicity surrounding this event, but carried on with the clearances regardless. It is thought that by about 1820, 15,000 people were displaced in Sutherland alone.

The displaced people struggled to support themselves due to changes in economic conditions and the population continued to increase. From about 1820 to 1850 a second phase of clearance took place with landowners offering to pay tenants to emigrate to North America. Emigration increased even further as a result of the Highland Potato Famine of 1846-1855. Some estimates suggest that about a third of the population of the Western Scottish Highlands emigrated between 1841 and 1861.

A translation of a Gaelic song from the time, written by Ewen Robertson of Tongue, 'Bard of the Clearances', includes these words:
First Duke of Sutherland, with your deceit
And with your friendship with the Lowlanders
It's in hell that you belong
I'd rather have Judas by my side

The story of the clearances, the potato famine and the overall hardship in this impoverished area is heartbreaking, complex and a topic barely mentioned in school history lessons. Not everyone was heartless and unsympathetic, but many were - particularly the landowners.

Artist Thomas Faed created the heartbreaking painting The Last of the Clan, shown below, which he exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1865. It depicted those left behind - the very young, women and the elderly. He attached the following note to the painting that sums up the thinking of many left behind:

When the steamer had slowly backed out, and John MacAlpine had thrown off the hawser, we began to feel that our once powerful clan was now represented by a feeble old man and his granddaughter, who, together with some outlying kith-and-kin, myself among the number, owned not a single blade of grass in the glen that was once all our own.
Painting: The Last of the Clan by Thomas Faed (1825-1900) [147]

Crossing the Atlantic

Tex's grandparents Donald and Georgina left Assynt to start new lives in America shortly after the times described above. Donald was listed as a farmer on the passenger list, but I am inclined to think he was a crofter. Being born in 1826, he could well have been displaced as a child during the 'clearances' - in which case it is hardly surprising that he would want to emigrate. However, as we will shortly see, the place he was going to had also been through hard times.

On 5 February 1867, Donald and Georgina arrived at Galveston, Texas with their four children, Johanna, Anariel, Alex and George, on a vessel called Havelock described, rather unhelpfully, as a 'Ship' on the passenger list.

Passenger List
Extract from passenger list for Havelock [24]

According to the passenger list, Havelock had 303 passengers on board. Of these, there were a few from Ireland with the others about 50/50 from Scotland and England. Most were labourers or farmers, with small numbers of grooms and gardeners, fewer still cooks, housemaids, joiners and finally a jockey, a drayman and a mechanic. At 182 ft long, the ship was just over four times the length of the international measure of length - the London bus - and, given the number of passengers, about equally crowded. The passengers were following the route taken by countless thousands of English, Scottish and Irish people who emigrated in the 19th century in the hope of a better life.

On 4 December 1866, Havelock was in collision with the schooner Mary Rose whilst at anchor off Liverpool. The schooner was 'demasted' but Havelock barely damaged. Passengers were normally not allowed on board until just before departure so, hopefully, they were spared what would have been a terrifying ordeal. The ship set sail for Galveston on 6 December and the crossing took nearly 8 weeks. The conditions the passengers had to endure during this time do not bear thinking about. The accommodation would have been cramped, insanitary, smelly and the food probably awful. We know nothing further about the crossing other than that the ship arrived at Galveston on 5 February 1867.

Cutting from the 'London Evening Standard' 4 December 1866 [144]

I cannot help but wonder about the McLeods as they undertook this journey. Getting to Liverpool from Assynt must have been daunting in itself whether they travelled by road or by sea. And what did they take with them? Emigrants had to take sufficient clothing, utensils and bedding for the sea voyage; much of it would have been in trunks somewhere in the hold where it would be inaccessible during the voyage. Did they take tools or household items with them or have to purchase them in America with whatever money they managed to get together?

Maternal Ancestors

Tex's maternal ancestors originated in the area of Texas now known as Bexar County that surrounds modern San Antonio, its main city. As late as 1850, the County only had a little over six thousand inhabitants, but now has over two million. Despite being a provincial backwater until the 20th century, it went through massive political upheavals throughout most of the 19th century. I hope the short history of Texas below will help set the scene.

Map of Bexar County [97]

History of Texas

Texas, and indeed the whole of North America, was home to hundreds of tribes of Native Americans before it was 'discovered' by Europeans [141]. The coastline of what we now know as Texas was first mapped by the Spanish in 1519, and there was a short-lived Spanish settlement there from 1528. The land was also claimed by the French and, in 1685, the first French colonists built Fort St. Louis, about halfway between Corpus Christi and Galveston; this colony also failed. Texas fell under the rule of the Viceroyalties of New Spain when France ceded its claims to Spain in the Treaty of Fontainebleu in 1762. The Spanish named Texas after the Teyas - a group of nomadic, cattle-raising Native American people.

The lands claimed by Spain in 'New Spain' were vast and included much of what we now call South America, Central America, the West Indies and Mexico - which extended from Louisiana in the east to California in the west. As far as Mexico was concerned, interest was focused on the Aztec civilisation, which the Spaniards systematically plundered and destroyed, and the silver mines around Guanajuato, about two hundred miles north-west of Mexico City, whose output made Spain the dominant power in Europe for a long period. Although part of New Spain, Texas was sparsely populated and, initially, of little consequence.

Spain had been ruled by the House of Bourbon since 1700. Due to the distance from Spain, and the poor communications of the time, New Spain was governed by viceroys acting on behalf of the Spanish monarch. The diagram below shows the 'Viceroyalties' of New Spain as they were around 1800. Texas is marked as #14 on the diagram.

Diagram showing the Viceroyalty of New Spain Circa 1800 [134]

In 1808, Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Spain. The Bourbon King Fernando VII abdicated and Napoleon installed his brother as King José I. A period of political instability followed and in 1810 a struggle, that came to be known as the Mexican War of Independence, began - and was to rumble on long after Fernando VII was reinstated in 1814.

In 1821 a short-lived 'Mexican Empire' was declared. It was independent of Spain, included Texas and had its own monarch. Within two years it was succeeded by a provisional government, and in 1824 by the First Mexican Republic.

The Republic was unstable and, in 1835, Mexican Army General Antonio López de Santa Anna suspended the constitution and transformed what had been a federated republic into an unitary state known as the Centralist Republic of Mexico, with changes known as Las Siete Leyes - the Seven Laws. Basically this turned the model of government back to something similar to that of the Colonial era. Many areas of Mexico rebelled against the changes and three declared independence - the Republic of Texas, the Republic of the Rio Grande and the Republic of Yucatán.

To focus on Texas, the rebellion was supported by a growing number of colonists from the United States - Texians, and Hispanic residents descended from the original Spanish settlers - Tejanos. In addition to being governed by Spain, the Americans objected to the Mexican law banning slavery. By December 1835, the fledgling Texian army had defeated the various small Mexican garrisons in Texas. General Santa Anna was determined to retake Texas and his army advanced in February 1836. One group followed the Texan coast, defeating all in its path and executing most of those who surrendered.

Santa Anna himself led a larger force to San Antonio de Béxar, where his troops defeated the Texian garrison at the notorious Battle of the Alamo, killing almost all of the defenders. Santa Anna then pursued another group of Texians led by Sam Houston, but underestimated them; the Mexicans were routed at the Battle of San Jacinto on 21 April 1836, and many Mexicans who surrendered were executed in revenge for the Texians lost at San Antonio, allegedly to the chant 'Remember the Alamo!'. Santa Anna was captured but allowed to take the remains of his army back across the Rio Grande. The Texian government next forced the Spanish speaking Tejanos out of the area - either into Mexico or towards the east.

Mexico refused to recognise the Republic of Texas. In 1845 it was annexed as the 28th state of the United States; this led to the Mexican-American War which started in 1846. The war was disastrous for the Mexicans who lost vast territories - not just the disputed area of Texas but also areas that had been occupied by the US Army. Mexico City fell in February 1847 and the war was brought to an end in 1848 with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The United States gained territory including California, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada. The extent of the loss of territory is clear from the map below.

Map showing land ceded by Mexico to the United States [135]

Despite the peace that followed, the trials and tribulations of Texas were not over. The population grew rapidly as migrants arrived from the east. Many grew cotton and brought enslaved African Americans with them so that, by November 1860, when Abraham Lincoln was elected President of the United States, 30% of the population of Texas was African American. It is estimated that, overall, 13% of Americans were black slaves - mostly living in the Southern States.

Lincoln's election campaign included a policy to stop the expansion of slavery in newly acquired territories. This is not the place to go into the details of what happened but, within a month of Lincoln's election, South Carolina seceded from the Union. The states of Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina and Tennessee followed over the next 6 months. They formed the Confederate States of America and the American Civil War began. Although far from the main battlefields of the Civil War, Texas provided men and equipment and a supply route for the Confederacy via Mexico that bypassed the Union naval blockade.

The Civil War ended with the surrender of the Confederate Army in 1865, after which there was a short period of anarchy, followed by a shameful period, known as 'Reconstruction', under the presidency of Andrew Johnson, which did much to undermine the freedoms promised to the African Americans. Johnson is regarded by many as one of the worst American presidents in history - but that is yet another story. Texas recovered from the war more quickly than most of the other Confederate states as it was less dependent on slavery. It became a haven for people from other states escaping debt, war tensions and other problems, though businessmen and legitimate settlers came as well. There was a thriving cattle industry, and railway networks were rapidly expanding.

Tex McLeod's maternal ancestors lived through these events, and his paternal ancestors arrived just after the end of the Civil War.

Texans or Mexicans?

The records for Tex's earlier maternal ancestors, to the extent that they are available online, are in Spanish. To complicate things further, depending on the date, an event such as a birth or death in Mexico could mean Texas, or vice versa, due to the territorial changes already described.

Tex's maternal great-grandparents were probably Juan Davila and Paula Torres, both of whom were born and died in Mexico. If I am correct, they had at least six children, one of whom was Tex's maternal grandfather Canuto Davila (1827-1916).

Descendant Chart for Juan Davila [14]

Canuto was a labourer born in Texas and, according to the 1860 census, was unable to read or write. He married Alvina Ramirez (?-1924), who was Spanish according to the documentation - but this could mean that she was of Spanish ancestry, or spoke Spanish, rather than that she was born in Spain. They married in 1853 and lived in Bexar County, Texas, whose main city is San Antonio. They had at least two children, one of whom was Tex's mother Candelaria Davila (1869-1947).

Descendants of Donald McLeod and Georgina McAsklel

The diagram below shows Donald McLeod, his wife and children, and the children's spouses where known. Other researchers of Donald and Georgina list additional children, and they may well be correct, but I have not included them as the evidence seems inconclusive to me.

Diagram showing the direct descendants of Donald McLeod and their spouses [14]

At some point after arrival at Galveston, and certainly by the time of the census of 1880, Donald McLeod and his family moved to Knobview, Missouri - a township over 600 miles from the port and about 80 miles south-west of St. Louis. Knobview sits on the historic Route 66 and was reached by the railroad in 1860. The railroad company sold land alongside the railway and that is perhaps why Donald moved there. Knobview is now known as Rosati and grows grapes. Georgina died there in 1880 and Donald in 1900.

This is a summary of what I have learned of Donald and Georgina's children:

  • Johanna married a blacksmith named Alex Hacket and moved to Lamar in Arkansas, about 200 miles from Knobview. She died there in 1910
  • I can find no information about Anariel (his name may be wrong on the documentation)
  • Alexander McLeod became a lawyer and died at Maplewood, Missouri which is a little outside St. Louis
  • George McLeod, Tex's father, became a teacher - see below

Descendants of George McLeod and Candelaria Davila

George must either have remained in Texas on arrival, or left the rest of his family and moved to Texas at a later date, where he married Candelaria Davila on 1 April 1886 somewhere in Guadalupe County, Texas. By 1900 George and Candelaria were living in Luling, Texas about 50 miles to the east of San Antonio and at that time he was working as a school teacher.

Luling had only been founded in 1874 as a railroad town and was initially a rowdy centre for the cattle drovers on the Chisholm Trail - used by cowboys driving large herds of cattle from the Rio Grande and San Antonio to Kansas for shipment to The East where much higher prices were charged. It has been estimated that around five million cattle passed along the trail during its period of use. Luling became known as 'the toughest town in Texas'. A strange place to become a school teacher you might think, but the town quietened down in the late 1880s as the cattle drives petered out. Luling changed completely in 1922 when oil was discovered and it is still an oil-producing region.

The chart below shows the descendants of George and Candelaria. As there are so many of them you can get a better view by clicking on the image.

Descendants of George McLeod and Candelaria Davila and their spouses Click image for enlarged view [14]

A number of people tracing the family history recorded Tex's name as 'Alexander Davila McLeod'. While it is true that a number of his siblings had 'Davila' as a middle name, and it was a Spanish custom to use the surname of both parents in constructing a name for a child, this does not appear on any official document for Tex that I have seen, including passenger lists, marriage certificates, passport applications and even the WW1 draft papers. Wherever Tex has filled out his middle name he has used 'Dennis' so I have done the same. He could have adopted this middle name of course but, if so, he did it very early on.

The next page continues with the story of Tex's early life.