Arbroath Raitts

John Raitt and Jean Meikison


So far as I have been able to ascertain, my earliest ancestors appear to be John Raitt and Jean Meikison who married in 1763. As noted elsewhere (blog entry), I am not certain just which John Raitt this is. An initial assumption was that it was the John Raitt (born 1727) who was the son of Thomas Raitt and Helen Hunter; however, it may be one of the two son’s (born 1724 and 1739) of David Raitt and Jean Leslie because the age gap between their younger son and Jean Meikison is far less that the age difference between Thomas and Helen’s son John and Jean. This scenario fits in better with the names on the gravestones in St Vigeans churchyard and in my family the name David has been carried forward several times, whereas Thomas has never been - which would be unusual given the conventional naming patterns of the day. However, it appears that the father of Thomas was called David and that Thomas himself was a sailor. Or it may be some other John (such as the one born in Kinnell in 1727 at Muirside, Kinnell, Angus to William Raitt (born about 1694) and Margaret Greig - though again the age gap is large).


Equally, there does not seem to be much about Jean Meikison. If she married in 1763 in Arbroath, then my assumption is that she was born in Arbroath around 1743 give or take a couple of years. A Jean Meikison died 18 Oct 1798 at Cochineath (Kingoldrum, Angus) aged 50 & 60 of fever. This could well be the right Jean - being born between 1738 and 1748 - if it is then maybe she came from Kingoldrum (though there appears to be no birth record) - or maybe the family moved there at some point.


There are a few other possible leads to follow up at some stage.


There is a gravestone in Arbroath Abbey erected by James Raitt in memory of his father Alexander Raitt, shipmaster, who died in Denmark on 15 October 1846. Also mentioned on the stone is John Mikeson, maltman burges, died 14 Feb 1694, aged 63, wife Agnes Shakirt, died 4 March 1703, aged 59 - followed by crossed shovel and broom, and initials A.S. John and Agnes married in 1671 and had a son, John, in March 1672. He may have died as they seem to have had another John in October 1673. Alexander seems to have been buried in front of an Alexander Meikison’s stone. A John Raitt, carter, born in Arbroath in 1760 and who died, unmarried in Arbroath on 18 October 1846 is also buried in front to Alexander Meikison’s stone. We don’t know who this John Raitt is - but clearly he is some relation, especially as apparently a Susan Raitt signed the death certificate. This is to be followed up!


The baptism of John Raitt and Jean Meikison’s son Alexander in Dec 1768 in Arbroath was witnessed by John Meikison. The baptism of their daughter, Jean, in January 1770 in Arbroath was witnessed by John Meikison and William Raitt. John Meikison could be the father of Jean, or he could be her brother - there was a John Migieson was born in July 1733 in Arbroath to John Migieson and Jean Mathieson.


But who was William Raitt? If John Raitt is either the son of Thomas Raitt and Helen Hunter or David Raitt and Jean Leslie, then it clearly cannot be his father and neither of these two couples seems to have had a son called William who would thus be John’s brother. One possible William is the William Raitt born about 1745 in Arbroath who married Mary Chalmers in September 1764. They had at least three children, but who his parents were I don’t know yet.  


However, new material has prompted me to look at my Raitt-Meikison origins anew and I make some further assumptions on a separate page (rather than a blog entry) since they are somewhat lengthy.

Alexander Raitt and Susan Millar


Alexander Raitt (1768-) was the youngest son of John Raitt and Jean Meikison. He was a linen weaver and married Susan Millar (1775-) in May 1796 in St Vigeans.


Not a lot is known about either Alexander or Susan. Her parents were John Miller from Kingennie and Margaret Kid from Barry. They had five children, with presumably the eldest son Alexander dying soon after birth which is why they named the second one Alexander. This is the Alexander mentioned on the gravestone (see above). He married Mary Stormont (also mentioned on the gravestone).


Nothing is known about Alexander and Susan’s daughter Isabel (born 1801), but their other daughter Susan (1803-1871) married Alexander Croal (1801-1875) who drowned at sea (see under Raitt Anecdotes and Raitt Wrecks, as well as Arbroath Mariners.


My great, great grandfather John Raitt was born in Arbroath in 1805, youngest child of Alexander and Susan and grandson of John Raitt and Jean Meikison. John married Elizabeth Dorward in 1833 and they had three boys (John, David Dorward and James Dorward) and two girls (Margaret Philips and Elizabeth Dorward). Details about them, their families and descendants will be found on separate pages.

James Raitt


James Raitt was born in 1841 in St Vigeans, Angus and was, like so many other Raitts from St Vigeans and Arbroath, a seaman in the merchant service. In 1864 in Arbroath he married Helen MacDonald, born in Arbroath in 1843. At some point James appears to have given up the sea, became a joiner and emigrated to New Zealand in August 1874 with his wife and family. The story of their life there is told on the Lyttelton Raitts page, but here James' roots in Arbroath are recounted.


James was the son of James Raitt and Elspet Craig and this James was the son of William Raitt and Margaret Sheriff. On their marriage extract it states that William was in the parish of Brechin. What is unclear is whether William was born in Brechin or whether he was simply working there at the time of his marriage. His wife Margaret was apparently born in 1792 in Friockenheim, although the marriage extract states she was in the parish of St Vigeans – which is where they married. So presumably William was living there at the time rather than Brechin.


However, on the assumption that Brechin was then his home parish, there is only one possible William Raitt born there in a reasonable time frame and that is the one born on 13 February 1789 to James Rait and Isabel Souter (also Soutter) who married in Brechin, Angus on 15 November 1782. They had at least five children between 1785-1795: James, Margaret, William, Isabel and Cornelia.


William Raitt and Margaret Sheriff married on 3 November 1813 in St Vigeans and had at least two children: James in 1814 and Ann in 1819. William was a master blacksmith and it looks as though he may have died before 1841 since he is not found in the census for that year.


In the 1841 census for 18 Barn Green, Angus there is Margaret Rait, 50, grocer and child John Grant, 3. John is the eldest child of Margaret’s daughter, Ann, who married Thomas Grant in 1836.


In the 1851 census for 18 Barngreen, St Vigeans there is Margaret Raitt, head, 59, widow, grocery merchant, born Frieckham, Forfarshire; and granddaughter Margaret Grant, 6, scholar, born St Vigeans. Margaret is the second child and eldest daughter of Ann Raitt and Thomas Grant.


Widow Margaret does not seem to be in the 1861 census, thus presumably she had died prior to that date.

James Raitt was born on 30 September 1814 in Inverkeilor, Angus  to William Raitt and Margaret Sheriff (given as Sherrifs on his birth extract). He married (name given as Rait) Elspet Craig on 1 December 1837 in St Vigeans. Elspet was christened on 17 June 1811, a daughter of Joseph Craig and Margaret Todd who married in 1800 and had ten children between 1801-1818. Elspet’s eldest sister, Catharine, married a mariner, William Christie, and it is noted on their gravestone in Arbroath Abbey that nine of their children died young. Two of Elspet’s sister Isabella’s children also died in infancy.


James and Elspet had three children between 1839-1844. James died on 19 October 1879 at 16 Doigs Vennel, St Vigeans of disease of the heart. The informant was his married sister, Ann Grant, resident at 28 Barngreen. Elspet died just a few months after her husband on 13 January 1880 aged 68, also of heart disease. The extract says she was the widow of James Raitt, toll keeper. The informant was her brother John Craig, resident at 30 Cairnie Street.


The 1841 census for 20 Barn Green, Angus has James Rait, 25, canvas weaver; wife Elspet, 25; son William, 2 - all born Forfarshire.


The 1851 census for 20 Barngreen, St Vigeans has James Raitt, 36, oil cloth maker, born St Vigeans; wife Elspith, 39, born St Vigeans; sons William, 11, machine flax dresser; James, 9, scholar; Joseph, 6, scholar - all born St Vigeans; plus lodger James Johnston, 1, born St Vigeans


In the 1861 census for St Vigeans, living at 26 Barngreen, St Vigeans is James Raitt, 46, handloom flax weaver, born Inverkeilor; wife Elspet, 49, born Arbroath; son James, 19, seaman, born Arbroath; son Joseph, 16, saddler's apprentice, born Arbroath.


In the 1871 census for 28 Barn Green, Arbroath is James Raitt, head, 56, linen weaver, born Inverkeillor; wife Elspet, 59, born St Vigeans; and Jane Smith, 5, boarder, scholar, born St Vigeans.


In his later life, James must have given up working as a weaver and instead became a toll keeper for it is this occupation that is given on both his own and his widow’s death extracts. A piece in the Dundee Courier for Friday 11 February 1876 may very well refer to James and his wife. In the Arbroath section under the heading “Shebeening at a Toll-Bar”, the paper reports:


“At a Justice of Peace Court held at Forfar on Monday, James Raitt, toll-bar keeper, Cairnconan toll, near Arbroath, was fined £7, with 12s. expenses, failing payment, six weeks’ imprisonment, for shebeening. - On Saturday, 5th Jan,. Mrs Raitt, who was also charged with the same offence, was dismissed.”

James Raitt and Elspet Craig had three sons: William, born 12 May 1839 in Arbroath; James, christened 23 June 1841 in St Vigeans; and Joseph Craig, christened on 25 November 1844, also in St Vigeans.


The eldest son, William, started out, like his father, in the linen industry as a machine flax dresser as a young lad. But he gave this up as soon as he could to become a seaman – first as just a boy aged 12 or so, but eventually rising to master mariner. He made an application (which cost him £1) to the local marine board at the port of Dundee to be examined for obtaining a certificate of competency as an Only Mate for foreign-going ships on 10 January 1862. He gave as his date of birth 12 May 1839 in Arbroath and his place of address as Townhead, Arbroath. He passed the required examination on 11 January 1862 at Dundee and this information was duly and transmitted by the Examiners to the Registrar-General of Seamen on 13 January 1862 to the Shipping House or Customs House of Arbroath. His certificate, number 24.961 was issued at the port of Arbroath on 17 January 1862. Things didn’t take long in those days! On 1 September 1865 in Dundee William applied to be examined for a certificate of competency as a Master Ordinary. This time he paid £2. He gave his address as 28 Barngreen, Arbroath. He passed the exam on 2 September and his Certificate for Competency as Master was given, under the seal of the Board of Trade, on 5 September 1865. (See other pages for information on what it meant to be a Master Mariner and undertake the required examinations for the Certificate of Competency.)


Just a year or so after he appeared in the 1851 census as a machine flax dresser aged 11, William is recorded as serving seven months (from Nov 1852-June 1853) aboard the Agnes from Arbroath. From then until August 1861 he served aboard another nine vessels belonging to ports in Dundee, Montrose, Arbroath, London and Fraserburgh for a total of 5 years 5 months at sea for which he could produce certificates for 4 years and 8 months in his capacity as boy, apprentice and able seaman. Another list of the ships on which he served up to April 1865 which he submitted to obtain his master’s certificate shows that for many of them William was mate. The total time at sea was 8 years and 8 months and several of his ships were registered in Glasgow as well as Calcutta. For a full record of his service see the separate page on Raitt Mariners from Arbroath.


In the 1841 census for 20 Barn Green, Angus we find William, aged 2, together with his father James Rait, 25, canvas weaver and mother Elspet, 25.


In the 1851 census for 20 Barngreen, St Vigeans is William, 11, machine flax dresser together with his parents James Raitt, 36, oil cloth maker, born St Vigeans; and Elspith, 39, born St Vigeans; and his siblings; James, 9, scholar; Joseph, 6, scholar - all born St Vigeans.


In later censuses presumably William was at sea. When he died is not yet known.

The youngest son of James and Elspet, Joseph Craig Raitt, named presumably after his maternal grandfather, died at home (28 Barngreen, St Vigeans) on 19 August 1866 aged 21 after a month long fever. At the time of his death he was a saddler in Inverkeilor. His father was the informant and occupant of the address and was employed at the time in machine making work. Joseph left a will which was opened and signed off in the presence of his father on 20 November 1866. The value of stock in trade (presumably materials and equipment for saddles) and other effects was £24 1s 11d. Book debt due to the deceased (presumably money owed by clients) was £18 11s, while there was a deduction of £8 12s 2d for bad and irrecoverable debts. This left a total of £34 9d which seems to have gone to his father.


In the 1851 census for 20 Barngreen, St Vigeans Joseph is a scholar aged 6 living with his parents James Raitt, 36, oil cloth maker; and  Elspith, 39; and his brothers William, 11, machine flax dresser; and James, 9, scholar - all born St Vigeans.


In the 1861 census for St Vigeans, living at 26 Barngreen, St Vigeans is Joseph, 16, saddler's apprentice; his brother James, 19, seaman; and their parents James Raitt, 46, handloom flax weaver, born Inverkeilor; and Elspet, 49 - mother and sons born Arbroath.


The middle son of James Raitt and Elspet Craig was James, who was christened on 23 June 1841 in St Vigeans. At the time of his marriage to Helen MacDonald on 12 August 1864 in Arbroath,  James was a seaman in the Merchant Service, aged 23, and residing at 59 West Abbey St, Arbroath. Witnesses to the marriage were Robert Doig and Margaret Grant. Margaret might have been James’s cousin Margaret Sheriff Grant, the daughter of his father’s sister Ann.


Helen was born in 1843 in Arbroath to James MacDonald, a cooper by trade, and Elisabeth Scott. At the time of her marriage, aged 21, she was a flax spinning mill worker and was illiterate it seems since she signed her name on the marriage extract (and birth of children) with an X, which was duly witnessed by husband James. She was residing at 5 Church Street, Arbroath and her father was deceased. I have so far been unsuccessful in finding her birth record, her parents marriage and deaths, as well as any of the precise family, Helen included, in the censuses. The family may have come from Ireland (where all records were lost in a fire) – in the 1861 census for Dundee is a James MacDonald, wife Elizabeth, and several children, including an Ellen born around the right year, and mostly working as weavers and all born in Ireland.


In the 1851 census for 20 Barngreen, St Vigeans, James is 9 years old, born St Vigeans, and a scholar in the household of his father James Raitt, 36, oil cloth maker, born St Vigeans and mother wife Elspith, 39, born St Vigeans. Also there are his brothers William, 11, machine flax dresser and Joseph, 6, scholar – both born St Vigeans.


In the 1861 census for St Vigeans, living at 26 Barngreen, St Vigeans is James, 19, now a seaman, born Arbroath; together with his brother Joseph, 16, saddler's apprentice, born Arbroath; and their parents James Raitt, 46, handloom flax weaver, born Inverkeilor and Elspet, 49, born Arbroath.

James married Helen MacDonald in 1864 and they had five children born in Scotland: William in 1985; Elizabeth Scott in 1867; Jemima in 1868; Isabella Campbell in 1870; and Mary Haugh in 1873.


In the 1871 census James Raitt, married aged 29, born Arbroath is a carpenter aboard the ship Good Intent belonging to the port of Montrose, but on the night of the census located at Ipswich within the boundaries of St Clement sub-district. The vessel had a crew of seven plus the master's wife and child. And in the 1871 census for Barngreen, St Vigeans, Arbroath (Parish The Abbey) is Helen Raitt, head, married, 26, born Arbroath; and children William, 5, scholar, born Arbroath; Elizabeth, 4, born Arbroath; Jemima, 2, born St Vigeans; and Isabella, 8 m, born St Vigeans.


From these 1871 censuses it might appear that James gave up the sea to become a joiner between 1871 and 1874 when he emigrated to New Zealand because that was his occupation he gave on the immigration form. Certainly when his first daughter Elizabeth was born in January 1867 his occupation was given as merchant seaman; but when Jemima was born in October 1868, his occupation was given as joiner journeyman. However his occupation becomes much clearer with the births of his daughters Isabella in 1870 and Mary in 1873 – he was actually a seaman-carpenter in the merchant service. And since his father James Raitt, residing also at Barngreen, was the informant at most of the children’s births, then we can assume that James was away at sea.

Barn Green and Church St today - Google Street View