A brief account of the Senior MacHamish Gunns / more commonly (and wrongly) called the ‘Clan Gunn Chief’ line.
Generations 3-5 are problematic. A new generation is needed about every thirty years given lack of birth control but high infant mortality.
PART ONE – TO WILLIAM MOHR
1. Coroner GUNN
Coroner GUNN died in about 1452. His eldest son was James, obviously this is an anglicised version of his name and such anglicisation occurs for many others throughout this booklet.
2. James GUNN
James GUNN was born around 1420. He moved out of the Castle his father occupied which proves it was not a Gunn owned castle. Why would an eldest son leave a Castle he would inherit?
James settled at Killernan – a farming estate - where he was a tenant of the extremely wealthy Sutherland family which owned massive amounts of land in what is now Sutherland and Caithness for many hundreds of years. It is not clear whether he moved out before or after his father’s death. It is probable that other members of his family settled at Killernan with him; a large farm requires much labour and can feed many people. The 1450s was not the time of the nuclear family.
James may have died in 1487; he was an unremarkable character and no stories definitely exist about him. His lack of remarkability further shows that the word ‘MacHamish’ is nothing more than an indicator of a particular family.
3. William MacHamish Cattigh GUNN
James’s son was William MacHamish Cattigh GUNN who was obviously the first MacHamish and was born around 1450. He, also, is basically an invisible person.
Cattigh / Cattaig means a resident of Sutherland.
4. William MacHamish GUNN
It probable that 3. William MacHamish Cattaig GUNN had 4. William MacHamish GUNN who was born in about 1480.
This is because there is record of a William MacHamish fighting at Torran Dubh in 1517. He was a subordinate leader and there is no mention of other Gunns. It was quite sensible to be involved in this battle – one side was the force of the Sutherlands from whom the Killernan Estate was held. If you did not fight for your landlord one can imagine the nil chance you had of holding on to your property!
This fighting William MacHamish could not be 3. William MacHamish Cattaig GUNN as that William was born around 1450 so would be too old to be fighting in 1517 even if he was still alive.
There is also a further record of a William MacHamish being alive in 1525 which is again too late to just have 3. William MacHamish GUNN.
For convenience I view 4. William MacHamish GUNN as the eldest son. He might not be – it could easily be a fighting orientated younger brother whilst an invisible, unknown Senior MacHamish stayed at home on the farm.
5. Unknown MacHamish Gunn
4. William MacHamish GUNN had a son 5. Unknown MacHamish who was born around 1510.
A 5. Unknown MacHamish GUNN is needed as there is record of a ‘MacHamish Gunn of Killernan’ fighting in 1542 at the battle of Aldi-Be-Beth, a ‘MacHamish Gunn’ fighting in another battle in 1549 and a ‘MacHamish Gunn of Killernan’ fighting in 1556. None of these records provide a first name. The MacHamish Gunn doing this 1542-1556 fighting cannot be 4. William MacHamish GUNN as he was born around 1480 and so would have probably been dead or, at the very least, totally incapable of engaging in fighting, which is why 5. Unknown MacHamish is needed.
The ‘of’ in the records probably indicate it was the Senior MacHamish of Killernan doing the fighting, but how accurate the ‘of’ is can be questioned without further support.
There is no record of other Gunns being involved in any of this fighting; Gunns of Killernan were not Chiefs who led Gunns.
6. David MacHamish GUNN
The Unknown MacHamish GUNN had David MacHamish GUNN who was born in the 1530s.
This David does not appear in the traditional line of ‘Clan Gunn Chiefs’ but his eldest son is clearly identified as Alexander MacDavid GUNN in Clan Mackay histories. With a MacDavid GUNN we, obviously, need a David GUNN as his father.
And the years work for David MacHamish GUNN. We have a ‘MacHamish of Strathully’ in 1570 being a good friend of the young Earl of Sutherland. David MacHamish GUNN would have been around the right sort of age for the friendship – his father would have been too old, if not dead.
David MacHamish GUNN also had a second son ( as well as the previously mentioned Alexander) called William Beag GUNN. William Beag’s descendants become the Senior MacHamish Line after Alexander MacDavid GUNN’s line ends with the death of his son William Mhor who did not have known issue.
7. Alexander MacDavid GUNN
Alexander MacDavid GUNN married Barbara Mackay, a daughter from the second marriage of Iye Du Mackay of Farr, 12th of Strathnaver, Chief of Clan Mackay.
Barbara is important as she adds a date to Gunn history – dates are too often in short supply. Barbara’s brother was Huistean (Hugh) Du Mackay 13th of Strathnaver who was the eldest son of his father’s second marriage and all sorts of histories give his birth date as 1561. Barbara is listed as the fifth child of that second marriage; a birth year of about 1570 is therefore reasonable for her. This 1570 suggests a birth year of about 1560-1570 for Alexander MacDavid GUNN.
Barbara’s birth date of 1570 provides a challenge to a ‘Clan Gunn Chief’ myth which has her married to a generation 4 MacHamish GUNN – an invented Alexander (not this generation 7 Alexander MacDavid). This invented Alexander would have to be born around 1480, about ninety years earlier than Barbara! Obviously that marriage did not happen.
Following on from that ‘Clan Gunn Chief’ myth is another which says Barbara Mackay (with the invented Alexander) had two sons with identical names alive at the same time – William Mhor and William Beag. That’s wrong.
The actual son of Alexander MacDavid Gunn and Barbara Mackay was William Mhor who had to be born around 1590, or perhaps a bit later. William Beag was the younger brother of Alexander MacDavid Gunn and therefore Uncle to William Mhor.
The proof for this generational difference is simple – firstly it is ridiculous to think there would be two siblings with identical names alive at the one time. Nobody has that in a family.
More importantly it’s also historically impossible. Barbara was definitely born around 1570 so her son William Mohr cannot be more than about eleven years old in about 1600. But there is a ‘William MacHamish Gunn of Killernan’ in the records doing serious fighting on the Isle of Lewis at that time!
The ‘William MacHamish Gunn of Killernan’ doing that fighting cannot be William Mhor – it has to be another ‘William MacHamish Gunn of Killernan’ from an earlier generation. Having two MacHamishes of Killernan alive at the same time again proves that MacHamish was not a title for a single person to match ‘Chief of the Clan Gunn’ as ‘Clan’ Gunn myths have it, but an identifier of a family group, nothing more. The person doing the fighting was actually William Beag. I discuss this further in William Beag’s life in the next entry.
There is record of an ‘Alexander Gunn alias Jameson’ in a November 1623 document and an Alexander Davidson (MacDavid) being in Sutherland in 1624; both suggest Alexander MacDavid was alive in 1624.
I suspect Alexander MacDavid Gunn’s son William Mhor inherited the Killernan estate in 1624 but a legal document - no longer able to be found - says William Mhor inherited Killernan in 1614. I think 1614 was a misreading of a scrawled summary on the outside of the legal document and that the year was 1624. This is the presumed year of death for Alexander MacDavid Gunn
8. William ‘Mhor / Mor’ Gunn
Alexander MacDavid Gunn had a son William ‘Mhor / Mor’ Gunn in the 1590s; interestingly 1590 is the date attached to him in the 1896 Gunn family tree.
There is a problem with William Mhor in that many events presumed to be part of his life were actually part of his Uncle William Beag’s life - note the previous discussion about the Isle of Lewis as one example and see William Beag’s life in the next entry for others.
A ‘William MacHamish of Killernan’ was seriously involved - with many others - in a 1623 battle against the Earl of Caithness. There were other Gunns involved in the battle but they were not led by this William MacHamish: as often said MacHamish Gunns were never Chiefs leading clansmen. It is not clear that it was William Mhor doing the fighting but 1623 it was getting a bit late for William Beag to be involved. It is impossible to be definite as to which William was doing the fighting.
Once one removes the stories which better fit William Beag then William Mhor fades into insignificance - we know his parents, he may have been involved in a battle in 1623 and he probably inherited Killernan in 1624. There is no record of a marriage nor children.
He was the end of a line.