Category: Fanny McGregor

Fanny in Philly

Fanny MacGregor Mitcheson

There is a big gap in my three-times great-grandmother’s story. Mary Frances (Fanny) MacGregor was born in Scotland around 1790, and she lived her adult life as a wife and mother in Philadelphia, so when did she come to America, and why?

Fanny was born in Port of Menteith parish, Perthshire and, according to family lore, she finished her education in Edinburgh. She was then said to have come to the United States with her brother John. I have not, however, been able to confirm that she had a brother named John, and I have not yet found Fanny’s name under any spelling on a passenger list arriving in the United States.

One possibility is that she was with “Mrs. McGreger and family,” arriving at the Port of Philadelphia in 1815. Or perhaps she had married in Scotland, came to America with a first husband and then found herself a widow. If she came with her brother, family members probably felt they would have a better future in America than in Scotland and arranged for their passage.

I have not yet found her marriage record, but she was married by 1818 when her eldest child was baptized. Her husband was Robert Mitcheson, born in 1779 near Durham, England. He had started his career in England as an iron manufacturer and came to the United States by way of Antigua. In his 1820 application for naturalization, he described himself as a distiller, but by the mid-1830s he was a “gentleman.”

Philadelphia city directories indicate the Mitcheson family lived on Coates Street (later called Fairmount Avenue) in Spring Garden, a primarily rural township north of the city. They owned a large lot, about the size of half a city block, and called their home Monteith House in memory of Fanny’s birthplace. But Philadelphia was quickly becoming an industrial powerhouse, and Spring Garden’s population grew from 3,500 to 28,000 between 1820 and 1840. A huge penitentiary and the Fairmount water reservoir were constructed near the Mitcheson home, and railroads and paved turnpikes appeared.

Fanny was in her late 20s when she married, and Robert was 10 years her senior, but that did not stop them from having a large family. According to the records of St. John’s Episcopal Church in neighbouring Northern Liberties township, their oldest child, Robert MacGregor Mitcheson, was baptized in 1818. Catharine, my future great-great grandmother, was baptized in 1822. Sarah Frances, born in 1826, was very ill when she was baptized and died shortly thereafter, aged four months. Duncan MacGregor arrived in 1827, Joseph MacGregor (who later reversed his given names and went by McGregor J. Mitcheson) was baptized in 1830, and Mary Frances in 1833. One last child, Virginia, born in 1836, did not survive.

I have the impression from reading their wills and other documents that the Mitcheson children had strong personalities and that sibling rivalry extended into adulthood, but that is another story. In her portrait, Fanny has a bit of a twinkle in her eye, so perhaps the children inherited their spirit from her.  

This painting by Catharine Mitcheson, Fanny’s daughter, portrays the family home, Monteith House, Philadelphia.

Robert Mitcheson died in 1859. Fanny died three years later of “valvular disease of the heart,” according her death certificate. They are buried together in the family plot at St. James the Less Episcopal Church.

Photo credits: both are in private collections. The caption was updated April 11, 2020, confirming that the painting shows Monteith House.

Edited June 3, 2014 to correct Catharine’s year of birth.

Research Remarks:

For my blog entry about researching the Mitcheson family on historic maps, see

The port of Philadelphia was an extremely busy place, although New York outstripped it in the early 1800s. Located on two navigable rivers, the Delaware and the Schuylkill,  Philadelphia’s merchants traded with Europe, China, the West Indies and other east coast ports. Philadelphia passenger arrivals are listed on

Robert Mitcheson’s family appeared in the U.S. Federal Census in 1830 in the Spring Garden district, but the census does not reveal much information about them. City directories are more helpful, listing the head of the household, address and occupation. Directories generally appeared every couple of years, and they can be searched by street address or by family name. They also included advertisements for local businesses and often listed government officials and people involved in community organizations. Some digitized Philadelphia directories are available on the, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP) has a collection of specialized directories:

I could not find the baptisms of the Mitcheson children online. Finally, I found them when I visited the HSP library. The children were all baptized at St. John’s Protestant Episcopal Church, Northern Liberties, Philadelphia. The HSP has the church’s records for Births 1815-1917, Marriages 1815-1916, Deaths 1851-1916. The church, designed by architect William Strickland, was constructed in 1815. Today it houses Holy Trinity Romanian Orthodox Church, and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

I have been deliberately vague about Fanny’s age. There is a baptismal record in Scotland indicating that Mary Frances MacGregor was born in 1789, but according to her headstone, she was born in 1792. Either she lied about her age, or a first child died and my Mary Frances was another child given the same name. She died Sept. 29, 1862.

The MacGregors: Family Legend or True Story?

A history of the MacGregors, printed 1871

As a genealogy beginner, I thought I knew all about Fanny MacGregor’s family history. Family lore had it that Fanny, my three-times great-grandmother, (c.1789-1862) was descended from the chiefs of the MacGregor clan. I had inherited a copy of a booklet, printed in 1871, that supposedly described those ancestors, tracing back to the early kings of Scotland.

I read the booklet carefully until I got to the last page. Then it claimed that Peter MacGregor “had several children, among whom was Duncan MacGregor…. Duncan had a daughter Fanny ….”  After pages of detailed pedigrees based on oral records, this was suddenly too vague to be credible.

I have confirmed that Fanny’s father’s name was Duncan MacGregor, but that was a very common name at the time and I have been unable to identify his baptismal record. Then I contacted the Clan Gregor Society in Scotland and learned that Peter MacGregor, Fanny’s grandfather according to the booklet, had only one child, and that child had no descendants.

I realized that the booklet was a history of the MacGregor chiefs, with one paragraph about Fanny at the end and no solid evidence to tie her to them.

Furthermore, the family stories I had heard from my mother never mentioned anyone named Peter. Her stories said that Fanny was born near Stirling, Scotland (that was true) and was descended from Evan Murray MacGregor, a Jacobite officer during the rising of 1745 led by Bonnie Prince Charlie. Fanny’s ancestor was said to have had a price upon his head after he escaped from Edinburgh Castle. At some point, the story added, a baby was lowered in a basket from the castle. I loved these romantic images, but what was true?

I started to read more about the history of Clan Gregor. Members of a Scottish clan were not all related; the clans were more like extended families, and included people who owed allegiance to the chief. There were four principal families in Clan Gregor in the 17th century, one being the Glencarnaig line, at that time mainly tenant farmers in the Balquhidder area of Perthshire. Members of the Glencarnaig family have been Gregor Clan chiefs since 1774.

There were bitter feuds between Clan Gregor and other clans, and the MacGregors lost their ancestral lands to more powerful neighbours around 1600. As a result, they fell out of favour with the king. The government passed a law abolishing the name MacGregor; anyone who used that name could be put to death. Off and on between 1603 and 1774, some members of the Glencarnaig family used the alias Murray.

Meanwhile, many people in Scotland, especially in the Highlands, were unhappy with the king in faraway London. When Charles Edward Stuart, or Bonnie Prince Charlie, came to Scotland in 1745 to raise an army and try to seize the throne he claimed was his birthright, he found many supporters. They were called Jacobites. The Jacobites had some military success at first, but were completely crushed the following year at the Battle of Culloden.

Several hundred members of Clan Gregor fought for the cause. Robert Murray MacGregor of Glencarnaig was a Lieutenant-Colonel during the rising. He went into hiding after Culloden, but surrendered in 1747 and spent three years in Edinburgh Castle. His brother Evan was an aide de camp to the young prince.

After Culloden, government soldiers punished the Highlanders, burning their homes and taking their livestock. In an attempt to wipe out the traditional Highland clan system, the government banned people from wearing tartans and from carrying weapons from 1747 until 1782.  

Rob Roy MacGregor’s grave in Balquhidder, not far from Port of Menteith where Fanny MacGregor was born. It is clear that the MacGregors are not about to forget the clan’s history. 

Fanny MacGregor was born just a few years after that ban was lifted. Whether or not she was related to the clan chiefs, to Peter, or to Evan, she must have heard about these events and they must have had a profound impact on her. She left for America and married an Englishman, but she never forgot the stories she heard about the banning of the MacGregor name, about the imprisoned Jacobite officer, and about the suffering of the Highlanders in the aftermath of the Jacobite rising.

All three of Fanny MacGregor Mitcheson’s sons, Robert, Duncan and Joseph, had MacGregor as a middle name. Eleven years after her death, Robert MacGregor Mitcheson gave the booklet about the MacGregor chiefs to his brother-in-law in Montreal, Stanley Clark Bagg.

At first I took that booklet to be factual family history, then I questioned its credibility when I realized there were holes in the genealogy. Now I recognize its value as part of the family’s heritage.  

Photocredits: Janice Hamilton

Research remarks: The MacGregors called themselves Children of the Mist because they felt persecuted. Their history is also hidden in the mists of time, and I may never discover the truth about Fanny’s pedigree. Every family has stories, however, and it is important that genealogists and family historians try to untangle the myths from the realities.

Here are some sources I used: The website of The Clan Gregor Society includes a history of the clan, a list of associated family names, news about clan gatherings and information about a DNA study. “The Clan Gregor in the last Jacobite rising of 1745-46,” by Peter Lawrie, 1996.

Seton, Bruce Gordon, Sir. The prisoners of the ’45 / edited from the state papers by Sir Bruce Gordon Seton (Bart.), and Jean Gordon Arnot. Edinburgh: Printed by T. and A. Constable ltd. for the Scottish history society, 1928-29. (I found this book in the McGill University library.) One of the most famous MacGregors was Rob Roy MacGregor, 1671-1734 . He became a legend, but he was a real person. As far as I know, he was not related to my ancestors.