Meet the Duff Family of Perthshire, Scotland

My great-great-grandmother Annie E. Prescott Duff (1847 – 1930) married my great-great-grandfather John Forrest and became the matriarch of a rather powerful and rich family from Halifax Nova Scotia.

Annie E. Prescott Duff

I knew that Annie’s mother was Jane Elizabeth Fairbanks, whose family I have written about before.  I have traced them back to the 1630’s in Massachusetts and they have a website dedicated to them.  Annie’s father and his family, however, were something of an enigma.  Until now.

My 3x great-grandfather William Duff was born 15 Sept 1808 on Berryhill Farm (also known as “Berryhill Tullybeagles”) in the parish of Methven, county of Perthshire, Scotland.  He was baptized on 10 Oct 1808, per parish records.


Berryhill is located at 56.507472N Latitude and 3.605261W Longitude in Scotland near the towns of Perth and Bankfoot.

Berryhill is visible on the left side of this map. It’s about three miles west of Bankfoot, Scotland.

The farm had been in the family since at least the 1680’s according to family lore.  It was leased by the Duff family for generations from the “Honorable Baroness Keith”, Margaret Mercer Elphinstone, heiress of Meikleour and Aldie, daughter of Baron Keith (Sir George Keith Elphinstone).  She became “Baroness Keith” upon her father’s death in 1823 [per “Historic scenes in Perthshire” by William Marshall, pages 191-192].

The “Honorable Baroness Keith”, Margaret Mercer Elphinstone.

The earliest records discovered so far indicate that John Duff and his son Charles Duff paid rent on the farm in the 1730’s.  From Charles, the farm passed to his son James Duff Sr., and then to William Duff Sr, who was the father of Reverend Duff.

So, Reverend Duff’s parents were William Duff Sr. (b 25 May 1766) and his wife Charlotte Nicoll (born 20 Sept 1766 on “Tulliebelton” the next farm down the road from Berryhill).  Charlotte’s parents were Robert Nicoll and Jean Chalmers.  William Duff Sr. was a sheep farmer, and had been born at Berryhill while his father, James Duff, had rented it.  [The birth record of William Sr. from 1766 lists Berryhill as the residence of James Duff.]


Portrait of William Duff Sr., courtesy of Sean and Ann Collins.

At the time of his father’s death, young William had four sisters: Jean Duff, Marion “May” Duff, Margaret Duff, Charlotte Duff… and two brothers, Charles and Robert.  All the siblings were born between 1800 and 1810 at Berryhill.  There was also an older brother, James, who was born in April of 1800, but he died in May of 1818 and so was not mentioned in William Sr’s will.

In 1836 the Berryhill farm comprised 1,456 acres, and had 13 milk cows, 28 young cattle, 11 young calves, 1 bull, 8 work horses, 5 young horses (two lame), and 940 sheep, along with various harvested crops and farming implements.  With 940 sheep, it was a rather large operation, and apparently fairly lucrative.  There were various farmhands and their families who lived at Berryhill as well.  In the 1851 census the staff of Berryhill included a dairymaid, a house maid, and a nursery maid in addition to the family itself.  William Jr’s brother Charles was following in his father’s footsteps and being groomed to take over the family farm.

William’s sister Jean Duff married Thomas Kilgour, a farmer living on Westwood farm in the same parish of Auchtergaven, Perthshire.  May Duff married a man named William Richie, an “officer of excise” [basically a tax collector] who, unfortunately, died in 1831.  At the time of her father’s death she was a widow.  May and William had seven children, four of which died in childhood.

William Jr. was educated at Perth High School and then, from 1824-1828, he attended the United College of the prestigious University of St. Andrew’s [Founded in the year 1413] in Saint Andrews, Orkney, Scotland.  He did his post-graduate work from 1828-1832 at St. Mary’s College (a division of St. Andrew’s) and graduated with a degree in Arts and Divinity.

On February 11, 1836, William Duff Sr. decided to call some officials to Berryhill, and he laid out his will.  It’s a meticulously-written legal construction… explicitly a “trust”.  His estate would provide for his family, and it designated a team of trusted friends to administer his affairs after his demise.  I’m going to skip the legalese (the majority of the 20-ish pages) and get to some of the good parts of his will:

That I, William Duff, tenant at Berryhill, considering the propriety of setting my affairs in such a manner as to prevent disputes after my death… do therefore [decree] that my said trustees shall, from the produce of my means and estate, pay all my just and lawful debts, sickbed, and funeral expenses, that my trustees shall immediately after my death convey over to my son Charles Duff the current lease of the Farm of Berryhill, occupied by me under the Honorable Baroness Keith… subject always to the burden of the payment of thirty pounds sterling yearly to Charlotte Nicoll or Duff, my spouse, and to my daughters who may be unmarried at the time of my death… and likewise subject to the burden of a residence upon said farm in favor of my said wife and daughters… free of rent or any other consideration during the remaining years of the lease of said farm after my death.  
At the expiry of said lease my trustees shall lay out and invest the sum of four hundred pounds sterling [the interest from this investment to be given to my wife] during all the days of her natural life, and at her death the principal to be divided amongst my whole children.  My trustees shall [also] have power to pay from the capital whatever sums my wife may stand in need of.
I direct my trustees at the first term of Whitsunday or Martinmas that shall happen after my death to pay to each of my daughters May Richie, widow of William Richie, officer of excise, and to Mrs. Jean Duff or Kilgour, spouse of Thomas Kilgour tenant in Westwood, the sum of one hundred pounds sterling.
The remainder of my estate [shall be] divided and apportioned amongst my three sons, Robert, Charles, and William, and my two daughters Charlotte and Margaret as follows: each of my said sons to get double the amount of each of their said sisters [..] but declaring that in the event of my said son William being presented to a permanent living in the church previous to my death or before my succession shall open to my children, then said trustees [shall] pay him the sum of three hundred and fifty pounds sterling in lieu of a share of my estate, which sum of three hundred and fifty pounds together with the expense which I have incurred in educating him for the church and in his maintenance and support I consider to be a just and fair share of my estate.
In the event of my unmarried daughters or any of them being married previous to my death, then such daughter or daughters shall not be entitled to share in the residue before provided to them, but in lieu of such share [they] shall be entitled to the sum of one hundred pounds sterling each, in other words, to put them on the same footing as my married daughters.
In witness whereof by me the said William Duff at Berryhill Tullybeagles the twenty third day of February, Eighteen hundred and thirty six before these witnesses, Andrew Dunn and James Robertson, both Farm servants at Berryhill, it being hereby declared before signing that if at the time of my death my son William should not have been presented to a living in the church he shall have a free residence upon the Farm of Berryhill in conjunction with my wife and daughters during the currency of the then-exisiting lease.  <signed> Willm Duff, Andrew Dunn witness, James Robertson, witness.

[Elizabeth Robertson (presumably a daughter of the witness and Berryhill farm servant James Robertson) later married Charles Duff.  Elizabeth and her brother John Robertson ended up living at Berryhill with Charles after the death of William Duff Sr.  See the 1851 census for Berryhill, Methven, Perthshire, Scotland.]

William Duff Sr. died two months later on April 11, 1836.
Following his father’s death, it seems William was indeed “presented to a permanent living in the church”, and may have begun ministering to those of his home Parish of Methven after his graduation.  He is listed as a minister in the 1841 Scottish census, and as living with his family at Berryhill:

Methven Parish Church, built in 1783.

Two years later, in 1843, for reasons not yet known (perhaps under church orders?), William, now “Reverend William Duff”, left Perthshire and arrived in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Canada.  He became the minister at Lunenberg’s “St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church”, a post he would hold for almost four decades.

St. Andrews Presbyterian Church in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia

A bio of Rev. Duff published by the “The Presbyterian Record” notes:

For many years he was the only Presbyterian minister in the county.  His charge embraced a field now occupied by five ministers.  He laboured with great diligence, and the condition of Presbyterianism in the country today is largely the fruit of his labours.  His field was a hard one, and involved much travel and exposure, and the support given by the people was in those days very meagre; but Mr. Duff was never known to complain either of hardship or of poor pay.  A more tender-hearted, pure-minded, devout, self-sacrificing and faithful man never adorned the ministry of our church.

About 1847, Rev. Duff married Jane Elizabeth Fairbanks (1823-1871), daughter of the successful Halifax merchant John Eleazer Fairbanks and his wife Anne “Nancy” Prescott.  Both families were venerable New England tribes with deep roots in the Americas.  William and Jane settled down on a large estate called “Braco” in the town of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia.

Jane Elizabeth Fairbanks c1855, courtesy of Catherine Duff

Jane Elizabeth Fairbanks c1855, courtesy of Catherine Duff

Jane had been born in Dartmouth, Halifax, Nova Scotia (about 60 miles up the coast from Lunenburg), and they had five children who survived into adulthood: Annie E. Prescott Duff (1847-1930), William Menzies Duff (1849-1920) [One of the Trustees of William’s father’s estate was William Menzies, so he may have been a close friend of the family.], Kenneth Kilgour Duff (1852-1925) [As noted before, William’s sister Jean married Thomas Kilgour.], Margaret Charlotte “Maggie” Duff (1853-1929), and Isabella Charlotte “Bella” Duff (1854-1951).  There were two other children who died in infancy: Kenneth Kilgour Duff I (born about 1850) and John Fairbanks Duff (born about 1855), who are buried in the family plot in Lunenburg.

Annie, as previously noted, married John Forrest, an influential Presbyterian minister (just like her Father) from Halifax, and they had five children.  William Menzies Duff was a merchant and accountant in Bridgewater, Nova Scotia.  He married Harriet Elizabeth Hunter on 6 Mar, 1877 and they had six children.


William Menzies Duff & Family c1898

According to family legend, Kenneth went to the Klondike to look for gold, but contracted “brain fever”, and returned to Braco to become a farmer.  He lived with his sisters Bella and Maggie and none of the three ever married or had any children.

Jane Fairbanks wrote often to her cousin Mary Martha Fairbanks, and many letters in her hand survive which were written in the last year of her life.  Jane died 31 Aug 1856 in Lunenburg at the age of only 32.

Jane Elizabeth Fairbanks & Child c1855

Jane Elizabeth Fairbanks & Child c1855

Her husband is listed as a widower in the 1871 census for Lunenburg.  Rev. Duff was left with five children under the age of 10, and he was helped in raising them by his sister-in-law, Annie Fairbanks.

After almost 40 years of ministering to the congregation of St. Andrews in Lunenberg, Rev. Duff retired sometime about 1880, and passed away on May 5, 1888 at the age of about 78 years.

The Presbyterian Record noted, “His influence in the community in which he lived was very great.  All respected him; the good loved him, and evil-doers feared him.  Though very frail and rarely seen in public, he continued to be revered and loved by the community.”

Rev. William Duff c 1880

Rev. William Duff c 1880

About cthomas1967

Seeking to bring my ancestors out of the shadows of history and into the light. I have always been interested in history, and at a few different times I tried to do a family tree, but wasn't able to do it with the technology that was available then. On a business trip I visited the World War I Museum in Kansas City, MO and it was a very impressive establishment. While I was there I remember thinking, "Didn't my great-grandfather father fight in World War I? And wasn't his brother killed alongside him in some famous battle? I wonder if I can find out where he died." That's what started it all. View all posts by cthomas1967

One response to “Meet the Duff Family of Perthshire, Scotland

  • Ann Williams

    Very interesting! William Duff Sr. & Charlotte Nicol were my 3X great-grandparents. I am descended through their daughter Charlotte, who married Tomas Wylie.

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