John Sinclair, of Exeter

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John Sinclair, of Exeter

Also Known As: "John Sinkler"
Birthdate: (70)
Birthplace: Scotland, United Kingdom
Death: 1700 (66-74)
Exeter, Rockingham, New Hampshire
Immediate Family:

Son of Unknown father of John Sinclair and Unknown mother of Sinclair
Husband of Mary Jane Rooney; Mary Sinclair and Deborah Sinclair
Father of James Sinclair; Mary Wheeler; Meribah Lull (Sinclair); Sarah Jones and John Sinclair

Occupation: Farmer
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About John Sinclair, of Exeter

Do not merge him with Maj. John Sinclair. There is no proof the two men are the same.

John Sinkler (c1630-1700), was a Scot captured at the Battle of Dunbar in 1650, deported to America in 1651, and sold as an indentured servant to Nicholas Lissen at Exeter, New Hampshire to work in the sawmill there. He was a free man by 6 January 1659, when he purchased 10 acres of land in Exeter. He made his will on 27 January 1700. It was probated 14 September 1700.

Controversy over his ancestry

According to a tradition preserved by Charles Henry St. Clair and reported by L. A. Morrison, John Sinkler passed down a brief summary of his ancestry to his children: My father’s name was Henry, my grandfather’s name was John, he was Master of St. Clair, we came from near Edinburgh Scotland, of the Rosslyn family.

Morrison noticed the tradition seems to match the family of Henry Sinclair of Borrowstown and Lybster (Morrison 1896:44). John Sinclair, Master of Caithness, had a son named Henry (died 1614), who had a son named John (John Henderson, Notes on Caithness Family History (1884). Therefore, Morrison suggested John Sinclair, of Lybster might have been a great grandson of George Sinclair, 4th Earl of Caithness.

The line is still speculative, however. Rand Gruebel suggests an alternative identification: "There is an Edinburgh parish record on file with the Mormons in Salt Lake City that a Henry Sinclair born 1604 and from Edinburgh married a Janet Sutherland (born 1608 and also from Edinburgh) and had a son named John Sinclair (born 1630, Edinburgh).”

Biographical Problems

He is often said to have been born 21 May 1634 at Lybster, but the source of that information is not clear.

He is often said to have held the military rank of Major. This is the result of identifying him with a Major Sinclair who was a fugitive in Scotland.

Stackpole says he was taken prisoner at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 and brought to America as a prisoner in 1652, arriving on the John & Sarah. However, he seems instead to have been captured at Dunbar a year earlier. His name appears on a list of 171 captains captured from that battle, all of whom were liable to be sent to the plantations (Hamilton).

There are also doubts he came to America on the John & Sarah. A list of passengers survives, but his name is not on it. However, there are three illegible names on the list. His name might be one of them.


"From The Great Historic Families of Scotland, Vol. 2, we learn that shortly after the outbreak of the Great Civil War in 1644, George Hay, 2nd Earl of Kinnoul died and his only son William Hay became the 3rd Earl of Kinnoul. William was a staunch Royalist, and joined Montrose in his ill-fated expedition to Scotland in 1650. After his total defeat at Drumcarbisdale, the Earl accompanied his leader and Major Sinclair in their flight from the field into the wild mountain district of Assynt. The privations endured by them from fatigue and the want of food becames insupportable. On the morning of the third day, Lord Kinnoul grew so faint, and his strength was so exhausted by hunger and cold, that he could proceed no farther. He was, therefore, necessarily left by his distracted and enfeebled companions without shelter or protection of any kind on the exposed heath. Major Sinclair volunteered to go in search of assistance to the Earl, while Montrose went off alone towards the Reay country. They both fell into the hands of their enemies, but as they could give no accurate directions as to the spot where Lord Kinnoul had been left, that nobleman, whose body was never found, must have perished in some recess amoung the mountains. Montrose was brutally executed on 21 May 1650.

"It should be noted that the 'Great Marquis of Montrose' was a mortal enemy of the clan Campbell, whom he defeated in a bloody battle during the Great Civil War.

"It is believed (based on the location and date of his arrival in New England) that John Sinclair and Major Sinclair are one in the same. It is equally likely that he and John Bean were prisoners at the same time, perhaps being transported to New England together.

"The documentary evidence concerning our ancestor was gleaned by Morrison from land deeds, petitions, court records, and his last will and testament. The evidence concerning John Sinclair's family background in Scotland comes to us via orally-transmitted Saint Clair family traditions that were set on paper by L.A. Morrison and Charles H. Saint Clair. Two written versions of this family tradition seem to have come from Mr. Charles H. Saint Clair, who imparted one version to Mr. Morrison while setting down a slightly more detailed version in his own account. Major evidence concerning the arrival of John Sinclair in America was overlooked by, or perhaps not available to, Morrison and C. H. Saint Clair. It was brought to my attention by Mrs. Marian Loeschner, past genealogist of the Clan Sinclair Association, USA. It consists of the following statement in the book History of New Hampshire, by Everett S. Stackpole, worth quoting in full:

"'An item of some importance in the early history of New Hampshire has been overlooked by historians. This was the bringing in, as servants, of some Scotchmen, who had been taken prisoners by Oliver Cromwell in the Battle of Dunbar, September 3, 1650, and the Battle of Worcester, just one year later. One hundred and fifty from Dunbar were sent to Boston in the ship Unity and there sold to pay their passage money of twenty pounds apiece. They were forced to work as apprentices from six to eight years, after which they had their liberty and received grants of land in towns where they chose to settle. Two hundred and seventy-two more prisoners came over from the Battle of Worcester in the ship John and Sarah. A score or more of these Scots were employed in the sawmills at Oyster River and Exeter, that then included Newmarket, and some became permanent settlers in those places. Among them were Walter Jackson and William Thompson's son John at Oyster River, John Hudson of Bloody Point, and John Sinclair, John Bean, Alexander Gordon and John Barber of Exeter. The descendants of these include some of the leading men in the state." (p. 76)

"Stackpole's statement is corroborated by information contained in an article published in the October 1927 issue of The Journal of the Massachusetts Historical Society. The article states "The tax lists and other sources of information show that Exeter also profited by this chattel slavery, as Nicholas Lissen of the latter place is credited with being master of some of the Worcester prisoners." (p. 28)

"Mr. Bernie Bean, an ancestor [sic] of the John Bean mentioned above, has authored a history of his family entitled The Life and Family of John Bean of Exeter and His Cousins. Bean states that an expatriate Scotsman by the name of Nicholas Lissen "was operating two lumber mills near Exeter, New Hampshire" in 1651 (Bean 1977:5).

"Following Stackpole, he states that "the seven men who were indentured to Nicholas Lissen were: John Bean, John Barber, Alexander Gordon, John Sinclair, John Hudson, John Thompson, and Walter Jackson. All were to be lifetime friends of John Bean." (Bean 1977:6) [John Sinclair's son of the same name married Bean's daughter. John Bean has been traced to the MacBean / MacBayne family of Strathdearn in Inverness.]

"If it is true that John Sinclair was captured at the Battle of Worcester and transported against his will to America in the ship John and Sarah, as explicitly stated by Stackpole, one would expect his name to appear on the ship's list of passengers. Surprisingly, such a list exists; unfortunately, there is no John Sinclair listed on it. However, this in itself proves nothing. In the article published in the October 1927 issue of The Journal of the Massachusetts Historical Society, cited above, the author says of this list: "While [the list] is fortunate for historical purposes, yet [it] is not to be accepted as a true record of their correct names" (p. 19). Indeed, there are at least three illegible names on the list, one of which might be John Sinclair's. There is also a "Salaman Sinclare" listed; this might be our ancestor John, his name miswritten or misunderstood by a disinterested or less than competent clerk, or perhaps purposely altered by our ancestor for reasons unknown to us. Indeed, this theory is bolstered by the fact that after this time, there is no further mention of a "Salaman Sinclare" anywhere in the records of New England. It is interesting and telling that of the seven men described by Stackpole as being Battle of Worcester prisoners, only three (Walter Jackson, John Hudson, and John Bean [spelled "Benne"]) actually occur on the ship's passenger list. Another possibility is that John Sinclair was a prisoner from the Battle of Dunbar, which occurred precisely one year earlier than Worcester (although he does not appear on the list of transported Dunbar prisoners, either). After all sides of the argument are examined, Stackpole's information, John Sinclair's close association with confirmed Scottish prisoners of war, and the historical "coincidence" of his presence in America soon after the Battles of Dunbar and Worcester, all coalesce into the virtual certainty that John Sinclair was a Scottish soldier captured in one the military engagements of the British Isles in the early 1650s, and exiled to America in lieu of execution or continued imprisonment.

"It is possible to tentatively reconstruct the sequence of events during the first few years of John Sinclair's presence on the American continent. The ship John and Sarah docked at Boston Harbor on February 24, 1652. The surviving prisoners disembarked and were marched from Boston to Lynn, a two day trip. There, at a place called the 'Saugus House' or the 'Scotchmen's House,' they were apparently sold into indentured servitude to the highest bidder. As noted above, our ancestor John Sinclair and several of his comrades were purchased by the Scottish expatriot Nicholas Lissen, a Presbyterian lowlander who had emigrated to America, via Northern Ireland, in 1637 (Bean 1977:5). Transporting his new laborers north to present day New Hampshire, he employed them in one of his two lumber mills in Exeter. There John Sinclair worked his way to freedom. It is not known how long he remained indentured, but he was a free man by January of 1659, when he purchased ten acres of land in Exeter. This transaction is recorded in a deed filed among the Old Norfolk County Records, at Salem, Massachusetts." (Morrison 1896:65).

"For the above reasons, it is likely that John was the great-grandson of George Sinclair, the 4th Earl of Caithness. While unproved, this remains a strong possibility, albeit there are inconsistencies in the evidence that have yet to be accounted for."

The Saint-Clairs of the Isles

JOHN SINKLER (1), Britisher, an American colonist, appeared in Exeter, New Hampshire, as early as 1658, for on the 6th January 1659, he purchased ten acres of land, and is mentioned in the deed, which is extant, as of Exeter. On 10th October 1664, the town of Exeter, at a public meeting, granted him "fifteen acres" lying in old Salesbury way, beyond James Wall's land. On the 27th April 1667, he and Mary, his wife, conveyed fifteen acres to a fellow citizen. He is mentioned in a boundary agreement between two neighbours on the 11th February 1672, against one of whom he made suit on 8th October following for trespass. There is no record of the result, but there is a reference to the matter in an enactment of the Selectmen of Exeter, dated 8th June 1682. On 30th November 1677, he "took oath of allegiance to His Majesty and fidelity to the country". He applied for a grant of land 6th April 1678, and on the 6th December thereafter purchased twenty acres of upland in Exeter, which town granted him a like acreage 23rd January 1680. The Province Rate of 9th May 1682, assesses "For the town of Exeter, John Sinclere 19 shillings and 4 pence" (Province Rate made in Exeter, 13th April 1682, to be paid in boards at 30 shillings per month and white oak p.p. staves at 3 shillings per thousand; wheat at 5 shillings per bushel; peas at 4 shillings; millet at 3 shillings and 6 pence; Indian corn 3 shillings per bushel).

His name appears on a petition to the Government 20th February 1689-90, against the Governor, one Edward Cranfield, and praying for protection from the Indians, and that the military officers of the train soldiers should be chosen by the soldiers of the respective towns. There is a doubt as to the signature being a genuine autograph. He dwelt on the banks of Wheelwrights creek. Only the Christian names of his wives have been preserved, that of the first being Mary, and that of the second Deborah, who made with him a business contract before their marriage. In 1698 (September 11th), upon the formation of the first Congregational Church, thirteen persons were "dismissed in order to their being incorporated into a church state in Exeter". Among them was Mrs. Deborah Sinkler.

[Note - the non-preservation of the wives' surnames is one of several indications that this family was of English origin]

John Sinkler, on 7th January 1699-l700, "being sick of body but of sound and perfect mind and memory", for which he expressed devout thankfulness, made his last will and testament, which was admitted to probate 14th September, 1700. There is no signature appended to the instrument, but in place thereof is a circle, known in common parlance as the "Round Robin". Children born at Exeter, New Hampshire:

  1. JAMES, born 27th July 1660; resident Exeter, New Hampshire
  2. MARY, born 27th June 1663; she married a Mr. Wheeler.
  3. SARAH, born 15th September, 1664; this will be the daughter that married Mr. Jones, whose sons John and Benjamin are named in John Sinkler's will.
  4. MARIA, born about 1666; married Mr. Bedell.
  5. JOHN, born about 1668; resident Exeter, New Hampshire

ROBERT SINKLER of Wells, Maine, was probably also a son.


January 2015 The St. Clair Family Story in America: John Sinkler (c1630-1700) to Fairy St. Clair Gibson Lawrence W. Onsager Andrews University ,

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John Sinclair, of Exeter's Timeline

Scotland, United Kingdom
July 27, 1660
Age 30
Exeter, Rockingham County, New Hampshire
June 27, 1663
Age 33
Exeter, Rockingham County, New Hampshire, United States
September 15, 1664
Age 34
Exeter, Rockingham County, New Hampshire, United States
Age 36
Exeter, Old Norfolk County, Massachusetts Bay Colony
Age 39
NH, United States
Age 70
Exeter, Rockingham, New Hampshire