The Yorston Family of PEI


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Submitted by Richard Yorston - Yorston@gte.net

The following history was retyped from an old photocopy and was probably composed in the 1950ís or 1960ís. by Sam Yorston. He was born on P.E.I. in 1904 and died on June 23, 1980.


The Yorstons

I feel that those who carry the name of Yorston may be interested in knowing more about the origin of the name and have some indication of when and how they reached a new settlement in Canada. I have been quite amazed to discover how little the Yorstons I have spoken with know of their own history.

My investigations have been by no means exhaustive - largely because of the time and place element necessary to trace back over the years. So before I go into the Scottish ancestry of the Yorstons may I state that the Yorstons as an immigrant group first settled in Pictou County, N.S. and generally congregated in and around the town of Pictou. I have not been able to ascertain the exact date, but a good guess would be between the years 1810 - 1820.

The Yorstons, as a family, became very prominent in the life of this town, and at one time owned large trading centres in the town, and a thriving ship building plant. In a letter from the "official" Pictou Historian, I was given to understand that the piers etc. owned by the Yorstons comprised a large tract of property most of which has now been filled in and built up to comprise the centre of the business area of Pictou

There are now no Yorstons by that name In Pictou, but the summer home of Dr. Fred Yorston, the founder and editor of the now defunct Montreal Standard, still stands in the residential area of the town. Having settled in Pictou and certain elements having branched out as far as New Brunswick, and in and around Truro N.S. , how then did such a large settlement of Yorstons get into Prince Edward Island? We have not been able to find any definite record. We know the settlement of Yorstons was in what was called the Grand River area which one hundred years ago was considered all the area from the Dundas to approximately De Gros Marsh.

My grandfather, John Yorston, who brought his family to Georgetown about 1885 always spoke of coming from Grand River. He was within walking distance of about fifteen miles from Cardigan where he did his "shopping" before coming to live in Georgetown, and some distant relatives of John Yorston can still be found in the St. Georges area. I can only surmise that as Pictou was no great distance shipwise from Prince Edward Island that the Yorstons gradually moved over to settle on P.E.I. at this particular point, after having moved back and forth for some time between the two provinces.  

The ancestral home of the Yorstons was the Orkney Group of Scotland and in particular the island of Rousay in this group. Prior to 1472 these islands were the property of the joint kingdom of Denmark, Norway and Sweden: and the Yorstons and other families were in all likelihood of Nordic extraction having at some time been part of a planned settlement on the islands.

Before the death of James II of Scotland (1430-1460) King Christian I, the king of the joint kingdoms referred to above, complained of Scotlandís failure to pay them annual dues for the use of the Western Isles - considerable arrears having been accumulated since 1425. Under the mediation of the king of France a marriage was arranged between King Christianís daughter Margaret and the future King of Scotland, the son of James II and the future James III. In 1460 an Embassy headed by the Scottish Earl of Arran, was dispatched to King Christian, and before the end of that year an agreement extremely valuable eventually to Scotland was arrived at. Jamesís proposal to Margaret was accepted.

On the jointure 10,000 Florins were to accompany Margaret to Scotland. For the balance of 50,000 Florins, the Orkney Islands were pledged by Christian; and a full receipt was given to Scotland for the annual dues for the Western Isles. The Princess, however, on her arrival in Scotland brought only 2,000 Florins of the 10,000 pledged. King Christian therefore pledged the Shetland Islands also. As such pledges were never redeemed, both Orkney and Shetland were annexed to the Scottish crown by the Scottish parliament in 1472. Thus a land which was inhabited by people of largely Nordic ancestry became almost overnight - Scottish.

The clan system as known in Northern Scotland was never in affect on the Orkneys and soon Yorstons spread through the length and breadth of Scotland from all information that can be gathered. In all the information gathered throughout the years, the Yorstons are always referred to as tradesmen, clerical workers, etc., assistants to men of high station. There is a reference in Scottish history to a marriage of a Yorston into the Craigies of Borough. In the old days the Craigies were people of some consequence because James of Craigie Lord of Hup, married Margaret Sinclair daughter of Henry, Earl of Orkney, in 1442. As the Craigies were intermarried with the Royal House, at least one of the Yorstons must have been a man of some standing and means.

A Robert Yorston was a Kingís Factor in 1476. The name of Yorston appears off and on in Scottish History in the 15th and 16th centuries as Kingís Councilmen.

In the year 1509 - a Sir Alexander Yorston, appears as a chaplain in Kirkwell in the matter of land division between Mr. David Halare and Trinity Church, South Romaldsay. In a notation dated 1539 to respite of 31 men who fought at the battle of Summerdale, the name of William Yorston is shown as one of the fighting men. You will notice that names still common among present day Yorstons such as William, Alexander, Robert, etc., were the same in many cases as used in these days. This continuation of similar names, in itself, speaks something. So you can see we have quite a lot of worthy men from titled gentlemen to good plain ordinary citizens.

As I mentioned previously, my grandfather, John Yorston, moved to Georgetown (P.E.I.) about 1885. He was employed as a master builder in the shipyard of Hon. Dan Gordon. He died in 1915 at our home at the great age of 98. At his death an article appeared in the Boston Globe in which he was spoken of as "the strongest man for 50 miles around". My father used to tell me how his father John would carry a barrel of flour on his back from Cardigan to his home 15 miles away. As a barrel of flour was equal to about three large bags of our flour nowadays, you can get some idea of the strength of the man. He fathered a large family: almost any hereabouts with the name of Yorston can claim him as their ancestor.

Most of those away in the U.S.A. are descended from Alex Yorston or Ronald Yorston. Of Will Yorstonís descendants some remain in P.E.I., the rest in various parts of the U.S.AÖ In Amherst, N.S. live Yorstons who are descended from Alex Yorston. Fred Yorston of Forest Hill, P.E.I. , is descended from Mary, (Mrs. James McClean - 2nd marriage); and any Rattrays of St. Peters, P.E.I. who are descended from Henry Rattray can claim Yorston blood through Mrs. Rattray who was one of John Yorstonís daughters

We hope you will enjoy this rather scrambled history. I wrote it basically for those of Yorston blood.

Harrington Samuel Yorston

The name has always had a "R" in it: not Yoston


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Last Updated: 5/1/2008 2:57:42 PM
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