Esson Family Millhead to Mosstown Overview

Before 1700

17th Century Farm Buildings built in Tarland by a John Esson.

Patrick Esson is the first Esson we know of in Logie Coldstone, and in Cromar as a whole. He lived at Waulkmill, a wool mill and farm destroyed by fire around 1890, just to the North of Tarland, and close to Millhead. Records show Patrick was taken to court on 26th June 1675 along with a number of others  by “poor John Davie” of Coull, in pursuit of payment for wood.

The 1696 List of Pollable Persons in Aberdeenshire included 25 Esson households, most of them were in western or central Aberdeenshire around Cromar and Alford in particular. Six were on the border of the parishes of Logie Coldstone and Tarland close to Waulkmill..

One piece of indirect evidence we have about an Esson of this time comes from the Aberdeen Press and Journal of June 9th 1937. This included a photograph (to the right) of very old farm buildings with the caption. “The only smallholding in Tarland, Aberdeenshire, with the original houses built in the seventeenth century by Mr John Esson. Until three months ago these bulidings had been in constant use”.


Our known family line : 1719 to 1971 : Millhead to Mosstown

Millhead Farm House and Farm Buildings and proprietor Alexander Blackhall.

Five Esson generations lived at Millhead from 1719 up until 1874, Millhead is still a working farm on Melgum Road just outside Tarland. At times in the past we can see a number of Esson households living there. The name is thought to originate from the Gaelic, meall cuid, meaning a fold on rough open ground. It seems to have been anglicised then, as up until the mid 1700’s we often see it called Milnhead, more reminiscent of the Old Scots word for mill. A dam some way above the farm buildings on Millhead burn was used to help power its own water wheel, as was common. Maybe it was also useful to help manage flows for Black Mill and New Mill further down Glaick burn from Millhead.

John Esson (ca. 1699 to 1765).

John Esson is our first proven ancestor. We do not know his wife, but Church parish records show they had a son called Peter at Millhead in 1719. The family moved to the Newton nearer Logie Coldstone village. We can see from legal documents and later birth records John had more sons, including Robert, Joseph, John and William. Parish records started “patchily” in 1716, but a fire destroyed those from 1720 to 1746. Counter balancing the difficulty that gives us in tracing people, a series of legal records from 1765 to 1799 helps us understand more of the family’s history at this time.

Robert went on to marry Marjory Ross, and returned to Millhead where he continued to farm. It was he who continued our family line. He lived there until his death around 1800, and again his will of 1799 helps us understand  the times. Robert’s brother who was still at the Newton married Euphame Gordon in 1746. This was just a few weeks after Culloden. Peter married Rachel Coutts and it seems likely they later moved to Dauch (Davoch) a farm near Millhead.

In 1765 John the elder died, and Joseph and William, still at the Newton were executors of his will. They were pursued for rent by Alex Bowman of Aberdeen acting on behalf of the Farquharsons of Invercauld. These were far from easy or straightforward times. Amongst other things, farming methods were relatively primitive at the time, and farming was vulnerable to poor growing seasons, which were more common in those years.

From 1789 to 1791 a series of further court actions took place, claiming rent from Joseph at the Newton, and it seems likely his brothers and cousins at nearby farms. This must have represented a harrowing time, leading ultimately to eviction for Joseph first from the Newton and then from Prony. As already mentioned, the correspondence, of these court actions give us useful information. Notably they confirm Robert of Millhead was indeed Joseph’s brother.

Robert Esson and Marjory Ross (married about 1747)

Robert Esson seems not to have been troubled by debt in the same way Joseph was. We can only speculate why. Parish records of 1750 show a Robert Esson was commissioned to make benches for Coldstone church. Perhaps Robert supplemented his income by other work including building. Robert married Marjory Ross, thought to be of Bogstone Strathdon around 1747. A flat stone in Tarland Churchyard gave a lot of very useful information many years ago, and old records give us most of its content, even though the stone is practically illegible now.

Robert and Marjory had children as follows:-

Robert, his eldest son married Jean Reid of Towie and went to farm at Balnacraig in Aboyne.

Margaret married William Reid, a writer or legal clerk, and they lived at Windseye.

William, Robert’s second son, went to Marischal College of Aberdeen University. That in itself suggests Robert was not struggling for money in the same way Joseph was, even if William won a scholarship, as he most likely would have done. On his return from university William had an illegitimate child, John, while at Millhead, but then married and moved to Melgum. His will suggests he was a successful wine merchant, as well as a farmer. Commerce and trade, especially in wine and spirits became an important occupation for a number of the family in the next two generations. William’s nephew John of Balnacraig, and his own son William moved to Aberdeen and traded between there and Canada. John Esson b.1803 had a wine and spirit shop in Castle Street Aberdeen for a short time.

The primary occupation of the family was farming however, and Alexander stayed to run Millhead.

Alexander Esson and Christian Anderson (married 25th March 1797)

Alexander was Robert’s youngest son. He took over the farm at Millhead and married Christian Anderson in 1797. Christian was one of the probably 9 illegitimate children of Alexander Anderson, the 9th Laird of Candacraig. Christian’s half-sister Helen Anderson, Christian’s half-sister, said to be the daughter of Isobel Ross, was another illegitimate child. Helen lived at Waulkmill.

In 1812 Alexander, Christian’s husband signed a lease for 19 years for Millhead from Farquharson of Invercauld. He was leased the land for an annual rent of £66 plus 20 bolls good oatmeal, and 4 bolls 1 firlot of English coal, to be carried by him to Invercauld or any place above Culblean. The coal to weigh 36 stones (or failing the coal 5 shillings a year as the proprietor chose). Rent was to be paid at Martinmas.

Despite Alexander Anderson’s undoubted faults he was generous towards Christian and children. Based on the content of his will, he had obviously loaned Christian and Alexander money, and goods before his death, which he “forgave”. On his death in 1817, he also left £500 to Alexander, £100 to Christian and £100, plus “such extra as was necessary” to Alexander, the couple’s eldest child to help him get through university.

Alexander who was born in 1833 was Alexander and Christian’s first son. With help from his legacy he went to King’s college, Aberdeen and trained to be a doctor.

Surrounding all these people, that is Anderson of Candacraig, Alexander and Christian, their eldest son, Alexander and his own child, also named Alexander, a substantial and sprawling tale unfolded, leading in one case to a death in the Army in India, and in another to a large dynasty of Essons in Oregon USA. That story is told here.

Robert and Isobel were the next of Alexander and Christian’s children. They were twins born in 1800. Both had illegitimate children. One of Robert’s present day descendants of the same line of Essons is Charles Esson of Collieston, and David Bowen in Canada, Both carried out considerable research into family history. Robert Bowen described how one branch of their family like moved to New Zealand.

Alexander and Christian went on to have children, Helen, Margaret, Charles, Christian and John.

It was John, born in 1803, who took on Millhead next.

John Esson and Mary Forbes (married 3rd February 1833)

John married Mary Forbes of Upper Ruthven in 1833 and they had seven children, Alexander, Elspet, John, Isobel, Christian Henry, Charles and Helen. John and Mary farmed at Millhead until 1874.

John also had a child by Margaret Forbes, Mary’s sister, in 1837. This was an event which somewhat scandalised the parish and drew considerable criticism for two people, with somewhat question as to the circumstances and appropriate blame. The Parish treated it pragmatically however, although it was some years before the two were accepted fully into the church congregation. Eliza, as the child was named when to live at Waulkmill with Helen Anderson, who took in more than one child in need of care. Despite the upset this must have caused all the family, John and Mary stayed together, Margaret went on to marry and have children, as did Eliza.

John continued to farm at Millhead, but when he was 71 in 1874, the family gave up the lease at Millhead and he, Mary and Charles moved to Aberdeen to run the Castle Inn wine shop at 9 Castle Square Aberdeen, now called Portals bar. The opportunity to run the wine shop and bar no doubt arose because of family involvement in the wine trade. It seems this move could have come about because John was suffering with ill health at this stage, as he died only two years later.

Alexander Esson and Margaret Gauld (married 24th July 1862)

Alexander, John’s eldest child, lived at Millhead, where he was recorded as a ploughman in the 1871 census. He married Margaret Gauld in 1862. Margaret was born at Wester Leochel, Leochel Cushnie in 1838. She was living at Nether Corrachrie when she married. The couple moved to Netherton, close to Millhead where they had two children, Margaret and Elizabeth. The family then moved back to work at Millhead, where John Hendry and William were born. After that. They moved to Millhead Croft, again a short distance from Millhead, where Alexander lived until he passed away aged 81 in 1915, and Margaret, aged 87 in 1925.


William Esson and Margaret Isabella Low (married 14th January 1898)

William and possibly Alexander Esson at Kinaldie around 1910.

William, Alexander and Margaret’s youngest child married Margaret Isabella Low on 14th January 1898. She came from her family home at Old Kinord, a house now in ruins, which still nevertheless suggests an impressive form, and in a splendid place. Margaret’s family history is shown here. The couple had seven children, Mary, George, William, Margaret, John, Edward and Alexander.

William Senior was working at Leys, Tarland as a young man aged 20 in 1891. Their first child Margaret Ann Symon was born at Bogstone next to the River Desky in 1898. From then onwards they stayed at farms on the Braes of Coldstone. Alexander was born at Knocksoul in 1899, although William the father was shown as working at Kinaldie at the time. In 1901 the family was at Bilboa cottage, very near Kinaldie, and they were recorded at Knocksoul in the 1911 census and then again when William passed away in 1915. William was also said to have worked at Parks as a shepherd. He and Margaret lived at Woodside (North Nib) until Margaret Low died 6.1.1937. William went to live with Ed and Chris at Potarch before he died in Aberdeen Royal Infirmary on 5.12.1940. Lott Ritchie, William’s niece had the families brass kettle for many years after he passed away. That was William’s only possession when he arrived at her Uncle Ed’s, after closing the house down. So, possibly he had held a roup or auction when he did that.






Alexander Esson and Margaret Henderson Morrison (married 20th June 1923)

Margaret Henderson Morrison was born in Turriff, North East Aberdeenshire, her family line is shown here. She applied for work, at Blelack House in Logie Coldstone, bargaining somewhat over her pay in correspondence we have and arranging to be picked up at Dinnet railway station on the now decommissioned Deeside line.

Alexander Esson, the son of William was born at Knocksoul in 1899. Like William he worked at a number of farms in the area, again at the Leys in Tarland, and then close to Knocksoul at the Parks. He married Margaret Morrison at Forgue, when he was first horseman at the Parks, and she was working at Blelack as a maid. They lived at Parks Cottage, also called locally Monyfrink, a derivation of Moine Chruinn, a gaelic name meaning round moss, it is said. At Parks cottage Margaret, Alexander (Sandy), and Charlotte (Lott) were born. The family moved to the Mosstown, which was owned by Gavin Strang of Blelack in May 1929. That was just two days before their son Robert, Bob was born.

The first feeing market of the year was held in May at Tarland, so it seems understandable that Alexander would move jobs at this time. When the family moved into the Mosstown, a Mrs Coutts was there still who had just has a baby. So for a time there were two babies of the same age in the house. The window was broken so it was likely cold at times, even if it was in May. William, Bill, the youngest was born in 1929.

Alexander worked at Blelack where he was grieve or foreman for the farm for 42 years until 1971. When he retired he and Margaret lived at their own house, the Old Schoolhouse in Logie Coldstone, just on the other side of the woods. He continued to do odd jobs for Strang and others long after he had retired. They stayed at the Mosstown until they moved to their own house, the Old School House, Logie Coldstone on 25.10.1971. In all they had children Alexander (Sandy), Margaret, Charlotte, Robert and William.

Margaret Esson could remember living at Parks Cottage when she was 90, even though she had left there when only three. Lott Ritchie wrote about her memories of life as a child at the Mosstown.