The Gilfillans of Barnet, Vermont

This is an excerpt from “History of Barnet, Vermont, From the Outbreak of the French and Indian War to Present Time” by Frederic Palmer Wells.


            The researches of Hon. John B. Gilfillan among the parish records of Scotland stored in the Public Registry at Edinburgh, show that Thomas Gilfillan and Margaret Dun or Dining, the former of Balfron and the latter of Killearn, were proclaimed for marriage July 4, 1718.  Also that on Sept. 28, 1729, William, son of Thomas and Margaret Gilfillan was baptized.  The latter is believed to have been the father of the five sons who settled in Barnet.  The records further show that on May 17, 1759, William Gilfillan of Balfron and Helen Stevenson of Denny “was listed for proclamation in order to marriage,” which was “proclaimed,” June 10, 1759.

The Parish Records of Balfron, show the following baptisms:

Sept. 1, 1760, James, son of William and Helen Gilfillan.

July 1, 1763, Mary, daughter of William and Helen Gilfillan.

Jan. 26, 1766, Robert, son of William and Helen Gilfillan.

May 29, 1767, William, son of William and Helen Gilfillan.

The Gilfillans who settled in Vermont cam e from Balfron, Scotland.  Balfron lies in the region of the Strath Endrick, or Valley of the Endrick, a river somewhat smaller than the Passumpsic.  It empties into Loch Lomond.  Balfron is about 18 miles northwest from Glasgow and is a village of eight or nine hundred people.  The parish records of Scotland have been lately gathered up and are now stored at Edinburgh.  Most of the early settlers of Ryegate and Barnet can be traced back nearly to the beginning of the 18th century.  The parish church of Balfron after the revolution of 1688, was organized anew in 1691.  One of the elders was Wm. Gilfillan, and it is recorded that he attended every meeting of the session for 20 years.  In another line of ht race was Samuel Gilfillan, a son of a merchant at Bucklyvie, about three miles from Balfron.  He was a life time minister at Camrie.  His wife was Rachel Barlas, who was known as the “Star of the North,” being a wonderful housekeeper and hone-maker.  They had 12 children.  Of these, James was a minister at Stirling, and George became a noted writer and preacher for almost 42 years at Dundee.  He was one of the most notable Scotsmen of his time, and was considered by many as the brightest star in the literary firmament of Perthshire.  Another brother was William, whose sons James and Samuel were a long time engaged in East India trade and later as bankers in London, where they now reside.

To the Gilfillans of Scotland must be given the credit of at least one poet, a writer of lyrics.  He was of the same name as my own father, Robert Gilfillan, and born the same year.  He “slippct awa’” to his final rest in 1850.  In the preface to a volume of his writings, published the following year, appears this curious legend:

“The few families of Gilfillan in Scotland almost all ‘count kin’; the history of the clan being as follows: – Originally it belonged to the Isle of Mull; but, during the feudal wars, was overpowered by a more powerful clan, and completely extirpated.  Two of the widows, however, by a coincidence, bore twin sons each, from whom we have all sprung.”

From this apt and effective expression of feeling and sentiment, Robert Gilfillan, in his day, was best known as the poet of the hearth and home:

“We cannot live or days again,

But we can dream them o’er;

These nightly visions, free from pain,

Youth’s sunny hours restore;

And, oh! who would not prize the past,

To love – to memory dear;

The golden moments could not last,

But they in dream appear.”

The song from which this is quoted, and “The Exiles Return,” and his poem “Sabbath Among the Moorlands,” are real gems of tenderness and beauty.  His “Ode to Dumfermline,” his native town,

“… wi’ its woody braes,

And wee burns wimpling to the sea,”

while not so lofty or aspiring as Scott’s immortal tribute to Old Caledonia, expresses as genuinely his Scottish love of home an country.  His humorous characterization of “Peter McCraw,” the tax gatherer, however shows him quite as capable of sentiment in other lines, and a poet of some diversity of talent. – J. B. G.

The direct ancestor of the Gilfillans who came to Vermont was Thomas, who married Margaret Dunn.  The place they occupied was known as “Wood End,” a part of the Ballikrinian estate about a mile from Balfron.  The old house is gone, but the new one is said to be just like it, and is occupied by a family named Robertson.  A glimpse of Loch Lomond and Ben Lomond can be seen from this place.  William Gilfillan, son of Thomas, m. Helen Stevenson, dau. of Robert Stevenson and Mary Adam his wife of the parish of Denny.  They gave their names for marriage on May 17, 1759.  Their children were: James, William, Robert, John, Thomas, David, Margaret, and Mary.  William and Thomas came to America in 1790.  Robert , John, David, and Margaret in 1794.  The others remained in Scotland.

Children of William and Helen (Stevenson) Gilfillan all b. in Balfron:

I.  William, b. Aug. 14, 1767; d. Aug. 14, 1840; m. 1st Janet Waddell; 2nd, Ruth Blanchard.

II.  Robert, b.___; d. June 1, 1827; m. Jean McIndoe.

III.  John, never m.; d. in Barnet.

IV.  Thomas, d. June 28, 1852; m. 1st, Janet Somers, Feb. 3, 1797; 2nd, Margaret Hyndman.

V.  David, b. 1778; d. Aug. 30, 1853; m. Margaret Warden.

VI.  Margaret, m. William Warden, q. v.

James and Mary, other children, remained in Scotland.  For convenience’s sake the families of each of these brothers are given separately.


            William2 (William1 and Helen [Stevenson], called “Little Will,” b. Balfron, Scotland, Aug. 14, 1767.  Came to America wit his brother Thomas in 1790.  They began clearing land bought for them by their uncle Stevenson, on which Walter Gilfillan, son of Robert, afterward lived, now called the Gates farm.  Then he and his brother Thomas lived together on the farm where Alexander McLaren lived in 1860.  After marriage he lived on his own farm, where John McMillan lived in 1860.  Mason.  He m. 1st, Nov. 28, 1788, Janet, dau. John Waddell (b. July 19, 1768); 2nd, March, 1815, by Rev. Jas. Milligan, Ruth, widow of Joseph Chamberlin of Peacham, dau. Capt. Abel Blanchard (b. ___; d. Nov. 11, 1862).  He d. Aug. 14, 1840.  These were all members of the Center Ch. and are buried there.

William Gilfillan and his brother Thomas came on foot from Boston to Barnet.  While on their way they stopped at the house of Abiel Blanchard in Concord, N. H.  A quantity of apples was set before them, William saving the seeds, with which his orchard was planted.  The child, Ruth Blanchard, the an infant, became his 2nd wife.  He was known as “Little Will,” to distinguish him from another Wm. Gilfillan, who was not related to this family.

Children all b. in Barnet:

I.  William, b. Sept, 11, 1789; d. at 18.

II.  John, b. July 9, 1791; d. young.

III.  Helen, b. July 3, 1793; d. young.

IV.  Rebecca, b. Oct. 11, 1795; d. Dec. 11, 1880; m. Wm Lackie, q.v.

V.  Janet, b. Jan. 30, 1789.

VI.  Margaret, b. Apr. 25, 1800; d. March 2, 1885; m. Alexander Symes of Ryegate.

(1)      VII.  Moses, b. Sept. 11, 1802.

VIII.  Helen, b. Dec. 28, 1805; d. July 3, 1883; m. John McMillan, q.v.

IX.  William, b. Feb. 10, 1816; d. at 5 years.

X.  Ruth, b. Dec 10, 1818; m. William Graham.  One daughter, Helen, who married 1st, ___ Holmes; 2nd, Loren Chase, and had children: Mary Jane, Robert, and John.

XI.  Elizabeth Jane, b. July 19, 1819; m. Archibald Hastie, q.v.

XII.  John Abel, b. May 27, 1821.  Fitted for college at Peacham Academy; graduated Darthmouth College, 1844.  Read law with Wm. Mattocks of Peacham, but never practiced.  Went to St. Louis and became a teacher.  He m. Lucinda, dau. James Russell of Osceola, Ill.’ d. St. Louis, Dec. 12, 1866.

XII.  Joshua, b. Apr. 10, 1823.  Fitted for college at Peacham Academy; attended Yale College, but did not graduate.  Went to Osceola, Ill., where he was a farmer and magistrate.  He m. Ann Way of Peacham.  Children: Charles of Mound City, Mo., where he is city missionary; and Mary, who m. a Mr. Reedell, and lives at Salt Lake City; 5 children.

(2) Daniel William, b. Dec. 19, 1825.  Fitted for college at Peacham Academy.  He m. Helen Partridge of Peacham.

XV. Jacob, b. July 8, 1828.

XVI. Mary, b. abt. 1816; d. 1831.


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