The Wrayton-MacDonnell Family: Its Tragedies And Wealth

Article No: 23

The Wrayton-MacDonnell Family: Its Tragedies And Wealth

In the winter of 1831-2, arrived in Barrington the brig "Mary", Capt. Duncan, from Dublin, master. While entering the harbour, she struck a shoal. Duncan succeeded to come off, and then proceeded seven miles seaward with the salvage crew and passengers, men, women and children. They were compelled to Pump and bale all night to keep the brig from sinking. Moreover, the vessel was short of provisions. Reaching at last the shore, the passengers, most of whom were on their way to St. John, N.B., were cared for by the inhabitants, while the vessel was being repaired. Then the captain tried to get away without settling for the work, even accusing the people of Barrington of having ill treated him. He was finally apprehended; one of those who testified against him was Michael Wrayton, one of the passengers.

Michael Wrayton, at 22, was coming to Canada to try his luck. Born in Dublin, March 18, 1809, he was to accumulate a fortune in his new abode. Established at Doctor's Cove, he prospered until he became the owner of a considerable business, with stores, a wharf and several vessels he had built for the West Indies Trade.

Around 1860, he bought Stoddard Island from the sons of John Stoddard and moved his family on it. This island was known by the Acadians, while they were living in this vicinity, as "Ile de la Rechevire," that the English translated as "Turned Rock". At the time of Michael Wrayton it became known as "Wrayton Isle", although he himself called it "Emerald Isle," having chosen this name to give to it an Irish touch.

It was only a year or two after his arrival that he married Mary Sophia Cunningham, daughter of Capt. Cunningham, of Shelburne. In 1840, she was to sustain one of the first tragedies that struck the family, when her father was killed by pirates, on his way from Cuba to Halifax, on the brig "Vernon." After unloading the vessel, the pirates burned it and sailed off with three of the crew, when they slit Capt. Cunningham's throat and tossed his body overboard, doing the same with the coloured cook, killing him finally with gunfire. The third of the crew, witnessing this slaughter, jumped overboard and swam away without being caught. He was picked up by a Spanish ship, which he directed to the hideout of the pirates. They were taken as prisoners, tried and executed.

Michael Wrayton and Mary Sophia Cunningham had a large family of eight or nine. The one we are interested in, here, is their daughter Sophia E., born Feb. 22, 1853. She was united in marriage May 28, 1872, by Father Wm. McLeod of West Pubnico to Capt. William Fraser MacDonnell, of Cape Breton, son of Angus and of Mary Biglow, who had come to Lower Argyle, where he became wealthy through his trading business. This was MacDonnell's third marriage, his first wife having been Rebecca Hipson, from whom he had two children, Roy R., born Feb. 19, 1874, and Ina I., born Aug. 16, 1876, and baptized by Father McLeod Nov. 16 under the name of Arabelle.

The year 1879 proved to be disastrous for the family. March 9, died at the age of three, Minia Mabel, daughter of Arthur M., himself son of Michael. Sept. 7, died Mary Sophia, matriarch of the family, wife of Michel. Then Dec. 7th, a real tragedy struck the Wrayton-MacDonnell family, when on that day, which was a Sunday, Michael Wrayton left Emerald Island with the schooner "Village Belle," of 25 tons, which belonged to his son-in-law, William F. MacDonnell, to visit his daughter Sophia in Lower Argyle. He had with him his youngest son Lovell Edgeworth, 19, and his youngest daughter, Catherine Eugenie, known as Cassie Eugene, 17. With them was a Jacob Sears. Between one and two o'clock, the schooner was seen sinking at Argyle Sound. Boats were immediately put off to the scene of the disaster. The bodies of Michael Wrayton and of his daughter were recovered, but not those of his son and of Sears. Whenever you will visit the Immaculate Conception Cemetery, in East Pubnico, you will see, not far from the entrance, left hand side, a tombstone on which are inscribed all those names.

And those were not the only tragedies to hit the family. Arthur M. Wrayton, just mentioned, whom Father McLeod had united in marriage Jan. 20, 1874, at the house of Michael Wrayton, on Emerald Island, to Lucy Alice Winsor, of Halifax, had become also owner and master of trading schooners. We know of his schooner "Wild Rose" which struck a reef inside Yarmouth Sound on the evening of Nov, 13, 1882, and became a total loss; the crew was saved. But it was another story on Sunday night, May 14, 1892, when he was crossing from Shag Harbour to Emerald Island. His boat was found next morning and at noon his dead body was picked up on the shore. He was about 42, leaving a widow and nine children.

William Fraser MacDonnell moved to Boston around 1885 with his family. He died in Chelsea June 14, 1891. He was giving his name since some time as "MacDonald." It is in the vicinity of Boston that his daughter Ina I. married a multimillionaire, Jewell A. Dowling. They had no children. When Dowling died, he left his huge fortune to his widow. One day, as she was sitting in a car, north of Boston, with three or four other women--it was April 20, 1958--the car started to roll down hill into a lake, when they all drowned. She had no children, no brothers, no sisters and no will. But she had nephews and nieces galore, from her father's two first marriages, who, they themselves, had children. Hearing that I had the vital statistics of both families, the Wraytons and the MacDonnells, that I had gathered mostly from church registers, the different parties came from as far as California for information of the relationship they could have with Ina I. MacDonnell Dowling, alias Arabelle. Already, before the trial started in Boston, the Court of Florida and a lawyer had extracted for their fees from the estate the sum of $100,000. The whole trouble came from the fact that the certificates of William Fraser MacDonnell's two first marriages could not be found. I was unable to know what was the outcome of the trial in Boston.

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