4. Heugh Keir (b.1703)

Welcome to the 4th Blog entry in this current series of articles looking at the Keir family from Aberdalgie (and Kirkliston). Following on from the previous blogs we are attempting to trace the children of Rodger Keir and Isabel Armour. This entry will be brief as the previous one, as we know so little about Heugh (Hugh) Keir, the 2nd child of Rodger Keir & Isabel Armour. What we do know for certain can be summarized as a single line:

Hugh (Heugh) Keir was born to Rodger Keir and Isabel Armour on the 26th of March, 1703 (and baptized 9 days later) in Kirkliston, West Lothian, Scotland.

Name: Heugh Keir
Gender: Male
Baptism Date: 4 Apr 1703
Baptism Place: Kirkliston, West Lothian, Scotland
Father: Rodger Keir
Mother: Isabell Armour
FHL Film Number: 1066629, 1066630

Original data: Scotland, Births and Baptisms, 1564-1950. Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013.

The following then is calculated guesswork and supposition:

Searching for a Hugh Keir of the correct age in Scotland reveals the following IGI (FamilySearch) records:

Name: Hugh Keir
Gender: Male
Marriage Date: 24 Nov 1727
Marriage Place: Portmoak, Kinross, Scotland
Spouse: Margaret Beath
FHL Film Number: 1040204
Name: Hugh Kier
Gender: Male
Marriage Date: 28 Dec 1727
Marriage Place: Dysart, Fife, Scotland
Spouse: Margaret Beath
FHL Film Number: 1040109

Original data: Scotland, Marriages, 1561-1910. Salt Lake City, Utah: FamilySearch, 2013.

Again note the ‘double marriage’ indicating that Hugh Keir lived in one parish (Dysart, Fife) and Margaret Beath in the other (Portmoak, Kinross) at the time of their betrothal. It is easily uncovered that this couple had (at least) 9 children, all baptized in Dysart: William (1728-~1732); Grisel (1730-); William (1732-); David (1734-); John (1738-1738); John (1739-)*; George (1741) and then ‘the twins’ Hugh and Robert born in 1742.

* [Note: we shall return to this John Keir (born 1739) at a later date as it is possible that he is the ancestor of at least two members of the ‘Keir Collaboration’.]

Unfortunately, apart for the baptism records there is no currently accessible (at least by us) conclusive documentation on these children. We humbly ask that any reader who has further information about the children of Hugh Keir and Margaret Beath to contact us.

This isn’t however the limit of our search: Hugh Keir (sr)’s death is recorded in The Commissariot of St. Andrew’s, Register of Testaments (1549-1800) Kincardineshire, Fife, Kinross, Perth, and Forfar collection for the 3rd of July, in the year 1745. This document – a testament & dative (including a brief inventory) can be purchased (for a small fee) from the Scotland’s People website.


This testament states that the umguil Hugh Keir, Salt-Grieve to the Lord St. Clare in the Parish of Dysart died on the 1st of August, 1744. He would have been relatively young, being only 41 years of age. The sole executor (executrix) is Margaret Beath relict (widow) of the said Hugh Keir. It is also from this document that we find that Hugh Keir was Salt-Grieve to the Lord St. Clare (Sinclair) in the shire of Dysart. The final record we have for Hugh and this family comes a year later when a Petition against Hugh Keir was published as “Answers for Hugh Keir, Salt-agent to John Sinclair of Sinclair, Esq., to the Petition of James Murray Merchant in Fraserburgh, and James Chrystie Ship-master There”. More about this case can be found in the National Records of Scotland – reference GD164/347. These are the collected “Papers of the Sinclair Family, Earls of Rosslyn”. The reference briefly describes the situation:

Papers regarding the sum due to Hugh Keir, salt agent for Lord Sinclair, by James Christie, shipmaster in Fraserburgh, and James Murray, merchant there, for payment of a salt bond for salt exported to Bergen, Norway. Hugh was obliged to pay the sum contained in the salt bond because it was alleged that the salt had been re-landed in Scotland after leaving Dysart. The debt was assigned by Margaret Beath [Beith], relict of said Hugh, to John Sinclair of Sinclair on 29 September 1745. – NAS GD164/347.

We can interpret this to mean that Margaret Beath is trying to recover (from John, Lord Sinclair) monies (a salt-bond) paid by Hugh Keir before his death. The other people involved, merchants James Murray and Thomas Urquhart, and shipmaster James Christie  are all mentioned in Hugh Keir’s inventory.

Again, unfortunately, we are unable to discover the outcome of this suit for Margaret Beath or what happens to her and her very young children afterwards.

Aside:  A Grieve in general was a manager or overseer. In the case of a Salt-Grieve it was that person’s task and duty to procure salt for his employer (generally a laird of the manor, a feudal overlord or member of the nobility). In the case of Hugh Keir working for Lord Sinclair, this would have been a position of some responsibility.

Salt played a much bigger role in the economy and society of Hanoverian Britain than in later times. It was required as a mild abrasive by tanners, as a glaze by potters, and to flavor and preserve certain foodstuffs. – [Source: Britain in the Hanoverian Age, 1714-1837; page 621; Authors: Gerald Newman & Leslie Ellen Brown.]

Salt until quite recently has been a valuable commodity (cf: the Roman’s and the derivation of the term Salary) and was frequently taxed as a means by which a cash-strapped monarch could raise urgently needed funds. It was for this reason that in 1693, William III (and his Dutch accountants) raised a stringent duty on alcohol, tobacco and salt. The mechanism of collection involved the notorious “Commission for Salt” and various local Customs and Excise officials (tax-collectors) around Scotland. Hugh Keir would have needed to understand the new laws in detail – and have been able to navigate the complex relationships between local manufacturers, continental suppliers, merchants and shipowners – in order to fulfill his remit.


  • Umguil (or sometimes spelt unquhile) means in Scottish (legal) dialect, deceased (former or late).
  • Assigning John St Clare (or St Clair) as Lord Sinclair is a mistake – due to certain earlier indiscretions and his involvement in the 1715 Jacobean Revolution (and his subsequent banishment and attaintment), John was only Master of Sinclair and did not succeed to his father’s title – Henry St Clair, was the 10th Lord Sinclair and last of that lineage. He died in 1723.



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