I had discovered a gold mine of information. So many questions revolving around this infamous family story were finally answered! But many more questions still remained and how did the paper trail match up with the details in the letter?
I started to look at the cast of characters presented in the letter first to determine if I could uncover more facts in this fantastical story. While we do have some ancillary characters such as the minister of the Foveran parish and the lawyer, Mr. Grove, it’s unlikely their histories would lead to more information about the case.
The writer of the letter (a cousin of Jeanette’s) was unknown. It must have been on her maternal side (who married into the Innes family). It was most likely a relative still living in the UK that never came over to the U.S. Jeanette’s grandfather John Steel had a sister Martha and a brother, Henry. The writer talks about “their fathers” indicating that this could be the son or daughter of Henry Steel.
The Scoundrels Mitchell--they certainly sounded like the type to go around digging up graves and altering parish records by the way the person spoke of them in the letter. After Jane died, its well documented who inherited the fortune. William Innis was the cheif cashier of the Royal Bank of Scralnd from 1808-1827. The claim was that William was the “nephew” of Gilbert Innes, but when looking at the records and others’ careful research it looks like he was a cousin once removed. He was considered the closest kin despite the many illegitimate children who tried to make the claim. After he inherited the estate, he started calling himself William Mitchell-Innes. He later acquired Ayton castle sometime later by unknown means. It appears this Ayton castle (not associated with Gilbert Innes) is the castle from our family stories. Another example of how fact and fiction were intertwined into the the story.
But was Gilbert truly related to our Innes family? Given the names in the letter, the writer provided some helpful dates of marriage and a birth of a son. Records reveal that a William Innes (b 1702), son of a different Gilbert Innes was married in 1727 in Foveran to Jannet Ray. Their son Alexander was baptized in Foveran in 1731 and married Helen Mitchell, 1768. They had a son also named Alexander around 1771 in Foveran. This Alexander seems to who the writer is referring to in her letter to Jeannette stating its the great great granfather of Jeanette. This would make Elizabeth Innes’ (who married Joseph Steel) the daughter of Alexander Innes and Helen Mitchell.This matches up to the dates provided in the letter, but is clearly not the same Gilbert Innes of Stow.
Looking at it another way, Elizabeth Innes (the known grandmother of Jeanette), the mother appears to have been baptized 20 Jul 1783 in Stockton, Durham, England daughter of Alexander and Elizabeth Inness. So her father Alexander and the Alexanders of Foveran mentioned above also do not mesh in space and time.
Families trying to make claim to this estate were not uncommon. You can imagine with 67 illegitimate children, there were many who insisted that they were the rightful heirs. It’s also quite plausible that lawyers and solicitors tried to take advantage of this sensationalist story. Maybe they made a claim that with enough money the fortune could be yours and it didn’t matter if you were giving up a sizeable amount of money now, just think of the millions you’d eventually be entitled to!
The letter certainly has some suspect language alluding to that. If you notice, the writer mentions the need for money twice. Once when he or she says “this action will cost a lot of money” and another time “I have thought of getting the money through a syndicate but as you will know they will want to be tremendously well paid,”. Many of the facts do not match up to the paper trail and it would all be unknown to the family back in the U.S.
Coincidentally shortly after I found the letter, my distant cousin (and genealogy partner in crime!) Nancy was traveling to Scotland. She was going to be within driving distance of the Ayton Castle. We discovered that it was for sale and our family joked about purchasing it and bringing it back to the rightful heirs. Nancy planned on driving to the castle and walking around the grounds. She was later invited in for coffee and was able to experience the castle all of us had heard about for years and years, yet had little information on its whereabouts.
After her return, the paper trail and research grew cold, but more research continues to come out about the mistresses of Gilbert and his many descendants. The conclusion of my search revealed there were some truths in the family lore we heard all those years. While we don't know all of the details to this long told story, many family members found enjoyment and a thrill finding out there was some truth to the story and some of the details that plagued us for years. Who knows, maybe someday our Innes family will be included in a list of Gilbert Innes’ known descendants, but for now we’ll continue to tell future generations (a little more factually) the tale of the fortune and how our family was (maybe) swindled by the Scoundrels Mitchell!
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