John Robertson MacDuff



Great Grandparents of C. Ray Varley

Compiled May 1993


A son of John and Ellen Robertson MacDuff, he was born on October 17, 1801 at Lochgilphead, Argyleshire, Scotland. There is some discrepancy about his father's name. It was either John or Malcolm or both. There is also some controversy over just who his mother was. In one place she is listed as Ellen Robertson and in another place as Mary Morrison. His father's trade was that of a mason worker. John first learned the trade of handling livestock. He married while still living in Scotland, but this woman's name was not recorded in his history. He had three children by this wife. In the early part of the 1820's, about 1834-35 black smallpox was raging in many parts of the British Isles. John R. MacDuff had the misfortune of losing his wife and their three children all within a few days of each other from that disease. It was not long after this tragedy that he decided to leave Scotland and go to England to find a new life for himself. He first worked in the mines in England and later became well trained in bookkeeping and accounting. For that time he was fairly well educated. In England he lived in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire districts or counties. It was here that he met Ellen Hancock Burns, a young widow.

ELLEN HANCOCK (1813-1883)

A daughter of Joseph and Mary Jackson Hancock, she was born June 19 1813 at Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England. Ellen, along with her sister Anna (or Anne) was christened at the Chesterfield Parish Church. Ellen had two older sisters, Mary Ann and Anna. Later three more children were born into the family: James, Jane and Joseph. Ellen's father was a stagecoach driver and his runs were from Chesterfield to the big city of Sheffield.

While living in Chesterfield, Ellen met a young man named Joseph Burns. it was in the old Church at nearby Brampton, Derbyshire that they became man and wife on March 20 1831. A few months after their marriage, Joseph left for the West Indies in search of employment, hoping to make a new home for himself and his bride. While there he contracted Yellow Fever and died on the island of Jamaica. He never got the chance to send for his bride, nor to learn of the birth of his son, Charles which occurred on December 3 1831. It was a great loss for Ellen to have her husband taken so soon and so far away. She remained in Nottingham and worked as a dressmaker to support herself and her infant son.


John had been a widower for about five years and Ellen a widow for about nine years when they married. St. Paul's Church in Nottingham was the scene of their marriage on September 15, 1839. A John Gill and Jane Hancock (who signed with a cross) were their witnesses. They now had an opportunity to begin a new family and make a home for Charles Burns, Ellen's son, who throughout his life kept the name of Burns.

Their first home together was at Owens Court, Swenton Street, Nottingham. It was here on April 5, 1840 that their first child, Mary Ellen was born. They shortly moved to Ball Yard, Caulpit Lane where their son Malcolm was born. Later they lived at Walton, a small village near Chesterfield in Derbyshire. It was here and at this time (1842-44) that they heard of the Latter-Day Saints through the missionaries who were laboring in that area. They were Elders John Nicholson and Joseph F. Smith, who later became President of The Church. The MacDuffs were among the first in this area to open their home to the Elders. It was on February 14, 1845 that John was baptized by Elder Charles Marsden. On June 8, 1845 Ellen was baptized. Soon after joining the Church, John moved his family to Brampton, near Chesterfield, Derby where stood the historic old Church, known for it's crooked spire. John advanced rapidly in the church's priesthood and by 1852 he was ordained an elder. In Brampton three more children were born to them: John R. Jr., who died early in his first year, Ada Alice and Jane Rowen. He worked here in the mines as a collier where hours of labor were long. They were active in church affairs and opened their home to the visiting Mormon missionary Elders. Their home was a plain stone and brick two-story cottage, roofed with tiles as was common in the countryside of England, and had a large fireplace with built-in oven and with andirons with a suspended kettle. This was before the times when stoves were used, and candles and the fireplace provided the main source of light in the evenings. At the rear of the home was a garden and a meadow with a little brook running through it, which where it widened became an ideal place to conduct baptisms. In order to provide greater privacy, this ordnance was usually performed in the evenings as there was a busy road adjacent to their property. Their children were baptized here as they became of age. On some of the early church records in the different branches in England it is noted that baptism dates may vary. This is because as the Saints moved from one district to another, they were usually re-baptized as that was the system used in lieu of recommends being transferred, as is the practice today.

Ellen MacDuff as well as all her children had beautiful voices and trained themselves to sing together. At meetings and socials in their home towns, as well as when they came to Utah, they were always available to participate in musical programs. one of their favorite church songs was "Oh, Ye mountains High, where The Clear Blue Sky Arches O'er The Vales of The Free," and served as a guide for all of them in their desires to migrate to Utah. John had continued to better his education, learning bookkeeping and accounting. His employers became impressed with his skills and attitude and was given a position in the firm's office. When his company learned that he was intending to go to America, they offered him many inducements to stay, but nothing could swerve him from his purpose of going to "Zion." He moved his family to Chesterfield so as to be closer to his work. John was very active in the church, serving for a time as the Branch President.

John and Ellen's family grew, and along with that came the total family's dedication to the church and to migrate to Utah. They all worked towards the satisfaction of this goal. Charles Burns, Ellen's son was the first of the children to marry. On the 17th of November, 1851 he married Martha Fretwell in chesterfield. They made their home in Brampton and ultimately were the parents of 11 children, five of whom were born in Utah, after they emigrated to America in the early months of 1868. His wife Martha died in 1878 and 15 months later he remarried to Susannah Lord Oliver and they had two children.

On April 14, 1861 their daughter Mary Ellen married William Varley who was a son of Thomas and Maria Slater Varley. They were married in the Chesterfield Parish church. On April 14 of 1861 Mary Ellen and William left England for Utah. They were joined by William's mother and Malcolm MacDuff, Mary Ellen's brother. It took them six weeks to cross the ocean, enduring many hardships, as their boat, named the "Underwriter" was but a small sailing vessel. Mary Ellen was sea sick most of the way over. They spent four months crossing the plains in ox teams as members of Captain William S. Warren's Company, arriving in the Salt Lake Valley in September, 1861. Just a few weeks after their arrival in Utah their son, William, Jr. was born. William worked at farming or at anything that he could find for the first few years in Salt Lake.

Meanwhile, back in England, John and Ellen's second daughter, Sarah Anna, married Thomas Hancock in may of 1864. Shortly after this event, the parents, John and Ellen, along with the two remaining girls, Ada and Jane who were ages 14 and 9, left their home in England for their new home and a new life among their family now in Utah. It was just three years since the first of the family had left England and it was seven years before they were all together again in Utah. John, Ellen and the girls crossed the ocean in an old sailing vessel the George B. McClellan, named after a Northern General in the civil war, which was nearing it's conclusion. In order not to run into vessels from the South, they took a northern course and as a consequence, ran into a field of icebergs. Whichever way they looked they could see those mountains of ice. There was a great danger of running into them, especially as they approached the foggy banks of the shore of Newfoundland. suddenly one night after the passengers had retired to their bunks below deck, there was a sudden grating and a tremendous lurch of the vessel which threw many from their bunks and spread confusion everywhere. Twice more this was repeated then the ship gradually sank back rolling from side to side as though she were about to turn over. Women and children were crying, men were hurrying to and fro and the greatest confusion prevailed. There was great fear that the ship would sink. Amid the confusion, one of the ship's officers was sent, with lantern, to examine every portion of the ship, looking for breaks in the hull. He passed the bunk where the young girls, Ada and Jane were. They were peering through the curtains with their faces resting between their hands. "Little girls," he said, "Aren't you afraid?" and almost in unison they said, "No, we're not afraid. The Lord didn't bring us here to be drowned in the sea." Then with a burst of joy, the officer swung his lantern round and round and cried out as loud as he could, "Hurrah! this vessel won't sink, there's faith enough to save any ship." They continued in safety, but the following year while the George B. McClellan was making a voyage, it was caught in a storm and sunk, carrying all aboard to their deaths.

The above story was told to members of the MacDuff family and it was recorded in their family history.

After a six weeks voyage, they landed at Castle Gardens, New York. It was close to the end of the Civil War and just before their arrival a great battle had been fought and the sick and wounded were being brought from the battle front. John and Ellen as well as their two daughters remembered vividly the feeling of gloom and scenes of sorrow coming from those scenes.

They left New York and traveled by river steamer and railroad for two weeks before they reached Winter Quarters. There they waited six weeks for the ox teams to come from Utah which would take them to their destination in the Salt Lake Valley. Their Captain was William S. Warren, who was also the Captain of the company that brought their daughter Mary Ellen and her husband, William Varley into Utah just three years earlier. It took them eleven weeks to cross the plains. many Indians were hostile and greater care had to be taken to avoid them. Frontier settlements had been plundered and burned and many settlers had been killed. more than once they came upon ranch houses that had been pillaged, burned and the occupants massacred. one incident they especially remembered was a place in which an entire family had been murdered. Evidently the Indians had been scared away by the approach of the Mormon emigrant train and had fled in haste. Around the table, where they had evidently just been seating themselves to a meal, were their bodies, scalped and shot through with arrows; while on the table was their meal, untouched.

Because of the danger from warring Indians, the companies of saints at that time were especially large in order to protect themselves. At one time the Mormons were joined by a company of ten or twelve California bound mule teams for a number of days. Because the Mormon train had slower ox teams, the mule team became impatient at traveling so slow, and forged on ahead. The next day the Mormon train came upon the California group and found that their wagons had been burned, their mules stolen and all of the members of the group had been murdered, bodied pierced with arrows, presumably the result of an Indian attack.

Such scenes as these made a lasting impression upon all of their minds. But all was not horror. They remembered seeing great herds of buffalo as thy grazed on the plains. At one time their train was stopped for hours waiting for the buffalo to pass as they wended their way down to a river for water. At night, even though they had been walking, were weary and footsore, fording streams and picking up buffalo chips to use for fuel to cook their evening meal, they surrounded the campfires and sang: "Come, Come Ye Saints, No Toil nor Labor Fear, But With Joy Wend Your way." Music, dancing and other merry makings were often indulged in; but promptly at nine o'clock a prayer was said, thanking God for His blessings bestowed during the day and invoking His aid on the morrow. Soon the fires died down and the camp, save for a few left to guard the cattle, was wrapped in slumber. The next morning the camp bugle was sounded and every one was up preparing for the day's trek. The first wagon to arrive the night before was usually the first to leave. So large was their train that as much as an hour elapsed between the departure of the first and last wagons.

Soon after their arrival in Salt Lake Valley, the family settled in North Salt Lake. All had to find work. They worked in the fields, gleaning, picking, weeding and the girls found employment as house keepers. The men of the family soon started a lime burning and quarry business which was initially run by Malcolm MacDuff and his brother-in-law, William Varley. As William had sons and sons-in-law of his own, the family business grew in North Salt Lake and then later in Parley's Canyon.

John built a beautiful home on the northern fringe of Salt Lake city, just south of where Beck's Hot Springs was for so many years. It was a stone building and considered to be one of the best in that part of the city. Here they enjoyed the association of their family and their grandchildren. Their home was at the north end of the old 19th Ward and was the scene of many church socials for all the Saints in that area. They were true Latter-Day- Saints and never failed to impress the church's truths upon their children and grandchildren. The church's poetry and music especially appealed to Ellen and her girls. She knew and loved to sing the songs of Zion. many wonderful evenings were spent by the family enjoying a musical get together. As each of their family arrived in Utah they took advantage of going through the Endowment House, taking upon themselves the ordinances of the church. The MacDuff home stood for many years on the east side of the main highway, going north out of the city. It was removed during the 1950's to make way for an enlarged highway.

John Robertson MacDuff passed away on the 17th of October, 1871 and his beloved wife Ellen joined him on the 11th of August, 1883. They surely deserve to be numbered with our pioneers; those noble men and women who gave up most of all they had for the Gospel's sake and endured privations and hardships in order to live in "Zion."

(The source of information for this summary was obtained from a paper prepared by Mildred Walker McRae [C. Ray Varley's cousin]).

The children born to John and Ellen were: Mary Ellen (Charles Raymond Varley's grandmother) born April 5, 1840; Malcolm, born May 17, 1842; Sarah Anna, born October 16, 1844; John Robertson, born sometime after 1847 and died in infancy; Ada Alice, born November 15, 1850; and Jane Rowen, born May 20, 1855. All were born in England.

Mary Ellen MacDuff Varley

Ellen Hancock MacDuff

Malcolm MacDuff

MacDuff home in Salt Lake City, Utah