Thomas Murrant

Sometime around the turn of the century, before the Scottish, before the Irish and a few years after the Loyalists, and for reasons probably known only to him, Thomas Murrant left his homeland and took up residence in this new frontier eventually settling in the area of Cow Bay, the present site of Port Morien, Cape Breton.

He was apparently born in 1787. He married Aurelia Payne in his 25th year, in 1812. Aurelia was at least three years his senior and likely more, mother of five children and a widow. One would guess he came to Cape Breton not later than 1811, not earlier than 1802. They were married in St George's Anglican Church in Sydney. He had a family of 7 children by Aurelia, one child of a second marriage to Catherine Sutherland and raised 5 children of a previous marriage of his wife Aurelia to Henry Peters.

It is not certain where Thomas first took up residence. The Peters family lived mainly in the Sydney area and it is likely that Aurelia Payne and her first husband Henry Peters resided there on a relatively large tract of land granted to him through his mother Ann. Aurelia was widowed in 1809 and was probably living on the land when she met Thomas. It is therefore likely that Thomas lived in or around Sydney for a while after his arrival in Cape Breton. After their marriage, they took up residence in Cow Bay. 

There is a biography of Thomas which is well known in circles researching the Murrant and related names in Cape Breton. Following is a transcript of the information appearing in that document. It is transcribed without edit and exactly as it was given to me:

Thomas Murrant Founder of the name in Cape Breton


Thomas Murrant, the first man of that name in Cape Breton was born in Fe Champ, a seaport town in Flanders, France, in the year 1787.  He received a fine education in his youth having been trained for the Roman Catholic priesthood.  He later renounced that faith and took up Protestantism, for which he incurred the sincere displeasure of his family.

Of his early life, little is known except that, in 1803, at the age of sixteen years, he was drafted into the army of Napoleon to help protect his native Flanders against the allied armies of England and Russia.  How long he remained in the army is not known but it must have been considerable time as he used to relate, in after years, about the many hardships he had gone through in the various campaigns.

We next find him in England, to which haven of refuge he had fled to avoid the severe persecutions of his family and friends on account of his change in religion.  After living in England for some years, he joined the British Navy where, on account of his superior education, he was given an officer's billet on a man of' war and was assigned to duty in West Indian waters.  On having some trouble with his superior officer, owing to his rebellious temperament, was ordered put in irons, later being lashed to the mast where he was flogged with a cat-o' -nine tails, then much used in the British Navy.

Smarting under the injustice of severe treatment, he, with several others, made their escape at the first port of call, which happened to be North Sydney, Cape Breton.  He was kept in hiding for several days by newly found friends, until the man of war sailed away.

He then made his way out to Cow Bay through the woods - there were no roads - only trails.  He married Mrs. Henry Peters, the widow of a United Empire Loyalist.  Her maiden name was Orilla Payne, a native of Connecticut.  She already had three children, Ormand, Edmund and Ann. Ann married Nathaniel Spencer of Mira.  After the death of Mrs. Peters in 1846, he married Catherine Sutherland of Caithness Scotland, in 1847.


His first family were Thomas, John, Anthony, William, Louisa and Hannah.  Of his last marriage, there was only one child, Catherine, born Sept. 1st, 1849.  Thomas Murrant lived on the north side of Cow Bay, moving to the south side.  He died in 1852 and was buried at Homeville on a hill overlooking the Back Cove on the south side (of Cow Bay). He owned the MacAulay land.



The writer of the above, which was dated 1943, is unknown but it is believed to be one of the elder Murrants from the Big Glace Bay area. While it cannot be proven as fact, certain other facts, obtained from different sources, seem to correspond and corroborate.

-----end of transcript-----


I have researched this account extensively and while certain of the information can be  corroborated, most of it is suspect.

Click here to see the descendancy tree of Aurelia and Thomas.

Aurelia was the mother of five children by Henry Moore Peters. This genealogy therefore begins with Aurelia and by inclusion, includes Thomas' descendants. The descendancy tree of Thomas would exclude all those descendants of Aurelia.

Certain information pertaining to individuals born in the last ninety years has or should have been suppressed.

Aurelia Payne

I have traced Aurelia’s lineage back through New England to the Widow Walker who I believe was born in Weymouth Dorset in about 1592.  Aurelia married Thomas about three years after the death of her first husband Henry Peters. Although she would not have had an income of her own to support her 5 children, the Peters and likely the Paynes were middle-upper class and likely supported her. The Peters were ranking military, elite of the period and correspondence of the time refers to the Peters as influential people. As a matter of interest, John Peters died in London, England, apparently contesting his treatment by the military.

 When her new family was started with Thomas, the children from her previous marriage were approximately 11, 9, 8, 4 and 3 years of age.

The family Murrant were members of St George's Anglican Church in Sydney. St George's church was established in 1785 and is the oldest church parish in Cape Breton as well as the fourth oldest parish in the British foundation in Canada. The first priest at St George's was Benjamin Lovell, he was however the garrison chaplain and not the rector. The building was started after the first priest was established, Rev. Ranna Cossitt. The royal engineers built the church.

With few exceptions, at the turn of the 20th Century, all of those Murrants living in Cape Breton and indeed in Canada were descendants of Thomas Murrant and Aurelia Payne. There were however, a few exceptions and I have not resolved their lineage.

During the summer of 1814 ,Thomas and Aurelia aquired the land and built their house here on South Head, just east of the McAuley land. And so in the fall of 1814, Tom and Aurelia, together with their new son Tom and Aurelia's five children moved from the north side of Cow Bay to their new home on the "South Head" of the bay. The land grant map of the area looked like this several  years later.

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