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The estate of Broomhill is in the parish of Reay.

The Cunninghams of Caprington in Ayrshire, and of Broomhill, date from the time of King David Bruce, and they became connected with Caithness early in the seventeenth century. In 1624 we find John Cunningham, Admiral Depute and Sheriff of Caithness, in the occupation of Geise, Ormlie, and Brownhill, and married to a lady of the family of Rattar.

I. The first Cunningham of Broomhill was John, second son of William of Caprington, who got in patrimony from his father the lands of Broomhill, which was the designation of this branch of the family, and continued to be so until the original family estate of Caprington was acquired by John Cunningham, the eminent advocate, who was created a baronet in 1669.

II. JOHN CUNNINGHAM, FIRST OF BROOMHILL, is said by Douglas to have been succeeded by a son, William, who is said to have got a Crown charter of the lands in 1629, and to have married, first, Janet, daughter of Patrick, first Lord Lindores, and by her to have had three daughters: -

  1. Jean, married to Sinclair of Dunbeath
  2. Margaret, married to Innes of Borlum
  3. A daughter, married to Mr. Symmers
According to the same authority, William Cunningham's second wife was "Elizabeth, daughter of William Sinclair of Rattar, descended of a second son of the Earl of Caithness, and now (1768) claiming the title of Earl of Caithness, and grand-aunt of the present laird of Rattar". The laird of Rattar and the claimant of the title in 1768 were one and the same person, and the only lady of the Rattar family who married into the family of Cunningham was Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir John Sinclair, first of Rattar, and the great-great-grandaunt of the laird of Rattar, who claimed and obtained the title of Earl of Caithness in 1768; but it will be seen that her husband was not William Cunningham. By this second marriage, however, Douglas says he had three sons and four daughters: -
  1. Sir John, his heir
  2. James of Geise
  3. Adam, a Captain in the Army
  1. Janet, who married Murray of Clairden
  2. Isobell, who married Sinclair of Telstane
  3. Anne, who married Bruce of "Itam"
  4. Mary, who married Stewart of Ascog
In the pedigree of the Cunninghams, as given by Douglas, there is no mention of John Cunningham of Geise and Brownhill, Admiral Depute and Sheriff of Caithness; but that he was in the occupation of these lands in 1624 is shown by a receipt for rent paid by him that year; and that he was Sheriff in 1625 is shown by a judicial ratification signed before him at Brims on 31st March of that year; while under the designation of John Cunningham of "Brownhill" he is repeatedly named in deeds and otherwise down to past the middle of the century; and in 1655 he was an Elder of the parish of Thurso, as appears from the Session Records.

John Cunningham of Brownhill was twice married. The name of his first wife has not been traced, but it is noticeable that Douglas, in his account of the family of Lindores, says that Janet, daughter of Patrick, first Lord Lindores, married Sir John Cunningham of Broomhill; while in his account of the Cunninghams he says that this lady married William Cunningham of Broomhill.

John Cunningham's second wife was undoubtedly Elizabeth Sinclair, daughter of Sir John, first of Greenland and Rattar. In March 1636 Sir William Sinclair of Cadboll brought an action against James Sinclair of Rattar, son of Sir John, for 3000 borrowed by his brother, John, and him for payment of his sister Elizabeth's tocher to John Cunningham of Geise, her husband. (Bond, 8th May 1632) William of Rattar, the son of James Sinclair, and the great-grandfather of William of Rattar, tenth Earl of Caithness, had no daughter Elizabeth.

The designation of "Brownhill" is unmistakably given to the John Cunningham who married Rattar's daughter, and who occupied Geise, and was otherwise connected with the county; but, as has been already remarked, Douglas nowhere mentions any Cunningham "of Brownhill". There is a place near Thurso and Ormlie known as Brownhill; but whether John Cunningham acquired the designation from these lands, which he may have possessed as he did Ormlie, or whether the original family title was Brownhill, the "Broomhill" of Douglas being a misnomer or misprint, cannot now be ascertained. In a MS. Inventory of the Fens and Papers produced by the Caithness Vassals in 1720, John Cunningham of Geise is designed of "Broomhill", but this is the only instance discovered of his having been so designed.

John Cunningham had by his marriages five, if not six daughters, and five sons: -

  1. Jean, who married in 1632 Alexander Sinclair of Latheron, brother of Sir John Sinclair of Dunbeath. No other lady of the name married into the family of Dunbeath and Latheron, and this lady must be the same as the Jean Cunningham of Douglas, who, as daughter of William Cunningham of Broomhill, married "Sinclair of Dunheath". She married, in 1647, William Sinclair of Rattar, the nephew of that Elizabeth Sinclair who was the second wife of her father. In what year John Cunningham's second marriage took place is uncertain, but it was not later than 1636, and was probably only a few years earlier, as Sinclair's father died in 1622, and her brother, James (who, as we have seen, borrowed money to pay her tocher), had only succeeded to the estate about 1634, on the death of an elder brother. Jean Cunningham was thus, almost certainly, of her father's first marriage. If she was of his second marriage, then she and her second husband, William of Rattar, were cousins-german. In her contracts of marriage in 1632 and 1647, and in other deeds, she is named as daughter of John Cunningham of Brownhill
  2. Margaret, who married William Innes of Borlum. This sister of Jean Cunningham is no doubt the same lady who Douglas says married Innes of Borlum, and who, according to him, was the daughter of William Cunningham. In 1651 John Cunningham signed a bond of caution for her in connection with the Borlum affairs, and although she is not designated as the daughter of John Cunningham, she must have been so if she was the sister of Jean, who was certainly his daughter. She seems to have considered herself a person of consequence, for in 1683 she writes stating her inability to assist her son, Henry Innes, and at the same time to maintain herself "as becomes a person of my quality"
  3. Janet, who married David Murray of Clairden
  4. Isobel, who married Alexander Sinclair of Telstane
  5. Anne, who married John Bruce of Ham, no doubt the same lady who, according to Douglas, married "Bruce of Itam". She afterwards married William Sutherland, styled "of Ham", of which she had the liferent. This William Sutherland was a son of John Sutherland of Little Tarbol, Sutherlandshire, and in 1712 he disponed his whole estate and effects to his nephew, John Sutherland of Little Tarbol
  6. Mary, who married Stewart of Ascog. She was unquestionably the daughter of John Cunningham of Brownhill
The five sons of John Cunningham were: -
  1. John, advocate, afterwards Sir John of Caprington
  2. James of Geise and Reaster. In 1677 he was an Elder of Thurso. He married Barbara, styled "Mistress of Geise", daughter of Sir James Sinclair of Murkle, and had a son who is designed William Cunningham of Reaster in 1686
  3. George, the third son, married Isabel Dundas. In 1698 he was dead, for in that year Isabel Dundas is designed, in an assignation of a bond granted by her husband's cousin, David Sinclair of Freswick, as "relict of umquhile Mr. George Cunningham, brother-german of Sir John Cunningham of Caprington"
  4. Adam, who was in Carsgo in 1661. He is designed fourth son of John Cunningham, and is, no doubt, the "Captain Adam Cunningham of Aukingill" who was a Commissioner of Supply in 1709. His wife was Jean Milburn
  5. Alexander
In 1664 John Cunningham assigned a wadset held by him and his wife, Elizabeth Sinclair, on the Rattar estate, in favour of the following "younger children of his second marriage", namely, James, George, Adam, Alexander, and Mary. His only other children were John, the Advocate, afterwards Sir John, who is named in this deed as his eldest son, and his two daughters, Jean and Margaret. Since John is referred to in the assignation by the widow of George Cunningham as the brother-german of her husband, he was most probably a son of his father's second marriage. However this may be, all the persons named were certainly children of John Cunningham of Geise and Brownhill, though they are all (except George and Alexander) named by Douglas as the children of William of Broomhill. It is evident either that there was no William of Broomhill, and that John was the correct name of the son and successor of John, first of Broomhill, or that, if there was a William, he had no family, and that John of Broomhill was his brother, as John, and not William, was undoubtedly the father of Sir John, the ancestor of the present family of Caprington. Thus Douglas is clearly mistaken in his account of the descendants of William Cunningham of Broomhill.

John Cunningham, advocate, is repeatedly mentioned as the son of John of Brownhill. In 1657 he assigned a bond to David Murray of Clairden, who had married his sister. McKay says that John Cunningham was born in Caithness and educated in Thurso, and that he was the eminent advocate who was created a baronet in 1669. Consequently he was the same Sir John who acquired Caprington by purchase after its sale by the creditors of his cousin, Sir William of Caprington.

Of still existing families in the county connected with the Cunninghams of Brownhill and Geise are the Traills of Rattar; the descendants of David Murray of Clairden and his wife, Janet Cunningham; and the family of Innes of Sandside, descended from Margaret Cunningham, "Lady Borlum".

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