Annapolis Heritage Society | Annapolis Royal, Nova Scotia

The John Ritchie Family of Annapolis Royal, c. 1774

by Ruth Ritchie

The Ritchie family is considered to be among the nine septs of the Clan MacKintosh, though some accounts state that the affiliation is with Clan MacPherson. Both MacKintosh and MacPherson are among the seventeen Septs considered to belong to the great Clan Chatten. There appears to be two groups of Ritchie families, one that settled in the Border area of Scotland and the other in the Highlands. In his “History of the County of Annapolis”, Calnek expressed his belief that the two Ritchie families who eventually settled in Annapolis Royal between 1770 and 1783 were from Ardoch in Perthshire, which is in the area south east of the Highlands.

The first to arrive was John Ritchie who, with wife Jennet, had sailed from Edinburgh to Boston in 1770. Jennet is thought to have died in Boston, possibly in childbirth. John settled in Annapolis Royal sometime before 1774 and there married the daughter of Francis B. LeCain, Alicia, who bore him three children. John went into business as a merchant and was soon involved in the affairs of the town and county. He is believed to have been the nephew of Andrew Ritchie, who arrived in Annapolis Royal in 1783 as a Loyalist, and who appears to have been in partnership with him as early as 1773 and perhaps earlier, transporting and trading goods between Nova Scotia and Boston and supplying the Loyalist forces during the Revolutionary War.

In 1781, John was captured at Annapolis Royal by the crew of an American privateer and later released on parole and promise of exchange for an American prisoner at Halifax. He was chosen for the Assembly in 1782 and sat two sessions. He was a Justice of the Peace and in 1788 was appointed a lay Judge of the Inferior Court Of Common Pleas. During the late eighteenth century, members of his family owned what is now known as the Adams-Ritchie house, built about 1713 by John Adams on Saint George Street in Annapolis Royal.

John Ritchie’s shipping business met with financial reverses and he died while in financial difficulty at the age of 45. His young family thrived, however, thanks to the assistance of the LeCain and Andrew Ritchie families, and went on to produce many men of eminence in the legal profession.

Ritchie’s eldest child, John Corbett Ritchie, son of Jennet, accepted a commission in the Royal Nova Scotia Regiment, appearing as a junior Lieutenant in 1796. After the regiment disbanded in 1802, he moved to Sydney, Cape Breton, where he became a mines superintendent and later a lease holder of the Cape Breton coal mines until 1818. He was married first in 1800 to Alexis Campbell, who died at the birth of their fourth child, and second in 1807 to Amelia Matthews. His daughter by his second marriage married into the Dodd family, prominent in legal circles, and went on to produce a number of sons who also pursued the practice of law.

John and his second wife Alicia’s eldest son, Thomas, was 13 years old when his father died. He studied law at an early age and was admitted to the bar about 1795 and elevated to the bench in 1824. Thomas married first Elizabeth Johnstone, who bore him seven children, one of whom was Sir William Johnstone Ritchie, Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. Another son was the Rev. James Johnstone Ritchie, barrister and rector of St Luke’s Church in Annapolis Royal.

Thomas’ second marriage was to Elizabeth Best, who died childless when thrown from her horse. His third wife was Anne Bond and they had two children, one of whom was the Hon. Joseph Norman Ritchie, a Justice of the Supreme Court of Nova Scotia. Of Thomas’s family, five sons, eleven grandsons, five great grandsons, and three great great grandsons entered the legal profession, and of these six went to the bench in Canada. Very few, if any, of their descendents presently live in Nova Scotia but may be found as far away as British Columbia, South Africa and New Zealand.

John and Alicia’s daughter Ann married Daniel James and they and their descendants settled mainly in Nova Scotia, with a few emigrating to Maine in the mid to late 1800s. The descendants of John and Alicia’s youngest son, Andrew Stirling Ritchie, settled primarily in Annapolis County until the late 1800s and early 1900s when many emigrated to various parts of the United States. Andrew’s descendants may also be found in England and Israel. Some Annapolis County names connected to these families are Gormley, Harris, James, McClafferty and Whitman.

A full genealogy of the John Ritchie family is available at the O’Dell House Museum (136 St George Street) in Annapolis Royal. The Annapolis Heritage Society Genealogy Centre, located in the museum, houses information not only on this family, but also on other families from the western part of Annapolis County. Volunteers are on site to help researchers from 1 pm to 4 pm Monday to Saturday. For more information, visit or call 902 532-7754.