Isabella’s Story, Part 2: ‘my intended spouse’

Living with their widowed mother at the small farm at Alcaig, it is unlikely Isabella and Jane had an exciting social life. They did, however, have strong family and social connections with many local ministers. It may have been through this group that Jane met the Mr Fraser whom she would marry, and where Isabella met a young missionary minister who was stationed in Caithness. Alexander Sage was six foot one inch tall, with broad shoulders and a deep chest. He was strong and had a temper. With good connections all over the far north, he had been brought up in Lochcarron and sent to school in Cromarty, just north of where Isabella had passed her childhood. At the age of twenty three Alexander had gone to Aberdeen to study at Kings College where he was friendly with several Ross-shire heirs. It may have been these schoolboy and college connections that eventually put Alexander in Isabella’s path. After Aberdeen he took his mother to live with him in Tongue where he took up the position of schoolmaster. The young man was following the usual pattern for ministers and indeed, in 1779, he was licensed by the Presbytery of Tongue to become an assistant to the minister in Reay. It must have been during this time that he met Isabella. The minister’s health was failing: latterly he had to be carried into the pulpit. Alexander must have hoped that when the inevitable happened, he would succeed him and offer Isabella the stability and prestige of the manse at Reay. Local politics intervened and another man was appointed when the minister died in 1784. Instead, Alexander made a sideways move into a vast mission in ‘a wide and populous district within the boundaries of the parishes of Reay, Halkirk, and Latheron’. He itinerated, taking services and visiting the people at Dirlot, Strathhalladale, and Berriedale. The less attractive offer of living by this ‘heathy moor, full of quaking bogs’ does not seem to have deterred Isabella. On the 19th March 1784 she married Alexander Sage.

The route Sage would have taken into ‘heathy moor, full of quaking bogs’

The route Sage would have taken into ‘heathy moor, full of quaking bogs’ (photo: Elizabeth Ritchie)

It was not the custom to marry in church. Thirty three year old Isabella and thirty one year old Alexander tied the knot at the farm in Alcaig. The service was conducted by her brother, minister of Kirkhill, and her father’s replacement at Urquhart, Charles Calder. Four days previously, as was normal among gentry families, they drew up a marriage contract. Alexander’s portion was in the form of a letter addressed to her brother, Dr. Alexander Fraser:

‘Revd. dear Sir, As your sister, Miss Isabella Fraser, and I have agreed to enter upon the married state, from a principle of mutual love and affection, and as I am not as yet possessed of an Established Church benefice with which to provide her as I would wish, I hereby oblige myself to bequeath to her all the subjects and effects belonging to me in case I should die before I am provided with a stipend on the establishment. I also hereby exclude any other person to intermeddle with any part of my subjects except the above Miss Isabella Fraser, my intended spouse alenarly. For the further security, I also bind myself to extend this security on stamped paper any time required. As I grant this, my obligation, from my special regard for your sister, so I hope she will be pleased to give a similar security to me in case I should survive her, and I am, Revd. dr. Sir, your mo. obedt. Servt., Alexander Sage.’

On her wedding day, Isabella responded

‘I, the above-designed Miss Isabella Fraser, in consequence of the affection expressed for me in the above letter, do bequeath to Mr. Alexander Sage, my intended husband, all my effects that shall pertain to me at my death, in case I shall predecease him, and exclude any other person from intermeddling with them: in witness whereof I have subscribed these presents, at Alcaig, this nineteenth day of March, xvii. and eighty-four, in presence of these witnesses- Mr. David Denoon, minister of Killearnan, and Mr. John Grant, merchant in Inverness.’

Marriage tended to be the defining decision in an eighteenth-century woman’s life. Isabella had chosen Alexander, and after their wedding they made their way further north than she had ever been before, away from fertile Easter Ross to the ‘region of mist and quagmire’.

'The Glutt', between Dirlot and Dunbeath - midsummer 2014

‘The Glutt’, between Dirlot and Dunbeath – midsummer 2014 (Photo: Elizabeth Ritchie)

Donald Sage, Memorabilia Domestica

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