Family Stories - Jarl Henry St. Clair

Occasionally, I run into a member of the family who has not heard the Prince Henry story, so I’ll repeat the basics here. In 1398, Jarl Henry St. Clair, his crew and his Italian navigator Antonio Zeno aimed their ships west and reached the shores of North America nearly 100 years before Columbus.

Jarl Henry was no ordinary man. John Quarterman’s site says he was “Baron of Roslin, Earl of Orkney, and Lord of Shetland, ‘who on 2 August 1379, was formally invested by Haakon, King of Norway, as Jarl of the Orkneys, ranked next to the Roy House before all the Scandinavian nobility.’… According to Fredrick J. Pohl, by inheritance from Henry's mother and confirmation of the King of Norway Henry became the first Sinclair Earl of Orkney. This made him the premier Jarl of Norway and the crowner of its king. (He has also been alleged to be the Duke of Oldenburg in Denmark, although no sources seem available for such a claim.) He had the right to various royal privileges, including wearing a crown. He held Orkney from the King of Norway, yet was also a leading Scottish noble. This dual loyalty and the geographical position of his Jarldom of Orkney with its 200 islands and 5,000 square miles on the sea lanes between the two countries made him in effect all but an independent king. The title of Prince has been alleged for him, although it is not clear that he ever used it or that it was applied to him in his lifetime.” 151  (John writes with such clarity and is always rigorous in pointing out when documents proof might be lacking.)

According to Fredrick J. Pohl, Jarl Henry set sail with 200-300 men in twelve tiny ships. According to a website to commemorate the 600th Anniversary of Prince Henry’s arrival, he “had commissioned Antonio and Nicolo Zeno, the brothers of Carlo Zeno "the Lion" of Venice, to draw a map of the north Atlantic region…. They had harmonious contacts with the Micmac Indians throughout at least one year. Several archaeological artifacts remain to validate their miraculous adventure. They are the Zeno Narratives and Zeno Map, a Venician cannon in Nova Scotia, the Micmac Indian legends, and a rock carving in Westford, Massachusetts. Some researchers believe that Sinclair and his group built the Newport Tower in Rhode Island.” 153

Conversations with Native Mi’kmaq tribal leaders at the Atlantic Conference confirm that their oral histories speak of 3 waves of early trans-Atlantic contact between their tribe and Europeans.

While there may be archaeological evidence and the Mi’kmaq Natives confirm certain stories of such contact, the question is whether or not DNA can verify such stories. There are only a few ways this can be achieved and we’re looking for, and in some cases finding, the evidence –

• If we find genetic matches between our family and the Native Mi’kmaq peoples living today. To date, we have found some unusual things, but can’t yet use DNA to prove, unequivocally, a match with a Mi’kmaq person. .

• If we find genetic matches between those families known to have gone on the voyage, such as the Gunn family and Native Mi’kmaq peoples living today.

• Even proof of certain intermarriages between families like the Zeno’s with the Sinclairs might help to point to the likelihood of such a voyage. We have no matches with the Gunn family, for instance.  

• Finding other genetic evidence of early trans-Atlantic contact adds credence to the possibility that overcoming the Atlantic Ocean was not so difficult and lays the groundwork for such a trip by our Prince Henry. Several such pieces of evidence have been found and they were startling when discovered. 

If Prince Henry St. Clair were here, he or his men may have left children behind with Native women. Native North Americans have a very different set of DNA markers known collectively as Haplogroup Q3. Western Europeans show very little of the Q and none of the Q3. Instead they and the Sinclair family are almost overwhelmingly Haplogroup R1b. In testing Martin Carriere, a native leader, we found him to be Haplogroup R1b1c but not a close to any Sinclair lineage after the 37 marker results came in.

12-marker test --- 1/12 from Steve St Clair and some of the AMH lineage 
25-marker test --- 6/25 from Steve
37-marker test --- 11/37 from Steve
So, in a genealogical timeframe, Martin is not related. However, as a Native North American, he should be showing the Q3 Haplogroup and he is not.

My role in this project compels me to look at all sides of the evidence and report such to the readers of this report. And so, here are all the options that such a genetic match could mean including the one we’d all like to think it means –

(1) He could be mistaken about his line of descent and be the product of a liaison between his g-g-great grandmother and a British soldier, who himself would have been somewhat related to our family. (2) He could be attempting to deceive us. As unbelievable as that sounds, knowing the man, it must be stated. (3) He could be the result of an adoption back in time. We’ve seen those in our family’s DNA project. Or (3) he could be the product of early trans-Atlantic contact. It is one possibility that we’re forced to consider in light of Mi’kmaq oral traditions which speak of three waves of migration across the Atlantic, the earliest supposedly in about 400 AD. Such oral traditions have been successfully used in law cases in Canada at the highest levels. That doesn’t make them right, and so we continue to look for more Natives to test and other ways to crack this.

At a certain point, enough randomly gathered evidence is amassed and examined independently that one must simply stop being completely skeptical and take a hard look at an unusual possibility. In this case, Jarl Henry St. Clair may have made the voyage.

As of this writing, DNA does not yet provide enough evidence to convince the die-hard skeptics of the world, and I understand and appreciate that. After all, irrefutable truth is what we’re after. But as we continue to test certain tribal members and look other genetic evidence in Europe of Native DNA, we could eventually find a convincing quantity of evidence.

Documents with Clues

Jarl Henry was a relatively important man in Scotland. Thus there are ample records about the man that may guide us in ways to use DNA to check the validity of the story. For instance, there is a mention in the Sources and Notes section of Frederick Pohl’s book. He mentions “The Winning of Shetland,” #7 (p. 196). Here, Pohl has found a fact about Henry sending his 'half brother,' David Sinclair, son of Isabella Sparra in Orkney and Shetland away to England.
“To all who shall see or hear these presents, Henry Sinclair, Earl of Orkney and
Lord of Roslin, safety in the Lord! I concede to my brother, David
Sinclair, for life, because of his claim through our mother Isabella
Sparra in Orkney and Shetland, all the lands of Newburgh and Auchdale
in Aberdeenshire, to return to me if his heirs fail.”
(his source - Regesta Dip. Hist. Danicae, April 23, 1391).

Here we have a Sinclair likely not of the same DNA stock as Prince Henry, as he’s listed as a half brother. This could be one of many reasons for there being S21 in our family in the Shetlands who carry the Sinclair name to this day. HOWEVER...Don't leap to conclusions. This just in:

Nina, a member of our Google Discussion Group (which I hope you’ll all join - click here) has the original Latin document from Regesta Dip, Hist. Danicae, dated 23 April 1391, as printed in "Records of the Earldom of Orkney" by J Storer Clouston which Pohl is quoting and finds no mention of the phrase ‘half-brother.’
This from Nina -

"...He is described as Henry's "beloved brother" and as "son of Isabella
of St Clair" or Isabella, daughter of Malise, Earl of Orkney,
[Isabella Sparra] - i.e, the same mother as Henry. The document
describes how Henry gave David the lands of Newburgh and Auchdale in
Aberdeenshire, Scotland, (not England!) as reward for David's loyal
service to him and also in recognition of David's share of parts of
Orkney or Shetland falling to him through their mother.

"So, I'm not sure how Frederick Pohl came to the conclusion David and
Henry were half-brothers, or if there are other translations of the
same document which might account for this difference in
interpretation, I'm just saying beware -  David and Henry may well
have the same DNA, so your supposition that it might explain the
presence of S21 in us Orcadian and Shetland Sinclairs might not pan
out!  Keep up the good work!  Nina"

This is a great find Nina, and thanks for sending it.

There is other evidence to consider. 

Recently, the BBC ran an article about a family in the UK that took a standard DNA test to answer some questions about their hobby of genealogy. What came back rocked their world. They show a Native North American haplotype. 57  From the website – “Genetic analysis turned up two white British women with a DNA signature characteristic of American Indians." An Oxford scientist said it was extremely unusual to find these DNA lineages in Britons with no previous knowledge of Native American ancestry.

"Indigenous Americans were brought over to the UK as early as the 1500s."

"Many were brought over as curiosities; but others traveled here in delegations during the 18th Century to petition the British imperial government over trade or protection from other tribes."

"Experts say it is probable that some stayed in Britain and married into local communities...Doreen Isherwood, 64, from Putney, and Anne Hall, 53, of Huddersfield, only found out about their New World heritage after paying for commercial DNA ancestry tests.” 57

Note how readily they sum this up as simply the result of natives brought over in the 1600’s and 1700’s.  While there are recorded cases of this (see the Disney production of "Squanto," a true story of a Native girl taken back by European explorers), there is another possibility. I’m trying to contact these women or the reporter to see which type of test they ran and whether I can run other tests on them. This could rule out or allow the possibility of an earlier connection. Also, running down their documents trail could put their ancestors here before 1492 and that would certainly change things around a bit.

William the Conqueror  |  The Earldom Lineage  |  Jarl Henry St. Clair  |  Our Norse Heritage

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