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North Dakota’s Nobility

9/17/2014:

When people think of nobility who lived in North Dakota, the Marquis de Mores usually comes to mind. But he was not the only European noble to make his home here. Lord Berriedale of Scotland operated a farm in Nelson County from 1884 to 1905.

He was born John Sutherland Sinclair on this date in 1857. He was the oldest of four sons. At the time he lived in North Dakota, he was next in line for the title of Earl of Caithness. His clan lineage could be traced back to the 11thcentury. William Sinclair supported William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings.

John Sinclair’s uncle was the secretary to the Governor General of Canada. Sinclair followed his uncle to Canada, where he worked at the Bank of Montreal. After saving enough money, he bought farmland six miles from Lakota, North Dakota. He called it Berriedale Farm. He lived a very ordinary life. None of his neighbors knew of his noble heritage.

Berriedale Farm raised purebred horses and dairy cattle. Sinclair also grew wheat, barley, and flax. Many of his workers were from Scotland. Berriedale Farm produced 50 pounds of butter per day. Most of it was shipped to stores. Sinclair sold the rest himself. He was a familiar sight as he drove his carriage door-to-door selling the butter.

In 1895, a terrible fire destroyed Sinclair’s stables. He lost 30 prize stallions. After that, he focused on the dairy business. He was a devout Episcopalian, and with no Episcopalian churches in the area, he took it upon himself to fund the building of the Church of the Good Shepherd in Lakota.

Eventually, the time came for Sinclair to leave his beloved farm and North Dakota. It was 1891, and his father died. Sinclair returned to Scotland where he became the 17thEarl of Caithness. He stayed in Scotland for several years, but eventually returned to America, settling in Los Angeles.

In May, 1914 Sinclair was injured in a trolley accident, passing away on May 30th. He was buried at Forest Lawn Cemetery in a modest funeral. In July of that year, a monument was placed over the grave. It read, “John Sutherland Sinclair, Earl of Caithness.” Only then did the general public learn that a genuine member of British nobility had lived among them.

Dakota Datebook written by Carole Butcher

Bismarck Tribune. “Scottish Earl Operated a Ranch at Lakota.” 6 January, 2008.

Sinclair Research. "http://sinclair.quarterman.org/archive/1998/msg00607.html" http://sinclair.quarterman.org/archive/1998/msg00607.html Accessed 6/21/14.