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John, born about 1821, was the son of Norman MacAskill and Christina Campbell of Sheabie, Berneray. Sometime after 1826 the family moved to Quidinish before emigrating to Cape Breton in 1831. They made their home in Englishtown, St Ann’s Bay. John’s wife was named Sarah.
John was the older brother of Angus Mòr MacAskill, who became known as the strongest man in the world.