Thursday, July 21, 2016

Boston, Eagle Wing and the Merrimack River - 1600s, 1700s, 1800s

As I sat in Boston airport last week waiting for our flight back to Dublin, I remembered that less than one hour north was the proposed location of the settlement for the Eagle Wing and her passengers in Autumn 1636.

1636: Eagle Wing’s Ulster-Scots Presbyterians sail for the Merrimack River
Led by 3 or maybe 4 Presbyterian ministers, they planned to become part of the Massachussetts Bay Colony (official seal shown below). Here is the exact site, marked in green on a map of the late 1700s, and a Google Map from today showing the area more accurately. The small city of Newburyport  (population 18,000) now dominates the location.

Merrimack Eagle Wing

Merrimack Boston

"The territory lying between Ipswich and the Merrimack River was well situated, and covered an area of more than thirty thousand acres of upland and marshland. In the summer of 1634 it had been carefully examined by an agent sent over by " divers gentlemen of Scotland," who "wrote to know whether they might be freely suffered to exercise their presbyterial government amongst us ; and it was answered affirmatively that they might."

We received letters from a godly preacher, Mr. Levinston [Livingstone], a Scotchman in the north of Ireland, whereby he signified that there were many good Christians in those parts resolved to come hither, if they might receive satisfaction concerning some questions and propositions which they sent over.

September 25, 1634, the General Court ordered "that the Scottishe & Irishe gentlemen which intends to come hither shall haue liberty to sitt downe in any place up Merrimacke River, not ppossessed by any." The company embarked for New England, "but, meeting with manifold crosses," abandoned the enterprise and returned home. Before the failure of the expedition was known, however, the town of Ipswich, in the exercise of its authority over the unoccupied territory still under its control, made the following conditional grant with the Irish plantation in mind : —

“December 29th 1634 – It is consented unto that John Pirkins, Junior, shall build a ware [fish trap] upon the river of Quasycung [now river Parker] and enjoy the profitts of itt, but in case a plantation shall there settle then he is to submitt himself unto such conditions, as shall by them be imposed.”

The History of Newbury, Massachusetts, 1635-1902,  John J. Currier (Boston, 1902)

The Parker River mentioned in that quote is just south of the Merrimack and flows into Plum Sound. Today it is a National Wildlife Refuge which each February hosts the Merrimack River Eagle Festival (and here is the website for the Refuge, the map of which shows the Eagle Hill River. Cropped section below).


Parker River crop

Eagle Wing of course failed in her voyage, driven back by hurricanes. I wonder how often her story was told at Ulster firesides in the generations which followed.

1718: Four ships of Ulster-Scots Presbyterians reach the Merrimack River
Nearly a century later it was Presbyterian ministers leading a fresh migration. In summer 1718 four ships arrived in Boston, carrying Ulster-Scots Presbyterian passenger families. They were the first shiploads of the vast exodus of that century, of which you can read more here. These first families grew America’s first white potato, the seed crop of which they had brought with them from Ulster on the voyage. They settled in a few different places in the general area. The settlement of Nutfield became the town of Londonderry, just a few miles from the banks of the Merrimack, which was officially chartered 4 years later in 1722. Presbyterian churches were founded in New England.

1800s: Robert Dinsmoor, Ulster-Scots poet, on the Merrimack River
The eagle-eyed among you will spot that this is the same Merrimack River community where Ulster-Scots poet Robert Dinsmoor the ‘Rustic Bard’ emerged in the early 1800s, at Windham, New Hampshire, (just south of the towns of Derry and Londonderry) with his poems published in Haverhill on the north shore of the river in 1828.

Late 1800s: Opposition from the Merrimack River
NB: The post below – “The Scotch-Irish Shibboleth analyzed and rejected” – mentions Lowell, Massachussetts. Lowell is also on the Merrimack River. It’s pretty remarkable that Joseph Smith airbrushed away the Ulster-Scots history of his adopted home, probably a consequence of the vast demographic change which took place in Boston and other port towns following the arrival of ‘Famine Irish” in the mid & later 1800s.

Willey’s Book of Nutfield (1895) is online here.
• New England Historical Society article ‘How the Scots-Irish Came to America' is online here

(with thanks to Mary Drymon for providing some of these details a while back)


Wednesday, July 20, 2016

"The Scotch-Irish shibboleth analyzed and rejected", Washington DC, 1898

 There has long been opposition to the notion of Ulster-Scots and Scotch-Irish/Scots-Irish identity. This publication by the American-Irish Historical Society is just 30 pages long but has much content that’s worth reading, especially the two poems at the back. To be fair, some of the pro-Scotch-Irish publications of the late 1800s and early 1900s are a bit, as we would say today, “O.T.T.” in places but they also contain much of interest and value. This counter-perspective is also worth reading.

The author, Joseph Smith (1853-1929), was born in Dublin, and emigrated as a young man. He saw military service in the US Cavalry in Mexico from 1873–1878 and spent some years travelling in South America. He later became a journalist. At the time of writing the Scotch-Irish book he was secretary of the police commission in Lowell, Massachussetts.

I am just back from a 3 week break in Washington DC, Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky. Scotch-Irish heritage is often better understood and appreciated on the other side of the Atlantic than it is here at home. For all of the talk that there’s been over the years, formal links are still to be made to both countries’ mutual benefit.


Saturday, June 25, 2016

Brexit: Samuel Rutherford's "Lex Rex" - the Law is King

Lex Rex

The 'Brexit' vote has taken the world by surprise. A shocked and outraged establishment is, at time of writing, reeling from the vote. The people, the demos, have done the unthinkable. When the polls closed at 10pm news channels were confidently predicting a ‘Remain’ outcome. Within about 30 minutes the tremors were being felt as results started to come through from post-industrial cities like Sunderland. Half way through the night it was clear that ‘Leave’ had won, largely through the votes of the English and Welsh working classes. The people who ‘power’ generally overlooks.

In the 1640s the King (Charles I) was the ultimate authority. And not in a good way. It has sometimes been said that the best form of government would be a benign King. Charles I was anything but. One of the King’s bishops, Kirkcudbrightshire-born John Maxwell (c. 1590–1647), published a booklet in 1643 entitled The Sacred and Royal Prerogative of Christian Kings, asserting the King’s right to do pretty much whatever he wanted to, sometimes referred to as the ‘Divine Right of Kings’.

Another Kirkcudbrightshire man, but with a very different perspective, was Presbyterian minister Samuel Rutherford (who has featured on this blog many times before), who had been minister at the little country hamlet of Anwoth since 1627. The year after Maxwell’s book, Rutherford published his own response – Lex, Rex, or The Law and the Prince; a Dispute for the Just Prerogative of King and People – which argued the very opposite - that the King was subject to God, to the law, and also to the people; that “power is a birthright of the people borrowed [by a ruler] from them … the people may recover this power”. It has been summarised like this:

1) God gives no moral power to the King to commit immoral acts. 2) Kings can and must be justly held to their constitutional oaths, no less so than the people. 3) God stamps no person with the imprint of king, leaving such a designation to the people. 4) All kings owe their offices and powers to Christ. 5) Obedience to kings in unlawful acts is rebellion against Christ.

The British monarchy was overthrown a few years later, but when it was restored again in the 1660s, Lex Rex was burned in public in Edinburgh, St Andrews (where Rutherford had been principal of the University) and London. Anyone found in possession was declared to be an enemy of the state. In England’s last official book-burning, at Oxford University in 1683, Lex Rex was among the flames, a ‘damnable and pernicious book’. Imagine a university campus being a 'safe space'...

It was of course a theological age and the concepts of power and state were being argued within a theological context. But the principles echo down the centuries to today. Should the people be allowed to upset the applecart, bring change, and thereby determine where the civic power is to reside? has a recent article on this theme, available here. It presents the case that power flows from the people to the rulers, not from the rulers down to the people.

The actor/comedian David Mitchell's article in The Guardian argued that Brexit was far too big an issue to be left in the hands of the people, citing Richard Dawkins' comment "we live in a representative democracy not a plebiscite democracy". Frank Furedi's insightful article here is the opposite viewpoint, and in many ways closer to Rutherford - which is fascinating for a founder of the now-defunct Revolutionary Communist Party. His article resonates very strongly with me.

I have good friends on both sides - both Leave and Remain voters. The fallout from the result is throwing up some very interesting dynamics within our society. I have a feeling that the Brexit issue is far from over. I expect it to be  challenged politically, socially and legally from within the UK, and to come under major international pressure, before it is ever implemented. As we in Northern Ireland know well, British governments and civil servants excel in fudge, dilution, ‘constructive ambiguity' and – here’s a big word – obfuscation.

• Various editions of Lex Rex are available online. Here is an 1843 edition, over 300 pages long, on The Preface summarises key themes which show its relevance for today.

Friday, May 27, 2016

I used to be a backwards hillbilly but now I'm okay.

This article in the Financial Times - The Boy who Escaped Trump Country - is almost a tick-box exercise in ‘liberal’ prejudice. I have that in inverted commas because those who claim that title today are amongst the most illiberal and most authoritarian types you can meet. Starting with Ulster and Scotland it centres on Buchanan County in western Virginia, where 70% of people recently voted for the despised Donald Trump. I don’t like Trump, but underlying his success is a deep malaise in American society, which he has given vent to. The aloof tone in the article is typical. But no other people group in the world would be allowed to be repeatedly treated and written about in this way. 

Monday, May 02, 2016

'A Call from the Trenches to Shirkers' - a message from Ballywalter, 20th November 1911

I am very pleased that my good friend Mark Anderson has given me permission to post this poem here. It was recently uncovered during the research phase of a project I was very pleased to work with Mark, and others, on. More about the project in a future post, once it is all public.

If this is how Ballywalter folk spoke at the time, it's also how Ballywalter men in the trenches spoke at the time. And not just Ballywalter - a very great proportion of the Ulstermen who fought would have been from Ulster-Scots communities and so would have spoken like this. I can hardly imagine that they made efforts to use schoolroom English in the trenches of death.

I am aware that there are other Ulster-Scots poems from the Great War. And a number of Ulster-Scots writers have connections with the War.

'Though You Slay Me' - Shane & Shane (with John Piper)

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Sweeping it all under the carpet?

When digging around for other things, I inevitably stumble upon other stories. This is one of them, from July 1903. I know a man who had the same experience, in Limerick, about 20 years ago, and has suffered ever since as a result of his injuries – sustained when attacked whilst preaching in the street in the city on a Saturday afternoon.

July 1903 Wicklow

It’s all about context of course. What sort of a character was Rev Richard Hallowes of Arklow? A quick Google shows he had been prosecuted in January 1891 for “obstructing the thoroughfare” with an open-air meeting in Arklow. The next month he and his car were attacked and his gardener was arrested for “presenting a revolver”. In March he was jailed, but his congregation said they would continue with the street preaching. In October he was back out, and was knocked over by an R.I.C. officer during another open-air service.

The following January “Maj. Welch, J. P., & Mr. Philpot, J. P., attended open air service in Arklow, & protested against treatment of Mr. Hallowes”. A year later Hallowes was again attacked during an open-air meeting, and in July 1893 was attacked once again. In September 1894 he was preaching in Athlone and a riot ensued. 

And so on.

Hallowes’ could have been a headcase - in 1890 The Tablet described Hallowes, his Methodist counterpart and a neighbouring COI Rector as “bigoted zealots”. He could have been a parish Rector with a (literal) conviction for the Gospel, keen to tell the Good News to as many people as possible. Somebody out there will know more than me.

The story does provoke other thoughts.

Over Easter weekend the scenes broadcast from Dublin were very impressive, a real sense of ‘nationhood’ as the Easter Rising was commemorated. There were some dissenting voices but very few. The establishment now owns the revolution!

But it does strike me that there is a darker story of difficult times, which has been hidden from view and swept under the carpet. I know many folk who live around here whose grandparents or great-grandparents fled to Ulster for refuge, having been intimidated from their homes in southern Ireland - people who had lived there for many generations and were fully integrated into their communities. Or so they thought.

Times have changed in the past 100 years, but I also know folk, and know of folk, who live in various parts of the Republic of Ireland and who choose to, as they say, “keep their heads down”. You know what that means. I recently heard a story of a Scottish-born soldier and veteran of the Great War, who was travelling through Ireland on a train. In conversation with some men, he told them of his wartime service - and was set upon, thrown from the moving train, and later died of his injuries. Many anecdotal incidents never recorded by newspapers.

Yet plenty of other Protestants remained in the rest of Ireland, lived in peace, and have never had any significant hardship or opposition. And a friend - and regular reader here - will be disappointed if I don’t cite him as an example of the counter-migration, he’s about to move from Northern Ireland to the Republic. 

But it’s hard to compare the two ‘minority communities” on each side of our border during the 20th century and not see a vast contrast. Protestants in ROI now make up around 2% of the total population, whereas 100 years ago they were around 20%. That is a huge exodus. They endured famine and poverty and hardship throughout the 1800s (Baptist congregations in the south and west of Ireland were decimated in the Famine years), and the 1900s were just as devastating - but for different reasons.

Northern Ireland is not perfect, and the whole world knows that. But neither was/is the rest of Ireland. There is a more balanced, inclusive, but darker story which is not being told.

But maybe, for the sake of the future, that’s a good thing. 

(PS - the story at the bottom is from 1897. Open-air evangelism in Enniscorthy, nine months before the 1798 Rebellion centenary, was probably not a wise move.)



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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Martin Luther in Scots, 1520-something?

Elsewhere on this blog, many years ago, I posted a few things about Murdoch Nisbet the Bible translator from Loudoun near Newmilns in Ayrshire, who translated John Wycliffe's 14th century English translation text into Scots. He worked in an underground basement he had dug for himself to escape the suspicions of the authorities – "... digged and built a vault in the bottom of his own house, to which he retired himself ...". This vault was said to be on the site of the later Loudoun Manse* or some have said Hardhill Farm. Nisbet fled Scotland for a while. But not only did Nisbet translate the Scripture - he started his work by translating Martin Luther's 1522 Preface to the New Testament.

Why is this important? Well, it means that - literally hot off the (German) presses - Luther was making an immediate impact upon Scotland, and western Scotland at that, not just the eastern coast's North Sea ports which German ships were trading into. There is more to unravel about this in future blog posts. Chapter 12 of the recent book Literature and the Scottish Reformation has some solid research on Nisbet (see here on GoogleBooks).

Below are some digital pics of my 1903 Scottish Text Society three volume printed edition of Nisbet. The original manuscripts exist somewhere in the British Museum. It is a shame that it is out of print, with the 500th anniversary of Luther's 1517 Reformation happening next year.

* Loudoun Manse was where a Rev George Laurie would live in the 1760s, who was a great patron of Robert Burns. Laurie's grandfather had been minister at Macosquin near Coleraine in the 1600s.