Saturday, June 12, 2010

A petition from the inhabitants of Ballywalter and Ballyhalbert in response to the threat of danger from "our most treacherous enemies the French".

(NB: If you're reading this on Facebook, you can read this post in full on my blog)

If you surveyed the World Cup-watching public of Ballyhalbert and Ballywalter today, I think a fair proportion would see the French as their red-white-and-blue allies thanks to this incident!. Back on 13 April 1756 it was very different. On the eve of the Seven Years War, the men of middle of the Ards Peninsula weren't forging pike heads in the blacksmiths shops just yet, but they were concerned about the potential of a French invasion. So much so that they organised a petition and sent it to the Belfast News Letter (which then had been in print for only 19 years), who published all of the names. It's a good genealogical source for the period:

Bailie,William / Bailie,William / Bick,Hugh / Bigham,Archd. / Bodin,James / Boyd,James / Boyd,John / Boyd,Robert / Boyd,Samuel / Brown,Henry / Brown,Hugh / Brown,William / Brown,William / Causey,Andrew / Cauvert,Ed/Jr / Cauvert,Ed/Sr / Corran,Samuel / Corran,William / Coulter,John / Craig,Hugh / Craig,James / Craig,William / Doryan,Jas/Jr. / Doryan,Jas/Sr. / Drysdall,Henry / Dunbar,Francis / Gilmer,William / Glen,James / Glen,Michael / Glen,Robert / Gowan,David / Gowan,Jas/Jr. / Gowan,Jas/Sr. / Grey,William / Kennedy,Andrew / Kennedy,James / Kennedy,T/Jr. / Kennedy,T/Sr. / Kilpatrick,Hugh / Kilpatrick,John / Kilpatrick,John / Kilpatrick,Thos / Leeman,John / Leeman,William / Loughlin,Hugh / McCauvery,Jas. / McClements,Jas. / McClements,Jas. / McClements,Jn. / McCormick,Rob / McCormick,Thos. / McCormick,Wm / McDowell,Wm. / McKee,David / McKee,John / McKelvey,John / McMaster,Wm. / McWhur,Samuel / Miller,Henry / Miller,James / Miller,John / Miller,Rob/Jr. / Miller,Rob/Sr. / Moor,Henry / Murdagh,Robert / Palmer,Robert / Pue,Richard / Read,William / Reed,John / Ross,Robert / Small,Bernard / Stoop,James / Wilson,Hugh / Wilson,James / Wilson,James / Wilson,John / Wilson,John / Wilson,William

Why did they do it? What were they hoping to achieve? We may never know. Other Ballyhalbert men like Matthew Scott were emigrating to America around this time, and probably joined up with George Washington's army. The links between the 1798 Rising of Presbyterian Ulster-Scots in Antrim and Down, and the Presbyterian Ulster-Scots in the American Revolution of 1776, are crystal clear. But maybe this sets some context for the much-written-about sympathies with Revolutionary France.

A 1764 census for the Barony of Ards recorded a total of 16037 people, 15137 (95%) of whom were Presbyterian, 695 (4%) were Church of Ireland and just 85 (0.5%) were "Papists". In 1847, Henry Montgomery wrote that "...the rebellion, at the close of the last century was, in its origin and almost to its end... a Presbyterian rebellion…”.

The best book on the local 1798 events is Harry Allen's "Men of the Ards". I might blog a bit more about 1798 over the next while, but I'll wrap this post up with a story from Rev William Steele Dickson, Minister of Ballyhalbert (and later Portaferry). He was arrested the day before the planned attacks on Newtownards and Portaferry and was imprisoned in Scotland, where there were equivalent groups like the United Scotsmen. Dickson had been under surveillance for some time as he was suspected of forging links with these groups across the water. In prison, he was challenged by a Scottish inmate who had swallowed government misinformation that the rising in Antrim and Down was a "popish rebellion" (by spreading stories like this, the government was probably trying to undermine Ulster/Scottish Presbyterian co-operation). Dickson turned aside and wrote down the names and denominations of 20 of the leading United Irishmen in County Down. The list had 10 Church of Ireland, 6 Presbyterians and 4 Catholics. Dickson handed the list to him and said "look at that, and then tell me what becomes of your popish rebellion?".

In other words, stick that up your jumper!

(thanks are due to my good friend Dr William Roulston for drawing this petition to my attention. William's book - Researching Scots-Irish Ancestors, cites this petition among a huge collection of sources for the genealogy enthusiast who's trying to pin down their Ulster-Scots forebears)