Sunday, December 12, 2010

Scotland's "Eagle Wing", 1622

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(Photo above of the 1956 replica 'Mayflower' at Brixham in Devon - more photos here).

The attempted sailing of "Eagle Wing" from Groomsport to America in autumn 1636 is one of the most celebrated events of the formative Ulster-Scots community. A number of primary sources exist, including the accounts by two of the ministers who commissioned the ship, Robert Blair and John Livingstone. Blair's Autobiography includes an eight page description of the voyage.

Sometimes"Eagle Wing" has been made light of, and even in its own time it was mocked as a madcap plan which could never have succeeded. However a few years ago some documents surfaced which revealed that a similar voyage had been undertaken just 50 miles away, from Kirkcudbright in Scotland in 1622.

The Mayflower had been built along the River Thames in England before her famous voyage to America in 1620. A ship called The Planter had also been built in the same boatyard; the captain of The Planter was Thomas Hopkins, probably a relative of the Hopkins family who had been passengers on the Mayflower. The contract for the voyage of The Planter was for her to sail from Kirkcudbright to America and was signed by Sir William Alexander, whose daughter - "Presbyterian Jean" Alexander - was engaged to marry Hugh Montgomery jr. the next year. They settled at Mount Alexander near Comber - and when Jean died she was buried inside Newtownards Priory. The contract was also signed by John Mason the governor of Newfoundland, and Sir Robert McClelland, who was another hugely significant figure in the early Scots settlements of Ulster, and who married Elizabeth Montgomery, one of Hugh Montgomery's daughters. A relative of Sir Robert was John McClelland - the principal of Montgomery's "great school" in Newtownards, part-time Presbyterian minister and also one of those who commissioned "Eagle Wing". He went back to Kirkcudbright when the ship returned.

So the events of 1636 at Groomsport may well have had their genesis 50 miles away in the events of 1622 at Kirkcudbright. This is yet another example of the global vision and ambition of our ancestors, who were closely linked to the major events of the world they lived in.

• a recreation of the Mayflower is currently underway in England - full story here | project website here
• a replica of the Mayflower was built in the 1950s and sailed across the Atlantic from Brixham in Devon to Plymouth in Massachussetts; there's an exhibition about the project in Brixham Heritage Museum: see BBC Devon video archive clip here
• full article about The Planter is available here at ReportBoston.com
• another article is available here

NB - with thanks to Gail Onesi from Atlanta, Georgia for sending the story of The Planter to me some time ago.

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