Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Jane Sibbett from Co Armagh – "Scotch ballads" in Pennsylvania, early 1800s

“There’s rednecks north of the Mason-Dixon Line” – Aaron Lewis, ‘Northern Redneck’.

The Mason-Dixon line was drawn in the 1760s to resolve a territorial dispute. It pretty much defined the southern border of the state of Pennsylvania, and the northern borders of Maryland and Virginia. It also bisected the Delmarva peninsula (where Delaware, Maryland and Virginia all meet) and so has become a shorthand for the division between North and South. Culturally, there are many many Scotch-Irish above that line, throughout history and still today.

Samuel Sibbett (born 1773) and his wife Alice Lowry/Laurie are thought to have lived in County Armagh. Samuel was ‘a man of decided political convictions and on account of his pronounced sentiments 50 guineas were offered for his head’. They fled Ulster in the aftermath of the failed post-1798 Rebellion Robert Emmet rising, with Samuel going first and Alice and their children following some time later:

“… Samuel’s political activities made enemies for him of the British king and Parliament who ordered his arrest. His fellow Masons heard of it and brought him that information, and Robert Emmet advised him to leave Ireland at once. This was in 1800. There was a price on his head, dead or alive. After hiding under the pig-sty at home, hiding in a friend’s house—under a log or in the bushes, each time seeing the men who were seeking him; he escaped as Robert Kennedy, a linen merchant, going to New York. When he reached America, he gave the Captain of the Ship a blow in the face, saying, “Take that to the King with my compliments. I am a free man on free soil and you can’t touch me. I am Samuel Sibbett.”…” (source here)

Samuel ‘reached Baltimore in the early part of 1800, in a concealed manner, being connected with the Order of Freemasons’. A few months later Alice and the three children arrived. The family ended up in ‘the Scotch-Irish settlement in the Cumberland valley in Pennsylvania, they proceeded to the head of Big Spring, where they were welcomed by numerous Presbyterian friends’.

A Presbyterian Church had been founded in Cumberland County in 1738. Big Spring is about 80 miles north of historic Winchester, where fellow ‘rebel’ Presbyterian Adam Douglass sought refuge (see previous post), and just 15 miles west of Carlisle where John André had a less than positive view of the Scotch-Irish inhabitants (see previous post). Western Pennsylvania was pretty much as far away from the King as it was possible to be.

One of the Sibbetts’ children was named Hugh Montgomery Sibbett, a meaningful name in Ulster-Scots history. Another child, or maybe grandchild, was called Robert Emmet Sibbett, a name again harking back to the family’s homeland and sympathies. Many of Samuel Sibbett’s siblings followed him across the Atlantic to frontier Pennsylvania. His sister Jane, her married name Copley, was among them. In later life her son Josiah (1803–85) recalled her:

“… noted for independence and ardent patriotism. She was possessed of a strong religious nature … the first germs of thought I gained from hearing her read, especially the Scriptures. She read poetry admirably, and no one I ever knew surpassed her in reading or reciting poetry and ballads, or in singing Scotch ballads, with which her memory was well stored."

• a biography of Josias Copley is online here; he is pictured below.
• some details on Samuel Sibbett is online here 

Copley josiah hac1914 300x

Middle Springs Pennsylvania Presbyterian Church Plaque