Monday, January 08, 2018

1692: Ulster & Lewes, Delaware – Samuel Davis of Armagh and Matthew Wilson 'Patriot' - and an important 1695 reference to 'Scotch-Irish'

Over the past generation or two there has been a fair amount of dodgy writing about Ulster and America. To be fair, sources were harder to find and maybe scrutiny not so common. The digitisation of rare books and articles, and the collections of historical societies and libraries in the USA, as well as the immediacy of email enquiries to them, means that it is now possible to - relatively quickly - unearth information and connections which have never before been made, within weeks where previously it might have taken months or years.

However, you do have to know what you’re looking for, and like a jigsaw you need to understand the big picture on the lid before the individual pieces can be assembled correctly...



LEWES Presbyterian Church in Delaware, on the Atlantic coast, recently marked its 325th anniversary, having been founded in 1692 by 'a group of Scotch-Irish immigrants who had escaped the persecution of their Northern Ireland home and had come to Lewes’ (link here). Ulster people and Scots began settling there not long after William Penn’s arrival in 1682.

Their first minister, Samuel Davis, is thought to have come from County Armagh. It is said in some sources that on 28 November 1689 he was one of over 200 people who signed the ‘Address of Loyalty from Somerset County’ inhabitants to King William III and Queen Mary (which must be a genealogical gold mine!). He was also one of the members of Rev. Francis Makemie’s first Presbytery of 1706.

Davis was definitely in Lewes around 1691, under the auspices of the London Missionary Society, as an ‘independent’ (see link here). Henry Jones Ford’s references to Davis are here.

In 1695, Sir Thomas Laurence, Secretary of Maryland, reported that:

In the two counties of Dorchester and Somerset, where the Scotch-Irish are most numerous, they almost clothe themselves by their linen and woollen manufactures, and plant little tobacco.

The following generation saw renewed influence from Ulster. One Lewes man of note was Rev Matthew Wilson (1731-1790). His parents, James and Jean Wilson, emigrated from the north of Ireland to East Nottingham township in Chester County, Pennsylvania, 100 miles from Lewes, in one of the early post-1718 waves.

The family minister was Donegal-born Francis Alison who was pastor of a congregation in Chester County at the time. Alison also founded a school in 1744, the student roll of which today reads like a Who’s Who of the American Revolution – he made a mighty impression on countless young minds, including Matthew Wilson. Alison later headed to the College of Philadelphia and his position at the school was taken by an Alexander McDowell, again the son of Ulster emigrants.

Matthew Wilson became a teacher at the school, and travelled out to the frontier settlements in places like Winchester in Virginia in 1756 - a town of which it was said its ‘inhabitants are a spurious race of mortals known by the appellation of Scotch-Irish’ just the year before. (see previous post here).

Wilson eventually became minister of Lewes Presbyterian Church. He was also a medical doctor, as well as a noted contributor to newspapers and periodicals before and during the Revolution. To make his pro-Independence views clear, he stitched the word ‘Patriot’ into his hat, and named his first son James Patriot Wilson.

However in the years which followed, his second son, Theodore Wilson, had an affair with another man’s wife - a duel was proposed but before this could be organised the man shot Theodore in the head at point blank range, killing him instantly. James ‘Patriot’ then hunted the man down with the intention of exacting the same punishment, but the pistol mis-fired and so the man escaped. A visiting parson, Mason Locke Weems, used the story in his best-selling book God’s Revenge Against Adultery.

Pic below: Lewes Presbyterian meeting house in the 1800s:

UPDATE: on 27 June 1692, Edward Randolph wrote to the Governor of Maryland, saying that Somerset County was ‘a place pestered with Scotch & Irish’, that in the previous two years 200 families had arrived from Ireland to join the 100 families who were already there. They had set up linen manufacturing, and were trading with ’30 sayle of Scotch Irish and New Englandmen’.