Monday, August 29, 2016

Rev Matthew Clark of Londonderry, New Hampshire - Ulster-Scots preacher.

Matthew ClarkRev Matthew Clark (1660–1735) from Kilrea was a veteran of the Siege of Derry. In April 1729 aged around 70 he headed across the Atlantic to succeed Rev James McGregor as minister of Londonderry, New Hampshire. It is said that Clark ‘possessed a strong mind, marked by a considerable degree of eccentricity’. When he died on 25 January 1735, his coffin was carried to his grave by fellow Siege veterans.

A few insights into Clark’s sermons have survived, in the pages of The Autobiography of Horace Greeley, or Recollections of a Busy Life (New York, 1872). Greeley was a famous newspaperman, and that same year ran for President as a ‘Liberal Republican’. His Wikipedia entry is fascinating. His mother was Mary Woodburn, she was descended from a John Woodburn who had emigrated from Ulster in 1725 with his brother David. In a chapter entitled 'A Sample of the Scotch-Irish', Greeley wrote this of Matthew Clark:

"...Mr. McGregor died in 1729, and was succeeded by Rev. Matthew Clark, a patriarch who now came out from Ireland on purpose, and whose memory deserves a paragraph. He never ate flesh, but said nothing on the subject ; and his abstinence was regarded as an idle whim, until one day when my great-grandmother (his niece, as I remember), then a young girl and an inmate of his house, saw the pot wherein the family dinner was cooking boil over into the smaller vessel wherein was boiling his frugal mess of greens. Supposing this of no consequence, she said nothing until — the family being seated at the table, and its head having said grace and taken his first mouthful — he was observed to fall back insensible and apparently dying. Recovering his consciousness after a few moments, he calmed the general excitement by saying, " It is nothing — a trifle — I shall be well directly — only a little of the water from your meat has boiled over into my greens." He had been a lieutenant in the famous Siege, wherein he was wounded in the temple by a ball, which injured a bone so that it never healed ; and, though a devoted evangelist, could never forget that he had been a soldier. Once, while acting as Moderator of an assembled Presbytery, the music of a marching company was heard, when his attention was wholly absorbed by it. Being repeatedly called to give heed to the grave business in hand, his steady reply was,

"Nae business while I hear the roll of the drum."

When death came to him at seventy-six years of age, and after forty years of blameless ministry, he said to sympathizing friends, "I have a last request which must not be denied." " What is it, Father Clark ? " "Let me be borne to my rest by my brother soldiers in the Siege, and let them fire a parting volley over my grave ! " The military parade was conceded ; but, according to my mother's tradition, the volley, though promised, was withheld ; it being deemed indecorous and unsuitable that so holy a man should be indulged in a dying freak so unbecoming his cloth..."

Even in sermons Clark was known to use his native Ulster-Scots:

"...The settlers knew that their homespun garments (often of tow) contrasted strongly with the trim, dapper apparel of the polished denizens of more refined communities ; but they were not thereby disconcerted. Though Burns had not yet strung his immortal lyre, his spirit so flooded their log-cabins that he would have been welcomed and understood in any of them, but would have excited surprise in none. Thus it is related of the Rev. Matthew Clark, already mentioned, that, among the audience in attendance on his ministrations was once a young British military officer, whose scarlet uniform far outshone any rival habiliments, and so fixed the gaze of the young damsels present, that the wearer, enjoying the impression he was making, not only stood through the prayer with the rest, but remained standing after all others had sat down, until the pastor had proceeded for some time with his sermon. At length, noticing a divided attention and its cause, the minister stopped, laid aside his sermon, and, addressing his new hearer, said :

" Ye 're a braw (brave) lad ; ye ha'e a braw suit of claithes, and we ha'e a' seen them ; ye may sit doun."

The lieutenant dropped as if shot, and the sermon was resumed and concluded as though it had not been interrupted.

Here is a longer example:

"...Rev. E. L. Parker's “ History of Londonderry, unto which I am indebted for many facts, gives the following specimen of Mr. Clark's pulpit efforts. His theme was Peter's assurance that, though all others should forsake his Divine Master, lie never would ; and this was a part of his commentary : —"Just like Peter — aye mair forrit (forward) than wise; ganging swaggering aboot wi' a sword at his side ; an' a puir han' he mad' o' it when he cam' to the trial ; for he only cut off a chiel's lug (ear) ; an' he ought to ha' split doun his head."


Clark was not unique in his use of Ulster-Scots, the other Ulster families were just the same:

" is related of the Morrisons, who were among the first settlers, -that the good dame remonstrated against the contemplated homestead until assured that there was no help for it, when she acquiescingly entreated :

"A-weel, a-weel, dear John, if it maun (must) be a log-house, make it a log heegher nor the lave "

(a log higher that the rest).


In the late 1800s when Leonard A Morrison (1843–1902), historian of New Hampshirereturned to visit the 'old country', this is what he found:

"...Rev. Matthew Clark, of Kilrea, three miles distant, was the second minister of Londonderry, N. H.. The people in the settlements of Kilrea, Garvagh, Aghadowey, and others are distinctly Scotch, after a residence of 200 years ... I have met and heard talk in some of the settlements persons with the Scotch dialect, with the rich brogue which was occasionally heard in my childhood ..."

This was of course the very same Ulster-American emigrant community which would produce the poems of Robert Dinsmoor in 1828. DInsmoor described the 1718 migration in verse:

In Ulster Province, Erin's northern strand
Five shiploads joined to leave that far off land.
They had their ministers to pray and preach
These twenty families embarked in each.
Here I would note and have it understood,
Those emigrants were not Hibernian blood,
But sturdy Scotsmen true, whose fathers fled
From Argyllshire, where protestants had bled
In days of Stuart Charles and James second
Where persecution was a virtue reckoned,
They found shelter on the Irish shore
In Ulster, not a century before
Four of these ships at Boston harbor landed;
The fifth, by chance at Casco Bay was stranded…