Monday, January 29, 2018

Part 1: Irish Republicans and 'broadest County Down Scotch' - the writings of Alice L. Milligan and Ernest Milligan

Major blog post brewing which might raise a few eyebrows.

In the recent, wonderful, Radio Ulster broadcast A Birl for Burns (online here) Seamus Heaney remarked in a 2012 interview that ‘the Nationalist side are identified with the Irish language, and the Unionists would be more inclined to Ulster-Scots. That’s a relatively recent development. For senior persons … there was no question of that, it was just part of their language’.

I recently found that the Milligan family, steeped in Irish history through their renowned antiquarian father, Seaton Forest Milligan, had a summer cottage on the shore of Ballywilliam townland just north of Donaghadee, along today’s exclusive Warren Road. His famous daughter Alice was at ease with including Ulster-Scots dialogue in some of her published stories; the less well-known son Ernest published a very strong collection of his own self-penned Ulster-Scots poems and ballads.

Both Alice and Ernest were close to James Connolly. Ernest was a founding member of the Irish Socialist Republican Party and its Belfast Socialist Society in 1898 - yet around the same time he was also a member of Ballyholme Sailing Club in Bangor where he was photographed sitting next to a young James Craig, future Unionist MP for East Down who would go on to become the first Prime Minister of Northern Ireland.

The Milligans were upper middle class, you might even say today that they were ‘champagne socialists’. Yet the usages of Ulster-Scots in their writings shows a pretty credible connection with the common folk, a mode of speech that Alice described as 'broadest County Down Scotch’, and the existence of which a 1908 Dublin review of Ernest’s collection said:

“… will come almost as a shock to the Irish-Ireland reader … there exists within the borders of our island a country population which is not West British or shoneen … its speech is not English, but Lowland Scotch … the mother tongue of James Hope and of the congregations of those United Irish Presbyterian worthies Porter, Steele-Dickson, Kelburn and Warwick … we welcome this volume as evidence that the Scotch-Irishman has not lost the gift of song. The subjects are homely and natural; the verses fluent and tuneful ...'.

More to follow...

2018 01 26 08 42 16Ernest Milligan

Monday, January 22, 2018

“Mr. Gookin out of Ireland wholly upon his owne Adventure…” - a Puritan English-Irish settlement at Newport News, Virginia, 1621

There is an old cliché - ‘never let the facts get in the way of a good story’. It’s amusing, but it’s also dangerous, because the short-term gain is very likely to be exposed and therefore discredit any truth that the story contained.

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Winchester, Virginia, is a place that’s been mentioned here a few times. Its Old Stone Presbyterian Church (pic above) still stands, a beautiful building in simple form, in the middle of the historic town. It was built in 1788 and has a classic barn-style form, not unlike Presbyterian churches in Ulster. One of its early ministers was Rev William Hill, who, in 1839, published History of the Rise, Progress, Genius and Character of American Presbyterianism (online here).

The book has lots of interesting stuff, including a reference to a settlement in 1621 at Newport News in Virginia, just south of the Jamestown settlement, which seems to have been the first successful voyage from Ireland to America

In the year 1621 a gentleman of some note came over, with a number of servants and labourers in his train, and, among the rest, eighty Irish settlers, Who these Irish were we are not told; but as Catholics were forbidden to enter the territory, we know they were not of that class. They were not likely to be Episcopalians, for that denomination were rarely found in Ireland in that day among the lower class of society. The probability is, they were Scotch Irish Presbyterians, as far as they had any religious preferences. Where Master Gookins, as he is called, located his plantation, we are not told; it is probably that it was upon some outskirt of the then settlement, where they would be less likely to attract notice, or meet with disturbance for the want of conformity in the established worship … there is reason to believe that they had not become extinct when the memorials Makemie arrived ...'

- from History of the Rise, Progress, Genius and Character of American Presbyterianism, William Hill, 1839 (online here)

What is doubly significant is that this is another pre-Famine usage of the term ‘Scotch Irish’. However… in terms of his analysis, it looks like Hill was making a major creative leap. For it turns out that this settlement wasn’t Scotch-Irish at all, it was English-Irish.

A bit of digging around shows that ‘Master Gookins’ was Daniel Gookin (1582–1633), an English Puritan from Kent, who had briefly relocated to Carrigaline in County Cork, as part of the second Munster Plantation of around 1604, when around 4,000 English settlers relocated to there (others more knowledgable than I can clarify this). He also had some land in County Longford.

(The Winthrops, best known for their activity in Massachusetts in the 1620s & 1630s, had also been part of the Munster Plantation, settling at Baltimore in Cork in 1606. They would later play a key role in the organising of Eagle Wing’s voyage from north Down in 1636)

The Gookins became very influential in Cork society; Daniel’s brother Vincent would become High Sheriff of the County. Daniel Gookin’s transatlantic voyages were primarily to transport ‘fair and large cattle of our English breed’, to sustain the existing English colonies at Jamestown, but some passengers went too.

His neighbours and fellow Englishmen Sir William Newce and Captain Thomas Newce had already founded an English settlement at Bandon, County Cork known as Newce’s Town, and they came forward with a scheme to transport up to 1000 people to Virginia. The Newces' first ship landed in October 1621, naming the location New Port Newce (today Newport News) but the passengers were ‘very few people, sicklie, ragged and altogether without provision’, and all died a few days later.

Gookin’s expedition landed nearby a few weeks later on 22 November 1621 on a ship called The Flyinge Harte, captained by a Dutchman called Cornelius Johnson. News of Gookin's success reached the Virginia Company in London in March 1622, which was ‘hailed with joy’. Gookin bought 150 acres of land outright and named his settlement ‘Marie’s Mount’, after his wife.

His second voyage, on a ship called Providence, arrived in Virginia on 10 April 1623, led by Captain John Clarke, who had famously captained the Mayflower.

Some of the passengers names are given here - but they seem to me to be mostly English names, rather than obviously Scottish or Irish.

Red abbey

Gookin also sought a Royal grant for the mythical Saint Brendan’s Island (Wikipedia entry here), said to be in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean (and thought to have been recently discovered). Gookin returned to Ireland not long after a significant Indian attack on his colony. He is thought to have died in Cork in 1632/33 and was buried at Red Abbey (shown above). However in later years the abbey suffered a major fire and so as far as I can find he has no known grave or memorial there.


Ireland’s stories are not always Irish. Neither are they automatically Ulster-Scots or Scotch-Irish. There is always a need to take a broader view.

•  His son, also called Daniel Gookin (1612–1687), followed in his footsteps and eventually became major general of the Massachusetts Bay Colony (see biography here).
•  A PhD Thesis on Gookin and archaeology in Cork is online here.

PPS: the plaque below from the Old Stone Presbyterian Church shows that it was used by the Baptists from 1834 onwards, and from 1858–1886 by the ‘Old School Baptist Church of Color’. 

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Sunday, January 21, 2018

Johnny Cash - from the 19th Century to Nine Inch Nails.

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Johnny Cash was a regular in our house when I was growing up. Not in person of course, but his voice was a frequent soundtrack. I remember being a bit shocked when I first paid attention to the words of Delia’s Gone. Burl Ives or Jim Reeves this was not. I don’t think Johnny Cash ever ‘shot a man in Reno just to watch him die’, but it was easy to believe that he might have done.

As Cash’s long career rose and fell, and rose again and fell away again, it was towards the end that he soared and some of his best work was recorded.

One of his famous American Recordings albums contained the multi-award-winning version of industrial rock band Nine Inch Nails’ track Hurt (released 2002). After he died, a box set called Unearthed was released, including a set of 15 hymns recorded during 2003.

The track listing is below, along with the year the hymns had either been first published or first recorded

1  Where We'll Never Grow Old (1914, James Moore)
2  I Shall Not Be Moved (traditional, first recorded 1929)
3  I Am A Pilgrim (first recorded 1917, Imperial Quartet)
4  Do Lord (c. 1950, V.O. Fossett)
5  When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder (1893, James M. Black)
6  If We Never Meet Again This Side Of Heaven (1945, Albert E Brumley)
7  I'll Fly Away (1931, Albert E Brumley)
8  Where The Soul Of Man Never Dies (first recorded 1928, written by William M Golden)
9  Let The Lower Lights Be Burning (1871, Philip P Bliss)
10  When He Reached Down (1947, JFB Wright)
11  In The Sweet By And By (1868, Sanford F Bennett)
12  I'm Bound For The Promised Land (1787, Stennett)
13  In The Garden (1913, C. Austin Miles)
14  Softly And Tenderly (1880, William L Thompson)
15  Just As I Am (1835, Charlotte Elliott)

For an artist to encompass nearly 200 years of song, from 21st century alternative rock to early 19th century hymns, is utterly remarkable. It is hard to imagine any other performer being able to carry that off, and to in fact make these songs his own.

Perhaps, as track 6 above begins, ‘when we come to the end of life’s journey’, it will be songs which will come to mind, bringing reminiscence, joy, and comfort. Because by that stage, as the emotional sledgehammer line from Hurt says, ‘You can have it all, my empire of dirt’.

Today, in a world where the line between sacred and secular seems to be getting more sharply defined, it is hard to imagine a time when there were crossovers. Yet when you really delve into the history of the music, crossovers were the fertile ground that brought freshness. Many of the writers of popular hymns in the 1800s were also secular songwriters, skilled practitioners, commercially successful, bringing their gifts and talents to a range of genres.

How many of today's songs will still be sung in 200 years' time?


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Murray Rothbard and The Ulster Scots – Conceived in Liberty: "the revolutionary and even libertarian roots of America" (1975)


Murray Rothbard’s landmark 4 volume set from 1975 about the birth of American democracy, Conceived in Liberty, (Wikipedia entry here) includes a chapter entitled 'The Ulster Scots'. You can read it on Google Books here. Rothbard (1926-1995) was a hugely influential figure in 20th century libertarian thought (Wikipedia entry here).

‘The Ulster Scots were the largest immigrant group in the eighteenth century. These men were, in the main, intense Presbyterians from lowland Scotland whose families had been settled in Ulster in northern Ireland during the seventeenth century …'

The Mises Institute describes their recent combined edition as follows:

There's never been a better time to remember the revolutionary and even libertarian roots of the American founding, and there's no better guide to what this means in the narrative of the Colonial period than Murray Rothbard.

Rothbard's ambition was to shed new light on Colonial history and show that the struggle for human liberty was the heart and soul of this land from its discovery through the culminating event of the American Revolution. These volumes are a tour de force, enough to establish Rothbard as one of the great American historians.

It is a detailed narrative history of the struggle between liberty and power, as we might expect, but it is more. Rothbard offers a third alternative to the conventional interpretive devices. Against those on the right who see the American Revolution as a "conservative" event, and those on the left who want to invoke it as some sort of proto-socialist uprising, Rothbard views this period as a time of accelerating libertarian radicalism. Through this prism, Rothbard illuminates events as never before.


Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Coming soon: Samuel Rutherford Crockett Society – 'Glenhead Stories' by Joe Rae


I am thankful to my freen Joe Rae who lives near Beith in Ayrshire for this information. Over the years Joe has introduced me to countless stories, songs, traditions, places and histories, including the writings of Samuel Rutherford Crockett (1859–1914). He was a master storyteller, a bestselling author in his day, selling hundreds of thousands of copies of his books. He has been described as ‘Galloway’s Best Kept Secret’, doing for Galloway what Sir Walter Scott did for the Borders. Crockett was a friend and correspondent of Robert Louis Stevenson - Crockett dedicated The Stickit Minister to Stevenson, who in turn dedicated Songs of Travel to Crockett. Unsurprisingly, adverts and reviews of Crockett’s works appear hundreds of times in the Ulster newspapers of his day.

Joe has been working lately with the S.R. Crockett Society (society website here) to help with a new publication called Glenhead Stories, which is due out in April 2018. The book will feature fifteen stories, in Scots, remembered and retold by Joe.

Rutherford was a prolific author (see bibliography here) but one story which really stands out for me is the tradition mentioned in a recent post here about John Thomson leading Bruce’s defeated troops back to Scotland, giving rise to the expression in south west Scotland that ‘we’re aa Jock Tamson’s bairns’.

The story was told to Crockett by John MacMillan, a farmer from Glenhead. Glenhead is near Glen Trool, the scene of the Bruces’ famous victory in 1307 right after they returned to Scotland after wintering on Rathlin Island. There is a Covenanter memorial still at their farm of the Caldons, again close to Glen Trool, erected by the famous ‘Old Mortality'

NB: The very first Reformed Presbyterian minister was also called John MacMillan. He was born at Minnigaff just 14 miles from Glenhead, and was one of the founders of the Reformed Presbytery in 1743. He is known to have come to Ireland to minister to ‘United Society’ Covenanters in 1707 and 1715. Crockett wrote a dramatised account of MacMillan’s life, a novel entitled The Standard Bearer in 1898. There is a monument in Dalserf to MacMillan with numerous inscriptions, including:

A public tribute to the memory of the Rev. John Macmillan,
minister of Balmaghie in Galloway, and afterwards first
minister to the United Societies in Scotland, adhering at
the Revolution to the whole Covenanted Reformation in
Britain and Ireland, attained between 1638 and 1649. An
exemplary Christian ; a devoted minister ; and a faithful
witness to the Cause of Christ : died December First,
1753, aged eighty-four.


Carrick wis for lang counted pairt o Gallowa an the premier title o the heir tae the Scottish throne wis Earl O Carrick. The Bruce an his youngest, an only surviving, brither, Edward, Earl O Carrick, gaed ouwre tae Irelan in the year 1316 an met wi a wheen o the native chiefs. At the final getherin it wis agreed thit Edward wid return the neist year wi an airmy an jine forces, ourthrow the English usurpers, an then he wad be crooned king o irelan.

The Yearl an King agreed that the airmy wad be recruited fae Gallowa an word wis sent aa roon the cuntryside that ilk able man atween the age o saxteen an saxty wid hae tae gether et the Turnberry on the 21st.o Mey 1317, this gein time tae get the lammin bye an the feils plood an sawn. Whun the carls hid aa gethird the force cam tae 2000 men, noo boys ye micht think that this wis a gey smaa numer fur the hale o Gallowa, bit jist conseeder this, for twenty years the Southerin hid been butcherin Scotsmen like lambs et the slaughter an the hale population o Scotland et that time numbered 220,000 say 2000 fae sic an ootbye laun wis nae sae bad. Amang the thrang there wis thirty lords wha wur mounted.
Sailin fae Turnberry the airmy landed at Carrickfergus an sterted thir mairch Sooth aa the wey bein jined bi the native chiefs wi thir followers. Cumin tae the breist o a brae et a place caad Dundalk, an luikin doon there they saw a sicht thit garred some o them grue, fir

Doon the brae lined up in rank upon rank wis 20,000 Englishmen airmed tae the teeth an led bi a chiel caad Sir Jhone De Bermingham a notar loon. Weel the native Irish wi scant thoucht meltit awa like snaa aaf a dyke, bit whit dis thet daft chiel Edward dae? raisin his sword an gein it a sweep roon cries follow me men, an wi his thirty muntit men gaes gallopin doon the brae like some gommeril taen wi a brain storm, The Gallowa men on fit hadny gotten faur on there wey effter him whun even they could see it wid be like cuttin their ane thrapples tae gyang ony further. Say there they ur stottin aboot like a heedless corps whun oot o the thrang  steps ane Jock Tamson an he wi a voice like a foghorn gars them tak heed gin they didna move richt smert back the wye they hid cum they wid gang the wye o their faaen leader, naethin like self preservation tae spur a man on an ye cun be gye share they didna count the thistles on their wye back tae Carrickfergus an wi a guid win they wur nae lang in reachin Turnberry an sae hame wi very few missin et the hinneren.

Noo fur generations efter whun fermers an herds fae Gallowa met et mairkets or fairs they wad drink a toast, an the toast they drank wis:--We”re aa Jock Tamsons Bairns”----aye an ye ken it wis literally true, fir hud it nae been for Jock Tamson there widna hae been an indigenous buddy in Gallowa this day.

Meanwhile Sir Jhone De Bermingham examinin the bodies o the thirty slayn horsemen, discoverin thet yin wis the corps o yin o the hated Bruces, cuts aaf the heid pits it in a pyock an maks speedy arrangements tae gyang ouwre tae Lunnon wi his trophy.

Arrivin in the kings chaumer he coups the heid oot o its pyock ontae a table fornent the king an sez, whit dae ye think o that my liege, {this bein that English king wha cam tae a painfu en et the hauns o his ain courtiers, a rid hot poker bein involved.}  man, man sez the king aa hae lang soucht the sicht aa see noo.  Weel as a reward he fills the empty pyock wi goud, dubs Sir Jhone on the shooder an sez arise Sir Jhone, Earl O Meath wi the braid lans o Meath tae you an yours fir as lang as grass grouws an waater rins.

Back hame in Irelan ye wad hae thoucht thit the new Earl wid hae hid nae a care in this worl, bit ye ken things in this life dinnae aye turn oot as ye plan or expect.

Nae lang efter the new Earl tuik possession o his new launs, did his faimily no aa gyang native an they refused to speak English an wid only communicate in Erse which garred the faithers blood pressure rise tae sic a level thit he sune deit. Efter that did they no chinge the faimily name tae McJorris an they leived as sic tae the middle o the 18th.C. whun they decided tae emigrate, an whaur did they emigrate tae---why Gallowa, an there they thoucht the name McJorris a wee bit outlandish even fur they pairts an they chinged their name again—this time tae McGeorge an this name is still quite common in Gallowa even untae this day.         


• Wikipedia entry for S.R. Crockett is here

• You can join the S.R. Crockett Society for free here, which will give you access to regular updates and stories.


Thursday, January 11, 2018

William McEwan (The World's Sweetest Gospel Singer) - the Joe Nabney recordings, wartime service, and obituary

Exactly 100 years ago William McEwan was training American soldiers to sing, having been inspired by seeing the Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders parading through Glasgow in full voice, on their way to the Second Boer War in South Africa, around 1900. Apparently American soldiers didn’t sing, they were known as the ‘silent army’, and William McEwan’s task was to change that. He had them smiling, whistling, and singing, often in quartet style harmonies!

I think I’m now pretty much finished with McEwan’s story, having posted some articles about him here in 2011, then collating and tidying those up into a blog of their own in 2016, and now recently having located a few missing pieces in the puzzle. Hopefully some biographer or broadcast producer can now pick up on it and do something more professional with him (hint hint).

What gee’d me up to finish McEwan was finding, on Apple Music, the Joe Nabney tribute album from apparently 1978, but I thought was a fair bit older than that, which you can listen online here. I am pretty sure Nabney was from Belfast, perhaps somebody out there can let me know more about him, I am familiar with him from my parents having talked about him.1200x630bb

I had known that McEwan enlisted with the US Army, but nothing more. I've now found out that he was recruited to be a singing instructor to help with morale, firstly at training camps in the USA and then in France. His son William had enlisted as a medic on 21 July 1917, just a few months after the USA entered the Great War. By 1st August William senior was marching squads of men around training yards, singing their hearts out. A month later he was off to France. There are some brilliant stories about his time in the army from digitised newspapers. I’ve added a complete page to the McEwan blog here.

Below: from The Leaf-Chronicle (Clarksville, Tennessee), 29 August 1917

McEwan Lauder


Here is his obituary from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle newspaper, 24 June 1943. OBIT

Advert from The York Daily newspaper from York, Pennsylvania, from 19 November 1915 below. Gospel music, and popular hymnwriting, is/was a combination of the spiritual (in the words – but some of course legitimately view them as ‘uninspired’ when compared with the Psalms), the secular (maybe again in the words, but definitely in the melodies, tunes, tempos, songwriting approaches and instrumentation) and the commercial (because publishing houses, copyright firms and record companies all make money). That 'tension' leads to some interesting discussions even still today. 1915

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

'Address of the Inhabitants of the County of Somersett', 28 November 1689

(As referred to in the previous post. It’s impossible to know how many of these might have been early Ulster emigrants. Presumably most were English. Maybe an expert in Maryland / Delaware has already done that research).

To the King and Queen most Ext Majty.
Wee your Majesty's Subjects in the Somersett and Province of Maryland, being refreshed and Encouraged by your Majestys great and prosperous undertakings, and by your late gracious letter to these of this Province, do cast ourselves at your Majesty's feet humbly desiring and hopefully expecting the continuance of your Maj care of us, as our Case and Circumstances doe or may require, in the confidence whereof wee resolve to continue (by the grace of God) in the Profession and defence of the Protestant Religion and your Majesty's Title and interest against the French and other Papists that oppose and trouble us in soe just and good a cause not doubting but your Majestys wisdom and clemency will afford unto us all needful suitable Aid and Protection for securing our Religion, lives and liberty under Protestant Governors and Government, and for enabling us to defend ourselves against all Invaders. Thus praying for your Majestys long and happy Reigne over us, Wee know ourselves to bee (with due Reverence and sincerity.), Your Majestys Loyall Obedient and humble Subjects

John Huett Wm Coulbourne jun Thomas Wilson Henry Philips John Parsons Thomas Shild Thomas Stivenson James Knox John Browne Wm Alexander Randolph Revell Peter Elzery James Smith Epraem Wilson Thomas Smith John Knox Thomas Wallr John Knox Thomas Wallr Alexander Knox Alexander Procter John Renshaw James Conner William Wilmot Micayah Sadler John Chanceleer John Smoche Nicholas Cornwell Robert Cade John Miller Adam Spence Tho. Midgley John Baron John Deale Martin Curtis Clement Giles Robert Johnson William Bowen Devoraux Diegas Robert Simson Edward Evans Hugh Jingle John Coltston Richard Warren Mathew Jones Richard Hill John Goldsmith John Browne WilIm Owen Malcom Knox William Knox William Hacaland Richard Jarrett Nathaniel Clark George Boyman John Nelson William Waller George Phebus John Rawley John Jones George Park Wm Polk Wm Wilson Edward Surnam Charles Ractlife William Melvell William Smith Richard Mackclure John White John Rowell John Killam John More Sam1 Hopkins junr Benjamin Keyar Ralph Milbourne Henry Hall Francis Heap John Pope Thomas Oxford William Hearne Richard Pepper John Saunders Nathaniell Abbott William Coard William Hall William Davis Joshua Light John Rust Nathaniel Vesey Richard Woodcraft Tobias Pepper WaIler Read John Peterfranck Stephen Page Thomas Edwards Alexander Mackcullah George Beniam Andrew Miller Patrick Reed John Steell William Browne Thomas Bromley William Wouldhave Richard Wildgoose John Lucas John Johnson Richard Cole William Oswell John Snow George Latham William Law William Alexandr Junr John Gray Robert Polk Thomas Pollett Charles Mullen Arnold Elzey Alexander White William Nelson Michael Hannah William Lawrence John Swaine Ambrose Archer William Stevenson James Barber Samll Showell William Jurvill John Mcknitt Wm Coulbourne James Marrah John Roach Owen Mckgraw William Round Richard Farwell Alexander Kyll Thomas Poynter John Strawbridge Adam Fitch William Burch Thomas Gordon Nicholas Carpenter John Hepderson John Tarr Richard Hill Edmd Beachamp Allen Ross Geo. Nobell Richard Britten Peter Whaples William Layton William Boyman Geo. Lane John Crawley Samll Worthington Robert Peny Moses Fenton John Porter Ninian Dulap James Henderson James Duncan John Barber John Hicks William Mead Robert Neame Henry Mills Richard Dennis Thomas Morgan Humphrey Read William Shankland David Dresdan John Watt John Ellis Thomas Ellis John Starret William Fossit Thomas Delahide Arthur Hanley John Christopher Philip Askew Roger Phillips Robert Crouch George Bayley Lazurus Maddux John Davis Henry Hamon Miles Harrison Tho. Dixon Alexander Maddux John Frankland Wm Coulbourne. Francis Joyce Robert Boyer Nicholas Jodvin Geo. Layfeild Comtr [sic] Michael Clugstone Laurence Crawford Wm Traile Thomas Wilson Samll Davis Peter Dent John West John Boyman James Sangster John Tayler Edward Jones Thomas Poole Roger Burkham John Emmit John King William Planer William Planer junr Richard Tull Thomas Tull Robert Hall John Braughton William Nobell John Colhoune John Williams Richard Chambers John Trupshan Mathew Dorman James Langreene Nathll Horsey Alexander Thomas John Mackbride David Brown Francis Jenkins William Brerton John Winder Robt King James Dashiell Stephen Suff Thomas Newbold James Round Samll Hopkins Edmd Howard Thomas Jones Henry Smith.

Address of the Inhabitants of the County of Somersett to their Majties. Recd. from my Lord Shrewsbury, 7th Febry. 1689.


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’. 


Sunday, January 07, 2018

Chris Stapleton - 'Well they came from northern Ireland, searching for the free man's ground"


Stapleton is one of the biggest names in ‘proper’ country music. I have mentioned him here before. Just before Christmas he released two new albums, entitled From A Room Volume 1 and Volume 2, one of which has a track called 'Scarecrow in the Garden'. When somebody of this magnitude and credibility ‘gets’ our story, it’s a huge deal. I don't think he's ever played here. Somebody needs to sort that out.

Well they came from northern Ireland,
Searching for the free man's ground
And he came to bet his fortune
On a West Virginia plough
He built a house of timber
And raised a red haired son
Then they worked the land together
And prayed that rain would come...

Maybe even a joint gig with Ricky Warwick...

My name is James McBride and I'm almost 19
I sailed away from Derry to follow some dream
I came to Philadelphia with a Bible in my hand
And God will be my witness in the Promised Land.
We were born fightin' - and we'll die fightin'
Till we belong... till we belong...

Saturday, January 06, 2018

Ryan Upchurch - 'Country Way'

Well this is different. But culture shifts and grows, takes on new influences, becomes something new for a new generation and context - and faster than ever these days. Ryan Upchurch is from Tennessee and has squillions of views on YouTube and over 500,000 subscribers. ‘Hick-Hop’. Interesting. Still prefer the old original stuff though. Hard to beat some Skynyrd or Creedence. But the lad can sing John Denver too...

Edward Bruce 700 - Death at Faughart, 14 October 1318

Another important anniversary is coming up this year, when a headstrong Edward Bruce, the titular but disputed ‘High King of Ireland’ (through alliance with his relatives the O’Neills of Ulster) decided not to wait for reinforcements from his brother King Robert the Bruce of Scotland, and so was killed in the Battle of Faughart between Dundalk and Newry. Reputedly parts of him are buried at the ancient graveyard there. Just parts. The rest were sent to the four corners of the kingdom by Edward II as a warning.

The Bruce army retreated to Scotland, led by a John Thomson, which according to my friend Joe Rae gave rise to the expression that the folk in Galloway and Ayrshire are all 'Jock Tamson's bairns’ - because if Jock hadnae brocht the menfolk hame, there would have been nae mair weans born!

Almost 300 years later, many of the descendants of Bruce’s soldiers would return to Ulster and settle on our side of the water permanently, led again by two Ayrshiremen - but not Robert and Edward Bruce of Turnberry this time, but Hugh Montgomery of Braidstane and James Hamilton of Dunlop, beginning in May 1606. 

The death of Edward Bruce and the end of the Bruce campaign in Ireland is a major story for later this year – and a perfect example of how integrated life and history in ‘these islands’ has been throughout the ages.

Pics below of Faughart.

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Friday, January 05, 2018

'Ulster Links with the White House' - and Sam Henry (1878–1953)

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Sam Henry (1878–1953) is / was a legendary collector of folklore and tradition (Wikipedia here), best known for his collection Songs of the People from 1923–1939, amassing 690 songs in total, most of which were published in 1990 and again in 2010. The full collection is held at Coleraine Museum. A press release from the Causeway Coast & Glens Borough Council about the collection is online here. Some of Henry’s photographs are online here.

Additionally, it seems that he provided some inspiration for what became the 1940s publication Ulster Links with the White House, a collection of biographies of 14 US Presidents said to have been of Ulster descent, illustrated with the famous Frank McKelvey pencil portraits. These biographies were originally serialised in the Belfast Telegraph, and which interestingly make frequent use of the term ‘Ulster Scots’. However the book version gives no detail about who the author was. I have heard some suggest Rev W F Marshall as the writer.

On 19 December 1952 the Ballymena Weekly Telegraph stated that (the then late) Henry had written a biography of President Chester Alan Arthur which first appeared in the Belfast Telegraph on 5 December 1938. Sure enough, this was reprinted in the Ballymena Weekly Telegraph on 10 December 1938 with Henry given as the author. In it, Henry proposed that

‘an artistic board be placed in the main street of Cullybackey and thereon a fingerpost and an arrow pointing towards Dreen across the bridge with the words ‘to the homestead of the Arthurs, ancestors of President Chester Alan Arthur, 21st President of the United States of America’. 

And there is a sign a bit like that on that very bridge today - see photo below. However this 1938 Arthur biography isn’t the same as the one which appeared later in Ulster Links with the White House. A few years  had passed and so someone had taken an editorial fine-tooth comb to the original, bringing it into a consistent word count with the other 13 biographies, but also acknowledging Henry’s original. Henry’s is much better.

In 1942, the Ballymena Weekly Telegraph reprinted verbatim from Ulster Links at least two of the County Antrim related biographies: the President Theodore Roosevelt biography on 9 January 1942, and the President William McKinley biography on 23 January 1942. 

Ulster Links with the White House is an interesting book, but it is unreliable as it over-stretches itself by making Ulster ancestral claims to Presidents John Adams, James Monroe and John Quincy Adams - Presidents who were later dropped from the pantheon in similar projects in the decades which followed.

Further research required, but it does open up an additional strand in Sam Henry’s cultural interests and contribution.

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