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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