Windham Life and Times – January 6, 2017

Leaving Ireland

The Blight of Emigration Statues, are located on Derry Harbor, Northern Ireland. The man moves resolutely ahead, while the woman and child look back toward what’s being left behind.

The Blight of Emigration Statues, are located on Derry Harbor, Northern Ireland. The man moves resolutely ahead, while the woman and child look back toward what’s being left behind.


Leaving is such a revolutionary act! Staying in the place where you were born, among friends and relatives, and living within the scenery that has greeted you day in and day out is the easy path. The hard way, the path not taken by many of us, is to simply leave. To leave everything behind and to begin life anew.

A recent BBC article calls the Reverend James McGregor, the Moses of his Scotch-Irish flock, who lead his humble congregation to the promised land of America. “He was a veteran of the Siege of Londonderry and in 1701, Mr. McGregor, who was a fluent Irish speaker, became the pastor of a small Presbyterian church in Aghadowey. In 1710, the synod gave him the privilege of preaching in Irish. At that stage, Presbyterians were not allowed to hold office, teach or to conduct most civil ceremonies such as marriages and funerals. In early summer of 1718, Mr. McGregor and the major part of his congregation set sail for Boston on the brigantine Robert. The group consisted of about 200 people, primarily from 16 families and ranging in age from babies to an elderly couple aged 90.”

“The Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland holds the session minute book for Aghadowey congregation, 1702-61, that covers the period when the Rev McGregor was minister of the congregation. The session minutes reveal the level of poverty in the area as illustrated by the increasing number of named poor people receiving assistance from the church recorded at almost every meeting of session up to and beyond 1718.  This was undoubtedly due to a succession of poor harvests, a downturn in the linen industry and high rents. The congregation struggled continually to support their minister in stipend, corn, a farm and lodgings to the extent that when McGregor left in 1718, he was owed two years stipend amounting to £80.  Clearly, economic conditions played a significant factor in the decision of many to emigrate. (Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland.) 


Presbyterian Church in Aghadowey, Northern Ireland

     Still even with the poverty and oppression, it would have been easier to stay, and many of the family members of those that left, did stay behind in Ireland. McGregor, gently prodding his congregation, to leave, promising as a group, they would be able to take on the wilderness with God’s help.

On the eve before embarking, Rev. McGregor gave a sermon, the manuscript which was preserved and related by Edward Parker in his History of Londonderry. “His discourse was from the appropriate words of Moses, when conducting the chosen tribes to the promised land: ‘If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence.’  In the application of the subject of their emigration, he states the following as reasons of their removal to America. 1. To avoid oppression and cruel bondage. 2 To shun persecution and designed ruin. 3. To withdraw from the communion of idolaters. 4. To have the opportunity of worshiping God, according to the dictates of conscience and the rules of the inspired word.”

Here is the account from Morrison’s, Among the Scotch-Irish: “On a certain September morning, in the year 1718, a cavalcade, in which women and children, whose dress and bearing bespoke the farming class, might have been seen leaving Aghadowey by the Derry road. In the cavalcade were a number of old-fashioned wheel-cars, with their low, solid wheels and broad bottoms, upon which were piled provisions, wearing apparel, and household effects. Accompanying the procession and acting as guide, philosopher, and friend, was a clergyman in the prime of life, and dressed in the simple garb of the Presbyterian ministers of that period. The clergyman was accompanied by his son, a boy of eight summers, whose name is now accorded and honored place in the national biography of the Great Republic of the West. As the cavalcade wends it way along the road, the people are ever and anon casting regretful looks at the waving fields of golden corn, the green valleys, and the wooded hills now assuming an autumnal brown, of their native parish.”

“The cavalcade is a band of emigrants, of about 100 families, on their way to Derry, there to embark for the Western World. The clergyman is Rev. James McGregor, second minister of the Presbyterian congregation, of Aghadowey, to which all the families belonged, and who accompanied them to America. The reasons which induced theses people to leave their native land and undertake a voyage across the Atlantic, which in those days was tedious and full of hardships, and to face the uncertain prospects of new settlers, were partly religious and partly agrarian. Being Presbyterians, they were subjected to the unjust and insulting provisions of the Test Act, under which it was penal for a person of their persuasion to teach a school or to hold the humblest office in the State. Then again, at the time of the Revolution, when a considerable part of the country lay waste, and when the whole framework of society was shattered, land had been let on lease at very low rents to the Presbyterian tenants. About 1717-1718 these leases began to fall in, and the rents were usually doubled and frequently tripled. Hence farmers became discouraged, and a number of them belonging to Aghadowey formed the design of emigrating to America, where they would be able to reap the fruits of their own industry.” Other Scotch-Irish on other ships joined them. The Robert landed in Boston, the 14th of October, 1718.

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