Thursday, February 15, 2018

Not all Ulster-"Scots" were Scots

(posted by Mark Todd)

One of the more satisfying aspects of genealogy research is those moments when information goes beyond mere statistical data and a person's history begins to take shape and tell a narrative -- sometimes revealing glimpses of an individual's personality.

Such an instance emerged when I began researching one line of my dad's ancestors, going back five-plus generations to the eighteenth and seventeenth centures.

British Isles history buffs and genealogists are likely to be familiar with the so-called Ulster-Scots who immigrated to British Colonial America in droves during the eighteenth century, fleeing the turbulence of the Province of Ulster in Northern Ireland at the time.

But fewer casual researchers realize that Ulster was home to not only relocated Scots but also a large population of resettled English during Ulster's Plantation conlonization, initiated by James VI of Scotland when he became King of England in the seventeenth century. In effect, the colonization was intended to confiscate all the lands of the unruly Catholic Irish nobility in Ulster and to resettle the province with not only Protestant Scottish but also Protestant English colonists on the confiscated lands.

But several generations of resettled Ulster colonists had grown weary of the strife and fueding that resulted, and many determined to relocate to the Americas.

Not too surprisingly (given my strong roots in the American South), I had already discovered a strain of true Ulster-Scots from the family of my maternal grandmother (born a Sims). So when I found another group of transplanted Ulster colonists on my paternal side, I immediately assumed they were also Scots. But as I delved deeper, I discovered they had hailed three generations earlier from Essex, England, just north of London -- a far cry from the English-Scottish borderlands.

It took a bit of further investigation to make the connection: my paternal Ulster ancestors had settled in the town of Derry in Northern Ireland, which was soon renamed Londonderry by the settlers, to reflect their origins. That group was also comprised almost entirely of families from the London area-based "great guilds." So much for the mystery of the English rather than Scottish origins on that branch of my family tree.

But when I started tracing down records and documents for the branches of both grandparents who had arrived from Ulster to the Province of Massachusetts Bay, the story started to become more personal -- especially since it involved two unrelated families until joined in marriage by my ancestral grandparents.

The Story between the Lines

Matthew Gray Jr (my fifth-generation grandfather) arrived in Worcester County, Province of Massachusetts Bay, in 1718 as a ten-year-old, accompanying his father Matthew Sr and grandfather John Gray Jr, alongside other new immigrant families from Londonderry, Northern Ireland.

The new arrivals were not partricularly welcome in Masschusetts Bay, shunned, as it were, by the second-generation Puritan descendents already in Worcester County. Only 26 years earlier, in 1692, the English king had issued the colony a new land charter that shifted voting rights from Puritan church membership to land ownership.

Cotton Mather
According to historian Charles Bolton, Matthew Sr’s father “John Gray had land laid out to him by the town's committee November 26, 1718.”

Bolton explains, Puritan forefather and minister "Cotton Mather had in mind very early that the emigrants from Ulster would be useful settlers on the frontier. In 1718 the village of Worcester could claim a position on the Massachusetts frontier, although it lay only forty miles from Boston. First settled in 1674, it was deserted in King Philip's war, 1675, and again in Queen Anne's war, 1702."

According to Bolton, however, the Ulster Presbysterians "came to act as a buffer against the Indians, and instead of welcome they received surly conversation from the few inhabitants who turned out to meet them."

Another Ulster family had arrived in 1718 from Londonderry: Hugh Kelso, his wife Sarah, and their two-year-old daughter Jean (my fifth-generation grandmother). By trade, Kelso was a wheelright, a craftsman who built and repaired wheels for wagons and carriages.

Ten-year-old Matthew Jr would not likely have paid much attention to two-year-old Jean on the two-month voyage to the New World. But the town was small and both the Gray and Kelso families attended the same church in Worcester and participated in the same circles of community involvement.  Sixteen years later, when Matthew was 22 and Jean was 18, the two married in 1734 in Worcester.

After 1737, according to records reported by Bolton, "The lands now included in the town of Pelham were being opened for settlement, and on the 21st of January, 1738-39, John Stoddard arranged to settle a number of families ... such as were inhabitants of the Kingdom of Ireland or their descendants, being Protestants." Names included in this resettlement as "proprietors" included John Gray Jr and Matthew Gray Sr.

Record of deaths for both Matthew
Gray Jr and wife Jean (Kelso) Gray
But records suggest that Matthew Jr did not relocate to Pelham with his father and grandfather, some 30 miles from Worcester. Instead, Matthew Jr and Jean remained where her parents Hugh and Sarah Kelso still lived. Matthew's father-in-law signed a will on 14 Jun 1737, in which he refers to Jean's husband as "my well beloved son Matthew Gray," and to whom Hugh bequeaths his "wearing cloaths [sic]," a gesture that suggests Matthew and Jean were regularly present in the Kelso household in Worcester at that time, and Matthew had become like a son to Hugh Kelso.

Hugh died only two months later, and he named Matthew's grandfather as co-executor to his estate, revealing how close the two families had remained.

Old Common Burial Ground in
present-day Worcester, Massachuestts
On 14 June 1742, Matthew and Jean had a daughter in Worcester named Jemima (my fourth-generation grandmother).

Jean died 22 years later in 1764, and Matthew would go on to marry twice more before dying himself in 1783. But at his death, he was buried next to his childhood sweetheart in the Old Common Burial Ground in Worcester.


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Mark and Kym Todd are volunteers on WikiTree, a project to create the entire human tree.
Profiles, sources, and documents for individuals described above are on WikiTree:










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