Go From Your Country

52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks – Week 27: Free

PROMPT: Week 27’s theme is “Free.” You could focus on an ancestor seeking freedom, a free-for-all, your favorite free resource, or take it “free form” and write about whatever you want to write about! (Of course, that’s true any week!) 
The Dark Hedges at Bregagh Road, Stranocum, Ballymoney, County Antrim, Ireland. This iconic site has been used as a filming location for the HBO series Game of Thrones.

My previous post detailed the religious persecution suffered by the Scottish Covenanters. Although I have not been able to trace my ancestors back to 17th century Scotland (yet!), I certainly know of many of the descendants of the survivors of the Killing Times who kept the Covenanter traditions alive and their descendants who then brought those traditions and history with them to Ireland and later ancestors still who brought the Covenants of their faith to America.

Many of my Scottish Covenanter ancestors hail from County Antrim, Ireland, and from Ballymoney, specifically. Worship in this area in the eighteenth century was led primarily by one very busy Reformed Presbyterian minister serving the greater Ulster region of Ireland: one Rev. William Martin (1729-1807.)

Stone at Vow Graveyard in Ballymoney, Ireland, commemorating Rev. William Martin’s ordination.

Attuned to his parishioners’ earthly as well as spiritual needs, he was disturbed by the fact that it had become increasingly difficult for the members of his congregations to make a decent living. Not only were land owners raising rents to unreasonable amounts and even evicting tenants who could not make that rent, but demand for the product of the other major trade in the area–linen–was dwindling as well.

Preaching from his pulpit in Ballymoney one Sunday, he declared, “Enough is enough! Anyone who knows anything about the Ulster countryside realizes that the rents are so high that the land does not bring in enough to pay them. Many of us are beggared and in time all would be.”

He went on to say that he could not stand idly by and await the violence and ruin that would come.

He proposed that the parishioners pool all of their available resources and charter ships for emigration to South Carolina—where he had already been called to serve.

The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.‘”

The Call of Abraham: Genesis Chapter 12, New International Version
London Magazine engraving of Charleston, S.C., 1762.

The congregants heeded their leader’s call, and in late 1772, a total of 467 families–more than 1,000 people–made the nine-week journey across the Atlantic in one of five chartered vessels.

The first two ships sailed from Larne: the James and Mary, and then the Lord Dunluce. The third and fourth vessels departed from Belfast: the Pennsylvania Farmer and the Hopewell. The last of the charters departed Newry. All ships arrived in Charleston, South Carolina at various times during the month December of 1772.

Historic Marker near Chester, South Carolina

Given, as promised, free land upon their arrival, they began their new lives, free from the strictures of the tenant farming system, free from taxation in support of the Church of England—at which they did not worship, and free to worship as they wished without fear of the persecution suffered by their ancestors, first in Scotland, and then in Ireland as well.

While I am distantly related to Rev. Martin–being the maternal grandfather of the husband of my 1st cousin 5X removed–I have more direct connections to many of the passengers aboard those ships.

While more painstaking research will be required to identify those specific ancestors who made the voyage, I hope to dedicate the time and energy to that very project some day!

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