Irish Presbyterian Emigrants: Ancestry back to the 1650s.

If you can trace your Irish ancestry back to the late 18th Century you are doing well. But one visitor to the IFHC traced theirs back to the mid-17th Century. How? Through the Presbyterian emigrant records.

Presbyterians started migrating to America from Northern Ireland and Scotland in 1650. The reason they migrated was because of subtle economic and religious persecution.  Their Church Ministers were not legally allowed to perform marriages, baptisms or to keep a register. Presbyterian marriages were not legally recognised. The children of Presbyterian marriages were classed as illegitimate. This resulted in serious inheritance problems.

In the US are records saying there was a Presbyterian church minister there as early as 1650. In 1718, Reverend James McGregor (1677–1729) organised five shiploads of people (800 in total) from Northern Ireland and, because of this, McGregor is considered to be the founding father of Presbyterianism in America (Roger Courtney, 2013, Dissenting Voices).

The Presbyterians did not make treaties with the native American Indians and, as a result, Reverend McGregor had to go to church under armed escort and have a loaded pistol in his pulpit. Thankfully, he never had to use it. The written versions of the sermons he preached on Sunday still survive. He named a town in New Hampshire (USA) after Londonderry, and it is still there.  McGregor also features in the EPIC Exhibition (CHQ building, Dublin).

If you are lucky enough to have US Presbyterian relations derived from the original McGregor emigrants, it is possible to link back, maybe even back to 1650, to the ancestral church in Ireland because the first Presbyterian records in Ireland date from 1650 in Londonderry, which is where McGregor himself went to church.

By Noel Jenkins,

Research Expert at Irish Family History Centre.

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