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Ulster-Scots in Virginia

From Pennsylvania to Shenandoah.

by Richard MacMaster
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Richard MacMaster is co-editor of The Journal of Scotch-Irish Studies. He is affiliated with the Center for Scotch-Irish Studies and the Department of History at the University of Florida.  Richard has a Ph.D. in American history from Georgetown University; he taught U.S. history, specializing in Colonial America. He lives in Gainesville, Florida. Richard can be contacted by email at rmacmast@ufl.edu
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Emigrants from Ulster were landing in considerable numbers at the ports of Newcastle and Philadelphia after 1718 and making their way to settlements in the Pennsylvania backcountry and adjacent parts of Maryland and Delaware.  By 1730 land prices in the fertile plain of Lancaster and Chester counties rose so high as to make it difficult for newcomers to buy farms.  Over the next decade the Ulster settlers crossed the Susquehanna River and spread their settlements over Cumberland County, but some looked farther afield.

Governor Gooch Encourages Settlements West of the Blue Ridge
Governor William Gooch of Virginia was concerned to protect his colony from any possible French or Indian incursions by planting settlements west of the Blue Ridge mountains in the Shenandoah Valley.  He responded favorably to a request in 1730 by two brothers, John and Isaac Van Meter, for lands beyond the Blue Ridge where they could settle with their families and friends from New York and New Jersey.  In all, the Van Meters received three grants, one of 10,000 acres in the forks of the Shenandoah and Cedar Creek, another of 20,000 acres bounded by the Potomac, the Shenandoah, and Opequon Creek, and a third of 10,000 acres between the Shenandoah and Opequon.  These grants were in present Berkeley, Frederick and Shenandoah counties.  In return, they agreed to settle one family for every 1,000 acres within two years.

All of this land was already claimed by the Fairfax family as part of a vast territory granted by King Charles II as the Proprietary of the Northern Neck, so to avoid possible litigation the Van Meters sold everything in August 1731 to Joist Hite (Heydt), a remarkable man who came to America in 1710 as a penniless emigrant shipped to New York under a charitable scheme.  Hite prospered as a miller, then sold all his property in eastern Pennsylvania and used the proceeds to buy out the Van Meters.  He settled his family on the Opequon and went to Williamsburg, Virginia to negotiate a new grant of 100,000 acres with three men with Ulster connections, Robert McKay, a Quaker, and William Duff and his nephew Robert Green of Spotsylvania County, Virginia.  Hite set to work at once to recruit settlers in Pennsylvania.  By Christmas 1735 at least 67 families were settled on lands sold them by Hite and his partners.

Settling the Upper Shenandoah Valley
Hite's success stimulated others to petition for Shenandoah Valley grants, among them Col. William Beverley, a wealthy planter of Essex County, Virginia.  In 1732 he and his associates obtained a grant of 15,000 acres in present Page County, but it overlapped lands occupied by German settlers who had a valid title.  Beverley joined with John Tayloe and Thomas Lee in requesting 60,000 acres on the Shenandoah, beginning at the southern boundary of the Germans' grant.  This tract lay in present Rockingham and Augusta counties.  Beverley obtained a patent in September 1736 for another 60,000 acres, but it was surveyed as "a parcel of land, called the Manor of Beverley, containing 118,491 acres."  The boundaries of Beverley Manor included much of present Augusta County.

As early as 1739, this part of the Shenandoah Valley was known as "The Irish Tract," since many Ulster Scots had already found homes there.  John Lewis and other Ulster Scots had settled in what would be Beverley Manor as early as 1732.  John Trimble, who came there in 1734, recalled years later "there was no Road for more than seventy Miles downwards, other than the narrow, almost impervious Paths made through the lonely Forests by Buffaloes, & Indians."  Altogether some sixty families were living on this remote frontier.  These people were part of a continuing migration of Scotch-Irish and German families from Pennsylvania and Maryland to the Shenandoah Valley.  Beverley could wait for more settlers to come south and buy land in his manor, but he chose to engage a partner to settle the manor more quickly.

James Patton and Beverley Manor
James Patton was born at Limavady in 1692.  He became a ship's captain and, after his employers in Kirkcudbright, Scotland, failed in 1730, Walter Lutwidge, a merchant in Whitehaven, England, "brought him out of his scrapes" and gave him command of one of his ships in the Chesapeake tobacco trade.  On one of his voyages to Virginia, Patton became acquainted with William Beverley.  In August 1737 Beverley wrote Patton offering him a share in the land he patented with Tayloe and Lee:  "I am willing you should hold one quarter part of it being at one ¼ pt of all ye charges & doing your utmost endeavour to procure families to come in & settle it."  He explained that "we all three propose to make money of the Land & to that end I propose to hold it undivided & to sell out & make ye most we can of it, unless either of us shou’d have a mind to make a settlement there for our own use & then we might have what we have occasion for laid off & appropriated for ye purpose." Patton’s role was made clearer in another letter.  "I should be very glad if you could import families enough to take the whole off from our hands at a reasonable price and tho’ the order mentions families from Pensilvania, yet families from Ireland will do as well."

On his return, Patton recruited emigrants, notably his brother-in-law John Preston, a ship's carpenter in Londonderry.  He sailed from Whitehaven in Lutwidge's ship Walpoole on March 16, 1738.  The ship lay some weeks at Dublin, taking on passengers and indentured servants, and then sailed for Lough Swilly, where most of the emigrants came on board.  The Walpoole sailed up the Potomac River and landed 65 passengers with their baggage and merchandise for Lutwidge's factors on August 25, 1738.  Patton kept the ship in Virginia over the winter, contrary to Lutwidge’s orders, and sailed for home with a cargo of tobacco in April 1739.

In the meantime, Patton had taken his settlers to the Shenandoah Valley with provisions to keep them over the winter.  Lutwidge was livid when he learned what had happened.  "Of all ye Knaves I ever met with, Patton has out don them all . . . . He charged no less than 6,000 lbs of fresh Beefe in Virginia, 40 barrels Indian corn and everything else in proportion, took 15 servants to himself at a clap.  In short, Hell itself can't outdo him." 

John Lewis welcomed Patton’s Ulster emigrants as well as others who came south from Pennsylvania and Maryland.  Beverley granted Lewis 2,000 acres near the present city of Staunton in consideration of "the extraordinary trouble of his house and charges in entertaining those who came to settle on Beverley Mannor." John Trimble, William Cathey, William King and other early settlers bought the land where they lived from Beverley in 1738-1739.  Between 1738 and 1744 Colonel Beverley sold 47,366 acres to 94 purchasers.

Borden Grant in Rockbridge County
With so many Scotch-Irish pioneers moving up the Valley, other land speculators kept one step ahead of them.  In 1739 Benjamin Borden, a New Jersey Quaker, received a grant beginning at the southern boundary of Beverley Manor.  Borden was promised 1,000 acres for every settler he located, amounting in all to 92,000 acres.  John McDowell, a surveyor, helped Borden locate his tract and was rewarded with a large acreage.  The Borden tract later became Rockbridge County.

Patton Granted Land in Southwestern Virginia
Ulstermen took a share in land development, too.  In 1743 John Lewis and James Patton obtained a grant for 10,500 acres on Calfpasture River in western Augusta County. The same year Patton had his son-in-law John Buchanan survey land along the Holston and New rivers in southwestern Virginia and then petitioned the Governor’s Council for a grant of 200,000 acres.  His petition was denied.  He wrote later that "as I was the first Brittish Subject that had Petitioned for Land on Sd. Waters which I discovered at Vast Expence," it would be unjust to allow others to "Reap the benefit of my Industry." To insure that justice was done, Patton promised to give four-fifths of the land to Governor Robert Dinwiddie and prominent members of his Council. He had learned how the game was played in Virginia.  Thus in petitioning for a grant on the New and Clinch rivers, Patton, his brother-in-law John Preston and son-in-law John Buchanan "took on as a partner Benjamin Waller, a Williamsburg attorney who served as Clerk of the Governor's Council" and several members of his extended family.  Patton and his associates in the Woods River Company were rewarded with a grant of 100,000 acres in 1745. They began developing their grant in 1748 with a small settlement on the site of Blacksburg, Montgomery County.  Here Patton was killed by Indians in 1755.

East of the Blue Ridge
Other Ulster Scots settled east of the Blue Ridge.  John Caldwell, the grandfather of U.S. Senator John Caldwell Calhoun, led a group of settlers initially to Albemarle County in 1738 and then to Cub Creek in Charlotte County in 1741.

"All here are Irish - all are Presbyterians"
A young Presbyterian minister sent to supply vacant pulpits in the Shenandoah Valley wrote of the people in Augusta County "All here are Irish – all are Presbyterians." This was true of other early settlements in the Valley.

Opequon Church Organized
Many of the Opequon settlers in Frederick County were Scotch-Irish from the Elk river region at the head of Chesapeake Bay where Rev. Samuel Gelston was minister, among them William Hoge and his family.  They erected a meeting house on Hoge's land, and wrote Mr. Gelston to visit them; which he did on a commission issued by Donegal Presbytery, May 26, 1736.  He was followed in 1737 by Rev. James Anderson, pastor of  Donegal Presbyterian Church, and between them the Opequon congregation was put in church order.

Beverley Manor Settlers Request a Minister
Nor did the Augusta settlers forget their Presbyterian faith.  At the September 1, 1737 meeting of Donegal Presbytery in Pennsylvania "A Supplication from the New Setled People of Beverly Manor in ye back parts of Virginia requesting Supplies" was read.  Presbytery directed Rev. James Anderson to write them an encouraging letter, pledging a minister would visit them the next spring.

The Minister and the Governor
On May 28, 1738 the Presbyterian Synod of Philadelphia wrote to Governor Gooch of Virginia "in behalf of a considerable number of our brethren who are meditating a settlement in the remote parts of your government" to ask his "favour in allowing them the liberty of their consciences" to worship God.  Rev. James Anderson of Donegal carried their letter to Williamsburg.  On his way Anderson stopped with Scotch-Irish settlers at "O'peKan," "Massenottin," "Beverley Manor," and "Head Springs of Sherrando" and carried similar petitions from each of them to Governor Gooch.  The Governor responded favorably to Synod’s letter, that "as I have always been inclined to favour the people who have lately removed from other provinces, to settle on the western side of our great mountains; so you may be assured, that no interruption shall be given to any minister of your profession who may come among them."  Anderson stayed two months in Williamsburg, working with the Governor and the House of Burgesses for legislation to create counties west of the Blue Ridge and provide for self-government and religious freedom there.  On his way home he preached and organized congregations in the Shenandoah Valley, among them Cooks Creek and Massanutten in Rockingham County.

Rev. John Craig, the First Settled Minister
Donegal Presbytery sent Rev. John Thomson, pastor at Chestnut Level in Lancaster County, to supply "the back parts of Virginia" on a brief visit and then in November 1739 dispatched his student John Craig to "both places in Opeckin, ye Irish tract & other Societies of our Persuasion in Virginia," where he remained over the winter.  John Craig was born in Co. Antrim in 1709 and sailed from Larne for America in 1734.  He taught school at Chestnut Level and was licensed by Donegal Presbytery in 1737.  After he returned to Pennsylvania in 1740, the congregations at "Shenadora" (Augusta Stone) and "South River" (Tinkling Spring) called him as their pastor.  Craig was ordained September 3, 1740 and continued to minister to Presbyterians in Augusta County, Virginia until his death in 1774.  He left behind an autobiography.

As the first settled minister in western Virginia, Craig traveled as far as present Winchester and Roanoke preaching and baptizing.  With more Ulster emigrants and their children and grandchildren moving up the Valley, John Craig nurtured new congregations at North Mountain (Bethel) in Augusta County and Forks of the James (New Monmouth) and Timber Ridge in Rockbridge County from 1741 and Rocky Spring on Calfpasture River in western Augusta County from 1743.  These churches and Brown’s (Hebron) in Augusta County and New Providence in Rockbridge County were all strong enough to call their own pastors by 1746.

A Second Missionary to the Back Parts of Virginia
Donegal Presbytery sent Rev. John Hindman as a missionary to "the back parts of Virginia" in June 1742.  He worked with Rev. John Craig to organize the Cooks Creek and Peaked Mountain congregations in Rockingham County.  Hindman left Virginia in 1746 to take Anglican orders and returned a year later as rector of the Augusta Parish Church in Staunton.

Rev. John Thomson and Southside Virginia Churches
Rev. John Thomson came to America in 1715 as a licentiate from the Presbytery of Armagh.  He was ordained for the church at New Castle, Delaware, and later called to the Chestnut Level congregation in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.  Donegal Presbytery sent him to the new settlements in the Shenandoah Valley in 1739.  John Caldwell, an elder from Chestnut Level, instigated the letter to the Governor of Virginia in 1738.  The Caldwells and others from the congregation settled on Buffalo Creek in Prince Edward County.  Thomson joined them in 1744 and served congregations on Cub Creek in Charlotte County, Buffalo Creek and Walker’s in Prince Edward County.  He also founded a grammar school and published The Explication of the Shorter Catechism (Williamsburg, 1749).  As the nearest minister to the Scotch-Irish settlements on the Haw and Eno rivers in North Carolina, he was appointed to visit them in 1751.  He died in North Carolina in 1753 on a pastoral visit.

Rev. John Brown and Liberty Hall Academy
The congregations at Timber Ridge and New Providence in Rockbridge County called the Rev. John Brown as their first pastor in 1753.  He was a native of Ulster and a 1749 graduate of Princeton.  His wife Margaret Preston came to Virginia with her parents and her uncle James Patton in 1738.  They made their home near Fairfield, midway between the two churches, and here he established a grammar school.  It was later known as Liberty Hall Academy and still later as Washington College, today Washington and Lee University, Lexington, Virginia.  Brown continued as pastor at New Providence and head of Liberty Hall Academy until 1796, when he moved to Kentucky.  He died at Frankfort, Kentucky in 1803.
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