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Scotch-Irish Families of Rockbridge County, Virginia

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  • James Petticrew (1790 - 1862)
    Records of the old Hanover Presbyterian Church in Hanover Twp., Lancaster (now Dauphin) County, PA. The register of births and baptisms show the following: (extracted) James, to John and Elizabeth ...
  • William McClung (c.1702 - c.1783)
    Relocated: 1742 Left PA and moved to Rockbridge County
  • Mary McDowell (1734 - 1827)
    DAR Ancestor #: A076508 John McDowell's son Samuel married Mary McClung in 1754. (Mary was said to be the prettiest girl in Virginia.) She was the daughter of John McClung and Elizabeth Alexander. ...
  • Col. Samuel McDowell (1735 - 1817)
    DAR Ancestor #: A076518 Samuel McDowell (October 29, 1735 – September 25, 1817) was a soldier and early political leader in Kentucky. from McDowell participated in three major wars. He...
  • Capt. John McDowell (1714 - 1742)
    John McDowell Birth:  Jan. 19, 1714 - Raloo Parish, County Antrim, Northern Ireland Death:  Dec. 25, 1742 - Petit's Gap, Rockbridge, Virginia Burial: McDowell Cemetery, Fairfield ...

Please add your ancestors to this project if they were born, lived, or died in Rockbridge County. Add the first of the family to settle in Rockbridge County to the family list below and add the other profiles to the project.

I will be adding photographs taken at Highbridge Church Cemetery and along Plank Road in Springfield and in downtown Lexington on 6/21/2013.

History of the Scotch-Irish in Rockbridge County

Rockbridge County was settled mainly by Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. Those rugged frontiersmen came here in droves, establishing churches soon after their arrival. In 1720, there was the first mass migration from Ireland into America. A second wave of migration began about 1760 and lasted until the outbreak of the American Revolution. Other Scotch-Irish immigrants trickled into Colonial ports at various times. In the 1730's many Scotch-Irish families migrated down the "Great Road" from eastern Pennsylvania into the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

By 1725, most of the ships carrying Ulster immigrants bound for America had steered from Puritan New England to the more tolerant parts of William Penn's Quaker colonies. The Delaware Shores and particularly the harbor of Philadelphia took immigrants by the thousands. Pennsylvania became the center of Scotch-Irish settlements in the New World and the starting point for the massive immigrant flow to the south and west. In 1728, 5,605 of 6,208 new immigrants to Pennsylvania were Scotch-Irish. Most of the ships left the Port of Londonderry, Ireland and docked at Philadelphia.

Many of these immigrants pushed to the frontiers. Many stopped a while in Lancaster and the Cumberland region of Pennsylvania. In 1730, their flow of migration was deflected temporarily by the foothills of the Alleghany Mountains, and their migration took a southwesterly course into western Maryland, the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, and the back country of the Carolinas. Independent communities of Scotch-Irish were in existence in Virginia and North Carolina by 1730. These were tight knit settlements, and generally remained separate from other denominations.

Rockbridge County, Virginia was formed in 1778 from Augusta and Botetourt Counties. In 1770, Botetourt County had been formed from Augusta County. The first Settlers of Augusta County, Virginia arrived in the 1720's primarily from Pennsylvania, Maryland and Eastern Virginia. Some were German-born or the Pennsylvania-born children of German-speaking Protestant immigrants from the Palatinate and other areas bordering the Rhine River. These were Lutheran, Reformed, or Brethren. The greatest numbers of early Augusta settlers were from the province of Ulster in the north of Ireland, or were the Pennsylvania and Maryland-born children of these Ulster Scots or Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. Many early settlers took up land on the 112,000-acre tract that the colonial government granted to William Beverley, later referred to as "Beverley Manor".

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 92,100 acres. John McDowell, a surveyor, helped Borden locate his tract and was rewarded with a large acreage. The "Borden Tract" later became Rockbridge County, VA. In addition to the Scot's Irish, English and African-Americans were also among the early settlers in the area. Many settlers were of of English descent, coming into the area from eastern Virginia. African Americans were also among the early settlers, some free-born, but most enslaved. Although initially small in number, by the Civil War they represented 20% of the population. (Source: Augusta County Historical Society, http://www.augustacountyhs.org/history.html)

Augusta County was created from Orange County in 1738. For seven years, until the population grew large enough, Augusta’s records were kept in Orange. In 1745, Augusta elected a sheriff, a vestry, a county court, a minister, and a clerk of court. A courthouse was built on the same site in Staunton (originally called Beverley’s Mill Place) as the current courthouse. The county’s records have been kept continuously at the courthouse since 1745. In that year, the county included all of present southwestern Virginia, most of present West Virginia and even stretched to the Mississippi River. As people began to settle in those western areas, new counties were formed from parts of Augusta, beginning in 1769 with Botetourt County, then Rockingham and Rockbridge in 1778. Rockbridge County soon became the home of many of these Ulstermen, nearly all of our early churches were Presbyterian. Although the colonies were ruled by England, and the Church of England remained as the state Church, the Presbyterians found the frontiers allowed them to worship more freely. All dissenting ministers were compelled to be licensed and their places of worship registered, but as long as they caused no trouble they were tolerated.

John Lewis and his family were the first settlers in Augusta County, settling near Staunton in 1732. They had come from the Ulster region of Ireland, spent a few years in Pennsylvania, then moved on to the frontiers of Virginia. The McDowell family came from Ulster in the "George and Ann" landing in Philadelphia, 4 September 1729, a 118 day voyage.4 They stopped for a while in Pennsylvania then headed for Lewis' settlement in Virginia. Along the way they met up with Benjamin Borden, who offered 1,000 acres to the man who could help locate his large land grant of nearly 100,000 acres. John McDowell agreed to locate Borden’s Grant, the date of their agreement was September 1737.

Immigration began to flock into the Rockbridge area in the fall of 1737. By 1740, the Scotch-Irish foothold was well established in Rockbridge (then Orange County). The erection and establishment of Presbyterian churches was well underway, and calls were being placed for ministers. The Ulstermen had found a new home on the frontier of Virginia. Although religion was not completely free in Virginia, the Presbyterians found themselves virtually unmolested by the planters of eastern Virginia. Upon arriving on the frontier, the Ulstermen erected crude dwellings with dirt floors as temporary shelters to house their families while they cleared the land and planted the crops. Once the lands were cleared and the crops were in the ground, they undertook the erection of more permanent homes. Roads were soon laid out, mills erected, meadows irrigated, and the settlement began to grow. There was little social intercourse, except within the churchyard. The only newspaper in the colony until 1775 was the "Virginia Gazette" started in 1736 in Williamsburg. The Ulster people founded this county and their influence remains strong today.

The Ulstermen often settled in Rockbridge for a generation or so, then the family traveled westward. Many settlers of Kentucky, Tennessee, West Virginia, and Ohio came from Rockbridge County. Southwest Virginia was settled by many people who had stopped in Rockbridge.

Geography and Land Ownership

Rockbridge County was created by a land grant obtained by Benjamin Borden from Governor William Gooch. The land was surveyed by John McDowell in 1737 in exchange for 1000 acres of it. Stipulations of the grant called for one hundred families to settle the area and erect a 1300 by 900 foot town in the center of the County. The required amount of families promptly came to settle in what would be called Lexington (1778) in honor of Lexington, Massachusetts and Rockbridge County after the Natural Bridge.

The mostly Scot-Irish settlers of the area were self-sufficient farmers and blacksmiths who provided for themselves and their neighbors. Borden and John McDowell were among the first settlers in Rockbridge County and homesteaded in the Timber Ridge vicinity. Timber Ridge Presbyterian Church is one of the first churches established in the area (1746). The original 1756 limestone building still stands is the only colonial-era Presbyterian Church still in use today.

Early Settlements

  • Kerr's Creek
  • Lexington
  • Springfield

Families

A

B

  • Barger
  • Benjamin Borden
  • Bradley
  • Brooks

C

  • Crain -- Ambrose Crain

D

D

F

  • Fiste (Foiste)

G

  • Gilmore
  • Grigsley

H

I

J

K

L

  • John Lewis

M

N

O

P

Q

R

S

T

U

V

W

  • Ward
  • Williams

Sources