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Ulster Scot settlers on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia

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This is an umbrella project for projects based upon families and local communities of Scots-Irish who settled on the Eastern Shore (also called Delmarva Peninsula) in the late 17th century and early 18th century. As an umbrella project, this project can provide historical and bibliographic information for the entire area and its families.

The following historical overview is excerpted from "Migration from Ulster: The early migrations, 1649 – 1717" by Richard MacMaster (

Ulster Scots in Maryland

Ulster Scots came to Maryland as early as 1649, but migration really began about 1670. One factor was the greater availability of shipping due to the increased demand for Irish indentured servants. Work on Chesapeake tobacco plantations was still done mainly by free farm laborers indentured for a period of years. As English servants became scarce, merchants turned to Scottish and Irish ports to recruit workers and later shifted to unfree African labor.

Settling the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia

The Eastern Shore of Maryland and Virginia was then a frontier region with settlements pushing north from the early Virginia outposts in "the county or shire of Accawmack," now Northampton and Accomac counties. Maryland authorities encouraged settlers with both a liberal land policy and religious tolerance, attracting persecuted Quakers and others to settle in Somerset County in the early 1660s. Land on the Eastern Shore proved less suited to tobacco growing than other sections of the Chesapeake region, although nearly all settlers there raised Oronoco tobacco. For this reason, established planters made no effort to acquire all the best land for future use as they did elsewhere in Maryland and Virginia. Even a century after Jamestown began, newcomers could still find adequate land at a reasonable cost on the Eastern Shore.

By 1670 David Brown, a merchant with Glasgow connections, was established on the Manokin River in Somerset County. He had a tobacco plantation there as well. His brother-in-law Archibald Erskine was a merchant at Snow Hill on the Pocomoke. Brown might have been the catalyst for emigration from Ulster over the next years.

From Lifford to Manokin

The Presbytery of Laggan received an appeal in 1680 from Colonel William Stevens for a minister to serve the Presbyterian communities on the Eastern Shore. "Decem: 29, 1680 Col. Stevens from Maryland beside Virginia his desire of a godly minister is represented to us." Stevens was an Englishman from Buckinghamshire and an Anglican and was acting on behalf of many of his neighbors. That he appealed to this Presbytery in particular is an indication that these neighbors were themselves from the Laggan.

Whether they came together on a single ship or separately over a period of years, Presbyterian families from Lifford in Co. Donegal settled in Somerset County before 1680. In a later petition, twenty of them wrote as "the greatest number of us born and educated in Ireland under the ministry of Mr. William Traill presbiterian minister formerly at lifford."

Ulster Names on the Land

When land was patented in Maryland with a deed to the original owner, he gave his property a name. Many names are prosaic. Robert King, Gentleman, one of these Ulster Scots, called his 300 acres "Kingsland." Others preferred a memory of home. Wallaces had "Castle Finn," "Kirkminster" and "Camp." Caldwells called their tracts "Ballybuggin," "Desert" and "Clonlett." The Polks used "Ballendret," "Raphoe," "Moanen" and "Denegall" as well as "Polk’s Folly." Ninian Dunlap chose "Monyn." The Owens family used "Ballyshannon" and the Alexanders "Rapho." These emigrant families settled in Manokin Hundred of Somerset County together with McKnitt and Strawbridge families and others. Many of the names they gave their new homes are from townlands near Lifford. Magdalen Polk, wife of Robert Polk, for instance, inherited the townland of Moneen in the parish of Clonleigh (Lifford), Co. Donegal and left it in her will to one of their sons. The Polks were ancestors of U.S. President James K. Polk.

Appeal to Laggan Presbytery Brings Four Ministers to the Eastern Shore Presbyterians in Ulster suffered under restrictive laws. In 1681 the Bishop of Raphoe ordered the arrest of four leaders of Laggan Presbytery, William Traille, minister at Lifford, the moderator, and the clerk and two other ministers, for observing a day of fasting and prayer set by Presbytery. They were imprisoned.

In 1683 Revs. William Traille and Francis Makemie sailed for Maryland. They were probably accompanied by two other ministers, Rev. Thomas Wilson, pastor at Killybegs, Co. Donegal, and Rev. Samuel Davis. At the end of that year Somerset County Court heard a rumor about "four Thousand pounds of tobacco raysed out of ye County for encouragement of Ministers lately arrived here." (Tobacco was used as money in Maryland and Virginia.)

Rev. William Traille became the first pastor of Rehoboth Presbyterian Church, located near and named for Colonel William Stevens’ plantation on Manokin River, in 1683. He patented land called "Brother's Love" and "Killeleagh," but he returned to Ulster in 1690, leaving his wife Eleanor to sell the property to Archibald White, a weaver, in 1691 and join him in Ireland. Rev. Thomas Wilson served the Manokin Presbyterian Church on the upper reaches of the Manokin River, near the town of Princess Anne, until his death in 1702. Rev. Samuel Davis organized the Snow Hill congregation in present Worcester County, with a meeting house in the newly laid out town of Snow Hill in 1686. He went to Lewes, Delaware, in 1698 and returned to Snow Hill for a second pastorate in 1718-1725.


Sources (gathered from various sites)

Delmarva Settlers features transcribed primary documents from the seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, biographical profiles of the Eastern Shore's earliest settlers, narratives addressing the unique concerns and challenges these early settlers faced, and a selection of research materials and tools revelant to the study of Delmarva's early colonial period.

Norris W. Preyer; Hezekiah Alexander and the Revolution in the Backcountry; Heritage Printers,Inc. Charlotte,N.C. Sept 1998 Lib ref E 263.N8 A357 1987

The Brevard Family The Descendents of John/Jean Brevard of France, Ireland and Robert Stephens Hand.

"John McKnitt and some of his Kinsfolk (ca 1660 - 1714)" Pennsylvania Genealogical Magazine Vol 16 pg 85, Oct 1948 Herndon Publication: Pub by the Pensylvaina Historical Society, Pages 76-90

History of Cecil Co., Maryland by George Johnston. Elkton, Maryland 1881

Rent Rolls, 156 Vol I Somerset Co. Md (Annapolis) Rent Rolls 156, Being volume I for Somerset and Dorchester Counties in the Land Office at Annapolis.

Charles Carman.and Virginia W.Alexander; Alexander Kin "Descendants of James Alexander (1742-1778) taken from Bible Records in possession of Mrs. Margaret Alexander Muse of Mt Pleasant, North Carolina " volume 1 is on microfiche #6,019,511 volume 2 is on microfilm #1,697,365 item #2. FHC Call # 929.273.Al 27 ac in two volumes microfilm # 1697365 Item 2