Meeting report by Sandra Millsopp
On 10th November 2022 Bangor Historical Society welcomed Billy McCullough to give a talk on Ulster Scots who went to America. He pointed out that some 200,000 Ulster Scots emigrated to the USA in the eighteenth century. They were referred to by various phrases such as “Bible, Plough and Flintlock” and “ Patriots, Pioneers and Presidents”.
Then he showed a picture with various names on screen to test the audience’s knowledge of some Ulster Scots and their descendants. These included Sam Houston of Texas, Stephen Foster, the song writer, E.A,Poe, the writer, and Samuel Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. Henry Knox became George Washington’s artillery office in the War of Independence, while John Dunlap printed the American Declaration of Independence. The speaker pointed out that the ancestors of these men had come from Scotland to Ulster before moving on to America. Persecution of Presbyterianism was one reason for their travels.
Mr McCullough was keen to trace these men and he and his wife had visited 34 states of the USA over 14 years. His talk was illustrated by photographs which he had taken on their travels. He then focused on two of the lesser known men: Francis Makemie and Charles Thomson.
The first picture was of Ramelton Meeting House with which the Rev Drummond was probably associated. He educated a young man who was able then to go to St Mungo’s College in Glasgow. This young man was Francis Makemie. In the late seventeenth century those wishing to be educated for the Presbyterian ministry had to go to Scotland. Francis was 18 when he enrolled in 1676 and studied for 4 years.
The story of how he came to travel to America begins with Col. William Stevens of Maryland. The nearby state of Virginia was officially Episcopalian so Presbyterians who were being persecuted there began to move to Maryland. Stevens wrote to the Laggan Presbytery in Donegal and asked them to send a missionary. Later when Francis returned from Glasgow, the Presbytery asked him to go to America. First he was given extra training and preached some sermons. A meeting held to ordain him was disrupted by soldiers as they were persecuting Presbyterians.
He then set out to travel to America as a missionary. The journey across the Atlantic took 8 to 10 weeks. In Rehoboth he met Col. Stevens and was welcomed by local Presbyterians. He moved around the area and organized the people into little churches such as Rehoboth. Photographs taken of some of these churches showed that even today Francis was still remembered as their founder on signs which stood beside them.
Francis needed an income to support his missionary work and so he became a merchant. He got a sloop and began trading with Barbados in the West Indies. He bought a house and married Naomi Anderson. The 1689 Act of Toleration lifted many of the burdens on Presbyterians. In 1699 he was able to get a license to preach in Britain and her colonies. He prospered as a businessman and property owner. In 1706 he established the first American presbytery: it was in Philadelphia. The same year he ordained John Boyd – the first Presbyterian minister to be ordained in the colonies.
In 1707 he went to New York. The governor refused him permission to preach. Instead Francis preached in a private house, but he was arrested and imprisoned for 6 weeks. The governor said he had no right to preach, but Francis produced his license and was found not guilty. He had, however, to pay the cost of his trial: £83 7s 6d. The governor was removed & brought back to England. Mr McCullough pointed out that Francis owned slaves, but he may have obtained them when he inherited his father-in-law’s plantation. Francis died at the age of 50 and is regarded as the founder of the Presbyterian Church in America.
The second part of the talk concerned Charles Thomson who became secretary to the Continental Congress. Mr. McCullough considers him one of the founding fathers of the USA, but he is not really mentioned much as one. Thomson was born in 1729 in Upperlands and lived there till the age of 10. His mother was already dead when his father decided to take the family to America. Unfortunately, his father died as they approached New Castle, in Delaware. Charles and his brothers were separated and he was apprenticed to a blacksmith. He wanted to get an education and so he ran away to Philadelphia. An old lady took pity on him and took him to Francis Alison who had a school. Francis was educated there for 4 years. He represented the Delaware Indians in their attempts to get the best deal about land. They called him a “Man of Truth”. He married Ruth Mather in 1758 and had 2 daughters. They died young and his wife also died. Later he married Hannah Harrison and taught while living in Philadelphia. He prospered and acquired land at Harriton from his father-in-law.
He became secretary to the Continental Congress and kept all their records. Five of the state delegates to the Congress drew up the Declaration of Independence. Charles wrote out the final version of the Declaration by hand which was then printed by John Dunlap in July 1776. Charles, however, was not one of the signatories of this final version. He remained secretary to the Congress after the war against Britain started. He suggested a design for the seal of the new United States. It is very similar to the one used today. He later translated the Old and New Testaments into English from Latin and Greek. He died in 1824 in his nineties. He and his wife were buried in the cemetery beside his house. Later, against his family’s wishes, the bodies were moved to Laurel Hill Cemetery at Philadelphia.