The Hamilton and Montgomery Settlement 1606
The Scots Confession of faith was written in 1560 at the direction of the Scottish Parliament and was drawn up by John Knox and five other ministers inside four days. It was promptly ratified as the first confession of faith of the Reformed Church of Scotland. Ayrshire, just across the North Channel from Co Antrim, had long been a hotbed of activity. “The Lollards of Kyle”, followers of John Wycliffe, had been active there since the late 1400s. One of them – Murdoch Nisbet – had translated the New Testament into Scots and sought refuge from persecution, probably in Ulster, for around 10 years. Robert the Bruce, William Wallace and Robert Burns were all either born or spent time in the Kyle district of Ayrshire.
Although they were Ayrshire neighbours, James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery could hardly have been more different. James Hamilton – Ministers Son, Academic and Agent. The Hamiltons had arrived in Scotland around 1215 AD – Roger de Hamilton found favour with the Scottish king Alexander II and married the daughter of the Earl of Strathern. Their son Gilbert married King Robert the Bruces niece Isabella and obtained a grant for a barony in Lanarkshire. There he established the town called Hamilton which today has a population of around 50,000 people. The Hamiltons continued to have close links with the Scottish royal family for centuries to come. Rev. Hans Hamilton (1536 – 1608) was the first Protestant minister in Dunlop, Ayrshire. Dunlop is in the East Ayrshire council district, and if you visit the historic Main Street today you can still see his church, his mausoleum and also the significantly-named Clandeboye School buildings, all of which date from the early 1600s. He and his wife Jonet had six sons – James, Archibald, Gawin, John, William and Patrick – and one daughter, Jean. Their eldest son, James Hamilton (1559 – 1644), was educated at St Andrews University where the first martyr of the Scottish Reformation, Patrick Hamilton, had been burned at the stake on February 29th 1528.
Having built a reputation as one of the greatest scholars and hopeful wits of his time, James became a teacher in Glasgow. Around 1587 he left Scotland by ship and due to storms unexpectedly arrived in Dublin. He decided to stay there and established a school, employing fellow Scot James Fullerton as his assistant. One of their pupils was the young James Ussher, who went on to become the Archbishop of Armagh, and who famously calculated that the first day of Biblical creation was Sunday 23 October 4004 BC! Fullerton and Ussher are buried alongside each other in Westminster Abbey in London. In 1591, Queen Elizabeth 1 established Trinity College in Dublin, and the first Provost noted that Hamilton had …a noble spirit… and learned head… and persuaded the two Scots to become Fellows of the College. Hamilton was made Bursar there in 1598. Both men were agents for King James VI of Scotland, providing him with information about Elizabeth 1s activities in Ireland, and perhaps even tampering with the mail to keep the King, and themselves, informed. They were so successful that they gave up their academic positions to take up appointments at the royal court.
English Throne Scottish King
The Coronation of King James VI of Scotland as King James I of England on the 25th July 1603 brought huge change to the British Isles. The new King and his associates now had greater power at their disposal and could implement new policies across these islands.
For centuries east Ulster had been different from the rest of the Province. The Norman Lord, John de Courcy, arrived in Ulster in 1177 and the Earldom of Ulster (essentially counties Antrim, Down and part of County Londonderry) was established around 1205 with its headquarters at Carrickfergus Castle. 100 years later a branch of the ONeills advanced from mid Ulster into south Antrim and north Down and laid claim to the areas known as Lower (North) Clandeboye, Upper (South) Clandeboye and the Great Ardes.
Throughout the 1500s Ulster was embroiled in conflict. Queen Elizabeth I intended to tame the Province by sending armies across the water to fight the Gaelic chieftains of the time. Yet these wars werent as black-and-white as we might imagine today – for a variety of reasons some of those Gaelic chieftains became allies of the English. Sir Brian Phelim ONeill had been knighted in 1568 for his service to the Crown against Shane ONeill – yet in 1571 Elizabeth granted a sizeable amount of Sir Brians lands to Sir Thomas Smith, to settle the area with English gentlemen. Smith passed the opportunity on to his son of the same name, who shortly after was murdered by one of ONeills supporters. The Thomas Smith settlement scheme had failed. By 1572 it was clear to ONeill that he had fallen out of favour and he adopted a scorched earth policy, burning the major buildings – Grey Abbey, Movilla Abbey, Newtownards Priory, Black Abbey, Holywood Priory and Comber Abbey – to prevent any incoming English army using them as garrisons. Subsequently, Elizabeth directed the Earl of Essex to sail to Ulster in 1573 with the lofty ambition of taking control of the lands from Belfast to Coleraine.
Essexs campaign was brutal – he captured Sir Brian ONeill and had him, his family, and their attendants executed in 1574. After yet another brutal massacre – on 26th July 1575 on Rathlin Island – Elizabeth brought Essex back to England. Essexs settlement plans had also failed. Across the North Channel, King James VI of Scotlands own efforts at settlement had also been unsuccesful. He had tried to establish settlements of Lowland Scots in Kintyre and Lewis in 1598 but, under attack from the local clans, many of these settlers fled across the North Channel to seek refuge in County Antrim. So, for the 34 years between 1572 and the beginning of the Hamilton and Montgomery Settlement of 1606, the east of Ulster was depopulated, wasted and desolate. Sir Brian Phelim ONeills lands eventually passed to his son Niall in 1575 and were described by Sir Henry Sydney in that year as…all waste and desolate…. Next they were passed on to Nialls son, Con Niall MacBrian Fertagh ONeill. In 1586, Con signed his entire estates over to the Queen, who then re-granted them to him in 1587 for his faithful services and allegiance. Con lived in the ancient Norman fortress Castle Reagh, also known as Castle Clannaboy, a massive structure 100 foot square, with turrets on the corners, dominating the Castlereagh Hills and overlooking what was then the small village of Belfast. Around Christmas of 1602,
Con held what has been described as a “grand debauch”, at Castle Reagh, and when the wine ran out he sent his servants to Belfast for more. As they were returning they quarrelled with some of Sir Arthur Chichesters troops and had the wine confiscated. Con was furious and sent them back to attack the English soldiers, some of whom were killed in the skirmish. Con was arrested, found guilty of levying war against the Queen and was imprisoned in Carrickfergus Castle. Although the conditions of his imprisonment were later relaxed, and he was occasionally allowed to walk through Carrickfergus with a guard, he was ultimately destined for execution – Chichester having generously offered to hang him without trial. When Elizabeth I died and James VI of Scotland became James I of England, many in Ulster saw this new era as an opportunity. James, the first Stuart on the English throne, angered Chichester by regranting the Gaelic lords of west Ulster their lands; he also lost no time in granting the MacDonnells of North Antrim the territory of the Glens and the Route. James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery were aware of the opportunities in Ulster and had influence with the new Scottish King.
Their time would soon come. Another who saw an opportunity was Ellis ONeill, Cons wife. She made contact with Hugh Montgomery to see if he could use his influence with the new King to secure a Royal pardon for Con. If he succeeded, Hugh Montgomerys reward was to be half of Cons wasted lands in County Down. Montgomery agreed. Hugh Montgomery then entered into a plan with his Ayrshire neighbour, Thomas Montgomery of Blackstone, who is described in The Montgomery Manuscripts, the family records, as…a discreet, sensible gentleman…. Thomas was owner of a ship (or sloop) which traded between Scotland and Carrickfergus, and he was to implement a jailbreak plan very similar to one Hugh had used to escape from Holland a few years before. In July, 1604, Thomas arrived in Carrickfergus and noted the identity of the Provost Marshall, who was also the jailer of the town. He then courted the Provosts daughter, Annas Dobbin, in order to befriend her father. After an evening of well-planned drunken revelry in the Castle jail, Thomas got a rope to Con, possibly inside a hollowed-out cheese. Con escaped from his cell, used the rope to scale the castle wall, boarded the boat at the harbour below, and he and Montgomery fled to Scotland. Arriving at the coastal town of Largs in Ayrshire, in the shadow of the Montgomery clan castle of Skelmorlie, they were met by a welcoming party led by Hughs brother-in-law, Patrick Montgomery, and they all travelled to the castle home of Hugh Montgomery, the Sixth Laird of Braidstane. The Montgomery Manuscripts say that Con…was joyfully and courteously received by the Laird and his Lady with their nearest friends. He was kindly entertained and treated with a due deference to his birth and quality, and observed with great respect by the Lairds children and servants…
When the deal – a Royal pardon for ONeill (with half of his lands going to Montgomery as a reward) – had been finalised at Braidstane, Con and Hugh travelled to London to win the Kings approval. But little did ONeill and Montgomery realise what was about to happen. In August 1604 James Hamilton discovered their plan. Hamiltons close associate, Sir James Fullerton, was an advisor to the King and had been granted Olderfleet Castle, near Larne, in September 1603. He convinced the King that ONeills lands were much too large to be split between ONeill and Montgomery alone and that it would be better if they were divided into three portions – with one third for James Hamilton. The King agreed to the new plan; after all, settlement had never worked before and he had nothing to lose by allowing Hamilton and Montgomery to invest their own finance and energy in the wasteland of east Ulster. When ONeill and Montgomery arrived in London, the King presented them with the new scheme. Montgomery, realising what had happened and no doubt outraged, kept his composure and agreed to the revised plan.
On 31st April, 1605, the tripartite deal was agreed, but Hamiltons actions seem to have united Montgomery and ONeill for a time. Even though Cons life had been spared and his Royal Pardon had been granted, and Hugh Montgomery had secured substantial lands in County Down, they had both lost out on their original deal. The Hamilton Manuscripts, the Hamilton familys record of the settlement, state that ONeill and Montgomery left London together, travelled back to Edinburgh and Braidstane, and then across to Ulster. Con returned to a heros welcome in Castle Reagh. Before leaving London, Montgomery had renewed his relationships with some of the Kings advisors and in doing so created an opportunity for his brother George to benefit in some way. George had been made Dean of Norwich by Elizabeth I, and after her death he was appointed as King James personal chaplain. Six weeks later, as a direct result of Hughs influence on the Royal advisors, George Montgomery was made Bishop of Derry, Raphoe and Clogher on 13th June 1605 û the first Scottish bishop in Ireland. His portrait can be seen in Clogher Cathedral.
Hamilton, delighted by his own success, travelled to Dublin to present the outcome to Sir Arthur Chichester,the most important Englishman in Ireland. Chichester was aghast at the amount of land which had been granted by the Scottish King to his fellow countrymen Hamilton and Montgomery – perhaps because he wanted ONeills lands for himself? If Chichesters offer to Queen Elizabeth I (to hang ONeill without a trial) had proceeded, he would have been in a prime position to confiscate all of ONeills lands for himself. However the Queen was dead, and he had now been sidelined by the new King and his ambitious Scottish associates. The relationship between Hamilton and Montgomery from this point on has been described as mutual hatred. These two Ayrshire neighbours, the ministers son and the Lairds son, who had grown up only five miles from each other, were now bitter rivals for supremacy in Ulster. Perhaps their rivalry and determination were factors in the unprecedented success of the settlement. With the agreement signed,
ONeill, Hamilton and Montgomery began to trade and sell with each other in a complex set of transactions from June 1605 until May 1606. Half way through this period, back in London, one of the most famous events in world history took place – the Gunpowder Plot. Guy Fawkes and Hugh Montgomery had fought on opposing sides during the wars in Holland in the late 1500s; Fawkes was there from 1594 – 1604 and held a post of command in the Spanish army when they seized Calais in 1596, and Montgomery was Captain in a Scottish regiment under William I of Orange from circa 1582 – 1587. On 5th November, 1605, Fawkes Gunpowder Plot was foiled and he was arrested. An emergency session of the Kings Privy Council was held early that morning, and Fawkes was brought in under arrest. When questioned by the King and the Privy Council (all of whom had originally been with James at his court in Scotland) as to how he could conspire such a hideous treason, Fawkes replied that his intentions were…to blow the Scotsmen present back to Scotland…. Fawkes and the other conspirators were found guilty and were hung, drawn and quartered in London in January 1606.
If the Gunpowder Plot had succeeded in killing the King and replacing him with a new monarch, the Hamilton & Montgomery Settlement may never have happened at all, and neither would James Plantation of Virginia in 1607, his Plantation of Ulster in 1610, and his Plantation of Nova Scotia in 1621. The course of modern history would have been radically altered. The trading continued through late 1605 and early 1606; Hamilton passed the Masserene area of Antrim over to Chichester, and acquired lands around Coleraine as well as the lucrative fishing rights to the River Bann, which infuriated Sir Randal MacDonnell of North Antrim.
By April, 1606, Hamilton had sold off all his interests in County Antrim in order to concentrate on County Down. King James Union of the Crowns policies continued, and on 12 April, 1606, he issued a proclamation announcing a new flag for his combined kingdoms. With their new areas now assigned, Hamilton and Montgomery sent communications to Scotland to find willing tenants to farm the lands. Both men convinced their extended families to join them in the settlement scheme and, in May 1606, the first waves of settlers – farmers, stonemasons, builders, carpenters, textile workers, merchants and chaplains – sailed across the narrow channel of water and arrived in Ulster to form the backbone of the new Ulster-Scots community there.
May 1606 – The Settlement Begins
May 1606 The first boats sailed from Portpatrick in May and arrived at Donaghadee. These were not the warrior emigrants which Queen Elizabeth I had sent during the 1500s to tame a hostile land. These settlers were an entire cross-section of Lowland Scottish society from large landholders to small tenant farmers, with their families in tow. They were attracted to Ulster by James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomerys offer of low rents for relatively large areas of available land. They were ready to create a new society. They were wise to begin the Settlement in May; even today the North Channel can be a difficult crossing during the winter months. This also gave them a full summer to prepare for their first winter, always the most difficult time of year in a new land, never mind a land which was as devastated as east Ulster was. Hamilton and Montgomery brought their own extended families from Ayrshire, and in Montgomerys case some of the familys existing tenants on the Montgomery estates in Scotland were tempted across the water to begin a new life in Ulster.
Word spread like wildfire and soon the entire west of Scotland was aware of the new opportunity, right up into the Mull of Kintyre and eventually across the Lowlands into what was still then Border Reiver territory. In his book Albions Seed, Professor David Hackett Fischer includes a map which shows where the earliest settlers came from the map on this page shows these locations (reproduced below with Professor Fischers personal permission). The sea crossing was not as much of a challenge as we might think. Travel today to where many of the settlers came from – the Ayrshire coast near Ardrossan and Largs – and look across to Arran, Bute and Kintyre. If you travel along the coastal road from Stranraer towards Dumfries youll see it again narrow stretches of water with outcrops of land, peninsulas and large islands just a boat trip away. These people were familiar with short sea crossings, it was part of their culture. (In fact, the crossing from Portpatrick to Donaghadee is shorter than the crossing from Ayr to Campbeltown on the Mull of Kinytre.) The first sight of east Ulster must have been a shocking experience for the settlers. This was not a landscape of well-tilled agricultural land, it was a wasted and devastated former war zone. The Montgomery Manuscripts famously record that …in the spring time, Anno. 1606, those parishes were now more wasted than America… 30 cabins could not be found, nor any stone walls, but ruined roofless churches, and a few vaults at Gray Abbey, and a stump of an old castle in Newton, in each of which some Gentlemen sheltered themselves at their first coming overà. Sir Brian ONeills scorched earth policy of 1572 had been highly effective. So the settlers started work, repairing the few ruined stone buildings which remained and preparing the lands for farming. Montgomery had a low stone walled house built near the harbour at Donaghadee and sent both the building materials and workers over from Scotland.
This house is believed to be the original building on the site of The Manor House in Donaghadee today. Next he repaired the stump of the old Castle in Newtown (Newtownards) – Castle Gardens Primary School and the new CastleBawn retail development in Newtownards are both references to Hugh Montgomerys repaired castle. Next were the adjacent Newtownards Priory ruins, for which he imported timber from Norway and slates from Scotland. He doubled the Priory in size and added the bell tower. He built a great school in Newtown to teach Latin, Greek and Logicks, including a green where the students could play golf, football and archery. Montgomery acquired lands at Grey Abbey in 1607, wholly repaired the Abbey and installed Rev David McGill of Edinburgh as Curate there. Grey Abbey and Newtownards Priory survive to this day and are maintained by the Environment & Heritage Service. The initial settlements were Donaghadee, Newtownards and Bangor, and later included Greyabbey, Comber and Killyleagh.
Con ONeills lands had been divided among ONeill, Hamilton and Montgomery on the basis of townlands, with the main tenants granted up to 1000 acres each. The smaller tenants who came across were granted portions of these lands, usually in amounts of between two and four acres each, at a price of 1 shilling per acre each year. The map shown here shows the distribution of the initial 1606 Hamilton & Montgomery lands. The main landholders built stone houses for themselves, whilst the smaller tenants built cottages from sods and saplings, with rushes for thatch and bushes for wattle. Wood was cut from the forests in the Lagan Valley and was transported to the new settlement to help in the building of houses and farms. Meanwhile, back in Scotland… The Fight of the Earls! Back in Scotland, the Montgomery/Cunningham struggle for precedency in Scotland (which had begun in 1488) once again flared up. On 1st July 1606 the heads of the families – the two Earls themselves – had a violent tumult close to the Scottish Parliament and Privy Council in Perth. The Montgomery Manuscripts tell us that…the fight lasted from seven until ten o’clock at night… and it was not until the year 1609 that a reconciliation could be effected…
Yet events back home dont seem to have disturbed Hugh Montgomerys planning and he forged ahead with the new Ulster settlement. His brother, the newly appointed Bishop of Derry, Raphoe and Clogher – George Montgomery – arrived in west Ulster in Autumn 1606, and copied what Hugh was doing in the east. He advertised his newly acquired church lands to Scots living in Glasgow, Ayr, Irvine and Greenock, and the first Scottish settlers began to arrive in Donegal and the North West in the spring of 1607. Around the same time other Scots started to arrive in Derry and Lifford. Behind every good man… Hugh Montgomerys wife, Elizabeth, organised most of the progress on the Montgomery estates in east Ulster. She had watermills built and established textile manufacturing of linen, woollen and tartan cloth. She offered new settlers a house, a garden plot and fodder for the winter in return for their labour. The fallow land was planted and the result was two consecutive bumper crops, giving the Settlement the prosperity it needed to survive and the appeal to attract more and more Scots across the North Channel. A market was established in Newtown, with Scottish merchants coming across the North Channel to sell their goods to the Ulster-Scots. Records say that many of these traders were able to travel to the market in Newtown and be back in Scotland for bedtime. Sir Thomas Craig, still regarded as one of the finest legal minds Scotland has ever produced, wrote in 1606 every day I see a stream of emigrants passing over to Ulster from my homeland.
May 1607 – Jamestown,Virginia King James I may well have been inspired by the immediate success of the Hamilton & Montgomery Settlement. On December 20th 1606 three ships the Godspeed, the Discovery and the Susan Constant left London with the Kings blessing, bound for Virginia. They arrived with 104 male settlers and established the first permanent English settlement in the New World on May 13th 1607 – exactly one year after the Scots arrived in Ulster. They founded the settlement of Jamestown, in honour of the King. September 1607 – The Flight of the Earls Back in west Ulster, Bishop George Montgomery was becoming embroiled in a series of disputes – as the only Scottish bishop in Ireland he has been described as having a zeal compared to the sluggishness of the other bishops. George Montgomery claimed far more land than the church could prove that it owned, including about half of the Earl of Tyrones estate. This dispute was one of the factors which would result in the Flight of the Earls from Rathmullan in September 1607.
Arise, Sir James Hamilton Hugh Montgomery had already been knighted by the King sometime between April and November of 1605 (ie around the time of King James approving the three-way division, and appointing George Montgomery as Bishop). Delighted by the achievements in east Ulster, King James I knighted Hamilton in 1608, but the year was also one of sorrow – his father, Rev Hans Hamilton, died at Dunlop, Ayrshire on 30th May. September 1610 – The Plantation of (the west of) Ulster commences Sir Arthur Chichester – no doubt still angered by losing out on Con ONeills lands in east Ulster, and greatly irritated by the rapid success of the Hamilton & Montgomery Settlement – saw the Flight of the Earls as another opportunity. On 17th September 1607, just 13 days after the Earls had left, Chichester brought forward two plans as to how their forfeited lands could be developed. These proposed schemes would eventually become the Plantation of Ulster (covering the counties of Armagh, Fermanagh, Cavan, Donegal, Tyrone and Londonderry) which would begin in September 1610.
Hamilton was concerned with the plans for the Plantation. He travelled to England in October 1609 and May 1610 – as a result he purchased some of the lands in County Cavan which had been set aside for Scottish planters. 1611 The Plantation Commissioners Report With the Plantation of Ulster underway, the Plantation Commissioners visited the Hamilton & Montgomery Settlement in 1611. Montgomerys Newtownards was described as …a good town of a hundred houses or there abouts all peopled by Scots… They wrote that …Sir James Hamylton, Knight, hath buylded a fayre stone house at the towne of Bangor… about 60 foote longe and 22 foote broade; the town consists of 80 newe houses, all inhabited with Scotyshemen and Englishmen…. The site of this house is now Bangor Town Hall and North Down Heritage Centre. Part of the permanent exhibition is the original 1625 Hamilton estate Raven Maps, drawn by Thomas Raven. 1613 – The First Royal Borough, The First Presbyterian Minister By 1613 it was clear that the Settlement had been a transformation. Inside only seven years, from what had been wasted and depopulated land, Newtown was made a Royal Borough, with Sir Hugh Montgomery nominated as Newtowns first Provost, and the right to send two members to Parliament. Yet the progress of the Settlement was not just physical, economic and political. One of Hugh Montgomerys major tenants was Sir William Edmonston, Laird of Duntreath in Scotland. (His father, Sir James Edmonston, had narrowly escaped execution for his involvement in a plot to kill the young King James).
Sir William moved from his Donaghadee lands to Ballycarry in County Antrim, and brought the 44 year old Rev Edward Brice across from Stirlingshire. Brice was the first Presbyterian minister in Ulster, arriving in 1613. And so begins the next great chapter in Ulster-Scots history – the arrival of the Presbyterian ministers – all rooted in the Hamilton & Montgomery Settlement.
The Prescopalian Era
People often imagine that all Ulster-Scots were or are Presbyterians. This part of our story shows us that in the early years of the 1600s the Ulster-Scots settlers, both people and ministers, worshipped and ministered alongside ane indeed within the Established Church (the Church of Ireland) – a period often described as the “Prescopalian”, era (ie both Presbyterian and Episcopalian). Even through the trying religious difficulties and theological differences which lay ahead, large numbers of Ulster-Scots have always been members of the Church of Ireland, right up to the present day. You dont have to be a Presbyterian to be an Ulster-Scot!
The Attraction of Ulster by now was such that the Settlement was a spectacular success. Many of Hamilton and Montgomerys family connections and major tenants were now pushing westward into new territory in King James Is Plantation in the west of Ulster – a pattern which around a quater of a million of the settlers descendants would continue centuries later in the New World of North America. For example, James Hamiltons brother John acquired lands in County Armagh and founded Markethill, Hamiltonsbawn and Newtownhamilton. The Co. Londonderry villages of Eglinton and Greysteel were named after Sir Hugh Montgomerys cousin and the head of the Montgomery family, the Earl of Eglinton, whose nickname was Greysteel. The boomng success of the Settlement, whilst good news for Ulster, was causing significant economic problems back home in Scotland. Huge numbers of tenant farmers had left for Ulster, particularly from the large estates in the West of Scotland. The Scottish Secretary of State wrote “…the West country people of the common sort do flock over in so great numbers that much lands are lying waste for lack of tenants….” The attraction of Ulster was causing such headaches and difficulty that the Scottish Privy Council ruled that no tenants were to migrate without their landlords express permission.
There werent even enough boats to cope such was the unprecedented demand, and this allowed the shipowners to raise their fares. Again the Scottish Privy Council stepped in, to introduce fare controls. The appeal of Ulster was to be a major factor in Scottish emigration for centuries to come. In fact, from 1650 to 1700, only 7,000 Scots emigrated to America, yet between 60,000 and 100,000 emigrated across the North Channel to Ulster. The Scots settlers seem to have agreed with Sir Arthur Chichester when, comparing the New World with Ulster, he said, “! had rather labour with my hands in the plantation of Ulster, than dance or play in that of Virginia.”
For all of its economic success, the spiritual condition of the Settlement may not have been quite so positive. Two of the first Scottish Presbyterian ministers who came to Ulster, the Rev Robert Blair and Rev Andrew Stewart, both wrote bleak accounts of what they found after they arrived. Blair stated that “…the case of the people through all that part of the country was most lamentable, they being drowned in ignorance, security and sensuality… the most part were such as either poverty, scandalous lives….” Stewart concurred and famously wrote that , “..from Scotland came many and from England not a few, yet all of them generally the scum of both nations, who, for debt, or breaking and fleeing from justice, or seeking shelter, came hither, hoping to be without fear of mans justice in a land where there was nothing, or but little, as yet, of the fear of God… void of Godliness who seemed rather to flee from God in this enterprise…”
When most authors and historians use these quotes by Blair and Stewart, that is where they stop with the two statements above. However, Blair later went on to write that “…among these, Divine Providence sent over some worthy persons….” Stewart too concluded that “…yet God followed them when they fled from Him…,” and the Montgomery Manuscripts further recorded that “…among all this care and indefatigable industry for their families, a place of Gods honour to dwell in was not forgotten nor neglected…. “
Historian John Harrison, in his 1888 book The Scot in Ulster, was to write that “…Hamilton and Montgomery looked after the spiritual wants of the emigrants in County Down….” Faith and church life clearly played a significant role in the early Ulster settlement. A this time the Established Church (the Church of Ireland) held precedence, yet Sir Arthur Chichester wrote that, “the churches in Ulster were few, none were in good repair and that many of the clergy were absent.” It has been said that there werent three sufficient preaching Bishops on the whole island. However across the water in Scotland, the Calvinism of the Presbyterians had been legally established in 1567, the year that King James came to the throne of Scotland. Thanks to Reformers like John Knox, Presbyterianism had won the hearts and minds of the people. Many of the ministers who were graduating from Scottish universities, and many professors at the universities, were committed Presbyterians.
Yet some of the Bishops within the Scottish Kirk were opposed to this new Presbyterianism and remained loyal to King James. King James, as Head of State, was therefore also Head of the Established Church and he was convinced that Presbyterianism was a destructive and anarchical force. He was a believer in an idea known as the Divine Right of Kings, and as such was deeply unhappy with the popular Bible of the time, the Geneva Bible, which was used in the Scottish Kirk but not by the Church of England. The reason was that the Geneva Bible included footnotes written by John Calvin, John Knox and other key Reformers. King James saw these footnotes as highly dangerous – they opposed the premise of the Divine Right of Kings and encouraged resistance to tyrants. Because the Geneva Bible was so popular (there had been 144 printings of it between 1560 and 1644) James saw these footnotes as a direct threat to his position both as Head of State and Head of the Established Church. So King James ruled the Geneva Bible seditious and made it a criminal offence to own one, plus he commissioned a new Bible of his own – the Authorised Version or King James Bible, stripped of these dangerous footnotes – with the intention that it would replace the Geneva Bible.
The Authorised King James version was first published in 1611, yet it would be 40 years before the Geneva Bible was unseated as the most popular edition. King James also worked personally on his own version of the Psalms, entitled The Psalms of King David, translated by King James. He was assisted by Sir William Alexander, the author of The Great Day of the Lords Judgement. The Authorised Version is rightly regarded today as perhaps the finest of all Bible translations, yet it is interesting to see some of the motivation which lay behind it. King James ambitious desire to be Head of both Church and State were soon to cause great turmoil in Scotland and Ulster.
Sir James Hamilton had brought Rev John Gibson to Ulster in 1609 to minister in Bangor, but it was 1613 when the first acknowledged Presbyterian minister arrived in Ulster. Driven from Scotland by Archbishop Spottiswoode (King James main supporter in Scotland) Rev Edward Brice came from Stirlingshire to Broadisland (Ballycarry), on invitation from one of Sir Hugh Montgomerys first tenants, Sir William Edmonston.
Edmonston may have been a cousin of Sir James Hamilton, and had just moved from his initial Ulster lands near Donaghadee to a larger estate in east Antrim. Next, in 1615, Sir James Hamilton brought Rev Robert Cunningham to Holywood; he had formerly been a chaplain to a Scottish regiment under the Earl of Buccleugh in Holland, and married one of Sir Hugh Montgomerys daughters. Then events in Scotland took a serious turn for the worse for the Presbyterians. The Five Articles of Perth On 25th August 1618 King James exerted his power, and, in an effort to conform Scottish worship to the pattern of the Anglican Church and to impose bishops on the Presbyterians, his Five Articles were imposed upon a reluctant General Assembly at Perth. (these were – kneeling during communion; private baptism; private communion for the sick or infirm; confirmation by a Bishop; the observance of Holy Days). This coincided with a great storm directly over the Assembly building. When these Five Articles of Perth were made law on 4th August 1621 by the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh, an even greater storm took place and made the entire city as dark as night, with thunder, lightning and hail – a day which became known as Black Saturday.
The Scottish people now called their bishops Tulchan Bishops – (tulchan being a Scots language term for a fake calf, designed to deceive a cow into giving milk.) The people clearly felt they were being deceived by the actions of the King and his Bishops.
The Five Articles were met with fierce opposition across Scotland, and ignited a new exodus of clergymen and settlers across the water to Ulster. The initial wave of ministers who came to Ulster began in 1619 with Rev John Ridge (Antrim) an English Puritan 1621 Rev James Glendinning (Carnmoney, Carrickfergus, Oldstone) 1621 Rev Henry Colwert (Broadisland, Oldstone) an English Puritan 1621 Rev George Hubbard (Carrickfergus) an English Puritan 1620 Rev David McGill (Greyabbey) personal Chaplain to Sir Hugh Montgomery and son of Lord Nisbet, the Lord Advocate of Scotland 1620 John MacLellan / McClelland (Newtownards) First Principal at Sir Hugh Montgomerys school in Newtownards and also a part-time minister. Sir Hughs eldest daughter married Johns close relative Sir Robert MacLellan around 1620. 1623 Rev Robert Blair (Bangor) Blairs first wife was Beatrix Hamilton, a sister of Jenny Geddes (who famously threw the stool at the Bishop in Edinburgh in 1637). His second wife was Sir Hugh Montgomerys daughter Catherine, who he married in 1635. 1625 Rev George Dunbar (Larne) 1625 Rev Josias Welsh (Templepatrick) John Knoxs grandson 1625 Rev James Hamilton (Ballywalter) Sir James Hamiltons nephew, who married one of Sir Hugh Montgomerys daughters 1627 Rev Andrew Stewart (Donegore) 1630 Rev John Livingstone (Killinchy) Other Ministers of the era, listed in The Hamilton Manuscripts and the Ulster Visitation Book of 1622, include: Rev John Bole (Killyleagh) Rev George Porter (Ballyhalbert) Rev John Leathem (Holywood) These ministers were theologically Presbyterian and were warmly welcomed by the Ulster-Scots settlers, yet they preached and worshipped within the Established Church and its buildings.
The Bishops in Ulster tolerated the Presbyterians for a time, and perhaps even initially welcomed the influx of new people and new clergy. The Bishops were also flexible in the ordination ceremonies of these new ministers, and in fact many of the new Bishops coming to Ulster were Scots. Bishop George Montgomery was Sir Hugh Montgomerys brother (he was transferred from Derry, Raphoe and Clogher in January 1610 to become Bishop of Meath). His replacement was fellow Scot Bishop Andrew Knox, formerly Bishop of the Isles. During the reign of King James VI & I, at least 65 Scottish ministers served in Ireland, and 12 Scottish bishops, seven of whom were in Ulster dioceses. The Rebuilding of the Churches In many instances the Scottish ministers and their new congregations set about restoring and rebuilding the ruined churches which had been destroyed by the English/Gaelic wars of the late 1500s, renewing worship in them for the first time in many decades. Montgomery repaired or built, Donaghadee Parish Church Portpatrick Parish Church Newtownards Priory Grey Abbey Comber Parish Church (2/3 of the cost) Kilmore Parish Church Montgomery presented these six churches with a large bell, a Geneva Bible and a Common Prayer Book – all of which had his Braidstane coat of arms stamped on them. Hamilton repaired or built: Bangor Abbey Holywood Priory Comber Parish Church (1/3 of the cost) St Andrews, Ballyhalbert Whitechurch, Ballywalter Dundonald, St Elizabeths Killinchy Parish Church Killyleagh Parish Church Innishargy Church
During this period of great change, in 1618, Con ONeill died. By the time of his death Con had sold off most of the 68 townlands he had agreed in the deal with Hamilton and Montgomery back in 1605, and may only have had as few as six townlands left in his estate. Con was buried near Holywood, but no known grave remains today. The Montgomery Manuscripts tell us that the local people fondly described Con as the auld King. (page 83) On 27th March 1625 the other auld Kingi n our story, King James VI & I, also died. In the months that followed, great religious revivals would sweep through the West of Scotland and East Ulster, through the work of the ministers listed above. However, when King James son took the throne and was crowned as King Charles I in February 1626, life for the Presbyterians in Scotland and Ulster was to become worse than ever before.
The “Eagle Wing” sets sail
King James was dead and his son, King Charles I, was now on the throne. James VI & I’s death on 27th March 1625 coincided with remarkable spiritual renewal in Ulster and Scotland. In his History of Protestantism, Rev J A Wylie wrote that: “…the year of the king’s death was rendered memorable by the rise of a remarkable influence of a spiritual kind in Scotland, which continued for years… preachers had found no new Gospel, nor had they become suddenly clothed with a new eloquence; yet their words had a power they had formerly lacked; they went deeper into the hearts of their hearers, who were impressed by them in a way they had never been before… the moral character of whole towns, villages and parishes was being suddenly changed…”
For Wylie, the key to the “revivals” as they were to be termed was this: ‘…it was distinctly traceable to the powerful influence of those ministers who had suffered for their faith under James VI…’ Unsurprisingly, the ministers involved in the revivals, and the regions where revival was so strongly experienced, were both closely linked to James Hamilton and Hugh Montgomery.
1. Stewarton, 1623 – 1630 The village of Stewarton is just two miles from James Hamilton’s home village of Dunlop, and close to the Montgomery family castles of Eglinton, Giffen, Hessilheid and Braidstane. Rev William Castlelaw was then the minister in Stewarton; the previous minister had been Sir Hugh Montgomery’s uncle, Rev Robert Montgomerie. Robert later moved to Ulster to become minister in Newtownards by 1630. Rev Castlelaw’s neighbour and colleague Rev David Dickson from Irvine had been banished to the north of Scotland in January 1622 for his opposition to King James’ ‘Five Articles of Perth’. However he was allowed to return to Ayrshire in June 1623 thanks to the support of Sir Hugh Montgomery’s cousin and head of the Montgomery family, the Earl of Eglinton (above), and in particular the Earl’s wife Anna. Eglinton Castle became a refuge for many of Scotland’s persecuted Presbyterian ministers. Dickson began a weekly service in Irvine on Monday mornings, and within a few weeks thousands of people were flocking from all over Scotland to listen to his preaching.
Dickson was soon joined by Rev Robert Blair, the man Sir James Hamilton had brought to Ulster to become the minister in Bangor. The revival swept across the entire Stewarton parish, along the valley where the Annick Water or Stewarton Water runs and into the homelands of Hamilton and Montgomery. The Stewarton Revival lasted until around 1630, and its impact was to be felt for many generations to come – the entire region would soon become a hotbed of Covenanter resistance to the Established Church.
2. SixMileWater, 1625 – 1634 The second revival took place in Ulster, in the area of South Antrim along the course of the Sixmilewater, in what had once been Sir Brian O’Neill’s lands of Lower Clandeboye. Scotsman Rev James Glendinning had been preaching in Carrickfergus amongst the English settlers of the town without success. He was visited in 1625 by Rev Robert Blair, who had sailed across Belfast Lough from Bangor to hear him preach. Blair advised him to move to Oldstone to preach among the Scots settlers – this advice brought immediate results. Crowds flocked to hear Glendinning, who was soon joined by Rev Josias Welch (Templepatrick – John Knox’s grandson), and then in turn by Rev John Ridge (Antrim), Rev Robert Blair (Bangor), Rev Robert Cunningham (Holywood) and Rev James Hamilton (Ballywalter).
They established a monthly lecture meeting in Antrim on the last Friday of the month, in the house of a Scots settler called Hugh Campbell, which lasted from 1626 – 1634, and was attended by large crowds of Ulster-Scots. Religious revival swept the region. Glendinning left the area, and additional help then came to Sixmilewater in the form of Rev Henry Colwert (Oldstone), Rev George Dunbar (Larne) and in 1630 by Rev John Livingstone (Killinchy). Of these ministers, Cunningham, Blair and Livingstone had all been brought to Ulster by Sir James Hamilton. In October 1632, Rev John Livingstone wrote to Anna, Countess of Eglinton (she had been involved in the Stewarton Revival) to tell her that there were crowds of around 1500 people regularly attending the communion services in Ulster.
3. Kirk O’ Shotts, 1630 The Kirk of Shotts is only around 35 miles from Stewarton. The minister in 1630 was a Rev Hance. Hance had been assisted by some of the local Ladies, Countesses and Marchionesses who were supporters of the Presbyterian ministers. In return for their help they asked him to hold a large communion service at Shotts on Sunday 20th June 1630, attended by other ministers of their choosing.
The same familiar group of ministers were invited – Rev Robert Blair, Rev David Dickson, the renowned Rev Robert Bruce (Edinburgh) and a young John Livingstone (aged 27, the chaplain to his future wife’s close relative Sarah Maxwell, Countess of Wigtown, but not yet ordained as a minister). The service attracted an enormous crowd, who remained at the church overnight, singing psalms and praying. The next day the young Livingstone was due to preach a sermon, but he became nervous and tried to run away. However he returned and preached in the churchyard (below) to the assembled crowd for an hour and a half when a heavy rain shower began, but he preached on through for another hour regardless. 500 people in the crowd were converted. 1620 û 1630 1621 – Sir William Alexander is Granted Nova Scotia, Canada On September 10 1621, King James signed a land grant to his old friend, and his partner on the Psalms project, Sir William Alexander. This was for an area larger than Great Britain and France combined, “between our Colonies of New England and Newfoundland, to be known as New Scotland “. In Latin the name of this land was Nova Scotia.
1622 – The Marriage of Hugh Montgomery & Jean Alexander The following year, Sir William Alexander’s daughter Jean married Sir Hugh Montgomery’s eldest son Hugh. As a wedding present Sir Hugh built a large manor house for the newlyweds just outside Comber, and named it Mount Alexander in honour of Sir William. It was made from the stone from the ruins of Comber Abbey, which, like Bangor Abbey, had been burned by Sir Brian O’Neill in 1572. Only a few walls from Mount Alexander survive today, as part of a farm. 1622 – Hamilton & Montgomery Become Viscounts On 3rd May 1622, Sir Hugh Montgomery was made the first Viscount of the Great Ardes by King James; the next day, Sir James Hamilton was made the first Viscount Clandeboye. 1625 – Hamilton & Montgomery’s Land Disputes Hamilton & Montgomery’s relationship was deteriorating fast and legal actions caused by boundary disputes were relentless. The estimated cost of these legal cases was £1400 – approximately £200,000 in today’s money! These disputes would reach such a low point that in 1625 Hamilton called in the cartographer Thomas Raven to map all of the Hamilton estates.
These maps are on display at North Down Heritage Centre in Bangor. Portpatrick, Donaghadee, Ballymena, Ballygally, Killyleagh Sir Hugh Montgomery bought Portpatrick from the Adairs of Kilhilt in 1626; he also tried to rename Donaghadee as ‘Montgomery’ and Portpatrick as ‘Port Montgomery’. With the income, the Adairs bought Ballymena from the MacQuillans and named the area ‘Kinhiltstoun’ for a time. Sir Hugh’s brother in law James Shaw moved to Ballygally and built Ballygally Castle in 1625. Around this time Sir James Hamilton moved from Bangor to Killyleagh Castle. The Death of the Wives Sir James Hamilton’s second wife Ursula – from whom he was divorced – died in 1625. Ursula was the sister of Bishop George Montgomery’s wife Elizabeth. Sir Hugh’s great companion in the Settlement project, his wife Elizabeth, died in the late 1620s (exact date unknown). She was buried inside the Priory in Newtownards, without memorial. In 1630, during a visit to the Earl of Eglinton in Ayrshire, Sir Hugh remarried.
His new spouse was Rev Livingstone’s friend the Countess of Wigtown, Sarah Maxwell. She moved to Newtownards but stayed only a few months before returning to Scotland, vowing never to return to Ulster! 1631 – 1636 The Opposition of the Bishops The three revivals were opposed by the Bishops of the Established Church in both Scotland and Ulster. After Blair and Livingstone had preached at Kirk O’ Shotts, they were accused by the Scottish bishops of ‘exciting the people’ – these charges were sent to Bishop Echlin in Ireland, who accused Blair and Livingstone of ‘making an insurrection’. In Autumn 1631 Rev Blair, Rev Livingstone, Rev Dunbar and Rev Welch were all suspended from their ministries in Ulster. The suspension was lifted briefly following an appeal to Archibishop Ussher, (James Hamilton’s former pupil in Dublin) but it was reinstated in May 1632. So Blair decided he would travel to London to appeal to King Charles I, carrying letters of support from a number of Scottish noblemen including Sir Hugh Montgomery’s now-relative Sir William Alexander. Blair was given a letter of support from the King and he returned to Ireland. However, the King’s Lord Deputy in Ireland (Thomas Wentworth, the Earl of Strafford) and the new Archbishop of Canterbury (William Laud) were firm opponents of Presbyterianism.
Nevertheless, the suspension of the four ministers was lifted in May 1634, but only for six months. In November 1634 not only were these ministers suspended again – this time they were permanently deposed. Shortly after this action, Bishop Echlin fell ill. When his doctor asked what was wrong he replied ‘It’s my conscience, man!’. Lady Jean Montgomery (described in The Montgomery Manuscripts as a ‘vehement Presbyterian’) said of Echlin ‘…I shall bear witness of it to the glory of God, who hath smitten this man for suppressing Christ’s witnesses…’ A Letter to America It was clear that life for the Ulster-Scots was going to get much worse. However, America offered the religious freedom they desired so Rev John Livingstone and his former teacher at Stirling (a Mr William Wallace) were chosen to make an advance trip to New England, to gather information and choose a suitable homeland in America for any future Ulster-Scots emigrants. Livingstone wrote to John Winthrop, Governor of Massachussetts (left) in July 1634, but due to storms the attempted voyage was unsuccessful. However Winthrop’s son visited Ulster in January 1635 and encouraged them to come to America. The ministers began to make preparations, intending to set sail to America in the spring of 1636. Events would delay their planned departure date.
The Death of Hugh Montgomery Spring of 1636 was to be a time of great sorrow for the Ulster-Scots settlers and their ministers – they were devastated when one of the Founding Fathers of the Settlement, Sir Hugh Montgomery, died on 15th May 1636, aged 76. The Montgomery Manuscripts (available as digital CD Roms from the Ulster-Scots Agency) provide a detailed description of his funeral arrangements. The funeral followed the full Scottish ceremony for the burial of a Viscount – a Scottish state funeral in Newtownards for the Founding Father of the Ulster Scots. The Ministers are all Deposed To make matters even worse, in August 1636, all of the remaining Presbyterian ministers in Ulster – Rev Brice, Rev Ridge, Rev Cunningham, Rev Colwert and Rev Hamilton – were also deposed. Not only was Montgomery, the great figurehead, now dead, but the Ulster-Scots now had no ministers to pastor them. The Funeral of Hugh Montgomery Sir Hugh Montgomery’s body was embalmed, rolled in wax and locked away until September. One week before the funeral, his body was taken outside Newtownards where it lay in State. He was buried in Newtownards Priory (above) on 8th September 1636, the building he had rebuilt in 1606 and where his first wife Elizabeth was already buried. On the day of the funeral a great procession, all clothed in black, made the slow walk to the Priory. Carrying a large banner and large flag, the cortege of around 200 people included the Earl of Eglinton and scores of other noblemen who had travelled from Scotland to pay their respects. Even Montgomery’s bitter rival, Sir James Hamilton, was there.
Perhaps Sir Hugh Montgomery’s death was the factor which delayed the planned emigration to America. Rev Blair’s wife and Rev Hamilton’s wife were both daughters of Sir Hugh; Rev Livingstone and John McClelland were also related to Sir Hugh through marriage. It is highly likely that they would have wanted to see their father, father-in-law and Founding Father laid to rest before leaving for America. Perhaps they were among the crowds in Newtownards that lined the streets as the funeral procession made its way through the town. Perhaps they stood outside the Priory during the funeral, where they might have gritted their teeth as their arch enemy Bishop Leslie preached the sermon. Perhaps they bristled at the irony of this when they saw the two Bible texts Sir Hugh had carved above the doorway there (Psalm 122v1 and Ecclesiastes 5v1) Perhaps, knowing that Sir Hugh’s son would waver between the Established Church and Presbyerianism, they decided the time was now right to leave Ulster. And perhaps they slept on it… Eagle Wing Sets Sail … because the next morning, 9th September 1636, the Eagle Wing finally sailed from Groomsport. On board were three of Sir James Hamilton’s ministers (Rev Robert Blair, Rev John Livingstone and Rev James Hamilton) along with Sir Hugh Montgomery’s schoolmaster and part-time minister in Newtownards John McClelland. With them was John Stewart, Provost of Ayr and 135 other Ulster-Scots emigrants, who had surnames like Campbell, Girwin, Brown, Stuart, Agnew, Calver and Summervil. This was the first attempted voyage from Ulster to the New World of America. Adair’s Narrative records that Livingstone and Blair had reservations about the journey. However the Eagle Wing left Ulster and sheltered off the Scottish coast, first at Loch Ryan and then near the Isle of Bute, before heading out across the North Atlantic. Around 1200 miles from Ireland they were struck by ‘a mighty hurricane’ which smashed one of the master joists and the rudder.
Adair wrote ‘…there were no waves there, but mountains of waters…’. After a stirring address from Blair, one of the crew volunteered to go over the side of the ship to fix the rudder, with a long rope tied around his middle. The repairs were made but the storm didn’t cease. Livingstone proposed that they should wait for a further 24 hours, and if it was God’s will He would end the storm and allow them to carry on; if not, they would take this as His sign to turn back. The storm continued, and they all agreed to turn back and head for Ulster. The trip home was completed in fine weather. There were two deaths and one birth during the voyage, and on 3rd November 1636 the Eagle Wing docked in Carrickfergus. Sadly for Rev Blair and his wife Katherine (Sir Hugh Montgomery’s daughter) their baby son William died on their return to Ulster. Back to Scotland – for now… The failed emigration was scorned by the Bishops in Ireland, and under further persecution the four ministers fled to Scotland – a Scotland where revolution was building and a National Covenant was being conceived. The Ulster-Scots ministers had little idea of what lay just around the corner.