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The Presbyterian background of the 1718 emigrants is well documented. The desire to worship in their denominational church of choice led to many disagreements with the established Church of England in New England upon their arrival. Many of the early struggles of Londonderry, New Hampshire and Worcester, Massachusetts are related to religious matters. The first 1718 emigrants into Worcester had their Presbyterian church torn down, and some Massachusetts town records show that the verbal battles between Protestants and Presbyterians sometimes became physical assaults and sometimes ended up in court. When faced with these troubles, the relative peace promised by William Penn encouraged many emigrants to move on, and opened up the lands of Pennsylvania as the true land of hope. Some original Presbyterian churches in the Pennsylvania towns settled by the 1718 emigrants stand to this day. The primary site for Presbyterian records related to this group is housed at the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia. The relative scarcity of records located there is a testament to the ravages of time, war and weather that slowly eroded many records. In typical American fashion, the website for the PHS notes that transferring church records to the Society is purely voluntary and many churches did not avail themselves of that opportunity. The frontier churches were largely 'here today, gone tomorrow' and the records of their first members have often disappeared over time. The archives of the Presbyterian church held in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania are the best possible source of early 18th century churches:

First Parish Church, Derry, New Hampshire by courtesy of Derek Torrens

Open Enlarged Version  For a short period of time, 1718 to 1790, Presbyterianism was the leading denomination for the Scotch-Irish. Unfortunately, the leadership of the Church was ill-prepared for the rapid expansion of territory in America, and there were not enough ordained ministers to serve the needs of a rapidly growing and expanding population. The political leaders of the early 1700’s wanted the Scotch-Irish on their frontiers to protect themselves from the Indians, but they were disappointed if they expected that the Scotch-Irish would be 'settlers'. Settle they did not, and constant movement, exploration and expansion of the borders was typical behaviour for the Scotch-Irish. Large families, large farms, and large appetites for 'free' land constantly fed the expansion. Added to this was the explosion in Irish emigration in the 1720-1750 time period, and the continual push of people out of the cities into the settled lands cultivated by the generation of pioneers before them. This expansion, in the author’s opinion, led to the demise of the Presbyterian church as a prominent New England organization, and as a church closely associated with the Scotch-Irish. Even the churches founded by 1718 emigrants in Londonderry, New Hampshire and the Pennsylvania churches of Donegal and Upper Octorara give us little information about the origins of their members. Few records of the early Presbyterian church in America exist, and most of those sit on dusty shelves waiting for the enterprising researcher to discover. Both of the Bolton books show that many 1718 emigrants are documented in the Protestant churches of Massachusetts. The present author found a 1718 emigrant in the records of the Dutch Reformed Church in Abington, Pennsylvania, in records dating from 1719! Clearly, our ancestors placed a high priority on their religious activities. However, they were often content to find a church that approximated to their Presbyterian heritage, and did not always purposely settle in an area simply because a Presbyterian church was nearby.


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