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In 1714, two Presbyterian clergymen, William Homes and his brother-in-law Thomas Craighead travelled along with their families to Boston. In 1715 Homes became the congregational minister of Chilmark, Martha’s Vineyard (in which position he remained until his death in 1746) and he remained an important ‘connecting link’ with his co-religionists in the north of Ireland. His son, Robert Homes, became an Atlantic sea captain (Derry was by this time developing as a trading port between Ulster and America) and he was able to apprise his father’s former colleagues and congregants, as well as an extensive kinship network, of opportunities in the ‘New World’.

Another important link was the Reverend Cotton Mather, a prominent clergyman in Boston. Mather’s father had studied at Trinity College, Dublin, and under the Protectorate had been appointed to the parish of Maghera and Ballyscullion in 1657, while two of his uncles were ministers in Dublin. In 1706 Mather had sought to recruit Scottish migrants to settle in New Hampshire and Maine.

In November 1717, William Homes was in communication with the Reverend Cotton Mather, his son Robert, and land speculators who were anxious to develop the area along the Kennebec river. It has been suggested that this correspondence was followed by a meeting in Boston, at which Robert Homes, Cotton Mather and the Kennebec speculators agreed to transport colonists from Ulster.9 Robert sailed for Ireland in April 1718, and returned ‘full of passengers’ seven months later.

Petition to Governor Shute Open PDF version of Petition  However, it would be a mistake to see the 1718 migration as an American-inspired venture. In the summer of 1718, Presbyterians of the Bann Valley commissioned the Reverend William Boyd of Macosquin (a village about three miles from Coleraine) as their agent to ‘enquire after ye circumstances of this country [New England] in order to ye coming of many more’.10 Boyd took with him a petition (dated March 26, 1718) addressed to Governor Shute of Massachusetts seeking a grant of land. Shute provided him with ‘assurances’, though whether these were communicated to Boyd’s co-religionists in Ulster is unknown, since Boyd remained in the ‘New World’ until the spring of 1719. Although on his return to Ulster, Boyd and some of his fellow signatories decided not to emigrate, other members of the Bann presbytery had already resolved to do so. For example, the minister of Aghadowey, in the north of County Londonderry, James McGregor along with a large part of his congregation, boarded a ship in Coleraine bound for Boston in the early summer of 1718.11

Roaring Meg on the Walls of Derry Open Enlarged Version James McGregor was born in Magilligan, Co. Londonderry, in or about 1677. McGregor’s family took refuge in Derry during the Williamite war and were present during the siege of the city. According to some accounts James himself, signalled that the siege had been lifted by firing a cannon positioned on top of the city’s cathedral. As was common at the time, he may have been educated in Scotland. He was ordained as the minister of Aghadowey in 1701. As a fluent Irish speaker, McGregor was commissioned by the synod of 1710 to preach in Irish. Famous for his sermon delivered at Coleraine before embarking for America (in which he emphasised the religious intolerance of the Hanoverian state), McGregor had - like a number of Ulster Presbyterian ministers – not been paid by his congregation for some three years before he left.

 

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9 Ibid, p. 85.
10 Bolton (1967), p. 132.
11 Kerby Miller (ed.), Irish Immigrants in the land of Canaan: Letters and Memoirs from Colonial and Revolutionary America, 1675-1815 (Oxford, 2003), p. 453; see also McCourt (1999), p. 307 and Robert J. Dickson, Ulster Emigration to Colonial America, 1718-1775 (reprint, Belfast, 1988), pp. 21–23.