Although the 'Great Migration' developed from 1718 onwards, emigration from Ulster to America had actually begun earlier, in the previous century. The first concerted effort was in 1636, when 140 Presbyterians from County Down sailed on the Eagle Wing for New England, though bad weather forced the ship to abandon its voyage. During the remainder of the seventeenth century migration from Ulster to America was ‘spasmodic and individualistic’.7
Most of these early migrants (no more than a few hundred) secured cheap passage on Belfast tobacco boats bound for Delaware and the shores of the Chesapeake. Between 1688 and 1703 at least 12 ships left Belfast for the Chesapeake Bay. However, probably the ‘most significant link’ between Ulster and America in the years before 1718 was that of Presbyterian missionaries. During the 1680s, for example, several Presbyterian ministers migrated to America from the Laggan area of County Donegal.8
Such links facilitated at least one early Presbyterian-organised attempt to transplant Scots-Irish communities to America. In 1685, members of the Laggan Presbytery sought to migrate to New England but this plan was abandoned after certain religious restrictions were lifted following Charles II’s death. The Laggan Presbytery sent Francis Makemie, a native of Ramelton, County Donegal, to administer to the Scots-Irish emigrants on the eastern shores of Maryland and Virginia in 1682. In 1706 Makemie became the Moderator of the first Presbytery, which met in Philadelphia.
Makemie later sought permission from the Governor of New York to preach to the Dutch and French reformed churches but permission was refused. He defied the Governor and preached openly and publicly; he was later arrested on the charge of preaching without a licence. However, he was found innocent at his trial but was obliged to pay the expenses.
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7 McCourt (1999), p. 304.
8 Bolton (1967), p. 18.