The Land of Promise - Leaving

The Land of Promise


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My parents’ families came to Ulster from Scotland in the 1660s, and settled close to Coleraine.

Ulster is only a short distance from Scotland by sea. They lived in a long, low thatched cottage and my father leased the land that he farmed. They attended kirk every Sunday. They were Presbyterian.

Listening to my father and mother, I realised that being a Presbyterian in Ulster was not easy. They were disadvantaged because of their beliefs. Presbyterians were not allowed to teach in schools, their marriages weren’t recognised, funeral services were illegal and they couldn’t inherit property or hold public office. Life wasn’t easy.

My father said that our lease was ending very soon. The rent was constantly increasing and difficult to pay because the harvest had been poor, and my mother couldn’t sell her woven cloth. Times were difficult, but my parents weren’t the only ones that had a tough time.

Friends and neighbours talked about moving to America. My parents felt the whole community was leaving for a new life there. They’d heard of people going there before, but this time was different as the whole community planned to go together to begin new lives.

Close by in Aghadowey, the kirk was in serious financial difficulty. The Reverend James McGregor hadn’t been paid a salary for three years and was owed 80 pounds. This was a lot of money especially as he had a wife and family to look after.

Aghadowey Presbyterian Church as it is today, and the blue plague to Rev. James McGregor

The Reverend McGregor is a very interesting man. He was born in 1677. He could be a bit dour at times, but had the best interests of his congregation at heart. Some say that at the age of 12 James McGregor fired the cannon from the walls of St Columb’s Cathedral in Londonderry to signal that the ship, the Mountjoy, had broken through the barrier across the River Foyle. The barrier, or the boom as they called it, had stopped supplies getting through to those who were besieged within the walls of the city.

The Siege of Derry, the first major event of the Williamite War in Ireland, lasted almost three and a half months ending in July 1689. (Courtesy of 19th era / Alamy Stock Photo)

The Reverend’s wife’s name was Maryanne. They had ten children and although they were not rich they did have wealthy family members.

Samuel Shute, Governor of Massachusetts 1716‒1727, copy portrait by Aiden L. Ripley, 1930. Shute was an English military officer who served under King William III and the Duke of Marlborough. (Courtesy of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, State House Art Commission)

The Reverend McGregor felt that the time had come for a change, as there was no future in Ireland. My father along with some others signed a petition to Samuel Shute, the Governor of Massachusetts. The petition was drawn up on the 26th March 1718. It stated that those signing it would transport themselves to New England, in America, on the assurance that they would be made welcome and there was land where they could settle. Three hundred and nineteen people signed the petition, including nine ministers. They all came from an area around the east side of the Bann Valley, in and around the towns of Aghadowey, Articlave, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Coleraine, Garvagh and Kilrea.

Map showing the main towns in Ulster affected by the 1718 migration to New England

The Reverend William Boyd from Macosquin took the petition to New England. He arrived in Boston in July 1718. He met the authorities who told him they were keen to have new settlers, especially people used to farming. Everyone who met the Reverend Boyd was very impressed with him. Governor Shute, who was to be a good friend to the settlers from Ulster, gave assurances of support.

Members of the kirk discussed what they would do. Some of the people who had signed the petition decided they were going to stay in Ireland, but my parents decided to leave. Sixteen families from their kirk decided to make the journey.

They had very little time to think about the journey and what they would do when they arrived. My parents had to raise the money to pay for the voyage. The fare was six pounds, so they sold what they could and gave away other possessions that they couldn’t take with them. They could only take what they could carry on to the ship. Along with their clothes, my mother packed cooking pots and utensils, her loom and spinning wheel. Father took his tools and small items of farming equipment. My brother Andrew, who was three years old, took only a few small toys.


Leaving Activities

  1. Ask your pupils to read Leaving.
  2. Encourage them to complete Resource 1.1 about how life would be different in 1718 compared with today.
  3. Ask your pupils to find Garvagh, Aghadowey, Coleraine, Articlave and Londonderry on the tourist map of Northern Ireland (Resource 1.2). From the map, encourage them to find:
    • the area of Northern Ireland shown on the map;
    • the colour used to indicate main roads;
    • the symbol for a mountain peak;
    • where to board a ferry for Scotland; and
    • the name of the river that flows through Londonderry.
    Ask them to calculate the approximate distance the McFadden’s had to travel from Garvagh to board the Maccallum at Londonderry.
  4. Encourage your pupils to use eight points of the compass to find the direction of the following towns and cities from the town of Garvagh:
    • Belfast
    • Aghadowey
    • Coleraine
    • Donegal
    • Armagh
  5. Ask the class, in groups, to compare and contrast the tourist map of Northern Ireland (Resource 1.2) with the map of Ulster in 1786 (Resource 1.3). Then, ask each group to present their findings to the rest of the class.
  6. The McFadden family are thinking of leaving Ulster. Ask your pupils, in pairs, to find out the difference between emigration and immigration. Encourage them to use examples to explain it to their partner.
  7. Ask your pupils to list the reasons why people might decide to leave their country.
  8. Ask your pupils to use the Conscience Alley strategy (see Resource 1.4: page 16 of Active Learning and Teaching Methods for Key Stages 1 and 2) to help the McFadden family make their decision.
  9. Encourage your pupils to find photos online of a current news story about immigration or use the images of migrants, refugees and evacuees provided in Resource 1.5. As a class, look at the pictures and then discuss what you see.
  10. Andrew and Jane McFadden have decided to leave Ulster. Encourage your pupils to use sticky notes to create a Graffiti Board (see Resource 1.6: page 33 of Active Learning and Teaching Methods for Key Stages 1 and 2) to record the McFadden’s thoughts and feelings as they get ready to leave. Ask your pupils to record what thoughts and feelings they might have about leaving somewhere, such as their school, house or country.
  11. The McFadden family could only take what they could carry. Ask your pupils what one item they would take and discuss why.
  12. Ask your pupils to imagine they are trying to encourage people to come to live in Ulster. Encourage them to create an advertisement. This could be a digital advert, using publishing software such as Microsoft Publisher, a vlog or a poster. Pupils should consider:
    • the things to do;
    • the places to visit; and
    • the scenery.
    Encourage them to present their advertisement to the class and ask their peers to evaluate their work.
  13. Video: A New Chance
    Explain to your pupils that there were push and pull factors in deciding to leave Ulster for America. Push factors were what made people want to leave Ulster. Pull factors were what made people want to go to America. Arrange the class into groups of four and watch the video of the Reverend McGregor and the Reverend Woodside in conversation. Encourage your pupils to note down the push and pull factors. Then, ask the groups to discuss these factors and suggest what they think was the most important factor influencing the Reverend Woodside’s decision to go to America, and why.
  14. Video: The Choice
    In pairs, ask your pupils to listen to Andrew and Jane McFadden as they discuss the issues involved in migrating to America. Encourage your pupils to make a list of the advantages and disadvantages that they mention. Then challenge each pupil to prioritise their list, giving reasons for their choices and arriving at a decision: would they stay or go?

Curriculum Mapping

Leaving Curriculum Map

Supported by Maine Ulster Scots Project
In partnership with