Friday, December 30, 2016

McDowells & The Scots-Irish Migration

The McDowells were among devout Presbyterian Scots who, beginning in the late 1500s, migrated from the lowlands of Scotland to Ireland. Religious persecutions in the reigns of James VI of Scotland (who later became England’s James I) and Charles I of England provoked many Presbyterians to leave Scotland, particularly in the aftermath of the Ruthven Raid, during which several Protestant noblemen staged an audacious coup d’etat. In August 1582, those nobles met up with James VI while the teenaged King of Scots was out hunting, and invited him to join them at nearby Ruthven Castle. James accepted their invitation and was subsequently held hostage for ten months during which time William Ruthven, 1st Earl of Gowrie, ruled Scotland. After James’s escape in June 1583, Protestants became prime suspects regarding their allegiance to Scotland’s king. Though brought up in the Protestant Church of Scotland, he had been baptized in a Catholic ceremony at Stirling Castle. And he was, after all, the only child of Mary, the devoutly Catholic former Queen of Scots, who had been held in England by Queen Elizabeth I since 1568.
Meanwhile, during this time, the Presbyterian McDowells were still in Galloway, the descendants of Prince Fergus, born around 1095. Nearly five hundred years later in 1575, John McDowell, great-grandfather of the first Joseph McDowell of the line, was born in Galloway. (John's father Uchtred, 1oth of Garthland, had been a suspect in the Ruthven Raid before his summons was deleted by royal warrant in 1584.) By 1595, John emigrated to Ireland as a political exile along with others who would become called Scots-Irish, Scotch-Irish, or Ulster Scots. However, within a few generations Ireland, too, would become unsafe for Presbyterians such as he.

In 1661, at the re-establishment of Episcopacy in Ireland, the newly appointed bishops, with Jeremy Taylor as their leader, turned all the Presbyterian ministers out of their charges upon the ground that they had never been ordained. This ignoring of Presbyterian ordination carried with it a denial of the validity of any official act performed by a Presbyterian minister. For instance, the validity of marriage, involving the questions of legitimacy and inheritance. This wrong was not corrected until 1782. Second, In 1704 the Sacramental Test Act was passed, which required all persons holding any office, civil or military, or receiving any pay from the sovereign to take sacraments in the established church within three months after their appointment. This, of course, excluded all Presbyterians from civil and military offices of every kind.
—Rev. W.A. West
A reason to emigrate arose again, this time coinciding with the rising power and impending rebellion of the American colonies. Calvinists in Ireland in the late 17th and early 18th centuries were caught between an Anglican elite and a burgeoning Catholic majority. They found themselves exploited and discriminated against by landlords, and increasingly taxed by churches to which they did not belong. Under the 1704 Test Act, Presbyterian marriages were no longer recognized, dissenters were denied job opportunities, and, all too often, they were not even allowed to bury their dead unless a funeral service was held within the “Established Church.” 
Archbishop Boulton sent to the Secretary of State in England, a “melancholy account,” as he calls it, of the state of the North. He says the people who go complain of the oppressions they suffer, as well as the dearness of provisions. The whole North, he says, is in a ferment, and the humour has spread like a contagion. “The worst is,” says the Archbishop, “that it affects only Protestants, and reigns chiefly in the North, which is the seat of our linen manufacture.” Writing in March, 1729, he says: “There are now seven ships at Belfast, that are carrying off about 1000 passengers thither”—to America.*
During the same time period, there had also been drought, disease, poor harvests, and industry downturn. Those negative factors could happen anywhere, of course. America would be full of unknowns, especially on the frontier. Many chose to take the risk. McDowells, their families, and friends gathered at the ports and boarded the ships. They disembarked in a new world.
*Source: Joseph A. Waddell, Annals of Augusta County, Virginia, 1901, C. Russell Caldwell, Staunton, Virginia