A distinguished list of Ulster-Scots from Londonderry who helped make America

CONGRATULATIONS to Londonderry on being chosen as the UK City of Culture for 2013.

Thursday, 9th September 2010, 12:10 pm

Londonderry has had a long and chequered history with the Siege there in 1688-89 a highly significant landmark in the annals of these islands and, through the centuries from the origins of the Scottish Plantation, Ulster-Scots have made a meaningful contribution to life in the Maiden City and in the wider North West. Londonderry was a main port for the emigration of Ulster-Scots Presbyterians from the north of Ireland to America and many from this diaspora were prominently involved in the establishment of the United States as the bedrock of global democracy and independence. The list of US luminaries is impressive.


One of the signers of the American Declaration of Independence in 1776, he was born in Londonderry county and he emigrated to America with his Presbyterian family as a four-year-old in 1718.

Thornton became a medical practitioner working in the New Hampshire town of Londonderry, which his kinsfolk established after moving from Ulster, and he served as a colonel in the New Hampshire regiment of George Washington's patriot army

He was elected to the Provincial legislature and signed the Declaration as a representative of New Hampshire. His wife was Hannah Jack, who belonged to a North Tyrone family.


The 11th United States President was descended from Londonderry couple Robert and Magdalene Pollock (the name was changed to Polk when they landed in America).

The Pollocks, who had moved to Ulster from Renfrewshire and Aberdeenshire, had a considerable land estate in both Londonderry and Lifford, Co Donegal and, on Robert and Magdalene's arrival in America, the Polk lineage became very prominent in the Charlotte/Mecklenburg area of North Carolina.

Ezekial Polk, great-grandson of Robert Polk, moved to Tennessee and was the grandfather of President James Knox Polk, who served seven terms in the US Congress and became Speaker of the House in 1835, the only President ever to hold that office. He served as President in



His Ulster family roots were in Ballygawley, Co Tyrone and he was granted the freemanship of Londonderry in July 1878 when he visited the city and other parts of Ireland as part of a world tour.

During his stay in Londonderry, President Grant, who was accompanied by a number of friends and aides, was keen to hear the full story of the 1688-89 Siege and he was given a full tour of the ancient walls, commenting on their remarkable thickness.

His Co Tyrone ancestors, led by great-grandfather John Simpson on his mother Hannah's side, moved to Pennsylvania through the port of Londonderry.

The President, commander of the victorious Union Army in the American Civil War, served two terms as in the White House in 1869-77.


Strabane man James Wilson, grandfather of President Woodrow Wilson, sailed from Londonderry to Philadelphia in 1807 at the age of 20.

President Wilson, who served as President in 1913-21 and received the Nobel Peace Prize for his peace efforts during the First World War, was born at Staunton in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia and he had been a professor at Princeton College in New Jersey before becoming President.

In 1913, a year after he was elected to his first term as President, Woodrow Wilson said: "I am sorry that my information about my father's family is very meagre. My father's father was born in the north of Ireland; he had no brothers on this side of the water. The family came from the neighbourhood of Londonderry."


The family of United States Vice-President and prominent South Carolina statesman John Caldwell Calhoun emigrated to America from Donegal via the port of Londonderry.

His grandfather Patrick Calhoun was 49 when he moved to Pennsylvania from Convoy, Raphoe, Co Donegal with his Londonderry-born wife Catherine Montgomery Calhoun in 1733, before settling in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.

The family moved to South Carolina and Catherine Montgomery Calhoun was to die in an Indian massacre at Long Cane on February 1, 1760.

Patrick Calhoun Jnr, John C.'s father,. founded the Hopewell Presbyterian Church at Abbeville in South Carolina.

John C, self-taught in a log-cabin settlement until he was 18, served in the US Congress and was Secretary of War under the Presidency of James Monroe. He had two four-year stints as Vice-President, first under John Quincy Adams (1825-29) and the second under Andrew Jackson (1829-33). His preserved home is at Clemson, South Carolina.


Late 18th century statesman Charles Thomson, born at Gorteade, Upperlands near Maghera, Co Londonderry in 1729, emigrated with his family (father, five brothers and a sister) to America after his mother died in 1739.

They travelled via the port of Londonderry and, tragically, Thomson Snr. died while their ship was sailing up Delaware Bay.

Charles Thomson became a Princeton College professor; he designed the Great Seal of America and was Secretary of the Continental Congress, which ran America, from 1774 to 1789. He was the man delegated to convey to George Washington at his Mount Vernon home in Virginia that it was the wish of Congress that Washington becomes the First US President.

The original Declaration of Independence of 1776 bore only two signatures - that of John Hancock, President of Congress, and Charles Thomson.

In retirement, Thomson spent most of his time translating the Old and New Testaments of the Bible into the Greek Septuagint version.


The ancestors of David (Davy) Crockett, hero of the wild frontier in Tennessee, Washington politician and a martyr at The Alamo in Texas in March, 1836, left the port of Londonderry for America in the early 18th century.

The Crocketts, originally of French Huguenot Protestant stock, lived in the area around Castlederg and Donemana in North Tyrone, with the family links extending into Co Donegal.

It is recorded that several Crocketts bravely defended Londonderry at the famous Siege in 1688-89.

One of the first Crocketts to reach America (believed to be in 1708) was Joseph Louis Crockett with his wife Sarah Stewart, from Manonrcunningham in Co Donegal. The couple were David Crockett's great-great grandparents.


Founder of the city of Knoxville in East Tennessee, White was the son of Londonderry man Moses White 11, who moved to Pennsylvania in 1741 with his wife Mary McConnell and later settled in North Carolina.

In 1791, James White, a Revolutionary War hero and a justice of the peace, was given the task of laying out Knoxville as a proper frontier settlement and he named the it after General Henry Knox, the then Secretary of War and a man of Co Down pedigree.

In his role on the frontier White negotiated important land deals with the Cherokee Indians and he was a member of the Tennessee Territorial House of Representatives when Tennessee was being prepared for admission into the Union in 1796.

He was a staunch Presbyterian and was founding elder of both the First Knoxville and Lebonan in the Fork congregations. His White's Fort home is still preserved in the centre of Knoxville.



This distinguished Confederate Army soldier in the American Civil War was the great, great grandson of Londonderry man Archibald Stuart, who emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1726 and became a leading citizen in the Shanandoah Valley of Virginia.

JEB Stuart, reputed to be the youngest major-general in any army since the days of Napoleon Bonoparte, was raised in the Shenandoah Valley, seventh son of 10 children of the Honourable Archibald Stuart, a leading Virginia lawyer and member of both the United States Congress and the Virginia legislature.

General Robert E. Lee described JEB as "the eyes of the Confederate Army" and he successfully led raid after raid on Union Army posts. He was killed in action near Richmond in 1864.

The Stuarts were strong Calvinists in the Presbyterian tradition and the direct forebears of the original emigrant Archibald Stuart defended Londonderry for the Williamite cause in the Siege of 1688-89.


Rogers led the famed Rogers Rangers in the French-Indian War of 1754-63, and was the son of an Ulster Presbyterian couple who moved from Londonderry to America around 1730.

His father James Rogers came from Montelony close to the Co Londonderry town of Dungiven and he married Mary McFatridge several years before they decided to emigrate.

In the conflict against the French and Indian tribes in the North West Passage, Robert Rogers led nine British colonial units and fought at the battles of Halifax, Ticonderoga and Crown Point and in 1760s engaged in the final successful operations against Montreal and Detroit.

For his highly courageous exploits, Rogers received wide acclaim.


From Ramelton in Co Donegal, Makemie was the founder of the Presbyterian USA denomination and he too emigrated to America from Londonderry, in 1683.

In 1706, Makemie founded the Presbytery of Pennsylvania, the first independent non-conformist church body of any kind in the 'New World' colonies.


Only the second Presbyterian cleric to minister in Tennessee, Thomas Rhea was a serving minister in the Londonderry presbytery before he moved to Philadelphia in 1769.

The Rheas were of the Campbell clan from Scotland and Matthew Campbell Rhea figured in the Siege of Londonderry in 1688-89.

The Rev Thomas Rhea ministered for 20 years to the congregations of Fahan and Inch in Co Donegal (which was in the Derry presbytery) after preaching in Bun Cranaugh (Buncranan) and resigned his post after a disagreement over the annual stipend of 24,

He moved to America with his wife Elizabeth McIlwaine (who came from Lisfannin, Londonderry) and seven children and he pastored at Piney Creek in Maryland for four years on an annual salary of 112 (then about 560 dollars).

Rhea moved to Tennessee, then on the outer Western frontier rim, and he was chaplain to the American patriot soldiers during a campaign against the Cherokee Indians on the Little Tennessee River. He died in 1777, while in active ministry.


A Presbyterian minister from Londonderry, he was chaplain of a Revolutionary army brigade and of the New York provincial congress and the first-ever state legislature in 1777. He was also a trustee of the College of New Jersey, afterwards known as Princeton, and Moderator of the first General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania.


From Londonderry, he was a minister of First Pittsburgh Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania, colourfully described as "a tough little red-haired Ulster-Scot from Londonderry".

Barr founded Pittsburgh Academy, which later became the Western University of Pennsylvania and eventually the University of Pittsburgh.

First Pittsburgh congregation had earlier been established in the 1760s by the REV CHARLES BEATTY, a Londonderry-born chaplain in George Washington's patriot army and a popular preacher to the Scots-Irish settlers in that region. BEATTY left Londonderry in 1729 as a 14-year-old with his widowed mother.

Another early minister of First Pittsburgh Church was the REV ROBERT STEEL, from Ballykelly in Co Londonderry, who arrived in Pennsylvania in 1800 with his wife Isabelle Hazlett.

The REV JAMES McGREGOR, minister of Aghadowey Presbyterian Church in Co Londonderry and a veteran of the Siege of 1688-89, led several hundred Presbyterians from Bann Valley churches around Coleraine, Ballymoney, Macosquin, Aghadowey and Garvagh to America in 1718. They arrived at Boston and eventually made it to New Hampshire where they established the towns of Coleraine, Antrim and Nutfield, which was later changed to Londonderry to comply with thee wishes of homesick families.

In eastern Pennsylvania, the towns of Derry, Raphoe and Mountjoy by families who arrived there in the early 18th century from Londonderry. The Donegal Presbyterian Church is located in nearby Elizabethton.

Stephen Collins Foster

Celebrated American songwriter Stephen Collins Foster was a second-generation Ulster-Scot whose family emigrated to Pennsylvania from Londonderry in the late 18th century.

Foster, born near Pittsburgh in 1820, wrote many highly popular tracks, including Beautiful Dreamer, My Old Kentucky Home (now the official song for the state of Kentucky), Jeannie With the Light Brown Hair and Campton Races. He wrote both the words and the music of his songs.

Other prominent Ulster-Scots Presbyterian families who moved to America from Londonderry and Donegal included the Seawrights, Caldwells, Andersons, McCampbells, Pattons, Smiths, Morrisons, McGinleys and the Alexanders, of Manorcunningham ,who distinguished themselves as patriots in the American War of Independence.

A John McCampbell moved from Londonderry with his three sons and three daughters, settling in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia in 1753. John was married to Mary Shannon, whose father was Samuel Shannon, an heroic figure in the celebrated Siege of Londonderry in 1688-89.

Andrew Caldwell, of Londonderry/Donegal stock, was commander of the Pennsylvania navy in the Revolutionary War and he commanded the US fleet which repelled the British war ships Roebuck and Liverpool in 1776.

The Rev James Caldwell, son of Donegal-born Major William Caldwell, was known as "the fighting parson" in the Revolutionary War. This Princeton-educated cleric was minister of First Presbyterian Church at Elizabethton, New Jersey.


Originally from Sligo, John Patton emigrated from Londonderry in 1761 and was a prosperous merchant in Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War.

He served as colonel of the 16th Regiment Philadelphia Line and had charge of the defences of that city at a crucial period of the War. He was one of a number of patriotic merchants who raised, on their own private bond, 260,000 to aid George Washington's cause. His grandson John Patton was a US Congressman.

Londonderry-born JAMES PATTON left the city in 1783 and became a leading merchant in Asheville, North Carolina. He became heavily involved in cattle movement along the Great Wagon Road which linked Pennsylvania with the Appalachian states and opened up the frontier for the Ulster-Scots families.

An earlier James Patton, also from Londonderry, was granted 110,000 acres in Virginia as an agent of landowner Lord Granville in 1736 and he planted a large number of people there from the north-west of Ulster.


His father emigrated from Londonderry in 1720, served three terms in the US House of Representatives.

Strabane-born JOHN DUNLAP, the man who printed the first copies of the American Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia in 1776, also emigrated from Londonderry in the mid-18th century.