Londonderry founder and John Kerry ancestor hailed

editorial image

The Magilligan native who founded Londonderry mark II in the North America colonies in the early 18th century will be honoured with the unveiling of an Ulster History Circle Blue Plaque and reception at Aghadowey Presbyterian Church on Monday evening (July 28).

Rev. James McGregor (1677-1729) has been described as ”the Moses of the Scotch Irish in America” due to his pioneering exploits in the New World.

The ceremony will recall how Rev. McGregor - a veteran of the Siege of Derry - led hundreds of his congregation to America in 1718, where they founded the towns of Londonderry, Coleraine and Antrim.

He was the leader of the pioneers that in 1719 settled the Nutfield grant in Southern New Hampshire - now the towns of Derry, Londonderry, Windham as well as portions of Manchester, Hudson, Salem, and Pelham.

Genealogical research has proven that the Rev, McGreggor is the great, great, great, great grandfather of the US Secretary of State John Kerry.

US historian Rick Holmes and his wife will also travel over for the unveiling.

In 1701 Rev McGregor - who was a fluent Irish speaker - became the pastor of a small Presbyterian church in Aghadowey and in 1710 the synod gave him the privilege of preaching in Irish.

Famous for a sermon delivered at Coleraine before embarking for America (in which he emphasised the religious intolerance of the Hanoverian state), Rev McGregor had - like a number of Ulster Presbyterian ministers – not been paid by his congregation for some three years before he left.

At that time the government had issued a number of edicts favouring the established Anglican Church. No longer were Presbyterians allowed to hold office, teach or to conduct most civil ceremonies such as marriages and funerals.

In early summer 1718 Rev McGregor and the major part of his congregation set sail for Boston on the brigantine Robert.

The group consisted of perhaps 200 souls, primarily from 16 families and ranged in age from babes-in-arms to an elderly couple nearly ninety-years-old.

Arriving in New England they found they were not welcomed by the Puritans of Boston. They were diverted to Maine where they suffered a long, cold winter.

Returning south in the spring they heard about an unoccupied piece of land in the province of New Hampshire that had been previously named Nutfield. Rev. McGregor persuaded the Royal Governor to give the Ulster pioneers the 144 square mile wilderness grant.

Beside their faith and culture, the Nutfield Pioneers also brought potatoes to North America. In 1719 they planted what is commonly recognised as the first crop of ‘pradies’ [prátaí] in North America.

By the end of the first year the Nutfield colony was judged a success. Under McGregor the community soon built a meeting house, church and a school.

Nearly every house was soon spinning and weaving linen that quickly became known as the best in America. In 1722 Nutfield was incorporated as a town and took as its the official name: Londonderry.

The news of the success of Londonderry soon spread back to Ulster and thousands were inspired to follow McGregor across the Atlantic to the New World.

Many Ulster Scots during the 1720s came initially to “Londonderry in New England” before settling in other places which still had cheap land.

There are dozens of towns in Canada and America which were founded by ex pats from McGregor’s town; some even named their new towns “Londonderry” after the town in New Hampshire.

Rev. McGregor died on March 5, 1729: he was only 52 years old. He is buried underneath an impressive red sandstone grave stone in the Forest Hill Cemetery in East Derry, directly behind the site of the church he founded.

Genealogical research has proven that the Rev. James McGregor is the great, great, great, great, great, great grandfather of the US Secretary of State John Kerry.

Chris Spur, Chairman,of the Ulster History Circle said: “James McGregor was a man who saw and made history.

“The Ulster History Circle is delighted to honour the RevJames McGregor with this blue plaque in Aghadoweyowey where he became minister in 1701. The Circle would particularly like to thank the Ulster-Scots Agency for their financial support towards this plaque.”

Ian Crozier, CEO of the Ulster-Scots Agency said: “The Ulster-Scots Agency is delighted to be able to highlight the contribution to another Ulster-Scot who has made a huge difference to the religious landscape of New England and of Ulster-Scots diaspora.”