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The Ellen Payne Odom Genealogy Library Family Tree
The Family Tree - December/January 2003
Ulster Roots

Ulster Roots December 2002-January 2003
A North Carolina Petition
Richard K. MacMaster

Doing research on her North Carolina ancestors in the genealogy collections of the Fort Wayne (Indiana) Public Library, Ellen Rowan Taylor came across two nearly identical petitions that some of them had signed. She found their names among those of some 800 Presbyterian settlers in Orange, Anson, and Rowan counties who asked for relief from the payment of tithes to support the Established Church. These North Carolina petitions of 1758 or 1759 are obviously of great interest to anyone searching for Scotch-Irish ancestors on the Carolina frontier, but they also tell us a great deal about all our Scotch-Irish forebears.

The petitioners drew attention to their situation on the frontier, "exposed to great and eminent dangers of ye French enemy & ye Cruel Savage Bloodthirsty Indians in their interest." This was bad enough, but North Carolina had lately created parishes of the Church of England coterminous with each of the frontier counties and "our Governors instructions are to procure & fix a clergy man of the Established Church in every parish." This act was passed by the legislature in 1758, so the petitions were probably drawn up later that year or early in 1759.

They explained that they were "Mostly originally from the North of Ireland trained brought up under Presbyterian Church Government & we & our forefathers have mostly resided sometime in the Northern Province of Pennsylvania Jersey & New York." There they did not have to pay for "any clergy save our own" and had hoped to "enjoy like freedom" in North Carolina.

This Scotch-Irish Presbyterian migration from the North had resulted in "ten large congregations settled in so many bodies together" within the three frontier counties. Sadly, all of them "are yet destitute of the ordinances of the Gospel, Our ministers being discouraged from settling here." The people of these counties were nearly all Dissenters from the Church of England, since they were mostly Presbyterians, and did not want to be taxed to support a minister of another denomination. Payment of tithes for the ministers of the Established Church was also a grievance for Presbyterians in Ulster.

This stand was typical of the Scotch-Irish. In his recent book, The People With No Name, Patrick Griffin of Ohio University wrote that on both sides of the ocean, "Ulster's men and women drew on many aspects of a Reformed Protestant heritage, demonstrating a great capacity for reshaping older traditions to address their immediate needs," and, "at moments when the group confronted threats to life, liberty, and property, Ulster's Presbyterians asserted their rights as freeborn Britons to full participation in the state and empire, even as others sought to curtail them."

They had other reasons for not wanting to pay tithes. Coming to America was costly, as was migration from one colony to another. They said they had been "brought low by spending a great part of our small estates in lately transporting ourselves & families & settling an uncultivated wilderness." It was not easy to recover their investment on the frontier. Many of them found themselves "three hundred miles from market" for their surplus livestock and produce. A long-continued drought withered their crops and "a famine of grain hath left our families & cattle in a very suffering condition." Moreover, they had to pay "a heavy tax & levy to support the impending war" with the Cherokee Nation.

Under these circumstances, they said, Scotch-Irish settlers pressed on to South Carolina and Georgia. But this could be remedied "if new settlers might be indulged or exempted from paying Quit Rents [land tax] for a number of years especially such as have been driven off from ye frontiers of other places & who have suffered great damage & are reduced by the enemy."

The author of the petitions is not identified. One theory is that the Rev. Richard Sankey wrote both petitions. He had been the pastor of a Presbyterian Church in Hanover Township, Lancaster [now Dauphin] County, Pennsylvania. His church was located near Manada Gap used by Indian raiders to reach exposed frontier settlements and in 1758 Sankey and many of his parishioners moved to the relative safety of North Carolina. Pastor and people moved again the following year to Prince Edward County, Virginia. His migrations would fit the situation described in the petitions. Whoever wrote it, someone took it to all ten of the centers of Scotch-Irish settlement that the petitions identified as congregations without pastors. It took considerable organization to garner 800 signatures in the backcountry.

Governor Arthur Dobbs and the North Carolina legislature had received many complaints about the administration of the Granville District and had launched a full-scale investigation in 1759. Under these circumstances the two petitions would have a favorable hearing. Governor Dobbs or some other official may have made sure they were forwarded to London or Granville's own agents may have taken on this task since they were not criticized in any way in the petitions.

The original petitions, directed to King George II and to Lord Granville, on whose lands most of them had settled, were of course taken to England. They are still there in the family papers of the Marquess of Bath at Longleat. The North Carolina Division of Archives and History had the petitions, along with other documents relating to the Granville Proprietary, microfilmed and a researcher in the State Archives in Raleigh can read this microcopy of the original.

William Doub Bennett published the petitions in his Orange County Records, Volume VII, Granville Proprietary Land Office Miscellaneous Records (Raleigh, NC, 1991), pp. 59-69. This book can be found in many libraries and is also available from the compiler, William D. Bennett, 1804 Lafayette Avenue, Rocky Mount, NC 27803 at $20 plus $1.25 postage and handling.

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