Blue Plaque unveiled in Aghadowey

aghadowey churchYesterday the Ulster History Circle unveiled a Blue Plaque at Aghadowey Presbyterian Church in honour of Rev. James McGregor. Aghadowey Presbyterian Church was founded in 1655 making it one of the oldest congregations west of the Bann. It also has amongst the largest Presbyterian church buildings in County Londonderry.

Rev. James McGregor was a veteran of the siege of Derry where he is purported by some to have been the first to see the relieving ships. He became minister of Aghadowey in 1701 where he preached (in Ulster Irish as well as English) until in 1718 he left for the New World. There his congregation were initially not welcomed by the Puritan settlers of Boston. As such they moved to Nutfield, New Hampshire which, in 1722, was renamed Londonderry. McGregor’s settlers are reputed to have been the first to introduce the potato to North America.

From the Promotional Leaflet (I believe from but not on their website yet) and kindly provided by Agahdowey minister Rev. Dr. Robert Kane:

McGregor delivered a sermon in Coleraine before he left in which he said that his congregation was leaving Ulster “to avoid oppression and cruel bondage, to shun persecution and designed ruin…and have an opportunity of worshiping God according to the dictates of conscience and rules of His Inspired Word”

McGregor over wintered at Dracut, Mass. and linked, up in spring with other settlers from the Bann Valley who had travelled overland from Maine to a place in New Hampshire called Nutfield. In April 1719 he became the pastor and leader of what was, the first Ulster Presbyterian settlement in America. Nutlield took its name from an abundance of chestnuts, butternuts and walnuts, but the area was disputed between Massachusetts and New Hampshire, and the Ulster settlers were accused of being ‘poor Irish’ and Roman Catholics. McGregor petitioned the Governor of Massachusetts in 1720, saying: “We were surprised to hear our Selves termed Irish People when we so frequently ventured our all for the British Crown and Liberties against the Irish papists”. In 1722 a grant was made for a town, which was then given the name Londonderry, in recognition of the place in Ulster to which many of the settlers felt an attachment.

From the News Letter:

He (McGregor) preached in the Irish language for many years but in 1718 – when the effects of the religious persecution of non-Anglicans, bad harvests and soaring rents caused great hardship – he led up to 1,000 immigrants on to five ships bound for Boston, America.
The new arrivals were not welcomed by the English settlers already there so Rev McGregor led his flock to Nutfield, New Hampshire where they founded the first Ulster Presbyterian settlement on the continent.
The plaque commemorating the achievements of the pioneering minister was unveiled yesterday at Aghadowey Presbyterian by the US Consul General for Northern Ireland, Gregory S Burton, and the current clergyman Rev Robert Kane.
Rev McGregor is reputed to have brought the potato to America where it was cultivated by the new settlers and, having put down roots at Nutfield, the Ulster-born congregation members were granted permission in 1722 to change the town’s name to Londonderry.
The Blue Plaque tribute is the result of collaboration between the Ulster History Circle and the Ulster-Scots Agency.
Author and historian Rick Holmes and his wife travelled to Aghadowey from Londonderry, New Hampshire for the unveiling,
Ulster History Circle chairman Chris Spur described James McGregor as a “man who saw and made history”.
Mr Spur said: “In the Siege of 1689, he is believed to have signalled the relief of Derry; in 1718 he led the great migration, and in 1722 he founded Londonderry. The ‘Moses of the Scots-Irish’ brought his people to a new beginning.”
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 global Ulster-Scots diaspora.”

There was also a talk by local historian Mr. George Dallas and a display of memorabilia. Glenkeen Band provided the music and a large model of one of the ships (the William and Mary) was present. Previously the model was in the procession the last time the 12th of July was in Garvagh.

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  • Nevin

    Just a couple of minor points: Rick Holmes is from Derry, NH, a few miles east of Londonderry and the Chair of the Ulster History Circle is Chris Spurr. There was quite a large crowd at the event and I took some photos of the main speakers.

  • PeterBrown

    This was given quite extensive coverage in William Crawley’s BBC NI documentary about the history of Presbyterianism if I remember correctly (probably not on iplayer any more though)

  • Tochais Siorai

    Was he preaching in Irish to local Ulster Scots who had Irish as a first language by this stage or to the native Irish?
    (On a predantic note maybe he introduced the potato to North America rather than America as it originated in South America in the first place!)

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “McGregor delivered a sermon in Coleraine before he left in which he said that his congregation was leaving Ulster “to avoid oppression and cruel bondage, to shun persecution and designed ruin…and have an opportunity of worshiping God according to the dictates of conscience and rules of His Inspired Word”

    One wonders what he was thinking he would achieve behind the walls of Derry when he, and other Presbyterians already had all the freedoms under King James II’s toleration policies that they would entirely loose under the Dutchman, Anne and the Elector!

    Sometimes people just do not seem to know when they are winning…….

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Probably a bit of both methinks.

    More Ulster Scots had Gaelic as a language than most people would like to think (e.g. many/most of the 13 Apprentice Boys) and there were more than a few Irish converts to Presbyterianism on account of the Gaelic speaking clergymen.

    As for the potato trivia, I didn’t know that.

  • Tochais Siorai


  • Tochais Siorai

    I’d say a fair few Ulster Scots had a good knowledge of Irish alright but had it got to the stage where their Irish was better than their English?

  • Am Ghobsmacht


    Above my pay grade I’m afraid, it would be interesting to know though.

  • Graham

    “…here his congregation were initially not welcomed by the Puritan settlers of Boston.”


  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hi Graham, there’s a recent academic study of the eighteenth century New England perception of the incoming Presbyterian emigrants from our own wee neck of the woods.

    ‘ “Scum of the Earth and Refuse of Mankind”, the Negative Reputation of Irish Presbyterians on the Colonial American Frontier.’ by Dr Benjamin Bankhurst, a U.S. born researcher into the history of religion and ethnicity in the eighteenth-century Atlantic World at Kings College London. It goes a long way to counter the customary sentimental slush about the Scots-Irish in the New World that is the usual version we are sold locally. The quote comes from Charles Woodmason, an early eighteenth century missionary: “Ignorant, mean beggarly Irish Presbyterians, the scum of the earth and the refuse of mankind.” At first the local authorities had thought it a good idea to use the emigrants, “who formerly had so bravely defended Londonderry and Inniskillen as a frontier in case of any disturbance” from their native American neighbours. They soon discovered that such “uncivilised and violent” settlers gave more trouble from five families than was created by any fifty others. Phew! They were generally associated with lawless, wild behaviour and in the Paxton Boy massacres of the 1760s, with the murder of native americans as a protest against “soft” government policy. The author gives an excellent description of earlier research, so you may follow this up into primary source examination of the texts if you are interested.

  • Nevin

    Life in the Carolina back-country was all a bit too much for poor Woodmason 🙂

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Not just poor Woodmason, Nevin. If you check out Bankhurst’s work properly you’ll find that this appears to have been the general impression our fellow countrymen made in the New World to all and sundry. Check the article out, its a good read and a hearty corrective to the sentimental tosh we usually get served up about the noble, free spirited Ulster Scots on the frontier. If these are the representatives of a “liberal” tradition, then, as they used to say, the Kings a Dutchman…….