A Leap of Faith:

The Dunlap–Pattison Family of Maghera,

Northern Ireland (1740-1820)

by Dr. William M. Litchman, Ph.D., C.G.S.M.

             If only all of our ancestors were kings and queens! Ordinary families always provide challenges. Families of Irish origin provide extra special challenges and Northern Irish families can try the patience of even the most dedicated family historians. Perhaps the most difficult part of coming to terms with family research in Ireland is finding the specific village or townland from which the family emigrated to North America.

             Slaghtybogy, the townland of origin of the Dunlap-Pattison family near Maghera, County Derry, is given in an eighteenth century hand-made family book. It also details the structure of the family and their emigration from Ulster to America, Footnote see Figure 1. But the paucity of Ulster documents has forced a broadening of scope. The purpose of this article is to describe the living conditions of the Dunlap-Pattison family that sent them to America.


Schematic of the Family of Joseph and Margaret Pattison

of Slaghtybogy, Parish of Maghera, County Derry (1716-1820)

Joseph Pattison (b ca 1716) m Margaret (—) before 1740 X[1741]


1.             Mariann (b ca 1743, d ca 1790) X(b ca 1741, d ca 1790)

                                m William Dunlap (b ca 1740, d ca 1805-10) X (b ca 1738...


                1.             Joseph (b ca 1765, d Jul 1802)

                                m Elizabeth Arbuthnot (ca 1789)

X remove                               Elizabeth m(2) John Divine (1 Feb 1805)


                                1.             William (b Mar 1790)

                                2.             Robert (b Sep 1792)

                                3.             Jane/Jean (b Mar 1795)

                                4.             Mary Ann (b Jun 1797)

                                5.             Nancy (b Jun 1800)

                                6.             Joseph (b Dec 1802)

                2.             William (b Apr 1770, d 1833)

                                m Elizabeth Middleton (14 Feb 1799, d Sep 1819)

                                1.             Andrew (b Feb 1801)

                                2.             Mariann (b Apr 1802)

                                3.             Margaret (b Oct 1803)

                                4.             William Middleton (b Feb 1805)

                                5.             John (b Jun 1806, d Nov 1815)

                                6.             Sarah (b Feb 1809)

                                7.             Elizabeth (b Nov 1810)

                                8.             Susannah (b Mar 1812)

                                9.             Amelia (b Nov 1813)

                                10.           Joseph Pattison (b Jan 1814)

                                11.           John M. (b Feb 1818)

                                12.           Harriet (b Aug 1819)

                3.             Sarah (b ca 1775-80, d ca 1840-50)

                                m James Carey (1798, d ca 1827)

X remove               1.             William (b ca 1800-09)

                4.             Child (b and d ca 1790)

2.             William (b ca 1747, d aft 1821)

X remove               m Sarah Ford (1780)

X remove               Children:

X remove               1.             Joseph (m Mary (–)

3.             Matthew (b ca 1749, d bef 1823)

X remove               m Mary (–) (ca 1781)

X remove               Children:

X remove               1.             Joseph (b ca 1781, m Charity Voorhees)

X remove               2.             William

X remove               3.             Martin (the “wandering son”)

X remove               4.             Elizabeth (b bef 1801, m Peter Welch bef 1823)

Figure 1.

X insert “All data in this figure is from reference 1.”

             Setting the economic stage for our story, a “Plantation” scheme was instituted by the English King James I in about 1609, Footnote in which the lands of Ireland, especially in Ulster, were offered to the London crafts guilds at a nominal rent. Recurring rebellions of the Irish were costing the English crown investment money as well as lost income. The plan behind this was that the guilds would find agents to recruit patriotic Scotsmen and northern Englishmen to bring their families to settle in Ireland. By this means the rebellious Irish population would be diluted and subdued, the guilds would also glean a profit by the rents gathered by their agents and the emigrants would find a better economic life.

             Each layer of renters would subdivide their holding, rent smaller and smaller parcels of land for higher and higher rents until at the lowest level one would find the actual user of the land, the farmer, the tiller of the soil. The further up the ladder one went, the more removed from the land the landlord became (in general). Footnote

             By the early eighteenth century, with the plantation program well underway, Ireland was an open country for the immigration of Scots, including, most likely, the ancestors of this Dunlap-Pattison family. There was pressure at home from increasing rents and the lack of market for home-made goods. Footnote It must have been very inviting for families to come to Ireland, acquire land (through paying rents, of course) and then to improve themselves financially. Certainly, the rebellions of the native Irish were not part of the publicity!

             Two benchmark dates for the family provide the time period for records to seek in fleshing out this family’s Ulster experience: 13 Mar 1790, the birth date for William Dunlap, eldest known child Footnote of Joseph Dunlap and Elizabeth Arbuthnot, Footnote will [X remove will] allows us to extrapolate the first, an approximate beginning date, and the second is the voyage of the Ship Tristram taking the family to America and providing closure.

             The average age for men (25) and women (22) at marriage, Footnote and the assumption that all marriages occurred during the year preceding the birth of the first child give us the framework for our extrapolation. Using these assumptions, Joseph and Elizabeth were probably married in 1789, Joseph was probably born in 1764, William, sr, and Mariann were probably married in 1763, and William, sr, was probably born no later than 1738 and Mariann Pattison about three years later.

             Many Maghera-area Scots families came from County Ayr Footnote and there are certainly Dunlap and Pattison families present in that county throughout the 1700s.

             No appropriate christenings are found for Joseph (ca 1764), William (Apr 1770), or Sarah Dunlap (1775-1780), nor are there baptisms for Mariann Pattison (ca 1741), William Pattison (ca 1746), or Matthew Pattison (ca 1748). Footnote William Dunlap is such a common name that it is impossible to know if our William is in the records. No marriage for Joseph and Margaret Pattison is found.

             The townland of Slaghtybogy was the exclusive property of the Vintner’s company and the first known renter was John Elliott. Footnote Any further sub-renting of the land would have had to be through him or his successors and heirs. The Elliott family continued to control the townland for quite a number of years. Footnote Thomas Connolly, speaker of the Irish House of Commons, purchased the lease in the mid 1700s and his heirs continued there for many years thereafter.

             Josh (Joseph?) Paddyson is listed as a resident of the Parish of Maghera in 1740, Joseph Patterson in 1796, Footnote and the name of Joseph Pattison [not Patterson] is found as a resident of Magherafelt, Footnote a small community about 10 miles from Maghera, and a part of the Salter’s plantation in 1766.

             Harlan Page Dunlap about 1905 stated that William Dunlap, sr, married “in Ireland, Mary Ann, daughter of Joseph and Margaret Patterson [sic].” Footnote One Dunlap infant and the mother died and were buried in the “churchyard at Maghera” prior to the departure of the family in 1792. Footnote

             There were two churches at Maghera, both with burial grounds, one the ancient (ca 1200) church of St. Lurach (originally Catholic but by the late 1700s, Church of Ireland) and the other, the recently finished (1785) Presbyterian church. No relevant entries have been found in a search of the records of the Maghera Presbyterian Church. Footnote There are no early records extant from the Church of Ireland in Maghera, nor were there any Dunlap names found on extant stones found [X remove “found”] in the old St. Lurach graveyard Footnote even though the Dunlap name was once known on those stones. Footnote

             Since very few (7.7%) of the residents of Slaghtybogy were Church of Ireland and nearly half (46%) were Presbyterian in 1831, Footnote it seems most probable that the burial of Mariann Dunlap and her child took place in the Presbyterian churchyard. It also seems reasonable that the marriage of William Dunlap and Mariann Pattison took place in Slaghtybogy, at the bride’s home, and the marriage of William’s son, Joseph Dunlap, and Elizabeth Arbuthnot a generation later, possibly at the church.

             Long leases “are the ruin of Ireland.” These lengthy leases, sometimes for 999 years, were very successful early in the eighteenth century but they led to fixed rents at a time of rising values and prices. Tenants were then able to sublet very profitably. When primary leases finally ended, however, landlords were able to deal directly with the sub-tenants, especially in the “linen triangle” which included the Parish of Maghera. From 1753 to 1791, the number of houses paying hearth tax in Ulster almost doubled, giving northern landlords a unique opportunity to “set” or lease estates to increase their income. Footnote

             Especially toward the end of the eighteenth century, unrest, particularly first in Armagh and then spreading to other parts of Ulster, was growing more and more violent. Strife was mainly between individuals of the Protestant and Catholic faiths with atrocities committed on both sides.

             Mariann Pattison had two brothers, William and Matthew, who emigrated to America some years prior to the Dunlap family, Footnote probably in the wave of emigrations during the early 1770s. Footnote Economic crisis struck Ireland about 1770 and emigration rose to 10,000 per year at that time. Emigration abruptly ceased with the American Revolution but the economic crisis continued. Footnote

             To quote another writer, Footnote “the loss of people from the northern part of Britain – from northern England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland – sent shock waves throughout the kingdom. People had been leaving these areas, particularly Ireland, since the end of the seventeenth century, but after 1763 the pattern and intensity of the migration changed. ... Sometimes whole neighborhoods of families and friends would leave in associations large enough to found their own wilderness communities. ... These sudden changes led to a crisis in the early 1770s that was described variously as a ‘madness,’ a ‘contagion,’ a ‘frenzy,’ and an ‘evil’ that would have ‘ruinous’ and ‘dreadful’ consequences.”

             Robert Johnston and several of his family members emigrated from Barley Hill, a farm in Slaghtybogy, to Pennsylvania in 1765. Footnote They wrote letters back home extolling the virtues of their new country and describing their new life in detail.

             William Dunlap (sr) was more likely to have been a merchant or tradesman in Maghera or a nearby community rather than a farmer like his father-in-law, Joseph Pattison. William (jr) was trained in surveying even though he desired to learn navigation for a career at sea. Footnote His parents objected to the dangers of a nautical profession and he certainly became successful as a merchant and farmer in the new world. To be schooled in surveying, William (jr) would need to be apprenticed to a local surveyor or to attend a school to learn mathematics, geometry, and trigonometry. An apprenticeship is more likely since the state of schools in Northern Ireland at that time was deplorable. Footnote

             A coincidental incident [X “event”] which might possibly have some relevance to the [Xurge of the] Dunlaps [XDunlaps’ urge] to migrate involves the change in leadership at the local Presbyterian church. The Rev. David Smylie of Finvoy came to Maghera in 1739 and served faithfully for many years until ill-health forced him to retire in 1778. He died 23 July 1780. At that time the position was filled by Mr. John Glendy, ordained on 26 Dec 1778 as Mr. Smylie’s assistant and successor. Footnote He had “warm sympathies with the [Irish] revolutionary movement of the period” and had to go into hiding when that effort failed in 1798. It seems that “he was, in fact, a well-known if not an avowed rebel.” Footnote If the Dunlap and Pattison families weren’t very sympathetic with the “revolutionary movement” and its methods, they may have been very uncomfortable in the community once Mr. Glendy was minister. With the increasing unrest of the people of Ireland, particularly in Ulster, the Dunlap family felt (probably with others) the need to emigrate to more propitious surroundings.

             All these stresses (economic, social, and political) were wreaking havoc with personal lives. Thus, the advantages which drew the Dunlaps and Pattisons to Northern Ireland originally, deteriorated until the decision to emigrate to North America must have seemed a relief. It was made easier, of course, because William and Matthew Pattison were already established in New Jersey. It was to them that the little Dunlap family went upon landing at Philadelphia.

             We can venture to guess that William Dunlap, sr, would have been about 52 years old at the time of his emigration from Ireland to America. It took a deal of bravery and courage to uproot his family from their home Footnote in Ireland to make such a lengthy and dangerous journey.

             It is apparent from the tone of the writings of William Dunlap Footnote that the family were not indentured servants or redemptioners, as many were. Thus, they were able to pay their full passage, provide victuals for the passage, and have enough resources to sustain themselves through the first year(s) of living in the new world. The cost of passage averaged between 3 and 3.5 guineas Footnote per adult passenger. Footnote Only William (Joseph’s eldest, age 2) was a child so his passage was probably somewhat less. Sarah would have been 17, William, jr, 22. Thus, there would have been 5 adults and 1 child on this trip for a total passage amount of about 20 guineas or 21 pounds.

             They sailed on the Ship Tristram. Footnote

“For Newcastle & Philadelphia

The fast sailing Ship


Burthen 300 tons

G. A. Hallowell, Master

Will be clear to sail for these Ports the 1st of April.

             The Tristram is particularly well adapted for the Passenger Trade. Those who wish to embrace this favourable Opportunity of going in a strong, new Ship, will do well to make speedy Application, as but 150 Passengers will be received. For Freight or Passages apply to Mr Rob. Cochran, Strabane; Mr. King Barton, Nn Footnote Stewart; Mr. James King, Fintona; Mr. James Hamill, Coleraine; Mr. David Blair, Nn-Lemavady; or John Atchison Smyth and Co. Who engage that Plenty of Provisions and Water shall be laid in for the Voyage.

             N.B. The above vessell will sail the 8th of May, at which Time the Passengers are requested to be on Board.” Footnote

             “Schooner York, Stephenson, Liverpool

             Capt. Stephenson, on the 5th July, spoke the Tristram, from Derry for Philadelphia, with passengers, lat. 29, 20, long. 68“ Footnote

             Latitude 29 degrees, 20 minuntes is on a parallel with St. Augustine, Florida, and longitude 68 degrees, places the ship south and east but still fairly close to Bermuda, when they were only five days out from New Castle. Ships generally followed the trade winds in crossing the Atlantic by moving clockwise around a circle going east across the north and west across the mid-Atlantic. This is exactly the pattern suggested by that single “speaking” of the Tristram by the Schooner York.

             “The Ship Tristram, Capt. Hallowell, is arrived at New Castle from Londonderry, after a passage of 45 days with 150 passengers.” Footnote

             “A very considerable number of Irish emigrants have arrived in this and other states during the present month. Report says that the spirit of emigration is so prevalent in Ireland; especially in the northern and eastern [regions] that the lower and middling classes would universally remove to this side of the Atlantic, could they find ships to bring them off.” Footnote

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