Remembering the ‘Moses of the Scots-Irish’

An actor dressed as Rev James McGregor on Londonderry's city walls, at the 2015 Ulster Scots Festival. Picture by Kenneth Allen. CC.
An actor dressed as Rev James McGregor on Londonderry's city walls, at the 2015 Ulster Scots Festival. Picture by Kenneth Allen. CC.

Funding to commemorate the man dubbed the “Moses of the Scots Irish”, who led his entire congregation to America in search of religious freedom, could be made available from the Causeway Coast and Glens Council.

Rev James McGregor, a seminal 18th century presbyterian pioneer who led his flock to the new world back in 1718 and kick-started a wave of Ulster-Scots emigration to what would later become the USA, is credited with founding the town of Londonderry in New Hampshire.

DUP councillor Aaron Callan, alongside party colleagues James McCorkell and George Duddy, have submitted a motion to the Causeway Coast and Glens Council asking for funding to be set aside to remember the great pioneer and the wider story of emigration from Ulster to America.

A veteran of the siege of the city, Rev McGregor led his congregation of hundreds from the small village of Aghadowey near Coleraine in Co Londonderry to carve out a new life across the Atlantic.

The pioneering Ulster-Scots travellers endured a difficult start to their new American life when they arrived in Boston but soon turned things around after having moved to an unoccupied plot of land in New Hampshire, where they founded a new town – Londonderry.

Their success spawned a wave of emigration from here to the new world.

The descendants of those emigrants have gone on, arguably, to shape the world.

It is estimated that, from the period from 1710 to 1775, over 200,000 people emigrated from Ulster to the original thirteen American colonies.

A total of at least 17 Presidents can trace their ancestry back to Ulster – from Andrew Jackson in 1829, to figures like Bill Clinton in more recent times.

Councillor Callan said: “Rev James McGregor is seen as being like the Moses of the Scots-Irish going out to America. He was also the – now let me make sure I get this right – he was the great, great, great, great grandfather of John Kerry, the former Secretary of State.

“It wasn’t the beginning of people going out to America but it’s seen as an epochal moment in the emigration story.”

Mr Callan continued: “Rev McGregor, because he took the whole congregation of around 900 out together, he is revered in American history as one of the leading pioneers of emigration.

He continued: “At that time the penal laws meant Presbyterians weren’t allowed to hold office or conduct funerals or marriages. That’s one of the major reasons he decided to take his whole family, his whole congregation.

“It was the way they made a success of it that encouraged so many others to do the same thing.”

Mr Callan added: “The impact of Ulster-Scots or Scots-Irish emigration to America has been huge. If you look at the number of presidents who have a connection – that tells its own story.

“That’s without talking about people like Neil Armstrong and the contribution made to not just American history but world history.”