The unknown emigrants on the Friends’ Goodwill and the journey to a new land in 1717

ulster-american-memorialThe Memorial to Ulster-American Emigrants, Larne

IN May in 1717 a small ship made her way out of Larne Harbour and along the Antrim coast past Islandmagee, heading south and then charting a route across the Atlantic to Boston in Massachusetts.

She was, as far as we can define, the first specific emigrant ship from Ulster in the 18th century, her 52 passengers hoping for a new and better life across the Atlantic. Her name was the Friends’ Goodwill.

To some extent she is a mystery ship, records have not survived of the passenger list and there is some confusion about the name of the captain, which was either Gooding or Goodwin. We do know, however, that her voyage was a long one, lasting until September 1717 when she limped into Boston Harbour.

The vessel encountered a storm which left the passengers weak and ill, while food ran low owing to the length of delays caused by bad weather. Provisions had been obtained from another vessel the Friends’ Goodwill had encountered en route, but food was nevertheless being rationed and running low as was fresh water. It was reported that the crew caught sharks and dolphins for food and collected rain water on the deck.

The historical account of the voyage tells us that by September things were so bad that lots were drawn as to who would be eaten when the worst extremity came. Thankfully, this dire situation did not arise and during the second week of September, over three and a half months after leaving Larne, the Friends’ Goodwill crept into Boston Harbour.

boston-harbourBoston Harbour

Many years ago, flying across the Atlantic on behalf of the twinning committee in Larne which would eventually link up with a Scotch-Irish heartland in South Carolina, I marvelled at the vastness of the Atlantic from the plane window, and imagined the ordeal of crossing that vast water in a small boat, no sign of land on the horizon. I also visited Boston, and could see in my mind’s eye the Ulster passengers arrive at their destination, undoubtedly relieved and grateful to have survived. This would have been emphasised by the death of a passenger and crew member as they sailed, their bodies consigned to the ocean.

Boston proved less welcoming to the Ulster-Scots, or Scotch-Irish emigrants than they had hoped. The Puritans in Boston (portrayed in pageanty in Larne in 1993, left) lived up to their name when it came to receiving othamerican-week-puritanser non-conformists into the city, not least because the coarse Ulster families continued to arrive in numbers. The following year a more organised emigration, that led by Rev. James McGregor, brought 900 people from Londonderry, Macosquin and Coleraine. They would settle at New Londonderry in New Hampshire, their story and their names well documented.

The Friends’ Goodwill story offers no such documentation. In September 1717 the City Commissioners in Boston were apparently informed that ‘49 miserable persons arrived from ye North of Ireland on a single vessel’. If this report is to be believed, they were advised that they were not particularly welcome and should leave Boston. We do not know if this was a reference to the Friends’ Goodwill, but it does highlight the general view of emigrants from Ulster in the city at that time.

We do know of several people who arrive in Boston in September from the north of Ireland, but cannot say whether they sailed on the Friends’ Goodwill or not.

They included James McFarlane from County Antrim, who settled in Lancaster County in Pennsylvania originally and was one of the founders of Derry Presbyterian Church there.

Another arrival in Boston that September was Carrickfergus man John Patterson, who was in Chester County in Pennsylvania by the following January. A James Patterson, probably a brother or a son, also appears at the same time.

Another Carrickfergus man appears that September of 1717 in the city and his name is Thomas Brenan. Among other possible Friends’ Goodwill passengers are James McFadden, who follows a similar trail into Chester County and then Cumberland County in Pennsylvania, Robert Blackwood, John Brown, William Dawson, Thomas Crawford, David Hood, William McKenny, and John Toulon.

Bolton’s Immigrants to New England 1700-1795 also lists early settlers, many of them arriving the following year with the larger emigration group.

But in 1717 a Margaret Allen arrived in Boston from Ireland and the Court of the Sessions of the Peace 1715-18 in the city details that an innkeeper named John Langdon of Boston paid £18 for four years’ service, suggesting that Margaret was ‘indentured’ – having paid for her passage by allowing the ship’s captain to indenture her for the period, not an unusual means of getting across the Atlantic for those without capital.

One certain passenger on the Friends’ Goodwill was Widow Gibson, who arrived from the north of Ireland the following year with two children. Another passenger on the ship was named James Hannah. This entry in the Sessions of the Peace for Suffolk County at least proves that the ship was making regular voyages from Ireland, probably conveying goods as well as passengers.

Unless a ship’s list appears from some archive, we will never know for sure who was on the small vessel that crept across the Atlantic. We know that she was not the first vessel to convey passengers into the region, any more than the McGregor ships were, but what the Friends’ Goodwill and the 1718 voyage can claim is that they were the first organised emigration efforts in the 18th century.

As the century wore on, there was to be a massive influx of emigrants from Ulster, almost all of them Presbyterians. Most sailed further south and certainly did not attempt to settle in the Puritan heartland of Boston.  There is an account of a Presbyterian church which was being built being pulled down overnight, and an individual account of a man who had arrived on the ship “Elizabeth” in November 1719 being warned out of the city. The Puritans had little time for their fellow non-conformists from the north of Ireland.

american-week-streetLarne was packed during the American pageant parade to mark 275 years since the departure of the Friends’ Goodwill and her emigrants in 1993

In 1993 I was among the committee which commemorated the 275th anniversary of the Friends’ Goodwill in Larne and which was chaired by my good friend Liam Kelly, one of the leading lights in local history. A week of American-themed events was held, including an impressive pageant parade organised through the town, the presence of American Professor Bobby Gilmer Moss of Limestone College, South Carolina, talks, social events and re-enactment of the Battle of Kings Mountain during the American Revolution in 1780.

dscn1285A group visit the American Memorial in Larne’s Curran Park

One of the legacies of those events of almost 25 years ago is the Ulster American Memorial in the town’s Curran Park, one of the few American monuments in Northern Ireland. It depicts a family group about to leave for the new lands in America; the father has his arm around his wife and son, the wife is carrying the family Bible as a symbol of the faith which they took with them and the son is carrying his good shoes.

Being part of the planning and design of this fantastic memorial was a memorable experience, as was, to a lesser extent, the development of an Ulster American Heritage Trail around the area. The development of a twinning relationship with the wonderful city of Clover in South Carolina (of which I am proud to be an Honorary Citizen) was a modern legacy of the pioneering spirit of the emigrants.

For me all of it is a memorial not only to those prominent Ulster-Scots, or Scotch-Irish as they are called in the United States.

It is a memorial to the unknown emigrants, like those on the Friends’ Goodwill 300 years ago. They believed in the American dream because they largely conceived it. Let’s hope the land they found was everything they had hoped it would be.