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Charitable Objectives

An 18th Century Muster Roll of the Abercorn Manors in North West Ulster

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As there is a possibility (though I hope a bare one) that the disturbances that are broke out in this kingdom may spread to Ireland, in which case I would immediately come into the North, I would willingly have you go round the manors of Magavelin and Donelong (freeholders included) and take an account of the number of firearms, distinguishing the condition they are in. If any are backward in producing them, you are to assure them the enquiry is made only with a view to their own security.(1)

The following day he wrote to his other agents in northwest Ulster, Nathaniel Nisbett and John Colhoun, ordering them to do the same for the manors of Derrygoon, Cloghogall, and Strabane (Strabane town excepted).(2)

The 'disturbances' to which Abercorn referred in his letter to McClintock were those surrounding the arrival in Scotland of Charles Edward Stuart, the Young Pretender, and his successful investiture of Edinburgh on 17 September 1745. The following month Abercorn wrote again to McClintock explaining why he was interested in the weaponry at his tenants disposal: ‘I began to make the enquiry from a desire that my tenants should be put in some posture of defence without knowing what measures the government would make’. Several of his fellow aristocrats were beginning to raise their own regiments and Abercorn had indicated that he also would be willing to do this.

However, upon learning that the government had no intention of raising any more regular troops at this stage, and acknowledging that the Donegal and Tyrone militias were in ‘exceeding good hands’, Abercorn realised that there was nothing useful that he could do in the meantime. He remained, however, ‘desirous the tenants should do all the service they can to the public’. The defeat of the Jacobites at Culloden the following year ended the Stuart threat and meant that Abercorn never did have to raise a fighting force from amongst his tenantry. The muster roll that survives is a reminder of those turbulent days as well as being an valuable genealogical source in its own right.

The Abercorn manors in northwest Ulster totalled over 60,000 acres and included most or part of the parishes of Donagheady, Leckpatrick, Camus, Urney and Ardstraw in Co. Tyrone, and Taughboyne and Raymoghy in Co. Donegal. Of the three agents McClintock was the most thorough in carrying out his instructions. Charged with the manors of Magavelin and Lismochery in Co. Donegal, and Donelong in Co. Tyrone, he not only made out returns of the tenants with firearms, but listed them by townland and also gave the type and condition of each weapon in their possession. Although the manors of Magavelin and Lismochery, and Donelong had the largest numbers of tenants with guns, it was McClintock’s opinion that ‘the tenants have very few firearms in proportion to their numbers; in some large farms not one fit for service and what they have are generally old and not much to be depended on’.(3)

Colhoun echoed McClintock’s views and commented to Abercorn that: ‘The owners for the most part have better spirits than firearms. Wm Fyffe of Derrygoon ... said he had two guns as good as was fired, that they were at your Lordship’s service for the Protestant defence with the last drop of his blood’.(4) He merely made out a list of the tenants in the Manor of Derrygoon and another for the parish of Leckpatrick (most of which was owned by Abercorn and known as the Manor of Cloghogall) noting the condition of their firearms. Nisbitt simply forwarded to Abercorn a summary of the fireams in the manor of Strabane - 46 firelocks and two case of pistols, ‘mostly in very bad order’.(5) He added that the country was ‘in a very indifferent state of defence at present, there are a great many hands and willing minds to defend their liberties, but arms my lord are much wanted’.

The value of this muster roll lies in the fact that it covers an area for which the other traditionally used eighteenth century census substitutes, such as the census of Protestant householders of 1740 and the religious census of 1766, are not available. It also pre-dates by nearly fifty years the earliest complete Abercorn estate rentals. Some 215 names are listed, and the table below shows the breakdown according to each manor.(6)

Manor Tenants with firearms
Magavelin & Lismochery 78
Donelong 68
Leckpatrick (Cloghogall) 39
Derrygoon 30
Strabane not given

The ranking of the manors in terms of the numbers of tenants with firearms shows Magavelin and Lismochery, and Donelong well ahead of Leckpatrick and Derrygoon. From this it is possible to infer that the former manors were the more populous and probably the more prosperous, though there is no comparable data from this period which would allow this theory to be tested out. It is also interesting to note that while Magavelin and Lismochery was the largest manor in terms of acreage, Donelong was in fact the smallest of the five. The possession of a case of pistols would certainly seem to mark a man out as figure of standing. For example, in the Manor of Donelong William Armstrong of Dolarton was a Presbyterian minister, while James Hamilton of Lesdiven was a freeholder, holding his farm by a perpetual lease.

The four documents listing the names are listed below together with any observations appended to them:

‘An acct of firearms in the Manor of Donelong taken ye 10th Octobr 1745’

‘Observations: Those marked with the letter M are pretty large muskets, & those marked with F are small fusies, and those with C are carabines. Those in the best order are generally but tolerable & some of them want a little repair, but those in the second column are very bad and good for little or nothing.’

‘An accot of firearms in the manors of Magavelen & Lismocherry Octobr ye 12th 1745’

‘Observations: [same as Donelong except that McClintock informs us the ‘P’ stands for pistol]

‘Firearms in the manor of Derrygoon, Oct. 9th 1745’

‘Acct of what firearms are in the p[ari]sh of Leckpatrick, Oct 4th 1745’

[Observations] ‘Not above one half are so as to depend on.’

References

  • P.R.O.N.I. Abercorn Papers D.623/A/12/22 Abercorn to McClintock, 19 Sept. 1745
  • Ibid. Abercorn to Colhoun, 20 Sept. 1745 and to Nisbitt, 20 Sept. 1745
  • Ibid. McClintock to Abercorn, 6 Oct. 1745
  • Ibid. Colhoun to Abercorn, 11 Oct 1745
  • Ibid. Nisbitt to Abercorn, 15 Oct. 1745
  • For an idea of the extent of these manors and their relationship to the surrounding parishes, see the 1804 map of the Abercorn estate (D.623/D/1/22) and compare it with parish boundary maps for counties Donegal and Tyrone.
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