Sunday, May 29, 2011

Were William Miller's Ancestors Covenanters?

Strabane, near Lifford, County Donegal, Ireland

In the last post, we raised the question of whether William Miller descended from members of the group known as Covenanters, and specifically the group that lived in Northern Ireland (see post entitiled "Where In Ireland - Part Two"). We can theorize, but are there any records tying the Miller's to this very persecuted group?

To set the stage, it must be remembered that William, his parents and grandparents owned properties in the Elkton, Cecil County region of Maryland and in adjoining Newscastle County, [eventually] Delaware. This area was then known as the province or territory of Pennsylvania. William's father was Abraham, and Abraham's father was David Miller. David was married to the daughter of Ninian Dunlap. A 1711 Cecil Co. land record notes that Ninian granted land to his "beloved son-in-law," David Miller, land along Christiana Creek. This is just one of several land records that verify this relationship (see previous post entitled "Miller Genealogy by Chalmers Williams - Part I" dated May 5, 2010).

Meanwhile, during the previous decades, across the sea is far-away Scotland, persecution of the Covenanters grew. A famous minister, Robert Traill, was so severely persecuted that he finally fled to Holland ( His son, Reverend William Traill, carried on his father's work, and also suffered religious oppression. One of the congregations William served was in Ballindrait near Lifford, on the eastern border of County Donegal, Ireland, near the Northern Ireland town of Strabane, County Tyrone . Of his time in Lifford we read: "The very public case of Rev William Trail at Lifford in 1681-82 raised the intensity even more. Trail, a member of a prominent Scottish family, was then serving as minister in Ballendrait, near Lifford. He and several other ministers were accused of fomenting opposition to the Oath of Supremacy and illegally calling for a fast in 1681. They were tried and imprisoned in Lifford for eight months for refusing to pay the excessive fine levied against them. They were released in Spring of 1682, but their case had been closely followed by the Ulster Scot community and no doubt seen as another object lesson.(

The 1680's were an especially difficult time for the Ulster Scots Covenanters (, so it is no surprise that the religious tolerance offered in America was appealing to this people. Maryland was particularly attractive in that it had passed the act of Religious Toleration in 1649 which provided that "no (Christian) person should be persecuted on account of religion, and the Eastern Shore [of Maryland] was particularly open to alternative religious persuasions."

So is there a connection between our Millers and Reverend William Traill?

A document in the Archives of the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) has provided us with an astounding link between our Millers and Reverend Traill. The document cut and pasted below is exactly as it appears in the PRONI records, except that I have bolded parts pertinent to our search. The question marks in brackets indicate suggested readings of unclear words or spelling corrections by the PRONI researchers. Scholars concur and related documents confirm that the minister referred to is certainly William Traill (">

Address by the Presbyterians of Newcastle, Pennsylvania 1706
Source: T 3762/1:PRONI
Archive: The Public Record Office, N. Ireland.
Date 11/02/1706

Right Reverend and honorable

We undersubscribers and the greatest number of us born and educated in Ireland under the ministry of one [William?] [Traill?] a presbiterian [Presbyterian?] minister formerly of Lifford, Co.Donegal] are by divine providence settled with our families at Newcastle and about it in the province of Pensilvania [Pennsylvania?] and we have for present one [Mr?] John [Wilson?] a Scots man who preacheth amongst us to whom [affordeth?] a few of different nations as we do but they are neither capable to maintain a [church?] nor build a [meeting?] house and so we are in fear dayly [daily?] to be cast [outside?] and to our great grief we and our posterity left as a prey to superstition and heresies Therefore though it may be unusual yet out of pure necessity and consideration of our soul circumstances we do most humbly address our [selves?] to you as unto our mother church and to [give us?] your advice in this our uncertain condition and if ther [there?] can be any supply granted for our small congregation which is the custom of other persuasions to doe for them of their way.

Your Supplicants shall ever pray
Feb 11th 1706/5

[William?] [-------?]
Abraham Emott
John Stall
Adam Wallis
James Wallace
John [Colard?]
Matthew Wallace
Thomas Wallace
David Miller
Joseph Hood
John Garner
Sam Wallace
Robert Wallis
Cornilius Cooke
Andrew Miller
David Wallis
William Wallace
Thomas Southerland
Morgan Pallan
John Emott

In addition, other sources also list Ninian Dunlap , David Miller's father-in-law) as one of the signers, including:">

The PRONI document above clearly indicates that our Milllers (and perhaps Dunlaps) were from the north of Ireland, and were associated with the Covenanters. Were they part of the Ballindrait/Lifford congregations? Or does it just mean Reverend Traill was connected with those groups? The wording of the document is ambiguous, but could be construed to have the former meaning. Futher research into the records of Counties Donegal and Tyrone is certainly indicated!

(1) It will be convenient if our Miller's were from Donegal, as while it is geographically part of Ulster (Northern Ireland), politically it is part of The Republic of Ireland, and perhaps it's records are more accessible than those of the Northern Ireland counties. Sadly, those records must, by and large, be researched in person at the PRONI. We are very blessed to have the above-mentioned record, as it is one of the rare PRONI documents that is available online.

Bringing over beloved geographical names from the homeland was a very common practice among early settlers in America. It is interesting to note that William Miller's wife, Rebecca Bradford, had a Bradford uncle (James) who lived out most of his life in Strabane, Pennsylvania (see above), very near to where William and Rebecca has moved to in Fayette County. Strabane is in Northern Ireland

1 comment:

  1. Here is a link to a scholarly article by one who does believe that the signers of the petition did include Ninian Dunlap, and that he, the Miller's and the others were part of the Lifford, Ireland congregation:

    [sorry it's not a hot will have to cut and paste it into your address box]


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