Sunday, June 1, 2014

A Clue As To Why Our Miller's Left Ireland

The countryside near Lifford, Ireland
In the previous post we read about the Miller's pastor in the tiny village of Ballindrait which is near the larger town of Lifford, County Donegal, Ireland. The following excerpt from In The Days of Laggan (ordering information at end of post) give us a fascinating slice of history, as well as clue as to why they left their home and came to America:

"In 1654 "The Presbytery" divided into three sub-Presbyteries, or "meetings," as they were called, viz., Antrim, Down and Laggan, and three years afterwards these were further subdivided, two additional ones being formed, viz.. Route and Tyrone.

"We know nothing of the proceedings of the Laggan Presbytery during the first eighteen years of its existence, though it is evident that a record of its meetings during these years was kept, for the old Minutes, which are still happily to the fore, and which date from the 21st of August, 1672, begin with the words, A continuation of the Register Book of the Presbyterie of the Lagan'.

"What became of the Minute Book of which the existing one is a continuation we cannot tell; it was probably lost during the times of trouble and persecution that the Church passed through in after years, or perhaps it met with the fate which the old volume that still exists once narrowly escaped: In the year 1681, the High Sheriff of Donegal was eagerly seeking for it, in the hope that it might contain some entries that would incriminate certain members of the Presbytery who were at this time on their trial for keeping a public fast, and for which offence they were imprisoned for eight months in Lifford gaol [jail]. The Sheriff's quest was disappointed by the energy  and prudence of Mr. Trail, minister of Ballindrait, in whose hands this book then was, and who being at a meeting of the Presbytery in St. Johnston, and hearing there that the authorities were searching for it, mounted his horse in all haste, and riding home, had it conveyed to a place of safety. Had the lost volume escaped the ravages of time, it would no doubt have told us of some interesting events that must now be for ever untold, and of some good men whose names and memories are now unknown. It is evident that there was not any lengthened interruption of the meetings of the Presbytery between the time covered by the lost volume and the opening of the existing one, such as was afterwards between the years 1681-90, as we find in the Minutes of the meeting held at St. Johnston, on the ___? of August, 1672 — the first of which we have any official record — references to several appointments made at the previous meeting: amongst others, “Master John Heart reports that by reason of the straits of the poor of his own congregation, he could not bring in the collection formerly appointed by the meeting." From this date onward, for almost ten years, the meetings of the Presbytery were held without interruption and with the utmost regularity, up till persecution in 1681 put a stop to them for almost the next ten years, during which time even meetings for public worship were suppressed and most of the ministers compelled to fly from the country." 

I am quite certain that had the Minute Book survived, we would have found the names of our Miller ancestors in it, as well as that of Ninian Dunlap, David Miller's father-in-law. Remember, David Miller was the grandfather of our William Miller and father of Abraham Miller (use search box to the right to find other posts about David Miller and Ninian Dunlap).

So, escaping religious persecution could have been a leading cause for so much migration to America from this area and during this time period. In fact, this is precisely why the Rev. Traill left Ireland:

" It is probable that upon his release from prison [in Lifford near Ballindrait] in 1682 Traill went directly to Maryland where he knew he would be among friends. The records of Somerset County, Maryland, show that he acquired 133 acres on the Pocomoke River near Rehoboth on May 8, 1686, and it is probable that he was the founder of the Presbyterian Church at Rehoboth. He was evidently held in marked esteem as he received bequests from John White in 1685 and from John Shipway in 1687. In November, 1689, he was one of the signers of a petition to William and Mary asking "protection in securing our religion, lives and liberty under Protestant Governors." Somerset County records show that in February, 1690, he gave a friend a power of attorney to convey land, which was doubtless done as an incident of his return to Scotland, where on September 17, 1690, he became pastor of the church of Borthwick, near Edinburgh." (source: 

Other historical records bear out that Somerset County was a popular location for the Rev. Traill's congregation to settle: "Maryland authorities encouraged settlers with both a liberal land policy and religious tolerance, attracting... others to settle in Somerset County in the early 1660s... Whether they came together on a single ship or separately over a period of years, Presbyterian families from Lifford in Co. Donegal settled in Somerset County before 1680. In a later petition, twenty of them wrote as '... the greatest number of us born and educated in Ireland under the ministry of Mr. William Traill (sic) presbiterian minister formerly at Lifford'." (Source:

In previous posts we learned that this is where our Miller's immigrated, and that David Miller and Ninian Dunlap were part of the above-mentioned twenty petitioners.  From the excellent research done by fellow family historian Chalmers Williams, we know that the earliest date we have thus far of David Miller living in Somerset County, Maryland is 1688, and that Ninian Dunlap was also living in Somerset County, Maryland, at least by 1689. 

It seems very obvious that the Miller's and their in-laws followed their spiritual leader to America. They were probably very sad when, in 1690, Rev. Trail returned to his native Scotland, no doubt prompting the petition of 1706 mentioned above wherein these settlers, including David Miller, sent out a plea for a new pastor (see:

Click here for one place to order "In the Days of Laggan":

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