David Dinsmore, Ulster-Scots Loyalist in South Carolina and Nova Scotia Exile: Every Life Worth a Novel (2)

Belfast Newsletter 2 Feb 1768 Earl Arrival
Belfast Newsletter, 2 February 1768
  1. The David Dinsmore Family: Ulster Origins

If the one document we have providing a precise age for David Dinsmore is accurate, he would have been born in or close to 1750.  The document in question is the list of passengers aboard the ship the Earl of Donegal when it arrived in Charleston from Belfast on 10 December 1767.[1]  On 22 December, the South Carolina Council Journal recorded a tally of the ship’s passengers, noting their ages.  This document lists Dinsmore’s age as 17 in December 1767, his wife Margaret’s as 20.[2]

The listing for the couple in the South Carolina Council Journal spells their surname as Dunsmar, though Janie Revill transcribes the record as Dunaman.[3]  Dinsmore has long been the preferred spelling in Scotland and Ulster, and in this particular family, was the dominant spelling from the point of the family’s immigration to South Carolina—though variants including Dunsmore, Densmore, or Dinsmoor also appear in some records.  Even when spelled Dunsmore, the name was pronounced by Ulster Scots in a way that would have sounded much like Dinsmore/Densmore to American ears.

Dinsmore, David, South Carolina Council Journal, 1767, p312
South Carolina Council Journal 8 (1767), p. 311.
Dinsmore, David, 1767 SC Council Journal, p. 318
South Carolina Council Journal 8 (1767), p. 318.

No records have yet been found that pinpoint precisely David and Margaret’s place of origin in Northern Ireland, but as Richard K. MacMaster notes, a number of extant records suggest that they and the other immigrants arriving in Charleston aboard the Earl of Donegal in December 1767 came predominantly from the vicinity of Ballymoney and Ballymena (as well as Belfast) in Co. Antrim.[4] On 14 August and again on 4 September, the Belfast Newsletter carried an announcement of the sailing of the Earl of Donegal to Charlestown on 20 September (the ship actually set sail on 7 October).[5]

Belfast Newsletter, 14 Aug 1767
Belfast Newsletter, 14 August 1767

Both announcements of the impending sailing tell those interested in emigrating to apply to Campbell and Donaldson, John Gregg, or John Ewing for information.[6]  According to MacMaster, Gregg was a member of a Charleston firm—John Torrans, John Greg(g), and John Poaug—encouraging the migration of Ulster Scots to South Carolina under the 1761 bounty act.  MacMaster indicates that the firm had a network of business associates in Belfast and Londonderry, whom they used to recruit South Carolina immigrants.[7]  All of the ships bringing immigrants from Ulster in the years of the bounty act from 1763 to 1768 were under the consignment of this Charleston firm.

As MacMaster also notes, the majority of Scotch Irish coming to South Carolina under the 1761 bounty act sailed from Belfast due to the link between the Charleston firm and another with Belfast roots—(Thomas) Greg and (Waddell) Cunningham.[8]  Both firms, in collaboration with the owners of the ships bringing immigrants to South Carolina, sent agents to places, usually near Belfast, where they expected to find prospective settlers interested in taking advantage of the South Carolina bounty act.  Since the recruitment for each ship coming to Charleston was largely limited to discrete areas, a high proportion of settlers aboard a particular ship usually came from the locale(s) for which the recruitment was done as a ship prepared to voyage.  Ballymena, it should be noted, is some 30 miles northwest of Belfast, and Ballymoney about 17 miles north of Ballymena.[9]

After the 1761 bounty act ceased on 1 January 1768, the Belfast Newsletter published a noteworthy announcement on 28 June 1768 of another intended sailing of the Earl of Donegal for Charleston (“Charlestown” in the original) in August 1768.  As with the 1767 announcements, this one instructs those interested in emigrating to contact Campbell, Ewing, or Gregg, noting also that the bounty act has ceased.[10]  And then it appends the following notice to the announcement: it states that Ewing would be at Ballymoney on 14 July and Ballymena on the 16th, to explain the terms for emigration currently offered by South Carolina, since the 1761 act was no longer in effect.  This announcement strongly suggests that the specific locus of the 1767 and 1768 recruitment for the Earl of Donegal’s passengers was Ballymoney and Ballymena.

As these Belfast newspaper announcements clearly indicate, the primary enticement for settlers coming from Northern Ireland to South Carolina in the period from 1761 to 1768 was the bounty act that the state had enacted in July 1761.  Under the terms of this act, South Carolina offered to pay the passage of Protestant immigrants (£4 for each immigrant over 12 years paid to the masters of a ship, or, if the immigrant was able to pay for his/her passage, paid directly to the immigrant; £2 for those under 12).  The 1761 act also provided 100 acres for the head of each family, and 50 acres for every other member of the family, with 20 shillings allotted to each person over 20 years of age to buy tools.  It also exempted the settlers from taxes for 10 years.[11]

In offering these incentives, the state’s primary concern was to people the upcountry and thereby provide a buffer between the lowcountry populace and the native peoples to the west following the 1760 Cherokee War that had resulted in such highly publicized depredations on colonists as the Long Cane massacre on 1 February 1760.  To raise funds for the bounty offerings, South Carolina levied a duty on the importation of African slaves.[12]

In his classic work Ulster Emigration to Colonial America, 1718-1775, R. J. Dickson notes that emigration from Ulster to South Carolina in the decade 1760-1770 peaked in 1766 and 1767 as rents were rising for small landholders, and when widespread hunger ensued in the winter of 1765-1766 following the failure of grain crops in Northern Ireland in the fall of 1765.[13]  And so the announcements appearing in newspapers in this period, such as ones the Belfast Newsletter ran on 2 January, 3 and 24 February, and 13 March 1767 as the Nancy and the Britannia prepared to sail to Charleston, would have definitely interested many prospective settlers.  These note that South Carolina was offering immigrants free passage money, fertile land, freedom from taxes, etc.—though, by 4 September, the Belfast Newsletter was notifying those considering South Carolina for immigration that Gregg and Cunningham had had notice from Charleston that the bounty act would end on 1 January the following year.[14]

The Earl of Donegal settlers are not the only group arriving in South Carolina in this period thought to have had roots in the vicinity of Ballymoney in Co. Antrim.  Jean Stephenson’s 1971 book studying the several shiploads of immigrants who came to South Carolina in 1772 with their Presbyterian pastor, Rev. William Martin, notes the Ballymoney roots of the settlers Martin brought to South Carolina.[15]  Stephenson notes that Martin encouraged the emigration of his congregation after the Earl of Donegal canceled leases on his estates in Co. Antrim in 1770, resulting in widespread eviction and disturbances as he sought to raise rents.[16]

As she also suggests, there was considerable resentment among many Ulster Presbyterians in this period that they had to pay taxes to the established church, and this resentment also encouraged emigration.  According to Stephenson, the agents sent out to villages in Antrim by firms and ship owners promoting emigration in the 1760s and 1770s capitalized on the anger many smallholders in the county felt as rents rose, and also due to the tithes levied on them by the Church of Ireland.[17]

Though the 1761 bounty act had expired by the time the Martin settlers arrived in South Carolina, they were still extended bounty land on their arrival,[18] and one of the settlers arriving with the Martin congregation, James Sloan, who came aboard the Lord Dunluce, which arrived in Charleston on 20 December 1772, settled on land adjoining David Dinsmore’s tract on Jamey’s Creek of the Tyger River in what became Spartanburg County.[19]  Others arriving with Martin settled, as did Martin himself, in Chester County in the vicinity of some of the immigrants who had arrived in December 1767 aboard the Earl of Donegal.

These details have led some researchers of the Earl of Donegal immigrants to wonder about a Rev. William Knox who appears in the South Carolina Council Journal’s list of that ship’s immigrants in December 1767.  It has been conjectured that, like Rev. Martin several years later, Rev. Knox perhaps brought an entire congregation of Presbyterian settlers to South Carolina aboard the Earl of Donegal.  If that is the case, I have not yet seen documentation to prove this supposition.

One final point about David Dinsmore’s probable vicinity of origin in Ireland: a classic source recounting the history of one of the Dinsmore families who immigrated to America in the 1700s—in this case, a Dinsmore (or Dinsmoor: the family used both spellings) family of Londonderry and Windham, New Hampshire—places the roots of that family in Ballywattick townland of the parish of Ballymoney, Co. Antrim.  According to Leonard Allison Morrison’s Among the Scotch-Irish, all the Dinsmores of Northern Ireland stem from a John Dinsmore who left Scotland in 1667 at the age of 17 when his father, a Laird Dinsmore, forced this younger son to act as a servant to his older brother.[20]

Morrison cites as one source of this story a 12 August 1794 letter of a Robert Dinsmore of Ballywattick, Ireland, to John Dinsmoor of Windham, New Hampshire.  Robert was born in Ballywattick in 1720, and in his letter, he identifies himself as a grandson of the John Dinsmore who came from Scotland to Ireland in 1667:

My grandfather was born on the mean land of Scotland, near the River Tweed—the son of a wealthy farmer, as I supposed from his style, being called the Laird of Achenmead, as he had tenants under him.  He had two sons, of which my grandfather was the second, whose name was John. He left his father’s house in the seventeenth year of his age.  I suppose he must have eloped, as he brought no property with him, as I have often heard, save a gray bonnet of great extent, with striped woolen hose, and a small cane in his hand.  This is your original in Ireland, and mine; and all by the name of Dinsmore, here or elsewhere, belong to that stock.[21]

A son who leaves his Scottish home at the age of 17 to begin a new life in a new land, bringing with him only a bonnet, some woolen hose, and a small cane, and who settles in the valley of the Bann River in the parish of Ballymoney in Co. Antrim, Ireland.  And about a century later a descendant of that son who leaves his homeland, in all likelihood in the same area of Ireland in which his progenitor had settled in 1667, with similar dreams of starting a new life in an unknown place: the confluence of themes here is fascinating.   And it’s made all the more fascinating by the fact that, when David Dinsmore came to South Carolina, he appears to have been of the same age that his ancestor John Dinsmore was when he came from Scotland to Ireland.

Themes of definitive familial breaches, separation and exile, fathers losing contact with sons and sons with fathers: it’s almost as if, encoded in the DNA of some families, these histories are fated to pass down father to son, generation after generation . . . .

This is the second posting in a seven-part series about this topic. The previous posting in this series is here, and the next posting in the series is here. That posting will end with a link taking you to the next in the series, if you’re interested in following this series to the end.

[1] On 14 December, the South Carolina Gazette (33,1681) carried a notice of the arrival of the Earl of Donegal in Charleston on the 10th.

[2] South Carolina Council Journal 8 (1767), pp. 311-325; the listing for David and Margaret Dunsmar is on p. 318.

[3] Janie Revill, A Compilation of Original Lists of Protestant Immigrants to South Carolina, 1763-1775 (Baltimore: Genealogical Publ. Co., 1968), p. 91.

[4] Richard K. MacMaster, “Ulster Roots: They Came through Charleston,” Family Tree (Aug.-Sept., 2002), online at the Electric Scotland website at www.electricscotland.com/familytree/magazine/augsep2002/ulster_roots.htm; accessed March 2018.  See also MacMaster, “From Ulster to the Carolinas: John Torrans, John Greg, and John Poaug, and Bounty Emigration 1761-1768” in David Gleeson, ed., The Irish in the Atlantic World (Columbia: Univ. of South Carolina Press, 2010), pp. 251-274.

[5] Belfast Newsletter, 14 August 1767 (#3129), p. 1, col. 1; ibid., 4 September 1767 (#3135), p. 3, col. 2.

[6] MacMaster, “From Ulster to the Carolinas,” notes that John Campbell and Hugh Donaldson were Belfast merchants (p. 265).  On John Gregg, see also MacMaster, Scotch-Irish Merchants in Colonial America, pp. 42-3.  MacMaster notes that Thomas Greg of the firm of Greg and Cunningham in Charleston was a brother of John.  On the Greg-Cunningham firm, see pp. 82-3.

[7] Ibid., p. 252f.; and “Ulster Roots.”  As MacMaster indicates in Scotch-Irish Merchants in Colonial America, Torrans, Poag, and Greg lobbied for the bounty act, petitioned for land grants for immigrants, and worked with business associates in Ulster to arrange shipping of settlers to Charleston (p. 138).  See also pp. 141f.

[8] See also R. J. Dickson, Ulster Emigration to Colonial America, 1718-1775 (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966), p. 115, n. 1.

[9] Ibid., p. 107, has a map showing the location of agents for emigrant shipping from various Northern Irish ports.  This shows Ballymoney and Ballymena having agents gathering emigrants to leave from Belfast.  Dickson provides a thorough account of how the system worked in this period to recruit and channel emigrants through the various ports of Northern Ireland: see pp. 98-124.

[10] Belfast Newsletter, 28 June 1768 (#3220), p. 1, col. 2.

[11] Dickson, Ulster Emigration, p. 56; and Jean Stephenson, Scotch-Irish Migration to South Carolina, 1772 (Washington, D.C., 1971), pp. 7, 40.  MacMaster, “From Ulster to the Carolinas,” notes that a number of 18th-century commentators including Alexander Hewatt and Charles Woodmason reported the influence of the bounty act in bringing a flood of Ulster Scots to South Carolina: p. 251.

[12] Dickson, Ulster Emigration, p. 56.  Dickson notes (p. 57) that the white population of South Carolina doubled between 1763 and 1775, largely due to the influx of Scotch-Irish and German settlers.

[13] Ibid., p. 55.

[14] Belfast Newsletter, 2 January 1767 (#3065), p. 3, col. 1; ibid., 2 February 1767 (#3074), p. 3, col. 4; ibid., 24 February 1767 (#3080), p. 4, col. 2; ibid., 13 March 1767 (#3085), p. 2, col. 3; and ibid., 4 September 1767 (#3135), p. 4, col. 1.

[15] See Scotch-Irish Migration to South Carolina, p. 2.

[16] Ibid., p. 5, citing Dickson, Ulster Emigration, pp. 74-5.  See also Billy Kennedy, The Scots-Irish in the Carolinas (1997), pp. 58-60.

[17] Scotch-Irish Migration to South Carolina, p. 19.

[18] Ibid., p. 8.

[19] Ibid., p. 56.

[20] Leonard Allison Morrison, Among the Scotch-Irish (Boston: Damrell & Upham, 1891), pp. 4-17.  The term “Scotch-Irish” to designate the Ulster Scots is now a sticking point with many people of Ulster Scots and Scottish descent, who bridle at use or the word “Scotch.”  But this is an historically accurate designation.  As Richard K. MacMaster notes, in his 1757 Account of the European Settlements in North America, Edmund Burke states that the term was in general use in the colonies to refer to Ulster immigrants of Scottish descent: see Scotch-Irish Merchants in Colonial America (Belfast: Ulster Historical Foundation, 2009), p. 178.  The term was in use in the British Isles as early as 1573, when it appears in a letter of Queen Elizabeth: see James G. Leyburn, The Scotch-Irish: A Social History (Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1962), p. 329, citing Calendar of Patent and Close Rolls of Chancery.

[21] Transcribed in Morrison, Among the Scotch-Irish, pp. 10-11.  See also by J. Dinsmore, A Golden Wedding and the Dinsmore Genealogy, from about 1620 to 1865 (Augusta: Maine Farmer Office, 1867).  To the extent that these stories have truth in them (and they appear to have passed down among almost every American branch of the family), they may account for some misinformation that one descendant of David Dinsmore, his great-grandson William Lewis Dinsmore (1851-1939), provided in notes for his biography in 1921.  The biography is in Dictionary of Alabama Biography, ed. Thomas B. Owen (Chicago: S. J. Clarke, 1921), vol. 3, p. 498.  In handwritten notes that William L. Dinsmore compiled for the autobiography and which are now held in a Dinsmore surname file at the Alabama archives, he states that his great-grandfather came to the U.S. from Scotland.  Since William’s mother Eleanor Kyle Dinsmore also had Scottish ancestry, it’s somewhat unclear whether this statement refers to William’s Dinsmore or Kyle great-grandfather.  But since the biography focuses primarily on his Dinsmore ancestry, this statement appears to refer to David Dinsmore, from whom William L. descends through his father David Lewis Dinsmore (1803-1888) and his grandfather John Dinsmore (1774-1858).  And given the Scottish roots of this family before John Dinsmore came to Ireland, it’s easy to see how a tradition of Scottish origins for David Dinsmore might have passed down among some of his descendants.

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