WWilliam Graham's War Between the States

Emerald Isle Roots

One hundred years after the death of his sister Libbie, William Graham's Irish roots again became a part of family knowledge. Thanks to the technology of the internet, the shrouded past has been revealed.

William Graham was born in County Down in Ulster, Northern Ireland. County Down is bound on the east by the Irish Sea and the City of Belfast lies on its northern border. (Click on the map to the right to bring up a more detailed image)

His early years were spent on a farm in the Townland of Carnew in Garvaghy Parish, about halfway between the towns of Dromara and Banbridge and north of the Mourne Mountains that overlook the seashore.


Key events in William Graham's family life in Ireland were documented in the First Dromara Presbyterian Church located on the corner of the Banbridge and Church Roads less than 2 miles fron Dromara. (See the map below for a better sense of the geographic relationships within the ancestral neighborhood.) The church was about 4.5 miles from the farmlands in Carnew Townland that James Graham leased from Andrew Cowan. At that distance, a walking horse should get them to church in an hour, half that at a trot.

Minister'sManseBetween the farm and church lay the townland of Enagh. Here lived Jane Shaw, daughter of John. James Graham was 16 years older than Jane. They probably met in church or as nearby neighbors, Enagh being less than 2 miles from the Carnew farm. Their relationship became serious about the time James, a longtime bachelor, was 47 and Jane age 31.

At the beginning of 1833, the marriage of James Graham, son of the widow Graham, with Jane Shaw was documented in the church records. The wedding took place in John Shaw's home in Enagh, officiated by the Dromara Presbyterian minister William Craig and witnessed by Jane's father and Henry Sprat of Aughanaskeagh. The date was January 17, 1833. The bride may have been with child, the marriage thus not occuring in the minister's manse as was the tradition.

The church records indicate the married couple had three children - the first being William. Church documents list a second child John Graham born 17th January 1836.  Baptised 16th March 1836. The third child Betty Jane was born 1st May 1838. Baptised 25th May 1838.

Regarding William, church records are puzzling (the following includes current church minister's comments in brackets). The records say: "First Child [Exact wording]  Born September 1833 [No day is recorded which adds to your theory]. Child baptised 12th October 1833 NO CHRISTIAN NAME RECORDED [This is most unusual.]" Given that William Graham in a post Civil War document said his birthday was August 18 (and the reality that although people often change their year of birth, they rarely change the day), William Graham's actual birthday was probably August 18, 1833 - seven months after his parent's marriage.



Down countryside near Carnew

The most common crops farmed in this area of Ireland were flax and potatoes. The former grown in alternate years. Linen was produced from the flax.

The specific location of the Graham farm was determined by a number of pieces of evidence. First we have the church records, where James Graham lists a Carnew address in the marriage record and birth records for all his children. The townland location and boundary is shown in the map above. Carnew Townland is located in Garvaghy Parish.

No Irish census having survived from the 19th Century, the Tithe Applotment Books and Griffith's Valuation are the best sources for the location of Irish families. The former cover the years 1823 to 1838 and lists the head of household occupying the land recorded. Griffith's Valuation covers the years 1848 through 1864. Griffith's goes into much greater detail regarding lessee/lessor, the annual rental value of the property and its exact location on a map.

During the events recorded in the church documents (marriage of James and Jane and the births of the three children), the Tithe Applotment Books would be the source to consult. For 1834, James Graham and William Graham (the 'William' named here I believe was James' father, his name still on the lease occupied by his widow. James' son William was only one year old in 1834.) are listed as heads of household in Carnew Townland. In the same year, John Shaw is listed as a head of household in Enagh

In the Griffith's Valuation, what I assume are the same James and William Graham as above are listed as occupiers of land in Carnew. The pertinent page from the Griffith's Valuation may be found here. John Shaw is no longer listed as a resident of Enagh.

James Graham is the occupier of almost 26 acres expected to generate an annual income of almost 22 pounds. The property included a house and auxiliary buildings with an annual value of 4 pounds and 10 shillings. James sublet another house worth 10 shillings a year to a Jackson Smyth. William Graham was the occupier of adjoining property totalling over 40 acres and expected to generate an income about 10 pounds more than James' property. Both Grahams leased their farms from Andrew Cowan. (Given the name and the custom to name first born sons after their father's father, the adjoining William Graham leasehold was probably held by James' mother - she being a widow at the time of his wedding.) The map below shows the exact location of the subject leaseholds.

Location of the Graham leaseholds in Carnew recorded in the Griffith's Valuation. Note in the current aerial view to the right how the shape of most of the fields is unchanged over the intervening 150 years. Clicking on the maps will enable you to zoom in.


Dromara Description in mid 19th Century

The village is described by Lewis' Topographical History, in 1837: "Dromeragh (Annesborough or Annesbury) a small village with patent granting a weekly market on Thursday, and a fair for three days in September. The market has been changed to Friday chiefly for the sale of butter and linen yarn. The fairs are now held on the last Friday in February, May, August and November, for farming stock and pedlary. "

The linen industry, so long a basic of Ulster economy, and the source of employment for a large percentage of the working population, had its influence on Dromara. The land, especially suited to the growing of flax, had meant that a flax fibre business at Woodford, on the edge of the village, had been founded. It flourished to the extent that it employed some 200 men in its heyday. The linen industry probably reached it's zenith between the late 1700's to the late 1800's.

In 1857 a survey describes the streets of Dromara as dirty, and its cabins in a wretched condition. It gives figures for emigration - many were awakening to the possibilities of making better lives for themselves and their families in the "New World" - twenty five families a year were going overseas.

Motives for Emigration

The farmland in this part of Ireland is quite fertile and farmed extensively even today. So why would the James Graham family leave more than 60 acres of rich land to travel to parts unknown? Vacating the farm may not have been voluntary. Life was hard for an Irish tenant farmer in the middle of the 19th Century. Here are some possible reasons the family emigrated.

Mandatory Tithes

Involuntary tithes were imposed to fund the Church of Ireland of which the family was not a member. The James Graham family was Presbyterian. Tithes were payable directly to the Protestant minister, but collection was often difficult. All landholders had to pay tithe, and the majority of these were impoverished tenants already faced with heavy rents payable to their landlord. From 1838 on, the tithe was amalgamated with the land-rent and collected by landlords, who then passed on the church's share. This had the effect of removing the trouble of collection from ministers and also of making payment more likely, given that non-payment of dues to the landlord could lead to eviction. Resentment against tithes festered more so after 1838.

Police evicting tenants from their home


Absentee landlords were common in Ireland and for many landlord's the main interest was income rather than the conditions of their tenants. Many landlords realized that they could get a higher income by turning their properties to pasture than to continue with the old practice of collecting rents from tenant farmers. Eviction was the most common way of getting rid of unwanted tenants.

The landlords often raised rents to the point that the tenant could not afford to pay them. The landlord then had the tenant evicted for non-payment of rent. There were no appeals and no mercy shown.

Great Famine

Between 1845-1850 the population of Ireland fell from around eight million to about five million. As many as one million died from hunger and disease. The Famine began in 1845 and was caused by a blight which attacked and destroyed the potato crop, the main staple of Ireland's peasantry. The potatoes rotted in the fields, leaving millions with nothing to eat and unable to pay their yearly rents to the landlords.

Mass Evictions

Evicting tenants and destroying home in the process - The Graphic March 10, 1888

Mass evictions will forever be associated with the Great Famine between 1849 and 1854. Around half a million people were evicted.

Under a law of 1847 no tenant holding more than a quarter acre of land was eligible for public assistance. To become eligible, the tenant had to surrender his holding to his landlord. Some tenants sent their children to the workhouse as orphans so they could keep their land and still have their children fed.

Other tenants surrendered their land, but tried to remain living in the house. Landlords would not tolerate it. Estate-clearing landlords and agents used physical force to bring about the destruction of homes. Many others who sought entrance to the workhouses were required to return to their homes and uproot or level them. Others had their houses burned while they were away in the workhouse.

In 1846, a member of the Society of Friends wrote: "It is evident that some landlords, forgetful of the claims of humanity and regardless of the Public Welfare, are availing themselves of the present calamity to effect a wholesale clearance of their estates."

Sea Passage

We may not be certain why the Graham family left Ireland, but we are certain how. The entire family took passage on the clipper ship Rosius. The ship arrived in New York City on September 18, 1850 with all five family members having survived the long sea voyage. A part of the passenger list provided on landing, with the 'Grahams' highlighted, is shown below.


The perils of searching for ancestors using only their full names is clearly documented by the passenger list shown above. James was noted by the abbreviation 'Jas' and William by 'Wm'. The ages given coincide with those dates found on the Dromara Church birth records. Beside the immediate family, a servant named Mary Graham was also a passenger on the voyage. Other than having the same last name, we don't know if she was related to the family.

Some two million Irish were forced to emigrate during the Great Famine. Many died on the crowded 'coffin ships' which took the reluctant emigrants across the Atlantic for a new life and a new start in America.

We don't know if the Roscius would fall within the definition of a 'coffin ship', but perhaps this would help explain the fate of Jane and John Graham. Although they reached New York City, they did not long survive the landing, disappearing from the records after 1850. Ten years later, the New York Times reported that the ship Roscius sank upon St. George's Shoal off the New England coast.

H Graem © 2011