The Memories of Robert Patterson

Robert Patterson was born in 1811 in the Parish of Ballinderry in County Antrim.  He was on of three sons of Alexander Patterson  and his wife Sarah Kennedy.  The family had longstanding connections with the area and Robert traces the family from the 17th century.  The family is Anglican, later some became Methodist.  He wrote his Memoir in Milwaukee in 1872, like many of his generation he had left Ireland for North America.  He clearly has a good recollection his roots, writing vividly from memory, including small details of his forebears’ lives. He uses some dialect terms along with local place-names and has a knowledge of Irish history that reflects his Protestant heritage.  There is, maybe, a hint of nostalga. He tells us very little about himself, since he has clearly restricted his Memoir to earlier generations.  There is a Robert Patterson in the 1870 US Census, a book-keeper born in Ireland living in Milwaukee but with a birth date of 1816.  There were a lot of related Pattersons in Antrim area of Ulster throughout the 19th century.

Robert Patterson writes

In the reign of Charles II of England Ireland enjoyed a peace unknown to the island for many centuries. In the year 1641 had occurred the horrible massacre of the English protestant settlers in Ireland; civil war ensued in England and it seemed for a time that the long sought for reparations of the two countries was about to be realized. But the energies of one man, Oliver Cromwell, dispelled the illusion. Having overthrown the king and nobles of England, he, with some ten thousand of his puritan soldiers landed in Ireland, and victory following upon victory he reduced the island to proformed (?) peace, and studded it over with his followers, rewarding them with forfeited lands; thus securing an English ascendancy in the country which continues to this day. It is said that the founder of the noble family of Downshire was a colonel in Cromwell’s army, and, if I mistake not, there are lands near Moira held by the Cromwellian title, and where present occupants are descendants of the puritan soldiers.

Cromwell died in 1658, and his son Richard being far unequal to his father, (otherwise to this day the family might have ruled the British Islands) fell from his high estate and sank into insignificance, and Charles II was restored to the throne of his ancestors. The new king, while he hated and loathed the name of Cromwell, had wisdom enough to leave the settlement of Ireland undisturbed. In return the old puritan soldiers became loyal subjects, and their descendants have ever since been the strongest link in the chain that holds Ireland and England together.

Soon after the king’s restoration a young English clergyman named Walsh came to Ireland in the exercise if his ministry – It would seem as if he had influence with the Earl of Conway the owner of what afterwards became the Hertford estate. He eventually became a Dean, and I find from an old record I have here, known in my early time as “Johnson’s Book” (note 1) that at the beginning of the last century he resided at Broommount, (afterwards the seat of the Gorman family) which he had purchased from the bishop of the diocese and greatly improved (Note 2). There he lived till his death, but in what year I have no record. He left no male posterity but had one daughter who married into the Dobbs family, and some of her descendants were afterwards noted as Counsellors at law are members of parliament (Note 3).

It was probably at the instigation of this clergyman that his brother John left his native estate in Ireland. He must have been a young man when he arrived, for he was there in the year 1670 or soon after. I know this from the fact that his name stood recorded in the old parish books of Ballinderry as the original proprietor of pew 19 in the old parish church which was built in 1668. This fact was ascertained more than a century afterwards when another family laid claims to the pew in whole or in part, by my grandfather John Patterson. The original record was produced and John Walsh found to be the first and only proprietor. I am warranted therefore in saying that his arrival in Ireland was about the year 1670 or soon after.

When John Walsh came to his farm it seems to have been almost in a state of nature. It was situated in the parish of Ballinderry and townland of Loughrelisk  – was bounded on the east by the old Dublin road, (there was then no new road) on the south by a straight fence running from a place on the old road called Scant hill, to the south-west corner of a part of the farm called the Woodfield; on the west by the mearing of the townland, part of it a rivulet and part a whinny bank which ran over a hill long after called the Backhill, but which bank disappeared forty years ago, and on the north by the stream which separates Loughrelisk from Ballyscolly (Note 4) . It was a compact farm and contained I think about one hundred and twenty acres of land of average fertility.

Finding timber plentiful and perhaps (stone masons scarce) John Walsh erected his dwelling house on a novel plan. He selected from his woods oak trees, having trunks high enough for a sidewall, and each with a branch or limb at an angle of 45 degrees for the roof. Having felled and dressed a sufficient quantity he raised his frame and coupled the dressed limbs at the top. He then filled in the spaces between with cross pieces of timber and finished all with a wall of tempered clay, plastered with lime, and a thatched roof – This building did him and his successors on the farm for a century.

There is no record of him after this till the year 1689 when the expelled king of England, James II, made an effort to recover his last throne by landing in Ireland with a French army. Being joined by multitudes of the Romish Irish, the bulk of the Protestant populations in the early part of that year were chased from post to post till their last refuge was in the fortress of Derry at the entrance north of the island – John Walsh was not among the fugitives, but he suffered in property by having his cattle driven by the rapparees and camp followers of James’ rabble army. They were stabled or rather penned in the field near Largy Lane-ends , behind Mr Sefton’s garden on the Lisburn road, and whether or not he got any of them back I never learned. I had this anecdote from my grandmother Patterson (of whom more hereafter) who could well remember many who had been living actors in those old scenes.

After this little more is known of John Walsh – He seems to have been a quiet church going man and a prosperous farmer. We can well conceive with what pleasure he received the news of the relief of Derry after its unparalleled siege, of the landing of King William and the victory of the Boyne, of the rout at Aughrim and the capitulation of Limerick which put an end to the war, and by which order law and peace were restored to remain for more than a century. He tanned his own leather, and one of his fields is still called the Tanhouse field. He seems also to have tried a crop unusual to Ireland, field beans, and thus gave an enduring name to another field, the Bean stubble. The Woodfield on the remotest part of his farm, was his reserve for fuel and when all else had been used up he lamented that he had so far to go for his winter’s firing.  How long he lived or in what year he died is unknown – It is certain however that he lived to see the New road press through his farm from north to south, and this event, from the fact that my father when a boy had seen and conversed with old men who could remember it. I would place about the year 1720. He would then be an old man and probably died soon after. The only bend or curve in the road in its course of three miles is at the old homestead of John Walsh, a favour obtained through the influence of his brother the Dean, and done to save his dwelling and office houses from destruction.

He was succeeded in his farm by his son Richard, commonly called Dick Walsh, a man blind from infancy from smallpox.  He was a remarkable man in his way, his ears being of such service to him that they almost compensated for the want of eyes – Several anecdotes were told of him by the old people. Listening one evening for his servant man who was returning from Lisburn, he heard a piece of iron, which he had told him to purchase, fall from the car, some miles back on the road. Marking the exact place in his mind he sent the servant when he got home back for the iron, telling him the exact place to find it. In passing Largy Lane-ends, at one time a cross dog attacked.  The blind man always carried a stout staff and prepared for action, and measuring the dogs movements and position with his ears he dealt him a blow, extending from nose to tail, that laid the dog dead.  Dennis McCamley of the old road, who died in 1824, aged eighty, related that when a boy he crawled into Dick Walsh’s garden to steal gooseberries. While thus employed he saw the blind man come slowly down the garden, but not apprehending much danger from a sightless man, he merrily lay down among the bushes. This was just what the blind man wanted, for he saw him all the time with his ears, and when in proper positions he sprang upon him as a cat does as a mouse, and gave him a beating that Dennis remembered till his dying day. Like his father he was a church going man, and in order to find his pew he had a small piece of wood fastened at the door, so that by guiding his hand along the rail he could enter without assistance, He was able to manage his farm as well as seeing men and lived in comfortable circumstances.  Late in life he married his housekeeper, and by her had a one child a son. His death occurred sometime but not long before the year 1770. By his will he left his farm to his son (who was a minor) when he should come of age, and in the event of his death during his minority, to three of his nephews, George, John and Hungerford Patterson. The boy in leaping across a river hurted himself internally and died a Minor, and the farm passed from the Walshs to the Pattersons, after remaining with the farmer family nearly a hundred years.

Contemporary with John Walsh, and in the same locality, lived one Robert, or, as my grandmother named him, Robin Patterson, but whether a native of the place or one who came in from abroad I never learned – The name though common over the British Islands and in Canada and the United States, seems to have been originally Scotch. This man had a family of sons and daughters; one son, who was a carpenter, settled in Dublin, where some of his descendants were seen by my grandfather late in the last century; and one daughter married a man named Robinson at Castlewellan, where I believe the name is common still.  Another of his sons Roger, is the one with whom my narrative is more immediately concerned. He was born probably about the year 1695, and in his early days resided at various places in the parish – at one time at the place called Corr’s town, where a field after him was long, and perhaps is still called Patterson’s field, and at another time he resided at Turtle’s fort. Early in life he married a daughter of John Walsh, sister to the blind man, and with her, either by purchase or as a dowry, became possessed of thirty acres of her father’s farm, long afterwards known as Magee’s Land.  Sometime afterwards he sold this land, and settled in the lower side of the parish where he spent the remainder of his life and died about the year 1770. My father, who was born in 1764 could just remember him, and was employed on the day of his burial to hand a pipe filled with tobacco to any one inclined to smoke. He described him as a tall erect old man, with long white hair combed down over his shoulders. About the year 1848, when at Aghagallon , I got acquainted with a man named McCorry, then aged ninety-five years, and who had been a resident of the place all his life. It occurred to me to inquire if he remembered Roger Patterson “Yes” said he “I recollect him well, sure his boys are on his farm still”. “But” said I “you do not understand me, that Roger was the grandson of the man I mean”. He then searched back in his memory till something struck a string that vibrated back eighty years “I know who you mean now” said he “old Roger Patterson, a tall straight old man with long white hair; I mind him well and the day he was buried.” Thus his descriptions of him tallied exactly with my father’s.

This Roger Patterson and his wife were the parents of sixteen children, thirteen sons and three daughters. The daughters all came to woman’s estate, were all married and had families. One of them was the mother of Stephen and Billy Williamson, shoemakers, another was the mother of Roger Connor father of Roddy of the Mountains, who may be still living, and another the mother of the late Thomas Palmer of Killead, who died an old man about the year 1847.  Of his sons some may have died young but at least eight of them came to maturity and seven were married and had families, and among their children, like their father’s, there was usually a preponderance of males. There was George who had five sons and two daughters, all of whom were married, and all except me had families, John, my grandfather, who had seven sons, six of whom came to maturity and were married, and five of them had families, Richard, or Dick, of Glenavy who was married and had a family.  Joseph who inherited his father’s property, had five sons and three daughters, who came to maturity, were married and had families.  Robert, who settled in the lower part of the Co. Antrim, where he married and had a family. Thomas, who settled in a manufacturing town in England, where he married and had a family. Roger, who strayed off when young, no one for some years knew where, turned up in the Co. Cavan, a well to do farmer, married and with a family.  He loved a good horse, and once in two or three years he would ride to the north to see his relations. My father always described him as the finest looking man of the family. The last of the brothers of whom I have any knowledge was Hungerford, who, so far as I can recollect was never married.

My grandfather, John Patterson, one of the younger sons of Roger, was born about the year 1735 and was by trade a linen weaver. In the year 1763 he married Rebecca Cummings, and commenced housekeeping at the place called McCorrystown, where he remained till about the year 1770, when he became heir to one third of Dick Walsh’s farm. If I remember right the three legatees divided the farm by lot, and to my grandfather the lot gave the middle portion, on which stood the old building of John Walsh. In this building he lived for about ten years more, when, finding his sons growing up around him, and wishing to teach some of them his own trade, he erected a new and larger house, one room in which was what in those days was called a four loom shop. The old building was then taken down and a barn erected on its site. The Irish oak which had done duty faithfully for more than a century was found sound as on the day on which it left its native woods.  The cleaner portions my grandfather converted into looms for his sons, and the rougher parts were laid across his grain stands, in which capacity some of them were still doing duty when I left the country. My grandfather was a man of industry and enterprise, soon added other lands to his inheritance and was prosperous. Like most men of his time, before “the schoolmaster was abroad” his education was very limited yet, according to my father, he could have solved problems by mental calculations that would have puzzled good arithmeticians.  Except once that he had typhus fever, he never had illness or took medicine till his last illness came upon him – He died of a dropsy early in the year 1804, and was buried in the family burying-ground of the Walshes, where a stone erected by my father marks the place of his remains.

His wife, my grandmother, to whom I am indebted for much of what has been related, was born in the year 1736, and was about two years older than my grandfather. She had a clear recollections of the great frost which occurred in the winter of 1739 and 40, when Lough Neagh was frozen and most of the small birds died of cold and famine.  She had still better recollections of the Rebellions of 1745 in Scotland, when the postmen of the time, sometimes on horseback but more generally on foot came along proclaiming “bloody news”; that the pretender with an army of Highlanders had invaded England and was on his way to London. When a girl, she attended the preachings of the celebrated John Cennick (Note 5) and the other founders of the Moravian establishment there, and from there she imbibed religious impressions which continued with her through her long life. She spun with her own hands the yarn of the underclothing in which she was married and my grandfather wove it into cloth. It was never used but on two occasions, at her wedding and at her death.  Year by year, on a certain day, for sixty-five years, there garments were taken out, washed and ironed, and laid away till the same day of next year. At the age of sixty-eight she became a widow with sufficient provisions for her old age.  In this state she continued for twenty-four years, and used her spinning wheel to the last. She died in August 1828, rather from old age than disease, aged ninety-two, and was buried with her husband, her shroud being the same garment in which she had been first united to him sixty-five years before.

My father, the late Alexander Patterson was the oldest son of John and Rebecca. He was born in June 1764, and was the great-grandson of the original Robin Patterson and of John Walsh. He received as much education as the country schools of the time afforded – that is to say, he was taught reading writing and arithmetic in the latter of which he was considerable of a proficient. After leaving school he learned to weave, and in course of time began to employ others. At that time there was a great demand for fine cambric, but there was a great difficulty in finding yarn. It was famed however that far down Co. Antrim there were but few weavers and a great many spinners. In consequence towards the close of the last century, he and several other manufacturers were in the habit of going down the country for their yarn, and from the supply thus obtained they were able to keep their weavers employed. The profits at that time were very large, a pound, a guinea, or more, on a web twenty-six yards long, so that all the linen manufacturers of the time made money.  My father was thus employed before, during and after the rebellion of 1798, but while he, and all the family, were strangely on the side of the government, he took but little part in politics, attended to his own business, and was a lover of law and order rather than of strife and war. After the death of his father he quit the linen trade and became a farmer, occupying the northern part of the old farm, formerly owned by his uncle Hungerford. In 1807, being then forty-three years old, he married Sarah, daughter of Robert Kennedy near the Crew, by whom he had three sons, John, born in 1809, Robert (the writer hereof) born in 1811, and Alexander born in 1813. Ten weeks after the birth of her youngest son my mother died of fever, greatly lamented by my father, her relatives, and the poor of the place, to whom she had always been a liberal and steady friend. She was twelve years younger than my father and died at the age of thirty-seven.

After the death of his wife my father lived thirty years a widower. He died in December 1843, in his eightieth year, having through the oldest of seven brothers outlived them all. He was buried with his wife and beside his father and mother, where a stone marks his grave (Note 6 ).  He was a man of cheerful disposition, quick in his temper but soon appeased, temperate in his habits, of strict integrity and honesty his word being better than some other men’s bonds. He was the friend and benefactor of men poorer than himself, sometimes to his own injury – In conversation he had a great command of language, and was fond of relating anecdotes and stories of his youthful time and of the men he had come in contact with in life, and these being mostly of a humorous and laughable character, he had always listeners who received his stories with rounds of applause.

Of his brothers the next oldest was George, who lived most of his life on a small farm in the parish of Derriaghy  (Note 7). He was twice married but had no children a very unusual circumstance with any married man of the breed.  He served in the Lisburn cavalry during the rebellion of 1798, and during his whole life his great hobby was a horse – to be trading in horses or healing their diseases as a farrier seemed to be “life’s being end and aim” with him. He died in 1840, aged seventy-five; Roger, the next brother, kept a wayside inn, in the house afterwards occupied by my father, and in the years 1797 and 8, when the army was encamped on Blaris Moor (Note 8) he was a settler there. Not being successful in his business, he and his next brother William immigrated to Pennsylvania in the year 1805? They were both married men with families, and settled in Pittsburgh, where they have numerous descendants now in the third and perhaps fourth generation – William died in 1815 and Roger in 1821. John the next brother was a tallow chandler and settled in Moira but latterly kept a public house. He married Mary Walsh, a descendant of John Walsh by a collateral branch, and by her had a large family. He died about the year 1818. Robin, the youngest brother, inherited his father’s property, and married soon after his death. His wife died in 1825, leaving him with seven children. He lived a widower till his death in November 1830 at the age of fifty-four. Joseph one of the seven brothers died in infancy.

Having now brought my narrative down to a generation still living, it would be inconsistent with its title and plan to continue it farther.”

(Citation:Robert Patterson’s Journal of Recollections of his Forefathers;Donated by Mr. and Mrs. S. V. Thompson; CMSIED 9508149)


Note 1.  This is probably John Moore Johnston, Heterogenea, or Medley (for the Benefit of the Poor.  Downpatrick, 1803.

Note 2. Robert’s remarks about Broomount are confirmed in the 1832 Ordinance Survey Memoirs.  ‘ It is said, Dean Walsh, was to have been the last clergyman to occupy it. His late widow is said to have sold her right to it to the Gorman  family. The house is said to have been built three hundred years ago, in 1695, by Edward Waltington, then the Bishop of Down and Connor’.  Memories of the 1832 ordnance survey

Note 3.  Robert is possibly referring to Arthur Dobbs (2 April 1689 – 28 March 1765) who was an Irish MP and later Governor of North Carolina.  The Dobbs family had been active in the Plantation and held a number of prominent roles in Ireland.

Note 4.  These are Townlands in the Parish of Ballinderry.

Note 5.  John Cennick (12 December 1718 – 4 July 1755) was an early Methodist and later Moravian evangelist.  Born in England he was active in Ireland in the late 1740s especially in Ulster, where he founded a large number of Moravian Communities.

Note 6.  Ballinderry Middle Church Graveyard.

Note 7.  Derriaghy is a Parish and Townland a few miles South West of central Belfast.

Note 8. Blaris Moor is close to Lisburn.  1797 four young militiamen were tried by Court Martial in Belfast for their links with the United Irishmen,they were convicted, and  shot at  Blaris Moor.  It was an event that caused consderable bad feeling.