Covenanter Summary

 

This summary was compiled, from the sources indicated, by Roger Kemps and is relevant to the background and history of the McClurken Family. © 2008

 

Covenanters in America were members of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. They were very proactive about education. Many of their ancestors had migrated from Scotland to Ireland. They were persecuted in Scotland and Ireland for their religious beliefs and later for their economic success. Consequently, over 500,000 migrated to the Colonies. By the time of the Revolutionary War, they were about 900,000 colonists with Covenanter roots. They were the most vocal in agitating for dissolving all connections with Great Britain, primarily due to the pending interference with their religious freedom. These people also provided a great number of patriots that fought the British in the Revolutionary War. The Covenanters were opposed to slavery and in 1800, the church caused all members holding slaves to free them. Slavery continued to grow in areas like South Carolina and competitive farming became more difficult without slaves. Illinois entered the Union in 1818 as a free state. The Land Act of 1820 allowed the Covenanters to sell their land in slave states and purchase 80 acres in free states, such as Illinois, for $100. Although Illinois was a free state, slavery that existed prior to statehood was still legal. Considerable strife continued between the proslavery and antislavery advocates. The Covenanters continued to oppose slavery and they assisted with the Underground Railroad, as slaves from other states sought freedom. The covenanters fought in the US Civil war on the side of the Union against slavery.

 

More Detail

 

Background of their Religion

The Covenanters and Education

Migration from Scotland and Ireland to the American Colonies

William Martin and Five Ships to South Carolina in 1772

Contribution to the American Revolution

Migration from South Carolina to Southern Illinois

Slavery until the US Civil War

 

Background of their Religion

From: http://www.covenanter.org.uk/WhoWere/

 

The background of their religion evolved from around 1560, when John Knox brought the Protestant teachings of John Calvin back to Scotland from Switzerland. Simply stated, the Covenanters were those people in Scotland who signed the National Covenant in 1638. They signed this Covenant to confirm their opposition to the interference by the Stuart kings in the affairs of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland. The Stuart kings harbored the belief of the Divine Right of the Monarch. Not only did they believe that God wished them to be the infallible rulers of their kingdom - they also believed that they were the spiritual heads of the Church of Scotland. This latter belief could not be accepted by the Scots. No man, not even a king, could be spiritual head of their church. Only Jesus Christ could be spiritual head of a Christian church.
This was the nub of the entire Covenanting struggle. The Scots were, and would have been, loyal to the Stuart dynasty but for that one sticking point. King Charles I had introduced the Book of Common Prayer to
Scotland in 1637 to the fury and resentment of the populace. He declared that opposition to the new liturgy would be treason, and thus came about the Covenant.
  There followed a period of very severe repression. Ministers with Covenanting sympathies were "ousted" from their churches by the authorities, and had to leave their parishes. Many continued to preach at "conventicles" in the open air or in barns and houses. This became an offence punishable by death. Citizens who did not attend their local churches (which were now in the charge of Episcopalian "curates") could be heavily fined, and such offenders were regarded as rebels, who could be questioned, even under torture. They could be asked to take various oaths, which not only declared loyalty to the king, but also to accept his as head of the church. Failure to take such an oath could result in summary execution by the muskets of the dragoons, who were scouring the districts looking for rebels.

 

From History of the Covenanters at http://www.ayrshirecovenanters.org/covenanters-history.html

 

When James II, a Roman Catholic, succeeded Charles II in 1685, Covenanting was declared to be treason and punishable by death. Persecution increased. These were the so-called 'killing times' when some have said as many as 18,000 died. The persecution ended with the accession to the throne of William III (Prince William of Orange in 1688), and since 1790 the Free Church of Scotland has been the official church in that country.

 

From the New World Encyclopedia at https://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Covenanter

 

The covenanters emerged as the Reformed Presbyterian Church. In 1876, most of the Reformed Presbyterians in Scotland joined the Free Church of Scotland, leaving a few congregations to carry the idea of the Covenants down to the present day. However, the Reformed Presbyterian Church is still a thriving church in Ireland and North America.

 

The Covenanters and Education

From: “Notes and Queries

 

The Covenanters were firm believers in education. John Knox believed it to be the highest safeguard of the Protestant religion. Reading of the Bible was a priority. Through his influence, schools were generally established throughout the kingdom of Scotland in the mid 1500s. When the Scots migrated to Ireland, they took with them their belief in education. They built schools as well as churches. The sons of the well-to-do were sent to Glasgow or Edinburg for their higher education and common schools were provided for those unable to attend a university. This education allowed the Ulster Province to become economically successful, in contrast to the poorer native Irish and the English settlers. When the Covenanters migrated to the American Colonies, a priority was to provide for the education of their children. And they were not content with just primary and intermediate education. At least twenty eight colleges and high-grade academies were started by Covenanter ministers during the eighteenth century, including Princeton University.

 

Migration from Scotland and Ireland to the American Colonies

From Scottish Migration to Northern Ireland at: http://philnorf.tripod.com/scottish.htm

 

The principal movement of people from Scotland to the Northern Ireland Province of Ulster took place in the seventeenth century. This movement was planned and encouraged by James I of England (James VI of Scotland). He sought to create a buffer between Scotland and the Irish Roman Catholic population that was hostile to the English rule. In 1607, the Earls of Tyrone and Tyrconnell, in fear of King James, fled the country and took refuge in Catholic France. In doing so, they forfeited their lands in six of the nine counties of Ulster. Well over 100,000 Scottish Protestants migrated from 1607-1697.  Attempts to bring over large numbers of English Protestants were not as successful as few English could be persuaded to migrate. Due to the poor economic conditions in Scotland at the time, many Lowland Scots were eager to make the relatively short distance move and lease this land.

The Plantation of Ulster proved to be a real economic success. Prior to the Protestant migration, Ireland had been a very poor, primitive country. However, after a century of Protestant ascendancy, much of Ireland, particularly Ulster, had become economically prosperous. So much so, that the English became concerned about the competition of Irish goods with English. Accordingly laws were passed to protect English trade at Irish expense. In addition to economic pressures, the High Church Tories came to power with the succession of Queen Ann (1703) to the Throne. The so-called "Test Act" was passed which, although stated to be directed at Roman Catholics, also adversely affected the adherents of the Presbyterian Faith as well. As most of the Scotch-Irish were Presbyterians (Covenanters), they felt that they were being severely persecuted by the English from both economic and religious standpoints. By about the year 1717, conditions had reached such a point that many Ulster Protestants began a new migration; this time to the American Colonies. It is estimated that more than a quarter of a million Scotch-Irish Covenanters immigrated to America between the years 1717 and 1775.

 

William Martin and Five Ships to South Carolina in 1772

From the Ulster-Scots Trail to America at: http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/SCOTCH-IRISH-CULTURE/2006-10/1160859245

 

William Martin belonged to the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Ulster and it was after a period of excessive rent demands and evictions of tenants from their homesteads that he declared from his pulpit in Ballymoney, County Antrim that "enough was enough". He said: "Anyone who knows anything about the Ulster countryside realizes that the rents are so high that the land does not bring in enough to pay them. Many of us are beggared and in time all would be."

As a minister, William Martin said he could not stand idly by and await the violence and ruin that would come. "Steps should be taken now to see that such situations did not develop," was his advice. He proposed they all pool their limited resources and send to Belfast to charter ships for emigration to South Carolina where they "would obtain free land and live free men".

In all 467 families (more than 1,000 people) huddled together on the arduous nine-week journey across the Atlantic in the autumn of 1772 in five wooden vessels: James and Mary (220 tons), Lord Dunluce (400 tons), Pennsylvania Farmer (350 tons), Hopewell (250 tons) and Free Mason (250 tons). The James and Mary arrived at Charleston on October 18 with 200 people on board. The other vessels with a greater number of passengers on board were soon to follow. In South Carolina, each immigrant received 100 acres of land for himself, 50 acres for his spouse and 50 acres for each child. The McClurken’s, including Thomas, were part of this group.

 

Contribution to the American Revolution

From: “Notes and Queries

 

The number of colonists in 1775 with Covenanter roots had grown to 900,000. This compared to 600,000 Puritans and 400,000 Cavaliers in Virginia. Hence, on the eve of the Revolution, the Covenanters were one of the three great subdivisions of the people in this country. The Covenanters demanded in the colonies, total freedom of religion from the control of the state. They denied the authority of the magistrate in any manner that interfered. The first voice publicly raised in America, to dissolve all connections with Great Britain, came from the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. The Covenanters were regarded by the Tory and Episcopalian writers as the chief authors of the insurrectionary movement. An advocate of the Crown, ascribed the Revolution mainly to the agitation of the Presbyterian clergy and laity, which had begun as early as 1764. What united the Covenanters with the Congregationalists of New England, in determined opposition to the British government, was the declared intention of establishing Episcopacy in the colonies. The proposal to introduce Bishops into America did more than anything else to bring the religious sects together in opposition to the English Government. In 1774, in various parts of Pennsylvania, the Covenanters spoke out about the “Stamp Act” and pledged their lives and their fortunes in favor of the determination of the colonies to resist the oppression of the English Ministry. In New York, the “Sons of Liberty” was called the “Presbyterian Junta.” In May of 1775, when the British Parliament had declared the colonies in a state of revolt, the Covenanters of Mecklenburg County of North Carolina issued their own Declaration of Independence. In Virginia, it was the Covenanters who sustained Patrick Henry and the revolutionary movement. When the critical hour came for the signing of the Declaration of Independence, many of the members of the Continental Congress held back. It was a distinguished Covenanter, the Rev. John Witherspoon, who persuaded them to sign. Fourteen of the signors were of Covenanter blood; men whose ancestors had signed the “solemn league and covenant” 138 years earlier.

 

In sustaining the cause of independence, once declared, and in fighting the battles of the Revolution, no section of the American people were more earnest and courageous than the Covenanters. In both Virginia and Pennsylvania, the majority of the troops were provided by the Covenanters. The same was true of the whole country south of the Delaware. The majority of the force, that won the significant battle at King’s Mountain, were Covenanters. This battle turned the tide of the war. In addition to their contributions in North and South Carolina, it was the Covenanters who defended the western frontier from Georgia to Canada and in particularly in Tennessee and Kentucky, against the Indian allies of the British Crown. At the close of the Revolution, not an inch of territory west of the Alleghenies had been lost. In addition to the Atlantic States, the Covenanters were the majority of the forces that defended the area that now includes Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and parts of Pennsylvania and Virginia. Therefore, when the treaties were signed to end the war, we were able to claim title to all the land between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi.

 

Thomas McClurken and his three brothers fought in the Revolutionary War. Thomas was a Private in Turner's Company in Winn’s South Carolina Regiment coming from Chester County, South Carolina. His brother, Archibald, was home while sick. He was found there by General Tarleton and they hung him in his own yard. Tarleton was defeated at the Battle of Cowlens, South Carolina two days later.

 

Migration from South Carolina to Southern Illinois

From: History of Oakdale Township, with corrections, and other

 

In the year 1800, the Reformed Presbyterian Church (Covenanters) decreed that all members were to free their slaves, if they owned any. However, after the war, slavery increased in South Carolina and the farming migrated from small family farms to large plantations with slave labor. This made it increasingly difficult to compete.

 

In 1817, a Covenanter minister from Philadelphia, the Rev. Samuel Wylie, went west to investigate the possibility of finding a desirable place for members of his faith to settle in slave free territory. All summer long, he toured southern Illinois, and in the fall, he traveled through Kentucky and Tennessee where there were Covenanter settlements. He then went to South Carolina and apparently presented a favorable report for southern Illinois. In 1818, Illinois became a state, a free state.

 

The Land Act of 1820 allowed those in South Carolina to sell their land and purchase land, in new free states, for $100 for 80 acres. The migration to southern Illinois increased and Wylie was sent there to minister to his people. James and Thomas McClurken and their families arrived in Elkton (Oakdale) Township in May of 1830, at the end of a six week journey. Thomas, Sr. and his other children, including, Nancy, John and David, arrived with their families in 1833 and 1834.

 

Slavery until the US Civil War

Primarily from: History of Oakdale Township

 

The Covenanters hated slavery and their ministers preached against the evils of slavery. By the beginning of the Civil War, all of the old congregations in South Carolina and Tennessee were gone. The only congregations remaining in slave-holding territory were in Baltimore, Maryland and in Roney's Point, Virginia, near Wheeling. Most of the members had moved to southern Ohio, Indiana and Illinois. Although Illinois was a free state, slavery before statehood was not abolished and there was considerable pro-slavery sentiment and support until the end of the US Civil War. See “Historic Illinois” for a perspective of the conflict in Illinois. The nearby states of Missouri and Kentucky were both slave states. Runaway slaves were frequently hunted down and returned to their masters. In addition, free persons were kidnapped and taken to slave states and sold into slavery. The Covenanters joined others in becoming conductors on the Underground Railroad to move runaway slaves to Canada. The Covenanter minister, the Rev. A.C. Todd, frequently used his home as a station. In support of the US Civil War, a company of the members, of the Oakdale Reformed Presbyterian Church, volunteered for service in the Civil War with Rev. A. C. Tood as captain. This company became Co. F. 10th Missouri Volunteers, as the quota for Illinois had been filled prior to this time. As many as fifty members of the congregation saw service in different companies and at different times during the Civil War period. Six McClurkin’s were included in the fifty.

 

References:

 

Scottish Covenanter Memorials Association at: http://www.covenanter.org.uk/WhoWere/

 

History of the Covenanters at: http://www.ayrshirecovenanters.org/covenanters-history.html

 

Notes and Queries” is available free from Google, see pages 133 through 141: http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&id=Cd4BAAAAMAAJ&dq=Notes+and+queries+William+Henry+Egle&printsec=frontcover&source=web&ots=Mch7e1p-AL&sig=vSZdIzB4Mw9lWlVSz_EaxuMGxbs&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result

 

Scottish Migration to Northern Ireland at:   http://philnorf.tripod.com/scottish.htm

 

Martin's Covenanting zeal from the Ulster-Scots Trail to America at: http://archiver.rootsweb.ancestry.com/th/read/SCOTCH-IRISH-CULTURE/2006-10/1160859245

 

History of Oakdale Township

 

http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Reformed_Presbyterian_Church_of_North_America

 

Illinois as a free state from: http://www.lib.niu.edu/1998/iht519802.html

 

“Historic Illinoisis available free from Google, see pages 318 through 332 (Slavery) at: http://books.google.com/books?id=0P40AAAAIAAJ&pg=PA318&lpg=PA318&dq=Battle+Against+Slavery+Historic+Illinois&source=bl&ots=cZ1hhuk-8V&sig=2OrPK6UN3cMOfiaTvBvaMYnIqlk&hl=en&sa=X&oi=book_result&resnum=1&ct=result

 

http://www.rampantscotland.com/know/blknow_covenanters.htm

 

http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/19100

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reformed_Presbyterian_Church_of_North_America

 

Last updated  7/23/2015