The Ulster Land War of 1770



In 1771 the presbytery of Templepatrick again issued an address on the disturbed state of the country. The language employed rather proves the drafting to have taken place in the office of the lawyer of an undertaker or in a grand jury room. The members of a presbytery had a hard task they were pressed at times by the “authorities” and forced to use expressions like “the best of kings” regarding such a man as George in.

“A serious address and admonition, from the presbytery of Templepatrick, to the people under their care.
Whereas many daring outrages of a most pernicious nature have been lately committed, in the night seasons, in several parts of this county, by some evil-minded persons, to the evident disquiet of society, and the notorious violation of the rights and properties of individuals, such as maiming and killing cattle, burning houses, destroying hay and oats, and extorting money and arms from the quiet and peaceable subjects, vowing, with the most execrable oath, the destruction of their lives and properties in case of a refusal.
Now, though we, the members of the presbytery, cannot but lament the heavy oppression that too many are under, from the excessive price of lands, and the unfriendly practice of many, who contribute to that oppression by proposing for their neighbours’ possessions; by which means they are too often deprived of the improvements made by their fore- fathers and themselves, which may be the unhappy occasion of such illegal measures; yet, we are convinced, and do affirm, that such means of redress defeat their own end.
Must not all, upon due reflection, be fully convinced that such practises have a natural tendency to disturb the public peace and quiet; to destroy all property and industry; and to introduce the most shocking scenes of anarchy and confusion? Are they not contradictory to the laws of nature; to our present happy constitution; to the allegiance due to the best of kings?
We therefore judge it incumbent on as, not only publicly to declare our utter abhorrence of such cruel and illegal practices, but think it our indispensable duty to beseech and entreat any of you immediately under our care who may have unwarily been drawn into such practices, to guard against and discountenance them by every means in your power and, pray, reflect seriously upon the ruinous and destructive consequences thereof; the danger you incur from the penalties of the laws of your country; and the infamy you transmit to your innocent offspring, should you ever meet with that punishment the law annexeth to such crimes. And ought you not to be sorry to think that the name of protestant, or protestant dissenter, which hath been so long and so justly esteemed in the north of Ireland, should now, through you, receive any stain or blemish.
And further, as ministers of the gospel of peace, we earnestly beseech and solemnly obtest you by the duty you owe, to your God, to your king, to your country, to yourselves and posterity, to abstain from and guard against all impious, illegal and inhuman actions. Let no such things be known among you; but in all Godliness and honesty, lead quiet and peaceable lives as becometh those who possess the religion of the meek and holy Jesus.
And may the God of all peace and love settle and establish you in every good word and work.”

Ballinure, 1st January, 1771.
“THOMAS READE, moderator.”

The presbyterian clergy, however, could not but feel the injustice under which the people suffered, and though they naturally discountenanced the excesses of the people their sympathies were with them. Some of them left Ireland along with many of their parishioners and remained their pastors in a new country. These clergy were under strict surveillance. A stroke of the landlord’s pen and their manse lands were added to the grazing ranches, and in many cases the very meeting houses would be “resumed” and much stipend stopped and regium donum diverted. Like wise clergy they spoke safely and with caution, but as men their whole sympathies were with their people on the hillsides, in the night raids and the gaol breaking.

The News Letter of 3rd January, 1772, has the following advertisement:

“That as the reverend mr. William Martin of Kellswater, county of Antrim, having frequently heard of the great distress many are in for want of the gospel ordinances dispensed to them in south Carolina, and being frequently urged and pressed by many of his hearers and acquaintances to get there, has at last firmly resolved (God willing) to be ready to embark at Belfast or Lame for thence about the beginning of September next. Therefore he thinks proper to give this public notice to his present or former hearers, or any other well disposed families that have a design to embrace this favourable opportunity, to go to a country where they may enjoy the comforts of life in abundance with the free exercise of their religious sentiments.”
“Dated Kellswater, 25th December, 1771.”

This was a sad Christmas card for the covenanting minister of Kellswater to send to “his present or former hearers or any other well disposed families”; but was by no means uncommon. We have several instances of similar invitations to go where their people “may enjoy the comforts of life in abundance,” and not stay where the very necessaries were debarred to them.

Amongst those who had come into possession of the cleared lands there was sometimes formed a sort of league of defence. They adopted a tone of righteous indignation at the wicked practices of those they had succeeded, that sits ill on a land grabber though it must be owned that many of them became such from direct necessity, having been cleared off their own farms.

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