The Ulster Land War of 1770



The fact that so many of the hearts of steel were armed was what alarmed the authorities most. Unarmed people, however discontented, can be dispersed by the forces of the crown at any time; but several thousand determined Ulster men, well armed, gave serious thought. The undertakers were beginning to see by this time that the tenants might have rights as well as themselves, and at any rate they saw that the farmers were a much stronger force than they had supposed. They were, therefore, anxious to get the people disarmed, and so the following proclamation was issued:–

“At a meeting held at Belfast, on the 4th of January, 1771, of the magistrates of the county of Antrim, by order of the right honorable the earl of Antrim, governor of said county; to enquire into the many acts of outrage, treason, and felony, lately committed in several parts of this county:–

We, the said governor and magistrates, whose names are hereunto subscribed, having received several informations of many acts of high treason, rebellion, and felony, having been lately committed in said county, by, and in the name of, a number of people who call themselves “hearts of steel,” and other parties, under other denominations; from the pretences of what we deem imaginary grievances.

We, therefore, do hereby publish and declare our unanimous resolution, to endeavour by all ways and means the laws have put in our power, and also by our personal assistance to the civil or military power, to suppress all those unlawful meetings and riotous assemblies, and to bring to justice every person who has been guilty of offences, either by houghing cattle, burning and destroying houses, levying money, or writing or delivering incendiary or threatening letters.

And we hereby require all and every person possessed of fire-arms, and other offensive weapons, who have been anyways coocerned in any of the many unlawful and riotous meetings as aforesaid, immediately to surrender said arms to some magistrate of said county, and to swear allegiance to his majesty, and future obedience to the laws.

And whereas we are informed, that several persons who were not disposed to break the laws, have, through fear, been compelled by these rioters, to levy money for their use; we do therefore give this notice, that if any of these people, who have been thus forced to depart from their duty, will come to any magistrate, or appear at next quarter sessions at Antrim, and give information against those who ordered them to levy such money, and against those to whom it was paid; we will, in such case, use our best interest with government that mercy may be extended towards them.
ANTRIM, governor of the county.”

“Hercules Ellis, mayor of Carrickfergus.
Stewart Banks, sovereign of Belfast.
John O’Neill.
James Leslie.
Conway Richard Dobbs.
Andrew Todd.
Nicholas Stewart.
Hill Willson.
Edward Brice.
Samuel Bristow.
Thomas Thompson.
Rowley Heyland.
Hercules Heyland.
William Agnew.”

After the demonstration of strength given by the hearts of steel when they rescued Douglas in Belfast, the magistrates issued proclamations couched in rather more conciliatory terms than before.

At the Antrim quarter sessions they issued a proclamationas follows:–

“We, the chief governor and magistrates of the county of Antrim, assembled at a general quarter sessions, held in Antrim on Thursday, the 17th of January, 1771, intent upon restoring peace to this county, and being fully sensible that the most effectual method of doing so will be by punishing the guilty and protecting the innocent, do therefore resolve, that our utmost exertion shall be made use of to bring to justice those who have been guilty of houghing cattle , burning houses, and those who, by force and threats, have extorted money from the innocent inhabitants of this county.

And whereas we apprehend that many, through fear, have given countenance, and, perhaps, some degree of assistance, when called upon by the late disturbers of the peace; and that such people, from terror and apprehension, have now forsaken their homes, occupations, and industry.

We do therefore declare that if, under any these circum- stances, they will resort to a magistrate of this county, and surrender arms, if any they have, and swear allegiance to his majesty, and future obedience to the laws, we will use our best endeavours to obtain their pardon from government; and in the meantime we do recommend it to all such to return to their respective habitations.
” (Usual signatures).”

On 6th February, 1771, the following summons was sent
to the magistrates of the county:–

“As I have the pleasure of finding that all insurrections in this county have ceased, and as it is represented to me by several magistrates and gentlemen, that a considerable part of the country is deserted by the inhabitants, who, terrified by their own apprehensions, have fled, forsaken all kinds of industry, and left their innocent families destitute of support. I am, therefore, out of respect to the representation of these gentlemen, and by my own disposition, induced to request a general meeting of the magistrates of this county at Antrim, on Monday, the i8th instant, to consider what proper means may be used to recall those who are neither proclaimed nor informed against.

This gives a picture of the state of the county deserted by the inhabitants “who” have fled, deserting all kinds of industry. What if the country was a desert with no inhabitants, how would the undertaker get any rent? Things had clearly gone too far. So “order” must be restored at any price. However, the expectations of the magistrates that the disturbances were over were sadly disappointed, and this they very soon recognised.

They issued another proclamation upon news of some fresh reprisals:–

“We, the governor, high sheriff and magistrates of the county of Antrim, are extremely concerned to find that there should be the least remains of that spirit of insurgency which has so much disturbed this country. We had pleased ourselves with the opinion that every spark of it had been extinguished, and in consequence of this, had determined to make use of the gentlest means to recall many who have deserted their habitations. But by the attempt lately made on the life of William Forsythe our mild intentions are defeated, and we lament at finding a necessity for farther correction. The law must therefore take its full course; and that it may be thoroughly supported in doing so, we declare that we will in every station, both publicly as magistrates, make use of every exertion to discover and apprehend those concerned in this last attempt; and in our private capacity as landlords, we will withdraw every degree of favour and countenance from any of our tenants who shall harbour, connect themselves with, or give the least degree of support to such hardened offenders. And as an encouragement, we do hereby offer a reward of fifty pounds for apprehending and prosecuting to conviction, any person engaged in the above-mentioned attempt against William Forsythe. February, 1771.”
“(Usual signatures).”
The Antrim hunt will meet in Ballymoney on the 11th day of March.

The Antrim hunt went on as usual. These land grabbers had double sport with “our tenants” and “our game.”
“Every degree of favour (God help us) and countenance from any of our tenants we will withdraw.” The loss to “our tenants” would not have been great–the fifty pounds were at least definite. The “hardened offenders” were not drawn, but “the Antrim hunt will meet in Ballymoney on the 11th March,” so said James Leslie, the president, who had his own land troubles. He had six of his friends and neighbours, three Maconaghys, a Moore, a Ward and a Stuart, all hanged a year later for injuring his cattle, so the scalps were collected around his waist, scalps as good as his own, for the Maconaghys were a wide-spread presbyterian clan, and the Moores were on the Bann side, and the Wards and the Stuarts held their heads as high, or higher, than a Leslie, who was in a small way after all, but successful in obtaining land about Ballymoney.

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