Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Boneybefore: The American Connection (2)

My home village of Boneybefore between Carrickfergus and Kilroot is where the President Andrew Jackson Cottage and US Rangers Museum can be found today.

Here is what the official information has to say about this ancestral white-washed cabin:
At least 12 US presidents had family connections to Ulster and part of this museum is dedicated to the seventh president, ‘Old Hickory’ Andrew Jackson who was in office from 1829 until 1837.
The Jackson exhibition is housed in a thatched cottage built in the 1750s, similar to the one left in 1765 by Jackson’s parents when they migrated to South Carolina. The main living space and bedrooms of the cottage are set out in the style of the 18th century, while the parlour is dedicated to the Jackson family and the career of their most famous son.
In the War of 1812 Andrew Jackson served as American military commander. He became a national hero after defeating the British forces at the Battle of New Orleans and earned his nickname when supporters described him as tough as Old Hickory wood. Jackson later served two terms as president during which he was able to shape the new Democratic Party.
In the garden is an exhibition dedicated to the US Rangers, who were formed at Carrickfergus in 1942. Based on the British commandoes, the Rangers were stationed a short distance from the cottage. They were a spearhead of the Allied D-Day landings and of the 500 volunteers who first formed the Rangers at Carrickfergus, only 87 were alive by the end of the war. The exhibition includes letters sent by serving Rangers and the equipment that they would have carried with them.

If you read this carefully, it does not claim that this was the actual house in Boneybefore that Andrew Jackson's parents lived in. Most of the dozen or so US 'Presidential Homesteads' that are on the tourist trail in Ulster are just that - but the 'Andrew Jackson Cottage' is just 50 yards or so away from a monument with a blue plaque that states "Reputed site of the ancestral homestead of Andrew Jackson, President of the U.S.A. 1829-1837 "

As boys, even in those days before plaques and heritage centers, we all knew that the original 'Jackson' house was knocked down to make way for the railway line from Carrickfergus to Larne about 1860. It was more or less behind where the plaque stands, where you can see the railway track along the shore. A different old farm-house behind where this photo has a window in a coach-house that was taken from the original Jackson house.

Boneybefore still had plenty of thatched houses when I was a boy, but only two survive now, and one of these - the one that is now the Andrew Jackson Center - was Tommy Donaldson's farm.

Tommy Donaldson's House was no 'cottage' - for that means a landless labourer's house. It was a proper farmhouse that had been in the Donaldson family for 300 years.
As it stands today, you can see the tall concrete chimney of Kilroot power station behind, and modern housing where Tommy's byre and other farm out buildings used to be.

Take a look at me in my teens outside the same house when Tommy was still alive.
The white-washed out-building at the end was the byre, where I often watched spell-bound as Tommy milked his cows by hand into a white enamel bucket. Every so often he would aim a teat at us and squirt us like a jet from a water pistol.

The two doors at the far end of the thatched long-house were into a workshop and a stable, for Tommy still used horses, and traveled into Carrick by horse and cart. The US Rangers museum is now housed round the back in what used to be the old cart-sheds.

But when I was in my teens, things were already changing in Boneybefore. Gone were the days when Tommy churned his own butter with a horse-walk round the back (the horse walked round and round in a circle and drove an axle inside a building with a barrel full of milk inside that turned on a cog driven by the horse). When I was still aged in single figures, I remember my mother sending me down to Tommy's with an empty jug for a pint of buttermilk to bake soda farls with.
Tommy just took the jug into his kitchen where he had a large barrel, dipped the jug in to fill it, and handed it back - waving me away without a word when I offered him a coin to pay. He was a kindly soul, a man of few words, and when I look at the stable door now I remember going there at Halloween to ask for the lend of ropes to bring in cut-down hedgerow branches for the bonfire. No other adult that wasn't a relative would have been as accommodating.

This photo goes back to those days, and here we were, messing about in the street. Tommy Donaldson's house (the 'Andrew Jackson Cottage') is the one in the background, and you can see the byre and store beyond.

The gable in the middle was that of another thatched house belonging to 'oul ma Hagan'. It burnt down in about 1959.
To the left lived Nellie Donaldson, and her hen-house can just be seen on the extreme right.

An even earlier shot looking the other way has Nellie Donaldson's hen-house in the center. Tommy Donaldson's (now the museum) is extreme left, casting its shadow. Oul Ma Hagan's thatched house is on the right, and the other thatched house beyond was Tillie Millar's.

Tillie Millar was another kindly soul who used to come out when we were playing to educate us about the history of Boneybefore.

She told us about the Andrew Jackson's parents, where they had lived in Boneybefore, how they had just moved into a 'wee two-room hoose' from up near Dalway's Bawn, just to get ready for the trip to America. The Jackson's were not really 'Boney folk', she said, and the President was born on the boat to America, but Mrs Jackson smuggled him ashore under her dress. We never questioned the logic of this, as he had to be born in America if he was going to be President.


  1. I doubt if Mrs. Jackson ever planned on her son being president, but she probably DID want him to be considered an American-born citizen. Interesting photos and information. Any idea why some of your text is sliced crosswise on my screen?

  2. Thanks for this info, Philip. I had known that Jackson's ancestry was Scots-Irish, and it's interesting to learn some of the details. USA Presidential trivia has been a bit of a hobby for me since I was a kid. Jackson was very popular in his lifetime, and is seen by many historians as a great general, but not so great a president. He apparently had no love for aboriginal Americans, and in this he surely reflected his time.

  3. Brilliant post Philip - and you're looking well in the photo too!

  4. Gorges,
    I've been having problems posting with side text to the photos - my draft and preview shows it as OK, but the actual post re-sizes the photo so it doesn't fit. I've tried moving all text onto separate lines - let me know if yours is still coming out banjaxed.

    Yes, your explanation of Mrs Jackson wanting young Andrew to be an American citizen makes perfect sense. I think their was a sort of stigma about being born at sea. Isn't it interesting that the same tradition survived on both sides of the Atlantic. 30 years working in the Ulster Folk Museum taught me that when it comes to 'folk tradition' there's rarely smoke without fire.

  5. Gary,
    I have some American friends in the 'book' trade that tell me that there is a new book (or books) about Jackson and that there is quite an upsurge of interest in him. I think you're right about him being a product of his times. Mark Twain is maybe another example.
    Just been in Wales for a few days so haven't caught up with my blog reading yet!

  6. Mark,
    Thanks for the compliment(s)! I thought you would like that one. On the Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) ancestry at Ballynure - I've discovered that his 'official' genealogy on the American sites has confusion over his great-grandfather Clemens (take your pick between Ezekiel and Jeremiah - Clemens not OT books!) and no mention of the supposed Scotch-Irish link with Clements of Clements Hill, Ballynure. Will have to explore thoroughly on that one.

  7. A wonderful ride through history Phillip. I used to milk a cow with a white enamel bucket also. Isn't the house long!! it must have many rooms. I have often wondered how a thatched roof doesn't leak?
    So many famous came from Ireland...a fine heritage. Your black and white photos are a classic, and so good to still have...maybe taken with a browny box camera?
    Very interesting...I so enjoyed it!! Blessings. CML

  8. With reference to the Jacksons
    I was also told similar things about the Jacksons leaving from boney with Andrew Jr

    I site the reference below that suggests that maybe they did, on a way


  9. Many thanks, r.mcc., for the reference. It is from Miskimmon's History of Carrickfergus (1832), and is worth giving below in full:

    ANDREW JACKSON, President of the United States. The parents of Andrew Jackson lived at Boneybefore; the English settlers
    called this hamlet " Fairfront" and "Fairview". His father, Andrew, and his mother (whose maiden name was Elizabeth Hutchinson), lived
    in a house close to the passage to the shore known as Magill's Crossing. The main road from Carrick to Eden did not run as it does now. The walls of the old homestead were unfortunately
    levelled to the ground when the railway line from Carrickfergus to Larne was constructed. Andrew Jackson, his wife and three sons,
    Hugh, Robert, and a son named Andrew,* left Carrickfergus in the year 1765 and settled in Warthaw, North Carolina, having landed at
    the city of Charlestown, South Carolina. Two years after Andrew Jackson the elder died, and young Andrew grew into early manhood in North Carolina, where he read law at Salisbury, and went soon after his majority to Tennessee, and in due time made his home at Nashville, where he was appointed public prosecutor. In 1797 he was appointed Senator for Tennessee, and some years after appointed Major-General of Militia. In 1815 General Jackson engaged in war against
    the British before New Orleans, and in 1829 was elected President of the United States. His journey from his home near Nashville, known
    as the "Hermitage," to the federal capital was a succession of triumphs. On March 4th, 1833, he entered on his second term as President. With the close of his second term his public career ended.
    He died in the year 1845. In religion he was a strict Presbyterian.
    (From Colonel Colyar's "Life and Times of Andrew Jackson.")

    *This Andrew is supposed to have died, as another son named Andrew was born i5th March, 1767, the United States claiming the honour of his birthplace.

    I don't know if "R. McClure" is connected to the McClure's who live/lived in the old Magill's farmhouse in Boneybefore at the bottom of Magill's Avenue and right beside the original site of the Jackson Homestead? If so a double thanks for your comment.

  10. Correct on the identification, descendants of the magills (fathers mother) that have been there for a few hundred or so years that I know of, my father has lived in the house for 80+ and still does.

  11. My Dad lived in Boneybefore in the 1940/50s - could you tell me what year the photographs were taken ?

  12. Shaun, the first photo of myself in front of Tommy Donaldson's thatched house was taken about 1960 - I was born 1946 in Larne and moved to Boneybefore in 1948 when I was 2. Both the other old photos show 'Boney' as I remember it in the early 1950s, although the 'hop-scotch' one is maybe 1940s.
    What is/was you dad's name? There's a chance I might remember him.

  13. Just noticed a small error, it wasn't Nellie Donaldson and her hen house, it was Nellie Johnston.

  14. Yes, it was Nellie Johnston! Thanks for pointing it out! And she had an ancient dog called Rory if you remember that slept all day on her doorstep.

  15. My great great grandfather, James Laird,was born in Bonneybefore. He immigrated to Utah in the 1856. He left his younger sister and mother there because he had converted to Mormonism and they did not. The younger sister married a man named Alexander Donaldson. It would be ironic if this were the same property. but his property had a large red barn on it.

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  17. Ida-Russkie
    That is so odd I was about to ask about my ancester Alexander Donaldson as I'm currently tracing my family history he is my great great great great great grandad! If anyone has any information on him or his family I'll be happy to receive any!

    1. He's my 4th great uncle! I am trying to disprove some stories that have been told about Alexander's wife for generations in my family. My 4th great grandfather was her brother and he basically states she wrote him scolding him about joining Mormon church and would ask for money. I've found quite a few inconsistencies in there so far lol.

      From what I've read about Alexander and Margaret Jean, they were both very nice and generous Methodists who always extended helping hands. Seeing as these are also from Scottish Irish blooded stories passed down who's to know if they are accurate either! I have been uploading the basics from records mixed with my own Scottish Irish blooded assumptions on ancestry.com (woodallh24)

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