Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Castle Dobbs: the American Connection (1)

Arthur Dobbs of Castle Dobbs, Kilroot, is seen in this portrait as holding a map of North Carolina. He was appointed 'Royal' Governor of North Carolina in 1753, one year after he finished rebuilding Castle Dobbs at home in Kilroot.

His American adventure came to an end in 1795 at another 'Castle Dobbs', his new home at Cape Fear, Brunswick, North Carolina. He died just as he was preparing to return home to Carrickfergus at the age of 75.

He had been the most prominent organiser of Scotch-Irish migration to pre-revolutionary America after he purchased a part interest in 400,000 acres of land in North Carolina in 1745 from the McCulloch estate there. Then, along with McCulloch, Arthur Dobbs was granted another 60,000 acres in New Hanover County.

The first tenants that Dobbs brought over from Ireland sailed in 1751. He described them in a letter as, "my tenants and their neighbours and friends", for they were from Kilroot, Ballycarry and Carrickfergus - and many more were to follow. In 1766 yet another batch of Scotch-Irish settlers from the shadow of Castle Dobbs set sail from Belfast. This contingent bound for North and South Carolina from east Antrim included Andrew and Elizabeth Jackson from Bellahill (Dalway's Bawn). They were the parents of Andrew Jackson, 7th President of the United States. These Jacksons had moved from their family farm beside Dalway's Bawn to Boneybefore near Carrickfergus in preparation for their departure. So, both these 'ancestral homesteads' of 'Old Hickory' will be re-visited at a later date.

Arthur Dobbs, before taking up his office in North Carolina, had been High Sheriff for County Antrim, a member of the Irish Parliament for Carrickfergus, and Surveyor-General of Ireland. His "Essay on the trade and improvement of Ireland" demonstrated his reputation as an economist, but from 1730 he took an increasing interest in colonial affairs, as well as engaging himself in the attempt to discover the North-West passage. In 1752 Arthur Dobbs finished building his fine Palladian mansion of Castle Dobbs just yards away from the ruins of the old castle built by his great-grandfather (and only a few hundred yards south of Dalway's Bawn).

But by 1747 he had completed his land purchases in North Carolina, and wrote to Mathew Rowan, the Surveyor-General of North Carolina, to ask his advice about,
"which type of artificers or servants I should take with me as most wanted there, such as carpenters, smiths, masons and coopers - and what number would be proper at first or could be accommodated with provisions and necessaries to form a settlement ... upon what terms I should agree with each family, the number of acres, term rent or produce, that I may know how to conduct myself in any bargains I may make."

The landscaped garden or demesne of Castle Dobbs was laid out by Arthur Dobbs in the early 1700s, and its wooded glen along the Kilroot River was known to the young explorers from Boneybefore as 'Dobbs's Plantin'. It was our Sherwood Forest when we were being Robin Hood, and our woods of Tennessee when we were being Davy Crockett (or Daniel Boone). The townland is 'Dobbsland', which is 'East of Eden' and separated from the old County of Carrickfergus by the Copeland Water.

A short walk up the Tongue Loanen and the road turns sharply to the right towards Dalway's Bawn, in the next townland north called 'Bellahill'. At this turn is where James Esler junior lived. His father, James Esler senior, was in a small house just across the townland boundary, in Bellahill
. The Eslers and the Jacksons of Bellahill bring the connection right back to Dalway's Bawn and the old cattle trail from Ballynure.


  1. I don't know how true it is, but Andrew Jackson, who you mention, is reputed to have claimed an age five years younger than reality, to cover the fact that he was born aboard a ship on its way to America carrying his immigrant parents. That would have disqualified him from being prsident (much like our current occupant of the White House).

  2. Yes, Gorges, I'd heard that too - but the local version was that he was born on board the ship and smuggled ashore under his mother's clothing. That doesn't make sense as there were already older siblings in the family - unless of course his mother knew that one day her new-born son would be President!

  3. Hello Phillip, Gosh I am spellbound at your knowledge of history. You have a great love for it,as I also have.
    These wonderful great people toiled much hardship to leave an inheritance, one that should be recognised and remembered. Yet many people don't have the depth within to care. It's a shame. I have been to Davey Crockett's cabin..and will have to make a Blog of it. It was so interesting, not a nail was used in his cabin. They must have frozen with the cold in winter. That's when I saw it and I had so much on to keep warm and still felt the cold. Pioneer's the chosen few..

  4. Philip,
    Have you found any information on the names of Dobbs's tenants and neighbours that went out to the Carolina to make new settlements apart from the Jacksons. My ggg granmother, Ann Cowan (widow of William) wrote to her son Thomas in 1839(Crown Point NYS) that young Mr. Dobbs was going to knock her cottage to make way for a new school and that she was being rehoused in "New Eden"-where in 1850 she still resided. I take this to be the site of the old National school on Dobbsland where in later life the Achesons lived and kept hens. Quite a number of Cowans followed GG Uncle Tom including my GG grandfather and settled there. In 1975 the descents of my American family reconnected and this included original and copies of letters from the Irish side of the family. That connection brought me soley by chance to a book on the Cowan family in the Carolinas most of which trace their roots to seven Cowan brothers(from Co.Down) who went out to America in the 1720s to Pennsylvania and make their way south though the Shenandoah Valley into the Carolinas to settle there. . This book contains a map of Early Cowan Settlements in Rowan County which shows five Cowan settlers south of the south Yadkin River off Fort Dobbs Road (1755) which connected with Salisbury. I can't help wondering whether some of these ealy settlers were actually my kinsfolk from Co. Antrim. My GG grandfather married twice (first wifew died) and his wedding cert gave his occupation as Land Steward. I kne Capt Dobbs and his sister Joan (used to mind her animals when she was away) but they appeared to be totally unaware of their family history. And my phone calls to them in later life came up with nothing. I am curious as to whether your research or adventures would bring me any closer to making Carolina connections. I must go there.

  5. Drystonewaller,
    Wow - this whole thing seems to be coming together in a truly uncanny way! The American connection is intriguing (Cowans at Fort Dobbs Road in America in 1755!!). I have the PRONI ref. for those Dobbs papers and it is now top of the list for my next visit there (I had it in mind to check it out w.r.t. the Mark Twain / Ballynure Clements genealogy, but I suspect it will open a whole new Pandora's box). I like your comment "research or adventures" - if it was only the first I wouldn't bother.

    The school is marked as "Kilroot National School" on the 1860 Land Valuation map right at the top of the Kilroot station road, but this was all Dobbs land in Dobbsland townland. I remember Joan Dobbs speaking at a function in Eden Playing Fields in the 1950s and saying that her great? grandfather had given the site for the nearby Kilroot Orange Hall which was also built in the late 1800s I think.