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.