A Presbyterian minister dubbed the ‘Moses of the Scotch-Irish’ has been honoured at his former church in Aghadoweywith a Blue Plaque.
James McGregor was born in Tamlaghtard near Magilligan Point in 1677 and ordained as the clergyman at Aghadowey in 1701.
He preached in the Irish language for many years but in 1718 - when the effects of the religious persecution of non-Anglicans, bad harvests and soaring rents caused great hardship - he led up to 1,000 immigrants on to five ships bound for Boston, America.
The new arrivals were not welcomed by the English settlers already there so Rev McGregor led his flock to Nutfield, New Hampshire where they founded the first Ulster Presbyterian settlement on the continent.
The plaque commemorating the achievements of the pioneering minister was unveiled at Aghadowey Presbyterian Church last Monday by the US Consul General for Northern Ireland, Gregory S Burton, and the current clergyman Rev Robert Kane.
Rev McGregor is reputed to have brought the potato to America where it was cultivated by the new settlers and, having put down roots at Nutfield, the Ulster-born congregation members were granted permission in 1722 to change the town’s name to Londonderry.
The Blue Plaque tribute is the result of collaboration between the Ulster History Circle and the Ulster-Scots Agency.
Author and historian Rick Holmes and his wife travelled to Aghadowey from Londonderry, New Hampshire for the unveiling,
Ulster History Circle chairman Chris Spur described James McGregor as a “man who saw and made history”.
Mr Spur said: “In the Siege of 1689, he is believed to have signalled the relief of Derry; in 1718 he led the great migration, and in 1722 he founded Londonderry. The ‘Moses of the Scots-Irish’ brought his people to a new beginning.”
Ian Crozier, CEO of the Ulster-Scots Agency, said “The Ulster-Scots Agency is delighted to be able to highlight the contribution to another Ulster-Scot who has made a huge difference to the religious landscape of New England and global Ulster-Scots diaspora.”
US Secretary of State John Kerry, who ran against George W Bush for the presidency in 2004, is a descendant of Rev McGregor.
The Massachusetts senator, on his mother’s side of the family, is a 6th great grandson of the renowned clergyman.
Ulster-Scots poet, Wilson Burgess, from Aghadowey himself, was among those who attended the occasion.
He paid tribute to the iconic pioneer, imagining him “speaking a few hundred yards from here on Gospel Hill, to the families, who were going with him to America, as they took a last look at Aghadowey Meeting House.”
He then quoted from what’s believed to have been Rev. McGregor’s last words to his flock on Ulster soil.
“Episcopalian landlords in Aghadowey now abed; Shall think themselves accursed wherein they lay; And hold their own lives cheap when any speak; That sail with me on this life changing day.”
To date, the Ulster History Circle - which is funded by donations from individuals and various organisations - has erected a total of 178 Blue Plaques across every county in Northern Ireland.