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Hello. I had read from a book about the Simpsons in Paxtang, Pennsylvania who supposedly came from Enniskillen, Ireland. 

It said Thomas Simpson and his brother John Simpson went to Pennsylvania in 1720. They were described as Scots-Irish who came from north Ireland. They were sons of John Simpson who was said to have removed to Ireland and died after the battle of Boyne. 

Thomas Simpson settled in the area of Paxtang. They were labeled covenanters and they built a Presbyterian church. 

John Simpson was born in 1680. 

Thomas Simpson was born in 1683. His wife was named Jean. Their son Nathaniel Simpson stayed in Ireland, and one daughter stayed in Ireland and married William Harper.

It is suspected that Nathaniel Simpson went to Pennsylvania shortly after his father died. 

I have seen it suggested that Thomas Simpson was from Enniskillen. I am not completely sure. Enniskillen is in the north of Ireland.

Does anyone know where William Harper and Thomas Simpson's daughter were in Ireland? Does anyone know more about John Simpson, the father of Thomas? The narrative from the book I read might have some mistakes, but the names and facts are generally accurate. 


Evan Goings


Sunday 16th Apr 2023, 05:04AM

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  • Evan,

    Your query is a challenging one. There are very few records in Ireland for people who lived here in the 1700s and the likelihood of finding anything on your family is pretty low.

    You say that your family were probably Scotch-Irish who moved to Pennsylvania in 1720. If so, their ancestors will have arrived in Ireland from Scotland in the 1600s. There was a big migration in the period 1610 – 1625, mainly as a part of the Plantation of Ireland, but there were other waves throughout the 1600s culminating in a big surge in the 1690s due to famine in Scotland. Something like 200,000 Scots settled in Ireland in the 1600s, representing 20% of the entire Scottish population. But you’ll realise that if your ancestors arrived in the 1690s and left in 1720, they were only in Ireland for 30 years, one generation at the most, and the likelihood of there being any record of their presence here at all is extreme low. John Simpson born in 1680 could have been born in Scotland. The family might have arrived in 1610 but even then they were only in Ireland for 110 years and it would be very unlikely that any records would exist, unless they were major landowners or otherwise of significance.I checked the Muster Rolls (C 1630) and no Simpsons are listed anywhere near Fermanagh then then which points to an arrival post 1630. There was actually only 1 adult male Simpson in Ulster then and he lived in Co Down.

    You say that the family were Covenanters. In both Ireland and Scotland today, they are generally called Reformed Presbyterians. So that’s one of several Presbyterian denominations. Presbyterianism was established in Scotland in the mid 1500s, by John Knox. Scots settlers later brought Presbyterianism to Ireland and so if your family were of any Presbyterian denomination, lived in Ireland and in particular Ulster, then that does point to Scotch-Irish ancestry.

    That said, as far as County Fermanagh is concerned, though lots of Scots did settle there in the 1600s, the vast majority were not Presbyterian. The settlers in Fermanagh mostly came from the Scottish Borders - where Presbyterianism had not become established by the time they left - a lawless area where few churches were able to function, and so they had no religious denomination at all when they arrived. They were called Border Reivers. Reiver is a Scottish word for a robber. (Google Border Reiver if you want more information).  Many later became Church of Ireland (ie Anglican). So very few Presbyterians were found in Fermanagh. There were some, but not many. So that does not say your family didn’t come from Enniskillen, it just means it’s statistically less likely. There is one Presbyterian church in Enniskillen. According to my guide to Irish Presbyterian congregations there was a Minister there from 1677 onwards who was responsible for the areas of Monea, Enniskillen & Derryvullen. Sadly the congregation has no records earlier than 1817.

    I do not know of any Covenanter (ie Reformed Presbyterian) congregations in Co Fermanagh in the 1600s or 1700s. There is 1 church there today in Enniskillen but I am not sure how old it is, and PRONI certainly don’t have any records for it. You could contact the church if you want:

    In the 1901 census of Fermanagh there were 65015 people in the county. 35,577 were RC, 30549 were Church of Ireland or connected denominations and just 1201 were Presbyterian. So not a very common denomination in that county (though it is very common in other counties of Ulster).

    Researching in Ireland in the 1700s is very hard going due to the general lack of records. If you don’t know where they lived it’s a needle in a haystack. Ideally you need to know the person’s exact denomination and the townland or parish they lived in to have any chance of finding them, and even then there may not be any records for that location.

    Possibly DNA testing may be a way of matching with others who have additional information about where the family originate. Family Tree DNA reportedly has more people with Ulster roots than any other company. That obviously increases the chances of finding a match. You might want to try them or, if you have already tested, you can transfer your results to them for no fee.

    The North of Ireland Family History Society is running an Ulster DNA project in conjunction with FTDNA and can offer testing kits at a reduced price. (Go to DNA project on the website).

    Elwyn, IrelandXO Volunteer ☘

    Tuesday 18th Apr 2023, 05:12PM
  • Hello Elwyn,

    Thank you very much for the information and advice. 

    I read what I know about the Simpsons who came to Pennsylvania from an old book. It might have inaccuracies or tall tales. Some of what they found was from court papers in Pennsylvania naming everyone. 

    Do you know if there is a marriage record for a Miss Simpson married to a William Harper in Ireland around that time period? That could give the location of where some of the Simpsons remained. 

    As it states their father John showed up in Ireland after the battle of the Boyne, that would put their migration to Ireland past 1690. Most likely as you mentioned, because of a famine. If so, they would have only stayed in Ireland for 30 years. If that is true, based on the birth estimates, John and Thomas would have been born in Scotland.

    I don't know their exact Presbyterian denomination (other than being called covenanters, or Reformed Presbyterians). When they were in Dauphin (formerly called Lancaster) County, Pennsylvania they formed a Presbyterian church. I don't believe they were Anglicans. 

    Going with what I have learned here, it would be almost certainly true that John and Thomas would not have left many records in Ireland.

    I think any marriage records could prove where they were. Have you seen the marriage record for Miss Simpson and William Harper, or Thomas Simpson and Jean?


    Monday 24th Apr 2023, 07:05PM
  • Evangoings,

    You say there may be mistakes in the family information. Of course there may be but I sense that the basic information you have is probably broadly correct. The vast majority of settlers from Ireland who moved to the US in the 1700s were Presbyterians, whose origins were in Scotland. Having moved once, they were more willing to consider a second move when they found conditions in Ireland did not fully suit them. (“Native Irish,” if there is such a term, didn’t really start leaving in big numbers till the 1800s.). Many Presbyterians were encouraged to leave by their Ministers who, in some cases, accompanied them.

    If you are interested in the general history behind all this, I recommend Eagle’s Wings – the journey of the Ulster-Scots & Scotch-Irish by Dr David Hume.

    You can use this website to see where the surname Simpson was found in Ireland in the mid 1800s. Mostly in Ulster, as you might expect, with a sprinkling elsewhere.

    Looking at the 1901 census there were 3035 people named Simpson in Ireland. At least a half of those were Presbyterian.  So there were quite a few left behind.

    You ask about a possible Harper-Simpson marriage. As I say there are very few marriage records from that period. None for Co Fermanagh at all. There are a handful of churches in Ulster with records for the 1720s (maybe 10 at the most out of 500 or more churches including all denominations) but their records are not on-line. You would need to get someone to go through them in PRONI. 

    Elwyn, IrelandXO Volunteer ☘

    Tuesday 25th Apr 2023, 08:02AM
  • Hello Elwyn,

    Thank you for the sources to find more on the Simpsons in Ireland, and your advice on where to look.

    From this I now know John and Thomas would almost certainly have been born in Scotland, as they were born before their father John went to Ireland. John came to Ireland after the Battle of the Boyne, meaning past 1690. The Harper-Simpson married may not be possible to see, but that is understandable. 

    I will check out the books you recommended. Thanks.


    Thursday 27th Apr 2023, 07:17PM

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