Quakers in Ireland

Samuel Shaw came to Pennsylvania with a certificate from Lisburn Monthly Meeting in County Antrim in Northern Ireland.

Northern Ireland had been through a turbulent 200 years prior to 1729.  While it is possible Samuel had only resided in Lisburn briefly, it is equally likely his family had lived in Lisburn or the surrounding area for generations.

The name Shaw can be of Scottish or English origin.  Both Scots and Englishmen were involved in the plantations of the 16th and 17th centuries.  County Antrim was one of the areas that was privately settled (rather than “officially” settled) during the primary period of the Ulster Plantation (i.e., the early 17th century).

Many of the settlers in County Antrim were Presbyterian Scots, reinforcing the likelihood that the Shaw family came from Scotland to Ireland.  On the other hand, the Lisburn area was settled by many English and Welsh families due to the influence of Sir Fulke Conway, who had been given the Lisburn area by James I in 1611.

Nevertheless, by the time of the Cromwellian Settlement (following the Revolution of 1640), Presbyterian Scots made up the greatest percentage of the Protestant population of County Antrim.

Thomas Story wrote an account of a religious journey he took to County Antrim in 1716, during which many Presbyterians came to hear about Quakerism and a Presbyterian minister even became convinced of Quaker principles.

Lisburn had one of the earliest Quaker meetings in Ireland.  Quakerism was founded by George Fox in England in the late 1640s and early 1650s.  The meeting in Lisburn started in 1654, within the first year or two of the appearance of Quakerism in Ireland.

As a town, Lisburn is known as the birthplace of Ireland’s linen industry.  Louis Crommelin and other Huguenots founded the linen industry in Lisburn in 1698 (twelve years before Samuel Shaw was born).

Quakers in Lisburn in the early 1700s were thought to be disproportionately represented among the affluent tradespeople.  In other words, many Quakers in Lisburn were well-off and involved in successful businesses.

Many Quakers left Ireland for America, beginning as early as 1682.  In the early days, many immigrants left Ireland because of the religious persecution they experienced there.  Economic reasons and a simple love of adventure also led people to leave Ireland for America.

Persecution was a constant throughout the late 17th and early 18th centuries.  The amount and vehemence of the persecution went up and down, but it was always there.

In addition to outright persecution, Quakers also suffered from disadvantage in business because of their unwillingness to take an oath in court.  This allowed others to defraud them with impunity.

There were also many economic reasons for Quakers to leave Ireland.  England controlled trade and often suppressed trade from Ireland.  High rents were charged.  And in 1729 there was a massive famine due to a failure of crops in Northern Ireland.

In addition to the negatives of living in Ireland, there were many positives to living in America (particularly in Pennsylvania).  William Penn’s success in his new colony was widely known.  Travelling missionaries brought back word of how good it was in America.  And friends and neighbors often wrote letters back talking about the positives of moving to America.

Ultimately, little is known of Samuel Shaw.  Whether his family came from England or Scotland; at what point his family moved to Ireland; when they became Quaker; all these things are unknown.

But what we do know is that in 1729, Samuel left with a certificate from Lisburn.  Assuming he was from that area, he may have been a relatively well-off tradesman, maybe working in the linen industry.  He probably had witnessed the persecution or at least the abuse of fellow Quakers.  And he may have heard about how good the land was in Pennsylvania–how many opportunities lie there.


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