Friday, March 20, 2015

The Jacksons of Steeple

Absence of evidence is not the same thing as evidence of absence

The written records of Co. Antrim, which survive from the 1600s, include little mention of the Jacksons who settled in the townland of Steeple just east of the town of Antrim – but they did live and farm there. Lots of them. Their descendants continued to live not only there, but also at the townland of Holywell [aka Holy Well, or Hollywell] on its northern border. Thankfully, the 1777 map surveyed by Taylor and Skinner shows the Jacksons at Steeple, and going by the size of their house, relative to others, they were doing quite well for themselves.

You can find the name Jackson Esq on the middle of the right margin of the map. The name Steeple, is just to the left of it, with a small drawing of the steeple as well as of Jackson's house.
Their proximity to Shane’s Castle is worth noting. Those who follow the HBO TV series Game of Thrones, might know that Shane’s Castle was one of the settings used in that show.  As fate would have it, there is also a wonderful banshee myth associated with the Castle ruins. It would fit quite nicely with some of the contemporary story lines.

The reason that Shane’s Castle makes such a great backdrop is that it was leveled by a fire in 1816. The fire was caused by a spark igniting the moss and branches of a rook’s nest that was lodged in the chimney. Before the Castle burned to the ground, it had been the home of the descendants of a Shane O’Neill – also known as John O’Neill. At least one of his descendants intermarried with the Jacksons. In 1765, his granddaughter, Anne, married Sir Richard Jackson (1729-1781) of Coleraine. It is also worth noting that Clotworthy Neil of Shane’s Castle was one of the witnesses to Richard and Anne’s marriage. Both men came from families that were included amongst the notable gents of the region.

Yesterday night Richard Jackson, Esq Member of Parliament of Coleraine, and Under Secretary to his Excellency the Earl of Hertford, was married to Miss O’Neil, daughter of Charles O’Neil, Esq. Member of Parliament for Randalstown.
December 27, 1765. Belfast Newsletter.

Of course, one always has to bear in mind that the spelling of surnames and place names was quite elastic in the 1600s: O’NEILL, NEIL, M’NEILL McNEIL and so on ... It plays havoc with family tree databases, and continues to drive me nuts.

Richard Jackson was the third generation of a line of Jacksons who had arrived in Coleraine in the mid-1600s. It is also likely that his great-grandfather, the first to really put down roots in Coleraine, had been preceded by uncles who had arrived in the region during the Elizabethan era. This great-grandfather, William Jackson (1628-1688) was eldest of the seventeen children of Rev Richard Jackson (1602-1681) and Dorothy Otway (1605-1645) from Kirkby Lonsdale in Westmorland. William had received a grant of land in Coleraine as a member of the Clothworkers Company of London, married Susan Beresford and had nine children. The extended family members eventually owned land not only in Coleraine, but also in: Dublin, Monaghan, Meath and Cavan. Some of these leases were referred to in the 1705 will of Richard’s great-grand-uncle, Samuel Jackson.He was a younger brother of great-grandfather WIlliam.

This is where it makes sense to look at a map, locate the townland of Steeple, and then to consider viable trade routes between it and Coleraine, as well as the routes leading south. It is also worthwhile to consider what kinds of places might look attractive to merchant fathers wanting to set up their sons in some other port, farm or profession in order to better support the core family businesses. That was how vertically integrated enterprises worked in the pre-internet, pre-telephone and pre-telegraph era. A father supported his sons by setting them up in an enterprise that was reasonably reachable, and was also one that promised to fill the family coffers.

The townland of Steeple includes some 182 acres in the parish of Antrim. It has the benefit of being on the historic road connecting Coleraine to both Belfast, and Dublin. Given that water travel was often easier than travel by road (and also often safer), the fact that Lough Neagh was nearby also bears noting. The region was a focal point for the linen industry, a trade that the Jacksons of Coleraine were connected to, along with several other enterprises.

Steeple is in the middle lower part of this map. The left hand side of the townland is shaded but the right-hand side is not. The border is indicated in red. The townland of Holywell is on the northern border of Steeple.
The earliest record that I have found so far for the Jacksons of Steeple is to a Patrick Jackson mentioned in the 1669 Hearth Money Rolls. There was also a mention of a Patrick Jackson in the Londonderry Muster Roll of 1630. He was resident at the estate of Thomas Phillips in Limavady, about 70 km from Steeple. Since the name Patrick Jackson is rare in the records which date from the 1600s in Ireland, I suspect that these two records referred to the same man, or else the two Patricks who were noted were at least related. In the same Muster Roll, another coincidence worth mentioning is there was also a George Jackson and a Peter Jackson, both of Coleraine.

Since there was a will dated 1703 for a Peter Jackson of Steeple, it is probable that this one was a descendent of the ones mentioned in the Muster Roll of 1630. It is also almost certain that he was related to the George Jackson - late of Steeple, Co. Antrim. Ireland  - who died sometime before 1734. Thankfully, George Jackson’s will is at PRONI in boxes of documents relating to the Clarke family, so I plan to read it when I visit PRONI next month.

In the mid-1700s, the Jacksons of Steeple were connected to the Jacksons of the townlands of adjacent Holwell, as well as to the Jacksons of nearby Loonburn. The will of Thomas Jackson in 1772, a likely son of a Jackson from Steeple, says that he was formerly of Holywell but now of town & of Antrim. A snippet in 1771, from the Belfast Newsletter, advertised the fact that Peter Jackson of Steeple was an executor of James Jackson of Loonburn, and James’ ownership of some 35 acres of Steeple was mentioned.

We know little of Anne Jackson of Shane’s Castle. After 16 years of marriage, during which she gave birth to at least six children, she died in 1781 – just four years after the Taylor-Skinner map was published. What else do we know about her?

In the 1700s, the O’NEILLS of Shane’s Castle and the JACKSONs of Steeple were both members of the Church of Ireland. Both had made substantial money in their roles as politicians, but also as merchants and/or manufacturers of wool and leather products (the makers of leather products were known as cordwainers). They also had relatives who had landed positions as reasonably well-heeled clergy. There is also the fact that The Round Tower aka The Steeple is no more than eight miles away from Shane’s Castle – a short ride by horse, and even walkable.

Nearby in the garden of Steeple, an old Druidical stone bears the marks of a witch who flew down from the top of the tower and landed on it. A traveler in 1890 approaching Antrim station on The Great Northern Route caught sight of the cap of the Round Tower over a group of trees on the right. That gives a sense of the visibility of the Steeple as a landmark before the 20th Century. Photo Credit: Wikipedia. 
The Steeple, for which the townland was named, is still standing. It is 28 meters tall and was built of basalt sometime in the 10th or 11th century.

Near Antrim saw, close to Mr Jackson's at Steeple, a round tower with four windows at top and a pointed cone roof, as usual, but with more large windows than common. I was told by a man in Antrim that the entrance is on the ground and that there is some way of climbing up in it and that there was once a great burial ground about it.
As described in 1787 by Rev. Daniel Augustus Beaufort (1739-1821)

The residence of the Jacksons, as drawn on the Taylor and Skinner map, was a substantial house, likely owned by Peter Jackson.  In a deed dated September 19, 1788, a Peter Jackson [Gent] of Steeple is named as one of the parties. The townland of Birch Hill, on the eastern border of Steeple, was also leased by George Jackson, a son of Peter Jackson.

The curious thing is that when the Griffiths Valuation was completed in 1862, there wasn't a single record of any JACKSONs owning or leasing land at Steeple. They had all disappeared. The grand house, as well as most of the townland, was now owned by George Jackson Clarke. We know from a letter sent to Viscount Ferrard on April 2, 1829, that he had already been at Steeple for some decades.

A letter from Aiken McClelland sent in 1960 to James Francis Wright, a descendant of the Jacksons of Urker in South Armagh, offers a clue as to where to look for this JACKSON-CLARK[E] connection:

Through the Jackson and White family you could also claim relationship with the Chichester-Clark and Clark of Upperlands families.

These CLARKEs likely intermarried with the JACKSONs from Steeple, Co. Antrim, and if Aiken McClellan is correct (and I have no reason to doubt him) they are also related to the JACKSONs of Urker townland, near Crossmaglen. The Clarke’s of Upperlands trace back to a John Clark of Maghera (c1665-1707) who married (18 Oct.1690) Jane White. They had a son, Jackson Clark of Ballymena (1695-1754). This leads me to suspect that one of Jackson Clarke’s grandparents was probably a female Jackson.

As to whether the Jacksons of Steeple were related to the Jacksons of Coleraine, there are a few more clues. In April 1942, the Rev George Seaver published Material For a McNeale Pedigree in The Irish Genealogist [p327]. In spite of the spelling of their surname, the McNeills of Co. Louth, according to Rev. Seaver, seem to be connected to the Shane O’Neill of Shane’s Castle. Apparently, Daniel McNeill, Doctor of Medicine, Monaghan (a relation of the McNeills of Co. Louth), mentions - in his 1788 will  -  his cousin Luke Jackson. The name Luke Jackson surfaces repeatedly in references to leases of both Steeple and Loonburn.

A future post will explore why I suspect that these Antrim Jacksons may be connected to the Jackson’s of Urker, and hence to Sir Thomas Jackson – the focal point of my ongoing research. My hunches include the late 1600s story of Daniel and Sarah Jackson, the infant children of the deceased John Jackson of Antrim. John Jackson was an ex-soldier in the Cromwellian campaign who initially had been granted lands as a prize of war. These lands were in the Parish of Dunaghy, Co. Antrim, a parish just east of Ballymoney. Unfortunately for John Jackson, the previous owner was Randal Macdonnell, the 1st Marquess of Antrim - a wealthy Catholic Landowner. He sued the Crown to regain his forfeited estates, and in 1665, he succeeded. Other lands in Tullyvallen, Co. Armagh were then offered to John Jackson as compensation for his loss. This is why the records from 1668 show 249 acres of land in Tullyvallen, Parish of Creggan being held in trust for Daniel and Sarah Jackson by Thomas Ball, a fellow soldier who had served with John Jackson.

The next question which then arises: Was this John Jackson of Co. Antrim a son of Rev. Richard Jackson (1602-1681)? We know little about this son except that he was born in 1630 at Kirkby Lonsdale, and died in Coleraine. He is the right age to have served as a soldier in the Cromwellian army. His daughter Anne is the only child who I have found any record of - at least, so far. She married Adam Downing of Bellaghy, Co. Londonderry. Unfortunately, we neither know the name of her mother nor whether she had brothers and sisters. Even so, there is one other bit of data that makes this line of inquiry seem worthy of pursuing. In the 1669 Hearth Roll, there is a leaseholder named ffranc aka Francis Jackson. The John who was a son of Rev. Jacksons also had a brother named Francis. For now, I will just hold this all in my head.

As I mentioned at the outset: Absence of evidence is not the same thing as evidence of absence. I could also add the other research edict: Correlation is not causation (let alone connection). Even so ….
·       Ireland (part I.): Northern Counties, Including Dublin and Neighbourhood.  Mountford John Byrde Baddeley. 1890. Pages 73-74
·       For place to stay: Discover Lough Neagh – a circular cycle tour is described.
·       Jacksons of Loonburn on The Silver Bowl website. I have posted a timeline of the Loonburn connection to Jacksons, and will update it after my next visit to PRONI.
·       Jacksons from Steeple, on The Silver Bowl website.


  1. Aiken McClelland knew a lot about early families. Also have a look at Andrew Todd who went from Coleraine to Shane's Castle; see

    1. See comment beneath. I had meant to post it here.

  2. Interesting. There is also the Mary JACKSON who married James BIRCH (?-1727) One of their daughters married Andrew TODD: Mary JACKSON was a cousin of John CLARKE of Maghera, ancestor of the families of CLARK of Ampertain House and Chichester-Clark of Moyola Park and Largantogher. I suspect this means that one of her father's sisters married a CLARK, because the name Jackson CLARK is in that family. SOURCE: Thomas Ledlie Birch by Aiken McClelland. (I had forgotten this bit when I wrote the piece above)
    According to, this John CLARKE married Jane WHITE in 1690, and he died in 1707. If we could get one more generation back, this would help us to know where Mary JACKSON fit in with other JACKSONs. There was a William JACKSON of Tobermore who may have been her brother (he loaned money, record in a deed).