Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Presbyterian & Catholic Olivers of Armagh

NOTE: I have inserted dates beside the names mentioned throughout this post. So many of them share the same name that dates are often the only way to tell one from another.

As a way to learn more about the Olivers of Armagh, I am resorting to what lawyers call a discovery process.

The idea behind discovery is that both sides should share information before going to trial. That way, a trial can proceed smoothly, without parties requesting information from each other and otherwise holding up the process. FindLaw.

Not that I am planning to go to trial, but my hope is that if I share what I know, others will also share, and we will then be able to fill in some of the blanks. The truth always benefits from many perspectives. Thankfully, we already have a substantial paper trail. It includes newspaper articles from a couple of hundred years ago; various court battles over land; and dozens of letters that mention everything from gout to turnips, or from politics to religion. Given that we started with close to zilch a decade ago, this quantity and quality of data is nothing short of amazing.

Recently, some DNA samples have revealed that many of the Catholic Olivers who descend from John Oliver (1841-1909) and Margaret Rock (1837-1905), share a DNA match with the descendants of Benjamin Oliver (1765-1831), a Presbyterian from Killynure. Both families would have had William Oliver (b bef 1700) and his wife Elizabeth Hardy as ancestors. This William Oliver descended from French Huguenots who settled in Armagh in the late 1600s – or at least that is what the story looks like so far.

One recent find was two scraps of paper, which were either written by Eliza Jackson née Oliver (1815-1903), or written down for her by one of her daughters [probably the latter]. Eliza was a daughter of the aforementioned Benjamin Oliver (abt. 1765-1831) of Killynure. In one part of her notes, she says that she is relying on what her mother, Margaret Bradford (1785-1825), had told her. Her mother had died when Eliza was only ten years old, so some of her facts are based on the memory of a child, albeit one brought up in a largely oral tradition when memories were better than ours are today. Her father died when she was fifteen, making her a total orphan. This may be why there are some bits that don’t fit with the known facts – hence the need for this discovery process.

A larger version of this, with a full annotated transcription is on my website.
After reading Eliza’s notes, I made some maps to see exactly where these Olivers had lived and/or held leases. If we set aside those who had emigrated to America, England, Canada or Australia, the ones who remained mostly lived and farmed within a stone’s throw of each other. This first map focuses on the townlands near Farmacaffley. Oliver relations continued to hold leases in this part of Armagh throughout much of the 1700s and 1800s.  This area, on the banks of the Callan River, was part of the hub of the early linen industry.

·       The 1664 Tithes record an Andrew Oliver at Farmacaffly [outlined in blue] aka Farmacaffley aka SherranmcAughally. He is the earliest Oliver that we know of so far in this part of Armagh. He was probably a farmer.
·       Ennislare is on the southern border of Farmacaffley. William Oliver (1730-1816), husband of Elizabeth Steele held a lease here. He was a linen draper, but also likely a farmer as well. This William Oliver was a son of the earlier William Oliver (bef 1700-?), husband of Elizabeth Hardy.
·       Ballynahonebeg is on the western border of Farmacaffley. It was leased by William Oliver (bef 1700-?) & Arthur Oliver (?-1798), a linen draper whose lease dated back to at least 1738. That lease included: all that part of Ballinahonebeg containing 10 acres 2 roods together with the mill and water dam and water course leading from same to the River Callan ... & a liberty of washing rubbing and beetling all cloth. By 1788, Arthur Oliver, a linen draper, still held 46 acres Irish measure in common with Joseph Oliver (1727- abt. 1725) a farmer. Arthur was a brother of a Benjamin Oliver and Maria Elizabeth Oliver of Lislooney, Parish of Tynan. My best guess at this point is that the three of them were also children of William Oliver (bef. 1700- aft 1730) and Elizabeth Hardy. According to Eliza’s notes, the family land – probably at Ballynahonebeg - should have gone to her father-in-law, William Oliver (1730-1816), but his brother Joseph Oliver (1727-abt.1795) got round the old man & got the old home instead. More details of these various leases can be seen at Olivers of Ballinahonebeg.
·       The Kennedies is a townland on the western border of Ballynahonebeg. Joseph Oliver (1727-abt. 1795) held a lease for 48 acres here at least until April 13, 1794. He was the husband of Jane Oats and brother to William Oliver (1730-1816) who also held a lease here. His sisters married into the Prentice and Dobbin linen families. After Joseph’s death, his lease was sold by his son, John Oliver (aft.1764-aft.1796), in May 23, 1796.
·       To the east of Farmacaffley, one townland over in the townland of Cavanacaw, is Kearney Hill where John McCullagh aka M’Culla (?-1818) and his wife Jane Oliver (?-aft. 1801) lived in the late 1700s, and early 1800s.

Obviously, these holdings were home to a substantial intergenerational cluster of Olivers that continued long after the mid-1600s, and included a handful of related families who were reasonably well off. This cluster also included several of the uncles and cousins of the Olivers of Killynure. Killynure is a townland a little west of what this map shows. The Olivers of Killynure were also related to the Olivers from Tullymore, Umgola and Ballycrummy, townlands which are just north of the townlands included in this map. I appreciate this is all hard to follow, but individual Olivers can be tracked on my rootsweb family tree.

A second map that I did shows another clustering of Oliver townlands, highlighted in green. Olivers also held leases here starting in the mid-1600s and continuing into the early 1900s. In the 1800s, when you walked along Monaghan Road into the City of Armagh, there were Oliver-held townlands left and right of the road all the way from Killynure into town.

·       Ballydoo aka Ballyduffe is in the middle at the top of this map. A Stephen Oliver and a William Oliver were recorded here in 1664. One researcher has them as brothers, and also claims that they were related to the Andrew Oliver of Farmacaffley. The early parts of this family tree are definitely in what I call “informed hunch territory”. More proof is needed before I can feel sure about this.
·       Knockagraphy, Drumgar and Lisdrumard are three townlands on the southern border of Ballydoo. They were leased by Benjamin Oliver (abt. 1765-1831) of Killynure, at least as early as 1818.
·       Slightly to the west of Ballydoo is Killylea. In the mid-1800s, there were several Olivers living there: James & Sarah Oliver, and also a Martha Oliver. In 1853, Andrew Bradford Oliver (1818-1877), son of Benjamin Oliver (abt. 1765-1831), also started to live there.
·       Killynure was the home of Benjamin Oliver (abt. 1765-1831) and his wife Elizabeth Bradford (1785-1825). Benjamin paid his father, William Oliver (1730-1816) for the lease to this land in June 20, 1794. Based on a deed dated January 14, 1804, it seems he still lived at his grandfather’s home at Ennislare (shown in the first map), at least until his marriage in about 1806. After this, he moved into the modest bungalow at Killynure.
·       Enagh is on the south eastern border of Killynure. Benjamin Oliver (abt. 1765-1831) paid his father, William Oliver (1730-1816) for the lease in June 20, 1794 .
·       Brootally aka Brutlery is southwest from Killynure, and also fronts on Monaghan Road. The 1785-87 Tithes mention not only a holding by a William Oliver at Brootally but also seven holdings held there by men with the surname of Mallon. This is significant because of the common-law relationship of a later William Oliver (1828-aft.1892) with a Mary-Anne Mallon (1822-1892). That William Oliver was the grandson of William Oliver (1730-1816) who had transferred his 53 acres of land in Brootally to his son on June 20, 1793. Andrew Bradford Oliver (1818-1877), a grandson of William Oliver (1730-1816), was still living at Brootally in 1843. When Andrew got married, his uncle William Oliver (1765-1854) of Brootally stood in for Andrew’s deceased father, Benjamin Oliver (abt1765-1831). The connection to the lands leased at Brootally was severed, probably when Andrew Bradford Oliver (1818-1877) was declared insolvent on October 22, 1853. This Andrew was a cousin to the William Oliver (1828- aft.1892) of Brootally.
·       On the eastern side of this map is a cluster of properties owned or leased by Olivers who were the children of the William Oliver (bef 1700) and Elizabeth Hardy mentioned in Eliza’s notes.
o   Ballyrea
o   Kennedies
o   Ballynahonebeg
o   Tullymore
·       Also in that cluster are properties owned by Olivers in later generations:
o   Navan
o   Ballycrummy
o   Legarhill

These first known Oliver families to farm in Armagh, starting in the mid-1600s, were members of either the Presbyterian Church or the Church of Ireland. The earliest records that I have found – so far - of Catholic Olivers living in this part of Armagh start in the mid-1800s. I am guessing that sometime in the early to mid-1800s, a male Oliver converted to the faith of his wife. Given the complexities of the faith divide, this raises several questions:

·       Who was the first Oliver to convert?
·       How was his change in faith received by other Olivers?
·       Was he cut off from an inheritance?
·       What was the cultural context like in the early to mid-1800s?
·       Was his sense of community Catholic, Presbyterian, or both?

We do know that on April 1812, a Petition was presented to the British Parliament which advocated granting voting rights to Catholics not only in all of Ireland, but also in all of England, a legislated right which until then had only been extended to members of the Established Church. It was signed by three Presbyterian brothers from Armagh: James Oliver (?-1853) of Ennislare, William Oliver (abt 1765-1854) of Ennislare and/or Brootally and Benjamin Oliver (abt 1765-1831) of Killynure, as well as by their brother-in-law John M’Culla (?-1818) of Kearny Hill (Cavanacaw).  The fathers and grandfathers of these Olivers had not only been farmers, but had also earned a living as linen merchants and/or producers of linen. Their brothers and cousins had also run businesses in the region that were a good fit with farming. The Armagh chandleries made candles out of animal fat, and the local tanneries turned the skins of cows and pigs into shoes, gloves, belts, saddles and harnesses. The Olivers were all merchants and farmers.

The brothers who signed the petition were sons of William Oliver (1730-1816) and Elizabeth Steele. There were also about fifty other men from Armagh who had signed it as well. Many of them were also related to these Olivers. There was strong Presbyterian representation amongst the signatories. One thing that is curious, is that none of the Church of Ireland Olivers signed the petition. Many of these Olivers were poor and illiterate, and often signed their legal documents with an X. Others of them, such as Joseph Oliver (1764-1837) of Tullymore, were amongst the wealthiest of the linen merchants of the area. This raises many questions:

·       Why were so many of these Church of Ireland Olivers either very rich, or very poor?
·       Why were the Presbyterian Olivers unlikely to be so poor or illiterate?
·       Were the Presbyterian Olivers more likely to be entrepreneurial? If so, why?
·       Were the Presbyterian Olivers more likely to be supported by money sent home from family members who had emigrated?

More questions:

·       The Presbyterian Oliver brothers who signed the petition were supportive of the rights of Catholics, but did this support extend to the acceptance of inter-faith marriage?
·       Was the Catholic John Oliver (1841-1909) of Ballycrummy who married Margaret Rock (abt 1837-1905) born into the Catholic faith, or did he convert to it? Was his father the first to convert? Or was it his grandfather?
·       Is it more than coincidence that William Oliver (1810-1873) of Killynure, a brother of Eliza Oliver, had a housekeeper named Sarah Rock, likely related to Margaret Rock? Sarah Rock was left £50 by William Oliver in his will.
·       Was Benjamin Oliver (1841-?), who was the illegitimate son of the Protestant William Oliver (1828-aft 1892) and the Catholic Mary Anne Mallon (1822-1892), of Killynure, named after his great-uncle Benjamin Oliver (abt 1765-1831) of Killynure? It is likely. It is worth noting that William Oliver and Mary Anne Mallon’s relationship lasted. They also had a daughter Sarah born three years later at Killynure.

One more glimpse at the family and money connections between these various “cousin” level relationships is in a letter dated July 21st,1880. It was written by Eliza Oliver to her son, Thomas Jackson, who lived and worked in Hong Kong at that time:

NOTE: The proceeds that Eliza has for the sale was ₤2350. The amount in a legal notice in the paper shows it as ₤3,250.
I write to inform you of the sale of the Oliver estate which was appointed for Friday the 16th inst. We had no idea that it would be sold at all; times were so bad, and so many properties offered for sale; without a bidder; yet it was sold, and well sold, all things considered ₤2350 was what it went at. I have received a note from Thompson Brown, since then which surprised me a good deal. He says that it never was legally [deeded?] that Ben and John Oliver should get the third of the property, and that the case should be argued again before the Vice Chancellor. I suppose Mr McCombe to be the author of this opinion; though Thompson did not say so; and whether it is a bona fide advice; or whether it is only another seven years wait and more law costs; I cannot say. May the Lord direct whatever is best. I expect Thompson here today; when we will hear more particulars, and discuss the affair 

Let’s say that this John Oliver mentioned in the letter was the same John Oliver (abt 1841-1909) who married Margaret Rock. It is most likely. The Oliver estate that had just been sold was land that had been inherited by Eliza’s brother William Oliver (abt 1810-1873) from their father. The legal case seems to hinge on the question of whether the land had been legally deeded in the first place. Did this legal glitch happen when Benjamin Oliver (1765-1831) transferred the leases to his son William Oliver (abt 1810-1873), or did it happen a generation earlier?

We learn a little bit more about the status of the legal involvement of John Oliver (abt 1841-1909) and Benjamin Oliver (abt 1842-1905), as well as the properties involved, from a July 17th, 1880 newspaper report relating to the land sale..
NOTE: These townlands of Knockagraphy, Lisdrumard & Drumgar had long been used as grazing lands by Eliza’s brothers who farmed at Killynure. They had been leased by Benjamin Oliver (abt. 1765-1831) as early as 1818. Significantly, they are on the southern border of Ballydoo, a townland that was first leased by Olivers as early as 1664, and likely earlier.
Both John Oliver and Benjamin Oliver are described in this legal notice as owners and petitioners. This is a good fit with the legal claim mentioned in Eliza’s letter. If that claim had been valid, then each of them would have had the right to 1/3rd of the £3,250 realized from the sale of lands at Lisdrumard, Knockagraphy, and Drumgar. 1/3rd of that money is worth about £100,000 in purchasing power in today’s currency. The value of the land itself would be worth even more (6 acres of similar land at Cavanacaw is currently listed at £100,000).

We know from a marriage record that the father of John Oliver (abt 1841-1909) was another John Oliver. Because John Oliver (abt 1841-1909) lived at Tullymore before taking a lease in Ballycrummy, it is likely that his father was the John Oliver who was born in 1810 in Tullymore. If the lack of a legal transfer of these lands that were part of the estate sold in 1880 happened one generation before the death of William Oliver (1810-1873), then the John Oliver (1810-?) of Tullymore was probably a son of the James Oliver (?-1853) who in turn was a son of William Oliver (1730-1816) and Elizabeth Steele. This would have meant that John Oliver (abt 1841-1909) and Benjamin Oliver (abt 1842-1905) would have been 2nd cousins.

If the lack of a legal transfer happened two generations earlier, then another possibility presents itself. The John Oliver who was born about 1810 at Tullymore could have been a son of the John Oliver (abt 1764-aft 1796) of Ballynahonebeg who was in turn a son of Joseph Oliver (1727-abt. 1795) & Jane Oats (1728-bef 1798) – also of Ballinahonebeg. In this case, John and Ben would have been 3rd cousins.

Both options are supported by the DNA evidence, and both options mean that the Catholic John Oliver (abt 1841-1909) and the Presbyterian Benjamin Oliver (abt 1842-1905) were both descendants of William Oliver (bef 1700) and Elizabeth Hardy. Coincidentally, they may have even been born in the same year. Certainly, they would have known each other.

The oral history of the descendants of Benjamin Oliver (abt 1842-1905), the one who was possibly entitled to ½ of 1/3rd of the proceeds from the land sales, is that he received nothing. I doubt that John Oliver (abt 1841-1909) of Ballycrummy, the second owner or petitioner, fared any better. Whether the lack of a legal deed should have led to a decision in their favour, I can’t say. The earliest record that I have is a fee farm grant to William Oliver (abt 1810-1873) dated September 15, 1837. It seems legitimate. This was six years after the death of William’s father, Benjamin Oliver (abt 1765-1831). So far, I can’t find any evidence that the 1880s case ever went to trial, which is unfortunate. Trials like this are often a motherlode of information.

What we do know is that seven years later, in spite of the likely bad blood in the family, is that Benjamin Oliver (abt 1842-1905), who now lived in Scotland, named his first-born son Thomas Jackson Oliver after his cousin. Thomas Jackson (1841-1915) was the son of Eliza Oliver, one of the beneficiaries of the sale. Ben and Thomas would have known each other as boys, often sleeping under the same roof, especially after Ben’s mother had died when he was a toddler.

So, where does this leave us with respect to understanding all the interconnections of this extended family that straddled three faiths: Church of Ireland, Presbyterian and Catholic?  Did life turn out well for them? As I reflect on all this half a world away, on the west coast of Canada, I can only hope. After all, those of us who are related to them do carry a smidgeon of them within us – at least according to our shared DNA.


  1. I noticed that a William Couser was a surviving trustee for sale in the last newspaper clipping in the article. What IS a surviving trustee? He was probably a kinsman of my 2x great-grandmother, whose surname was Couser. She, too, was from Armagh. Such an unusual and rare surname.

    1. The Cousers lived on Monaghan Road at Couser's corner, across the street from the Olivers of Killynure. If you go to my web site, you will find lots of COUSERs. see:
      The site search will ferret out lots of them, but also a google search for < Couser Sharon Oddie Brown>, for some reason, more things pop up when use that search approach.