A warm welcome to Cindy Hines. Cindy Hines is a professional writer and a Beyond Kin Project genealogist. She is descended from Irish and Scottish colonisers and enslavers.
Hand-drawn map of Scotland and Northern Ireland indicating where Clan MacLachlan was located in the Scottish Highlands before fleeing to County Antrim in Northern Ireland in the mid-16th century, where the surname became Laughlin. (Source: LeBlanc, Eva Laughlin. Descendants of John Laughlin from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Cullen, Ala. : Gregath Co., 1985.)
William Laughlin, my 6th great-granduncle, was born in about 1720 in what is now Dervock, County Antrim, Northern Ireland (formerly Ulster). His Presbyterian ancestors fled to Ireland from the Clan MacLachlan lands of Strathlachlan on the west coast of the Scottish Highlands in about 1550-1555 after losing a war with England known as the “Rough Wooing.” This was during the reign of Mary Queen of Scots, who was Catholic and, thus, wanted a Catholic kingdom.
In 1641, England and Scotland sent troops to protect the Scottish colonizers from ethnic conflict in the North Antrim Coast of Ireland after a Catholic Irish massacre of Protestant Scottish colonizers in this Ulster province. It was around this time that William's ancestors most likely moved north from Ballymoney to nearby Dervock, which was a military station occupied by a Scottish regiment.
Around the time of a famine in Ireland from 1740 to 1741, William Laughlin emigrated to the New World with his brothers John, my 6th great-grandfather, and James. (Some lines of the family say that James was a cousin. My line says “brother.”) They arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania between about 1740-1744. Some sources say that William arrived as early as 1736, although I’ve been unable to verify this.
Shortly after their arrival, William and his brothers settled near Big Spring in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania (now Newville, Pennsylvania), where the majority of the colonizing population were Scotch-Irish immigrants from Ulster, Ireland (now Northern Ireland).
The Scotch-Irish immigrants in the Newville area attended Big Spring Presbyterian Church. The membership rolls show many Laughlin families, including William Laughlin, his family, and Rachel, the woman whom he enslaved.
Although Pennsylvania was technically a free state by 1780 due to the Gradual Abolition Act, this act permitted Pennsylvania enslavers to keep in bondage anyone who they had already enslaved. Therefore, some 6,000 people remained enslaved in Pennsylvania after the act. The last enslaved people in Pennsylvania were recorded in 1840. The Big Spring Presbyterian Church rolls of 1789 list 22 enslaved people in the congregation.
The rolls list the names and ages of the Scotch-Irish parishioners. They list the names of the enslaved African and African-Irish parishioners after the names of the family who enslaved them. In addition, the rolls denote whether a person was “in communion,” that is whether they were full members of the church who were able to receive communion. Enslaved parishioners were not permitted to be “in communion,” so the rolls list them only as adherents. To become adherents, they had to memorize the answers to a number of catechism questions.
Following are the names of the William Laughlin family and Rachel, the woman whom William enslaved, from the Big Spring Presbyterian Church 1789 Confessions of Faith.
William Laughlin, 69 (b. 1720)
Mary Laughlin, 48 (b. 1741)
James Laughlin, 17 (b. 1772)
John Laughlin, 15 (b. 1774)
William Laughlin, 9 (b. 1780)
Rachel, a negro
Rachel also appears on the tax records for William Laughlin in 1779, 1785, 1787, and 1788. The 1787 tax list for West Pennsboro township in Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, lists Rachel as “1 Slave” along with 1 grist mill, 2 horses, 4 cows, and 150 acres owned by William Laughlin.
.Although I have finished researching Rachel and her enslaver William Laughlin, I am still researching the remaining 21 enslaved parishioners of the Big Spring Presbyterian Church. Their stories will follow in a later blog.
Cumberland Valley Visitors Bureau. 'Laughlin Mill'.
(www.visitcumberlandvalley.com/listing/laughlin-mill/1152/) (Accessed 31 Mar 2021).
Engebretson, Kathleen Joyce Laughlin. Laughlin’s from Scotland/Ireland to America Coast to Coast (2003).
Hines, Harvey K. “Hon. Robert R. Laughlin.” An Illustrated History of the State of Oregon: Containing a History of Oregon From the Earliest Period of Its Discovery to the Present Time, Together With Glimpses of Its Auspicious Future. Chicago: The Lewis publishing co. (1893), p. 705.
LeBlanc, Eva Laughlin. Descendants of John Laughlin from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Cullen, Ala. : Gregath Co. (1985).
Newville Borough The History of Newville
(https://www.newvilleborough.com/about-newville) (Accessed 31 Mar 2021).
Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission; Records of the Office of the Comptroller General, RG-4; Tax & Exoneration Lists, 1762-1794; Microfilm Rolls: 324, 326, 334, 326.
Swope, Gilbert Ernest. History of the Big Spring Presbyterian Church, Newville, Pa., 1737-1898 (1898).
Wing, Conway P. “West Pennsborough.” History of Cumberland County, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: James D. Scott (1879).
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Martine Brennan (Curator) While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this work, mistakes may occurr. If you offer a correction, please provde documentation or a link to an historical document. Many thanks. MB
Enslavement to citizenship: African Americans in Irish Slaveholder records by Martine Brennan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.