From Scotland to Ireland

The cliffs at the Mull of Galloway, Scotland.

James Leyburn’s book The Scotch-Irish. A Social History (1963) traces the migration of the Scotch-Irish in the 17th and 18th centuries. The earliest spelling of our McCollough surname in the 1770s to 1790s by Captain John McCollough, his father John, and his grandfather Gerhardt Fiscus suggests that our McCulloch ancestors in the Lowlands of Scotland moved to Ireland for several generations before coming to America. We don’t know for certain, but Leyburn’s history traces the likely pattern of movement our McCollough ancestors.

On a clear day, one can see the hills of Ireland from the old McCulloch estates and farms on Mull of Galloway in southwest Scotland. From here, Ireland is only a scant 20 miles across the Irish Sea. Traders travelled back and forth across the narrow straights for thousands of years.

In 1600, conditions for the tenant farmers in the Lowlands of Scotland were hard and plagued by famine, disease, and poverty. At the same time, England was looking for a way to solve the Irish “problem.” Ever since the Norman king of England Henry II invaded Ireland 400 years earlier, the native Irish resisted colonization. Ireland was a steady drain on royal wealth and the military. The peasant farmers suffered in Ireland under English rule as they did throughout much of Scotland.

In the early 1600s, King James I of England (VI of Scotland) launched an ambitious plan to subdue the rebellious Irish in Ulster, the northernmost province of Ireland by taking the land from the native Irish and establishing English “plantations.” Two Ayreshire (Scotland) lairds, Hugh Montgomery and James Hamilton, became large plantation holders in Ulster, but others received lands as well. In 1606, the King established a similar plantation at “James”town in Virginia.

The King and plantation owners needed a source of colonists, and the Lowland Scots were ideal candidates.  Many McCullochs and related families, especially the less fortunate, had an opportunity to leave their depauperate condition in Scotland and begin a new life in the Ulster district of Ireland. The plantations replaced the need for an English army in Ireland and lessened poverty in Scotland by draining off some of its surplus population.  

About 250,000 acres in Ireland was parceled out to “undertakers,” the Scots and English gentry who agreed to “plant” their new Irish estates with Protestant farmers. The Lowland Scots became the mainstay of the Plantations. The Lowlanders, including the McCullochs, would have a great advantage, since they “lye so near to that coiste of Ulster” that they could transport across the Irish Sea their “men and bestiall.”

During this time, some of the McCulloch estates failed under mismanagement or misbehavior. But at least one of the McCullochs from Scotland was an “undertaker,” and undoubtedly many more moved to Ireland to lease land on plantations. In 1609, James McCulloch (son of Robert) became a landlord (undertaker) in the plantation of Ulster, taking up 1000 acres. His lands were known as the Manor of Mullaghveagh in County Donegal. Many of the Scottish undertakers did not stay landholders in Ireland for long and sold out. James McCulloch sold his interest in 1612 and returned to the Drummoral estate in southwest Scotland.

Undertakers typically received 2000 acres and agreed to bring 48 able men and their families. Lowland Scots could sign up for a lease for 21 years or life.  Of the 6 counties in the Plantation, the Scots settled mostly in Down, Antrim, Donegal and Tyrone. They left their feudal past and formed new neighborhoods, established Presbyterian churches, and farmed the richer soil of the Irish countryside. During this period, the potato was introduced from America by Sir Walter Raleigh and became the mainstay of their diet. They had far more control of their destiny than they did under a feudal system in Scotland.

The Plantations attracted Scots families who had little to lose and wanted to improve their lot in life. By some estimates by 1640 there were over 100,000 Scots living in Ulster. They formed alliances with the displaced native Irish.  Many intermarried. The plantationers needed farm labor and hired the Irish as subtenants. The Scots plantationers and native Irish maintained an uneasy alliance for a short period of time before bitterness and resentment resulted in a series of Irish uprisings starting in 1641 that lasted for 11 years.  Tens of thousands of the Ulster colonists were killed. Cromwell came from England in 1650 and brutally crushed the native Irish and Scots colonists alike and brought the English Parliament to Ireland. Struggles between the Catholic and Protestant religions continued until King William of Orange defeated the deposed King James on Irish soil at the Battle of the Boyne.

By the late 1600s, the British control of Ulster was complete. Another wave of Lowland Scots came to northern Ireland during “the killing times” when the Covenanters (including many McCullochs) were persecuted in Scotland. English dissenters, including Puritans and Quakers, also fled to the relative peace in Ulster. Ulster became a mingling place for people of different Protestant backgrounds. Many of the English Ulstermen joined their Scots neighbors when the exodus to American began in earnest after 1717.

Most transplanted Scots lived in Ulster for 3, 4, or 5 generations before coming to America in the 1700s.  By this time, they considered themselves more Irish than Scots. In the New World they would come to be known as the “Scotch-Irish.”

Remembering Congressman John Lewis

One of the unexpected pleasures of writing the McCollough family history book is “meeting” other descendants of Captain John and Elizabeth McCollough. Our extended family are scattered far and wide across the United States. Rick and I both worked for the Department of the Interior. Rick worked for the National Park Service and myself for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 

Rick’s career at the National Park Service took him to Atlanta in 1979. There he worked on projects in Atlanta and the Southeast, particularly in getting Congress to establish new Park Service units, and provide funds for developing visitor facilities for areas associated with African American history themes. This is how Rick met Congressman John Lewis, Coretta Scott King, many of those involved in the Selma-To-Montgomery Voting Rights March, and the Tuskegee Airmen. He also worked with Wally Schirra, one of the original seven Mercury Astronauts on a Man-In-Space Theme Study. The study looked at all of the sites and facilities that played key roles in landing men on the moon in 1969.

Last week at John Lewis’ funeral, President Barack Obama said that Representative John Lewis will become a founding father of a better America. Our McCollough ancestors likely met some of America’s founding fathers. Captain John McCollough’s uncle Adam Weaver spent the winter of 1777-1778 with George Washington at Valley Forge. Captain John’s grandfather, Gerhardt Fiscus, was an indentured servant as a tailor in Philadelphia in the 1740s. The Fiscus family says that he made clothing for Benjamin Franklin and his family.

I hope you are inspired by Rick McCollough’s remembrances of John Lewis written on July 18, 2020.

I did not sleep well last night. That’s because just before we went to bed, we heard that Congressman John Lewis had passed away at the age of 80.

Rising from the son of a sharecropper to become one of our most important civil rights leaders, his work spanned more than 60 years. He was one-of-a-kind, a true American treasure.  So humble, so kind, so calm in the face of adversity. He was a positive presence in any situation, full of humility and grace. 

I had the pleasure of working with John on several projects late in my career with the National Park Service.  These projects included establishing and developing visitor facilities for the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in John’s home state of Alabama, the Selma-To-Montgomery National Historic Trail, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park in downtown Atlanta.

John was a vibrant supporter of each of these important projects, and without his involvement they very likely would not have reached the level of success that we see today in telling these important stories for the American people.

With the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games rapidly approaching, Atlanta’s efforts to put on its best face for the world included providing facilities commemorating the life and work of one of its most famous sons, and a close associate with Lewis in the movement, the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. King was even better known in other countries than in the U.S., and visitors from across the globe would expect to visit his memorial during the games. Congressman Lewis became instrumental in ensuring the necessary funds from Congress for the development of a new visitor center, interpretive exhibits and other facilities at the historical park.

At a critical moment, in the midst of the King family’s efforts to scuttle the project and build their own museum, John Lewis supported the National Park Service and helped save the project. Without his support and direct involvement, the project could not have been completed.

When the new visitor center was completed and John came for a tour, I saw tears in his eyes – happy tears — to see Dr. King’s life and work in the civil rights movement so well explained through exhibits in the new visitor center. It was a true honor for me to work with him, shake his hand, and receive his heartfelt appreciation. The “thank you” letter from John today hangs proudly in our home.

In 2000, at the 35th anniversary remembrance of the Selma-To-Montgomery Voting Rights March, I walked with him and others across the Selma bridge named after the KKK leader, Edmund Pettus. The bridge was the site of the “Bloody Sunday Massacre,” where John Lewis and other peaceful marchers were attacked and beaten by Alabama State Police as they attempted to begin the march to the Alabama state capitol in Montgomery. John always answered brutal violence with courageous hope and nonviolent protest.

John Lewis preached and practiced nonviolence, and was always outspoken in his support of justice.   He liked to say “We must keep our eyes on the prize.” The prize of course being the obtainment of equal rights for all Americans regardless of the color of their skin. His life truly represents the triumph of love over hate, and the quest to make our nation more just.  

His passing leaves much work still to be done as evidenced by the events of recent weeks. And we will always remember his mantra to go and “make good trouble.”

John, May God Bless you, and may He rest your soul in peace.

        Rick McCollough

Why leave Scotland?

In 2018, my wife and I spent nearly a week in the old Scottish counties of Wigtownshire (“The Shire”) and Kirkcudbrightshire (Ke-koo-bre-sher). These old counties in southwest Scotland are now part of the council area “Dumfries and Galloway,” and are the ancestral home of the McCullochs. The pastoral landscape with rolling hills, farms, and small villages reminded me of western Pennsylvania where I grew up.  The landscape was enchanting, the people friendly, and the farms looked prosperous, so why would our McCollough ancestor and so many others leave this beautiful area for Ireland and later America?

I recently resumed reading the book The Scotch Irish. A Social History by James G. Leyburn (1962) that Dad gave me many years ago. Although many authors, including Teddy Roosevelt, praised the Scotch-Irish for their many contributions in exploring and settling the wilderness of America, few have documented the history of these people and explain why they left Scotland in the first place. Leyburn’s work still stands as the definitive history of the Scotch-Irish and provided answers to my questions.

Recent genetic yDNA testing pinpoints our family origins in southwest Scotland.  But like so many Scots from this region, it is very likely that our McCulloch ancestors spent five or six generations in Northern Ireland (Ulster) before coming to America.

Leyden describes Scotland in the late-1500s and early 1600s as one of the poorest, backward countries of Europe. The Renaissance that swept Europe in the 1500s had not reached Scotland. Our ancestors living in southwest Scotland still lived under a medieval, feudal system that had prevailed in Scotland for the previous 500 years. Wealthy noblemen and lairds (including some McCullochs) owned the land and rented to the destitute tenant farmer class. 

The situation in Scotland was desperate. Poverty was widespread. In 1600, Scotland had not achieved an orderly government or established a rule of law. Society was lawless. Local lairds were constantly engaged in violent feuds, and corrupt sheriffs appointed by the lairds took the local law into their own hands. Agricultural methods were primitive compared to other parts of Europe. Artistic pursuits (other than music) were unknown. Peasants were regularly conscripted by their lairds to fight in frequent wars with England. The landscape long ago was denuded of trees. Cattle stealing was a favorite pastime (some McCullochs were notorious reivers). Humble farmers paid large fees to renew their leases of a few acres. There was barely enough food to carry families through the winter. Peasants lived in clusters of windowless hovels made from stone or banked turf with heather stuffed in the gaps to keep out the worst winter blasts. The roofs were thatch or turf. They lived with their livestock to keep warm in the winter. Peat fires burned in an open pit in the center of smoke-filled hovel. People slept and ate on the dirt floor (where they could see through the peat smoke). Infectious disease, including smallpox, plague, and malaria, regularly ravaged the countryside.

Most tenant farmers were resigned to their place in life, but also found emotional security in being part of a community. There was little desire for change or to transform their traditional, feudal life. They knew no other alternative, and were blindly ignorant of the radical advances in science and society that were happening in Europe. In 1560, the fiery preacher John Knox brought the Scots news of the Protestant Reformation – a movement that quickly swept Scotland and introduced the concepts of democracy.  Protestantism was immediately popular with the Lowlanders and brought a new sense of moral decency to a decrepit society.

Despite the harsh conditions, the Lowlanders had a few reasons to be cheerful. Many communities gathered to enjoy their local singers, pipers, and harpists. The people shared rich folk tales. Yule (Christmas), Pasch (Easter), and the various saint’s days were enjoyed with local celebrations.  Superstition was widespread with common belief in sorcery, magic, witchcraft, and tales abound of ghosts, demons, and spirits haunting the moors.

Tenant farmers in Scotland lived in houses like this one. Windows were rare. A peat fire smoldered in the hearth located in the center of the hovel, and smoke filled the single room. Livestock shared the house in winter.

Leyburn paints a dour picture of the conditions in the Scottish Lowlands in the early 1600s. In fact, he wrote that “dourness” and stubbornness best described the mind and spirit of the Scottish Lowlander at this time. Men and women who survived centuries of living in a harsh environment, physical and social, learned how to endure the worst that life could send them – famine, plague, raiding bands of English, crop failures, and cattle stolen. They learned to endure these hard and violent times

There was every reason why an ambitious Scottish man or woman should look elsewhere to improve his family’s condition. By 1600, the Lowland Scots were a people ready to be released from their poor condition. They found hope in the new Protestant religion and an opportunity arose to cross the Irish Sea begin anew in Ireland.

McCollough journal


Mark McCollough at the Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye in Scotland (2018)

Welcome to the McCollough journal. It is my hope that this journal will be a place where folks can share information on our extended McCollough family.

For seven generations the McColloughs have told stories around the kitchen table and across the split rail fences about our family history in America. Our family story survived for over 250 years in the oral traditions of potters, farmers, school teachers, bellringers, and yeoman of western Pennsylvania. For our ancestors, there were constant farm chores and little time to do proper genealogy research. Few of McCollough farmers had the time or means to travel into Butler or Pittsburgh to spend an afternoon in a library to look for information about our past. Times have changed in 21st century America. Now we have time to explore the world’s libraries from our home computers or take a simple cheek swab to discover what our genetic code tells us about our family’s past.

In the late 1800s, the stories about the McColloughs in the Butler County history books were well known to Captain John and Elizabeth’s grandchildren. But there were many mysteries about the origins of Captain John McCollough who was born in 1770. Allegedly when John was just four years, his father, a doctor, was away from the log cabin when his mother was killed in an Indian attack (another story relays that she was murdered by the hired hand). According to oral traditions, John hid in the woods, or behind a rock, or in the corn crib and escaped the calamity. He was raised by a German family that explains why an account book that he kept in the 1790s was mostly written in hard-to-read German script. Why did a man with a Scots-Irish name speak and write German? Who raised John? What happened to his father? So many questions….

Many Sunday afternoons, my grandfather, Theodore, told us jaw-dropping tales about our ancestors – some true, some having an element of truth, and others based on conjecture according to the latest history book or story he heard from other family members. People came from near and far to hear stories about the McCollough clan and see “Doc’s” collection of antiquities. Most left satisfied and maybe with a full belly from lunch prepared by my grandmother, June. In the 1960s, my father, Curtis, began to ask other McColloughs on nearby farms in Chicora what they knew about our family history. Some knew a bit, mostly from the Butler County histories or the address that Newton Clark McCollough wrote for the first McCollough reunion in 1912. There was much uncertainty about our family origins. Some sternly warned Dad, “Don’t ask too many questions or you’ll rattle some skeletons out of a McCollough closet!”

After retirement, Curtis began to search in earnest for the truth about our family origins. Captain John’s father was allegedly a doctor named William. Many, including Grandpa, surmised that he was related to the McCollochs of Wheeling, West Virginia, the famed frontier scouts. Sam McColloch escaped capture from the Indians by a daring jump on his horse off the precipice above Short Creek in Wheeling. Curtis searched throughout the 1990s and could write a book about the Wheeling McCollochs, but unable to find evidence that we were not related to this family. Dad hit the proverbial genealogy brick wall. Who were John’s parents? Where did they come from? Who was our immigrant ancestor?

Twenty years ago in a moment of weakness I agreed to help my father. Dad spent countless hours in genealogy libraries from Erie to Wheeling to the Holsten River in Virginia, but could not find references to a Dr. William McCollough. He compiled volumes of information about the McColloughs and related families. He also discovered new information about our family. His dream was to write a book about our family history. That dream was realized when we publish the McCollough book in 2003. It was a success, but it left many stones unturned. The greatest mysteries surrounding our family origins still remained. We continued to search for elusive answers.

In 2012, I was in Pennsylvania visiting Mom and Dad. We decided to have a picnic at Bushy Run Battlefield and spend a few hours afterward doing research at the nearby Westmoreland County Courthouse in Greensburg. We first stopped at the Westmoreland Historical Society where Dad and I did genealogy research on many occasions. We asked for guidance on where to find the old court records. They encouraged us to review a stack of bulletins prepared years ago by the historical society that contained some of the transcribed court records from the late-1700s. We went through the indices looking for McColloughs or Spanglers, when an odd spelling of John M’Colagh caught my eye. This led us to the 1796 will of Gerhard Fiscus. This name was familiar to us as many of the Fiscus family were named in John’s account book. The will indicated that Gerhardt Fiscus left an inheritance to John McCollough “the only surviving son of my deceased daughter, Barbara Fiscus.” The Fiscuses were the German family that raised John! That serendipitous discovery led to many others in the library that day. One new discovery followed another, and in an hour we learned more about our McCollough past than the 20 years of previous research. The brick wall was shattered. Such is the nature of genealogy!

In subsequent years, many new discoveries were made – the origins of the Spangler family, Captain John’s in-laws, Captain John’s land cases in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and genetic samples that led us all the way back to Scotland and beyond. Old photographs continued to be contributed by family members. The family tree swelled to over 5,000 descendants of Captain John and Elizabeth McCollough. There was so much new information that we decided to rewrite the McCollough book that we published in 2003. Dad was able to see it to completion before he passed away in September, 2019.

It is my hope that this website and journal will help provide a forum for our extended McCollough family to learn more about our shared history. Perhaps new information and photographs will come to light. Most of the McCollough farms in Fairview Township have been subdivided and sold, and our family is scattered from Maine to Florida to California and countless points in between. Likewise, most of the McCollough reunions are no longer are held. Perhaps this website and journal can function as a virtual family reunion – a way for people to learn about their heritage and to connect with each other. I hope you find the information entertaining and informative and find some stories that you can share with your children and grandchildren about our proud past. Mark McCollough

Happy 250th Birthday Captain John!

Nathaniel Hawthorne wrote, “Time flies, but leaves it’s shadow behind.” April 15, 2020 marks the 250th birthday of our common ancestor Captain John McCollough who was born on this date in 1770. His birth location is somewhat of a mystery. In the 1880 Federal Census, most of his surviving children said he was born in Pennsylvania. Several believed he was born in Virginia. History complicates the matter because in 1770 (and not until after the Revolution), western Pennsylvania was claimed by both Virginia and Pennsylvania. But that’s a story for another time…

The April 15, 1770 birth date is inscribed on Captain John’s tombstone in the Hilltop Cemetery in Chicora. This tombstone was placed at Hilltop in 1914 when John and Elizabeth’s remains were reinterred from the nearby White Oak Cemetery. John’s original tombstone is believed to be the marble insert in the McCollough Monument on nearby Oak Road in Chicora. We suspect the April 15 date must also be carved into his original tombstone that is now hidden from view.

John’s birth date is also recorded in his account book, but in another person’s handwriting. In an old script someone wrote in Captain John McCollough’s account book, In the year 1770 Apr 15 John McCollough was born in Virginia by Holstons river. Dad and I called

The mystery note in John’s account book. Who wrote it? Was it written in John’s account book after he died or before? What evidence did the writer have that John was born by the Holston River in Virginia?

this one of the “mystery notes” in John’s account book. Dad took several genealogy research trips to the Holston River area in Virginia. He found documents relating to other McColloch families there, but nothing related to our family. In recent years, we found convincing evidence that suggests that John was born in Lancaster or Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania. Based on a careful reconstruction of early records and the earliest land records, we now know exactly where John was raised by his German grandparents in Westmoreland County.

John grew up during an amazing time in America’s history. He witnessed the Revolutionary War as a young boy. His father, John McCollough senior, likely served. Three of his Fiscus uncles were veterans of the War. His grandfather Gerhardt and Uncle John Fiscus signed an oath of allegiance to the new country. The formation of the new United States must have been of special significance to John. He and his bride were married on July 4, 1797, the 21st birthday of the new country.

Captain John and Elizabeth’s tombstone at the Hilltop (McCollough) Cemetery at Kepple’s Corners, Chicora, Pennsylvania.

The McCulloch coat of arms

If you Google the “McCollough” surname, you will get many results for colorful McCulloch or McCullough coat of arms. Coats of arms, family crests, or heraldic designs were first used by European nobility in the 12th century and were proudly displayed through the 1500s. In England and Scotland, coat of arms identified important individuals, and their use was governed by a strict set of rules. In Great Britain they are still registered by the same heraldic authorities that traditionally granted and regulated arms for centuries. In Scotland, the Lord Lyon King of Arms still has criminal jurisdiction to control the use of arms that can be enforced by the police!.

In the medieval era, the McCullochs of the Galloway were a wealthy and influential family in the southwest of Scotland, and several of the prominent McCulloch families had their own coats of arms. Walter Jameson McCulloch’s book A History of the Galloway Families of McCulloch (1964) contains the genealogy of nine prominent McCulloch families of the Galloway district of southwestern Scotland. In the Galloway region of southwest Scotland at least four families held castles and large estates, and each had a distinct coat of arms.

The oldest record of a McCulloch coat of arms comes from the book Armorial de Berry, dated about 1450. This document was prepared for King Charles VII of France and depicted the arms of 122 principal Scottish families, including the McCullochs, at the time the King visited Scotland. Another is from the McCullochs of Cardoness near the Gatehouse of Fleet. It was recorded in an ancient Roll of Arms compiled by Sir David Lyndsay about 1542. The McCullochs of Drummoral, near the Isle of Whithorn, designed a coat of arms that is within a “border engrailed” to represent the arms of a McCulloch son and not the laird of the estate. The prominent McCullochs of Myrtoun castle used a coat of arms with a crest depicting a hand throwing a dart. These arms include the motto Vi et animo (Latin for By Strength and Courage). These arms were registered about 1672 by Sir Godfrey MacCulloch, the 2nd Baronet of Myrtoun. He was the same Godfrey who lost his head in a guillotine in Edinburgh. The Mackullo of Merton (Myrtoun) had a unique coat of arms that was azure (blue) with three wolves’ heads. It was recorded in an old heraldic manuscript about 1565 that is preserved at the Lyon Office in Edinburgh. The arms depict three wolves, but at one time may have represented three boars’ heads. This may be derived from the ancient Scots Gaelic Mac Cullaich, meaning “son of the boar.” The McCullochs of Barholm Castle had a unique coat of arms blending the previous themes. It consisted of the engrailed gules with a shield with three wolves. It was registered in 1814 when John McCulloch of Barholm was recognized as the patriarch of the McCullochs of Muir (near Creetown), Myrtoun (near Port William), and Cardoness (near the Gatehouse of Fleet).

Today there is a thriving coat of arms business, and there are many elaborate and colorful renditions of the McCulloch family crest, such as the color design above. They combine fanciful interpretations and variations of the old McCulloch designs. Nowadays, unless you live in Scotland there are no “heraldry police” watching (at least in the United States). So you could try your hand designing your own coat of arms for the McCollough family of Chicora or Chicago or wherever your clan resides using any of the design elements above!