The Montgomery Plantation in County

An extract from Montgomery Manuscripts
Ed. G.Hill (1873) Written by William Montgomery of
Rosemount ca 1696-1706. This provides a contemporary view
of the early settlement of Co Down.

” I now go on with Sir Hugh
Montgomery`s plantation, which began about May, 1606, and
thus it was, viz.:-Sir Hugh, after his return from Ireland
to Braidstane, in winter 1605, as he had before his coming
into Ireland, spoken of the plantation, so now he conduced
his prime friends to join him therein, viz:-John Shaw of
Greenock, Esq. and Patrick Montgomery of Black House. Sir
Hugh also brought with him Patrick Shaw, Laird of
Kelsoland and Hugh Montgomery, a cadet of the family of
Braidstane with many others, and gave them lands in fee
farm in Donaghadee parish under small chief rents.

There came over also divers wealthy
able men, to whom his lordship gave tenements in freehold,
and parks by lease, so they being as it were bound, with
their heirs, to the one, they must increase the rent for
the other, at the end of the term or quit both  which
makes the park lands about towns give 10s. per acre rent
now, which at the plantations the tenants had for 1s.
rent, and these being taken, the tenants had some 2, some
3, and some 4 acres, for each of which they passed a boll
of barley, rent. They built stone houses, and they traded
to enable them to buy land,  to France, Flanders,
Norway. etc., as they still do. 

I desire that this brief account may
serve as a sampler of Sir Hugh’s first essay to his
plantation, for it would be tedious (as it would be
impossible for me) to enumerate all the substantial
persons whom he brought or who came to plant in Grey
Abbey. Newtown, and corner parishes. Therefore let us now
pause awhile, and we shall wonder how this plantation
advanced itself (especially in and about the towns of
Donaghadee and Newtown), considering that in the spring
time (1606), those parishes were now more wasted than
America (when the Spaniards landed there), but were not at
all encumbered with great woods to be felled and grubbed,
to the discouragement or hindrance of the inhabitants for
in all those three parishes aforesaid, thirty cabins could
not be found, nor any stone walls, but ruined roofless
churches, and a few vaults at Grey Abbey, and a stump of
an old castle in Newtown, in each of which some gentlemen
sheltered themselves at their first coming over. 

But Sir Hugh in the said spring brought
with him divers artificers, as smiths, masons, carpenters,
etc. I knew many of them old men when I was a boy at
school, and had little employments for some of them, and
heard them tell many things of this plantation which I
found true. They soon made cottages and booths for
themselves, because sods and saplings of ashes, alders,
and birch trees (above thirty years old) with rushes for
thatch, and bushes for wattles, were at hand. And also
they made a shelter of the said stump of the castle for
Sir Hugh, whose residence was mostly there, as in the
centre of being supplied with necessaries from Belfast
(but six miles thence), who therefore came and set up a
market in Newtown, for profit for both the towns. As like
wise in the fair summer season (twice, sometimes thrice
every week) they were supplied from Scotland, as
Donaghadee was oftener, because but three hours sail from
Port Patrick, where they bespoke provisions and
necessaries to lade in, to be brought over by their own or
that town’s boats whenever wind and weather served them,
for there was a constant flux of passengers coming daily

I have heard honest old men say that in
June, July, and August, 1607, people came from Stranraer,
four miles, and left their horses at the port, hired
horses at Donaghadee, came with their wares and provisions
to Newtown, and sold them, dined there, stayed two or
three hours, and returned to their houses the same day by
bed-time, their land journey but twenty miles. Such was
their encouragement from a ready market, and their kind
desires to see and supply their friends and kindred, which
commerce took quite away the evil report of wolves and
wood-kerne, which enviers of planter’s industry had raised
and brought upon our plantations; but, notwithstanding
thereof, by the aforesaid gentlemen’s assiduity to people
their own farms, which they did, (1607), after Sir Hugh
and his Lady’s example, they both being active and intent
on the work (as birds, after pairing to make nests for
their brood), then you might see streets and tenements
regularly set out, and houses rising as it were out of the
ground (like Cadmus’s colony) on a sudden, so that these
dwellings became towns immediately.

Yet among all this care and
indefatigable industry for their families. a place of
God’s honour to dwell in was not forgotten or neglected,
for indeed our forefathers were more pious than ourselves,
and so soon as [the] said stump of the old castle was so
repaired (as it was in spring time, 1606), as might be
shelter for that year’s summer and harvest, for Sir Hugh
and for his servants that winter, his piety made some good
store of provisions in those fair seasons, towards roofing
and fitting the chancel of that church, for the worship of
God ;and therein he needed not withdraw his own planters
from working for themselves, because there were Irish
Gibeonets and garrons (ponies) enough in his woods to hew
and draw timber for the sanctuary ; and the general free
contribution of the planters, some with money, others with
handicrafts, and many with labouring, was so great and
willingly given, that the next year after this, viz. in
1607, before winter it was made decently serviceable, and
Sir Hugh had brought over at first two or three chaplains
with him for these parishes. In summer, 1608,some of the
priory walls were roofed and fitted for his Lady and
children and servants (which were many) to live in.

Now the harvests 1606 and 1607 had
stocked the people with grain, for the lands were never
naturally so productive since that time, except where no
plough had gone, and where sea oar (called wreck) is
employed for dung, to that degree that they had to spare
and to sell to the succeeding new-coming planters, who
came over the more in number and the faster because they
might sell their own grain at a great price in Scotland,
and be freed of trouble to bring it with them, and could
have it cheaper here. This conference gave occasion to Sir
Hugh’s Lady to build water mills in all the parishes, to
the great advantage of her house, which was numerous in
servants, of whom she stood in need, in working about her
gardens, carriages, etc., having then no duty days’ work
from tenants, or very few as exacted, they being
sufficiently employed in their proper labour and the
public. The millers also prevented the necessity of
bringing meal from Scotland, and grinding with quairn
stones (as the Irish did to make their graddon) both which
inconveniencies the people, at their first coming, were
forced to undergo.

Her Ladyship had also her farms at Grey
Abbey and Comber, as well as at Newtown, both to supply
newcomers and her house; and she easily got men for plough
and barn, for many came over who had not stocks to plant
and take leases of land, but had brought a cow or two and
a few sheep, for which she gave them grass and so much
grain per annum, and an house and garden plot to live on,
and some land for flax and potatoes, as they agreed on for
doing their work, and there be at this day many such poor
labourers amongst us ; and this was but part of her good
management, for she set up and encouraged linen and
woollen manufactory, which soon brought down the prices of
the breakens and narrow cloths of both sorts.

Now everybody minded their trades, and
the plough, and the spade, building, and setting fruit
trees, etc, in orchards and gardens, and by ditching in
their grounds. The old women spun,and the young girls
plied their nimble fingers at knitting, and everybody was
innocently busy. Now the golden peaceable age renewed, no
strife. contention, querulous lawyers, or Scottish or
Irish feuds, between clans and families, and surnames,
disturbing the tranquillity of those times; and the towns
and temples were erected, with other great works done
(even in troublesome years) as shall be in part recited,
when I come to tell you of the first Lord Viscount
Montgomery’s funeral, person, parts, and arts; therefore,
reader,I shall be the more concise in the history of the
plantation I find that in a few years from the beginning
of the Plantation. viz. in A.D. 1610, the Viscount brought
before the King’s muster master 1,000 able fighting men to
serve, when out of them a militia should be raised. The
said Sir Hugh (for the great encouragement of’ planters
and builders) obtained a patent dated the 25th of March,
11th Jac. by which Newtown aforesaid is erected into a
corporation, whereof the said Sir Hugh is nominated the
first Provost, and the burgesses are also named. ”