The Shanklands come to America

by Simon Grundy, UK

There are some wonderful accounts of early Shanklands in America. A prime example is the story of Robert Shankland's encounter with hostile Indians (and his subsequent narration of the tale to an eminent audience) recounted at length in the book Border Warfare of New York during the Revolution by William W Campbell (1831). As if it wasn't enough to name-drop George Washington, "First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen", and to claim a family relationship with George Clinton, "Father of New York, First Governor of New York State, and Vice President under Jefferson and Madison", but Ronald Lee Shankland enhances the story still further! Thomas Shankland, who was taken prisoner by the Indians, was later sold as a slave to a Frenchman living in Canada and, after the close of the Revolutionary War, Thomas was given his freedom and he returned to his home. It is believed to be this Thomas, or maybe his father Robert, who was the model for the Indian Scout in James Fenimore Cooper's novel The Last of the Mohicans. Irrespective of the authenticity of Ron's claims, it is a fascinating story of the time!

Ron also claims that Sarah Beaty, who was married to this Robert, was a cousin of George Clinton. This seems a bit closer than the distant connection mentioned in the main story. I cannot verify whether they were cousins but there does seem to be a family connection. The Reverend Charles Clinton Beatty (c.1715 - 1772) was born in County Antrim, Ireland, to John Beatty, a British Army Officer, and Christiana Clinton, aunt of George Clinton, the first Governor of New York. He became a Presbyterian Pioneer in Western Pennsylvania and had tentative links to the Donegal Presbytery in Ireland, as did Robert Shankland, a subject that I will return to later. In order for them to be cousins I believe that Sarah would have to be Charles Clinton Beatty's sister. This is possible, but having checked the Beatty genealogy and seen that Sarah does not appear on the "George and Anne" ship passenger list with the other children of John and Christiana, I think it is more likely that Sarah was the daughter of John's brother James who had nineteen children by three wives. His second wife was called Sarah and the children are unlisted.

The New York Shanklands are well documented. Unfortunately it would take me an age to transcribe the mostly handwritten documentation, and the result would be fraught with errors if I tried. Interestingly it includes a book, Full Harvest by Charlotte Prentiss Browning, that includes the chapters The Shanklands come to Cooperstown and A child's portrait of James Fenimore Cooper. Robert Shankland's granddaughter Urilla became the wife of Col. John Holmes Prentiss, editor and founder of Cooperstown Freeman's Journal, and so was related to the author of Full Harvest.

In order to give the reader a flavour of the salient points of this family history I will attempt to extract some of the information it contains. I hope I will be forgiven if I cause offence by error, by missing something important, or by not weighting some of it properly.

The New York Shanklands/Shanklins

Robert Shankland, mentioned in the article referenced above in Border Wars of New York, was one of four brothers and two sisters, reportedly from a family from Enniskillen. There is evidence to suggest that William, the eldest brother, had land near Lisnaskea, a few miles North East of Enniskillen, in Northern Ireland, a fact which will become important later.

First generation

The two sisters Betsey Shankland and Nancy Shankland are believed to have remained and died at their home in Enniskillen, Northern Ireland.

There is a family gravesite in Albany.

Second Generation

William Shankland (1) was reputedly a friend of George Washington and settled in Cherry Valley, NY. He had three children :-

Andrew Shankland also settled in NY, and had four children :-

Robert Shankland (1) had six children with Sarah Beaty. They are :-

Irish origins of the New York family

There is an oral tradition in this family that relates that the Grandfather of Robert Shankland (1), a William Robert Shanklin, entered the service of William of Orange and was in command of a regiment of dragoons at the Battle of the Boyne (1690) in which William defeated King James II. In this battle he so distinguished himself by his gallant conduct that he received in acknowledgement of his services a confiscated estate called "Butler's Hill" near Enniskillen.

Many manhours have been spent trying to confirm the validity of this story, without success. However, although Butler's Hill has never been identified through any Townlands register of its time, it is known that Robert (1)'s eldest brother had land at Lisnaskea which has Newtownbutler and Butler's Bridge within a five mile vicinity. Hence, Butler's Hill could have been a localised name for the topography. We also know that with Beatty connections and ties to the Presbyterian Church this story may be possible or even likely.

Going back even earlier than this, Ron's hired genealogist who researched this family line made the following observations :-

We next examined the 1631 County Fermanagh Muster Roll which lists all Protestant men, aged 15-60 years, fit to bear arms. No Shanklins are recorded therein. However in examining the 1631 Co Donegal Muster Roll we traced one Gilbert Shankiland in the Barony of Boylagh and Bannagh (where Kilaghtee Parish is) who was a tenant of the Earl of Annandale. The emigrant Robert Shankland had a brother of this rare Christian name and when one combines it with the even rarer surname Shankland it is almost certain that the chap living in 1631 was the direct ancestor of the emigrant.

All we can deduce about Gilbert Shankiland is that he was born after 1571 and before 1615 and that he was probably brought over from Scotland by the Earl of Annandale at an early [date] in the Plantation of County Donegal. Gilbert was listed in the Muster Roll under the Barony of Boylagh and Bannagh which probably means he lived in or near Killaghtee Parish. Almost certainly he was the father of John and Robert Shanklan who were adults in 1665 and living in Killaghtee. This Robert and John were adults in 1665 and thus must have been born before 1644. However as they are not listed in the 1631 Muster Roll they were probably born after 1615. It is reasonable to assume that they were brothers and we can construct the following pedigree as a working model:

Gilbert Shankiland, b.c 1571-1615, Living 1631, Died before 1665; two sons,
John Shanklan, b.c. 1615-44, living 1665
Robert Shanklan, b.c. 1615-44, living 1665

If Robert , the emigrant of the 1740's, was indeed the eldest son then he may have been called after his pronominal grandfather. It seems likely Robert was indeed born in the 1720's if he was considering entering Trinity College in the 1740s. This suggests that Robert's father was born in the 1680s-90s or a little earlier. If his grandfather was at the Battle of the Boyne it is reasonable to assume he was born between 1630s -1660s. On these assumptions the emigrant might have been the grandson of the Shanklin in the Battle of the Boyne.

Obviously these conclusions are still very "tentative" but the rarity of the surname and its combination with the Christian name, almost equally uncommon, of Gilbert is of considerable interest. Certainly, from the research we have carried out this line of descent seems the only possible one!

So we have a Gilbert Shankiland in the 1631 Muster Rolls for the Earl of Annandale and his possible sons in the Donegal Bay area on the 1665 Killaghtee Parish Hearth Money Rolls. Additional to this is a Gilbert Shankland listed as a Ruling Elder and Commissioner of the Donegal and Ballyshannon Parish between the years 1672 to 1700. This latter reference comes from Reverend Alexander Lecky's book The Laggan and its Presbyterianism.

I visited County Donegal late last year, 2005, and paid a visit to the Donegal Ancestry Centre in Ramelton. They maintain a database of family records and I found out from them that they had approximately 280 entries and they were all Shanklins with the exception of this Gilbert. This certainly added weight to the argument that the surname Shankland had become transformed to Shanklin in Ireland and I guess the evolution of the change might be witnessed between Gilbert and his possible sons who are recorded on the Hearth Money Rolls as Shanklan.

So perhaps in searching for early pioneers to America this article might have been more aptly titled The Shanklins come to America. This would be interesting to follow up if some Shanklins come forward to offer up their thoughts regarding this early time frame.

Maryland and Delaware Shanklands

The earliest recorded Shankland to find his way to America, to my knowledge, is William Shankland who is recorded on the 1689 Address of Loyalty from Somerset County, Maryland, Inhabitants to William and Mary. Britain was in the midst of what was termed the Glorious Revolution, where the Catholic Stuart Royal Family, James II, was to be ousted from the throne and replaced by a Protestant King William of Orange. Part of the same struggle was later to culminate in the Battle of the Boyne, 1690, in Northern Ireland.

The history of Maryland was reflecting that of Britain at the time. In Somerset County, where religious sentiment had always been strongly Protestant (specifically Presbyterian), The Protestant Revolution had defended Lord Baltimore against accusations that he had favoured the Roman Catholic religion. An Association in arms for the defence of the Protestant Religion was drawn up and the address above signed. The signatories were predominantly Presbyterian and three of them were Presbyterian Ministers; William Traile, Thomas Wilson and Samuel Davis.

John Shankland in Florida, being a direct descendant, maintains a website that includes William Shankland's details. William had five children and it is interesting to see the expansion of the families, in number and geography, across America, from what is essentially a single progenitor. The early Shanklands in this line tended to hold offices of importance within the local communities such as Yeomen, Sheriffs, Clerks, Landowners, Surveyors etc., and some of these notables are shown on his website. To give the reader a flavour of this, one of them is Rhoads Shankland, William's great-grandson: Rhoads was a civil engineer, architect, builder, soldier, churchman, statesman and public benefactor. He was a Commissioner of Delaware and is credited with designing the Public Square of historic Georgetown. He ran for public election for the First House of Representatives for Delaware in the first Congress of 1788.

Origins of the Maryland/Delaware family

Ship lists for the late 17th Century are few and far between and so far it has not been possible to trace William back to his homeland. There is a posting on The Church of Latter Day Saints' Genealogical Website, suggesting that William was Welsh. An error has been identified in this genealogy and suggests that it may be flawed. One could easily believe that William was English as it becomes second nature to refer to Britain as England in early American History. In fact in writing the piece above regarding The English Civil War, I was tempted to do it myself! That being a case in point as the English Civil War encompassed the whole of Britain and Ireland.

The merits of DNA research allow you to find out information that has been lost in a paper trail. With the benefits of "Shankland" being a fairly rare name and the two families above (Robert (1)'s New York Shanklands and William's Maryland / Delaware Shanklands) being relatively isolated in geography and time, its use becomes even more helpful.

What a result first time out when DNA proved that the two families were related and that this link must pre-date William's arrival in America circa 1680!!! A DNA match has since been found to a Scottish family that must also predate this time.

This would suggest that, rather than being English or Welsh, William Shankland's lineage is Scottish or Scots-Irish.

Looking at the names on the 1689 Somerset Address and comparing it to the 1631 Muster Rolls of Ireland and the Reverend Alexander Lecky's book The Laggan and its Presbyterianism listing of Northern Ireland's Ruling Elders it becomes apparent that at the heart of Somerset County at that time was a community of Ulster Scots. This fact has not been missed by other researchers with paper trails from America back to Ireland.

Perhaps the best example of this is in the history of the Polk family, who arrived in Somerset County Maryland, between 1672 and 1680. Robert and William Polk signed on the 1689 Address and there is a claim that Robert Polk of Maryland can claim direct ancestry to King Robert the Bruce of Scotland and Earl of Annandale, furthermore, Burke's Presidents 1981 states that it is highly probable that this is the lineage of President James Knox Polk. Hence there is a connection between the Polk and Knox families.

There is a significant amount of evidence linking the Donegal Bay area with Somerset County, Maryland. This ranges from written evidence through oral history and speculation, but without a ship passenger list, the best that can be hoped for is a balance of probabilities based on evidence from pooled resources. The evidence I have seen is based on testimony from the Polk, Knox, Porter, Alexander, Crawford, McNitt, Hall, Bayly, Duncan, Delap, Nobel, McCullogh and now the Shankland families. All these surnames appear on the Donegal Muster Rolls and in Lecky's list of Elders of the Presbyterian Church of this time period bar the Knox's. Additionally, William Traile and Thomas Wilson, the Presbyterian Ministers, are mentioned in Lecky's list as well as other surnames such as Starret, Bratten, Moore, McClure, Stevenson, etc. which appear in Somerset, Maryland.

Maybe most significant is the appearance of Francis McKemie in Lecky's list. Makemie's emigration to Somerset, Maryland was the result of a letter sent by its local leaders to the Presbytery of Laggan in 1680, asking for a "Godly minister" to serve the local populace. Makemie established many churches in the Eastern Shore area (the portions of Maryland, Delaware, Virginia and Pennsylvania between the Chesapeake Bay and Delaware Bay) and established the first Presbyterian Church in America at Snow Hill, Maryland in 1684, where William Shankland lived.

This community formed a nucleus that was in place to welcome and assist the later, much larger, migration of Ulster Scots beginning in 1715 and continuing throughout the 18th century. So Robert Shankland and numerous Shanklins could have followed William's lead and followed him into America.

There have been a few theories regarding ships that could have taken these early Ulster Scots to Maryland and these include :-

The entire company which came in the ship with the Polloks to America consisted of persons who were coming to the New World for civil and religious freedom. The ship (name unknown) landed at Damn Quarter, now called Dame's Quarter, on the "Eastern Shore" of Maryland, a low, flat strip of land about four or five miles in length, lying on the south side of a stream (on current maps, the Wicomico River) emptying into Chesapeake Bay. The Polloks took up residence in the colony of Lord Baltimore, who, though himself a Catholic, was a man of the most generous impulses and liberal views. His colony was rapidly settled not only by emigrants from abroad, but it also became an asylum for those who were driven out of New England by Puritan persecutions, and from Virginia by the tyrannical measures and impositions of the Established Church against all dissenters. Many ministers were thrown into jail for preaching the Gospel in those areas.

Robert [Polk] was a stern Covenanter and he instilled his principles and religion into his children, with perhaps Robert Jr. excepted, who appears, from reading the records, to have been somewhat obstreperous. The Polks were Presbyterians. The family found the freedom to worship freely in Lord Baltimore's colony. Lord Baltimore passed laws protecting all denominations, in consequence of which the Western Peninsula of Maryland was settled almost entirely by Romanists, and the creed still dominates the area to this day. The Eastern Peninsula was settled entirely by Protestants and in that area, that religious creed prevails.

Another goes :-

In the meantime a steady stream of settlers was coming to the newly opened colonies along the eastern seaboard of America, and, toward the end of the seventeenth century, large numbers of Scots-Irish were joining them.

Among the Scots-Irish immigrants who were seeking religious, political and economic freedom there were many Alexanders. A large group of them settled in Somerset and Cecil Counties in Maryland, in Chester County, Pennsylvania, and on the Eastern Shore of Virginia before the year 1700.

Joseph Alexander, tanner, and his son, James, were members of the group of Alexanders and others of Cecil County, Maryland, who on the 18th of May, 1714, purchased from Thomas Stevenson a large tract of land on the east side of Big Elk River. This land was part of a tract called "New Munster" which had been surveyed by George Talbot, Surveyor General, in 1683 -- for "a certain Edwin O'Dwire and fifteen other Irishmen." It lay on both sides of the Elk River in the north-eastern corner of Maryland and extended over into Chester County, Pennsylvania, for a short distance above the present Mason and Dixon line.

Joseph Alexander was undoubtedly born in Ireland. Just when he came to America is not known. There has been a tradition that he arrived on the ship Welcome which anchored in the Delaware River in 1679, but of this we have found no proof. However, it may be supposed that he had been here several years before his purchase of the "New Munster" land in 1714 and it is possible that he could have been one of the "fifteen other Irishmen" for whom Talbot surveyed the land in 1683. In the deeds Stevenson stated that the land had "for some years past been possessed and improved by them".

In his will, dated December 30, 1726, and filed March 9, 1730, in Cecil County, Maryland, Joseph Alexander did not mention his wife, so it would seem that she had died before that time. Some genealogists have thought it probable that she was Abigail McKnitt. There is no confirmation of this, though there does seem to have been a close relationship between the McKnitt and Alexander families. One of the witnesses to the will of Joseph Alexander was John McKnight.

So there is good circumstantial evidence to suggest that William and Robert Shankland were both Scots-Irish immigrants of different generations and a single progenitor is responsible from earlier times, predating 1680.

Evidence for the Irish connection

The working model for the Irish Shanklands is a good start. It is my belief that rather than Muster Roll dying by 1665, the Gilbert Shankiland on the 1631 Muster Rolls and the Donegal Ruling Elder 1672-1690 Gilbert Shankland are one and the same. The forename Gilbert appears in the New York Shankland line and we have seen that the spelling "Shankland" is unusual in Ireland as it would normally be Shanklin or Shanklan. Anne, the webmaster of this site, can provide a spreadsheet of Drumholm events that describes the Shanklin family that remained in Ireland, around Donegal Bay but eventually dispersed to other countries or died out.

Hearth Tax

In 1665 John & Robert Shanklan appear amongst 59 householders on the 1665 Killaghtee Hearth Money Rolls. I believe it is likely that this Robert and John Shanklan are sons of the Gilbert Shankland who was in the 1631 Muster Rolls serving under the auspices of the Earl of Annandale and Barony of Boylagh and Bannagh.

Killaghtee Parish

When you take the opportunity to visit modern day Killaghtee Parish it is a small but beautiful place. There is a hotel called the Castlemurray Hotel near the castle ruins which has a website.

Ruins of Castle Rahan

(right) The ruins of Castle Rahan looking out towards Donegal Bay.

(below, left) Killaghtee Cross in centre of picture. In the background you can just make out Castle Rahan and Castle Murray House Hotel. Ballyshannon and Donegal under mountains in background.

(below, right) Killaghtee Cross in the grounds of Killaghtee Old Church

Killaghtee Cross, Castle Rahan in background Killaghtee Cross in the grounds of Killaghtee Old Church

To add weight to the connection when you read about the history of Castle Murray you find :-

Sir Robert Gordon received a large grant of land from the Crown in 1614. This property, including the barony of Boylagh and Banagh, he conveyed to a Mr John Murray, afterwards created Earl of Annandale. The census of 1659 show a Sir Robert Murray as on of the 'Tituladoes' (people of importance), at Castle Murray, in the same barony, parish of Killaghtee. John Murray, first Earl of Annandale, died in 1640 and Boylagh and Banagh passed to his son James who died in 1659 in London.

The proposed model makes perfect sense that during the Ulster Plantation in the early 1600's Gilbert Shankland moved from Scotland to Donegal Bay under the control of the Earl of Annandale. His sons John and Robert lived on Donegal Bay and later Gilbert moved around the bay to Ballyshannon / Drumholm Parish. From there descendants moved to America and others remained in Ireland.

From the land grants of Donegal we have :-

Land Grants in the Barony of Boylagh, county of Donegal (1608)

  1. Sir Robert Macklellan, laird of Bomby (7th Earl of Bombie, Scotland)
  2. George Murraye, laird of Broughton, of Whithorn, in Wigtonshire.
  3. William Stewart, Esq.
  4. James McCullock, gent., of Dummorell, Scotland.
  5. Alexander Dunbar.
  6. Patrick Vaus of Libragh, gent, (parish of Kirkinner, in Wigtonshire), son of Sir Patrick Vans or Vaus, of Barnbarrock.
  7. Alexander Coningham of Powton, gent.,( parish of Sorbie, in Wigtonshire.)

Anne's database shows records from the Kirkcudbright Town Council legal proceedings indicating that a Gilbert Shankland sold assets to the McClellan family in 1580 in Kirkcudbright. This would suggest that this family originated from here. The DNA has provided a link to a family in Ayrshire Scotland circa 1780. This result begs the question:- did the Kirkcudbright Shankland come down from Ayr, did the Kirkcudbright family split and go to Ayr and Ireland / America or did the Kirkcudbright Shankland go to Ireland and this split went to Ayr and America. Maybe time will tell!

Simon Grundy, May 2006