Houstone of Castlestewart to Stevenson, 4th August 1692 & 1698

A memorial of a deed, dated 4th August 1692, is the earliest confirmed sighting found to date for James Stevenson of Stewartstown. At this stage in Irish history, the dust was still settling after the Williamite war.

Stewartstown was still a new town, having been laid out by Sir Andrew Stewart after the Plantation, c.1611ff. Thirty years later, the 1641 rebellion wreaked havoc on person and property. After the brutal Cromwellian conquest of 1649, the population of the county of Tyrone began to increase, assisted by immigration from England and especially from Scotland. Those numbers fell off for several years after the accession of James II to the throne in 1685. After the Williamite war, immigration resumed vigorously, and along with it, trade and commerce. The population of the county, which stood at about 37,000 in 1666, nearly doubled by 1712 [1]: in 1692, then, we might speculate that Tyrone contained 50-60,000* inhabitants. (*Compare to the peak of 312,956 reached in 1841.)

It was in this (all-too-briefly described) context that, in 1692, Capt. James Stevenson obtained a fee farm grant for several pieces of land amounting, in total, to sixty acres:

  • two 120-foot by 120-foot plots of ground, one at the north side of Stewartstown, the other on the west side;
  • Church park;
  • the nine acre park;
  • the park lying between the nine acre park and Drumgullion townland; and,
  • the lower sessiagh (one-third) of Galvally townland.

Whether this land was measured by Irish or English statute acreage—the former is 1.62 times the size of the latter—is not specified in the deed. Even at the smaller measure, this was not only a sizeable acquisition, but also one that enjoyed a strategically central situation in, and adjacent to, the town. It does need to be said, however, that the word, acquisition, is used somewhat loosely here: while a fee farm grant conveyed many of the benefits of land ownership forever—as long as the lessee paid the rent and renewal fines when due, and satisfied any other covenants stipulated in the deed—the land did not truly belong to the lessee. Nevertheless, the procurement of a fee farm grant was as close to land ownership as one could get without having been born to the genre, hoi-us polloi-us.

The precise location and boundaries of this grant are difficult to pinpoint (link to townland map). The Church park would have comprised the area around St. Patrick's (which was not yet built, construction taking place in 1694). Perhaps the nine acre park was the plot of land due west of Church park, extending to the wall that runs roughly north to south between Tamnylennan and Boyd's Farm townlands. While the location of the two town plots may become more clear with the study of later deeds, for now there is no way to know where the northern plot lay; however, we might speculate that the western plot was situated near the church. Finally, the description for the park lying between the nine acre park and Drumagullion would seem to refer to some portion of what became known as Boyd's Farm.

The covenants specified in this deed are at least as interesting. Mr. Stevenson was required to build houses "seven or eight feet high, the side walls with oak cupples" on the town squares, and a forty-foot long house. (Cupples appear to have been the vertical and horizontal frames used to build up the walls.) One surmises that any houses built in the town would have been sublet to tenants, and that the forty-foot house was for Mr. Stevenson's personal use.

Six years later, on the 4th August 1698, John Houstone and James Stevenson concluded a second agreement, a lease for two, thirty-one year leases for the following lands:

  • the two lower sessiaghs of Galvally known as Galvally and Rouskyroe; and,
  • some portion of Tamnylennan townland lying adjacent to both the above cited lands and the Strife land and Kilmurchen (Killymurphy?).

While the size of these plots is not mentioned, again it appears that Mr. Stevenson contracted for additional, considerable acreage. This deed states that he was already in possession of these lands—which appear to have comprised the remaining northern portion of Galvally townland, Rouskyro townland, and a western portion of Tamnylennan.

The Outlands of Galvally might also have been part of this lease, inferred perhaps by the intriguing phrase, the Strife land. Yet, it must be noted that this phrase appears in the transcription of the deed published in Notes and Queries (1942), but not in the handwritten memorial (1727 copy) held by the PRONI. Nevertheless, should there have been a district known as the Strife land, it then becomes an interesting exercise to try to determine its location. See my notes under the 4th August, 1698 for a discussion of this point.

If the modern (c.1830) townland boundaries approximate those which were extant in the late 17th century, by 1698 Mr. Stevenson was probably in possession of property approaching a couple of hundred acres, or more. By these two deeds, then, we may conclude that Capt. James Stevenson had gained a foothold into the emerging middle class—and he did so in, arguably, the most beautifully scenic countryside in the north of Ireland, surrounded by undulating hills and the ever present, verdant Irish green.

Reference:

  1. Macafee, William. The Population of County Tyrone 1600–1991. Online at www.billmacafee.com (accessed 2016-02).

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© Alison Kilpatrick, 2016. All rights reserved.
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"The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there."—Lesley Poles Hartley (1895–1972), The Go-Between (1953).

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