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Our starting point for the BIRCH part of our history is with James BIRCH who married a Mary JACKSON, althoughwe do not yet know if or how she might be related to the JACKSON family member who first settled at Urker. As it stands right now, the first verified link between the Urker JACKSONs and the BIRCH family is established three generations later. In short, here is how it goes (although you might like to consult the printout of the family tree to follow it through):

In 1725, James purchased the farm known as Birch Grove (or Birchgrove). This farm was on 176 acres located in the Parish of Tullylish, Co. Down, Ireland. James bought it from a John BIRCH who had himself been granted the land by Sir John MAGILL on 13 April 1692. (SOURCE: The Birch Family of Birchgrove, Parish of Tullylish . Aiken McClelland. THE IRISH GENEALOGIST, Vol III, No 5 (1960).)

(We don’t yet know the relationship between John & James BIRCH, but I suspect that the land grant had to do with the land transfers effected at the conclusion of the war between King William and King James (often called the Jacobite or the Williamite War – depending on one’s politics). Although less land changed hands at this time than during the post-Cromwell era, it was still part of the ongoing disenfranchisement of the resident and largely Catholic population.)

John BIRCH (1711-1773), the son of Mary JACKSON & James BIRCH married his first wife - a Miss BAXTER - and they had a child Elizabeth BIRCH (1733-1812). This Elizabeth BIRCH had two husbands. The first was William BREAKEY (of whom more later in the chapter in the BREAKEY family). Their child, Elizabeth BREAKEY, was born in 1758 – the month as yet is unknown. Given that they married 3 March 1758 and their daughter was born before the year was out, they either started the marriage pregnant or else conceived within the first month or two of marriage. Whatever combination of joy and sorrow was their lot, less than two years later (and quite likely less than a year later), William BREAKEY was dead.

When baby Elizabeth was two years old and her father dead, her mother, on March 14, 1760, married Alexander GILLMER (or GILMORE). The descendents of this marriage - from their three known children - figure in many of the later family intermarriages.

At age 23, Elizabeth BREAKEY married Thomas BRADFORD (and we will revisit the BRADFORD line later in the tale). Thomas was the son of John BRADFORD and Barbara COULTER (COULTER being another name which surfaces from time to time). They married 27 August 1781 and their first known child was born circa 1785.

Now, we are getting closer to the JACKSON connection.

Elizabeth BRADFORD - the daughter of Thomas BRADFORD and Elizabeth BREAKEY - married Benjamin OLIVER (more on the OLIVERs later) of Killynure, Co. Armagh. She didn’t enjoy a long life, dying at age 40, but she gave birth to five known children, the youngest of whom was Elizabeth “Eliza” OLIVER. “Eliza” was ten years old when her mother died on 12 July 1825. Given where Elizabeth (BRADFORD) OLIVER was buried, it seems that the family had strong roots in Kane, Co. Louth. I suspect that the connection is to the BRADFORD family holdings in Dundalk, Co. Louth - in particular, the townland "Cavananore".

Eliza OLIVER would go on to marry David JACKSON and live at Urker, Crossmaglen. It is at this point that the fog of JACKSON history lifts a little. But more of that later.

Backing up a moment, other stories of this extended family help to give us a sense of the economic, political and social realities of their time. We know quite a few tantalizing bits from the following the half brothers and sisters of Elizabeth BIRCH (b. 1733).

James Jackson BIRCH succeeded his father-in-law as the minister of the First Dromora Presbyterian Congregation. He bought his younger brother - Thomas Ledlie BIRCH’s - farm on 19 June 1798 for £500 when Thomas Ledlie BIRCH was forced into exile for his part in the 1798 uprising. On March 1799 he resold it for £1,111 – a 55% return on investment in less than a year!
George BIRCH

was a surgeon in India and owned lands in Co. Down at Ballybeen, Ballyroney and Ballybrick (see map above). He was known as “a staunch Royalist” and was effective in winning exile for his brother, Thomas Ledlie BIRCH (in lieu of a harsher penalty),. He was also “a respected physician in Newtownards, a friend of Lord Castlereagh and a captain of the Newtownards Yeomanry.
Both his sons, however, had fought on the rebel side at Ballynahinch, and one of them, John BIRCH was killed in the 1798 Irish Rebellion (a fight for tenant’s rights initiated by the United Irishmen) at the Battle of Saintfield on 10 June 1798. SOURCE: p. 250 The Summer Soldiers: The 1798 Rebellion in Antrim and Down. A.T.Q. Stewart. Blackstaff Press, Belfast 1995.
Interestingly, there was also a Lt. BIRCH on the side of the King. This BIRCH survived an earlier battle on 29 May 1798

Isabella Anna Jane BIRCH married Randal William McDonel JOHNSTON, a descendant of the “Johnstons of Glynn” – a landed gentry family with connections to the LESLIE family, one of the large landlords of Monaghan and Down – and a major factor in Ballybay. (See peerage & Leslie family tree. Also note that Colonel Charles LESLIE of the Monaghan Militia was on the Royalist side. See p.39 op. cit.)
Oliver BIRCH emigrated to America
Mary BIRCH married the son of a minister.
Thomas Ledlie BIRCH (1755-1828) was the celebrated “Blubbering Birch” - the minister of Saintfield on the side of tenant’s rights - whose history will take up another section because he is such a character and because of the light which the events of his life sheds on his times. It was alleged that he was on the side of the insurgents fighting on 9 June 1798. On the day that his nephew was killed, according to evidence in his trial, he was preaching at Creevy Rocks, attending the funeral of a child and burying dead soldiers. After burying the soldiers, he took those who had helped him to McCreery’s shop and bought liquor as refreshment for them – obviously not a Presbyterian of the tee-totalling sort! SOURCE: James McIlhinney, Saintfield Heritage. 1998




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