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Steers in Ireland

(This letter was written by William D. Thompson who had the opportunity to visit the section of Ireland where members of our Steer family lived prior to emigrating to the New World.)

William D. Thompson
765 Ormond Avenue
Drexel Hill, PA 19026

20 July 2004

Linda and I have just arrived home from almost three weeks in Ireland and England. Linda was on a choir concert tour, and I tagged along.

My most recent connection with the Steers family by name was my Grandmother, Clara Lizzie Steers McDowell Candy, born 1858, died 1953. She lived in our family home until I was a young adult. Her father was Joseph Davis Steers who married Mary Ann Clingman, then Joseph's father Asael Steer, Joseph Steer, John Steer, Isaac Steer, and William Steer. William was.born in 1645 in County Armagh, Ulster, (now) Northern Ireland, near Belfast. These ancestors were Quakers who emigrated to Pennsylvania in the early 1700's.

While in Northern Ireland I took the opportunity to do some research and found a treasure as well as a list of clues to follow up. Linda's cousin who lives in Belfast found a man who is well acquainted with the Quaker records in Northern Ireland, Ross Chapman of Newry. We had a nice chat on the phone on Monday, June 28, and he invited me to a meeting at the Lisburn Meeting the following Wednesday night, June 30. The Quakers in Ireland are this year celebrating 350 years of their history (1654). The occasion was the launch of a just-published book on The Quaker Meeting Houses of Ireland by David M Butler, which I bought. Ross had done some checking on our family line but we didn't have time to talk about it given the large number of people there.

I also met a fine Quaker couple, Charles and Emma Lamb of Armagh, who invited me to visit them the next day. Charles took me on a tour of the area where to see the village where our family lived, Richhill, which at the time William lived there was called Leggacory (not Leggatory). William was apparently an important member of the Friends' meeting because on 9 Feb 1678 he was appointed to go to the Half-Yearly Meeting in Dublin. Only capable Friends with enough money and time to travel were so appointed. We drove by the site of Margery Atkinson's house near Kilmore where the Quakers (officially the Religious Society of Friends) met for many years--presumably until her death. Following that, the group constructed a meeting house at nearby Ballyhagan that is now an open area containing one small business. The building is long since gone, but the steps and part of the stone fence remain. The Richhill Quakers gather there once a year to remember their heritage. We then went to the burial ground at Monie, a lovely spot on a steep hillside with gorgeous views about a mile away from Ballyhagan where the William Steer family are undoubtedly buried (no grave markers for Quakers!). The Friends no longer own the site, and a number of modern markers are there. Monie is so small that it is not on the detailed map of Northern Ireland, but we did meet a Monie farm family whom Charles knew. We ended the afternoon at the Lamb's lovely home for tea, omnipresent in Irish and English family and social life. I will be in touch by mail with both of these families.

In the brief time I had with Ross and Charles, a number of questions arose which I will be working on as I have time. One of them is the mystery of the 80 pounds-four score is the term-- that William willed to his only son Isaac (not 400 pounds as mistakenly reported in the Myers book on the Immigration of Irish Quakers to Pennsylvania), along with the family house and land. Shortly after that time, the Quakers took up a collection for him because he had "fallen low in his substance of this worldly goods." Believing him to be "an honest man "the Quakers decided to help him. It is likely that illness or a fire made him destitute or the meeting would not have acted. Isaac was an interesting man. At the New Garden Monthly Meeting in Chester County, Pennsylvania he strongly objected to a decision made by the meeting concerning his son, John Steer. Isaac called the decision 'a parsil of lies' and tore the paper to pieces as the Friend was reading it. He was dealt with for his contempt of the authority of the Meeting and was required to bring in a written acknowledgement of his fault.

I inquired of Mr. Chapman how Isaac, from Ballyhagan, wound up at Ballinderry, the meeting that dismissed him and his wife, born Ruth Mercer, in 1736 to the New Garden Meeting in Chester County, PA in 1737. Ross said it was because the Mercer family lived in Ballinderry and they must have decided to live near her parents after their wedding in 1696. On a list of Quakers whose money and goods were confiscated by soldiers and pseudo-soldiers, the name Richard Mercer appears-probably Ruth's father. In the same list is Elizabeth Steer, a widow by then. Other snippents from those early records are that Richard Steer married Mary Oliver at Mary Boyes 16 Sep 1721, and Elizabeth Steer married Edmond King at Hillsborough 29 June 1728.

Clearly, Ross carries a lot of information around in his head and has unlimited access to the early Quaker records. We will be writing each other in the time to come and I will be doing more research here. For example, I hope to find the manifest of the ship that brought Isaac and family to America in that small window of time. They sailed to America to join their son John and his family who had come earlier (on what ship?).. Another lead I want to follow is to see if there is a Steer family in the parish records of Leicestershire, England from which the Quakers moved to Ireland.

While in Belfast I did some background reading on the Irish Quakers at the Linen Hall Library, across from the Belfast City Hall (our singing group had been welcomed there by the Lord Mayor at a reception the day before). It was interesting to learn of the Quakers' persecution by the Church of Ireland that seized money and property from the Quakers who refused to pay their tithes to the state church. "For refusing to contribute to the repair of the parish church in Kilmore (William) Steer had money taken out of his shop box, also a hat and other things worth 7S (shillings), 3d (pence). and had cloth and pewter taken from him worth 11s." Also, I had not known that the early Quaker leaders had been soldiers in Cromwell's army. So much to learn; so little time!

I have copies of some of these early handwritten records, available on request.

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