The following description of the members of the first corporation of Strabane has been taken from Strabane Barony during the Ulster Plantation, edited by R.J. Hunter and produced in association with a group of professional and amateur historians. Robert was himself the author of this section.
The members of the first corporation
In 1611 the incorporation of Strabane was decided on, and it received its charter in 1613 in common with most of the other incorporated towns in the plantation. A warrant for incorporation was issued by the lord deputy on 25 November 1612, and the charter followed on 18 March 1613. An analysis of the composition of the corporation, which is common with the majority of the town corporations of this time, was made up of thirteen designated members. Biographical sketches of the original provost and first twelve burgesses follow:
Patrick Crawford, the first provost or mayor, was one of two Scottish captains sent with soldiers to help suppress O’Dogherty’s rising in 1608. He was stationed at Lifford. In the following years he continued at Lifford, though he may have been at Strabane for a time. He was selected as a servitor grantee in the Plantation in Donegal and in September 1611, as Patrick Crawford of Lifford, he received a grant of lands at Letterkenny. Furthermore, he retained military connections and was killed on a naval expedition to suppress a rising on the Scottish island of Islay in 1614. In November 1615 royal instructions for the granting of his lands at Letterkenny to his widow’s new husband referred to him as formerly of Lifford. It is clear that at the time of his appointment as first officer of Strabane he was a prestigious figure, not resident in the town but prominent locally. He was Scottish but a Donegal servitor and held the position which in a number of the other Ulster corporations would have been taken by the landlord himself.
Three were Hamiltons, confusingly two Williams and a Hugh, though none of them of the immediate family circle of the Earl. All three developed careers with a considerable rural basis. Hugh Hamilton, the third son of John Hamilton of Priestfield in Blantyre, Lanarkshire, in 1603, had been apprenticed in Edinburgh. In Ulster he combined his mercantile pursuits with the acquisition of leasehold land. In 1616 he received a grant of denization as of Loghneneas, merchant, and by 1622 he was a freeholder of two townlands, modern Cloghcor and Loughneas, on the estate of Largie or Cloghogenall, granted to Sir George Hamilton of Greenlaw, brother of the earl of Abercorn. He was also a freeholder of modern Lisdivin Lower and Upper on the Earl of Abercorn’s Dunalong estate, having received this land from the Earl of Abercorn on 1 January 1615. He had built a stone house by 1622. By the time of his death in 1637 he had acquired interests in the abbey or grange land of Burndennet with its tithes and fishing. He bequeathed these lands as well as ‘houses in Strabane’ in his will. One of his executors was his brother-in-law, James Gibb of Strabane, who had been provost of the town in 1630. He was himself provost of Strabane in 1625.
William Hamilton (1)
William Hamilton of Strabane, merchant, who received a fee-farm grant from the Earl of Abercorn of a messuage or tenement and a garden plot with two acres of land nearby on 1 March 1616, was probably the same person as that William Hamilton who features in the Derry port book of 1614–15 as a merchant, and who had received a grant of denization on 17 August 1616. By 1622 he was a freeholder of one townland on the Earl of Abercorn’s Strabane estate and on which he had built a stone house.
William Hamilton (2)
The other William Hamilton was a more substantial person. He was of Wedderhill in Fife, born about 1577, and a grandson of John Hamilton, archbishop of St Andrews. He married in Scotland in 1613. He received a grant of denization in 1616 as of Trien-Itragh, part of the Earl of Abercorn’s Strabane estate, and it emerges that by 1622 that he was a freeholder of four townlands and had built a stone house. However he quickly seems to have decided to expand his interests into the less competitively settled English undertakers’ barony of Omagh. In 1622 it was stated that William Hamilton, ‘now Provost of Strabane’ did usually dwell in the castle on the Fentonagh (not modern Fintona) estate then owned by Sir Henry Mervyn, though Hamilton was ‘not there now but comes tither again at Michaelmas next’. From 1625 he most commonly appears as of Loughmuck, also Mervyn land, though in 1636 he (or a namesake) appears as of Tirmegan, the freehold land he held from the Earl of Abercorn, and which in 1638 he mortgaged to William Hamilton of Ballyfatton, a prominent namesake, elder brother of Hugh Hamilton, whose family was probably connected to the Hamiltons of Binning (represented in Strabane barony by the undertaker George Hamilton), and whose son William his daughter Isabel had married in 1630. Thus while it is stated that he also had a house in Strabane there is no reason to believe that he lived there for any substantial period. In the 1630 muster roll he is listed as holding 1,000 acres of churchlands as well, with a colony of fourteen British males beneath him. Not surprisingly he played a prominent part in county administration. He was a justice of the peace in 1622 as well as being provost of the town. Quarter sessions were held before him as of the justices of the peace at Strabane on 20 July 1630 when he was again provost, and he appears as a justice of the peace again in 1632, 1633, 1634 and 1635. In 1625 he had been high sheriff of the county, and held this office again in 1638. He died in 1668.
John Wilson and James Kile
Two of the first burgesses, John Wilson and James Kile, were present as jurors at the taking of an inquisition at Strabane as early as November 1611. Kile appears as a merchant in the Derry port book of 1614–15. His subsequent fortunes are obscure, but John Kiell, a possible relative, appears as a resident in the town in 1630. John Wilson of Strabane was a juror at the Tyrone assizes held at Dungannon in August 1615. He remained in Strabane, making his will there in December 1620 in which he left his property and modest legacies to his wife and family and desired to be buried in the parish church of Leckpatrick. A Robert Wilson who is listed amongst those who mustered for the town in 1630 could well have been his eldest son and William Wilson and John Wilson who are also listed were probably his other sons.
James Montgomery is of special interest because his connexion with the town probably did not derive from the colonising efforts of the Earl of Abercorn. He is likely to be that James Montgomery who held a lease of the churchlands of Ardstraw and so would probably have been connected with George Montgomery, bishop of Derry, Raphoe and Clogher from 1605. Since the bishop surrendered Derry and Raphoe, though not Clogher, on his appointment to Meath, on 4 August 1610, James Montgomery’s connexions with the area would have dated from just before the Plantation. He was thus a Scot, but with ecclesiastical rather than lay undertaker origins. He cannot have had any longterm association with the town, however, because his address when he received a grant of denization in 1616 was Tullonefert (modern Tullanavert), a townland amongst the episcopal lands near Clogher which were in the hands of the Montgomery family. There is no Montgomery on the muster roll for the town.
If John Browne, another of the twelve first burgesses, be that John Browne who on 27 September 1607 received a patent to establish ferries in Donegal including one between Lifford and Strabane, then he provides a second link with earlier British activity in the northwest. A John Browne also occurs as a merchant in the Derry port books. Browne appears to have developed his connexions with the town. He was witness to a will there in 1620, provost and a justice of peace in 1628, and again in 1634. A John Browne wrote a letter from Strabane in July 1634 to the bishop of Derry on behalf of ‘the inhabitants of Strabane’ concerning church buildings. John Browne occurs on the muster roll of the town in 1630.
James Colville and John Birsbean
James Colville, another incorporator, lived at Strabane in March 1614 when his name survives as a juror, but by 1622 he was a freeholder on the Earl of Abercorn’s Strabane estate and had built a house. John Birsbean (or Brisbaine), a burgess who also appears as a merchant in the Derry port books of 1614–15, is yet another who became a freeholder under the Earl of Abercorn. He sold his freehold to his brother William, and may well have been dead by 1622 or shortly thereafter. John’s name disappears, whereas William is recorded as of Ardstraw (the parish in which the freehold was located) in 1625. He was high sheriff of the county in 1628. In 1636 he was provost of Strabane and quarter sessions were held before him and other justices of the peace there in July of that year. A William Birsben on the town muster roll in 1630 was probably a relative.
Thomas McAlexander, David Moncreefe and John Kennedy
Thomas McAlexander appears to have continued to reside in the town. He was provost of Strabane in 1618, and again in 1626 and 1633. A Thomas Alexander mustered in 1630. The same applies to David Moncreefe. He is mentioned as David Moncrieff of Strabane in 1625 and again in 1628. Two David Montcrieffs mustered for the town in 1630. John Kennedy, the last burgess, is also found trading through the port of Derry in 1614–15, and is recorded simply as a leaseholder on the Earl of Abercorn’s Dunalong estate in 1622. Many of the first burgesses, then, were directly involved, at least initially, in the affairs of the inceptive town, though most developed landed interests in the county while at the same time continuing to play some role in the government of the town. While perhaps only James Montgomery severed his connection with Strabane, only a few of the burgesses appear to have lived in it continuously. The number who were merchants is noteworthy as is also those who became freeholders of land. Doubtless a few, like Hugh Hamilton and William Hamilton of Loughmuck, and Patrick Crawford the first provost, owed their selection to their origins and substance, rather than to their intentions to reside in the town and supervise its development. The careers of all these men as outlined above, shows the connections between town and countryside and of their own developing fortunes in Plantation Ulster.