2018-09-07 / Community

South Portland history includes Scottish, Irish


Tour goers visited Old Settlers Burying Ground at Southern Maine Community College where they visited the grave of Ann Douglas Simonton, born in 1675 in Argyles, Scotland. She left Strabane, Ulster with her husband, Andrew, arriving here in 1718 where she and her husband raised seven children. She died in 1744. (Courtesy photo) Tour goers visited Old Settlers Burying Ground at Southern Maine Community College where they visited the grave of Ann Douglas Simonton, born in 1675 in Argyles, Scotland. She left Strabane, Ulster with her husband, Andrew, arriving here in 1718 where she and her husband raised seven children. She died in 1744. (Courtesy photo) When Republican Presidential Candidate Sen. John McCain visited South Portland in 2008 he spoke at a campaign picnic in Mill Creek Park but was probably not aware that he was very near to the place where his Scotch Irish ancestors had spent their first winter in America living aboard an ice bound ship. It is a history that is not well known. The year 2018 marks the 300th anniversary of that start of the first mass migration out of Ireland to North America that included members of the McCain family.

Arriving aboard the brigantine HMS Robert, the McCains (the spelling changed over time – it was then spelled McKeen) and several other families were migrants from Ulster, Northern Ireland. They had been recruited by the Massachusetts Bay Colony government as settlers for the New England frontier. When the ship arrived in October and anchored in the cove that is located next to Mill Creek Hannaford, it encountered a Little Ice Age cold snap and quickly became frozen in place. It remained so throughout that winter. It would not be until spring that the ship could sail away and settlers could begin to build log cabins and plant some of the first fields of potatoes and flax nearby. They were skilled in the production of linen. They introduced the potato as a field crop, which became one of the most important agricultural products produced in Maine for centuries to come. Although part of this first group chose to move on to New Hampshire and later Pennsylvania, many stayed in Maine. Their descendants live here today.

Recently, a group of these descendants, along with historians and interested participants from as far away as California, Nova Scotia and Northern Ireland, toured the South Portland area as part of the three day 1718-2018 Maine Ulster Scots Diaspora Conference held on the campus of Bowdoin College in Brunswick. The Casco Bay tour was organized by David McCausland, a descendent of the settler James McCausland. Dr. Mary Drymon DeRose served as local Scotch Irish historian for the tour. DeRose dressed for the occasion as a 1718 migrant in a hand stitched outfit, including several pieces made from Irish linen.

The group visited local sites associated with the 1718 migrants, including The McClellan House of The Portland Art Museum and the Means and Tate House Museums in Stroudwater. They visited the Old Settlers Burying Ground at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland, where some of the 1718 migrants are buried. They planted heather on the grave of Ann Douglas Simonton and placed thistles on the grave of James Maxwell. They then hiked along the Spring Point Shoreway, ending at the site of the log garrison/meeting house that was built by the Scotch-Irish in 1722. The final stop on the tour was the spot on the South Portland Greenway where HMS Robert’s passengers first stepped ashore on Maine’s soil three hundred years ago. DeRose has spearheaded an effort to place a commemorative historical marker at this 1718 landing site as part of the tricentennial celebration. For more information, contact the1718project@yahoo.com.

Return to top