BRAD MCFADDEN and his English cocker spaniel Simmy explore the property on Merrymeeting Bay where his seventh great-grandmother settled in 1718. She came in the first wave of Scots-Irish migrants to Maine. EMILY COHEN / THE TIMES RECORD

BRAD MCFADDEN and his English cocker spaniel Simmy explore the property on Merrymeeting Bay where his seventh great-grandmother settled in 1718. She came in the first wave of Scots-Irish migrants to Maine. EMILY COHEN / THE TIMES RECORD

In the 1930s, Brad McFadden’s great-grandfather Nelson purchased 148 acres on the western shore of Merrymeeting Bay for $3,000, a collection of Red Sox baseball cards and a photograph of his “gentlemen’s” baseball team.

An avid duck hunter, Nelson McFadden built a small lodge overlooking the bay. If you’re lucky and quiet, you may see a crowned eagle, or a few, from the picnic table outside of the structure, painted green to blend in with the pines and oaks surrounding it.

Today, the lodge and the eagles are still there, but there’s a new addition to the McFadden family property: An archaeological dig site uncovering one of the first settlements of Scots-Irish people in New England, and perhaps in North America, dating to 1718.

Three hundred years later, the McFadden site is a cornerstone of the seldom-told, under-documented history of Scots-Irish diaspora in Maine, and it constitutes one of many independent endeavors to tell and document that history. Those endeavors will come together Aug. 14-17 in the first-ever Scots-Irish Reunion in Maine. Four jam-packed days — including lectures, presentations and art exhibitions — show that archaeology is only one way to tell the history claimed by thousands of Mainers.

A 300-YEAR-OLD BRICK that was found on Brad McFadden’s family property. It is supposed to be from the family's kiln. EMILY COHEN / THE TIMES RECORD

A 300-YEAR-OLD BRICK that was found on Brad McFadden’s family property. It is supposed to be from the family’s kiln. EMILY COHEN / THE TIMES RECORD

An incomplete story

The McFadden settlement, called “Somerset,” is detailed in a 1766 deposition from Brad McFadden’s seventh great-grandmother, Jane. She, along with her husband Andrew and four children, traveled up the Kennebec River in 1718 on the Maccallum, passing by Popham Beach before settling on Merrymeeting Bay later that year.

The same deposition outlines how, four years later, Jane and her family fled Somerset when the Abenaki burned out their property on their raids down the Kennebec. The McFaddens had a view upriver from a knoll on their settlement, which allowed them to escape to Georgetown, while other families were not as fortunate.

Having researched his genealogy, Nelson McFadden came across the deposition under Jane’s name and located the knoll where he guessed they had settled, and he purchased the property. In the deed he stipulated that it must stay in the McFadden name, bringing Brad McFadden into the picture.

Though aware of its potential historical significance, Brad McFadden, a painter and a sculptor, never intended to dig into the property to see what lay beneath.

“Up until six years ago, this was just camp,” he said. “A nice, big, beautiful property.”

That is, until he was approached by John Mann in 2012, who was heading up the newly-formed Maine Ulster-Scots Project. Speculating about he may discover, Mann wanted to dig a test hole on the property. Sure enough, after about a meter of “digging” with a trowel and dustpan, Mann, along with McFadden and a small team, found a piece of burnt timber, affirming their guesses.

Since then, Brad has become somewhat of a celebrity in the Maine Scots-Irish story. He’s been to Northern Ireland three times with findings from this property, and a film crew from Northern Ireland is coming to the site for the fourth time right before the conference.

It seems that any new information about the Scots-Irish diaspora in New England is a welcome addition to an incomplete story. In fact, the story is pretty much non-existent, relegated to footnotes and short paragraphs in larger narratives. With this conference slash-reunion, the goal is to change that.

“It’s part of Maine history,” said Mann, whose Maine Ulster Scots Project is the primary organizer of the event. “It’s part of who we are, and it deserves to be looked at and understood.”

Who are the Scots-Irish?

The story of the Scots-Irish people (also called Scotch Irish or Ulster Scots for the province where they came from) begins approximately a century before many emigrated to North America. They are descended from the approximately 200,000 Scottish Presbyterians who moved to the Ulster province in the north of the island of Ireland during the course of the 17th century.

They sought economic opportunity and religious freedom from the Church of England, as well as respite from centuries of fighting on the border between England and Scotland. The two kingdoms had been unified under a single monarch in 1603 with the Union of the Crowns.

But conflict persisted: The Scots angered the native Irish Catholics when they settled in their land, and fighting broke out. In 1632, King Charles I attempted to force the Scottish Presbyterians to convert to the Church of England, spurring the Bishops’ Wars from 1637- 1642. The Scots were involved in the Second and Third English Civil Wars, fighting almost nonstop from 1648-1651. At the end of the century, the city of Londonderry, largely inhabited by Scots, was under siege during the Williamite war, killing nearly 15,000 people.

Throughout their time in Ulster, the Scots continued to feel pressure from England on their religious and economic freedom, for they were relegated to a highly restrictive plantation system. The Penal Laws, which restricted the political and civil rights of Presbyterians were passed in the late 17th century by the Irish Parliament, dominated by members of the Church of England. In 1704 the Test Act barred any Presbyterians from public official positions, and marriage officiated by Presbyterian ministers were not considered valid.

In the 18th century, they began migration across the Atlantic. For Mainers, the most important migration was in 1718, when five ships arrived in Boston, only to be turned away by the Puritan city. The ships split up to the “hinterlands”: Some traveled to Worcester, Massachusetts, some to Londonderry, New Hampshire, and some to the coast of Maine, including the Maccallum, which carried the McFadden family.

Once they settled, however, they were still not free from tension. From the Abenaki raids in 1722 to the Means Massacre, when the Means family was killed in their home in 1756 in Freeport by a group of Native Americans, the Scots-Irish couldn’t seem to escape conflict.

Centuries of fighting had prepped them for the “frontier,” said Rebecca Graham, the current president of the Maine Ulster Scots Project. Their identity — distinct from Scots, Irish and British — was significant in Maine’s history, she said, especially as they became entrepreneurs in vital industries including lumber and textiles.

“(Their culture) had been filtered out as being English, and these folks certainly were not English,” said Graham. “And their interactions both with the tribal folks and as well as with the government forces, both in London and in Boston, had profound effects on how Maine developed independently.”

Expanding the narrative

Migration of Scots- Irish to North America continued throughout the century, but many more of them traveled to Pennsylvania and southward to Appalachia. For that reason, the 1718 migration to Maine and New England is largely overlooked when telling the Scots-Irish story. They were a people of oral history, so there are few written documents from them, said Mann.

That’s why he founded the Maine Ulster Scots Project in 2006. At a funeral for his uncle in 2005, his cousin approached him to suggest that they do something to commemorate the 250th anniversary of the Means Massacre the next year.

“I get thinking, the problem with that is most people today don’t even know what the Means Massacre is,” said Mann.

So he wrote a book about it, and he created the Maine Ulster Scots Project to continue to tell those stories untold stories. When asked if he considered the upcoming conference the child of his efforts, he laughed.

“ I think it’s the whole family,” he said.

The conference

Presentations at the conference will range from religion to genealogy to poetry, and there will be performances by local fiddlers, one of the most pervasive folkways from the Scots-Irish. Speakers are coming from across the country, and even from across the pond: The keynote speakers are author Colin Woodard, who has written extensively on the various cultural backgrounds that make up America, and Norman Houston, current diplomat to the United States from Northern Ireland.

There will also be tours going out to historical sites in the Portland area, meeting houses and the McFadden archaeological site. Because there are so few written documents from the period of migration and settlement in Maine, having something tangible from the Scots- Irish settlers, even when it doesn’t necessarily belong to their family, gives them a sense of ownership.

“Most people whose family came have no way of seeing or documenting specific aspects of those first few years that their family arrived in America,” said Mann. “ But we have the opportunity to do that with the McFadden family, so it’s a representative project for a much larger group.”

Graham, who got involved with the Maine Ulster Scots Project with her archaeological research of the “lost” Cork settlement on the eastern shore of Merrymeeting Bay, said that the archaeology “ rewrote the narrative.”

“ When I started this, I met with historians who were saying, ‘ Who says they’re Scots-Irish? How do you know that?’” she said. “Even they—even though they knew the area—they thought it was rudimentary, it was temporary, and the archaeology has proven that not to be the case. It’s an important touchstone.”

A family reunion

For Bill McKeen, the highlight of the conference is simply meeting other people with Scots-Irish roots who are similarly interested in learning about their history.

“They’re fanatics about Scots-Irish,” he said. “And we are.”

When he was growing up and his grandparents told him he was Scots- Irish, McKeen thought it meant that his blood was 50 percent Scottish, 50 percent Irish. For much of his adult life, however, he has researched his family and learned what it means to be Scots-Irish.

Mann has spent years researching his family as well. He thinks interest in genealogy has been piqued in part by the wide availability of records via the internet and technology.

“I think Americans especially, being a very short historied culture — I mean our whole history can be summed up in three or four centuries, and people from every background, every variety, every ethnic and cultural background melding together — I think there’s a general hunger to understand who you are, where you came from, and how that affects the way you live and the decisions you’re going to make going forward,” he said.

Another goal of the conference is to continue to forge connections with both Northern Ireland and Scotland. The Northern Ireland Bureau, the Scottish Affairs Council, Tourism Ireland and Ulster-Scots Agency, along with the St. Andrews Society of Maine, are sponsoring the event and sending representatives to present during the conference.

In a spiritual and emotional sense for Mann, McKeen and many other participants in the conference, it’s a matter of family; for McFadden, it quite literally is. One of the most striking moments of the dig was then he found a pipe. It was standing upright in the dirt, as it would have been when it was last put down.

“Wow, my seventh-great-grandfather probably set this down, only to have me pick it up 300 years later,” he said. “ Who has the opportunity to pick up something that belonged to their relative 300 years ago?”

So though he never would have imagined digging into his great-grandfather’s hunting property, the opportunity to learn more about his family, and to help the families of thousands of other Mainers, has made it well worth it.

“We all, together, tell the story,” he said. For more information about the 2018 Scots-Irish Reunion and to register for the conference, visit

This story has been updated to reflect that Norman Houston is the current diplomat to the United States from Northern Ireland.

Comments are not available on this story.

filed under: