Our Crawfords and the Siege of Derry, 1689

Larry Pearce

Larry with Emigrant Statue in Port of Londonderry, from which most of our Scots-Irish ancestors sailed

My maternal grandmother was Bertha Campbell Gray (1893-1980) whose great-grandfather Thomas Campbell (1806-1848) married Mary Crawford (1799-1886). Their ancestors had lived near the Conemaugh River in old Westmoreland County before moving west across the Allegheny River to present day Fox Chapel, O’hara Township, Allegheny County. This move wouldn’t have been possible until after a peace treaty was signed with the Native Americans at Ft. Stanwix in 1784. White settlers could then live west of the Allegheny Mountains and north and west of the great river. Strife was nothing new to these Scots-Irish immigrants. A century earlier in Ulster, forces under deposed English King James II (1663-1701) had crossed the Irish Sea to recruit mostly Roman Catholic fighters in Dublin. Marching northwest across the Emerald Isle, the great army lay siege to the rigidly Protestant city of Derry, which today is called Londonderry, much to the anger of her modern Irish Republic loyalist residents. I remember entering the city years ago on a tour and seeing “Londonderry”traffic signs with the “London” portion painted over.

The Siege, the first significant event in that English-Irish civil war, lasted 100 days, from April 20 to July 30, 1689. Despite the cruel devastation to her citizens, brought about by the blockade of food and necessary supplies, the city and her defenders held out and survived until relief came in the person named Percy Kirke (1646-1691), Lt. General, and his army. The military rolls of that time include the names of my ancestors: Gray, Campbell, and of course, Crawford. The following year, as the war moved south, James II was defeated at the famous Battle of the Boyne.

Historian and author Fred E. Crawford, in his 1940 book The Early Ancestors of the Crawfords in America, relates the tale told to him by Ingoldsby Work Crawford, repeated by his grandmother Margaret, that her grandmother had suffered terribly during the Siege. Apparently, “the Catholics came in the night, burned their house, and killed her father and mother.” Climbing through the bedroom window in only her pajamas, she was the only family member to survive. Roaming the fields and bogs for many days, she had only roots to eat. One time she saw a “company of murderers,” probably Catholic sympathizers, and hid under an old wooden bridge until friends found her, fed her, and took her back to their home.

There are many other stories in Crawford’s wonderful account. We hope to get to read at least some of it. Perhaps we can appreciate what our ancestors endured at times in the Old World and what drove many of them to come to America.

Larry walking the (windy) ancient walls of Londonderry with cannon still in place

Last revised 10/16/19


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