Landed Gentry

For Presbyterians whose ancestors belonged to the class known as the landed gentry and consequently may have a recorded pedigree, it is useful to begin work in The Genealogical Office, Dublin with the following sources:

  • The Genealogists Guide: George W. Marshall (Guildford 1903) - Included below
  • A Genealogical Guide: J.B. Whitmore (London, 1953)
  • Index to Registered Pedigrees, Genealogical Office Ms. 469
  • Index to Unregistered Pedigrees, Genealogical Office M2.470

A fascinating example of Presbyterian gentry is the Montgomery family of Benvarden, Co. Antrim. Whitmore has an entry for this branch of the family and directs us to Burke’s Landed Gentry of Ireland, 8th edition. This source gives a substantial printed pedigree and a quick check of the Index to Unregistered Pedigrees in the Genealogical Office reveals the existence of a manuscript pedigree of the family in the archives of that office.

The intrepid genealogist can use Burke’s pedigree as a guide and fill in more detail. An interview with descendants suggests that John MountGomery came from Scotland as one of Sir Randal McDonnell’s followers in the early seventeenth century. A printed source, Young’s Fighters of Derry mentions the family coming to Co. Antrim and settling in Glenarm. Family tradition hinted at a ‘black list’, but the original Cromwellian Black List was destroyed by fire in 1922. However, two printed versions were discovered. One of these can be found in Young’s Historical Notices of Old Belfast. John MountGomery of Glenarm appears in the ‘Black List for Co. Antrim and Down’ for opposing Cromwell’s rump parliament. He barely escaped transportation thanks to Cromwell’s timely death in 1658.

Family lines become confused until 1798 when the Presbyterian minister of Glenarm led 2,000 Catholics in rebellion. Shortly afterwards Hugh Montgomery, a Glenarm farmer’s son recently returned from America, bought Benvarden estate for £27,000. Family papers in this case have been preserved, and the history of Benvarden, previously owned by the notorious John Macnaghten, may be found in printed history. Information on Benvarden’s 200 year old ghost, the Grey Lady, who incidentally was not a Presbyterian, may be found by contacting the Representative Church Body Library in Dublin which has information on the families of establishment clergymen.

Hugh Montgomery’s eldest son, John, inherited Benvarden and married Jane Ferguson, daughter of Sir Andrew Ferguson, Baronet. Jane came from an old Scots family of ministers and landowners who settled at Burt House, Co. Donegal around 1550. An article on the family can be found in The Londonderry Sentinel 3 April 1906. This reference comes from History of Irish Civilization: Articles in Irish Periodicals, Richard J. Hayes, ed. (Boston, 1970). The Ferguson family was raised to a short-lived nobility in 1801. Jane’s father, Sir Andrew, appears on the ‘Original Black list’ in Sir Jonah Barrington’s The Rise and Fall of the Irish Nation. According to Barrington, Ferguson sold his vote for the Union and received a ‘place at a Barrack Board, £500 a year, and a Baronetcy.’ A relative, who also dabbled in politics, is unkindly remembered in a popular election rhyme:

Ferguson down the river, With a pike in his liver To make his look cliver A thing he was niver.

Family diaries, old photographs, letters and deeds fill out the pedigree until the late nineteenth century when the family became members of the Church of Ireland. Finally we read a charming newspaper account of the wedding of Elizabeth Montgomery in 1901. Nineteenth and early twentieth-century newspaper reports are extremely descriptive and are therefore a highly valuable source. In the report of Elizabeth’s wedding we learn that she wore a dress of rich ivory satin, trimmed with tucked chiffon and old Brussels lace, orange blossom, myrtle and white heather. She carried lily of the valley and white tulips. Among her wedding gifts she received silver and brocade, and a pearl necklace from her husband. On the long drive to Benvarden, the horses were unharnessed and the carriage was drawn by Benvarden’s employees up to the big house. After a quiet wedding breakfast the couple left for a honeymoon on the continent.

The Genealogists Guide: George W. Marshall (Guildford 1903)