Undeniably the first source to consult in the case of a search involving an ancestor connected with the ministry is Rev. James McConnell, Fasti of the Irish Presbyterian Church 1613-1840. This gives an alphabetical index of ministers by period accompanied by a short biographical sketch with references. Having said that much, we could not find our example the Rev. Thomas Clark of Ballybay, Co. Monaghan. This may have been because Rev. Clark belonged to a Presbyterian splinter group called the Burghers.

Rev. David Stewart’s The Seceders in Ireland With Annals of Their Congregations gave us much detail on this colourful individual. According to this source Rev. Clark had a medical degree and attended the University of Glasgow in 1744. We consulted the Matriculation albums of the University of Glasgow 1728 to 1858, however medical students were not included in the earlier years so we turned to Duncan’s Memorials of the Faculty of Physicians and Surgeons of Glasgow 1599-1850 where he does not appear either. It is quite possible that he did not complete his studies. In 1745, Witherow’s Historical and Literary Memorials of Presbyterianism in Ireland records that he was a tutor to a gentleman’s family in Galloway. He interrupted his studies to fight the Pretender and in 1751, according to Reid’s History of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Rev. Clark was a licentiate belonging to the Burgher Presbytery in Glasgow. Sent to Ireland, he was an itinerant minister for the counties Monaghan, Tyrone, Armagh and Down where he galloped along consumed by his zeal. In 1749 Rev. Clark was attacked by the anti-Seceder faction in the church and a flurry of publications on such topics as the errors of Antinomianism were produced. Leaving these controversies aside, we read that to accommodate the crowd, Rev. Clark was ordained in a field in Ballybay in 1751 because he was so popular.

He was not long out of trouble for a neighbouring minister, ‘burning with revenge’ for taking away part of his congregation, proceeded to get Rev. Clark into difficulty. Arrested on a technicality, and set free, he went to Scotland; returning to Ireland he was rearrested. Witherow records that undaunted by these experiences, Rev. Clarke, while in jail, performed a marriage ceremony and thirteen baptisms.

Born in Paisley, Scotland on 5 November 1720, Rev. Clark was described as tall, dark and gaunt, he wore a Highland bonnet and offended some by his broad Scots dialect. He was not a brilliant speaker and his sermons were reportedly written in bad English, but if these were handicaps, Rev. Clark was probably not aware of it. He was a blunt man with the unfortunate habit of attacking fellow ministers for their lapses.

For several reasons including scandal among his parishioners and a diminished income, in May 1764 Rev. Clark and three hundred of his congregation sailed away from Narrow Water, near Newry, Co. Down, bound for New York. He first settled at Salem, New York and later, restless again, he moved to Long Cane, South Carolina as Burgher Minister of the Associated Reformed Church. We also find that he had a wife, unnamed, who died in 1762 and a son who became a judge in America. Stewart’s Fasti of the American Presbyterian Church: Treating of Ministers of Irish Origin who Laboured in America During the Eighteenth Century gives his exact birth date and reveals that he had a Diploma in medicine. This source contains much personal details; we learn, for example, of a poor minister who was suspended for washing in a creek on the Sabbath.

In this case little of a genealogical nature came to light although D.J. Steel, Sources for Scots Genealogy and Family History may be of help in tracing the family in Paisley, Scotland. Rev. Clark died sitting up in his chair in South Carolina in 1792.