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The Cotton Famine: Old Hickory and the Mary Edson, Emigrant Ships for America in 1863

by Familia Ulster Genealogical Review: No. 27, 2011


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by F. Gilbert Watson

"This article, in the sesquicentenary year of the commencement of the American Civil War in 1861, examines the ruinous effect that that conflict had on the lives of cotton weavers in the Lisburn area and in the Maze and Broomhedge districts in particular. With the aid of contemporaneous accounts it paints a distressing picture of the circumstances that eventually led to the enforced emigration to America of some 390 men, women and children. The study of Irish emigration is a well established academic enterprise but for the amateur family historian, attempting to portray the life and times of previous generations and set down a family and social history, the search for an emigrant family often draws a blank.

My investigation of social conditions and their affect on the numerous Watson families living in the townland of Maze in the nineteenth century received a welcome boost from Hugh McCall’s Ireland and her Staple Manufactures and The Cotton Famine: a ship’s passenger list naming Moses Watson triggered further research but it was the twentieth century phenomenon of the internet and internet genealogy that established an American bridgehead with an extended family circle."