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Joshua Ewing - The Immigrant

Coleraine, Ulster, Ireland to Cecil County, Maryland

Legends and more legends

  1. So one story goes something like this:  A group of shepherds who lived near Loch Lomond, Scotland saw a large eagle diving down to steal their sheep. But instead, the eagle captured and carried away a small baby.  The shepherds followed the eagle back to his nest on the side of a cliff.  One of the men lowered himself down to the nest with a rope, intending to kill the bird and retrieve the child. Once doing so, he was going to bring both the child and the dead bird back with him as proof of the adventure.  But the bird was so big he could not carry both back up the cliff. So, he cut off a wing from the eagle took the child home. From that time forward, the shepherds and their family began to call themselves the Eagle Wing Clan, eventually shortened E-Wing. [NOTE: Not likely true since our name historically takes other forms, such as Ewen, Ewin, Ewan, and even the Gaelic "Eoghainn"].

  2. Another story tells of the journey of the Ewings to America.  It is hard to find a story of the immigration of Ewings, Porters, Gillespies, and other families without running into a legend about the ship "Eagle Wing".  It turns out that there were multiple ships with that name.  Two that I know of includes one built around 1635 and another built in Belfast around 1714. 

    According to "Clan Ewing of Scotland"  by Elbert William R. Ewing, published in 1922. "Just a word about the old ship Eagle Wing is worthwhile. History says that she began to ship Scots hither as early as 1635, and that in September, 1636 she brought 140; and that for more than a hundred years she was plowing the deeps, bearing first and last many thousands of the best blood to our shores. For heroism and service and for the part her passengers took in founding this government, the Eagle Wing shades the Mayflower into a speck on the horizon of the local history of New England."


  3. Yet another version of the story of the Eagle Wing ship can be found in "The Scotch-Irish in America", by Henry Jones Ford, 1915.  Chapter five had a very clear story of the earliest version of this ship at

  4. There was also another ship named the "Rising Sun" that brought some Ewings for much of the 18th century beginning about this time (although there were several ships so named during the period, one owned by a Pirate in the Caribbean, one that traveled to New Caledonia off the coast of Australia, and at least one that traveled from Scotland to the New World). While I have not seen any official passenger lists, I find it interesting that the community around which lived this family of Ewings, within the bounds of the Octoraro Hundred, is the community called "Rising Sun". There is certainly information that indicates that later generations of Ewings were brought to America by this ship, but one wonders if this family might have been among the first.

    In the book "Scotch Irish Pioneers in Ulster and America" by Charles Knowles Bolton found online at this link on page 31, there is an account of a ship called the "Rising Sun" departing Charleston SC in 1699 and being lost in a hurricane, so if there was a Rising Sun ship that arrived in New Castle in the 1700s it was a new or different ship.


  5. Finally, there is a story of Nathaniel Ewing, half-brother to our Joshua discussed in this Chapter.  According to stories (one from H.C. Peden's "Early Anglican Church Records of Cecil Co., MD."), Nathaniel and his kin are given many dates and ship-sailing stories telling of the their arrival in America.  One story tells of Nathaniel's daughter Ann (named after his half-sister), later married to James Breading, was born on shipboard and called "Sea Gull" after the name of the ship, and her date of birth is usually given as 1725.  If this is true, and what I say below might cast doubt, then we have our ship and date.  

So you might wonder, "why don't we just find passenger lists in the time frame that our family arrived and determine for sure what boat they arrived on?"  Unfortunately, it's a bit more complicated than that.  Before 1820, there was no legal requirement for passenger lists.  In those days, ships made their money with cargo.  Passengers were an afterthought, were used to fill space and make a little extra money, and were more or less treated like cargo.  There were no luxury passenger suites, no special food service or any other services for passengers whatsoever, except of course if a passenger was someone of high reputation.  For example, if you read the memoirs of Benjamin Franklin you'll see quite a different description of his travels.  He was a scientist, and was thoroughly well-versed in the life of a mariner.  His role as diplomat, first for the colonies and then for the new nation, made him a famous man, which certainly merited regular entertainment at the dinner table of the ship's captain.

The truth is, most passengers had to make do in the cargo hold, packed in with many others, perhaps with some hammocks or bunks lashed to the bulkheads.  They had to bring their own food, enough for the eight-to-fourteen week voyage.  Many ran out before arriving.  If they had money, they could buy food from the captain, and whatever food the crew got, they got, and likely the crew came first.  The ship's water was stored in unclean vats that might have carried other things.  And things were worse from there.  This article from "Eyewitness to History" gives details of one German man's experience in the 1750s.  If you were poor, then you were probably paying your way with indentured servitude (which included many Irish and Scots-Irish).  If your husband or both parents died in the voyage, then you were likely to have to work for your fare, children until they were 21.  Children rarely survived the trip due to hunger and disease, especially infants.  Therefore, if there were passenger lists, they usually amounted to at minimum a headcount of the men, omitting women, children, and servants entirely, or perhaps the "important" men or women of status or wealth might be mentioned by name.  Those lists were turned in to the port master, and they were either lost, or over the decades and centuries they might have made their way into local libraries and archives.  A good archivist will tell you that reliable passenger lists are extremely rare, and are usually not where you want to spend a lot of your valuable research time.  

Therefore, even though some of these stories seem plausible and tempting enough to pass off as truth, I would be careful about such assumptions.  I've been bit before, and that was enough.  My intention is to cover this site with source documents with hard evidence of everything I assert.  

A lucky break

In late winter of 2021 I was actually researching Captain Patrick Ewing, son of Joshua (who I will discuss below), and the original location of his burial in "Polk's Graveyard".  The story goes that the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAW) placed a memorial to Captain Patrick in West Nottingham Presbyterian Church graveyard as the original "Polk's Graveyard" had been destroyed by development.  (This story will be detailed in the chapter dedicated to Patrick Ewing).  I use various ordinary web-search engines in my research (google, duckduckgo, etc.) as I've become very good in setting search criteria to find things.  So I was searching for "Polk" "Ewing" "Graveyard" "Cecil" and came back with an interesting site where a family researcher mentioned a "famous" letter from Nathaniel Ewing to President James K. Polk.  I was taken completely aback by this statement as I had never heard of this letter in my 30 years of research.  Reportedly this letter cited the exact day and location of the arrival of the half-brother Nathaniel mentioned above as well as other Ewings, Polks, Porters, and Gillespies.   This Nathaniel that authored the letter was the grandson and namesake of the aforementioned half-brother to my Joshua, and would certainly have been a first-hand beneficiary of many stories and details of the family's homeland, arrival in the New World, and subsequent settlement.  So I decided to investigate, acquiring a copy of the correspondence of President James K. Polk.  Sure enough, included in the papers of then-Presidential-Candidate James K. Polk is a letter from Nathaniel Ewing.  He is serving as a State Representative in Indiana at the time and perhaps in an effort to be friendly or to gain some political edge by family association with Polk, recounts an amazing history of the family and it's association with the Polks, Porters, and Gillespies, that his ancestors had come from Coleraine Ireland (in Ulster) and that his grandfather Nathaniel, along with other Ewings, Polks, Porters, and Gillespies had landed in New Castle Delaware 1727.  [NOTE: the assertion of Coleraine as our place of origin is seemingly confirmed in a Cumberland County PA deed for James Porter, father-in-law to Captain Patrick Ewing.  The preamble to the deed cites James Porter from Coleraine Ireland.]

I have placed a short excerpt of the letter below that is pertinent to our discussion here.  It is found in volume 8 of the "Correspondence of James K. Polk: Volume VIII, September-December 1844", (c) 1993 by The University of Tennessee Press I Knoxville.  



Dear Sir                                                                                                                                                        Vincennes l[ndiana] Sept. 3d 1844

A scetch of your biography happening to fall into my hands, I find that I am better acquainted with the early history of your family than perhaps any of your immediate relatives now alive. Your forefathers and mine emigrated together in the same ship from the North of Ireland in the year seventeen hundred an twenty seven, landed at Newcastle & settled together in the upper part of Cecil County adjoining the Pennsylvania line and Lancaster County.  There was a large colony composed principally of Ewings Porters Gill espies & Polks. Your great grandfather and two Grand Uncles were of the number. Of your great grandfather and one of his brothers I have no recollection. They with some of my relatives of the names of Gillespie & Porter had removed to Cumberland County near Carlisle before my time. 3 One of the brothers John Polk remained where he first settled until he died which was about the year seventeen hundred eighty three. 4 Him I well recollect as his Land & that of both my Grandfathers joined, and a constant friendly intercourse alway subsisted between the families, during their lives. On his land was the place selected by the emigrants on their first arival for a burying ground and in it is inter'd both my Grand fathers & grandmothers my Father & Mother with Uncles Aunts & cousins without number. John Polk & his family also lie there. In the year seventeen hundred & eighty eight I found living on Cripple Creek one of the head branches of New River a numerous band of my relatives desendants of those who had removed from Cumberland County Pa. and from the old settlement in Cecil Co. Md. I understood the Polks had settled further south in Carolina. In this tour I found my relatives scattered from Prince Edward Co Va. through Bortitort Wythe Washington and down to Knoxville, 5 all the desendants of the emigrants of seventeen hundred & twenty seven. I have this date from record. One of my aunts was born on sea on their passage to America & this is the recorded year of hir birth. Here ends my knowledge of the family of the Polks except the grandsons of John Polk by his daughter Isabella who maried Thomas Grubb. With those I was raised and schooled three of whome are still alive all living in Pennsylvania one in Franklin Co. & ten in Erie Co near the Town of that name.....

There is more in the letter, much that focuses on more recent details that I have chosen to omit.  He does go on to confirm that the family left Scotland for Ireland during the reign of Oliver Cromwell.  On that I will explore more later.


After finding the Polk letter I was in the area and visited New Castle and stood on the pier that now sits in the place the docks would have been.  I made a short video of the moment which held great meaning to me.  I can only imagine landing in a strange place, having to get belongings unloaded from the ship and loaded on a wagon (if there were any), then finding a place to live or shelter.  If any costs were due for the voyage, they would either have to pay it or work somewhere until it was paid.  We don't know if they landed with any money to speak of.  Was the trip fully paid for?  Did they have to serve an indenture or work a job to pay it off?  And then they had to plan where to go.  I wonder what led them to Cecil County?  Where did they get the money for land?  We may never know the answer to these things, but it is important to consider the chaos they faced upon arrival after such a grueling voyage.  

But wait!  There may be more to the story!

I have found other information leading to the speculation that this landing occurred specifically on Dec 10, 1727.  This speculation is from the Caldwell, Dougherty, and Rodgers families, who passed through the Lancaster County PA area at the time the Ewings and Porters first appeared in Lancaster County PA and a couple of miles away at Cecil County MD.  The story comes from two sources.  In the "Genealogies of Kentucky Families from the Register of the Kentucky Historical Society, Vol, 1" on page 254 is a section which speaks of these families, and mentions descendants of the Patton families (the wife of James Porter was Jane Patton).  This article starts by specifying that the ancestors immigrated from Ireland to New Castle Delaware on December 10, 1727.  The fact that they settled the same area of PA/MD at exactly the same time as the Porters and the Ewings and the association with the Pattons is pretty much the case for December 10, 1727, and the assumption that because they all settled the same area at the same time that they arrived together.  Honestly, this case is not a stretch.  In my opinion it's probably a 70% probability based on what I know of the area when it was settled, and the associations between all these families through history.  But I'm not yet closing the book on this point, because I may yet find more to bolster the argument.   


I have noticed that all of the Caldwell, Dougherty, and Rodger's family researchers have a fondness for specifying that the ship that arrived on December 10, 1727 was non other than the Eagle Wing, which would be truly exciting if it turned out to be true, but I'm withholding judgement on the actual ship and specific date for now until I find more hard evidence.  It could just as well have been the 'Rising Sun' or the 'Seagull' from among the legends above. 

So... I have a theory... and for now it is only a theory, so please don't repeat it as fact...

My theory is based on a series of events that occurred in 1718 and a letter from 319 Scots-Irish men from areas surrounding Londonderry to Governor Shute of Massachusetts Bay requesting land for settlement.  Among those 319 men was William Caldwell, kin to John Caldwell of the family groups mentioned above.  

Now before I get to my theory, I must mention that there is an article found on authored by Anoni Muss back in 2014 that the article in the "Genealogies of Kentucky Families..." cited above cannot possibly be correct insofar as the arrival date of December 10, 1727 because the article starts with the quote "On the day that King George II was proclaimed in New Castle, Delaware, December 10, 1727, there arrived from the Providence of Ulster, Ireland, a group of emigrants who were to furnish many of the early setlers of Kentucky."  Ms Anoni Muss expressed a concern in her article that George II was crowned 11 Oct 1727, which means the arrival would have been in the fall.  Well given that there were no phones or telegraphs in 1727, the news would have been dispatched on the first available ship that was going to New Castle, which given the time needed to cross the ocean, a date of December 10 would fit very nicely into the timeframe since a typical crossing by a 45 ton Irish Brigantine ship took anywhere from 1 to 3 months depending on the weather.  So we know that very likely "the day that King George II was proclaimed in New Castle", very likely a British ship also parked at the docks, or a dispatch was related from Philadelphia down to New Castle (a single day ride by horse).  

So back to my theory:  So far we we know that a niece of my emigrant ancestor Joshua was nicknamed "Sea Gull" supposedly after the ship the family came in on. We know that the Ewings and Porters (and for that matter the Gillespies, Caldwells, Daughertys, and Rodgers) settled in or near Cecil County not far from a community named "Rising Sun" which so happens to be another Scots Irish ship of some fame.  Lastly there is the persistent citing of the "Eagle Wing" as the ship our family arrived on. 


A 45-ton Irish Brigantine ship could hold about 100 passengers. Following the 1718 letter I mentioned above, about 120 families departed for Massachusetts (the families ultimately settled in New Hampshire). They arrived in Boston in July 1718 on five ships that sailed together.  Between July and September 1718 a few hundred Scots-Irish families arrived in Boston, many of which were signers of the letter.  However, we know that John Caldwell, who was related to the William Caldwell who signed the letter did not make it to Boston.  He rather served as Captain aboard the ship that reportedly arrived on December 10 1727 at New Castle DE.

My theory is that perhaps like the first five ships that arrived in Boston in July 1718 (the start of the great Scots-Irish migration), there were a cluster of 3 or more ships that arrived December 10, 1727 in New Castle Delaware.  And maybe among these were the "Sea Gull", the "Rising Sun" and that ship built in Belfast around 1714, the "Eagle Wing".

An Irish Brigantine Ship

The land, the hundred, the creek, and the river

Cecil County as that Ewing family found it was not even organized until 1674 by proclamation of Lord Baltimore.  However that organization wasn't completed for about another 25 years.  During that time there were various settlements, mills, and other ventures established.  By the time our Ewings arrived, there were numerous plantations with various wheat fields along with other crops mixed with woods in between.

The area we know as Cecil County was first inhabited by the Susquehanna Indians, a branch of the Iroquois.  In the summer of 1608 the first European explored the northern Chesapeake Bay area, up the North East, Elk, and Sassafras rivers and also the Susquehanna River as far as he could until the rocks became to dense and the water too shallow.  There is now a large hydroelectric dam near where he turned back.  He me numerous Indians, commented that they were friendly, but large men and strong, and that they could travel above the rocks and rapids another two days in their canoes.  That man was Captain John Smith.  He had organized a small party for exploration from his home base at Jamestown.  This was the same Captain John Smith of Pocahontas fame, but I'm not talking about the Disney movie.  In the real story, it was John Rolfe that Pocahontas eventually married.  The story about Pocahontas intervening to spare John Smith's life is still that, just a story.  Much of what we know about Pocahontas came from John Smith's own diaries.  He was prone to exaggerate.  However, it appears that he got much of what he saw in the Susquehanna River and what became Cecil County right.  As a result of John's explorations, he created a map which was used throughout the 1600s.  The map is facing with west pointed up, meaning the northern tip of the Chesapeake bay and the mouth of the Susquehanna is to the right.  If you zoom in on the Susquehanna, you will see drawn a small maltese cross signifying the furthest he could go up the river.  This point is only a couple of miles from the land that our Ewing brothers would later settle on.














(Click to zoom and view)

When Joshua Ewing acquired the land "Addition to Success" (ref. the story of the land in the previous chapter on Captain Patrick), he built a small house along the Octoraro Creek.  He and son Captain Patrick lived there until the Captain's son Patrick tor it down and built an estate he named "Stone Lea".  That house too is gone now, but as I mentioned in the last chapter, the property is still there, has a lovely estate on it, and is still called "Stone Lea".  If you look closely at the map of the Octoraro Hundred I provided in the last chapter, you will see hand-written some coordinates in the "Addition to Success" property.  These are GPS coordinates.  Punch them into your GPS and you'll find yourself in the driveway of "Stone Lea".  

I've spoken much about the Octoraro Hundred, the land, the plantations, and the people, but I've said very little about the importance of two creeks that ran through these lands.  Octoraro creek runs 22.1 miles from slightly in Pennsylvania, through the eastern edge of the Octoraro Hundred, and into the Susquehanna about 9 miles north of the mouth in the Chesapeake Bay.  It is a substantial flow, that is basically a small river. Numerous grist mills lined the stream as there was a lot of water and a strong current.  One of these mills was owned by the Porter family and called Porter's Mill.  It stood right upstream from Porters Bridge. And while the mill is in ruins and the bridge is gone and replaced by a modern one, it sits right on the edge of Joshua Ewing's land "Addition to Success" and the plantation that later became "Stone Lea".  Another important creek is Conowingo Creek.  It runs 20.2 miles, starting in Lancaster County PA and cutting very near the Susquehanna River along the western edge of the Octoraro Hundred.  It is the western edge of the land "The Levell" acquired by Nathaniel and Joshua Ewing as well as the land "Dividing" owned by Joshua.  I have a map that I haven't been able to locate that depicts another grist mill on the Conowingo that was either acquired or built by Joshua and Nathaniel, and then later owned by Captain Patrick.  The ruins of this second mill still stands, and is easily visible by canoe from the creek, although the undergrowth is far too thick to hike into it.

                             Octoraro Creek on the east side of Stone Lea                                                     Conowingo Creek 1/4 mi SW of

                                                                                                                                                                     Ewing Mill Ruins

The brothers, a sister, and a half-brother

Nathaniel, Joshua, Samuel, William, James, George, Ann, and John:  Those are the names given to us in the volume 2 of "Maryland Deponents 1716-1799", by Peden Publishing Co., 1992, in the section "From Land Commission Books and Papers".


  • Nathaniel, the oldest was clearly the product of his father and a first wife, hence he is the half-brother to all the rest.  He was born in 1693 and died in 1748, making him the first in our line to die in the New World.  He and my ancestor Joshua purchased 600 acres of a tract called "DIVIDING" in 1728.  Details and a map are available in the previous chapter concerning his son Patrick.

  • Joshua (Mine) was born in 1704 and died in 1753 leaving a will naming the children, possibly in birth order.  We will discuss Joshua more below.  He owned land called "ADDITION TO SUCCESS" and others.  He may have been part owner of a mill on Conowingo Creek pictured above (I couldn't reach it because of swampy undergrowth), that was part of the land held by his son Captain Patrick was known as "Stone Lea" on Octoraro Creek.

  • Samuel was born about 1705 (one source cites a Samuel born at that time at Diocese of Raphoe, County Donegal, Ireland on the Ulster plantation), and his will was probated in 1758.  His will also lists his children, as does his deeds.  He bought land in Amelia/Prince Edward Co., VA. in 1744.

  • William Ewing as possibly born around 1700 and died in Prince Edward Co., VA in 1782.

  • James Ewing is thought to have been born in 1712.

  • George Ewing was possibly the youngest of the brothers as he died in 1798, but we don't have a birth date.  He owned land in Amelia Co., VA.

  • Ann was the only sister of these brothers, and was born 1708, marrying George Gillespie about 1724.  They lived in Cecil County MD on the land known as "Green's Delight" and part of "The Levell" (see maps found on the previous chapter).

  • John Ewing was probably born around 1690, and died in Queen Annes Co., MD in 1751.  These dates may be in error and further research is needed here to determine the oldest of the bunch.  If he was the same age or older than Nathaniel, then he too was a half-brother.  

Joshua Ewing and Jane Patton Gillespie?

Joshua Ewing married Jane Patton daughter of Robert Patton of Sadsbury township, Lancaster County PA, just a few miles northeast of Cecil County.  Today it's called Sadsburyville and it's just to the east of Lancaster.  When I was originally researching Joshua, I was quickly confused at seeing references to his wife Jane Patton, and in other places Jane Gillespie.  Apparently she had a first marriage to a Gillespie.  This is a point for further research, for as large a family as Joshua gave her, I don't know if she had children by the Gillespie she first married.

More Porters

One thing I noted as that many of Joshua's brothers, children, nephews, and other extended Ewing family members married Porters.  It appears that the Ewings and the Porters roots went further than anyone expected.  They were a very large family in this mid-Atlanta region of central Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.  We shall find in the next chapter that they were with us even in the old countries.  

What were they really like?

So I've spent this entire chapter talking about legends, ships, John Smith, and only a little blurb on Joshua.  The fact is, we know little about him.  We know broad things about the brothers and we can use our imaginations concerning the voyage and we know how the land probably looked back in his day and that he was a farmer of substantial means with 3 properties and around 900 acres to his name, but little about him.  In reading his will though, it is clear he loved his family and he loved his land.  He speaks in loving terms concerning each child and his wife.  He also speaks of his land noting that "for no stranger shall ever inherit here". And even if his "beloved" wife were to re-marry she was instructed to leave the land and receive a dowry in its place so that the land could stay in the family forever.  

And so, I have little more to share about Joshua.  However, I will share the following item I found while visiting the Cecil County Historical Society.  Remember above where I mentioned in Joshua's will that he wanted the land to stay in the family forever?

(Article from the CECIL WHIG, Thursday, Dec 2 1993)

If there is one thing we Ewing's can say, it's that we take our father's will seriously. 

John Smith Map.jpg
Irish Brigantine Ship.jpg
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