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Based on research by the Irish Family History Centre at EPIC, The Irish Emigration Museum, in Dublin ( Taylor Swift’s great-great-great grandparents were Francis Gwynn, weaver and Susan Davis, dressmaker, who at the ages of 21, sailed on ship Amy, which departed Derry on 11 June 1836 for Philadelphia. They married in 1839 and their daughter Mary Douglas (nee Gwynn) was Taylor Swift’s great-great grandmother.

Taylor Swift - Irish Ancestry

Taylor Swift is a Derry Girl

It is possible, but definitely not proven, that Francis Gwynn is related to the household headed by Francis Gwynn in 1831 census consisting of one male and one female (one of whom was Protestant, Church of Ireland, and the other Roman Catholic) residing, with 4 other families, in House Number 1 in Fahan Street in Bogside district of Derry,

The decline of the domestic linen industry in Derry from the 1830s, coinciding with a rise of factory-based linen industry in Belfast, would have encouraged Francis, a weaver, to emigrate. Many small farmers, agricultural labourers and rural tradesmen in Ireland increasingly saw emigration as the only solution to their declining economic prospects. Emigration thus acted as a “safety valve,” enabling young men and women with little economic prospects to escape Ireland.

Ship Amy, whose emigration agent in Derry was James Corscaden, was one of 12 ships advertised in Londonderry Journal to sail from Derry for Philadelphia in 1836. It has been said that ‘the Londonderry to Philadelphia route was the oldest Irish emigrant trade route.’

Derry’s importance as an emigration port continued to grow in the 19th century; it was a profitable trade. Merchants in Derry soon became ship-owners as opposed to agents for American and British companies. By 1833 seven merchants in the city – Daniel Baird, James Corscaden, John Kelso, William McCorkell, James McCrea, John Munn and Joseph Young – owned fifteen vessels, all engaged in the North American emigrant trade.

According to Bart O’Donnell of the Boomhall Trust, in Derry Journal of 17 October 2023, James Corscaden, a one-time resident of Boomhall, was appointed in 1834 as the first full US Consul for Derry by John Forsyth, the US Secretary of State in Washington. For 29 years he held the posts variously of consul, agent or vice-consul, representing the USA in Derry, managing much of the diaspora that became Irish America.

James Corscasden, with offices at 20 London Street and 29 Shipquay Street, became a wealthy merchant transporting linen and emigrants to North America and trading flaxseed, flour and timber on the return voyage.

James also acted in the 1830s as emigration agent for Philadelphia-based merchant, Robert Taylor, who was contracted by the DuPont Company to assist employees at their gunpowder works, established 1802, at Hagley along the banks of the Brandywine in Wilmington, Delaware, to bring friends and family from Ireland to USA. Derry was to become in the late 1820s and early1830s the leading city in Ireland and Britain dealing with pre-paid passages.

Conditions on board 19th century emigrant sailing ships could be harsh. Disease thrived on overcrowded ships, with all emigrants accommodated, in communal berths, in the space between decks.

A sailing ship could cross the Atlantic in 4 weeks. But the journey could take much longer. For example, the Amy arrived in Philadelphia, with Taylor Swift’s ancestors, after an 8-week voyage on 20 August 1836.

Thomas Mellon, founder of Mellon Bank of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, faced an even longer journey of 14 weeks at sea! In 1818, at the age of 5, Thomas sailed with his parents, Andrew and Rebecca Mellon, from Derry for a new life in North America. They embarked on a ship belonging to a Mr Buchanan who ‘was the uncle of the late President of the United States’ (i.e. James Buchanan, 15th President of the United States from 1857-1861), destined for Saint John, New Brunswick. The voyage to Saint John took ‘a trifle over twelve weeks’ and then a further 2 weeks was spent on a coasting ship which took them to Baltimore, and from there to their final destination, in a journey lasting three weeks, by Conestoga wagon to a still largely unpopulated Westmoreland County, 21 miles east of Pittsburgh.

Further hazards included storms and shipwreck. James Corscaden’s ship Erin, flying Corscaden house flag, was painted by Liverpool marine artist Joseph Heard and survives today in the McCorkell Line Art Collection (image enclosed). Built in New Brunswick, Canada in 1835 the Erin ‘carried passengers to New York, Philadelphia, Quebec and Savannah. She suffered a series of misfortunes and in 1842 she foundered off the Bahamas. The crew and passengers were brought to safety by Spanish brig without loss of life.’

Author: Brian Mitchell

Derry Genealogy




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