Wednesday, December 7, 2016

McDowells, from Galloway to America

The monks of Holyrood in Edinburgh, where he lived his last days, called him “Prince” Fergus. They were alluding to his marriage with Princess Elizabeth, one of the many illegitimate children of King Henry I of England. Elizabeth’s mother was likely Princess Nest ferch Rhys of Wales, known to have also borne a son named after Henry.*

Fergus, Lord of Galloway, had been named the first such lord by Scotland’s King David I, whose sister Matilda happened to be Henry I’s wife. Fergus and David shared family ties to the English king and they would remain faithful in their support of him as long as Henry occupied the throne. Fergus and Elizabeth's offspring gave rise to the clan of Dougall, anglicized Dowell, known by the 13th century as MacDowell. Their oldest son Uchtred,** second Lord of Galloway, had a son named Dowall (or Duegald, in Gaelic). It was from Dowall that the McDowell name branched forth.
Galloway was unique within Britain during the early Middle Ages. Geographically, it occupied the southwest coastal border of Scotland, with Ireland in view from points along the sea coast. For four generations, beginning with Fergus, the Lords of Galloway were an independent dynasty within Britain. Royal charters during that time were addressed: “To all good men, French, English, Scots, and Galwegians.” Over generations, though, power ultimately changed hands and allegiances shifted. After the death in 1234 of Alan, the fourth Lord of Galloway, King Alexander II of Scotland forced the leadership of Galloway to be partitioned between Alan's three surviving legitimate daughters. (There had been no legitimate sons.) Alexander’s goal was to secure Galloway under Scottish rule and he was successful. Galwegian independence was no more.
John McDowell, born in 1575 to Uchtred MacDowell, 10th Lord of Garthland in Galloway, initiated the McDowell family's migration westward from Scotland. By 1595, John was living in County Antrim, Ulster, Ireland, as a political exile. He had settled in Glenoe, in the parish of Raloo near Larne, where he met and married Irish native Mary Wylie. Grandson Thomas, son of their first-born Alexander and his wife Margaret Hall, was father of Joseph, John, William, Alexander, and Ephraim, some of the earliest McDowells to survive the Atlantic crossing and make America their new home. 
*“Nesta” had been taken hostage by England during the relentless border wars with Wales. England became her home. The King, already married to Matilda, the sister of Scotland’s David I, married Nesta to Gerald FitzWalter of Windsor, the Constable of Pembroke. She would notably become the female progenitor of the FitzGerald dynasty in Great Britain and Ireland.
**Fergus’s son Uchtred was called a cousin of Henry II, King of England, by 12th century English chronicler Roger de Hoveden. Henry II was a maternal grandson of Henry I, and this would support the genetic link to Princess Elizabeth.