Don Rigali’s maternal side of the family has roots in Scotland and Ireland before coming to South Carolina to settle. Rev. John Knox was his 10th great-grandfather.

Rev. John Knox (The Reformer) and Rev. James Witherspoon, II

The common ancestors in this story are the Presbyterian Rev. James Alexander Witherspoon, II and his wife, Helen Welch, both from Scotland.  Rev. James Witherspoon, II was the great-grandson of Presbyterian Rev. John Knox, the Reformer. (John Knox is the 9th great-grandfather of Don.) At some point, possibly after their deaths in Scotland, the family fled to Ireland. The reasons may be that Scotland remained a poor, rural area until the 1800s and in the late 1600s and early 1700s England lured Presbyterian Scots to Ireland with promises, when in reality Great Britain wanted Commoner Protestants to confiscate the land from the Gaelic Irish Nobility (who were also mostly Catholic).  However, once in Ireland, the Presbyterian were known as the Ulster-Scots and were not permitted to vote, nor had any political power (still better off than the Irish-Catholic of the time), thus they were under the power of England’s hold of Ireland and the Anglican Church.

  The Township Act of 1730 in the Province of South Carolina

At this time the British “Royal Governor” of South Carolina, Robert Johnson, was offering an enticing deal: land, tools, and provisions for one year to settle the South Carolina territory. Little did most settlers know they were being used by the King George II of Great Britain to build towns in the interior of South Carolina to be a buffer between the Native Americans and the coastline, so British ships could retrieve supplies and the King could profit off the American colonies. This plan had been originated by Colonel John Barnwell. His plan was to “purposefully establish towns well into the interior of South Carolina and populate these towns with, ‘hardy fighting men,’ to serve as a deterrent against any future Indian hostilities,” after the Yamassee War of 1715-1717, which almost destroyed the colony and ports of South Carolina. It wasn’t until Township Act of 1730, that the Royal Governor, Robert Johnson, made it happen. Thus, our family was “used” by Great Britain to drive out the Catholic Irish Nobility in Ireland and the Native Americans in the colonies, probably unknown to our ancestors at the time. They were pawns in the British Empire’s expansion plans.

Witherspoons Arrive in South Carolina

In 1734, the Witherspoons and James Bradley (along with many other Scottish and Irish relatives) made the journey to South Carolina. Our family landed in  Charleston of the South Carolina Province in 1734 and remained for three weeks, until after Christmas.

We Were Meant to Be Here – The Witherspoons and Bradleys

As difficult as the crossing was from Ireland to South Carolina and the settling of new land, our family left in time to escape being hit by the Irish Famine of 1740 which killed an estimated 20-38% of all the population in Ireland due to seriously cold weather from the Little Ice Age and lack of potatoes and other food. This is not the same as the Irish Potato Famine/Great Famine of 1845.

Our family member Margaret Witherspoon, granddaughter of the above mentioned Witherspoons married James Bradley in Ireland and joined the family as they ventured to the New World in 1734! Sadly, Margaret Witherspoon’s mother, Janet/Janette, died on the second day of the crossing the Atlantic in 1734 and was buried at sea, as told by Janette’s grandson, Robert Witherspoon. The first daughter Margaret bore after coming to America, she named in honor of her mother, Janet/Janette.

John Witherspoon, Only Clergyman to Sign our Declaration of Independence

Worthy to note: John Witherspoon, the only clergyman to sign our Declaration of Independence was the nephew of both Margaret and Janette Witherspoon. His father being their brother, Rev James Witherspoon, III, who was a Church of Scotland minister who served the parish of Yester from 1720 until his death in 1759. John Witherspoon is Don Rigali’s 1st cousin, 6x removed. 

Memoirs of Robert Witherspoon Regarding Trip and Settlement

The Robert Witherspoon who wrote the following is Don’s 2nd Cousin, 5x removed. His son, Robert Witherspoon became the US Representative from South Carolina from 1809-1811. Here is the history of their travel from Ireland to South Carolina and the settlement. Robert Witherspoon wrote this almost a half century after they left Ireland and eight years before he died on his land. 

Memoirs of Robert Witherspoon