Friday, 25 October 2013

The Big Breakthrough on the Sproule Family Tree

19th November 1805. This is the date that gave me the biggest breakthrough in my genealogical research so far. This date appeared on two different documents. One ‘19th November 1805’ was on a deed that concerned the family of Thomas Sproule of Golan, who died in 1761. The other appeared on the will of Robert Sproule known as ‘The Nabob’ who died in 1807. Two documents, one date -  and a family tree completed! Oh, how I wish I could tell Jack Elder the great news!

Thomas Sproule of Golan

Thomas Sproule of Golan appears on a lease in 1733 where he acquires half of the townland of Altamullan in Termnamongan, County Tyrone. Thomas already owns land in Golan, just south east of Castlederg, and now he bought 507 acres in Altamullen. This 1733 lease is important for the family history as the land was passed from one person to another down through the generations, giving us names and dates at each stage.

When this deed was registered in 1733, it was stated that Thomas of Golan was son of Samuel Sproule of Golan. Thomas also names two sons, Robert and James. His son Robert died just a year later, in 1734, according to a will in the name of Robert of Drumnabeigh (Just next to Golan).  In 1761 Thomas of Golan dies and he leaves his freehold lands to his three sons James, Samuel and John –‘share and share alike’.2 

The Three Sons of Thomas of Golan

In 1763, the three sons register an agreement where they divide up the lands left to them by Thomas of Golan. James, now called James of Newton Stewart, agrees to take the north part of the freehold land in Altamullen. Samuel, now called Samuel of Coolnacrunaght, gets the southside of Altamullan. A different piece of land in Meenacheeran and Pollygerrybane goes to the third son, who is named as John Sproule the Apocethary of Strabane.

Now we focus on the son Samuel. The lease tells us that in a will dated 4th June 1779, Samuel dies and leaves his quarter of Altamullan to his son Robert.4 The next event on this lease is dated 19th November 1805 where son Robert dies and leaves his freehold farm in the townland of Altamullan to his nephew, Robert Sproule of Bridgehill.

Hold that thought!

Robert Sproule the Nabob

Jack Elder produced a family tree of ‘The Nabob Sproules’. The central figure was Robert Sproule, known as 'The Nabob', and I am descended from his sister, Martha.  We know a lot about Robert the Nabob - I will be talking about him a great deal in later posts. What Elder didn’t know was that Robert the Nabob’s uncle was John Sproule the Apocethary of Strabane (1713-1787) son of Thomas of Golan. We know this from the Abercorn Papers, where there are references to John the Apocethary and his nephew Robert in India – Robert's India adventures won him the nickname of ‘The Nabob’.

Who Were the Parents?

John the Apocethary was Robert the Nabob’s uncle, which means that Thomas of Golan was his Grandfather. But who were the parents of the Nabob? Elder thought that the father of the Nabob was Thomas, or possibly Robert, but he was never sure. If we look again at the leases of Thomas of Golan, and there are several of them, he never mentions a son Thomas and there was no son Thomas named in his will. His son Robert died in 1734, and left only one son, Oliver. So the Nabob’s father was not a Robert or a Thomas, son of Thomas of Golan.

It looked to me at this point as if the line came down through the mother of the Nabob. That is, Robert the Nabob’s mother was the daughter of Thomas of Golan, and she had married another Sproule – very common in those days!

The Will of Robert the Nabob

In the last few weeks, I got hold of the will of Robert the Nabob, thanks to a fellow researcher – very exciting! It turns out that there were eight children in this family, so a lot of people out there are trying to find out who were the parents of Robert the Nabob!

Robert the Nabob names his older, and only, brother as Thomas Sproule. The Nabob leaves money in his will to the eldest son of brother Thomas, Samuel of Bridgehill, and to Samuel’s son, Robert of Bridgehill. Robert the Nabob also states that he leaves ‘my freehold farm in Altamullan’ to his nephew, Robert of Bridgehill.

Bridgehill is not an area, it is a house with a large farm south east of Castlederg, County Tyrone. It is likely, therefore, that there could only be one Robert of Bridgehill.

Two Uncle Roberts

Now we have Robert of Bridgehill receiving two ‘freehold farms’ in Altamullan from two uncles, both named Robert Sproule. One Uncle Robert died in 1805, and he is the son of Samuel who is son of Thomas of Golan. The other uncle is Robert the Nabob, who died in 1807, and who is definitely grandson of Thomas of Golan.

Two ‘freehold farms’ in Altamullan, this had to be rare in those days. This week, I decided to go to the Registry of Deeds and see if I could get more information on the deeds of Altamullan. I also wanted to check out Bridgehill, to see if there were deeds from there. You have to have the right townland to find a deed and I wasn’t sure about Bridgehill – it might be in Drumgallen. I contacted my favourite group in the Tyrone area, the Castlederg Family History Society, and asked the question – which townland is Bridgehill in? Some agreed Drumgallen.

And then a knowledgeable lady said “From my findings it could be that Bridgehill is in Coolnacrunaght”.

Joining the Dots

Coolnacrunaght. In the 1663 Altamullan deed, Samuel, son of Thomas of Golan, had been called Samuel of Coolnacrunaght. This means that his son, one of the Uncle Roberts, had to have come from Coolnacrunaght. With the other Uncle Robert, his older brother lived in Bridgehill, which is in, or near, Coolnacrunaght. They had to be the same person. Robert the Nabob had to be Robert son of Samuel, son of Thomas of Golan!

Now the fact that one had died in 1805 and one in 1807 was a slight hiccup! I checked the dates. I knew for certain that Robert the Nabob had died in 1807, so there had to be something fishy regarding the other Robert’s death in the records of the deeds. The PRONI records were the same as the Registry of Deeds,  and there was no mistake:

"Will, 4 June 1779, Samuel, deceased, to son Robert. Southside will, 19 November 1805, Robert, deceased, to nephew Robert Sproule, Bridgehill, Co. Tyrone"

On 19th November 1805 Robert Sproule, son of Samuel, is deceased. Or is it possible that he is not deceased – that this is the date that…

And there it was, the same date!  19th November 1805 - the date that Robert Sproule the Nabob had written his will! Robert Sproule son of Samuel son of Thomas of Golan was not deceased. He was in fact Robert Sproule the Nabob. They had used the date that he had signed his will as the date of death on the Altamullan deed! They were definitely the same person.

The Family History Robert Sproule The Nabob

This proves for the first time the parentage of the Nabob, and puts a missing link for many Sproule family historians! Robert Sproule the Nabob (1746 -1807) was son of Samuel of Coolnacrught, who was son of Thomas Sproule of Golan (c. 1685 -1761) who was son of Samuel Spreull of Golan!

It also allows me to proudly give MY family tree:

My Family Tree
  • Kate Tammemagi daughter of Robert Sproule of Derry
  • Who was son of Robert Sproule
  • Who was son of James Sproule of Tullymoan, County Tyrone
  • Who was son of Andrew Sproule of Tullymoan
  • Who was son of Andrew Sproule of Tullymoan who married Martha Sproule
  • Martha was daughter of Samuel Sproule of Coolnacrught
  • Who was son of Thomas Sproule of Golan
  • Who was son of Samuel Spreull of Golan


1 Deed Registered 5 November 1733, Registry of Deeds Dublin, 44 484 52279
2 Will of Thomas Sproule of Golan 14th April 1761, Registry of Deeds Dublin abstracts of wills vol. ii 1746–1785, (3 vols 1954–84)
3 Sproule to Sproule Agreement 28th Oct 1763  Registry of Deeds Dublin 223 566 149281
4 Fee Farm Grant by Sir Robert Alexander Ferguson PRONI Ref: D847/5/21
5 Will of Robert Sproule of Saint Leonard , Devon; UK National Archives Ref: PROB 11/1456/235

For Jack Elder's tree 'The Nabob Sproules' see -Elder's Tree of the Family of 'The Nabob'

Elder's Tree of the Family of 'The Nabob'

This is Jack Elder's tree of the family of  Robert Sproule, known as 'The Nabob'. I am descended from a sister of the Nabob, who Elder calls Matilda. In fact, her name was Martha Sproule, and she married Andrew Sproule of Tullymoan, who was son of William Sproule of Tullymoan.

The 'James' who is brother of the Nabob, was in fact Thomas Sproule who was father of Samuel Sproule of Bridgehill. See later posts for more details on this family.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Elder's Tree of Sproules of Grennan, Broomfield and Spamount

Another Page from Jack Elder showing more Sproules of Grennan, Broomfield and Spamount in County Tyrone. Please bear in mind that Jack Elder was working on word of mouth and further research is needed!

For more information see:

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Elder's Tree showing Sproules of Upper Grennan and the Caldwell Family

This is another of the family trees produced by Jack Elder in 1890. This tree overlaps with the Caldwell trees - Elder was also a Caldwell.

It shows the Sproules of Upper Grennan in County Tyrone; Ramelton in County Donegal; Kesh in County Fermanagh.

*** Note: Regarding the Robert Sproule who married Rebecca Sproule at the top left of this tree - this Rebecca Sproule is, in fact, the sister of the Nabob, Robert Sproule of Termnamongan. There will be more on this family in later posts.

For more information:

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Elder's Tree of the Holm Sproules and Loves of County Tyrone

This family tree is another of Jack Elders, first produced in 1890.

For more information:

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Elder's Tree - Sproules of Magheracriggan and Carrickamulkin

Jack Elder's first page of the County Tyrone Sproule family tree produced in 1890 contains Sproules from Carrickamulkin, Clover Hill, Crillen, Burrelsfolly, Magheracriggan, Aughee, Dromore and Castlederg.

Part 1 of this Page
Part 2 of this page - appears to the right of the one above

Caution for researchers:

Jack Elder collected a lot of information, however he was not always accurate. For example, Jack Elder had the original settler as Robert Spreul of Castlederg. We now know that Robert was not the original settler. See:Three Scottish Brothers Moving East

For more information:

Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Elder's Tree of the Sproule Buchanan Line

This is one page of the Sproule Family History recorded by Jack Elder and produced in 1890. This branch is the Sproule / Buchanan branch of Grennan, County Tyrone, Ireland.

For more information:

Saturday, 5 October 2013

John Inch and Jack Elder - Early Sproule Family Historians

Jack Elder worked on the history of the Sproule Family in County Tyrone  and he recorded a series of notes and family trees. Between 1880 and 1930, Jack Elder investigated the family himself, and he also gathered a great deal of information from earlier researchers. Elder also had the help of 40 pages of information left by John Inch, who had died in 1877.

John Inch was born on June 29th 1795, the son of Leonard Inch and Ann Sproule.1 Leonard and Ann Inch had lived first in Strabane but soon after their marriage they moved to a place that Inch called “Corough-a-Mulkin” in the parish of Lower Langfield in County Tyrone. Their son, John Inch, emigrated to New Brunswick in Canada in 1820, taking with him his Sproule stories and family histories. 

Jack Elder also lived in New Brunswick, he went there in 1886. A few years later he heard of John Inch and his notes on the Sproule Family of Tyrone. He contacted the nephew of John Inch, and managed to acquire a copy of the 40 precious hand written pages. Elder used the notes to help compile a series of Sproule family trees which were produced in 1890. I will include these in the next few posts.

Unfortunately, I have been unable to establish if John Inch’s original notes still exist. However, in one of his letters dated 1928, Elder gives us a flavour of the John Inch Sproule Family History: 

In his history he ‘nothing extenuates’.   The
Sproules were not all saints: there was occasionally no
marriage tie when there should have been, etc. 

He tells of the number of acres of land that various Sproules owned,
the number of milch cows they had etc.  Of his granduncle
Joseph Sproule of Alta-moo-land (as he spells it), brother
of Martha (who married James Mathewson) he says:

“This man had a son, if not other children, whom he disinherited for
marrying the servant girl, and in his old age sold his farm
at £1,350.” Of his Uncle Joseph Sproule of Clover Hill,
he says:

“This man married Rebecca Porter of Castletown,
near Strabane, and with her received £500 fortune” (This
Rebecca was a first cousin of Jane Porter, novelist). 

He gives even the nicknames of our ancestors.  Andy Sproule
of Grennan was nicknamed ‘Andy Bacach’ (-bacach being Irish
for ‘a lame person’), "and the whole family was designated
sometimes by those few who had an outfall with any of them
‘The Bacach Sproules.’ 

Andy's son Joseph, of Carrickamulkin, “was nicknamed ‘Joseph
Nablugh,’  an Irish word for 'sour milk.'  This arose, it
was said, from his sending milk, at the request of a number
of poor families, into the village of Dromore for sale;
therefore, the whole family was called, when spoken of in
derision by some, and by others in sport, the ‘Buttermilk
Sproules’  But I have said enough about the Sproules for
the present.

Jack Elder calls my line of the Sproule family ‘The Nabob Sproules’ and later posts will explain why!


1 The Inch Family of Ulster and New Brunswick Canada by Inch, James Robert, b. 1835
Extract of Letter from Jack Elder, Ont., Canada to J.F. Caldwell, Belfast.; PRONI T1264/3; CMSIED 9804826 
Sunday, April 1, 1928

Monday, 30 September 2013

Sproule in the Civil Survey 1654

Archibald Sproule in 1654

The Civil Survey took place in 1654-1656 in 27 counties in Ireland. Not all of the surveys survived, but fortunately the book for Donegal is available.

In this Archibald Sproule is recorded as a British Protestant living on Church Land in the Parish of Rapho. He had four hundred and fifty three acres in the townlands of Stranelachan and Boggach.

Entry in the Civil Survey 1665 - Irish Manuscript Commission

Robert Sproule's Purchase 1634

A Footnote to the above folio reads:
“Mr. Archibald Sproule holdeth the pmisees by purchase from his brother Mr. Robt. Sproule & Alexr. Innes, wch they held by deed of Indenture now in being from Dr. Jon. Lesly then Bp. of Rapho for ye space of sixty yeares comencing 14th July 1634 at ye yearely rent of 20li. 13s 4d.
It is bounded on the south with Burnedale, and on ye west with ye Qrs. Of Beltany & Culladerry, on the north with Machrechan, & on ye east with Agery.”

Sunday, 22 September 2013

Sproules in the Hearth Money Rolls of 1665

The Hearth Money Rolls of 1665 gives us a fairly good picture of the Sproules present in Ulster at that time. The Hearth Money Rolls was a tax raised to compensate those cavaliers who had lost their estates fighting for Charles I in the Civil War. It was levied at two shillings per year for each fireplace in the household. The names gathered on this tax gives us a fairly good record, therefore, of households in Ulster.

There were 7 or 8 original Sproule families who settled in different parts of Ulster in the early 1600s.

Sproules in the Ulster Hearth Money Rolls of 1665

Location of the Sproule Family Groups in Ulster 1665

The Hearth Roll List was compiled from:

  • Bill Macafee, Family and Local History Website
  • Donegal Genealogy Resources
  • Tyrone Genealogical Research 

Monday, 16 September 2013

Three Scottish Brothers Moving East to Tyrone

One of the challenges facing the early Sproule family historians was to explain how the Sproules could possibly have spread so quickly throughout different parishes in Tyrone.  John Inch, Jack Elder, Thomas Sproule of Altamullen and Fred Sproule had all lived in different generations, and they had all traced the family history.  For these good folk, fitting all the Sproules of the early 1700s into one single family tree was a major problem. And none of them succeeded in fitting in my line of the family, the Tullymoan Sproules, who were left out completely!

However, this conundrum is relatively easily resolved when we look at the early records. For there was not one, but three Sproule men who all arrived in Ireland together shortly after 1622. These three Sproules were  almost certainly brothers, and it is their children and their grandchildren who spread throughout County Tyrone.

James, Robert and Archibald

The first Spreull, James Spreull formerly of Cowden in Scotland, appeared in the Donegal Muster Roll of 1630. In the 1642 muster, James was joined by another Sproule,  one ‘Robert Sprule’. Robert was on the Stewart lands in this muster, the same lands where James had been in the earlier muster.1

James and Robert Sproule arrived about the same time in Donegal and both were on the lands of the Duke of Lennox.  We cannot immediately assume that they were brothers. Robert could have been a travelling companion, a distant relative or a Sproule tenant from Cowden lands. However, the evidence would suggest that they were indeed brothers, for like James, Robert Spreull was not poor, he had money in his pocket!

Raphoe Parish - the first Spreul Leases
On the 14th July 1634, Robert Sproule (this spelling was used) bought land ‘by deed of indenture’ in  the townlands of Boggach and Stranelachan in the Barony of Raphoe, about 10 miles from Tullymoan. The sale is recorded in the Civil Survey of 1654 and this document also shows that Robert did not hold the land for very long. At some stage between 1634 and 1654, Robert sold the land and the buyer was named as his brother, Archibald Sproule! 

Now we have three brothers, all with money to buy or lease land, James, Robert and Archibald Sproule.  Archibald settled there in the parish of Raphoe, extending his land holding into Listmontigley, an adjacent townland.3 James moved to Tyrone, and Robert sold up and also moved.

Is this Robert of Castlederg?

Could this Robert possibly be the Robert Spreull who is buried in Castlederg? The grave of Robert in Castlederg is quite famous in Sproule lore! He was buried in 1689 at the age of 61,  and was joined later by his wife Jean Deniston. They were thought by many to be the original Sproule settlers and the story was that they came from Renfrewshire in the 1650s.

Could Robert of Castlederg be one of the three brothers? Actually no, for he is of a later generation than our three original settlers. Robert of Castlederg was born about 1628, and that year the three Sproule brothers who had come from Cowden would have been in their 30s. Robert could, therefore, be a son!

Robert, Born in Ireland

Let us assume for the moment that Robert of Castlederg was actually born in Ireland and is indeed a son of one of our three brothers - which one, of course, we don’t know. We would then need to find a family of Denistons somewhere in the Raphoe area for young Robert Spreull to have married!

In the 1630 Muster Roll, we find that there must have been a mass migration, for there is a superfluity of Denistons on the Lennox lands in Raphoe!4 In the same muster as James Spreul we find:
John Deneston                          
James Denniston elder          
Robert Deneston                      
William Deneston     
Walter Deneston
Robert Denyston                                      
James Deneston

These Denistons are all neighbours of our three brothers. Robert who is buried in the grave in Castlederg is almost certainly a son of one of the original three brothers. He married Jean Deniston of Raphoe, and moved to Lisleen near Castlederg in the 1650s.

The Spread of the Tyrone Sproules

The arrival of the three sons of James Spreull of Cowden in the early 1620s easily explains the spread of the Tyrone Sproules in the following centuary. Archibald had his family in Listmontigley and his children could have moved both east to Tyrone and west further into Donegal.  Both Robert and James moved  to Tyrone. James, the eldest brother, settled in Tullymoan. There are several different options as to where Robert settled, but Golan is the most likely. 

Their descendants spread from Tyrone to the far corners of the world - to India, Jamaica, Canada, the US, Australia and beyond. The evidence indicates that all Tyrone Sproules are related! We are descendants of one man, James Spreull of Cowden.


1 Ulster Ancestry, Muster Rolls of Donegal
2 Ulster Ancestry, Civil List 1654
3 Hearth Money Rolls, Donegal, Bill Macafee's Family & Local History Website

Friday, 6 September 2013

James of Cowden - and Tullymoan?

Was James, Laird of Cowden, the father of all Tyrone Sproules? The more I investigated, the more convinced I became that this was true. The early Sproules believed that James Spreull had sold his estates in Renfrewshire in 1622, came to Ireland and settled in Tullymoan, County Tyrone. The records in Scotland definitely supported this story. The evidence is clear, James Spreull of Cowden had sold all of his estates in 1622 and his son, James the Younger, had left Cowden with money in his pocket.

James Spreull in Ireland

I didn’t have far to look to track down James Spreull in Ireland. The very first record of a Sproule is in the Muster Roll of 1631, and there he is, James Spreull in the Barony of Raphoe, County Donegal - only a few miles from the townland of Tullymoan in County Tyrone.1  He is on the land of Ludovick, Lord Duke of Lennox, the same Duke of Lennox who was overlord of the Cowden lands in Scotland. There were 59 overlords in Ulster, or undertakers as they were known here. Lennox was one of the minor undertakers with only a couple of thousand acres. It is more than co-incidental that the first Sproule arrives on his patch of land! The clues are lining up in the right direction.

The next muster roll of 1642 is even more interesting. James Spreull is mentioned again. This muster was also held in Raphoe, but this fact doesn’t tell us a lot since all of the regiments in the North West were mustered in Raphoe at the time. However, if we look at the regiment to which James Spreull is attached, we can get another glimmer of light on the story. James is now in the regiment of Captain James Hamilton, whose lands were not in Donegal. Hamilton lands were in County Tyrone.1

On to Tyrone

This would indicate that at some time between 1631 and 1642, James Spreull moved east from Donegal to County Tyrone. Was he in Tullymoan? I have no definite evidence as yet, and the hunt continues. However, everything that I have found so far points to the veracity of the original story. I have found no reason to doubt it.

But was this James, James the Younger, the father of all Tyrone Sproules?  I think not. I am sticking with the version believed by the first Sproules, it was his father James of Cowden who was the ancestor of all Tyrone Sproules.  James Spreull the Younger was not alone when he came to Ireland. He had at least two, possibly three, travel companions!  


1 Ulster Ancestry, Money Rolls of Donegal 

For More Information:

Thursday, 29 August 2013

James Spreul of Cowden - Making Sense of the Sale

The early Sproules believed that James Spreul, Laird of Cowden in Scotland, was the father of all Tyrone Sproules. The story was that James had sold his estates in Renfrewshire in 1622, moved to Ireland and settled in the townland of Tullymoan, County Tyrone.  The question has to be asked, does this make any sense? Why would a successful Laird, James of Cowden, suddenly sell up and move to an uncertain future in Ireland?

And yet James Spreul definitely sold all of his lands and estates in 1622, and signed away the inheritance of his heirs.1 The sale itself was a total mystery. The Spreuls had been Lairds for hundreds of years, and had expanded their land holdings through Renfrewshire and Dunbartonshire. Selling all of this made no sense! Fred Sproule carefully documented the events leading up to the sale but could find no logical explanation. I believe there is one way to explain this, and that is to accept that James was not the one who wanted to sell at all!

The Customs of the Lairds of Cowden

James Spreul of Cowden was born about 1564, and had inherited his lands in 1589 from his father, John. James Spreul then became Laird of the Cowden estates in Renfrewshire, and also held the lands of Dalchurne and Dalmure in Dunbartonshire. His father had not died, John Spreul was alive and well at the time. There seems to have been an odd custom of Lairds retiring here. James Spreul's father, John, had retired when James got married. The father in turn had also become Laird when his father,Thomas Spreul, had retired.

Renfrewshire, Blaeu Atlas of Scotland 1654

The Role of the Laird

It would seem that the role of Laird was quite arduous! It was the feudal system and the role  involved managing the tenants and ensuring there was sufficient money generated to pay the overlord, the Duke of Lennox. The Laird had to supply arms and men when the Duke of Lennox, went to war.  He also had to raise additional money for the Crown when England and Scotland had one of their many disagreements. There were constant political shifts at this time, and it must have been extremely difficult to keep on the winning side! The Laird had no security of tenure, and could be thrown off the land at a whim by the Lord Duke, or by the Crown.

James of Cowden, however, seemed to have fared well in the role. He had even taken steps to make his situation more secure. In 1597, James had entered into a new landholding arrangement which gave him the title of ‘Fiar’. 3   This meant that he was now a life tenant and had a series of protections. As a Fiar, he was not now obliged to raise armies for the overlord, and he was even more secure than his forefathers.

Why Sell - Why Not Retire?

Why then did he sell? Some suggested that James may have been in dire financial straits. However, when he sold, there appeared to be no others involved – no debtors or mortgages. Equally, he did not sell everything, he gave away the Dalchurne lands to his son-in-law:

“Instruments of sasine on a precept from Ludovick, Duke of Lennox, on a resignation from James Spreull, fiar of Coldoun, of Dalchurne, in favour of John Dennestoun in Kirkmichael, 1st December, 1620” 4   

This was an overly generous gift for the husband of his daughter Margaret. It was not the action of a bankrupt man. It was obviously part of the plan, for just three days after this James began the process of selling all of his remaining estates.

Why did he not retire?  James of Cowden was in his late 50s. James' father had retired a lot younger and his grandfather had also retired.  Why did James sell, rather than hand over to his son, James the Younger?

Making Sense of the Sale

The only way to make sense of the sale,  is to turn our focus from the father to the son, to James Spreul the Younger.

His parents had married in roughly 1588, so by 1620 James the Younger should have been in his late 20s and ready to take on the role of Laird. Was there something amiss with young James? Could James the Elder have doubted his ability? Or is there a very different explanation?  Perhaps James the Younger did not want to take on the challenging role of Laird at all, and he may have had other plans for his future.

The overlord of the Renfrewshire estates was Ludovick Stewart, Duke of Lennox. In the early 1600s Stewart had been allocated some lands in the Plantation areas of Ulster. These were in Portlough, in County Donegal. Stewart held  a comparatively small amount of land here, but other overlords nearby had plenty of land available. For the new leaseholders of this land it was a fresh start, and for someone with money to buy leases, it was a good opportunity.

Plantation Donegal, The Seven Precincts  

The Seller - James the Younger?

My theory is that James the Younger had planned to leave the country and go to Ireland. It was he who wanted the family lands in Scotland to be sold. If this were the case, I am sure that James Spreul of Cowden would have fought the decision. And sure enough, even after the documents were signed, there is plenty of evidence that  James of Cowden regretted the sale. During 1622 he was engaged in many disagreements with the new owner which ended in several court battles.5 He and his brother John even marshalled the tennents to take protest actions against the new laird. James of Cowden was not happy!

But if James the Younger did not want the job of Laird, surely there were other brothers who could have stepped in? Well, no other brother came forward during the sales process and the subsequent disagreements. I would suggest that there are two possible reasons for this:
  1. Either James Spreul the Younger was an only son or
  2. There were other brothers, and they had agreed to share the proceeds of the sale. With shares in the sale, they too could set off to the new world in Ireland with money in their pockets.

The Most Logical Explanation

I believe the “James Spreul went to Ireland” story is the most feasible explanation for the sale of the Cowden estates. It all fits. However, it was not the Fiar who went, for James the Elder simply wanted to retire. It was his son, James Spreul former heir to the Cowden estates, who ventured to Ireland, possibly accompanied by his brothers. They went initially to the estates of their overlord, Ludovick Stewart, the Lord Duke of Lennox in Donegal.

And it is there that we will find them!


For More Information:

  1. The First Sproules in Ulster
  2. The Original Version of the Tyrone Sproules, Back on the Table!
  3. James Spreul of Cowden - Making Sense of the Sale
  4. James of Cowden - and Tullymoan?
  5. Three Scottish Brothers Moving East to Tyrone
  6. Sproules in the Hearth Money Rolls of 1665


Thanks to the great work of Fred Sproule on the Spreuls of Renfrewshire which was recorded in his unpublished book “A Sproule Family of Ireland and Canada”. Thanks again to Ryan Sproule for forwarding this Fred's work.

1  Sproule Charters – Dundonald, p. 5, Section VI, Item 54.
2 Sproule Charters – Dundonald, p. 5, Section VI, Item 52.
3 Pitcairn, op. cit., Vol. 2, p. 438.
Sproule Charters – Smollett, p. 188, Items 13 & 14.
5 Sproule Charters – Dundonald, p. 5, Sec. VII, Items 63, 64 and 65 

Ulster Plantation Map from Donegal Plantation 400 Years, by Ulster Scots Community Network

Saturday, 24 August 2013

The Original Version of the Tyrone Sproules, Back on the Table!

The Sproules of the 1700s had a story about the origin of the family in Tyrone. It had nothing to do with the Robert Spreul who is buried in Castlederg. It was a very precise, and a very definite story, with a name, a place and a date. It was handed down by word-of-mouth in the first few generations of settlers and was, thankfully, recorded by John Inch in the 1820s. John Inch's mother was a Sproule, he was born in 1795 and he left Ireland in 1818. All of his information came directly from family members prior to the 1820s. His version was:

“In 1622 James Spreul (last of the Spreuls of Cowden) sold his estate to the father of the first Lord Cowden and Earl of Dundonald, went to Ireland and settled at Tullymoan, County Tyrone.” 1

Tullymoan, Home of the First Sproules?

The early Sproules believed that the first settler was James Spreul, a fiar from Cowden in Renfrewshire in Scotland, and that he settled in the townland of Tullymoan, Urney, County Tyrone in 1622. Tullymoan is the home of my line of Sproules, and this is the family I am researching. 

The Tullymoan story was still the popular version of the Sproule origin right through to the end of the 1800s. Jack Elder, who did amazing work recording the different branches of the Sproules, also believed this version and put it in the introduction of his Sproule family history of 1890:

“James Spreul [Sproule?] sold his estate of Cowdon in 1622, crossed over to Ireland and settled at Tullymoan, Co. Tyrone.  It was said that he was the ancestor of all the County Tyrone Sproules, good, bad and indifferent.” 

The Demise of the First Version

Renfrewshire in Scotland 1600s
How did this version get lost? As it happens, it was down to Jack Elder himself! Elder researched James Spreul of Cowden, and was initially happy that the story must be true. There was indeed a James Spreul of Cowden (or Coldoun) in Renfrewshire in Scotland. James Spreul had come from a long line of Spreuls going back to the thirteenth century. It is also true that James sold all of his leases and properties in 1622, the same year that was identified in the family story.  

However, Jack Elder later found evidence against the theory that James Spreul had come to Ireland and was the origin of the Tyrone Sproules. He had found a quotation in a book entitled "History of Renfrewshire" (1710) regarding James Spreul that said, "in his person this family failed."  Elder interpreted this to mean that James of Cowden had no children, and therefore the story that he was the father of all the Tyrone Sproules had to be untrue. 

Robert - The Alternative Version

The Tullymoan story then lost favour, and was replaced by the alternative version. This said that Robert Spreul came from Renfrewshire in the 1650s and that all Tryone Sproules came from him. This version has one major flaw, they spread too quickly! There were an awful lot of Sproules leasing an awful lot of land in very different parts of West Tyrone in the early 1700s. Robert would have to produced a multitude of very affluent sons who didn't want to live anywhere near each other!

Sproules in Tullymoan in the 1600s

There were two things that struck me when I first read the ‘James of Cowden coming to Tullymoan’ version. I am researching the Tullymoan Sproules, so of course this story was very exciting for me. True or not, I felt that the story had given me some good clues!  

Firstly, the Tullymoan Sproules must have been living there on the farm in the 1600s. They didn't appear on records that I have found so far, but they had to have been there. John Inch had this version of the story in 1818, and it was passed from his parents and grandparents. John Inch’s grandparents must have been certain that there were Sproules in Tullymoan in the 1600s in order to support the James Spreul family story. If the Sproules were more recent arrivals in Tullymoan, the local folk of the late 1700s would certainly have killed the story dead!

Equally, if the Tullymoan Sproules were just a branch of another Sproule family, the local folk would have been quick to identify them. Both John Inch and Jack Elder agreed that the Tullymoan Sproules did not fit with any other family.

Could there be truth in the James Spreul of Cowden story?

The Fact that Re-ingnites the Story

To re-open the original version and put it back on the table as a possible theory, we simply need to prove that James of Cowden had children. This is where another of my fellow Sproule family historians comes into the limelight!  

Scottish Lowland Farm 1690
Fred Sproule in the1900s made it his life’s work to find the origin of the Sproules.3 He actually believed the Robert version, and went to find Robert’s family in Renfrewshire.  Armed with the information from the gravestone in Castlederg, Robert’s death in 1869 and his wife Jean Denniston's in 1712, Fred ploughed through the documents in Scotland. Despite amazingly thorough research tracing the entire family of Spreuls in Cowden and others in Renfrewshire, Fred Sproule failed to find Robert’s origin. There was no family history into which this Robert Spreul nor his wife Jean Denniston could fit. I believe there is a very good reason for that! 

What Fred did find, however, was proof that James Spreul of Cowden definitely had at least one son! 

James Spreul son of James of Cowden

On the very day James Spreul signed away his Cowden estates, there were several other documents that were also signed. Each of these were to ensure that the sale would go through without objection. The heir, if there was one, would have definite grounds to object as his inheritance was being sold. Therefore, it was important to get the heir to sign his agreement to the sale, which he did!

“Ratification by James Spreule, son and apparent heir of James Spreule, fiar of Coldoune, of his father’s disposition and alienation of the said five pound land of Coldoune to Sir George Elphistoun; dated 2nd April 1622”.

James of Cowden had a son also called James. Fred Sproule states that this “should put to rest the claim of some secondary sources that James Spreule, Sr., was the last male of the Sproule family of Coldoun.”

There was one more important finding by Fred Sproule. Despite continuing to research the Spreul families of Renfrewshire into the 1800s, Fred could find no record of James of Cowden, nor of his son James, after the date of signing. They were gone.

This puts the Tullymoan version right back on the table!

For More Information:

  1. The Grave of Robert Spreull (1628 -1689)
  2. James Spreul of Cowden - Making Sense of the Sale
  3. James of Cowden - and Tullymoan?
  4. Three Scottish Brothers Moving East to Tyrone
  5. Sproules in the Hearth Money Rolls of 1665


1  The Inch family of Ulster, Ireland, and New Brunswick, Canada,  James Robert Inch, b. 1835, Family History Books on FamilySearch
2  Extract of Letter from Jack Elder, Ont., Canada to J.F. Caldwell, Belfast, Sunday, April 1, 1928; PRONI T1264/3; CMSIED 9804826 

3  “A Sproule Family of Ireland and Canada” unpublished book by Albert Frederick Sproule, thanks to Ryan Sproule for forwarding Fred’s great work.

4   Sproule Charters – Dundonald, p. 6, Section VII, Item 67.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

The First Sproules in Ulster

Was Robert Spreull, who was buried in the Castlederg Cemetery in 1689, the first Sproule settler in Ireland? This was certainly the belief of some early family historians. They said that Robert came from Renfrewshire in Scotland in the 1650s with his wife and sons, he settled in Tyrone and the Sproules spread from there.  These Sproule family historians were, coincidentally, all from Tyrone themselves, so they were understandably a little biased!

Now, thanks to the great work of transcribers and the wonders of the internet, we have much more data available. We can see clearly that Robert was far from the first, and that there were many more families of Sproule settlers than any of these early family historians had imagined.

The Earliest Sproule Records

The earliest records of Sproules in Ireland are in the Muster Rolls of 1630. The Muster Roll was a list of all able bodied men who were fit to fight in a war.  There was one Sproule in the Muster of Donegal in 1630:
·    James Spreull in the Barony of Raphoe on the land of  “The Lord Duke of Lynox”. James had one sword.
Raphoe parish is very near to County Tyrone. However, there was another Sproule recorded in a quite different part of Ulster:
·    Claudius Sprowell in The Barony of Keenaght on the land of Thomas Phillips, of Limavady

Twelve years later in 1642, there was another Muster in Donegal, and now we have two Sproules there. They were both in the same parish of Raphoe:
·     In Sir Robert Stewart's Company mustered at Raphoe is Private Robert Sprowle.
·     In James Hamilton's Company also mustered at Raphoe, Private James Sprule.

The Sproules in the Hearth Money Rolls

The Hearth Money Rolls was a tax in 1665  based on the number of hearths in a household. It gives us a much better picture than the Muster Rolls and it reveals a very surprising pattern of Sproules in Ulster!

In 1665 there were already at least 15 households of Sproules, and they are spread across the northern counties of Ulster in the following clusters:

Sproule Family Groups in Ulster 1665
1.     Clondermot Parish in the townland of Gortin, four households. The Sproules have obviously been here for some time.  This is the New Buildings area of County Derry / Londonderry. 

2.     The Town of Belfast, four households, again a well established group

3.     Ballymoney Parish in Antrim, the townland of Bravallen – there are two households

4.     Raphoe Parish – two households. Archibold  in Lismontigly  and John Sproul in Stranorlughan

5.     Mevagh Parish, this is round the town of Carrigart in the north of Donegal. John Spruel of Glanree and Jennett Spruel, widow, of Glanree

6.     Kirkinriola Parish in Antrim, on the Ballymena Estate, one household

7.     Ardstraw Parish in Tyrone, in the townland of Lissaleen, now Lisleen, we have one household, that of one Robert Spreull.

Non-paying Sproules

Even this is not a complete picture, as many folk were successful in avoiding paying the Hearth tax. A good example of this is when we look at Limavady, where there was a Sproule in the first Muster of 1630. This Sproule family does not appear on the Hearth tax, and yet there is good evidence that they were still there.  There was a will recorded in 1705 for a Margaret Sproull, from Rafad in the Parish of Aghanloe. Aghanloe is a townland on the outskirts of Limavady.

Conclusion - The Early Sproules

What we can definitely say is that there were at least seven separate families of Sproule settlers who established themselves in the early 1600s. They were spread across the northern counties of Ulster and they were a much more diverse group that was previously thought. They were not just leasing or owning land, they were also moving into towns.

In Tyrone, where my family originated, the first Sproule who appeared on record was indeed Robert Spreull in 1665. Robert lived at that time in Lissaleen, now Lisleen, in the parish of Ardstraw. 

Where did Robert of Lisleen come from? Was it directly from Scotland or was it possible that he came from one of the more established Ulster family groups? Was he the only Tyrone Sproule in 1665 or were there others who did not appear on the Hearth Tax?  Robert was certainly my ancestor, on one side of my family. On the other side are the Tullymoan Sproules, when did they arrive? These are some of the questions which I will explore in the next posts.

Thanks to:

Thursday, 8 August 2013

The Grave of Robert Spreull (1628 -1689)

Robert Spreull, who died in 1689, is thought by many Sproule family historians to be the original Sproule settler in Tyrone. His gravestone in Castlederg was recorded in old family histories but the stone itself was thought to be long gone.  Last week the great folk of the Castlederg & District Family History Society assured me that the grave still existed, and guided me straight to it.

The Importance of Robert's Grave

The gravestone of Robert Spreull was for a long time the earliest record of a Sproule presence in County Tyrone. Because of this, most Sproule family historians believed that all branches of the Sproules in Tyrone were descended from this single ancestor. I am not so sure about that, but I will go into this in a later post. 

Indeed, some stories have gone as far as suggesting that this Robert and his brother Captain John Sproule were the ancestors of all of the Sproules in Ireland. This is definitely not the case, as there is plenty of evidence of earlier Sproules, and of several different Sproule families rather than just one. However, Robert Spreull is certainly a vital part of the Tyrone Sproule story.

The Gravestone in Castlederg

The grave lies in a beautiful old churchyard in Castlederg, County Tyrone. The first thing that is striking is that it is a double grave. The stone to the right is Robert, but the stone to the left is also a Sproule grave. The wording on the second stone seems to be gone, but it is worth further visits to explore this.

The Wording on the Gravestone

The gravestone of Robert Spreull is crumbling in places and the wording is fading or missing. It has been recorded in the past as:

Another version was taken thirty years ago when all of the gravestones in this churchyard were recorded in order to preserve the information. The wording was then noted as:

Here lyeth the body of Robert Sproule departed this life …day of September DM 1689 in the year of his age 61 Here also lyeth the body of Jean Deniston wife of the said Robert who departed this life the 8 Day of September D.M. 1712 in the year of her age 81.

On the day we visited, only the last line became much clearer:


This line was actually very easy to read, and looked as if it had been added much later. It is interesting also that this line has the more accepted spelling of the name, whereas the main text has the Spreull spelling. This supports the idea that the last line was written at a different time period. It is likely that two unmarried sons were interred in this grave, possibly named Andrew and Alexander, and that their names were added after the death of Jean.

Key Facts

The key facts gleaned from this stone are:
·         Robert Spreull was born in 1628 and he died in September 1689 aged 61
·         Jean Deniston was born in 1631 and died on 8th September 1712 aged 81

Thanks to:

Thursday, 1 August 2013

The Mystery of the Children - A Sign of the Times?

I had discovered that my great grandfather, James Sproule of Tullymoan, had an older brother, William John Sproule. On researching William John, one of the first things I learnt about him was that he had died in 1839, aged approximately 28 years.1  Now this gave me a bit of a jolt because this was now the fourth adult child of my great, great grandparents who had died between 1833 and 1839! What could have happened?

These were not young children. The other three were girls, aged between twenty and thirty.  The girls had all died at home on the farm in Tullymoan, Urney, County Tyrone.1 This land was rich and productive, and it should have been a healthy environment.  The generation before this, and the generation following this, were all raised on the same farm and most of them lived long and healthy lives.  Was there something in Ireland of the 1830s that might have contributed to the deaths of Catherine, Margaret, Matilda and William John Sproule?

Life in Pre-famine Ireland

The 1830s was just before the famine in Ireland and life had changed dramatically. The population had exploded. In 1754 the population of Ireland was a tiny 2.3 million. Fifty years later in 1800, it had more than doubled to between 4.5 and 5 million. In the 1821 census it was recorded as 6.8 million and by 1841 it was 8.1 million. It had quadrupled in less than one hundred years! The vast majority of people still lived in abject poverty, and with this population explosion came hunger and the rapid spread of disease. 2

The Cholera Pandemic

At the end of 1832 there came an epidemic that hit rich and poor alike. The cholera pandemic had started in India, it spread across Europe and it first appeared in Ireland in mid 1832. The effect here was devastating. By 1833, it had spread to every corner of the country and had claimed some 60,000 lives. Catherine Sproule, aged 30, died on the 4th January 1833 at her home in Tullymoan, right in the middle of this cholera epidemic. 3 

The Contribution of Irish Traditions

Ireland had its own endemic diseases that could spread easily in this overpopulated country. People were on the move, there were transient workers who were both adults and children.  The Sproule farm in County Tyrone would certainly have employed people to work on the land and in the kitchen. We also had the tradition in rural Ireland of visiting with neighbours in the evenings, attending the sick, and of course the whole townland came to the wake of the departed.  Disease spread easily.

All classes became vulnerable to outbreaks of cholera, whooping-cough, typhus, dysentery, influenza, small pox and measles. Any one of these diseases might have caused the death of Margaret Sproule in February 1835 and Matilda who died in April 1838.

William John and the Dispensary

William John, son of Andrew and Rebecca Sproule, had gone to Glasgow University where he qualified as a doctor in 1834. Doctor William John immediately got a position in the dispensary at Dunfanaghy, County Donegal.  These local dispensaries had been set up to help the poor in Ireland at that time.  They were funded by local subscriptions, so occurred only in areas that could afford them and they were generally badly run.4 By the mid 1830s some of these local dispensaries were staffed by qualified doctors, and Doctor William John Sproule was one of these.

Two years after leaving college in 1836 William John married Ellen Ramsay of Letterkenny, and just over two years after that, Doctor William John Sproule had died. On the 8th January 1839, William John became the fourth of these Sproule children to die.

The Result of Disease – or the Cause?

William John was at the coal face, working with people with highly contagious diseases and it is not really surprising that he died at such a young age.  Indeed, there were many priests, ministers and doctors of that time who suffered a similar fate.

The other problem was that those tending to the sick were carrying the diseases home to their families. William John’s two older sisters had both died after he had begun working in the Dunfanaghy dispensary.  Could his efforts to help the sick have been the cause of this family’s grief? That is a sad thought, and I hope it is not so. 

The Big Wind

Indeed, William John may not have died in that way at all, he might have been injured in the Big Wind. On January 6th 1839 a hurricane swept across Ireland causing devastation throughout the country. It is famous in Irish lore, many of the old ones talked in terms of before the Big Wind or after the Big Wind. Dunfanaghy, where William John was doctor, is a wild coastal place in the far north of Ireland, and it would have been very exposed on the night of January 6th when the hurricane struck. William John died just two days later in the home of his father-in-law in Letterkenny.

I have no definite answers, but what I do know is that Andrew and Rebecca Sproule had suffered great loss. They had seen these four children survive childhood, only to lose them all as young adults. There were many in Ireland in the same position at that time, and it was indeed a sign of those times - and of worse times to come.

1 From entries in The Strabane Morning Post 1812 – 1837 and The Londonderry Sentinel 1829 – 1869
2 Pre-famine Emmigration, Irish Ancestors, Irish Times
3 The Cholera Epidemic in Ireland, 1832-3: Priests, Ministers, Doctors; Hugh Fenning;  Archivium Hibernicum, Vol. 57, (2003), pp. 77-125
4 The Sick in Pre-Famine Ireland: Charity and the State, Laurence M. Geary, University College Cork