February 16, 2006

The Wild Geese of Eire

The following appeared on the cover page of the Coffey Cousins' newsletter No. 33, dated Dec., 1988. It was apparently taken from the an article by the same name which had appeared in Town and Country, March, 1988, a publication that I am unfamiliar with.


After the treaty of Limerick in 1691, the pride of Ireland's nobility took flight. Generations later they would find their descendants living in France, Austria, Brazil, The United States, Argentina, Mexico, Spain, and Portugal. They have become titled families by virtue of distinguished military and governmental service. One was president of his adopted homeland, another prime minister. Their names now reflect the style of their present homeland but still include the O'Donnell, Murphy, etc. from centuries before. The Celts who came to Ireland were protected by geographic isolation until the 12th century when Pope Adrian IV granted the overlordship of Ireland to English King Henry II. This began a series of incursions into Ireland and in the 16th century under Henry VIII, The Church of England was established becoming the opponents of the Roman Catholics. In 1691 after the English were victorious over Irish-French forces at Limerick, a treaty was struck which allowed the Irish to join English forces or leave the country. About 100 stayed. But it began the Flight of the Wild Geese involving 11,000 men and their families to other Catholic countries.

In continuing the Wild Goose of Eire principle, Coffey Cousin Frank S. Crosswhite presented the following information. This article appeared in the Coffey Cousins' newsletter No. 40, dated Sep., 1990.

Was Edward Coffey a Wild Goose or an Old-line Virginian?

The book, Irish Families by Edward MacLysaght (Dublin: Hodges Figgis and Co., 1957) makes frequent mention of "The Wild Geese". A recent article in the magazine Town and Country (March, 1988) tells how the Wild Geese were the thousands of Ireland's nobility who fled overseas as a result of the treaty of Limerick in 1691. Their lands were confiscated by the Crown when William was king. The "Wild Geese" are of interest to Coffey genealogists because it has been speculated that Edward Coffey came to Virginia about 1690 as a result of the "Willamite Confiscation" in Ireland (see James B. Coffey, Vol. II by Marvin Coffey, pg. 17). This would be tatamount to calling him a Wild Goose.

Further research shows that the treaty of Limerick had to do with the Catholic religion of the Irish. It granted the Irish Catholics religious freedom and allowed them to live peacefully in Ireland if each would sign an oath of allegiance to Britain. It was known that many staunch Catholic Irishmen would never do this, so the treaty allowed those refusing to sign to be allowed to take passage to France where the State-recognized church was Roman Catholic. As a result of the treaty seven thousand of the wealthiest Irish Catholics took passage to France and from there many hopped around the world to various other countries. These were the Wild Geese in the classic use of the designation, although we use the term today for anyone who fled Ireland by necessity.

The winners at Limerick were Britain and her King, William of Orange. William had taken to the battlefield in Ireland himself and the French king had sent troops to fight on behalf of the Irish. Catholic[s] were not any more welcome in colonial Virginia in 1690 than they were in Britain; it seems unlikely for a Wild Goose to settle in Virginia following the Treaty of Limerick. Colonial Virginia liked Protestant King William so much that it named King William County for him, as well as Orange County. Not to slight his Queen, it named King and Queen County for the pair as well as the colonial college (William and Mary). That Edward Coffey came to Virginia about 1690 as a result of the Willamite Confiscation seems less likely than other possible scenarios.

Lawrence H. Coffey in his book Thomas Coffey and his Descendants (pub. 1931) states that he put the best material together to suggest that Edward came to Virginia about 1690 from Liverpool, England having originated in Ireland. This statement seems to be the original basis for those who claim that Edward immigrated to Virginia from across the ocean rather than having been born in America. However, Lawrence did not even know Edward's name, merely identifying him as the father of John and the other Coffey children of Essex County. Lawrence probably obtained the round date 1690 by extrapolating back to a suspected year of birth for John's father and them assuming that he immigrated as a young man. Some claim that Edward came in 1690 as an indentured servant. I question that Edward came as a result of the Willamite Confiscation, that he came as indentured servant, and that he came in 1690.

Indentures to pay for passage were generally for seven years although criminals might serve fourteen years before receiving their freedom. The indenture system in colonial Virginia was complex. It served for the training of apprentices as well as for the monetary reason of paying passage for someone who could not afford to have immigrated otherwise. Indentures for immigration grew out of the practice of indenturing orphans and sending them to America to choose a master. Unlike indentures of orphans already in Virginia, the immigrant who was indentured owed a bill for passage to the ship's captain. Since the new master paid the bill he had more of an interest vested in the servant than mere death of the master could erase. Indentures for reason of apprenticeship or orphanship ceased at the death of the master, like in marriage, although indentures for monetary reasons could not be so simply relinquished. Of course a young orphan with a deceased master would have his helplessness erased by being re-indentured to someone, just as a widow who lacked financial resources would find it convenient to erase her need by "re-indenturing" herself by means of a new marriage. Since the termination of Edward Coffey's indenture coincided with Edward Moseley's death, an indenture for the ship's passage to America seems less likely than for local orphanship or apprenticeship reasons. [emphasis mine]

The 1690 supposed arrival date in America for Edward Coffey gained acceptance by Coffey scholars because Edward's indenture to Mosely (unknown to Lawrence Coffey) seemed to buttress Lawrence's earlier independent supposition. The 1690 date was likely a guess on Lawrence's part, however, as shown below. The part that came from old family tradition to Lawrence most likely was that the Coffey progenitor came to Virginia from Liverpool, England, but was Irish.

Go to Part II

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