James MacSparran is the earliest of our clansmen known to have
emigrated to the New World. He was born in September 1693 and
was raised at Dungiven in Ireland, although his parents are believed
to have come from Kintyre in Scotland.
We know that in March 1709, at the age of fifteen, he was awarded
a Masters Degree in the University of Glasgow. Then, in 1718 he
emigrated to Boston, New England to serve as a Presbyterian minister.
But his stay was short and he returned to Ireland the following year.
Suddenly his life took an unexplained turn when he began to study for the Church of England, and in September 1720 he was ordained a priest by the Archbishop of Canterbury. He was given a King's bounty of twenty pounds and returned to New England, arriving in Rhode Island in April 1721 to become the Episcopalian minister at St Paul's church, Narragansett. Soon after his arrival he met Hannah, daughter of wealthy Bostonian, William Gardiner and they married in May 1722. The couple each had portraits painted and these are now in the possession of the Boston Museum of Art.
MacSparran quickly got down to work - he built a rectory and started a school. He often acted as doctor to the sick, he preached to the indians and negro slaves and even allowed them into his church, when no-one else would have dared to. He wrote and published several sermons, and, on a visit to England was granted a Doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1737. He celebrated the victory of the English against the French at Louisbourg in 1745. He wrote an essay in an effort to persuade his fellow countrymen not to emigrate and this was published in Dublin in 1753.
Then tragedy happened, when the MacSparrans were on another visit to England in 1755, Hannah contracted smallpox and died in June of that year in London. She was buried in the Christ Church chapel in Westminster. The couple had no children and James never quite got over the death of his wife. He returned to Narragansett a broken man, and died there in December 1757. His diary was later published and over a hundred years later, in 1869, a monument was erected to his honour at Wickford, the church having then been moved five miles inland in about 1800. This monument can still be seen today.
Although Dr James opposed his brother Archibald coming to the New World, he did so anyway, and he and his family, sailing from Londonderry, arrived at New Castle, Delaware in 1741. Two years later he obtained from the Calvert family a grant of land in Lancaster County, Maryland. (After the Mason-Dixon survey of 1764-65, this county became part of Pennsylvania). Archibald's children prospered and even today, McSparrans can be found in this part of the United States.
We are indebted to Malcolm A McSparron for the text of this article.