The First Wave of Irish Immigrants to Beat 3
Newton County, Mississippi

By Harold Graham

Location of Irish ImmigrantsAny migration usually can be described in three waves or phases, and the Irish immigration to Beat 3 of Newton County is no exception.

In the first wave scouts arrive in the New Land from the Old Country to see what they can make of it. If things work out for them, they send back word to friends and relatives who swarm into the New Country. Years later and for their own personal reasons, stragglers who have remained behind in the Old Country join their friends and relatives in the New Land years.

Pictured Left: Erin and Lucern in northwestern Newton County represent the center of the Irish Settlement. Erin Cumberland Presbyterian Church was built on land originally patented to William Willis.

The First Wave of the Irish

On December 22, 1822, the ship Caledonia arrived from Belfast, Ireland at the port of Charleston, South Carolina, its passengers including Thomas Caulfield, age 30, his wife Mary Ann Watson Caulfield, age 23, and infant; Thomas Castles, age 40, and his wife Mary Greenleaf Castles; age 28, and their children Sarah Castles, age 5, Eliza Castles, age 4, and Mary Castles, age 3; David Watson, age 17; George Johnston, age 20; Elizabeth Caulfield Johnston, age 23, widow of George Johnston, and their infant; Robert Beggs, age 19; William Willis, age 24; John Greenleaf, age 23, and George Stewart, age 23.

An aging vessel, the Caledonia had made its first recorded visit to Charleston as early as 1746# and over the course of more than three-quarters of a century had carried all types of human cargo, including convicts, to the New World. Like all immigrant ships, passengers crowded into close and unsanitary quarters for the treacherous trip across the Atlantic in search of a better world than they were leaving behind. Behind them were the troubled quarrels between differing religious and political factions in Northern Ireland and the poverty that these problems and other economic issues placed on more than 80% of the Irish population. Ahead was the promise of America, the right of free worship, and the opportunity to escape poverty. Despite the danger presented by the voyage, one could only be optimistic.

Following their arrival, most of these individuals lived in Fairfield County, South Carolina, for a period approximating four years, then in 1827 moved to Greene County, Alabama. Daniel Willis, then of County Antrim, Ireland, but later of Newton County, Mississippi, joined his brother William Willis in time for this move to Alabama. Taking part in this move with the Willis brothers were the Castles#, Greenleafs, Watsons, Caulfields, Johnstons, Campbells, and other Irish immigrants who settled in the community of Boligee, Greene County, Alabama.

During his stay in Greene County, William Willis received four grants of land, the first for 88.5 acres on August 20, 1826 and the last for 40.3 acres in October 1834 in which he is referred to as William B. Willis.

In 1835, several members of these families migrated further to then Neshoba County, most settling in what would become Beat 3 of Newton County and in an area that soon came to be known as New Ireland. These new settlers included Daniel Willis, William Willis and his wife Mary Greenleaf Castles, widow of Thomas Castles. Her four daughters from her first marriage also came with her: Sarah Castles, who married Elisha Red/d, Mary Castles, who married James Jackson (Jack) Vance, Eliza Castles, who married Andrew J. Windham and lived in Scott County, Mississippi, and Letitia Castles who married John Jackson.

Most of these new settlers located on adjoining land just north of the juncture of Brushy Creek and Conehatta Creek in Sections 29-33 of Township 8 Range 11 East. (The property on a contemporary map is centered by the Highway 489 crossing of Conehatta Creek and the Andrew Milling Road and extending north to Erin Cumberland Presbyterian Church. A number of descendants of the original settlers remain on the land granted to their ancestors.) This included Daniel Willis, William Willis, Samuel Campbell, Elisha Red, and John Watson. John Willis, a brother of Daniel and William Willis, joined them later. The land of William Willis included the current location of Erin Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

James Jackson (Jack) Vance arrived by the year 1837 in Newton County from County Derry and soon invited many of his Vance kin to join him. His invitation was so successful that the Vance surname became the predominant name among the new arrivals. The 1840 Federal Census of Newton County shows James as married with a wife (Mary Castles), and with one son under the age of 5. There was one other male adult in his household, probably a brother, and likely the George Vance who settled in Kemper County, Mississippi.

According to descendants of George Vance, he arrived in America at the Port of New Orleans with a brother or cousin and other family members including a sister Sarah Vance. He had paid for his voyage by working on the immigrant ship and then had worked along the river front in New Orleans until he had enough money to buy land in Mississippi. According to this account, George lived at New Ireland, Newton County for a short period of time before moving to Kemper County, Mississippi. George was born February 14, 1822, County Derry, Ireland, and died April 4, 1887, Kemper County. He married in 1849 to Mary Jane Page and had six children.

James Jackson Vance patented 85.87 acres of land northeast of Conehatta on February 6, 1837, but later sold this land and bought other land just inside the Neshoba County line in S 4 T 8 R 11. This land is located along Highway 492 and near New Ireland Baptist Church.

The Thomas Castles Mary Greenleaf Castles family was also joined in Mississippi by at least six children of Lorenzo Castles and Nancy Cosby (Lorenzo Castles being a brother of Thomas Castles). Lorenzo Castles and Nancy Cosby remained in Ireland, but at least two of their sons Lorenzo Castles, Jr., and William M. Castles immigrated to the United States. Lorenzo Castles, Jr., moved to New Jersey and William M. Castles moved to Greene County, Alabama, and afterward to Leon County, Texas.

William M. Castles may have lived for a short period in Newton County, but we have not found a record of such. After his first year in America, he sent for four of his sisters to immigrate to America. Three of the girls that we are able to name were Letitia Castles (1806 living 1850, Newton County), who married Samuel Campbell (died ca. 1848), Isabella Castles (18181902), who married Micajah Wallace, and Elizabeth Castles, who married William Duett on 20 March 1841, Greene County, Alabama, and who later settled in Neshoba County.

With the arrival of these immigrants, two churches with definite Irish leanings were formed New Ireland Baptist Church and Erin Cumberland Presbyterian Church and quite early the communities surrounding these churches came to be identified as New Ireland and Erin. These communities, with Lucern, represented the heart of the Irish Settlement.


  1. 1830 Federal Census of Greene County, Alabama
  2. 1850 Federal Census of Neshoba County, Mississippi
  3. 1850-1860 Federal Censuses of Scott County, Mississippi
  4. 1840-1880 Federal Censuses of Newton County, Mississippi
  5. One World Tree
  6. Bureau of Land Management Records, Eastern Division, General Land Office Records
  7. Craft Myrtis S., George Mason, and Melvin Tingle, Book of Original Entries, Land Records of Newton County, Mississippi, Pioneer Publishing Company, Carrolton, Mississippi, 1998
  8. Greene County, Alabama, Marriage Records
  9. Hand, Jeanne Henry, My Cross and Hand Family, 1977
  10. McNair, Myrtle Mitchell, Our Willis-Hogan-Davison-Dowdle and Allied Families
  11. Mississippi Death Certificates, Mississippi Department of Archives and History, Jackson, Mississippi.
  12. Red, Gale, Castles Family Records
  13. Smith, Bonnie Addy, Jackson Eliot Smith, and Robert Ervin Smith, Ph. D., Newton County, Mississippi, A Cemetery Census, 1782-1995, EBRS Publishing Company, 100 Woodville Drive, Natchez, MS 39120
  14. Virginia Gazette, June 15, 1746


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