Descendants of David Porterfield, Sr., continued

[The following history of the Porterfield family in Scotland was researched and contributed by Thomas James "Tommy" Hooks, a 4th great grandson of David Porterfield, Sr., through both the Thomas James Porterfield line and the David Porterfield, Jr., line (edited by Diane Carrington Bradford, a 4th great granddaughter through the David Porterfield, Jr., line and second cousin of Tommy Hooks).]

Kilmacolm and the Porterfields

Oh! Kilmacolm is a funny wee place;
And a funny wee set of people,
And a kirk without a steeple.
(old song)

Late in the seventeenth century, young William Porterfield left Kilmacolm, Scotland for Ireland. His older brother, Alexander, had inherited the family estate of Duchal when his grandfather John died. A generation later, William’s son john left County Donegal, Ireland, with his wife and family for america. They were the ancestors of the porterfields that settled in Madison County, Georgia after the American Revolution.

The Porterfield family had a long and colorful history in the area known as Rrenfrewshire, which Is just west of Glasgow. What follows is a brief history of the area, and the Porterfield family. This information is mainly taken from a small book by Elizabeth Main, A Kirk Without a Steeple, Being a History of the Old Kirk and Parish of Kilmacolm.

Ancient Times

It is known that the area near Kilmacolm was inhabited by settlers in the stone age. Traces of Their pottery and flint tools have been found dating to 1600 BC Bronze age people emigrated to the area, bringing with them improved pottery, agriculture, and stock breeding. They built "crannogs" nearby, which were man-made islands in lakes, on which they built their fortified dwellings. The crannogs were connected to the shore by causeways, allowing them to hunt or farm on the shore during the day and retire to their protected homes at night, or in times of danger from intruders.

The Romans came to Scotland in the first century AD A system of roads and forts were constructed, including a cavalry fort at Whitemoss, from where they patrolled across Kilmacolm and the surrounding area. The Romans found the northern tribes very difficult to subdue, and finally the Emperor Hadrian built a wall across the island, which was manned and patrolled to keep the wilder neighbors to the north at bay. By 411 AD, the Romans withdrew, yet through them the state religion of Christianity was introduced to the country. In the fourth century AD, Constantine, who was raised on Hadrian’s Wall, had become emperor and was converted to Christianity, making it the official religion of the empire in 330 AD the Roman church was the one stabilizing element in the dark ages to follow.

It was the practice of the Romans to take children of the local chiefs to Rome, where they were held as hostages, insuring the continued allegiance of their families to Rome. While there, they were educated in Roman ways and the Catholic Church. One such hostage, Ninian, became a bishop and returned to Scotland, where he began his own school for priests. One of his pupils was St. Patrick, who carried the faith to Ireland. Another pupil was named Columba, who became a prominent cleric, and for whom a church was built and named the Church of Columba, Kil-ma-colm, on which site the present church, or kirk, stands today in Kilmacolm. The church was built around 570 a.d, and was probably a "mud and wattle" hut. A timber building followed, and then the thirteenth century stone chapel, which forms a part of the present church. Around and under this church, our Porterfield ancestors were buried.

The Norman Invasion and Feudalism

Between the departure of the Romans and the conquest of England and Scotland by William the Conqueror in 1066 AD, the various peoples of Britain, the Picts, Scots, Britons, and Angles, held sway in their areas of the island. With the unification of the country by the Normans, the feudal system was introduced, through which nobles were granted land in return for allegiance to the king. One of the sons of a Norman knight who came over with the conqueror, Walter Fitz Alan, gave a portion of his lands in Renfrewshire to one Ralph de l’Isle, who built a castle with moat and keep at the junction of two rivers near Kilmacolm, which he called "Duchal".

Duchal Castle was enclosed by a stone wall 70 yards long by 30 yards wide. A ditch was dug later joining the two rivers, making it, in effect, an island. It remained the stronghold of the Lyles (from de l’Isle) until it was purchased by one John Porterfield in 1544. The Porterfields traced their ancestry to Alan de Porter, a follower of Fitz Alan. By 1450, the family name had become Porterfield.

The castle’s history includes tales of ghosts, skirmishes with local families, and even a siege by King James iv of Scotland when the Lyles had backed an insurrection against him. James had two large cannons drug across Scotland to subdue his enemies. One of the cannons was called "Mons Meg", now in Edinburgh Castle. The other must have been used against the Lyles, for thereafter it was called "Duchal". The Porterfields occupied Duchal Castle until 1710, when "New Duchal" was constructed. By then, young William had departed for Ireland.

Notable Porterfields of Kilmacolm

The history of Scotland is filled with political and religious strife. In fact, politics and religion became inseparable after the Reformation, when the Catholic Church was replaced by the Church of England as the official state church in England. Scots, however, saw very little difference in the Church of England and the old church, and either refused to abandon Catholicism, or embraced the stern Presbyterian faith of John Knox.

The people of Kilmacolm were moving steadily toward the Protestant faith. Part of this was undoubtedly an attempt to free themselves from the clergy’s constant demands of tithes. Some nobles, including Lord Lyle of Duchal, had their own priests and chapels. In 1560, the Scots Parliament passed acts abolishing the jurisdiction of the papacy and declaring the celebration of the mass to be illegal.

With the death of Queen Elizabeth I of England in 1603, James VI of Scotland ascended to the throne And became King James I of England. James was the first of four Stuart kings who tried to force the Scots to abandon the Presbyterian faith for the Church of England, which was a thinly-veiled version of Catholicism. After years of dispute, in 1638 thousands of Scots signed the National Covenant, by which they affirmed loyalty to the king, but rejected the idea of any type of customs being imposed on the church except by the church Itself. These "covenanters" eventually became outlawed, even though the king, Charles Ii, had signed the agreement. The Porterfields were staunch covenanters, and Duchal was known as a place of refuge for others of the same belief.

Alexander Porterfield, Lord of Duchal, 1620-1675

The 1662 Act of Glasgow, requiring an oath of allegiance to the king in all matters, civil and religious, resulted in the ousting of the minister in Kilmacolm, who refused to take the oath. The minister was welcomed by Alexander at Duchal, and allowed to hold his services on the estate. These outdoor meetings , called "conventicles", were a rejection of the church, which now imposed fines for failure to attend services. Covenanting became a capital crime under the last Stuart, James vii, and many Presbyterians paid the penalty. Alexander died at Duchal in 1675 at the age of 84 (Porterfields were noted for their long lives), and was buried in the Porterfield tomb on the south side of the church, probably under the pew used by his family.

John Porterfield, Lord of Duchal, 1675-1690

At the time of his father’s death, John Porterfield Was 62 years old, with white hair and beard. He wept Openly at his father’s funeral. Though a peaceable Man, his support of the covenanters brought him Into trouble with the government. He was fined 84,000 (pounds) for supporting conventicles and summoned by the high commission for failing to attend church. For this, he was fined an additional 500.

Duchal castle, however, remained a haven for covenanters and was closely watched by the authorities. One night a spy arrived at Duchal disguised as a gypsy woman. Admitted to the kitchen for refreshment, the cook noticed the size of the boots on the intruder’s feet. She was alone at the time, since the other household members were at a conventicle. She began to ply the visitor with strong drink, and by the time the other members returned, he was so drunk that he was incapable of escape. He was thrown into the river and left to make his own escape.

In 1684, John and his son, Alexander, were indicted in Edinburgh on apparently false charges. John was condemned to death, his estate sequestered on behalf of his judge, and both father and son were thrown into prison. Some years later, Alexander was released, but died at Duchal a year later. John, the gray-haired father, was eventually released but compelled to stay in Edinburgh, under very harsh conditions. After the Glorious Revolution of 1688, he was partially indemnified for his losses, but his estate at Duchal was greatly reduced. He died there at the age of’ 77. His two sons having predeceased him, he was succeeded by his grandson, Alexander. It was during this time that our ancestor, William, left for Ireland. This last Alexander Porterfield, Lord Of Duchal from 1790-1743, spent a great deal of his life in disputes with the church in Kilmacolm. After one incident, in which he slandered the priest as being a drunkard and a womanizer, Alexander was suspended as an elder, and it was twelve years before he could bring himself to sue for forgiveness and restoration of his eldership. His contentious attitude may have been caused by the persecution of his father and grandfather at the hands of the church.

New Duchal

The wife of Alexander Porterfield found the old castle to be very damp and otherwise unsuitable. So, in 1710, he built a summer house down the River Gryfe, using many of the stones from the old castle. When part of the old castle was dismantled, a number of human bones were found in an upper room.

When Alexander died, he was followed for only nine years by his son, to be succeeded by his nephew, Boyd Porterfield. In 1768, Boyd Porterfield rebuilt and enlarged the summer house, converting it into a wing of the new house. Boyd also developed the gardens and orchards, and built a stone bridge across the river to give access to them. He also planted trees at each point of the compass around the house, many of which exist today, rising to great heights.

Boyd died in 1795, and his son, William, died in 1815 without an heir. This gave rise to a series of succession disputes. The last Porterfield master of Duchal was James Corbett Porterfield, who died without heirs In 1855.

The estate passed to the Stewart family, and was bought in 1910 by a George Wallace. In 1915, a Lord Maclay purchased the property, and his son now occupies the home along with his family. The gardens and orchards exist in largely unkempt condition, and the house required extensive repairs through the years.

The Old Kirk Cemetery

Beginning with John Porterfield, who bought Duchal in 1560, members of the family were buried in the cemetery at the old church in Kilmacolm. When the church was expanded in 1903, the Porterfield tomb was covered over. The old doorway to the tomb was placed in the wall of the church, on which was inscribed "Bureit Heir Lyis That Deth Defyis of Porterfields The Race- Quho Be The Spirit to Christ Uniteare Heirs Of Glor Through Grace- 1560".

The Porterfields In Ireland

During the seventeenth century, the English crown expanded the plantation system of dispossessing Irish landowners of their lands, and "planting" English and Scottish settlers in Northern Ireland. This was done, in part, to eliminate the Catholic influence, since the Scots who came to the country were Protestants.

The earliest records of Porterfields in Ireland were found in the Hearth Money Roll for 1665, in the Taughboyne Parish in County Donegal. Listed is a Patrick, a William, and a John Porterfield. Family history states that William was born in 1645 in Ireland, and his son, John, in 1675. This is in conflict with the information above from Mrs. Main’s book. One possible explanation is that the younger son of the above-mentioned John Porterfield, Lord of Duchal from 1675-1690, had already emigrated to Ireland, and that his son, William, was born there, never having lived in Scotland. This is almost certainly our family ancestors, although the dates do not fit exactly. There are four Porterfield families listed today In the Northern Ireland telephone directory.

Kilmacolm Today

Kilmacolm today remains a small village, consisting of a few shops in the main town, and homes spreading out on quiet, well-maintained streets. The road that leads up the hill from town to the golf course is "Porterfield Road". A possible explanation of the name of the road is that covenanters held their conventicles in a rocky amphitheater which is part of the fourteenth hole of the golf course. One unique feature of the town is that it has no pub, or public house, perhaps a legacy of the stern old covenanters of centuries past.


For more information, send e-mail to:

Home | Madison County Table of Contents
Porterfield Table of Contents | Name Index on WorldConnect
Backgrounds and graphics created by Diane Carrington Bradford
Copyright © 2000, 2004,2005, 2019, Diane Carrington Bradford, All rights reserved.
This Web Site was Created Jul 9, 2000; major revision Jun 2005, Jul 2019.

Last updated August 23, 2019 7:47 PM
This site is generously hosted by