Life After Ireland : Davison McDowell



Charles Lewis of Kilkeel wrote several letters to his dear friend Davison McDowell, originally from Newry who emigrated to America. In these letters, Lewis is very curious about the life McDowell is leading over the water and seems to be looking for a good reason to emigrate himself. But who was Davison McDowell and  what became of him when he arrived in America? Did he live the American lifestyle those Irish emigrants dreamt of?

Davison McDowell is quite an exceptional example of how much life can change for the better after leaving Ireland. McDowell becomes a very wealthy plantation owner and a well renowned enterprising planter in the South. Lewis writes to him telling him of the day to day happenings in Kilkeel, which are surely mundane in comparison to the life McDowell was living at the time.

McDowell was a native of Newry who emigrated to America around 1810, joining other family members in Georgetown. His father James had settled in Southern Carolina in 1786 but died on the Pee Dee in 1787. His mother Agnes Davison McDowell arrived shortly after her husband’s death and not long after she married a Robert Kirkpatrick. Davison remained in Ireland with relatives to complete his studies before moving to the U.S.

McDowell was a very enterprising and well known planter in South Carolina. He acquired the Asylum Plantation in 1819 and owned it until 1836. He also owned the Lucknow plantation (Pee Dee, where he died) along with Rice Hope, Hoogley, Strawberry Hill, Springfields, Oatlands, Sandy Island and Woodville. As a plantation owner he was also the owner of many black slaves.

He married Mary Moore in 1822 but she died shortly after. He then married Catherine DuBose McCrea Witherspoon, widow of Robert Sidney Witherspoon. They had 8 children, 4 of whom died in infancy or early childhood.

McDowell died in 1842 at the age of 58, after leading what was surely a very interesting and colourful life. Things would more than likely have been extremely different had he stayed in Newry.