From The Historian's Corner:

From Lifford to America
Scotch-Irish and Pollock Beginnings in America – Part 3

In two earlier articles we described the arrival of the first identifiable group of Scotch-Irish in America, following the lead of the Presbyterian ministers Francis Makemie and William Trail who emigrated to Somerset County, Maryland, in 1683. We turn now to the first Polk/Pollock immigrants to America, generally recognized to be Robert Polke and his wife Magdalen (Tasker) Porter, from Donegal, Ireland, who arrived in Somerset several years later, certainly by 1687.

Much has been published about Robert and Magdalen Polke in various Polk/Pollock family histories, most notably “Polk Family and Kinsmen” by William H. Polk (1912), and the earlier articles by Mary Winder Garrett in the American Historical Magazine (Nashville, Tennessee) in 1896-99, under the title “Pedigree of the Pollok or Polk Family from Fulbert the Saxon to the Present Time.” These works were written and published without as much access to primary source colonial era records as is now possible. Most of the family history in them was obtained from second or third hand sources, and unfortunately contains some errors which are contradicted by original records now available. Fortunately the land, court, probate and tax records of colonial Somerset are preserved almost in their entirety at the Maryland State Archives and these make it possible to sort out some of the fact and fiction concerning the family. The author has researched these records as thoroughly as possible and found many citations of Robert and Magdalen and their children in them, from which it is possible to develop a rather complete picture of their lives in Somerset. This will be published in detail in a forthcoming book with all references cited. The following is a short summary of the basic facts concerning this first Polk/Pollock family in America, as gleaned from the primary source records:

  • Robert and Madgalen (R&M) came from Ballendrait, Parish of Lifford, County Donegal. Magdalen specifically mentioned the estate “Moneen” inherited there from her father, in her will written in 1726. (William Trail was minister at Ballendrait until his departure for Maryland in 1683.)

  • From Irish records we know that Magdalen was the daughter of Roger Tasker, a local official who was given his lands in eastern Donegal by Sir Richard Hansard, Knight, one of the English undertakers assigned lands in Lifford during the Ulster Plantation (c.1608).

  • Magdalen was first married to John Porter, an officer (quartermaster) in the royalist Army. He died in 1665- 1666 and Magdalen and Robert appear to have married very shortly afterwards.

  • The tradition in Ireland (per Keyes’ family account) is that Robert Polke was an officer serving under Porter but no records have been located to establish Robert Polke’s military history.

  • The first record of Robert Polke in America is in the surveys for Polkes Folly and Polkes Lott, dated 7 March 1688; these cite a warrant issued to him on 20 November 1687 for 150 acres.

  • A cattle earmark record for “John Pelke” was entered in Somerset land records on 5 September 1680; this individual was not John, son of R&M, but was clearly associated with them in some as yet unresolved way; he lived on a tract he named Locust Hummock in the Dames Quarter peninsula.

  • R&M had 10 known children who survived to adulthood; in order, as best can be determined, they are: Ann, John, Margaret, William, Ephraim, James, Robert, David, Martha, and Joseph.

  • Birthyears for some of the children are known from depositions in Somerset court records, as follows: Ann (1666), Margaret (1670), William (1673), Joseph (1689); others can be estimated by interpolating from their birth sequence.

  • Robert’s will was written 6 May 1699; a codicil was added 8 August 1702 changing the executors, dropping David who probably died in the interim. The will was proved on 5 June 1703.

  • The will mentions all children except daughters Ann and Margaret; we know of them from other documents.

  • The inventory of Robert’s personal property at his death was assessed at a modest value of £50/6/11, mostly attributable to his livestock. The balance was for an assortment of basic tools and household items.

  • Robert acquired three properties: Polkes Folly (100 acres), Polkes Lott (50 acres), and Forlorne Hope (100 acres), all located in Dames Quarter, or Damn Quarter as it was then known.

  • R&M lived out their lives at Polkes Folly, at the head of Pigeon House Creek, located about two miles east of present-day Dames Quarter, MD.

  • The supposed Polk ancestral home White Hall did not exist in Robert and Magdalen’s time. The tract of that name was not patented until 1795 by Judge William Polk as a resurvey of a tract called Fortune first acquired in 1740 by his father, David Polk, son of William, son of R&M; it is located on the Wicomico River at Cuttmaptico Creek.

  • R&M’s oldest son John, used the name “Ballendret” for a parcel of land he purchased in 1693 near Princess Anne; this was located very near the property of Reverend Thomas Wilson, first minister of the Manokin Presbyterian Church.

  • R&M’s second oldest son, William, used the names Donegal (Denegall) and Moneen (Moanen) for lands surveyed for him in 1721. (These are located on the upper Nanticoke River now in Sussex county DE, but then considered to be in Maryland.)

  • Robert appears at least 45 times in Somerset or Maryland colonial records; the most common spelling of his surname is “Polke” (31 times); the other spellings are Poke (8), Polk (4), Pollock(1), Polyke(1).

  • Robert’s original will is lost but a transcript is in the Maryland Prerogative Court records; the transcript consistently uses the spelling “Polke.”

  • The middle name “Bruce” never appears as part of Robert Polke’s name in the colonial records. (This was first introduced in Mary Winder Garrett’s articles on the Pollok/Polk family (1896) and repeated in “Polk Family and Kinsmen.” Unfortunately it has been widely used ever since, but should be omitted.)

  • No rank such as Captain was ever attached to Robert’s name in colonial records.

  • The name Pollock was frequently used by the children of Robert’s sons James and Joseph.

  • Robert’s oldest sons John and William acquired lands at the head of the Manokin River near present-day Princess Anne. William’s descendants acquired extensive lands there; John’s only son, William, relocated to an area within the limits of present-day Salisbury, MD.

  • There is no evidence in Maryland records that William Polk, son of R&M, had sons named William or Charles; the evidence is very much to the contrary. William did have two sons, James and David, and two daughters Jane and Mary, all of whom are very well documented in Somerset records. (In “Polk Family and Kinsmen”, W. H. Polk states that William Polk, progenitor of the North Carolina Polks, and his purported brother, Charles Polke, the Indian Trader, were sons of William Polk, son of R&M. From W.H Polk’s private correspondence now archived in the University of Kentucky Library, it is clear this was simply speculation.)

  • Robert’s sons, Ephraim, James and Robert, Jr. acquired extensive additional lands in the Dames Quarter area in early 1700’s; Joseph remained at Polkes Folly with Magdalen until her death in 1728 (age ~ 92).

  • The children of Ephraim, James, Robert, Jr. and Joseph mostly moved to the upper Nanticoke area, between Seaford and Bridgeville, Delaware, beginning in 1720’s. At the time that area was considered as part of Maryland. (The present MD-DE boundary was surveyed by Mason and Dixon in 1763.)

  • The Polk lands in Dames Quarter were sold by Joseph Polk in 1740 and he relocated to the area a bit west of present-day Bridgeville, Delaware.

  • No one of the name Polk/Pollock resided in the Dames Quarter area after 1740; most of the original Polk lands have subsided and are now marshlands within the Deal Island Wildlife Management Area.

John F. Polk, Ph.D.
Historian
Clan Pollock International
First published in the November 2008 Pollag.