The Story Behind the Story of Samuel Ford

The Gap in the Record

There is a distinct gap in the Old Parochial Record (OPR) of Samuel Ford.  Yet over the duration of the birth of his ten children spread over eighteen years, the gap remains ominously blank.

Samuel Ford’s family is spread over two pages of the parochial record, each page covering the birth of five of his children.  The first page, page fifteen, reads, ‘Samuel Ford Quarrier was born … ‘  Obviously, the place and date of Samuel’s birth are missing from the record although there was a conscious effort to leave a gap in the expectation that such information would be forthcoming.  That such information is still lacking after some eighteen years is significant.

Perhaps Samuel did not know the details of his birth yet if such was the case then there was no reason to leave a gap.  Even the second record of the family makes reference that the ‘rest of the family are on page 15‘, that is, the first record.  But, again, the gap has not been filled in even with the addition of five more children.

In a small community such as Millport, such matters are not trivial.  The fact that the record is incomplete is significant but significant of what exactly and can we read anything into such omission?

If we accept that Samuel died in 1836 aged fifty, as recorded on the Ford Memorial in the Mid Kirton Cemetery (see Memorials page), then his birth would have been about 1786.  A search of the OPRs from all of Scotland for the years 1720 to 1800 reveals only two records for a Samuel Ford, one born in 1720 and the other 1746, well outside any likely date associated with the birth of James’ father.

Concerning ‘registration’ it is worth noting the Scotland People website cautions; Many people did not bother to register, particularly if they had to pay a fee or tax, as was the case 1783 -1794, and Samuel’s birth falls squarely in this time frame.  While such practices may have inhibited the recording of Samuel Ford’s birth it does not explain the gap in the birth record concerning his children.

Further, a marriage record of Samuel Ford and Margaret Wright could also have been helpful in tracing Samuel Ford, as often such marriage records make a note where the husband and wife originated.  Unfortunately, no such record exists.  I contacted the North Ayrshire Heritage Centre asking if they had any record of a marriage of Samuel and Margaret.  Hazel Menzies, Research Assistant with the North Ayrshire Heritage Centre responded with an email that reads, ‘I regret that there was not a record of a marriage between Samuel Ford and Margaret Wright in the Bute Old Parish marriages’. 

Could they have been married elsewhere outside of Millport?  Possibly, but I have searched the records and while there are families of Fords existing in Scotland yet none provide any information that they are connected with Samuel Ford.  The other possibility that they were not married is almost inconceivable.  For one thing, given the times, the births and baptism of their children would not have been recorded in the parochial record, a duty fiercely guarded by the local rector.

My search for Samuel is further frustrated by the fact that I can trace Margaret Wright, his wife’s lineage back to the mid-1600s.  However, even if Samuel Ford did not have his name registered at birth does not mean that one cannot identify his parents through the OPRs.

Searching the Parochial Record 

Fortunately, Scotland has an excellent record of birth, deaths, and marriages stretching back to the original handwritten records, all of which are now digitized and searchable online.  I have spent hours trawling the record but have found nothing that might be associated with Samual Ford.  However, one is assisted by the system of ‘naming patterns’ largely in vogue until the mid-twentieth century.

There is the recognition that Christian, or forenames, are just as important in tracing ancestry as surnames.  Here is the general principle as it applied to the people of England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland.

In Samuel Ford’s family, we can confirm this pattern.  The eldest child, Janet, is named after Margaret Wright’s mother (mother’s mother) (See Wright family tree).  Their third daughter, Margaret, is named after Margeret Cowan (mother’s father’s mother).  It would follow that their second daughter, Mary, would be named after  Samuel’s mother (father’s mother) and their first son, Robert, would be named after Samuels’ father ( father’s father).  We can be reasonably assured that Samuel Ford’s parents were named Robert and Mary.  Again, unfortunately, even armed with this information I cannot track where Samuel may have been born.  But knowing his parent’s names helps eliminate many ‘possibles or probables’.

Outside of Scotland, there are insurmountable difficulties in searching the birth deaths and marriage registers (BDM) for England and Ireland.  (I have eliminated Wales as there is no indication that there may be some Welsh connection).  The English statutory BDM agency is no help with ancestry and simply directs genealogists to use expensive private websites.  Ireland BDM is of some help but cautions that many, much, of its records no longer exist.  Apparently, at some time the records were stored in an ammunition depot which became the target during part of the ‘troubles’ with obvious results.  On another occasion, a large chunk of the records was mistakenly incinerated.  These things do happen.


On one thing there can be an agreement, Samuel Ford was a quarrier.  Apart from his name, this is the only distinguishing feature we know about Samual from the record.  Corrine Fordschmid has written on this matter in Once were Quarriers.  It is difficult to accept that a man has travelled some distance just to work in a quarry.  A quarrier is not a stonemason, which is a highly-skilled occupation involved with building and construction.  While there are a number of records of stonemasons living and working on Cumbrae (the 1851 census records two masons lodging at Margaret Ford’s residence) a quarrier is largely unskilled heavy manual labour.  It is the type of work undertaken by those who have little or no skills.

Certainly, there was stone being quarried from Cumbrae from the late 1700s as documented by Corrine and transported by small yawls to various locations.  The Fourth Report of the Commissioners for Roads and Bridges in the Highlands of Scotland presented to the House of Commons on 28 April 1809 contains the Report of the Commissioners for Making and Maintaining the Caledonian Canal (27 May 1809) documenting how central Cumbrae was for accessing suitable stone for canal construction; No free-stone has been discovered nearer that Cumbraes and the small quantity requisite is fetched from thence by two sloops which were built chiefly for that purpose.  From Appendix A of the report, we learn that names of the sloops; Caledonia and Corpach each of which apparently had a crew of three and that some 10 (12 Nov 1808) quarrymen and masons were employed at Cumbrae for this purpose.

But despite Corrine’s extensive work, we still cannot identify from whence Samual originated.

An Irish Heritage

Between 1780 and 1840 some 300 000 Irish immigrants fled Ireland, to escape the crippling poverty and the ‘troubles’, into the cities of Glasgow and Liverpool where cotton mills were clamoring for workers.   Was Samuel Ford somehow tied up in this mass migration?  Probably, but perhaps for reasons not necessarily associated with employment in the dirty and dangerous cotton mills.

Further, an extended search of the Scottish records fails to reveal any information that supports the view that Samuel Ford was born in Scotland.  Likewise, further research has failed to produce any conclusive evidence that he came from England.  As identified above while any number of Ford’s lived in Scotland and England none can be associated with Samuel Ford of Millport.

However, as forenames are just as important as surnames, as established above, and can be successfully used to establishing family lineages, Samuel Ford’s lineage comes together in Ireland rather than elsewhere.  The genealogy of Henry Ford (the founder of the Ford Motor Company) establishes similarities of both the forenames and surnames.

The consistent similarities of forenames between Samuel Ford’s family and the ancestors of Henry Ford’s family are evident.

Henry Ford’s ancestors where tenant farmers originally from Somerset in England.  While Samuel Ford (c.1792-1842) and George Ford (c.1811-1863) travelled west to the USA arriving in Michigan in 1832 without shoes according to one report.   An extract from the Henry Ford website indicates that the family was originally from Somerset in England.

Henry Ford was born July 30, 1863, in Greenfield Township, Michigan. His father Name is William Ford Who belongs to a family that was originally from Somerset, England.

The fact that reference is made to Somerset is significant.  Somerset lies in the south-west corner of England, adjacent to the south-east coast of Ireland where the name Ford is a common heritage.  It was also from this corner of England that many tenants workers were taken as a result of the notorious ‘plantations’.

Plantations and Migrations

The Irish Plantations were a series of land confiscations made by England undertaken in an effort to relocate English peoples into Ireland in the hope that the Irish population would be diluted enough to forget about rebellion.  Land confiscated from the Irish was given to English gentry who in turn imported tenant farmers to work that land: an early form of ethnic cleansing perhaps.  But while the British and Protestant ruling class did flourish it was found that in many cases the poorer English labourer became more Irish as a continual subdivision of the landholdings forced the immigrants to live on less and less with the passing of successive generations.  It was inevitable that the descendants of these ‘plantations’ found themselves in similar poverty riven situation as the Irish and many English joined in the Irish cause.

Historically, it is possible that Samuel Ford’s family was part of the Munster migration wave commencing in 1586, which, in response to the Desmond Rebellions, saw English tenant farmers ‘planted’ in the southwest area of Ireland.

As new ‘settlers’ arrived in Ireland from the ‘old country’ economics and investments demanded a clearing of the natural vegetation to sustain the need for a ‘return on investment’ which resulted in an increase in agriculture (Nunan, The Plantings of Munster 1580-1640). This interaction produced, in turn, an acceptance that it was ‘religion rather than nationality that was the great divider’ (Nunan p 75).  This turn of events was to become the enduring source of ‘the troubles’ as the biblical texts were evoked to justify the use of force in suppressing the rebellion and as a moral imperative reflecting ‘divine wrath’ against the Irish, who were conceived of as little more than ‘heathen’.

Essentially, the ‘plantations’ were a failure in that they did not achieve what they set out to do, quell the rebellion.  Instead, the ‘new settlers’ as under-tenants were ever alert to exploit an opportunity when one presents itself (Nunan p 74) and often joined in the Irish resistance.  Further, despite the imposition of a burdensome and punitive financial and social regime together with the otherwise transforming effects of the Reformation that was then sweeping England, the Irish and old Anglo-Catholics remained within the Roman Church. As a consequence, Protestantism served as a constant reminder that the English elites were attempting to sever Irish Roman Catholics from their past.

It should be remembered, as indicated above, Henry Ford’s (Ford Motor Company) father, William Ford (1826-1905) was born in County Cork in the province of Munster; his family having moved from western England sometime earlier, perhaps part of the ‘plantation’ process.

Additionally, England imposed successive waves of punitive taxation and restrictions which fuel the flames of rebellion.  The result was a massive migration to Liverpool and Glasgow in order to escape the abject poverty and fighting and to secure jobs.

Between 1790-1850, a human tide of Irish men, women and children arrived in Scotland seeking ‘permanent exile’ according to Brenda Collins.  Comparing the later migration of 1845-1850, which centred on Liverpool, Collins concludes that the earlier migration which was predominantly protestant, occurred at a more consistent rate, lacked extreme religious militancy and fitted in better with the industrial structure of Glasgow (Collins; The Origins of Irish Immigration to Scotland in two phases of the Munster plantations, 1581-1607 and 1608-1641).

While governments, industrialists, politicians, stock markets, the military, banks, the medical/health complex, town planners, environmental and taxation control officers, to name but a few, all operate through ‘systems’, it is individuals that more readily and constructively respond to the changing social tsunamis that sweep across countries with a certain degree of monotony.  At any one time, there are, to a lesser or greater extent, social factors that impinge on individuals.  If these ‘systems’ fail to respond adequately to social change then such change generally results in civil disobedience, or more probably riots, until such time as the ‘system’ responds adequately – usually at a great social cost.  Migration was such a response.  For others, there lay other possibilities.

Piracy and Smuggling

It was, as Charles Dickens noted, the best of times as it was the worst of times dependent very much upon one’s economic or religious circumstance.  For the majority, next year’s harvest was as far as they could see.  As a result of the social conditions in play, particularly along with the west coast of Munster, other ‘economic’ opportunities emerged among which were piracy and smuggling.

Quoting Nunam again:

Many pirates, and possibly some pirate families, settled along the southwest Cork coast because at that time political and economic conditions favoured their presence there.  Thus, informal trading grew to furnish pirates with necessary supplies. Under the command of Bishop and Easton, the pirates were organized into a form of a confederacy. In 1609 Bishop had eleven ships and 1,000 men two miles west of Skull at Leamcon and in 1611 Easton had seventeen. Trading with pirates … was profitable and the last of the great Atlantic pirate leaders, Henry Mainwaring in 1616 referred to the south-west of Ireland as;  the nursery and storehouse of pirates in regard of the general good entertainment they receive there, supply of victuals and men which continually repair thither out of England to meet with pirates … This activity continued up till the 1630s, in one form or another. (p 70).

Much of this illicit commerce centred on the Bandon-Bridge and Kinsale area of Cork where, it is interestingly noted, that one, ‘John Forde bought 24 bundles of red hides, wherein was divers parcels of find Hollands from the pirate Campane at Lymecon, in the West of Ireland (Russell & Prendergast Vol 5, The Names of those who bought goods of the Pirate Campane at Lymecon, in the West of Ireland 1615-1625, as quoted in Nunam, page 70-72).

Nunam does not mention smuggling but it would not be beyond the bounds of human imagination to surmise that given the economic and social factors of the times that as the years progressed piracy morphed into smuggling.

However, unlike piracy, smuggling was largely socially acceptable.

From Historic UK.






The general tolerance exercised with respect to smuggling during the early part of the 19th century is aptly illustrated by the painting, ‘watching the wall’.  When questioned by authorities one could always legitimately respond that they saw no such activity.    

In his book, The Naturalist of Cumbrae: A True Story Being the Life of David Robinson (1891), the author, Thomas R.R. Stebbing, tells the story of David Robinson born in Glasgow in 1806 who became a Professor of Natural History.  Robinson, as the story unfolds, worked his way through university and relates any number of ‘adventures’ including his time spent at Millport ‘engaged in scientific pursuits’ and visiting  ‘his favourite watering hole’. Stebbing’s book outlines the life of a young man as he comes of age in a world where universal education did not exist and where personal fortitude, courage, and experience were matters of individual motivation supplemented with a fair slice of good luck.

Of what interest is David Robinson’s brush with smuggling (pages 30-41) when he was about fifteen and reveals much.

When David had been about a year in his new place, one of these smuggling booths settled down on the march, that is, the boundary-line between one farm and another. This had to be attended to, for if one of these places were found on a farmer’s ground, he was liable to a heavy fine. David’s master had arranged with the smugglers to do their carting as far as it was convenient, and, as he generally worked with the horse, he at first did their work himself. But as David knew the moor well, he had often to go with his master on night work, and at last nearly the whole of it fell to his share. This night work was no easy matter. They often had to go a long way through the moors in the dark without a trace of a road, and it required one well acquainted with the ground to be able to pick a way that a loaded horse and cart could travel.

The author goes on to relate Robinson’s experience with smuggling.

There were many raids made on the smugglers by the excise, although in most cases the smugglers had timely notice of the approach of danger, and it was wonderful how soon they could make a clearance of their valuables, that is to say, of all the plant used in distilling.

In one instance within our hero’s experience, two or three hours after dark the smugglers were surprised and made prisoners by the excise officers and a small company of soldiers. Two farmers’ wives, who happened to be paying a visit to the bothy or smugglers’ shed at the time, were also seized. The still had just been filled with what they called singlings, for the second or final distillation. The smugglers agreed to run it off for the excisemen, wishing, so far as they could, to appear friendly with them. A cart was wanted to carry the spoil away, but, it being so late, it was thought best by the excise officers to wait till morning, when they would be able to see where they were being taken, as otherwise it was possible they might intentionally be led into a quagmire and be plundered in the dark.

During the night both soldiers and excisemen were taking a ” wee drap” to keep them cheery, and the night passed with friendly jokes on both sides, whatever the prisoners may have thought inwardly about the humour of the whole affair. As soon as daylight appeared, the two excisemen went to procure a horse and cart, and were directed to a farm where they were not the most likely to obtain what they wanted on the shortest notice, the prisoners having some obscure hope that something might yet be saved. As the officer in command of the soldiers had received strict charge, when the excisemen left, to take care of the prisoners, these had no hope of making their own escape. In the absence of the excisemen, the officer was careful of what spirits he himself took, and did what he could in an easy way to make his men equally careful ; but the drinking-measure the end of a cow’s horn was an ample one, and the spirits were stronger than the men were used to drink, and these things had their effect.

In the mean time the smugglers very civilly offered to give their assistance in carrying their confiscated goods and chattels some little distance out to a place which the cart could approach. Their offer being accepted, they had the opportunity to roll “the valuables” into a deep ditch where they were not easily to be seen. The soldiers, it was clear, had become sympathizers, and the officer believed, or in his helpless position pretended to believe, that the smugglers were giving their help in good faith, and that his only duty was to make sure that the prisoners did not escape. When the excisemen returned with the horse and cart, and saw the general state of affairs, and that there were only a few of the empty worthless movables piled up to be taken away, they were glad to get the prisoners and drunken soldiers into the cart without anything else, letting the two women go free, and sacrificing the spoils, for which indeed the small country cart, filled as it was with living occupants, would have had no room.

It may be guessed, perhaps, as well from other incidents of the narrative as from the ready sympathy between farmers, soldiers, and smugglers in defeating the law, that there was but little prosperity in that part of the country. The farmers had often much difficulty in making their rents out of the farms, and David’s master at length determined to give his up, and wait for the chance of getting a better one. His herd, therefore, and other labourers, had to look out for fresh employment.

Millport and The Royal George

The Government’s response to smuggling in the Clyde estuary dates back to 1634 when the decision was made to post a revenue cutter at Millport.  The Excise Service contracted out the role to private individuals.  The initial contractor was Captain Andrew Crawford who selected the island of Cumbrae as his base and in 1745 built the Garrison House as accommodation for himself and crew and to protect his investment from possible attack – not an unknown possibility in those days.  The initial vessel named The Kings Boat was replaced by The Royal George a 225-ton brig ship laden with 20 guns and manned by 60 crew, captain by his son, Captain James Crawford.

Crawford’s influence on Cumbrae was significant.  Not only did they construct and extend the Garrison House, but they also set about constructing a suitable harbour.  Significantly, they identified that the stone uncovered to build the harbour would be suitable for much of the canals and ports presently being built or planned around the Clyde.  As a result, Millport became the location for accessing a particular stone required in the expansion of the port and canal facilities about the west of Scotland.

Thus, smuggling, in one form or another, came to Cumbrae.  The revenue vessel The Royal George then endeared itself to the island by having a pub named after it, the only one left standing in Millport today.


I have spent some time dealing with historical matters concerning Scotland and Ireland from the seventeenth to the nineteenth century.  I have done so in order to paint a framework against which we might understand Samuel Ford and his arrival on Cumbrae.

One also needs to be mindful that social condition in those years was very different from those experienced today.  Work meant 14 hours a day hard labour, although this changed to 12 hours early in the 1800s, 6 days per week; on Sunday everyone went to church. The pay was the equivalent of about 50 cents per day.  Children were not supposed to work under 8 years of age.  Schooling was rudimentary for workers and their families.  Dwellings had no heating other than the kitchen stove and privacy was a luxury no worker could afford.  There was no ‘spare time‘ to be filled with idle activities like sport – life was generally too desperate for such measures.

Health issues were a matter of genetics and good luck more than anything else.  Although there were ‘Poor Laws‘ these were more akin to being isolated from society to face a long and lingering death behind closed doors.  Workers had no rights and there was no such thing as a universal franchise.  Working in cotton mills could be likened to the conditions endured by Asian and Middle East textile workers today; dirty and dangerous.

Endeavouring to locate Samuel Ford within the social, economic and geographical world of early nineteenth-century Scotland is more a process of elimination rather than one of construction.  It is more about what Samuel Ford was ’not’ as anything else.  And it probably the case that he was not Scottish.        

I remain convinced that he did not come from the Scottish Isles or the mainland as I have found no convincing evidence that he is related to any of the Ford’s of Scotland.  I base this judgment on the fact that no record of Ford’s that have similar groupings of Christian names can be found on the records.

Secondly, nowhere in the historical record can I find any reference that Samuel Ford may have come from the surrounding area.

And, third, the important gap left in the record at Cumbrae concerning Samuel’s birth can only mean that no one else knew, or, if they knew they weren’t telling for some reason.

The times in which Samuel lived lead me to believe that he came from Ireland.  While I can find no record that Samuel had lived in Ireland, there are a number of reasons in support of this hypothesis.

There is ample evidence of Ford’s living in Ireland and if we take the family tree of Henry Ford one can readily identify a semblance of Christian names.  Samuel, John, Robert, William, Mary, and Margaret are all present in the respective lineages.  Admittedly there are differences but then one has to wonder where the names Peter and Susanna Ford arose within Samuel’s family.  However, it is clear that well-known car markers ancestors went west, not east.

Further, Henry Ford’s lineage where Protestants as was that of Samuel Ford.

Tenant farmers had to work the land both to gain their own food supplies and to pay their landlord.  Before the days of wage labour, the only resource these farmers had was the land and as the land had to be continually divided among successive sons with the result that what was available could not sustain a family.  Social dislocation inevitably leads to riots which in turn fuelled wars of rebellion.  Given the vagaries of living off what the land could produce was a no-win situation for many.  A bad year inevitably meant disease and death.

Many simply fled Ireland and the harsh conditions.  The ancestors of Henry Ford went west to Michigan – Samuel Ford I suspect went east towards Scotland.  How he got there is open to speculation but the fact that he worked a quarrier indicates that he was unskilled.  It is difficult to accept that someone unskilled travelled a large distance just to gain another unskilled job in an area where he was no kin.

Given these serval factors and the fact that smuggling was rife, that the revenue cutter was stationed at Cumbrae, and that his wife, Margaret Wright’s father was a crewman on that vessel, the story of Samuel Ford is not beyond the realms of possibilities.  All of which might readily explain why there is a significant gap in the Parochial Record concerned the birthdate of Samual Ford; that such date might unnecessarily reveal something that need not be made readily known.

Copyright John Ford 2019