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Irish Roots PDF Print E-mail Share
Written by Jennifer Nodwell   
Sunday, 25 January 2009 10:57

This story comes to us from R. Gordon Nodwell, descendant of William Nodwell. Though I do not know the original date of his writing, the copy which he sent to me is marked as revised in January, 1995. Gordon lived in Canada, and I met him through a genealogy forum around 2001. He is a most knowledgeable Nodwell researcher, without whose efforts I would have been stumped in the second generation back from my husband.

The Nodwells in Ireland and Canada

The earliest record of people with the name Nodwell in Ireland that I have been able to find is in the list of rents paid in the manor of Castledawson in the period after 1725. Matthew Nodwell and William Nodwell are reported as rent payers in those years (the rent seems to have been two pounds, but there is no clear indication as to the period which that covers). In a list of residents in the parish of Magherafelt (which apparently included the manor of Castledawson) in 1766, the same two names appear with the addition of a third -- William the younger. It is interesting to note that one entry lists part of the rent for William Nodwell as "work for Mr. Berkeley ... and to hewing shiags to ye Chapell."

How came these people to this place?

It is clear that they came to Ireland from England. baptismal and marriage records show people of this name in cornwall and Devon and in Londong and Hertfordshire. In the Cornwall and Devon area the predominant spelling of the name is Notwell, with variants, Nutwill or Nuttwell. (No doubt the clergy who recorded these events were not especially particular about spelling.) I have found records of 85 baptisms and 35 marriages between 1660 and 1872 in these two counties. The predominant names are John, Robert, Thomas and William, with a Christopher, Francis, Stephen and Nicholas thrown in. The females are named after their mothers and are therefore more varied.

In London and Hertford the spelling of the name is usually Nodwell with occasional variations of Nuttwell or Notwell. Common first names are Joh, Francis and Matthew, with one Robert, one James, a George and an Edmund. I have found records of 44 baptisms and 14 marriages between 1597 and 1790.

As I have already indicated, the first Nodwells reported in Ireland were Matthew and William in 1725. It is not possible to connect them with certainty with any names on the English lists, but two people (possibly first cousins) bearing that name and of the right age do appear in the Cornwall baptismal registers. It is probable, however, that other members of these families came to the same area of Ireland as the years passed.

Why they came to Ireland is an interesting story, and to that I now turn my attention.

Castledawson and Magherafelt are today two adjoining communities in the county of Derry. The town lands of Annaghmore (there are variations in the spelling) are situated adjacent to both communities. In the 17th and 18th centuries they were part of the barony of Loughinsholin (meaning: the island of O'Lynn's Lake Dwelling).

In the early years of the 17th century commissioners were sent by the king to assess the barony for settlement. the policy of the English at that time was to "plant" as many English and Scots into Ireland as possible with the purpose of developing the land as a colony and reducing the Irish to "civility" and "obedience." The policy usually involved taking over the lands and homes occupied by the native Irish and driving them out.

The commissioners found 13,500 acres of arable land in the barony, and the Crown immediately offered this area to whatever loyal English Lord would take it. However, unlike the rest of Ireland, there were no takers. Apparently, there was some fear that O'Cahan who had ruled over the territory and was now in prison in the Tower of London might be permitted to return.

As a result, the London Corporation was approached by the king and asked to take over this territory. The letter indicated they should "reduce that savage and rebellious people to civility, peace, religion and obedience." They sent a committee of four people to investigate the territory, and the consequence was the formation of The Irish Society, a consortium of twelve companies or guilds to take over and administer the lands. The Salters were given responsibility for the are in which Magherafelt lies.

In a number of ways the arrangement did not work out as planned. The Irish Society found that the Irish were friendly and it was easier to leave them on the land and collect rents from them than to dispossess them. Members of The Irish Society were also apparently not greatly interested in the politics of what was going on, but were interested only in turning a good profit for themselves. Consequently, while they did arrange for farmers to come in and occupy the land, they did not take many steps, such as buildign castles or fortifications, to possess it themselves. It was an early example of privatization which didn't work.

One item all this bears on the Nodwell story: The evidence is that, while other parts of the north of Ireland were settled largely by Scots, this part seems to have been settled by English people. This, and the other data I have already indicated, would suggest that the Nodwells came here from England.

As for the ones in Ireland, I have found little information between the early references in mid-1700s and the early 1800s. The only baptismal record is of the baptism of Elizabeth, a daughter of William Nodwell, in 1732, in Magherafelt. Beginning in the first decade of the 1800s, the name begins to appear very frequently in baptismal, marriage and death records. It also appears as Nedwill, and the two spellings are clearly interchangeable, for one family whose name can be read as Nedwill on a tombstone in Magherafelt is the same family whose names appear elsewhere as Nodwell. The cemetery records would suggest that Nodwell was the original version, and this became more frequently Nedwill among those who remained in Ireland in the last quarter of the 19th century. As I noted earlier, however, precise spelling of names was not a priority in those days.

About 1804, John Nodwell appears on teh scene. he is married to Mary, and in 1804 they have one daughter, Ann. About the same time William and his wife Sarah appear. Their children are Elizabeth (1805), Isabelle (1806), Andrew (1810), Jean (1815), and possibly another Sarah and William. There is also a Matthew who has children about the same age (Hugh and Samuel are two names I have found).

This Samuel is probably the one who married Maria Wilson in 1828. Together they had at least six children - Marianne, Eliza, Catherine, James, Ellen Jane, and Hugh. A William Nodwell married Anne Dawson (note: the community is Castledawson, so William was likely marrying up in society!). A Matthew married jane, and they had at least five children - Margaret Ann, Robert, William, Matthew and Mary Ann. And in 1821 a Robert married Jean Rock, and they had at least eight children - Thomas, William, Sarah, Jane, Elizabeth, Isabella, Catherine and Robert John.

These were not all farmers. Many of them are listed in the parish records as weavers involved in the busy linen industry, and one, John Nodwell, is listed among the professional gentlemen and traders in 1854 as a linen merchant and manufacturer. As to religion, they seem to be a mixed bag. The names appear in the Church of Ireland records (Anglican), but that was the only legally recognized religion in Ireland in those days. The gravemarkers which we were able to locate on which the name appears were all in Church of Ireland cemeteries, and we met one woman who spoke of Nodwells being active in her parish in earlier days. However, the name also appears in Presbyterian records, and some of them are identified as Presbyterian.

The earliest connection with Canada that I have found is a record of Matthew Nodwell of the parish of Drumachose (same general area), his wife Catherine and two daughters, Maryanne aged 5 and Eliza aged 3, emigrating to St. Johns (I think more likely St. John) in 1834. They are all identified as Presbyterian.

What about William Nodwell who came to Canada in 1838 and from whom we Canadians are descended?

The data fits. We know that he died in 1845, although I do not know his age at death. We know that he was married twice, his second wife being Letitia Dunn and that he had two families. A William Nodwell was born about 1802, and, if we assume that this is the William identified in our records as the oldest son of the first family who stayed in Ireland when the rest of the family came to Canad, this would suggest that his father, William, might have been born in the early 1780s. The date of birth would make him only in his mid-50s at the time of coming to Canada and his early or mid-60s at death. We also know the oldest son of the second family who came to the U.S. one year after his father and siblings had come to Canada was named Andrew. he settled in the Philadelphia area and was about to purchase a six-acre plot of land there until he was required to swear an oath which would bind him to American government against the British crown. Rather than swear such an oath, he came to Canada and settled with the rest of the family in the Hillsburgh area. There is a headstone in the Huxley Cemetery in Hillsburgh recording the death of Andrew Nodwell, and from that we learn that he was born in 1810. In that same year Andrew, the son of the above William, was baptized in the Presbyterian church. As an aside, it is interesting to note that the land in Philadelphia which Andrew ddid not purchase was sold in 1876 for six million dollars, according to information in the first family history written by R.D. Nodwell.

I would further speculate that William was a son of either the Matthew or William who first came to Ireland, although there could be another generation between. There is, of course, still much to be discovered and many links to be made. The name also appears in Dumfries and Ayreshire in Scotland. In 1857, James and John married Scottish girls and remained in Dumfries, and in 1870 Samuel married a Scottish girl and remained in Ayreshire. I assume they came there from Ireland. We do know that two brothers, sons of Samuel Nodwell, an iron miner, moved to Australia in the 1800s, and there are a number of Nodwell families in Australia and New Zealand.

Interestingly, there is no record of a Nodwell as occupier or renter in Magherafelt in the records for 1862, although there were certainly some of them in the area. Perhaps many of them left for other parts at the time of the famine. There is a record in the lists of people who fled from Ireland during the potato famine of George and Anne Nodwell, along with four children: Mary Jane, Ann Elizabeth, David and Rachel. They sailed on the Winfield-Scott in 1851, presumably to the U.S.A., although the precise destination is not named. We also have the record or Samuel Nodwell (the oldest child of George and Anne, born in 1837) emigrating to Philadelphia in 1865.

There are also five families of Nodwells presently living in Cork, but they trace their ancestry to an army man from England who married an Irish girl three or four generations ago. It is interesting to note that his name was John and he had a brother whose name was Matthew. The family name seems to persist.

It is clear that some of the family continued in the Magherafelt area until the 1940s. A stone in the cemetery of Woodschapel lists nine burials, the most recent being Robert William Nedwill, 16 August 1943, at age 68, and Ada Mary Nedwill, 23 April 1946, at age 76.  Similarly, a stone in the Magherafelt cemetery records the death of Eleanor Nedwill and Matthew Nedwill in the 1920s.

I met a man in the area who claimed that he knew of a Matt Nodwell who had farmed in the area until his death some years ago. He described him as "a decent man." I can live with that!


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matthew nodwell and jane
I like your website and I was wondering if you have anymore info on Matthew and Jane Nodwell, their children are margaret ann ,robert,william,matthew and mary ann.I am a great great great great grandson of Matthew Nodwell and I still live in Castledawson, I have photos of Matthew and his daughters grave stone.
jonathan mccombe , June 09, 2010

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Last Updated on Friday, 20 August 2010 19:10