The Powers Family of Southwest Virginia
The Powers Family
POWER or POWERS PIONEER IRISH in NEW ENGLAND
from: Pioneer Irish in New England, p.239
“The name Power or Powers, though not of Irish origin, has been a common one in Waterford, Ireland, for several centuries. The founder of the family, Sir Roger de la Poer, came to Ireland with Strongbow in the Norman invasion in the twelfth century,17 and from him were descended many of the Powers families in New England. Several different accounts of these families have been published,18 but they are not in agreement as to details. Farmer, in his Genealogical Register, refers to John Power of Charlestown, 1643, as probably the founder of the families of the name Powers in New England. Amos H. Powers, genealogist of the family, tries to establish for them an English ancestry. He begins his work by a reference to Sir Roger de Poer who received a grant of land in Waterford in 1172, but omits all reference to the fact that his descendants have been in Ireland ever since. On the other hand, Henry Swan Dana says the New England Powers descended from Thomas and Walter Power, brothers, born in Waterford, Ireland, who came to this country somewhere near the year 1680. In Ireland the name of the family was Power, but these men, on coming to this country, added an s to their name, but for two generations after the Power brothers settled here, little or nothing is known of the history of the family.”
The la Poer family built the Dunhill castle in the early 1200’s. There is some evidence of an earlier Celtic fort on the hilltop also. The town’s name is derived from the Irish translation of the fort of the rock. The impressive silhouette comprises only about half a fifteenth century tower with bits of outer walls dating to the early thirteenth century. Between the castle and church would have stood the medieval village of Dunhill which was basically a string of wooden houses. Attached to the front of the church was a small tower in which the priest lived. The castle had an interesting and chequered history. The la Poer’s (Power) of Dunhill were infamous in the 14th century, as they launched many attacks on Waterford City. In 1345 they destroyed the area around city but were counter-attacked, taken prisoner and hanged. The remaining members of the Power clan join forces with the O’ Driscoll family. This alliance would attack Waterford many times over the next 100 years, with both success and failure. After a defeat in Tramore in 1368 the castle passed to the Powers of Kilmeaden. It remained in their control until the Cromwellian attack on Dunhill and its first capture (legend of gunners and buttermilk) in 1649. Once regarded as impregnable, the castle was besieged and sacked, with the outer defences destroyed as well as tower beside the church. Fate of last Lord of Dunhill and Kilmeaden, John Power, and his family were unknown. The Castle and lands were then given to Sir John Cole with the church given to Waterford Corporation. Cole and his decedents never lived in the castle and the church was disused, with the result that timbers rotted and both fell into ruins during the 1700’s. More deterioration was recorded in 1912 when the east wall of the castle collapsed during a storm.
Walter Powers is a key figure in the North American branch of the Powers clan, as many can trace their lineage back to him. He was 14 when he left the Old World in 1654, and settled on land in Concord Village, now within the town of Littleton, Mass., adjoining the Indian plantation of Nashoba. He is listed in the Middlesex County, Mass., records in 1654 as a boy of 14 years of age. Although a birth certificate has not been located it is most likely to place his birth in Waterford, Ireland, as this historically accurate.
Walter was an indentured servant who escaped famine in Ireland to settle in the New World. The reason this is almost certain is because “Powers” is very much an Irish name and the ship Goodfellow sailed from Waterford in 1654 to Massachusetts. This is the same year Walter appears on records in the New World, along with many other Irish refugees.
There were about 250 captive Irish and Scottish young women and girls and 300 captive Irish and Scottish boys and young men aboard The “Goodfellow” when she sailed from Kinsale, Ireland in 1654. From Ireland with Letters interweaves the stories of Walter Power — who came to America as an Irish slave on The “Goodfellow” in 1654, stolen from his family by Cromwell’s soldiers and sold in the Massachusetts Bay Colony when he was 14 years old to a Puritan family of English descent.
Walter married Trial Shepard March 11, 1660 in Malden,Middlesex,Massachusetts. He died February 22, 1709 in Littleton, Middlesex, Massachusetts. He was a Mill owner and farmer.
My Powers line descends from Jacob Powers and wife Edith Adams (an aunt of President John Adams).
The first Powers of this line in southwestern Virginia was Jonas Powers born 1742 in Littleton, Massachusetts who moved his family from Waterbury, Connecticut to Bland County,Va. Jonas’ son Jonas Harmon Powers settled in Scott County,Va where many of his descendants live today.
Recently, y-dna genetic genealogy shows the Powers family to be R1b1a2a1a1b4, Irish Type III. Though a name of Norman origin, there must have been a non-paternal event or a Gael that took a Norman surname.
C. Thomas Cairnet, Clans and Families of Ireland and Scotland, Jefferson, North Carolina; London: McFarland & Company, 1989.
Thomas Addis Emmet, “Irish Emigration during the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries”,
Journal of the American-Irish Historical Society, v. 2, 1899, pp. 56-70.
“Law Case, Master Samuel Symonds against Irish slaves. William Downing and Philip Welch,
Salem Quarterly Court, Salem, Massachusetts. June 25, 1661″
available on the website of The Gilder Lehrman Center for the Study of Slavery, Resistance,
and Abolition at Yale
Edward MacLysaght, Irish Life in the Seventeenth Century, Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 1979. (first published in 1939)
Denis Murphy, S.J., Cromwell in Ireland, a History of Cromwell’s Irish Campaign. Dublin, M.H. Gill & Son, New Edition, 1897.
Michael J. O’Brien, Pioneer Irish in New England, P.J. Kennedy and Sons, 1937.
Walter Power’s probable arrival in Massachusetts on the Slave Ship The Goodfellow, is documented on pp 239-241.
Gabriel O’C Redmond, An historical memoir of Poher, Poer, or Power
With an Account of The Barony of Le Power and Coroghmore, County Waterford
Dublin: Office of “The Irish Builder”, 1891
John P. Prendergast, The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland, London:Longman,1865
Robert E. West, PEC Illinois State Director “England’s Irish Slaves”, originally published in the newsletter of the
Political Education Committee, (PEC) American Ireland Education Foundation.)
James Scott Wheeler, Cromwell in Ireland, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan, 1999.