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Lisburn cotton-weaving family’s descendant comes ‘home’

Rich Phillips - photo

Rich Phillips (right) beside our model of the Mary Edson on which his great great grandparents travelled to the USA in 1863. He is pictured with his 4th cousin, Robert Phillips (left), whose great great grandfather remained behind in Magheragall parish.

We were delighted to welcome Rich Phillips of Colorado, USA, to the Irish Linen Centre and Lisburn Museum. Rich is a descendant of passengers on the Mary Edson, the ship chartered by Lisburn-born American millionaire merchant, A. T. Stewart, that brought local weavers to New York in 1863.

Rich’s great great grandparents, Thomas Phillips and Helena (née McNeight), were from Magheragall parish outside Lisburn. They were weavers of muslin, a fine cotton cloth, and stricken by poverty with the outbreak of the US Civil War in 1861 which cut off supplies of raw cotton on which their livelihood depended. Seeking opportunity for a better life across the Atlantic, they boarded the Mary Edson on 13 July 1863 and sailed to America with their young family.

Other members of the Phillips family remained behind in Magheragall parish, and may have turned to weaving linen as an alternative to cotton. They included Thomas’ brother, whose great great grandson, Robert Phillips, continues to live locally.

Rich and his 4th cousin, Robert, caught up on their shared ancestry and viewed our exhibition on the Mary Edson. What a fantastic story! It was great to see you, Rich – welcome ‘home’!

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