Stevenson of Knockan and Fortwilliam, Co Derry

The earliest reference so far found to this family is in a deed of the 1720s.  This deed refers to James Stevenson of Nockan, seeming to show that the family was already in possession of the area where their current house was built in about 1789, extending an earlier dwelling.

In the 1650s the townland of Knockan appears to have been in the hands of a branch of the local O'Cahan sept: the Civil Survey gives the occupier as Garg (George) McShane O'Cahan.  The Co Derry volume of the Books of Survey and Distribution shows that George was ousted from his land by Captain Edward Cary (or Carey), who probably installed the first Stevenson tenant.

Family tradition says that our Stevensons came from Northumberland, England; but as yet I have found no documentary evidence for this.  Earliest documents show the Stevensons dealing with other settler neighbours, whose religious alignment would probably have been for the English the established church (then generally referred to as the Church of England, later titled the Church of Ireland, disestablished in 1869), and for the Scottish some form of Presbyterian congregation.  Stevensons seem to have equivocated for some years, before aligning themselves with the Church of Ireland.

In the 1750s John Stevenson, the eldest son, married Barbara Jackson, an only child, thus coming into the property of Fortwilliam, Tobermore, Co Derry.  His branch of the family appears to have lived mainly on the income of their properties; my information on that branch is far from complete: it seems that Fortwilliam ceased to be in their ownership in the early 1900s.

The junior branch stayed at Knockan, and made its money by growing flax and manufacturing linen, aided by a number of marriages with the Clark family of Upperlands, near Maghera.  Income from such activities became difficult during the 1800s, because of the success of cotton; the Stevensons of Knockan were lucky again in the marriage of an eldest son: James (b 1807) married into a family of successful Belfast merchants and bankers, and through such contacts became manager of the Northern Bank, Downpatrick, Co Down, in the 1840s.  His youngest son Willie was apparently following in his footsteps, until he inherited the then somewhat impoverished Knockan in 1877; the consequent injection of cash into the home place seems to have put the farm on a firmer footing.

This page was last updated 02 Sep 2016