Researching Scots Covenanters

Do you have Scottish ancestors who appear in the American colonies in the mid 1600s? I have a handful like James Robertson, Peter Hay and Thomas Look. Unfortunately, I’ve never been able to document a trace of their lives before coming to the New World.

Why did they leave Europe for a new life in Massachusetts? I don’t know and may never know. It might have simply been for economics and the hope of an easier life. It might have been due to the turmoil in England with the beheading of King Charles I.

However, it might also have been for religious reasons that became political. The Scottish Covenanters were Presybterians who bound themselves to maintain their religious doctrine as the one and only form of religion in Scotland.

The turmoil with King Charles I wasn’t confined to England, as he sought help from Scotland, which brought civil war to Scotland from the years 1644-1647 with Scottish Royalists fighting the Covenanters.

By 1652, the Covenanters had been defeated by Cromwell’s army. Some of the religious adherents were killed or imprisoned, while some of them were transported to the American colonies.

Although my search for Scottish homes for James Robertson, Peter Hay and Thomas Look hasn’t been successful, here some some resources if you believe you might have Scottish Covenanters ancestors.


As God Is My Witness: the Presbyterian Kirk, the Covenanters & the Ulster Scots, by Brian J. Orr, Heritage Books, 2002.

Directory of Scots Banished to the American Plantations, 1650-1775, by David Dobson, Clearfield Publishing, 2010.

Scottish Covenanter Stories, by Dane Love, Neil Wilson Publishing, 2011.

Preconditions and Catalysts: the Scot’s Covenanter’s Rebellion of 1638, by Raymond Peter Wells, Thesis, Reed College, 1994.

Scottish Covenanters to New Jersey & Pennsylvania 1680-1780, by Tina Beaird, audiobook of 2017 presentations at the Federation of Genealogical Societies Conference, 2017.


Covenanters – Wikipedia

Covenanter – Encyclopaedia Brittanica

Scottish Covenanter Memorials Association

Did You Know? Covenanters

BBC – Scotland

FindMyPast (subscription needed, but you can enter a search) – Covenanters 1679-1688

Ancestry (subscription needed, but you can enter a search) – Scottish Covenanters Index

FamilySearch  Wiki – Scottish Church Records Union Lists

There are also two or three Facebook pages and groups, so be sure to check those out.

There aren’t many resources out there, so if you know of one that I haven’t listed, please leave a comment.

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