LATTA IMMIGRANTS TO MARYLAND AND PENNSYLVANIA
By Virginia Latta Curulla, Branch 22
Family tradition says that a number of early Latta Branches first immigrated to the area that is southwest of Philadelphia. Members of the Latta Branches 8, 19, 22, 27/47, and 32 are said to have first settled in the southeast of Philadelphia, in Cecil County, Maryland, Chester County, Pennsylvania, and nearby. Many other branches, including Branch 1, 7, 15, 17, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29, 31, 36, 41, 42, 43, and 45 are first identified when located farther west in Pennsylvania.
Lattas lived near the border between Pennsylvania and Maryland might have been uncertain whether they resided in one colony or the other. Some of these Lattas could have left the area before the Mason-Dixon survey (1763-1767) that established that previously disputed boundary.
Consequently, when Lattas said they were born in Maryland, they could actually have been located in present day Pennsylvania. Or, these settlers might have thought they were living in Pennsylvania, but were living within the borders of present day Maryland. Lattas in this situation might have included the family of James Latta, Branch 8, who is said to have arrived near Elkton, MD with his sons in 1738.
Matthew Latta (probably Branch 8) is listed as a freeman in East Nottingham township, according to the tax list of 1749 in Chester County PA. James Latta, possibly the James of Branch 8, paid taxes in the same area in 1749. In 1750, Matthew's estate was settled in Chester County, PA.
John Latta witnessed the will of William McKnight, very probably written in Chester County, PA in 1759. William's probate in Rowan County, North Carolina, showed that he owned property in Chester County at the time of his death in Rowan County around 1790. All these Lattas lived about 20 to 30 miles southeast of Philadelphia before the boundary between Maryland and Pennsylvania had been settled.
Many Lattas must have arrived in the port of Philadelphia, a popular landing place for the Scots-Irish in the 1700s and 1800s. We have documented the arrival of a few of these Lattas in the early or mid-1800s. Unfortunately, few ships' passenger lists from Northern Ireland survive from the 1700s.
The Latta families known to have been in Western Pennsylvania in the 1700s or early 1800s might have been a generation removed from those who settled nearer the east coats. Some could have come in a different group than Branch 8, which is said to have arrived off the coast of Maryland in 1738.
Some of the Scots-Irish immigrants that first landed at Philadelphia soon went on to the southern colonies, where land also was available. The John Latta, mentioned above, could have been one of these. Our Northern Ireland Research Project could tell us more about the lives and possible connections of these Latta emigrants from Ireland.
Trevor Parkhill (1997) made a study of letters that were sent back home to Ulster from the Philadelphia area, or sent from family in Ulster to those in America. Letters cited by Parkhill show that emigration from Ulster was encouraged both by pressures in Northern Ireland and by the vastly superior opportunities to be found in North America.
Correspondents in Ireland talked about "poor harvests, agrarian unrest and, ...nothing bu disturbance, confusion and in many places rebellion...". Such unsettled conditions were in addition to landlords' dividing leased land into plots too small to sustain a family, raising rents to the highest possible limits, and the restriction of civil rights for dissenters such as our Presbyterian ancestors.
Our ancestors probably had sentiments very similar to those of John Dunlap, who was born in Strabane, County Tyrone, in 1746. John wrote back home that "People with a family advanced in life find great difficulties in emigration but the young men of Ireland who wish to be free and happy should leave it and come here as quickly as possible. There is no place in the world where a man meets so rich a reward for good conduct and industry as in America."
Under the circumstances, it is no wonder that many Scots-Irish emigrated from Ulster. The Chester County area of Pennsylvania was one of the stops that my husband, Joe, and I made during our trip across the country last spring. Before leaving Seattle, I had arranged to meet A. Duie Latta, in West Chester. Duie is a descendant of the well-known Reverend James Latta, Branch 8. His family has lived in the area since 1738.
We spent several beautiful June days with Duie and his aunt, Jane Latta, when they kindly took us to nearby areas in Maryland, Delaware, and Pennsylvania that are connected with Latta history. On Thursday, June 7th, we visited New Castle, Delaware. John Ewing Latta, the son of the Reverend James Latta (Branch 8), was pastor at the Presbyterian churches of New Castle, Delaware and Christiana, Pennsylvania.
The present brick meeting house in New Castle, built in 1707, has a large marble tablet in the floor of the church. It reads "This Marble Commenorates the pious Zeal exemplary Virtues and Faithful Labours of The Rev'd JOHN EWING LATTA, who for upwards of Twenty four years Was Pastor of the United Churches of Newcastle and Christiana. And who Departed this life September 26, 1824 In the Fifty third year of his age. Respected Beloved and Lamented. "He tried each art, proved each dull delay, March'd to brighter Worlds and lead the way."
In New Castle, we also visited the old Courthouse and the Arsenal (now a restaurant). I felt a connection with earlier Lattas, walking in the places where they probably trod about 250 years ago.
Duie and Jane took us to the Old Rock Presbyterian Church, now in Cecil County, Maryland. The present church was built in 1761, with the giant rocks clearly evident at the present location.
We also visited the Old Rock Cemetery, where Latta immigrants are said to have been laid to rest sometime in the 1740s. The cemetery is near present day Lewiston, Pennsylvania, a few miles north of the Old Rock Church. Unfortunately, the cemetery is in great disrepair, being located in a clump of trees that are seen from the road. Upon closer inspection, a few stones can be discerned, but none with the Latta name. Probably many markers are buried beneath the soil that has accumulated over the years.
On the same day, the Upper Octarara Church and cemetery were visited because of their association with the Latta family. There, the cemetery is well-tended and markers for the Latta and associated families can clearly be seen.
Those of us whose Latta families have been great "movers" (perhaps not "shakers"), can enjoy seeing the countryside and towns where many Lattas first settled when coming from North Ireland so long ago. My husband and I are much indebted to Duie and his aunt for sharing with us these places so well known to their families throughout the last 250 years.
1. Latta, Robert H., 1940, Robert H. Latta Collection, Rare Book Room, Library of Congress, Washington, D.D.
2. Parkhill, Trevor, 1977, "Philadelphia Here I Come: A Study of the Letters of Ulster Immigrants in Pennsylvania, 1750-1875". In Blethen, H. T. and C. W. Wood (editors), Ulster and North America: Transatlantic Perspectives on the Scotch-Irish. The University of Alabama Press, Birmingham.