Monday, 16 September 2013

Three Scottish Brothers Moving East to Tyrone

One of the challenges facing the early Sproule family historians was to explain how the Sproules could possibly have spread so quickly throughout different parishes in Tyrone.  John Inch, Jack Elder, Thomas Sproule of Altamullen and Fred Sproule had all lived in different generations, and they had all traced the family history.  For these good folk, fitting all the Sproules of the early 1700s into one single family tree was a major problem. And none of them succeeded in fitting in my line of the family, the Tullymoan Sproules, who were left out completely!

However, this conundrum is relatively easily resolved when we look at the early records. For there was not one, but three Sproule men who all arrived in Ireland together shortly after 1622. These three Sproules were  almost certainly brothers, and it is their children and their grandchildren who spread throughout County Tyrone.

James, Robert and Archibald

The first Spreull, James Spreull formerly of Cowden in Scotland, appeared in the Donegal Muster Roll of 1630. In the 1642 muster, James was joined by another Sproule,  one ‘Robert Sprule’. Robert was on the Stewart lands in this muster, the same lands where James had been in the earlier muster.1

James and Robert Sproule arrived about the same time in Donegal and both were on the lands of the Duke of Lennox.  We cannot immediately assume that they were brothers. Robert could have been a travelling companion, a distant relative or a Sproule tenant from Cowden lands. However, the evidence would suggest that they were indeed brothers, for like James, Robert Spreull was not poor, he had money in his pocket!

Raphoe Parish - the first Spreul Leases
On the 14th July 1634, Robert Sproule (this spelling was used) bought land ‘by deed of indenture’ in  the townlands of Boggach and Stranelachan in the Barony of Raphoe, about 10 miles from Tullymoan. The sale is recorded in the Civil Survey of 1654 and this document also shows that Robert did not hold the land for very long. At some stage between 1634 and 1654, Robert sold the land and the buyer was named as his brother, Archibald Sproule! 

Now we have three brothers, all with money to buy or lease land, James, Robert and Archibald Sproule.  Archibald settled there in the parish of Raphoe, extending his land holding into Listmontigley, an adjacent townland.3 James moved to Tyrone, and Robert sold up and also moved.

Is this Robert of Castlederg?

Could this Robert possibly be the Robert Spreull who is buried in Castlederg? The grave of Robert in Castlederg is quite famous in Sproule lore! He was buried in 1689 at the age of 61,  and was joined later by his wife Jean Deniston. They were thought by many to be the original Sproule settlers and the story was that they came from Renfrewshire in the 1650s.

Could Robert of Castlederg be one of the three brothers? Actually no, for he is of a later generation than our three original settlers. Robert of Castlederg was born about 1628, and that year the three Sproule brothers who had come from Cowden would have been in their 30s. Robert could, therefore, be a son!

Robert, Born in Ireland

Let us assume for the moment that Robert of Castlederg was actually born in Ireland and is indeed a son of one of our three brothers - which one, of course, we don’t know. We would then need to find a family of Denistons somewhere in the Raphoe area for young Robert Spreull to have married!

In the 1630 Muster Roll, we find that there must have been a mass migration, for there is a superfluity of Denistons on the Lennox lands in Raphoe!4 In the same muster as James Spreul we find:
John Deneston                          
James Denniston elder          
Robert Deneston                      
William Deneston     
Walter Deneston
Robert Denyston                                      
James Deneston

These Denistons are all neighbours of our three brothers. Robert who is buried in the grave in Castlederg is almost certainly a son of one of the original three brothers. He married Jean Deniston of Raphoe, and moved to Lisleen near Castlederg in the 1650s.

The Spread of the Tyrone Sproules

The arrival of the three sons of James Spreull of Cowden in the early 1620s easily explains the spread of the Tyrone Sproules in the following centuary. Archibald had his family in Listmontigley and his children could have moved both east to Tyrone and west further into Donegal.  Both Robert and James moved  to Tyrone. James, the eldest brother, settled in Tullymoan. There are several different options as to where Robert settled, but Golan is the most likely. 

Their descendants spread from Tyrone to the far corners of the world - to India, Jamaica, Canada, the US, Australia and beyond. The evidence indicates that all Tyrone Sproules are related! We are descendants of one man, James Spreull of Cowden.


1 Ulster Ancestry, Muster Rolls of Donegal
2 Ulster Ancestry, Civil List 1654
3 Hearth Money Rolls, Donegal, Bill Macafee's Family & Local History Website


  1. Some of our History. Coming to Ireland soon and want to visit ancestor grave sites.
    Dalton , born 1960

    Garnet born 1932
    Barb Garnet”s Dalton’s

    Robert W born 1884 father grandfather

    Robert James born 1859 grandfather great grandfather
    County Tyrone
    Married Co.Donegal, Castlefinn
    Reitta Letitia Gilchrist

    James Sproule born 1840 great grandfather great,great grandfather.
    Margaret Rankin
    Married Paris of Termonamongan
    Residence Ednasop

    William Sproule 1775
    Isabella Funston gr, gr. grandfather great great great grandfather

    Robert Sproule born 1628 ? Castlederg gr,gr,gr,grandfather great great great great grandfather
    Jean Dennison

  2. Hi Dalton, Thank you for this information - it's great to have. Can you message me on the Facebook page?

  3. Thank you so much for researching & posting your results on this page! You have helped me put together a better picture of my Sproul family :) I only recently found out we were Scots Irish! I descend from Robert Sproule who immigrated to South Carolina, then Ohio, USA. Nice to meet you cousin! :)

    Tracy L. Sproul

    1. Hi Cousin, It's a pleasure to meet you! You are one of very many, as I think that Robert of Ohio had more Sproule desendants than anyone else!

      Do you know which of his children you are descended from? I will be putting up more stories of him in due course.

  4. Hi, I'm a Denison, but probably not related. My g-g-grandfather James T. Denison/Dennison was born c. 1792, possibly in Belfast, and emigrated to the US c. 1807 and settled in West Virginia. Wish there was a connection as that I now live in Sligo, not too far away from the Castlederg area! Excellent blogsite nonetheless, so keep up good work on your Sproule family.

  5. Wish I could find a definite link to your 3 brothers. My GGGgradfatehr William Sproul arrived in Virginia in 1750's. Family lore is mixed, some say Raphoe, some County tyrone. My Cousin (also William Sproul) had an online database concerning the Sprouls of western Virginia: I am in Glasgow for the next 4 days and would like to find Cowdon. From Neilston, where do I look? Thanks for your work! George Sproul, Staunton, VA, USA

    1. Hi George, sorry for the delay in responding, I was out of action for a while. Thank you for connecting, I welcome contacts and information from all Sproule researchers.
      That site of your brothers is very well done and very interesting - I have read it a couple of times. Unfortunately I don't have any information as to where your William came from. These Sproules lived at first between Raphoe and Castlederg, County Tyrone and they spread out from there around the area - staying in roughly a 15 mile circle round Castlederg. The likilhood of identifying the precise family of your William is slim. Your best chance is to find a ship's list with him on it. The problem there is that the Sproules all used the same forenames, which makes sorting them out extremely difficult!
      What I have noticed is that your families on your brother's diagram of the Sproules are all tending towards the Scottish naming pattern:
      1st son named after father's father
      2nd son named after mother's father
      3rd son named after father
      1st daughter named after mother's mother
      2nd daughter named after father's mother
      3rd daughter named after mother
      This would indicate that your William's father was Alexander - if I am reading this right. Now Alexander is not a common Sproule name at all, which could mean that finding him may be possible.
      Those are my thoughts anyway, George.
      I am afraid I would not be able to help you find Cowdon as I am an Irish girl myself. Let me know if you found it.