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! 2
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:
James Denniston elder
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
4 McLaughlin of Dún na nGall website, Muster Rolls of Donegal
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