By Richard Gwynallen

John Mordah
(c. 1670/1680 – 1744)
Relationship to Fawn: 8th great grandfather

Jean Mordah/Murdah
(1712 – 1789)
Relationship to Fawn: 8th great aunt

Note on the Mordah name: In our family, the name as it was brought to the American Colonies was “Mordah,” but it has been spelled in our family Mordah, Murdah, Murdo, Mordach, Murdoch, and Murdock. The reader will see some of these differences in this very story.

This story is on the lighter side, and brings some intimacy to one of our family’s immigration stories teaching us that romantic comedy isn’t just for the movies. I first found this tale online as part of the Storey family collection. The facts surrounding the family appear in the Egles Pennsylvania Genealogies. The story involves the Rutherford and Mordah families. We are related directly only to the Mordahs.

John Mordah was born in Loughry, Derryloran, County Tyrone, Ireland before 1680, most likely an Ulster Scots Presbyterian. He married a woman named Agnes in 1710 or 1711 and lived at Gorty Lowery Parish, Tyrone County, Ireland.

On the 5th of April 1712 the couple was blessed with a beautiful baby daughter whom they named Jean.  (Note: We are descended from Jean’s brother, James.)

Thomas Rutherford was born 24 June 1707 at Derrylouran Parish, just a few miles from the Mordahs. Tom’s father had come to Ireland with two of his brothers in the invading army of William III in 1689. These Rutherfords were Scots and were close kin to David Rutherford, whose grandson became famous as Sir Walter Scott.

However they met, Tom fell in love with Jean Mordah, and apparently his love was reciprocated. Her father, John, didn’t think too much of Tom’s chances, and probably had doubts because they were so young, so he wouldn’t give his consent, and he finally bundled his family together and set sail for America in 1728. Tom’s descendants still have an old memorandum book, on the fly-leaf of which is the inscription “Thomas Rutherford, his book Bought in Cookstown upon 26 day of October, 1728 written at the house of Aggness Mordach.” This could seem to indicate that he was an accepted guest at the Mordah household, and that the Mordah’s must have emigrated after October 1728 in the winter of 1728 – 1729. Or, Tom could have made the entry later once in Pennsylvania, simply indicating when and where he acquired the book.  In either case, it is interesting that he referred to the “the house of Aggness Mordach” and not John. Perhaps Aggness was more accepting of him as a suitor.

Before the Mordahs departed, Jean managed to write in her prayer book and send it surreptitiously to Tom: “Enquire at Denny Gall,” letting him know to where they were emigrating. Tom, of course, got passage on a later ship to the American Colonies and headed toward Donegal, Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. This prayer book is still owned and treasured by members of the Rutherford family.

The original Donegal township in Pennsylvania was organized in 1722 and was an area of significant Ulster Scots Presbyterian settlement. It was a natural destination for the Mordahs.

Given the transport of the time, Tom was several months behind the Mordahs. John Mordah had not much more arrived and built his cabin, than Tom showed up pleading his suit. I imagine John Mordah was a bit taken aback by the sight of the boy he thought he left in Ireland (Jean, we assume, was ecstatic), but he remained immovable on the subject, and Tom was told that he had to work and establish himself if he wanted to marry Jean, so he went to Philadelphia.

According to Egles Pennsylvania Genealogies: “In 1729, he appeared in person at the MORDAH residence and claimed his Jean Mordah. Mr. Mordah, doubtless, still thought the pair too young, and, in order that more time might be gained, required his prospective son-in law to be the possessor of a certain sum of money, with which to begin the world, before he would entrust the young lady to his keeping. Thomas, like Jacob of old, was obliged to acquiesce, and took his departure for Philadelphia. When he returned, he was mounted on a good horse and had with him the documents which satisfied the old gentleman’s requirements.”

It appears that Thomas Rutherford disembarked on Dock Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania about 1729, with “one noggin, one horn spoon, one English shilling, and a few articles of wearing apparel as his worldly possessions.” (Cub Creek Church and Congregation, 1738-1838; Elizabeth Venable).  The same document indicates that he returned with a horse with bridle and saddle, but also with “a warrant for 150 acres of land in his hand.”

For those interested, a “noggin” or “naggin” was a small drinking horn, especially for whiskey. (Verse in English from Eighteenth-century Ireland; Andrew Carpenter). It usually contained a quarter of a pint, though measurements were not precise.  In 1919, the measurement of a noggin was set at 4.3 ounces or 123.4 millilitres.  Referring to the problem of cheap alcohol in 18th century Ireland, the article Prison Reform in Ireland in the Age of Enlightenment in the magazine “History Ireland” (Issue 2, Volume 3, Summer 1995) states: ” . . . a noggin or gill of…whiskey, is sold in Dublin so cheap as one-and-a-half pence or two pence, and a half a pint for three pence or four pence.”

There are also 18th century references to a wooden noggin being a drinking cup or for eating porridge.

There does not seem to be a record of how he made all his money so fast, but Tom and Jean were married by the Rev. James Anderson at Donegal Presbyterian Church in 1730.

Tom adds the following entry in the above mentioned memorandum book:

“Thomas Rutherford, born the 24th day of June, AD 1707, and baptized by the Rev. John McClave, in the parish of Derry-Lonsau, County of Tyrone, living in Cookstown.

“Jean Mordah, my wife, the 9th day of April, AD 1712, and baptized by the Rev. John McClave in Gorty-Lowry.

“Me and my wife was married the 7th day of September, AD 1730, by the Rev. James Anderson, in Donney Gall, America.”

They moved shortly to Paxtang, a few miles away, and lived there until they died,Tom on 18 April 1777 and Jean on 10 August 10 1789. They are buried at Paxtang Presbyterian Church Cemetery.

rutherford thomas  jean 538Murdah - Rutherford tombstone