My ggggg-grandmother, Matilda Slaven, was born in 1790 in Mill Gap, Highland County, Virginia - an area that is now part of Pocahontas County, West Virginia - and died 20 November 1855. Apart from these dates, I know very little about her life. She married a man named John Wade, grandson of Welsh immigrants to Highland County, and they raised twelve children: eight boys and four girls all of which lived to adulthood. Her daughter Elizabeth Slaven Wade married John Sharp, and this is the line that leads to me.
Somewhat more is known about the Slaven family ancestors of Matilda, whose history in America begins with John Slaven. John, Matilda's grandfather, landed in NY in 1740. He had come from County Tyrone in Ulster, Ireland, where he was born about 1723. He worked for a time in Philadelphia as a weaver, and was in Sussex County, Delaware during 1746 and 1747. Around that time, he married Elizabeth Stuart, who had been born in Scotland and came to Baltimore and then Delaware as an indentured servant shortly after the great Battle of Culloden in 1745. Her father Daniel Stuart died in Sussex, Delaware in 1777. Daniel was the son of John Stuart and the grandson of Dr. John Stuart, who had come to America some time earlier.
While in Delaware, John was enlisted in the army of King George II, commanded by Captain John Shannon. He must have been discharged by 1747 as records state this date as the last time payments were made to him. From Delaware, John Slaven and his wife Elizabeth migrated to Rockingham County, VA and settled on Crook's Creek near the cities of Clinton and Staunton. John appears as a witness in an Augusta County, VA court record dated 20 November 1762.1
In 1777, John and Elizabeth moved their family to Highland County, Virginia near the headwaters of Jackson's River and settled in the Meadowdale Community near what is now Monterey, Virginia. He served at Yorktown during the Revolutionary War. In 1781, John Slaven received a patent for 191 acres in the Meadowdale district.2 His descendants still live on the land.
John and Elizabeth Slaven's son Stuart was born in Highland County in 1765, and died 19 July 1833. He married Isabelle Johnson, daughter of Bartholomew Johnson and Isabelle Buchanan, on 27 January 1792. Stuart and Isabelle were the parents of Matilda Slaven.
Any records that may have existed to tell the story of the Irish ancestors of John Slaven likely perished in 1922 when the Irish Public Records Office was destroyed by fire. The name Slaven itself, however, has a long documented history in Ulster. Those bearing the name Slaven are said to descend from Colla da Crioch, or Colla of the Two Countries - Eire (Ireland) and Alba (Scotland). Colla was one of three sons of Eochaid Duibhlein of Eire and Aileach, daughter of Updar, a Pictish King of Alba. Colla da Crioch and his two brothers, Colla Meann (the "famous") and Colla Uais (the "noble"), are said to have had the designation "Colla" ("strong man") imposed upon them as a penalty for rebellion. Originally, the three brothers were named Muireadach, Cairsall, and Aodh.
According to the Irish Annals of the Four Masters, the three brothers made war against Fiachadh Sraibhtine, the Irish High King, and slew him at the Battle of Dubhchomar, making Colla Uais king in his stead.3 Colla Uais reigned for four years, until 327 C.E., when he was deposed by Muireadach Tireach, son of the slain king Fiachadh. The three Collas and 300 of their retainers were exiled to Scotland and the court of the Pictish kings, their mother's people.4
While in Alba, a druid foretold that if the three Collas returned to Ireland to face Muireadach, one would be killed but the crown would devolve upon the survivors. Thus the Annals say the brothers returned to Ireland and confronted Muireadach "and they scolded at him, and expressed evil words, that he might kill them, and that it might be on him the curse of the finghal should alight. As he did not oppose them, they tarried with him, and were faithful to him."5
Though the brothers had come to swear fealty to him, Muireadach was wise enough to know the danger of having three such bellicose youths too close at hand. In the year 331, he sent them to make war on an old rival, the kingdom of Ulster. According to the Annals:
"The battle of Achadh Leithdheirg, in Fearnmhagh, was fought by the three Collas against the Ulstermen, in which fell Fearghus Fogha, son of Fraechar Foirtriun, the last king of Ulster, who resided at Eamhain. They afterwards burned Eamhain, and the Ulstermen did not dwell therein since. They also took from the Ulstermen that part of the province extending from the Righe and Loch nEathach westwards. Colla Meann fell in this battle."6
The survivng Collas, Colla da Crioch and Colla Uais, assumed control of the kingdom known as "Oirghialla" or "Oriel," with Colla da Crioch as the first king. Oirghialla comprised much of the lands of present-day counties Fermanagh, Tyrone, Louth, Armagh, and Monaghan.
According to John O'Hart's Pedigrees or the Origin and Stem of the Irish Nation (1892), a huge genealogical compendium drawn largely from the Annals, the Slaven family can trace their lineage directly back to Colla da Chrioch. The Gaelic form of the name, Ó Sléibhin, is said to be derived from the Irish word for mountain ("sliabh").7 From this form evolved the variations O'Slaven, O'Slavin, O'Sleaven, O'Sclevin, O'Slammon, Slieven, Slavin, Slaven, and Slammon, among others.
The Ó Sléibhin name was associated for many years with the position of chief bard, or ollamh, of Ulster. For the year 1022 C.E., the Annals of the Four Masters note that Muireadhach Ua Sleibhene, chief poet of Ulster, was slain by the Feara-Rois from south Oriel.8 In 1031, the Annals record the passing of Gillachomhghaill Ua Slebhene, chief poet of the North of Ireland.9 Gillachomhghaill Ua Slebhene was associated with Mael Sechnaill (Malachy), high king of Meath, and was the messenger chosen by the monarch to rally the Northern forces to the defense of Tara against Brian Boru.10 In 1168, the death of Domhnall Ua Sleibhin, chief poet of Oirghialla, is noted by the Annals.11
Could it be that nearly 600 years after the death of the ollamh Domhnall Ua Sleibhin, a kinsman, or perhaps even a descendant, named John Slaven departed that ancient kingdom of Oirghialla for the adventure of a life in the unspoiled wilds of the American colonies?
1. Chalkley, Lyman. Augusta County VA Court Records, Order Book VII, page 101.
2. Morton, Oren F. The History of Highland County, VA. 1922.
3. Annals of the Four Masters compiled by Emma Ryan, Corpus of Electronic Texts (CELT) edition, section I. M322.1. ftp://ftp.ucc.ie/pub/celt/texts/T100005A.txt; http://www.ucc.ie/celt/publishd.html
4. Ibid., M326.1
5. Ibid., M327.2
6. Ibid., M331.2
7. MacLysaght, Edward. More Irish Families. Irish Academic Press, 1996.
8. Annals of the Four Masters compiled by Myriam Priour and Stephen Beechinor, Corpus of Electronic Texts (CELT) edition, section II. M1022.9. ftp://ftp.ucc.ie/pub/celt/texts/T100005B.txt; http://www.ucc.ie/celt/publishd.html
9. Ibid., M1031.12
11. Annals of the Four Masters compiled by Myriam Priour and Stephen Beechinor, Corpus of Electronic Texts (CELT) edition, section II. M1168.17. ftp://ftp.ucc.ie/pub/celt/texts/T100005B.txt; http://www.ucc.ie/celt/publishd.html