The First Attempt to Cross the Atlantic Ocean Failed
by Rev. David T. Myers
It was an ambitious plan to move four Presbyterian pastors and another 140 church members to the new world for religious freedom on a new ship specially built for crossing the Atlantic Ocean. That was the blessed hope and prayer of Scottish Presbyterians living in Ulster, yet under great difficulty from the Church of England. The four ministers—Robert Blair, John Livingston, James Hamilton, and John McClellan—were the spiritual leaders of the expedition. Their life and work in their congregations was being made more and more difficult. So through a letter to the Rev. Cotton Mather in New England asking whether Presbyterians could exist in that colony, and being assured that it could, plans were made.
For a ship to cross the ocean, a ship was built named Eagle Wing, based on Exodus 14;4, “Ye have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagle’s wings and brought you unto myself.” Finished at the small village of Groomsport, Ireland, it was barely large enough for the passengers to board it. With no trial run to see how it would do through rough seas, the ship and its passengers boarded it and left Carrickfergus, Ulster on September 9, 1636. Pastor Livingston commented that “there was much toil in our preparation, many hindrances in our setting out, and both sad and glad hearts in taking leave of our friends.”
Off the coast of Newfoundland, the ship was hit with a mighty hurricane featuring “mountains of water.” Springing a leak, which was fixed, the rudder next broke. A brave passenger went over the side with a rope tied to him so he could be extracted. He fixed the rudder. After a discussion among the whole body, Pastor Livingston suggested that they should wait a day to see if God would give them smooth sailing. However when that delay didn’t accomplish their wishes, they turned around and sailed back to Ulster with smooth sailing.
The first attempt to cross the ocean for Scot-Irish Presbyterians met with failure. But was it a failure? It is true, they did not get to their new place of ministry. But their presence back in Scotland strengthened the cause of Christianity. They became leaders in the new National Covenant of 1638. In Scotland and Ireland, they laid the spiritual foundation of that church which could justly claim to be the mother of the American Presbyterian Church. And after the lapse of a century or less, swarms of Scots-Irish sailed again and again to the shores of this new land, filling the colonies of Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the Carolinas, and beyond, with godly Presbyterian families.
Words to Live By:
There have been occasions in all of our spiritual lives where dreams of life and ministry were frustrated by what many have called “dark providences.” We thought that this was where God wanted us to be, or what God wanted us to do. But instead, God’s sovereign will lovingly spoke by means of a closed door. God had other plans for us, not unlike that which was spoken to the Jewish church in Babylon, where there were “plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give us a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11.) Learn the spiritual lessons behind the Eagle Wing, dear readers. As Solomon writes in Proverbs 16:9, “The mind of man plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps.”