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William Cree of Ballybarnes (1821 - 1873)

I was undertaking a random Google search using the keywords ''William Cree' Ireland' when I came across an interesting photograph of a gravestone. It was related to the death of a William Cree in Portland, Oregon, and the inscription read:

'Wm Cree. Born in the Townland of Ballybearns, County Down, Ireland April 5, 1821. Died September 6, 1873' 

Many of the members of the Cree Family History Network have ancestors who originate from County Down. 

We have a great deal of information about the Cree family of Ballybarnes because on the 9 February 1789 two brothers, Robert Cree and Andrew Cree, took out separate leases on land within that townland and it was farmed by the same family for a very very long time. However until this moment in time we were completely unaware of the existence of a William Cree of Ballybarnes who migrated to Portland, Oregon, and who clearly made his fortune.

His 8 September 1873 obituary in the Oregonian stated that 'There are but few men who have resided as long in Portland, or whose interests have been so nearly allied and identified with the growth and prosperity of the city as Mr. Cree. He has long been among the most enterprising and estimable of our citizens. Mr. Cree came to Portland in 1853 and has resided here ever since. For many years he was engaged in business until the accumulations of his industry and the increased value of property yielded him a handsome income and placed him in independent circumstances. Mr. Cree also represented the First Ward in the City Council for three years.'

In his will he left in excess of $37,000 and apart from his widow Margaret he left legacies for his 'brothers and sisters'..... Robert Cree, Samuel Cree, Esther Ray, Mary Murdoch, Nancy Caswell and Betsy Shaw.' Through these names we can identify that he was actually the son of Joseph Cree of Ballybarnes (Cree ID 6275) who died on the 30 January 1867. We know that Mary Cree married William Murdoch in 1853, Elizabeth (Betsy) Cree firstly married William Ferguson in 1857 and after his death she married Robert Shaw. However we have no record of an Esther Cree marrying a Ray nor a Nancy (Ann) Cree marrying a Caswell, although clearly they did.

In the 1870 USA census William Cree was stated to be a retired merchant whose real estate was valued at $50,000 and apart from his wife Margaret an Ellen J Failing (17 years) was residing within the household. It turns out that Ellen was actually the sister of William's wife, Margaret. Margaret Cree died in Portland on the 4 October 1891.

A 1974 thesis on the Irish families in Portland, Oregon (1850-1880) stated that: 

'The same group of founding Irish mothers and fathers in Portland included men who became influential in the government of the city in the next quarter-century. William Cree, who married 17 year old Mary Pheelan in 1858, a decade later became a Democratic leader and the first Irish-born city councilman in a county political system thoroughly ruled by Protestant Republicans.'

The point being made throughout the paper was that the Catholic Irish had succeeded against the odds when in fact William Cree actually originated from a strongly Presbyterian family. His marriage to the young Mary Pheelan (probably an incorrect transcription of Margaret who was much younger than William) in a Catholic Church indicates that he may have later converted to that religion.

And so the chance discovery of a photograph followed up by further research has given us a far better insight into the Ballybarnes Cree and the son who made his fortune overseas but never forgot his siblings or indeed the townland where he was born.

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William Cree of Lisburn (1834 - 1864)

William Cree of Lisburn is Cree ID No. 9844 on the www.cree.name website. The 1st Presbyterian Church register records that he was born in Lisburn on the 2 April 1834 but no further information has been previously recorded about his life. William was the son of James Cree (Cree ID No. 8275) and his wife Mary Ann Chapman.

The recent discovery of his service record reveals that he was No. 2681 Sapper William Cree and that he served in the army for 8 years and 288 days of which over 5 years was spent overseas. He served in India and Mauritius and received the Indian Mutiny medal. He joined the Royal Artillery on the 11 October 1854 and was discharged as unfit for service due to a spinal injury on the 1 August 1863. On enlistment at the age of 20 years and 6 months he was described as a carpenter by trade and on on his discharge his features were of fresh complexion, grey eyes, light brown hair and that his intended place of residence was Lisburn. 

The Ireland Civil Registration Indexes indicate that William Cree did not live very long after his discharge from the army since his death is recorded in Lisburn in 1864 at the age of 29 years.

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