, Derry, New Hampshire


September 13, 2012

Column: Site of famous old oak tree is now lost to history

A few months ago Derry was visited by a film crew from the British Broadcasting Company. They were here to do a two-part TV show on the Scotch-Irish coming to America. This mass exodus started with Rev. James McGregor leaving County Londonderry in Northern Ireland in 1718 to found the Nutfield colony. This 114-square-mile grant would in time become the towns of Derry, Windham and Londonderry. While most of the next wave of Scotch-Irish emigrants settled in the southern and mid-Atlantic states, it must always be remembered that the whole thing started here.

The film crew tried to get authentic location shorts to visually tell McGregor’s story. They flew over Derry in a helicopter to get aerial shots. They filmed McGregor’s grave at Forest Hill Cemetery and did a lot of shots of East Derry. One of the TV shows highlights will be a church service at the First Parish Church by acting Pastor Sue Remick.

For a couple months, Paul Lindemann and I had worked via emails with the Belfast-based crew to set everything up before their visit. One site they really wanted to film was on the shores of Beaver Lake. It was there, underneath a sprawling oak tree, that Rev. McGregor had preached the first sermon in Derry. I explained to their producer that Beaver Lake in 1719 is definitely not like Beaver Lake in 2012! And beside no one now knows exactly where the sermon site was. Eventually they agreed and ended up filming that scene at Bear Brook State Park in Allenstown. Close enough I guess.

The story of that first sermon goes back to April 13, 1719. Under an oak tree on the eastern slope of Beaver Lake, Reverend McGregor gathered his flock to concentrate this land by asking God’s blessing. This crowd, numbering maybe 200 people, was made up of the 16 families who had followed Pastor McGregor from the village of Aghadowey, Northern Ireland. The sermon was from the book of Isaiah: “And a man shall be as a hiding place from the wind and a covert from the tempest.”

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