Clan Joyce of Ulster Memorable Biographies: Alexander Joyce (1720-1778)
Updated: Oct 22
When one thinks about the history of the Ulster-Scot Joyces, they have indeed achieved much. For the Joyces of Ballynahinch County, Down, they can proudly look up to Alexander Joyce (1720-1778) of Joyce County, North Carolina. In his own time, he was considered a renaissance man of invaluable talent, great respect and wise input. Living during the eighteenth-century in Colonial Virginia, he not only contributed to the well-being of the region, but he played an important role in frontier life. From a political perspective, Alexander assisted in establishing religious tolerance in the Colony of Virginia. Spiritually, he was a well-respected leader within the Presbyterian church. And economically, by the time of his death, he was worth thousands in pounds sterling. But what are these details of his well-lived and sometimes, controversial endeavors?
The son of Thomas Joass/Joyce (b. 1683) of Ballynahinch, County Down, Alexander, or Elick, as he was called, emigrated during a time of religious and political persecution. During that time, Alexander Joyce suffered under the heavy weight of oppression by the Established Church of England. As a Presbyterian, he could not hold public office, nor could he be married by a minster of his own religious denomination. He and his family even had to pay tithes to the Anglican Clergy, thus supporting the scheme of the Church of England. This was made worse by a receding and weakened economy and frequent famine. All of this came to an end, however, when Alexander Joyce was forced to leave Ireland due to the "Year of the Slaughter." During this famine around 1740, one of the worst in Irish history, 480,000 people perished from extremely, cold weather. One can imagine with sadness how he must have felt. Tore between leaving behind his brother, George Joyce (b. 1721), he had little choice in the matter. And, unfortunately, his situation would only get worse in the New World.
Documented in Louisa, County Virginia on August 15, 1748, Alexander had likely joined a community of likeminded Presbyterians. Regardless of living on the wild frontier in Fredericksville Parish, he was aware he still had to support the Church of England. According to the Act of Toleration of 1689, he had to swear an oath to King and Country before he could worship according to his own faith. Unable to worship in an official church, religious dissenters had to gathering in meeting houses, often under the observations of government officials. However, On May 10, 1748, this would change when he purchased eight-hundred acres of land in what was then Lunenburg County, Virginia.
It was during this specific point in time that Alexander Joyce began to make a name for himself. Officially joining the Cub Creek settlement whose membership were primarily religious dissenters, they were granted unusual freedoms. Only required to attend the Anglican church once per month, this policy allowed Alexander to gain quite the reputation with influential leaders. Politically and spiritually, he became a ruling elder within the Presbyterian Church and would later attend the founding of the Presbytery of Hanover on December 3, 1755. Having gained the respect of the famous minister, the Rev. Samuel Davies, he contributed to establishing the Presbyterian denomination in the southern colonies.
On November 3, 1755, he was ordered to clear “the best & most Convenientest Way from the County line near William Watson to Cubb Creek Road.” Later on March 1, 1757, he was ordered “to assist the Surveyor of the Road leading from Little Roanoke bridge to the County [line].” To obtain this responsibility, he had to be selected by his local vestry which consisted of wealthy landowners. Because of these and various economic activities, he was worth thousands in pounds stirling by this death on March 3, 1778. Unfortunately, a large portion of his wealth had come from the sale of tobacco which had originated with the colonial slave trade.
At the time of this writing, Alexander has descendants who live on the east coast of North Carolina, as far south as Florida and as far west as California. They even reside as far north as Canada. And, no doubt, these same descendants favor Alexander Joyce in someway or another. Be it through their religious dedication, civic duties, or economic ventures, his example will continue to live on through them.