The arrival of the Sullivans in America was not the joyous, privileged voyage of exploration which Claiborne enjoyed. Originally the Sullivan clan held Dunboy Castle on the West coast of Ireland. The English had been trying to control Ireland by moving Englishmen in and evicting Irishmen. Initially, the O’Sullivans remained neutral, but by 1600 they had joined the O’Neills and the O’Donnells in seeking Spanish support for their cause. In 1602, Dunboy Castle was besieged by 5000 English troops and eventually taken. The remaining members of the clan, who had not been in the Castle at the time, led by Donel, trekked 200 miles to the north of Ireland, hunted as outlaws. Only 35 of the original 1000 reached the O’Neill lands in Leitrim.
Owen Donol O’Sullivan was the leader of the clan at this time. By 1641, with the growing religious unrest in England, the Irish Catholics again rebelled against the English and Scottish Protestants. This time, Owen Donol was attainted in 1641 and had to leave Ireland. He and his family scattered. It is known that in 1655, his son, John Thomas, who was 18 at the time, arrived in Virginia with a relative, Elizabeth Sullivan. It seems Owen Donol himself came at some time and died in Virginia in 1698.
John Thomas married Mary Hayes in 1683. They had land near her father in Lynhaven Parish, near the present day Virginia Beach. This area had been settled rapidly since about 1650. When John Thomas died in 1698 he split his 200 acre holding between his sons Owen and Morris.
It was Owen who married Elizabeth Claiborne in 1693, when he was 20 and she was 16. It seems by this time Owen already had property in Lunenburg County. Their eldest son, John, was born in 1693 in Lunenburg.
Have I mentioned before that many records are missing in Virginia due to having been burned in a war? There are frustrating gaps in what one can know for sure. Many people on Ancestry state that Elizabeth Claiborne died in 1697 and that Owen Sullivan married Mary Ruth Pleasants in 1715. I have not found any data to support this. I put this out just as a caution.
I do know, however, from John Sullivan’s will, that he left 800 acres in Lunenburg County to be split between his four daughters. He also left 200 acres on the other side of the road to his brother Charles. He had increased the land holdings from his grandfather’s time. I have not found any other references to the Sullivans in this area. I did find a very detailed account of many people who were there at the time, which shows even on a cursory scan that there were many new settlers and that roads were a major concern. We are definitely past the Tidewater river travel area.