Holmes (Homes), William (1663–1746), presbyterian minister, was born in Donaghmore, Co. Donegal, of a family well established in Donegal and Co. Tyrone and probably originating in the Salisbury area of Wiltshire. His father was probably Robert Holmes, who was an elder in Donaghmore after 1672, and he had at least one brother (killed by lightning in 1692) and at least one sister. He received a good education; in about 1689 he travelled to America and was a teacher on the island of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, for three years. He returned to Ireland in July 1691 to study for the ministry of the presbyterian church; on 21 December 1692 he was ordained minister in the congregation of Strabane. On 26 September 1693 he married Katherine (d. 1754), daughter of the redoubtable Rev. Robert Craighead (Craghead) (qv) of Donaghmore and later of Derry; her brothers Thomas Craghead (qv) and Robert Craighead (qv) were also presbyterian ministers. Though known as ‘Holmes the meek’ to distinguish him from his cousin William Holmes who was a minister at the same time in the neighbouring congregation of Urney, Holmes's leadership qualities were recognised when he was chosen moderator of the general synod in 1703. In 1714 Holmes, his brother-in-law Thomas Craghead, and their families travelled to America; they arrived in Boston in the first week of October 1714. Holmes was well received by local church leaders and by Judge Samuel Sewall, who entertained him and sent him a present of turnips. Holmes returned in September 1715 to Martha's Vineyard as congregational minister of Chilmark. He may have been a member of the Charitable Irish Society of Boston in 1740. He published a sermon, as well as works on church government, prayer, and Scripture reading; his Good government of Christian families was published in 1747 as a memorial to him. He preferred the presbyterian system to that of the congregational church in New England. His manuscript diary, a valuable source of local historical information, is preserved in the New England Historical Society library. He remained in Chilmark till his death on 17/20 June 1746.
It seems from William Holmes's journal that he was kept informed of discussions that his son Robert Homes, a sea captain, apparently had with the influential Bostonian clergyman Cotton Mather and with Massachusetts landowners prior to the arrival in autumn 1718 of many presbyterian emigrants under the leadership of James McGregor (qv) and William Boyd (qv). According to a nineteenth-century historian of McGregor's settlement of Londonderry in New Hampshire, Robert Homes carried information about America back to the presbyterians in Tyrone and Londonderry, encouraging them for the first time to consider emigration. It seems likely that William Holmes's wide kinship network and his standing in the presbyterian community in the north of Ireland enabled him to transmit first-hand information about life in America, both before he left Ireland in 1714 and later through the agency of his son, and they may thus have influenced the decision of hundreds or even thousands of Ulster-Scots to leave Ireland for new opportunities in America. Over the next twenty years, many made the journey in ships captained by Robert Homes; in October 1718 his ship, full of passengers from Ireland, arrived in Boston. Robert Homes (Holmes) (1694–a.1743) was born 23 July 1694 in Stragullin, Co. Tyrone; he was the eldest among two sons and seven daughters who accompanied their parents to America; another son died young in Ireland, but the other children married into locally prominent families. Robert married (3 April 1716) Mary Franklin of Boston, sister of Benjamin Franklin. They had two sons and a daughter; Mary Franklin Homes died of breast cancer in 1731, and Robert Homes died at sea before 1743.