Peculiar Names: Mount Joy

Lancaster County is full of communities with peculiar names. This series examines their curious etymology. Next up: Mount Joy.

Map of Mount Joy from 1894.

Interestingly enough, Mount Joy is neither atop a mountain nor named for a nearby peak. The town’s highest point is a meager 371 feet. Instead, Mount Joy takes its name from a 17th century ship.

Mount Joy

The story of Mount Joy begins more than 300 years ago in Great Britain when James II became King of England in 1685. Unfortunately for the Catholic king, he found himself squaring off with a Protestant parliament. Tolerance of James’ Catholicism did not extend to tolerance of Catholicism in general, and the English and Scottish Parliaments refused to pass his measures. When James attempted to impose them by decree, he was met with vigorous opposition.

James II of England. Portrait by Sir Peter Lely

After three years of turmoil and tension, two events turned dissent into a crisis. The first occurred on June 10, 1688, with the birth of James’ son and heir, James Francis Edward. Parliament was worried that this would create a Roman Catholic dynasty in England.

The second was the prosecution of the Seven Bishops for seditious libel. Protestants viewed this as an assault on the Church of England. James found his political authority in England destroyed when the men were acquitted. The anti-Catholic riots in England and Scotland that followed led to a general feeling that only James’ removal from the throne could prevent a civil war.

After three years of intense turmoil and tension, Parliament invited James II’s Protestant daughter, Mary, and her husband, William of Orange, to assume the English throne. William landed in Brixham on November 5, 1688, and on December 10, King James fled London. On February 13, 1689, Mary and William ascended the throne and ruled Great Britain jointly.

The following month on March 12, 1689, James landed in Kinsale on Ireland’s south coast with 6,000 French soldiers. He took Dublin and marched north with an army of Irish and French Catholics.

In Ireland, James had received the backing of the Irish Catholics and, after taking Dublin, continued marching north. Eventually, in April 1689, the Jacobite army arrived at Londonderry in Northern Ireland.

Scottish Presbyterians held the city, whose slogan in defense of Londonderry was “No Surrender.” James and his army responded to that defiance by waging siege warfare against the citizens, who remained trapped inside the walled city for 105 days.

The Siege of Derry lasted 105 days.

As the besieged Scots neared starvation, King William sent the frigate Dartmouth and three supply ships loaded with provisions up the River Foyle. First, the ships had to pass a “boom,” a floating barrier of tree trunks, chains, and assorted debris. The first vessel to ram the boom was the armed merchant ship, Mountjoy. The Phoenix and Jerusalem followed with more supplies. The city’s liberation came on July 28, 1689. During 105 day siege, 8,000 people of the city’s 30,000 died of starvation.

The Mountjoy, a merchant ship captained by Michael Browning, and the Dartmouth, were the first ships to break through the boom – a barrier across the river Foyle stopping supplies from getting to the city.

James’ army eventually deserted him, and he went to France in exile.

Over the next 30 years, many of these same Scottish Presbyterians left Ireland and came to America, looking for religious freedom and land of their own. Many of the municipalities in the area received names common to the North of Ireland, such as Derry Township, South Londonderry Township, Mount Joy Township, East Donegal Township, and Rapho Township. One of the largest settlements was Donegal, in modern-day Lancaster County; however, at the time, it was still part of Chester County.

Mountjoy Township was named first in 1759, followed by the village of Mountjoy in 1812. Mount Joy was incorporated into a borough in 1851. At some point, around 1851, Mount Joy became two words.

Whatever you do, don’t abbreviate the town’s name as “Mt. Joy.” Since there’s no mountain in Mount Joy, it is considered a big faux pas.

To celebrate Mount Joy’s sesquicentennial, a statue of the Good Ship Mountjoy was presented to the town in May 2001 to commemorate their shared heritage. You can find it near the intersection of Main and Barbara Streets.


Below are maps of Mount Joy from 1821, 1841, 1851, and 1894. You can purchase a copy of the 1821 map of Lancaster County here.

Want to Learn More?

Read about other Lancaster County towns with peculiar names such as Bird-in-Hand, Blue Ball, Intercourse, and Paradise.

If you are interested in learning more about the Mount Joy area, check out the Milanof-Schock Library Book of Secrets Adventure. This limited-time Uncharted Lancaster adventure will have you exploring Mount Joy, Marietta, and Maytown as you attempt to unlock the resting place of the Book of Secrets hidden at the Milanof-Schock Library with fun prizes up for grabs! Don’t wait! The adventure ends on Labor Day.

Adventure Awaits!

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One thought on “Peculiar Names: Mount Joy

  1. This is so interesting! I have little doubt that some of my Scottish Presbyterian ancestors settled in Lancaster Co.

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