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The Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies online

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events which took place all over the country, but we will give an
illustration or two of the spirit of resistance which then prevailed.
The British ship Gaspee was sent from Boston to Narra-
gansett Bay to carry out the Revenue laws. Her presence there
irritated the people to such an extent that Governor Wanton sent
a written message by his high sheriff to Lieutenant Duddington,
the commander of the Gaspee, demanding that officer to produce
his commission. Duddington treated the communication of the
Governor, and a subsequent one which followed, with silent con-
tempt. He sent Wanton's two letters to Admiral Montague at
Boston and that functionary wrote a blustering letter to Governor
Wanton. "I shall report," he said, "your two insolent letters to
my officer to his majesty's secretaries and leave them to deter-
mine what right you have to demand a sight of all orders I shall
give to officers of my squadron ; and I would advise you not to
send your sheriff on board the King's ship again on such ridicu-
lous errands."


Governor Wanton, although he was afterwards (many be-
lieve unjustly) accused of loyalty to England, was equal to the
occasion and wrote the following spirited reply : "I am greatly
obliged for the promise of transmitting my letters to the secre-
taries. In return for this good office I shall also transmit your
letter to the Secretary of State and leave the King and his min-
isters to determine on which side the charge of insolence lies. As
to your advice not to send a sheriff on board any of your squad-
ron, please to know that I will send the sheriff of this colony at
any time and to any place within the body of it, as I shall think

Before any reply could be received to these letters the
Gaspee became a wreck. On June 9, 1772, in chasing the New
York packet Hannah, the Gaspee was hopelessly grounded on
Namquit Point. Captain Lindsey, of the Hannah, on his ar-
rival at Providence reported the matter to Mr. John Brown,
one of the leading merchants of the city, and that gentleman,
eager to do away with the annoyance of the Gaspee, immediately
organized an expedition for its destruction. Under his direc-
tion eight long boats, filled with sixty-four well-armed men, left
Providence that night and reached the Gaspee between one and
two in the morning. A sentinel on board hailed them, and no
answer being returned, Duddington appeared in his shirt on the
starboard gunwale. Waving the boats off, he fired a pistol at
them. The shot was returned by a musket from one of the boats.
Duddington was wounded in the groin and carried below. The
entire company of the Gaspee was then ordered to leave the ship.
After all had left she was set on fire and blown up. A reward
of five thousand dollars was offered for information as to the
participants in the expedition and a commission of inquiry sat
on the matter for over two months, but no one came forward to
satisfy the government or give evidence against the men who
destroyed the Gaspee.

Connecticut kept well in line in her opposition to British en-
croachments. The situation was so critical there that the Stamp
Officer handed in his resignation. He rode into Hartford on a
white horse for that purpose, with a thousand farmers riding after
him. They must have made it rather warm for him, for he said
that "he felt like death on the pale horse with all hell following

Gradually but surely all the colonies were becoming more and
more united for the common weal. Resolutions were adopted
everywhere in sympathy with Massachusetts and bitter remon-
strances were issued against the harsh treatment she was re-
ceiving. In the South the eloquence of Patrick Henry had a


wonderful effect in arousing the people to determined and united
action. He scouted the idea of sectional distinctions or individual
interests. "All America," said he in one of his matchless ora-
tions, "is thrown into one mass. Where are your landmarks —
your boundaries of colonies? They are all thrown down. The
distinction between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers,
and New Englanders are no more. I am not a Virginian, but an

The British general. Gage, in Boston, by his determination
to push imperial authority to the uttermost, was merely adding
fuel to the flame. While 'the Massachusetts Assembly was mak-
ing preparations to call a Continental Congress, its sessions were
suddenly adjourned to Salem by the Governor, but the members
had scarcely assembled at the time and place appointed — Novem-
ber 7, 1774, at Salem — when a counter proclamation to dissolve
them was issued by the Governor. The arrival of his secretary
was announced, and the doors were closed against him. He
read the proclamation on the stairs, but the assembly proceeded
with its business, heedless of the order, and voted a sum of money
to five of their members to meet the delegates of the other col-
onies at a Congress to be held in Philadelphia.

In South Carolina a spirit of resistance to England was
aroused long before the Stamp Act. The leading representatives
of the people quarrelled with the Governor because he had dared
to interfere with their elective franchise. The Assembly passed
resolutions in favor of the Colonial Congress of 1765 and sent,
as we have seen, two Irish-Americans as their delegates. Ram-
say, the historian of South Carolina, recites a humorous story
of a member of the Legislature who ridiculed the idea of a Co-
lonial Congress. "If you agree to the proposition of composing
a Congress from the different British colonies," said the member,
"what sort of a dish will you make? New England will throw
in fish and onions, the Middle States, flaxseed and flour, Mary-
land and Virginia will add tobacco, North Carolina pitch, tar,
and turpentine ; South Carolina, rice and indigo, and Georgia will
sprinkle the whole composition with sawdust. Such an absurd
jumble will you make if you attempt to form a union among such
discordant materials as the thirteen British provinces." A coun-
try member, who must have been an Irishman, with ready wit,
replied. "I would not choose the gentleman who made the objec-
tion for my cook, but, nevertheless, I would venture to assert that
if the colonies proceed judiciously in the appointment of deputies
to a Continental Congress, they would prepare a dish fit to be
presented to any crowned head in Europe."

When the stamps under the Stamp Act arrived in Charles-


ton, no man could be found to act as distributor, and the ship
captain who brought them over was forced to take them back
by one hundred and fifty armed men, who had defied the Gover-
nor and took the stamps from the fortress where he had them
placed for safet}'.

John Rutledge was a leading member of the South Carolina
Convention of 1774, and argued in favor of making common
cause with Massachusetts. He carried a resolution that South
Carolina should take part in the Congress proposed by that State
in 1774, and that her delegates should go unhampered by in-

In Western North Carolina, where the country was mainly
inhabited by Irish settlers, armed opposition to the tyranny of
Governor Tryon appeared as early as 1768.

William Tryon was born in Ireland in 1725, but belonged to
the English garrison in that country. There was nothing really
Irish about him but his birth. His parentage, training, and gen-
eral surroundings were not only English, but anti-Irish, and he
was taught to hate the native people among whom he lived. He
was an officer in the British army and he married the daughter
of Lord Hillsboro, secretary for the Colonies, and through his
influence he was appointed Lieutenant Governor of North Caro-
lina. He arrived there on June 27, 1764, and succeeded to the
Governorship a year later. In 1771 he was appointed Governor
of New York, and was the last royal Governor of that Province.
He was detested by the patriots for his unjust and rigorous ad-
ministration and for the inhumanity and cruelty which he gen-
erally displayed, especially in the wanton destruction of Dan-
bury, Fairfield, and Norwalk, Conn., by expeditions which he
personally conducted and which we shall describe later on.

The taxes and fees which Tryon imposed proved a heavy bur-
den on the people of North Carolina and awakened general dis-
content. He was so cruel and bloodthirsty that the Indians justly
gave him the name of "the Great Wolf of North Carolina."

An association called the Regulators was organized in 1766
for the purpose of correcting some of Tryon's abuses and spread
into serious proportions. Many threatening meetings were held,
but Tryon, by false promises and military displays, managed to
temporarily stay the hand of insurrection. In 1770 riots occurred
at Hillsboro, and the people took the law into their own hands.
On May 13, 1771, the Regulators assembled in force on the
Salisbury road, near the Allamance River, and in this neighbor-
hood, three days after, occurred the first battle of the Revolution.
The Regulators sent a message to Tryon demanding a settlement
of their grievances and proposing terms of accommodation.


Tryon promised an answer by noon of the next day and he gave
it with a vengeance.

At dawn on the following morning, May 16, 1771, with all
the militia and Tories he could muster, he crossed the AUamance
and marched silently and undiscovered until within half a mile of
the camp of the Regulators, where he formed his line in battle

The Rev. David Caldwell, many of whose parishioners were
among the Regulators, appealed to Tryon to avoid bloodshed, and
the latter promised to do so, but his word proved false. Instead
he demanded unconditional surrender. Both parties advanced
within three hundred yards of each other, when Tryon ordered
the Regulators to disperse within an hour. Robert Thompson,
an Irish-American, and an amiable, though bold, outspoken man,
who had gone to the English camp on the same peaceful mission
as Dr. Caldwell, was made a prisoner. Indignant because of such
perfidity, he told the Governor some plain truths, and was about
to leave camp for the Regulators when Tryon snatched a gun
from the hands of a militiaman and shot Thompson dead. Fear-
ing the consequences of his bloody act, Tryon sent out a flag of
truce, but the Regulators, who had seen Thompson murdered be-
fore their eyes, fired upon it. At this moment Dr. Caldwell rode
along the lines of the Regulators and beseeched them to disperse.
Before they could move Tryon gave the word "Fire!" The
militia hesitated to fire on their neighbors and friends, but the
Governor, maddened with rage, rose in his stirrups and shouted :
"Fire ! Fire on them or on me !" A volley followed and a battle
then ensued in which the Regulators, having no acknowledged
leader, were defeated. They were not subdued, however. A few
years later, with most of the militia who opposed them at the
AUamance, they rallied in force to the standard of independence.
Tryon was the sole cause of this bloodshed. Common justice
on his part would have appeased the Regulators and they would
have returned to their homes. Among the victims on this oc-
casion was James Few, a carpenter, of Hillsboro. He was the
sole support of his widowed mother and suffered greatly at the
hands of Edward Lanning, a corrupt office-holder under Tryon
and a notorious libertine, who. Few alleged, not only made him
feel the curse of his exactions, but had actually outraged a young
girl to whom he was engaged. Driven to madness, Few joined
the Regulators, was taken prisoner, and was hung without trial
the night after the battle of the AUamance.

Captain Messer was also made prisoner by Tryon and was
sentenced to be hanged. His wife, informed of his intended fate,
hastened to him with her little son, ten years old. She pleaded


for her husband's life in vain. Messer was led to execution, while
his wife lay weeping on the ground, her boy by her side. Just as
Messer was about to be drawn up the boy went to Tryon and
said : "Sir, hang me and let my father live." "Who told you to
say that?" said the Governor. "Nobody," replied the lad. "And
why," said Tryon, "do you ask that?" "Because," returned the
lad, "if you hang my father my mother will die and the children
will perish. The hard heart of the Governor was touched, but
alas only temporary, and he said, "your father shall not be
hanged to-day."

Tryon marched back to Hillsboro, carrying his prisoners
with him and exhibiting them in chains in the villages through
which he passed. With the implacable spirit of revenge he spent
his wrath upon his victims, and some of his acts were worthy only
of a barbarian. He concluded his merciless work at Hillsboro by
hanging six of his prisoners, among whom was Captain Messer,
whose life had been spared a few days before by the intercession
of his little boy. On his march he burned the homes and de-
stroyed the crops of innocent and unoifensive people. These were
some of the methods of English civilization which brought about
the American Revolution. The same principles were applied in
South Africa in our own day and proved that England is still
the same heartless tyrant that she always was — "The same yes-
terday, the same to-day, the same forever."



Before describing the First Continental Congress in Phila-
delphia it is necessary to show the standing of the Irish element
in that city and the great influence which it exercised on Congress
and the nation at large. The facts for this task are ready to our
hand, supplied by the genius and untiring labor of John H. Camp-
bell, the historian of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and the Hi-
bernian Society of Philadelphia.

From the organization of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick,
on St. Patrick's Day, 1771, until Independence was won, its mem-
bers wielded a mighty power in the formation of this nation. They
devoted themselves heart and soul to the American cause and
risked their fortunes and their lives in a manner that should win
for them the gratitude of Americans for all time. Here is a list
of their names which deserve to stand beside the immortal signers
of the Declaration of Independence :

All, Capt. Isaac
Barclay, John
Barclay, Thomas
Barclay, William
Barry, Com. John
Batt, Capt. Thos.
Blaine, Col. Ephraim
Bourke, William
Bleakly, John
Boyd, Dr. Robert
Boyle, Hugh
Boyle, John
Brown, John
Brown, William
Butler, Gen. Richard
Caldwell, Andrew
Caldwell, James
Caldwell, David
Caldwell, John
Caldwell, Samuel
Caldwell, William
Campbell, George
Campbell. James
Carson, Samuel
Clark, Daniel
Cochran, Dr. John
Collin.=;, James
Connor, John
Constable, William

Conyngham, David H.
Crawford, James
Davis, George
Delany, Sharp
Donnaldson, John
Dunlap, John
Erskine, William
Fitzsimmons, Thomas
Foster, Alexander
Francis, Tench
Francis. Col. T.
Fuller, Benjamin
Fullerton, George
Gam.ble, Archibald
Glen, Robert
Gray, Robert
Green, Capt. John
Hand, Gen. Edward
Hawthorne, James
Heatly, Charles
Henry, George
Holmes, Capt. Alex.
Holmes, Hugh
Hughes, George
Irvine, Gen. William
Johnston, Col. F.
Knox, Gen. Henry
Latimer, Lt.-Col. G.
Lea, Thomas


Lenmy, John
Lynch, Ulysses
McClenachan, Blair
Meade, George
Mease, James
Mease, John
Mease, Matthew
Mitchell, John
Mitchell, John, Jr.
MitcheM, Randal
Mitchell, William
Moore, Hugh
Mcore, Maj. James
Moore, Patrick
MoyUn, James
Moylan, Jasper
Moylan, John
Moylan, Gen. Stephen
Murray, John
Nesbitt, John Maxwell
Nesbitt, Alexander
Nichols, Col. Francis
Nixon, Col. John
O'Brien, Michael M.
Patterson, John
Patton, Col. John
Pollock, Oliver
Rainey, Robert
Read. Capt. Thos.


Robinson, Col. Thos. West, John Dickinson, John

Shee, Gen. John West, William Hill, Col. Henry

Shiell, Dr. Hugh West, William, Jr. Hicks, William

Stewart, Col. Charles White, John Lardner, John

Stewart, Gen. Walter Wilson, Joseph Morris, Robert

Thompson, Gen. Wm. honorary members. Meredith, Gen. Samuel

Washmgton, Gen. Geo. Bache, Richard Moore, Col. Thos. L.

(Adopted member) Bingham, William Peters, Richard

Wayne, Gen. Anthony CadwalacJer, Gen. J. Penn, Hon. Richard

West, Francis, Jr. Cadwalader, Col. L. Searle, James

Thirty of these men were members of the organization at
the time of its inception — twenty-four regular and six honorary
members. Nearly all the regular members were prosperous mer-
chants at the time, and were well known in Philadelphia. No
physician seems to have b^en necessary to attend to them, but a
lawyer, George Campbell, is on the roll. Colonel Turbutt Fran-
cis, who had served as an officer in the French and Indian wars,
was the only soldier among a body which afterwards was dis-
tinguished for the number of military and naval heroes which it
contributed to the American cause. As they were all Irishmen
or the sons of Irish parents, we presume that the martial spirit
which was naturally bom in them only awaited an occasion to ex-
hibit itself at the first call to arms in defense of their adopted

Of the honorary members Richard Bache and Robert Mor-
ris were also merchants and intimately associated with their Irish
friends in business. John Dickinson and William Hamilton were
public men, and John Cadwalader — who afterwards was described
by Washington as a military genius, but who was then only a plain
merchant — was a cousin of John Dickinson. The latter, although
only an honorary member, was one of the most active in forward-
ing the interests of the organization.

The society met quarterly and every meeting was the occa-
sion of friendly and convivial intercourse, at which many of the
leading public men attended as guests and enjoyed the hospitality
of their Irish friends. Each member was required to furnish
himself with a gold medal of the value of three guineas, on the
right of which was a figure of Hibernia, on the left America, and
in the center Liberty joining their hands, while underneath the
whole was the word "unite." On the reverse side was a repre-
sentation of St. Patrick trampling on a snake, dressed in his pon-
tifical robes, and a cross in his hand.

At the meeting of September 17, 1773, Captain Thomas Batt,
an Irishman, but a half-pay British officer, was elected a member.
On the breaking out of the Revolution, having more regard for


his bread and butter than the dictates of patriotism, Batt took
sides against the colonies, whereupon he was promptly and unani-
mously expelled from the society for taking active part against
the liberty of America.

What a glorious record, comments Historian Campbell.
Only one black sheep in the whole flock. No Toryism found a
resting place among the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. No won-
der that Washington, towards the close of the war, described
them as a "Society distinguished for the firm adherence of its
members to the glorious cause in which we are embarked."

General Anthony Wayne first appeared among the Friendly
Sons as a visitor on September ly, 177 4- He was plain Mr.
Wayne then, but afterwards became a shining light in the Revo-
lutionary army. He must have been pleased with his experience
at the meeting, for at the next gathering he was elected a mem-
ber, with Dr. Robert Boyd. Dr. Boyd was the first member of the
medical profession admitted to the society. He was a prominent
physician in Philadelphia. He was bom in Donegal and practiced
medicine before leaving Ireland.

Toward the close of 1774 the spirit of revolt against the ex-
actions of England was coming to a head and the Friendly Sons
began to feel the fires of patriotism burn within their breasts.
Philadelphia was then the largest city in the American colonies,
with a population of nearly thirty thousand inhabitants. It was
well built, paved, and lighted, and possessed many other advan-
tages over the other towns. Moreover, according to Scharf and
Westcott's history, "it was the central point of the colonies and
it numbered among its citizens many men whose opinions were
controlling forces. Benjamin Franklin and John Dickinson had
as much to do as any other two men who can be named in uniting
the colonies and preparing them for resistance ; and after Wash-
ington, Benjamin Franklin and Robert Morris did more than any
other two to make that resistance successful." Of the four dis-
tinguished men whose names are thus mentioned three of them —
Washington, Dickinson, and Morris — attached their signatures
as members of the roll of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, and the
daughter of the fourth (Franklin) was the wife of Richard
Bache, whose name is also found on that glorious roll. Thomas
Jefferson, whose name should have been added to the others, while
not a member, was many times among the most honored guests
of the society.

When the famous Philadelphia Committee of Correspjon-
dence was appointed on May 20, 1774, the names of John Dick-
inson, John Nixon, John Maxwell Nesbitt, and Thomas Barclay


were among its nineteen members. Of the twenty-eight men who
organized the First Troop of the Light Horse of Philadelphia, on
November 17, 1774, ten of them — James Mease, John Mease,
Henry Hill, John Boyle, John Mitchell, George Campbell, Samuel
Caldwell, Andrew Caldwell, George Fullerton, and William West,
jr., were members of the Friendly Sons, and two more — ^John
Dunlap and Blair McClenachan — afterward became members.
Of the eighty-eight men who served in the First Troop during the
entire period of the Revolution thirty of them, or more than one-
third, belonged to the Irish organization.

When news of the battle of Lexington arrived and it was
agreed to form an army of defense, the Friendly Sons of St. Pat-
rick at once came to the front. John Dickinson was Colonel of
the First Battalion ; John Cadwalader Colonel, John Nixon
Lieutenant-Colonel, and Samuel Meredith one of the Majors of
the Third Battalion. Richard Peters, Tench Francis, and John
Shee were among the Captains.

In the midst of all the excitement the meetings of the society
took place regularly and the members yet found time to cherish
the m.emory of Old Ireland, In the interval between the June
and September meetings of 1775 important events had taken
place. The Committee of Safety, with John Dickinson, Anthony
Wayne, John Cadwalader, Robert Morris, and Francis Johnson
(afterward a Friendly Son of St. Patrick) among its members,
had taken the place of the Committee of Correspondence. The
work of organizing the citizens went bravely on and among the
twelve citizens designated by the Committee to sign bills of credit
were Sharp Delany, Lambert Cadwalader, James Mease, and
John Mease. The defense of the river was provided by the cre-
ation of a navy, of which John Maxwell Nesbitt was selected as

After the minutes of the meeting of June 17, 1776, appears
the following significant note : "The State of Pennsylvania hav-
ing been invaded and the city of Philadelphia taken by the Brit-
ish army under the command of General Sir WilHam Howe, in
September, 1777, the society had no meeting until September,
1778. The minutes of the meetings in September and December,
1776, and in March and June, 1777, are unfortunately lost."

Thus ends the first chapter in the history of the Friendly
Sons of St. Patrick. Though the minutes are lost, we can yet
picture to ourselves the constant interruptions to the attendance
of members by reason of the demands of the public service, and
the assembling of the few who were able to steal away for a few
hours to keep alive the memory of St. Patrick at each quarterly


meeting until the presence of the enemy compelled them to leave
the city.

Though the minutes are silent the members were not. The
history of Philadelphia in the Revolution and of the Revolution
itself is incomplete without a record of the patriotic services of
the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. Whether in the field or upon
the sea, or in the giving freely of their goods, money, and time
to the Revolutionary cause, we find their names ever prominent.

Among the first vessels equipped for a Continental navy
we find the brig Lexington, commanded by Captain John Barry.

Online LibraryJames HaltiganThe Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies → online text (page 16 of 67)