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

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bers of his family must have been a most intimate one with the


originators of the Friendly Sons to have furnished five of the
ten honorary members of the Society." These were himself and
his brother, Colonel Lambert Cadwalader; his brother-in-law,
Samuel Meredith; his first cousin, John Dickinson, and Henry
Hill, a brother-in-law of his sister, Mrs. Meredith. General
Washington speaks of General Cadwalader in a letter to Congress
in 1778, as a military genius, and wrote personally to him three
years later saying that if in any event he (Washington) should
be withdrawn from the command of the army he should prefer
to have him as his successor. Colonel Lambert Cadwalader,
brother of the General, was elected an honorary member in 1772.
He was Lieutenant-Colonel of the Fourth Pennsylvania BattaHon,
commanded by Col. John Shee, and was afterwards its Colonel.
He was in active service until he was taken prisoner at the cap-
ture of Fort Washington, New York. He was afterwards re-
leased on parole and compelled to remain inactive. John Cad-
walader, great-grandson of General John Cadwalader, became a
member of the Hibernian Society of Philadelphia in 1888.

John Dickinson, one of the original honorary members of
the Friendly Sons, was the son of Samuel Dickinson, a wealthy
Quaker. In 1765 he was a member of the Stamp Act Congress
at New York. In 1767 he published the first of the series of his
"Farmer's Letters," which made him famous throughout the
Colonies. One of these letters was devoted to the English poUcy
in Ireland, which was cited as an example of what Americans
might expect at the hands of England. The following extract
from an address adopted by Congress on May 26, 1779, is from
the vigorous pen of John Dickinson and proves the true policy
of England during the Revolution :

"Foiled again and stung with rage, embittered by envy, they
had no alternative but to renounce the inglorious and ruinous con-
troversy or to resume their former modes of prosecuting it.
They chose the latter. Again the savages are stimulated to horrid
massacres of women and children, and domestics to the murder
of their masters. Again our brave and unhappy brethren are
doomed to miserable deaths in jails and prison-ships. To com-
plete the sanguinary system— all the 'EXTREMITIES of War'
are denounced against you by authority. Rouse yourselves,
therefore, that this campaign may finish the great work you have
so nobly carried on for several years past. What nation ever
engaged in such a contest under such a complication of disad-
vantages, so soon surmounted many of them, and in so short a
period of time had so certain a prospect of a speedy and happy
conclusion? We will venture to pronounce that so remarkable
an instance exists not in the annals of mankind. Consider how



• to ^^

much you have done and how compaj. . ^ema^^ eace,
done to crown you with success. Per ^^^ -,« ixvsUfC P ^^
FREEDOM, safety, glory, sovereigiatvd 1p ^^ yoUtsev
your children, and your children's C' ie.u^ ^ -u^jtltes

Charles Thompson, the Irish £" Co^S^^^l \ttieY'
that "Mr. Dickinson was consideredry ^V^mpVon o* ^^^ oi
ican Hberty. His abilities exerciserrst ctv ^^ ^^ve ,^^v^^t in
his country raised his character higei^^^^. /^ttve^'^^^. -^^ftu-
Europe, and his fortune and hosp. on^Y ^ Y\\m S^^\J tnos^
ence in his own State." Mr. Dicki; g^'^^^obab^y ^^^ ^i St.
active of all the honorary members cv/a-S V ^^\y So^^ p^iV
Patrick, especially in the early years c ^^ ^^iety. ^"^ ^^ntW ^^
lie duties engrossed his attention. He- ^ost <^°^^^\oses ^
attendance at the dinners and was to all ^ ^^ ^nd P^^^
regular member. ^ ,2^s o^e

Robert Morris, the great financier of the ,^o\^^^°^' \\q loo^
of the original honorary members of the Frienc, So^s- ^os^

a most ardent part in the Revolution and was jy ^^^ ^ V^as^'
liberal contributor to its resources. In the winter oi ^''''^oun^ °^
ington wrote to Morris that unless he had a certi^n a- ^QgetV^^^'
specie at once he would be unable to keep the arn. X _,j^ a^d
Morris, on his personal credit, borrowed a sufficient i, '-otga-'
forwarded it to him. In the spring of 1780 he helped to ^ \,^^
nize the patriotic Bank of Pennsylvania, to supply provisions ^^\^
the army, and subscribed ten thousand pounds himself. C
February 20, 1781, he was unanimously chosen Superintendent
of Finance, and in his letter of acceptance he said : "The United
States may command everything I have except my integrity, and
the loss of that would effectually disable me from serving them
more." When Washington almost feared the result, Robert Mor-
ris, upon his own credit and from his private sources, furnished
these pecuniary means without which all the physical force of the
country would have been in vain. He was many times a mem-
ber of Congress, a signer of the Declaration of Independence,
and a member of the Convention which framed the Constitution
of the United States. It was he who proposed Washington for
its President, and during all its deliberations Washington was
his guest. In October, 1788, he was chosen the first Senator from
Pennsylvania to the First Congress under the Constitution, which
met in New York on March 4, 1789. It was mainly through him
that the seat of government was removed in 1790 to Philadel-
phia, where it remained temporarily for ten years — until buildings
were completed in the District of Columbia. xA.fter his retire-
ment from public life, at the end of his Senatorial term in 1795,
he organized the North American Land Company, which,



throug-h the dishonesty oi

finally caused his financialjames Greenleaf, one of his partners,
with utter poverty. He spuin and burdened his closing years
prison — a sad fate for a over three years in the debtor's
disposal of his country and i whose means were always at the
pendence could never have without whose assistance its inde-
by birth he was intimately jeen established. Though English
and was evidently looked up-associated with the Friendly Sons,
members, as a regular membcjn, as were all the earlier honorary
most of the old members of r. At the time of his imprisonment
to their reward or had grow^ he Friendly Sons were either gone
Revolution. In the time cV, poor through their sacrifices in the
to say that Robert Morri/,f their vigor and prosperity it is safe
have spent even an houtp";^ their friend and associate, would not
in poverty he carried J-' behind prison bars. But though he died

Richard Penn ^vag integrity with him to the grave.
Friendly Sons in i^'*,vas elected an honorary member of the
in 1763, but retuj,;73. He came to Philadelphia from England
the second timej^jned again in 1769. He arrived in Philadelphia
Pennsylvania ^j on October 16, 1771, as Lieutenant-Governor of
lar of all tb c.nd the Lower Counties. He was the most popu-
best inter^n^^Penn family and devoted himself with zeal to the
ous ur ^T ,ts of the Colony. Though the people became prosper-
Jphr^. der his rule he was superseded in office by his brother
siv^. in August, 1773. Richard Penn was opposed to the oppres-
in «i acts of the British Government. He entertained the mem-
oers of the Continental Congress at his home, Washington being
among the guests. He left Philadelphia in the summer of 1775,
carrying with him the second petition to the King.

In his evidence before the House of Lords on November 10,
1775, he testified to the high character of the members of Con-
gress, nearly all of whom he knew ; that they were fairly elected ;
that they had only taken up arms in defense of their liberties;
that the spirit of resistance was general and it was believed by
the people they would be successful ; that Pennsylvania had
20,000 men under arms, and he supposed there were 60,000 fit
to bear arms, who would willingly come forward ; that if the peti-
tion he had brought over were not granted the Colonies might
form foreign alliances, and, if they did, would stick by them, and
that most thinking people thought its refusal would be a bar
against all reconciliation. For giving this just testimony he was
made to feel the heavy hand of England and he became so poor
that, according to his attorney, he had to be supported by Mr.
Thomas Barclay, one of the original members of the Friendly
Sons. Later on, however, his inheritance was restored to him.
While he was Lieutenant-Governor of Pennsylvania, and before


he was elected an honorary member of the Friendly Sons, he was
at almost every meeting of the Society as a guest, and upon the
first vacancy in the list of honorary members, caused by the
death of William Hicks, he was elected to fill the place. His re-
lations with the Friendly Sons were evidently of the most inti-
mate character and they promptly came to his assistance when
he was in sore need.

In the foregoing sketches we have confined ourselves to mere
glimpses of the principal members of the Friendly Sons of St.
Patrick, but we think we have given enough to prove that they
were all men of the most honorable character, that they were
trusted and prominent leaders of society, that they earned and
enjoyed the esteem and friendship of all classes of their fellow-
citizens and that they were always ready to make the highest sac-
rifices in the cause of American liberty and independence.



The First Continental Congress met in Carpenter's Hall,
Chestnut Street, near Fourth, Philadelphia, on September 5, 1774.
It was made up of fifty-four delegates, all the Colonies, except
Georgia, being represented. There was only one consideration
involved in their selection — who were the ablest and best men ? —
and the destinies of a nation were never placed in more worthy
or competent hands than those of the members of the First Amer-
ican Congress. They were men of the most exalted character
and purest patriotism, without blot or blemish of any kind in
their public or private lives, and with only one or two exceptions
they remained true to the last to the people who placed their
destinies in their keeping. The work of the Congress consisted
mainly of patriotic recommendations to the people and a memo-
rial to the King and Parliament of England for a satisfactory ad-
justment of their grievances. The importance attached to the
First Congress rested rather on the members themselves than on
anything they did. The fact that a native Parliament had sprung
into existence at a crucial time and that its members were men
of the greatest ability and highest standing in the community,
who had espoused the popular cause as against the power and
authority of the English King, were in themselves a solace and a
remedy in which the utmost confidence was placed. As John
Adams wrote to his wife, every man in the Congress was a great
man, an orator, a critic, and a statesman, and we are proud to
say that the greatest and most brilliant of them all, with the sin-
gle exception of Washington in a certain sense, was pronounced
by Patrick Henry to be John Rutledge, of South CaroUna, the
gifted son of an Irishman.

There were eleven Irishmen or Irish- Americans members
of the First Continental Congress, and they all, with only one ex-
ception, became illustrious leaders of thought and action in their
respective States and in Congress. They were: John Sullivan,
of New Hampshire ; Joseph Galloway, of Pennsylvania ; Thomas
McKean and George Read, of Delaware; Thomas Johnson, of
Maryland; John Rutledge, Edward Rutledge, and Thomas
Lynch, of Soutli Carolina ; Robert Treat Paine, of Massachusetts ;
John Hart, of New Jeisey, and John Duane, of New York.



In addition to these there was another Irishman in the
First Congress who wielded a mighty influence in its councils.
He was Charles Thomson, who, though not a member, was elected
to the responsible position of keeping the minutes of the pro-
ceedings in 1774, and from that date until he resigned his office
in 1789, he was the only secretary of that body and its life and
soul during the darkest periods of its history. He was born in
Maghera, County Derry, Ireland, on November 29, 1729, and was
brought to this country, with three other brothers, by his father in
1740. The father died as the ship arrived within sight of land
and the young Thomsons were thrown on their own resources
when they landed at New Castle, Del. An elder brother, who
had preceded the family to this country, lent them all the assist-
ance in his power and through his influence his distinguished fel-
low-countryman. Dr. Allison, took Charles into his seminary in
New London, Pa. Here Charles received a thorough education
and made such rapid progress in his studies that while yet little
more than a boy he was chosen to conduct a Friends' Academy at
New Castle. He often visited Philadelphia, met Benjamin Frank-
lin there, and the two became friends for life. Through Frank-
lin he became acquainted with all the eminent men of the time
and quickly earned their confidence and esteem. His reputation
for veracity spread even among the Indian tribes, and when
the Delawares adopted him into their nation in 1756, in recogni-
tion of the valuable services he rendered them, they named him
in their native tongue "the man of truth." The Rev. Ashbel
Green, in his autobiography, says that it was common to say that
a statement was "as true as if Charles Thomson's name was to
it." He was one of the first to take his stand with the colonists,
and he exercised immense influence owing to the confidence of
the people in his ability and integrity. He traveled through the
country, ascertaining the sentiments of the farmers and trying to
learn whether they would be equal to the approaching crisis.
From the very first he saw, though for a long time he labored
to avert it, that war was inevitable and he worked incessantly to
bring the doubtful and wavering elements into the cause of inde-
pendence. "He was the Sam Adams of Philadelphia," said John
Adams, "the life of the cause of liberty." He had just come to
Philadelphia in September, 1774, with his bride, a daughter of
Richard Harrison, an aunt of President William Henry Harrison
and a great-grandaunt of President Benjamin Harrison, when
he learned that he had been unanimously elected Secretary of the
First Continental Congress. When the Abbe Robin, Chaplain to
General Rochambeau, was in Philadelphia, he was visited by
Charles Thomson and thus refers to him in his writings :

2o8 The; irish in the American revolution.

"Among others, Charles Thomson, the Secretary of Con-
gress, the soul of that political body, came also to receive and pre-
sent his compliments. His meager figure, furrowed countenance,
his hollow, sparkling eyes, his white, straight hair, that did not
hang quite so low as his ears, fixed our thorough attention and
filled us with surprise and admiration."

Thomson refused pay for his first year's service and Con-
gress presented his wife with a silver urn which is still preserved
in the family. As we have said, he remained in this post under
every Congress until 1789, not only keeping the records, but tak-
ing copious notes of its proceedings and of the progress of the
Revolution. When he retired into private life he made these notes
the basis of a history of the Revolution, but he destroyed the man-
uscript some time before his death, fearing, in his great consci-
entiousness, that a description of the unpatriotic conduct of some
of the colonists at that period would give pain to their descend-

The loss of this manuscript will always be deeply deplored
by all conscientious American historians, for everjthing contained
in it would be accepted as truth, and light would be thrown on
many subjects now in doubt. In the volume of Thomson papers
published by the New York Historical Society in 1879, the fol-
lowing reference is made to this loss in the introduction :

"The contents of this volume relate chiefly to the American
Revolution. Among them the first place is given to the papers of
Charles Thomson, whose name is familiar as that of the Old
Secretary of the Continental Congress. Of all those to whom
has been ascribed an intention to write the history of the strug-
gle through which the United States came into existence as a
nation, not one can be named whose work, if accomplished, would
have been more valuable than his to posterity, although the list
is a long one and embraces great names. Few, comparatively, of
his papers are known to have been preserved. The present col-
lection probably includes the most considerable of these, and their
publication will enhance the lasting regret that any have been
lost or destroyed."

In this volume are many valuable letters from Franklin,
Washington, Jefferson, Jay, and other leading men, all showing
the intimate relations and warm personal friendship which ex-
isted between them and Thomson and the great influence which
he exercised. They speak to him with the utmost confidence in
his ability and patriotism and address him in terms of the deep-
est aflfection. We have already quoted from his letter to FrankUn
when the latter wrote to him, in 1765, about lighting the candles
of liberty, and here we will give an extract from another letter


of Franklin, dated London, February 5, 1775, showing the opin-
ion of that gentleman on the action of the British Parliament on
Lord Chatham's Bill in behalf of Americans.

"Lord Chatham's Bill," writes Franklin, "was treated in the
House of Lords with as much contempt as they could have shown
to a ballad offered by a drunken porter. It was rejected on a
slight reading, without being suffered even to lie on the table for
the perusal of the members. The House of Commons, too, have
shown an equal rashness and precipitation in the matters that
require the most weighty deliberation ; refusing to hear and en-
tering hastily into violent measures. And yet this is the Govern-
ment by whose supreme authority we are to have our throats cut
if we do not acknowledge, and whose dictates we are implicitly
to obey, while their conduct hardly entitles them to common re-

These opinions from such a temperate man as Franklin show
what little attention need be paid to the Anglo-American cry
that it was King George alone who tried to oppress the people of

Thomson himself gives us valuable information on this head.
Writing to John Jay, American Minister to Madrid, in describ-
ing the hardships to which this country was reduced in the early
stages of the war — when provisions had increased to four times
their normal price and the value of the Continental dollar was
reduced to one English penny — he says : "Upon this our enemies
took courage and flattering themselves that Congress must sink
under these embarrassments, they set every engine to work to
continue and increase them by counterfeitipig the currency, mul-
tiplying their emissaries to decry its credit, tampering with our
army and at the same time prosecuting the war with a greater
degree of vigor than they had done from the commencement of it.
To the honor of our country I must inform you that history can-
not produce such instances of fortitude, patience, and persever-
ance as were exhibited by our virtuous army. Though exposed
to hunger and nakedness amidst the rigors of a most inclement
winter they struggled through with unparalleled firmness, and
notwithstanding the tempting bribes and offers of the enemy and
the incredible hardships our soldiers suffered, the desertions were
comparatively few,"

Speaking of the failure of the British to capture Philadel-
phia by way of New Jersey and of their subsequent success in
gaining possession of that city through the Chesapeake, Thom-
son graphically writes: "The country through which the Brit-
ish General Howe had to pass was favorable to his views. It
furnished a plentiful supply of provisions and forage, and being


chiefly inhabited by Quakers, who are principled against bearing
arms and averse to revolutions, it afforded the means of intelli-
gence and gave very little opposition by its militia. General
Washington, who had by this time drawn together about ten
thousand men, met him on his way and gave him battle at Brandy-
wine. The issue of the battle was not as bad as might have been
apprehended, considering the disparity of tlie two armies in num-
bers and discipline. After this Howe continued his march and
got possession of Philadelphia. But what mighty advantage did
he reap from this?

"He had the satisfaction of burning and destroying a num-
ber of elegant country seats around the city, of cutting down the
orchards and fruit trees, of maltreating the inhabitants who re-
mained in the city, and starving to death the prisoners in his
power to gratify the vindictive malice of himself and his master;
but did he conquer the country or dispose the people to submis-
sion ? Nothing like it."

After the treaty had been concluded between France and
the United States and the British had evacuated Philadelphia,
through fear of being blocked up there by a French fleet, Thom-
son thus describes the brutal methods to which the British re-
sorted when General Howe had been recalled and General Clin-
ton appointed in his place :

"Notwithstanding their attempts had hitherto been fruitless
and their future prospects of success were lessened by France
engaging in the war, their dreams of domination were not yet
over. The weak condition of the Southern States and the num-
ber of slaves, whom they expected to debauch and arm against
their masters, promised an easy conquest of that part of the coun-
try and the defenseless situation of the extended frontiers opened
a way for the incursions of their savage and barabarous Indian
allies. The plan of the war was therefore changed. Despairing
of the success of their united forces against our main army they
divided them and sent a strong detachment to attack Georgia, the
savages were again called to arms and stimulated to lay waste the
frontiers and with horrid cruelty to massacre women and chil-
dren. Animated and inflamed with more than hostile rage the
enemy now seemed bent upon destruction more than conquest.
And 'therefore while the Indians, joined by MORE SAVAGE
BRITONS, were spreading flames and desolation on the fron-
tier, detachments were sent from New York to burn the neigh-
boring towns in Connecticut. By the spirited conduct of the peo-
ple and vigorous exertions of our army these incursions were re-
pelled and vengeance hurled on the heads of the savages."

We print these extracts here to show the true nature of


English warfare during the Revolution. They are written by
"the Man of Truth," as the Indians called Thomson — a man
whose simple word was accepted as Gospel by all classes of his
countrymen — and can not be controverted. They have not been
circulated among the people, but they are printed and on file
among the archives of the New York Historical Society.

There are two papers printed in the Thomson collection of
the New York Historical Society which throw much light on the
manner in which the spirit of patriotism was infused into the
colonists previous to the Revolution — especially that portion of
them who were slavishly attached to England or too timorous to
engage in war to uphold their rights. The first of these is entitled
"Joseph Reed's Narrative," and describes public sentiment in
Philadelphia in 1774 and 1775, it being evidently intended as a
contribution of materials for a projected history of the Revolu-
tion. The second paper is written by Thomson himself and is
directed to William Henry Drayton, the historian. It is a re-
view of Reed's paper, which Drayton submitted to Thomson
for revision, and corrects many errors into which Reed had fallen
in his references to John Dickinson. Thomson, as he said him-
self, unfolds the scene and gives a sketch of things as they really

Both documents describe the action taken in Philadelphia on
receipt of Boston's appeal for help in 1774 and agree in all par-
ticulars with the exception of the part relating to John Dickinson.
From them it appears that while Thomson, Reed, and Mifflin
were thoroughly agreed that a resort to arms must be made, the

Online LibraryJames HaltiganThe Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies → online text (page 22 of 67)