James Haltigan.

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

. (page 23 of 67)
Online LibraryJames HaltiganThe Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies → online text (page 23 of 67)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

two latter were far more outspoken and fiery than the former.
Thomson firmly believed in Revolution, but he realized that the
majority of people did not and that methods had to be devised
to convert them before any decided action could be taken. His
idea was that the people should move together; whether they
were of the same opinion or not, and he was therefore opposed
to taking any steps that caused alarm or dismay. He proposed to
move gradually, step by step, from one position to another until
he had the people so far advanced that they could not retreat.
Reed and Mifflin were too ardent and impatient for this course,
but the influence of Thomson kept them within bounds. John
Dickinson fully sympathized with Thomson's methods, but as he
belonged to a Quaker family and all his coreligionists were op-
posed to war, he could not proclaim himself in that direction until
the die was about to be cast. Thomson had his confidence and
knew his opinions exactly, but Reed did not and therefore mis-
judged him. Thomson displayed the highest statesmanship in
all the movements leading up to the Revolution. By holding


back the enthusiasts and encouraging those who faltered he man-
aged to bring the people together and unite them in an effort for

When Thomson resigned his position as Secretary of Con-
gress in 1789, Washington, just after being elected President of
the United States, thus wrote to him, under date of July 24, 1789:

"The present age does so much justice to the unsullied repu-
tation with which you have always conducted yourself in the
execution of the duties of your office and posterity will find your
name so honorably connected with the verification of such a mul-
titude of astonishing facts, that my single suffrage would add
little to the illustration of your merits. Yet I can not withhold
any just testimonial in favor of so old, so faithful, and so able a
pubHc officer which might tend to soothe his mind in the shade
of retirement. Accept, then, this serious declaration, that your
services have been as important as your patriotism was dis-
tinguished; and enjoy that best of all rewards, the consciousness
of having done your duty well. I commend you to the protection
of Heaven and sincerely wish you may enjoy every species of

Thomas Jefferson was also a warm friend and admirer of
Thomson. A deep attachment existed between them throughout
their whole lives which was never even ruffled by the great up-
heavals through which they passed. The following letter, written
by Jefferson to Thomson on January 9, 1816 — when the former
was seventy-three and the latter eighty-seven years of age — not
only proves this friendship, but also dispels the slanderous state-
ments that Jefferson was an infidel :

"My dear and ancient Friend: An acquaintance of fifty-
two years — for I think ours dates from 1764 — calls for an inter-
change of notice now and then that we remain in existence the
monuments of another age, and examples of a friendship unaf-
fected by the jarring elements by which we have been surrounded
— of revolutions of government, of party and of opinion. I am
reminded of this duty by the receipt of your Synopsis of the Four
Evangelists. I had procured it as soon as I saw it advertised
and had become familiar with its use, but this copy is the more
valued because it comes from your hands. This work bears the
stamp of that accuracy which marks everything from you. I,
too, have made a wee little book from the same materials, which
I call the Philosophy of Jesus. A more beautiful or precious
model of ethics I have never seen. It is a document in proof that
I am a real Christian — that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of
Jesus ; very different from the Platonists who call me Infidel and
themselves Christians and preachers of the Gospel."


This letter was highly pleasing to Thomson, as it enabled
him to refute the statements as to Jefferson's infidelity and he
quoted from it when Delaplaine, the Philadelphia publisher, ap-
proached him on the subject. In another letter to Thomson,
dated January 29, 181 7, Jefferson thus alludes to Delaplaine, who
was then preparing his book on the lives of distinguished Ameri-
cans : "He wrote me and asked me questions which I answer only
to one Being. To himself, therefore, I replied : 'Say nothing of
my religion ; it is known to my God and myself alone ; its evidence
before the world is to be sought in my life ; if that has been hon-
est and dutiful to society the religion which has regulated it can-
not be a bad one. It is a singular anxiety that some people have
that we should all think alike. May they, with all their meta-
physical riddles, appear before that tribunal with as clean hearts
and hands as you and I shall. There, suspended in the scales of
eternal justice, faith and works will show their worth by their
weight. God bless you and preserve you long in life and health.
— Thomas Jefferson.' "

These letters from two of the greatest men this country has
produced, leaving out all other considerations, are in themselves
sufficient to establish the fame of Charles Thomson and enshrine
his memory in the hearts of all Americans. He lived to the great
age of ninety-five years, retaining the respect and love of the
people to the last and died at Lower Merion, Montgomery
County, Pa., on August 16, 1824.

John Sullivan, one of the leading men of the First Con-
gress, distinguished himself not only as a great military leader,
but won fame as an able statesman as well. He was the third son
of Owen Sullivan, of Limerick, Ireland, whom we have already
described, and was bom at Somersworth, Stratford County,
N. H., on February 18, 1740. Some historians give his birthplace
as Berwick, Me., but we take the authority of Judge Dana, of
Concord, N. H., who delivered an address at the centennial cele-
bration of the battle of Newtown (Elmira, N. Y.) in 1879.

Under his father's instruction he received a superior educa-
tion for that period, and after a voyage in his youth, he com-
menced the study of law in Portsmouth, the principal town in
the colony, and soon evinced extraordinary aptitude for his chosen
profession. Upon his admission to the bar he settled in the town
of Durham, in his native county, and purchased a house, which
continued to be his residence until his death. There he entered
upon a lucrative practice, and also found time to inaugurate vari-
ous manufacturing enterprises, for which that part of New Hamp-
shire has been ever since distinguished. Thus passed some ten


years of General Sullivan's early manhood, during which he ac-
cumulated a fair estate.

Then came the first rumblings of the Revolution. Sympa-
thizing heartily with the cause of American liberty, he early en-
listed his fellow-citizens in a miUtary company, which he drilled
with great assiduity. He devoted much attention to all the great
campaigns of ancient and modern times and could particularly
describe their principal battles.

While representing Durham in the Legislature of New
Hampshire, in 1774, he was chosen a member of the First Con-
tinental Congress, which assembled at Philadelphia on September
5 of that year. His name appears upon important committees
and he became particularly distinguished during that session by
his eloquent reply to John Dickinson, of Pennsylvania, who pro-
posed a second address to the King. This speech of General Sul-
livan elicited much praise from John Adams, with whom he was
on terms of intimate friendship.

Upon returning to New Hampshire he, in company with John
Langdon and two others, planned an expedition against Fort
William and Mary, at the entrance to Portsmouth Harbor, on
December 13, 1774, four months before the first blood was shed
at Lexington. He took possession of the fort, imprisoned the
garrison, seized and carried away one hundred barrels of powder,
some of which was so effectively used at Bunker Hill; fifteen
cannon, and a quantity of small arms and stores. Thus the first
open act of hostility by a military force against the royal authority
was committed by John Sullivan, the son of an Irishman and the
lineal descendant of the O'Sullivan Beares who fought so nobly
against the tyranny of England on Irish battlefields.

In January, 1775, a few weeks after this event, Sullivan
and his associate, Langdon, were elected representatives to the
Second Continental Congress, and on June 22, hostilities having
been begun, he was chosen one of eight Brigadier Generals for
the Colonial army, Richard Montgomery, an Irishman, being ap-
pointed to a like position at the same time, while on the ist of
March following the two other Irishmen, Andrew Lewis and
William Thompson, were also appointed Brigadiers.

Accepting the appointment, Sullivan resigned his seat in Con-
gress, proceeded to the camp at Cambridge and was assigned to
the command of the left wing of the army.

Thus commenced his military career, which was one of the
most brilliant in the whole army. We will not here recite the
details of his many achievements, but later on due credit will be
done them. He served with distinction in Canada and at the bat-
tles of Long Island, Trenton, Brandywine, and Germantown.


After sharing the privations of Valley Forge he was assigned by
Washington, in the spring of 1778, to the chief command of the
American forces in Rhode Island and he would have driven the
British out of that section but for the failure of the French Ad-
miral, Count d'Estaing, to co-operate with him. He remained
in command of Rhode Island until the spring of 1779, when he
was placed at the head of the expedition against the Indians on
the frontiers of New York and Pennsylvania, who had, during
the previous year, at the instigation and with the active aid of
the British, perpetrated frightful massacres at Wyoming and
Cherry Valleys, and along the Susquehanna River for hundreds
of miles.

Soon after the termination of that successful campaign, in
consequence of ill health arising from a constant service in the
field of nearly five years, General Sullivan resigned his com-
mission, much to the regret of Washington, who addressed to him
a warm complimentary letter. During his career General Sul-
livan had filled many responsible civil positions, been intrusted
with important military commands, been promoted to the rank of
major-general for gallantry, made the subject of special com-
mendatory reports by the Commander-in-Chief, and received the
repeated thanks of his own State and of Congress. He had been
through the fire and was found not wanting.

In June, 1780, General Sullivan was chosen by New Hamp-
shire to represent her again in Congress, and two years later he
became Attorney-General of his State and rendered great service
at a very important crisis. In 1786 General SulHvan was elected
Chief Magistrate of New Hampshire, and was twice elevated
to the same honorable position at two successive elections. He
was President of the convention in that State which adopted the
Constitution of the United States and by his personal influence
contributed much to that result.

In 1789 General Sullivan was appointed by President Wash-
ington Judge of the United States District Court of New Hamp-
shire, and held that position until his greatly lamented death, on
January 23, 1795, which was the result of his exposures in the
armies of the Revolution. He had not quite finished his fifty-
fourth year and was fifty years younger than his venerable father,
who survived him more than a year and retained the possession
of all his faculties to the last.

"The character and achievements of General Sullivan," said
Judge Dana in the address before alluded to, "will ever be appre-
ciated by a people who have received such lasting benefits from
his public services. And of all the eminent worthies who served
the American cause during the Revolutionary struggle, not one


manifested a more disinterested patriotism, a more ardent and
well directed zeal, and, under the circumstances, attained more
complete success than did John Sullivan."

Robert Treat Paine, member of the First Congress from
IMassachusetts, was a descendant of the O'Neills of Ulster. Cul-
len, in his Irish in Boston, gives O'Hart as his authority that
Henry O'Neill, of Dungannon, born in 1665 — sixth in descent
from Shane the Proud, Prince of Ulster, and cousin of Sir Neal
O'Neill, who was killed at the battle of the Boyne — changed his
name to Paine, which was that of a maternal ancestor after the
surrender of Limerick in order to preserve a portion of his es-
tates. His youngest brother, Robert O'Neill, who also took the
name of Paine, emigrated to America towards the close of the
seventeenth century and was the founder of the Paine family in
America. Robert Treat Paine, the signer of the Declaration of
Independence, was the grandson of this Robert O'Neill, and, but
for the unhappy occurrences in Ireland, that noble Irish name
would have appeared in the immortal document.

His father, Thomas Paine, was for many years pastor of
Weymouth, Mass., and the son at first studied theology after
graduating from Harvard, but finally became a lawyer and set-
tled at Taunton, Mass. He rose rapidly in his profession and
came prominently before the public in many important cases. In
1770 he conducted the prosecution of the English Captain.
Thomas Preston, and his soldiers for firing on the inhabitants of
Boston. He was a delegate to the Continental Congress from
1774 to 1778, serving on important committees and signing the
Declaration. He was Speaker of the Massachusetts House of
Representatives, Attorney-General of the State, and Judge of the
Supreme Court. His legal attainments were great; he was an
able and impartial judge, an excellent scholar, and noted for
the brilliancy of his wit. He was one of the founders of the
American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and died in 1814, at
the age of eighty-three years.

O'Hart says that besides Henry and Robert O'Neill — the
ancestors of Robert Treat Paine — there were two other brothers,
Brian and John O'Neill, who went to France after Sarsfield's
surrender and finally settled in Portugal. Eight of their descend-
ants, in 1807, when the French invaded the last named country,
went with the royal family of Braganza to Brazil, where many of
their offspring are now to be found.

Joseph Galloway was the only Irish- American in the First
Congress who declined to take part with the patriots. Previous
to the Revolution he was one of the most popular men in Penn-
sylvania and was Speaker of the Colonial Assembly for the last


eight years of its existence, being usually elected by a unanimous
vote. He acquired distinction in the legal profession and was
the intimate friend of Benjamin Franklin. When the latter was
going to England, in 1764, he placed in Galloway's hands his val-
uable letter books and other papers for safe keeping.

In the First Congress Galloway submitted a plan, as a meas-
ure of accommodation, which proposed a union of the Colonies,
with a grand council authorized to regulate colonial affairs jointly
with the British Parliament, each to have a mutual negation on
the other. This plan was favorably received and was rejected only
by a majority of one.

The debates over it were very warm and it was on this oc-
casion that Samuel Adams, regarding the proposition as a con-
cession to tyranny, exclaimed: "I should advise persisting in
our struggle for liberty though it were revealed from heaven that
nine hundred and ninety-nine were to perish and only one of a
thousand were to survive and retain his liberty ! One such free-
man must possess more virtue and enjoy more happiness than a
thousand slaves ; and let him propagate his like and transmit to
them what he has so nobly preserved."

After serving in the Congress of 1775 Galloway retired to
his country seat, where Franklin visited him and unavailingly
sought to induce him to join the cause of independence. In De-
cember, 1776, he joined General Howe, the British commander,
and accompanied him in his advance through New Jersey. Dur-
ing the occupation of Philadelphia by the British he was appoint-
ed head of the civil government. At the evacuation of the city
he retired with the enemy and soon after departed for England.

In 1779 he was examined before the House of Commons
and there gave testimony that at least half of the patriot army
was composed of Irishmen. In 1783 his property, valued at forty
thousand pounds, was seized by Pennsylvania, but the greater
portion of it was afterwards restored to his daughter. He never
returned from England and died there in 1803 in his seventy-
fourth year.

Summing up the proceedings of the First Congress and its
effect on the country at large, Michael Doheny thus writes:

"Their resolutions and addresses bespeak the presence of
useful and matured talent. Wisdom and forbearance impressed
their character on the sternest resolves that ever a people formed.
Their various addresses were committed to the abilities and dis-
cretion of subcommittees, consisting of some of the ablest mem-
bers; and their clear, succinct, and manly compositions marked
the genius of those who afterwards took a leading part in raising
up a great empire, and consolidating its security and glory. The


chief organization recommended by Congress was that of a com-
mon union, reliance upon each other and upon justice, and a
prompt purpose of at any time meeting the worst, while they
waited for satisfactory adjustment as the result of the memorials
and remonstrances they had addressed to the monarch, Parlia-
ment, and people of Great Britain. They also addressed letters
to their neighbors of Canada, invoking them, in the name of
American liberty, to abstain at least from joining in the project
for their enslavement; and, concluding with an address to their
fellow-countrymen — solemnly commending them to the care of
a merciful Providence, and pointing out to them that all further
compromise with England would be shame and slavery — that
memorable body of patriots dissolved themselves 26th October,
1774, recommending that another Congress should assemble on
the loth of May following."

The following winter was one of gloom and terror. The
question between the Colonies and Great Britain, as it was nar-
rowed into its true character, deepened into alarming grounds.
Throughout America the Constitutional Assemblies rapturously
approved the unyielding determination of Congress. The names
of its members were invoked as those of saviours, and their de-
crees blessed as embodying the last and holiest resolution of a
banded people. England, or her Parliament or ministry, awoke
to a true sense of her difficulty.

The second or what may be called the permanent Conti-
nental Congress, met in Philadelphia on May 10, 1775, and re-
mained theoretically in perpetual session until March, 1781. Like
the first Congress it opened its sessions in Carpenter's Hall, out
of respect to the mechanics of the country. It sat at Philadelphia
until December, 1776; at Baltimore until March. 1777, when it re-
turned to Philadelphia again ; at Lancaster, Pa., in September,
1777; at York, Pa., until June, 1778; at Philadelphia from July,
1778, to June, 1783; at Princeton, N. J., until November, 1783;
at Annapolis until June, 1784; at Trenton in November and De-
cember, 1784, and at York from January, 1785, until its last re-
corded session on October 21, 1788. The appointment of dele-
gates was generally made by the State Legislatures, and each
State, no matter how many delegates it sent, had but one vote.
It declared independence, carried on the war, and, as far as it was
able, governed the whole country.

At first Congress was slow in its movements and many
times it was unable to respond to the calls made upon it by the
brave men in the field, but taking it altogether from the begin-
ning to the end of the terrible ordeal through which it success-
fully passed, it is safe to say that no wiser, braver, or more self-


sacrificing body of men ever assembled together in behalf of
human rights.

In all its sessions Irishmen and Irish-Americans took a most
prominent part and many of them rose to the highest rank in
ability and patriotism.

Owing to the misstatements and inaccuracies of prejudiced
historians in their regard, together with the changing of Irish
names during the Penal days, it is impossible now to give credit
to all of the men of our race who took part in the movement for
American independence, but sufficient evidence is at hand to
prove than they rallied to its standard with more ardor and in
far greater numbers than any other nationality in the Colonies.

They had their own history before them; centuries of op-
pression at the hands of England rankled in their breasts, and,
while others paused in doubt, they flew to arms against their
old enemy with alacrity and fervor.

Of the many men of our race who took an active part in
Congress and other fields of patriotic effort whom we have not
already mentioned, Daniel Carroll, of Maryland, was one of the
foremost. He v/as a member of the honored Carroll family of
that State, being a cousin of Charles Carroll, of Carrollton, and
of John Carroll, Archbishop of Baltimore. He was a member
of the Continental Congress for four years, a delegate to the con-
vention that framed the Constitution of the United States, over
which General Washington presided, and also served a term in the
new Congress after the Constitution was adopted. His farm
formed the site of the present City of Washington, and in 1791
he was appointed commissioner for surveying the District of
Columbia. Daniel Carroll lived to a great age and was active in
public affars until his death, in 1829.

Associated with him in Congress was Thomas Johnson, of
Maryland, whose grandfather, also Thomas Johnson, came from
Ireland in 1689 with Charles Carroll, Daniel Carroll's grandfather,
and the founder of the Carroll family in Maryland.

Thomas Johnson was one of the foremost men in Maryland,
previous to, during, and after the Revolution, being continually
kept in the public service from the opening to the closing of his
career. He was three times Governor of Maryland, being the
first to occupy that honorable position after independence was
proclaimed. While a member of the Maryland house of dele-
gates he introduced a bill to confiscate all British property in that
State. He was Chief Judge of the General Court of Maryland
and Justice of the United States Supreme Court. On the resig-
nation of John Rutledge as Chief Justice of the latter court, Wash-
ington insisted on Judge Johnson's taking that place, but he de-


clined the position, as he did also that of Secretary of State, ten-
dered him a few years later.

He was a member of Congress from 1774 to 1776 and again
continuously from 1781 to 1787. On June 15, 1775, as Congress-
man from Maryland, he nominated George Washington as Com-
mander-in-Chief of the army, while another Irish-American, Ed-
ward Rutledge, was one of a committee of three appointed to
draw up Washington's commission and instructions, and a third
Irish-American, John Hancock, President of Congress, officially
announced to Washington the fact of his unanimous election to
be Chief of the army.

After President Hancock sat down Washington arose in
his place and signified his acceptance in a brief and simple, but
truly patriotic reply which betokened the lofty character which
guided his life. "Mr. President," he said, "though I am truly
sensible of the high honor done me in this appointment, yet I feel
great distress from a consciousness that my abilities and military
experience may not be equal to the extensive and important trust.
However, as the Congress desire it, I will enter upon the momen-
tous duty and exert every power I possess in their service and for
the support of the glorious cause. I beg they will accept my most
cordial thanks for this distinguished testimony of their approba-
tion. But, lest some unlucky event should happen unfavorable
to my reputation, I beg it may be remembered by every gentle-
man in this room that I this day declare, with the utmost sin-

Online LibraryJames HaltiganThe Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies → online text (page 23 of 67)