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afterwards in York, Pa., where for many years he was the sole
practitioner at the bar. In many respects Smith was one of the
most remarkable men who arose with the Revolution, and was
as well known for his wit, conviviality, and humorous stories, as
he was for his learning and success in practice, his drollery being
heightened by an awkwardness of gesture, a ludicrous cast of
countenance, and a drawling utterance. He also successfully en-
gaged in iron manufactures and at the beginning of the Revolu-
tion possessed considerable property. Early in 1774, nine months
before the gun was fired at Lexington, he raised the first com-
pany of troops in Pennsylvania in defense of American liberty
after returning from the Provincial Convention in Philadelphia,
called for the purpose of urging the assemblage of a general con-
gress. He was always chosen as the representative of his district
to every important public gathering and at various times in his
career was member of Assembly, Judge of the High Court of Ap-
peals, and brigadier-general of the Pennsylvania militia. In 1785
he was again elected to Congress to fill a vacancy, but declined
re-election on account of his advanced age. James Smith spent
all his fortune on the war of independence and at its close was
forced to return to the practice of his profession, in which he


continued until 1801. As an instance of his devotion we may men-
tion that when Congress was compelled to retreat to York he
closed his office against his clients and placed in it the Board of
War, He sacrificed all private interests that would promote the
glorious cause of liberty. He was a warm personal and political
friend of Washington and always stood ready to defend the purity
of his character in all the relations of life.

"James Smith," says Carroll Judson, in his "Sages and
Heroes of the American Revolution," "was original in everything.
With a strong mind, an open and honest heart, a benevolent and
manly disposition, he united great conviviality and amusing droll-
ery — yet so discreet and chaste as not to offend the most modest
ear. His manner was original beyond imitation, but wUh all his
wit and humor he held religion in great veneration. Such a mix-
ture of qualities are rarely blended in one man. His mind ranged
with the quickness of lightning from the deep-toned logic and the
profoundest thought to the eccentric and ludicrous — all bal-
anced by the equilibrium of discretion and each used at the appro-
priate time and place.

"Of the affairs of his adopted country James Smith was not
an idle spectator. No man delights in liberty and independence
more than an Irishman. Nor have the Irish people a warm affec-
tion for mother Britain. As oppressed as she is, no nation is
more sensitive of her rights than sweet Ireland. When British
oppression showed its hydra head in the American colonies Mr.
Smith took a terrible dislike to it and declared he would make
■ fight unless it withdrew its visible deformity at once. His heart
beat high for his adopted country — he came promptly to the res-
cue. He was a great admirer of the illustrious Washington and
corresponded with Franklin and several others of the patriarch
sages of '76. Surrounded by an affectionate family and a large
circle of ardent friends, this happy son of Erin glided smoothly
down the stream of time until the nth day of July, 1806, when his
frail bark was anchored in the bay of death — his immortal spirit
in the heaven of bliss. In life he was loved and honored — in death
his loss was deeply mourned."

Speaking of another signer of the Declaration of Independ-
ence, Mr. Judson thus writes : "Among those who laid the foun-
dation and commenced the superstructure of our growing Repub-
lic was GEORGE TAYLOR, bom in Ireland in 1716. His father
gave him a good education and placed him with a physician under
whose direction he commenced the study of medicine. Not fancy-
ing the idea of becoming a doctor he resolved to leave Ireland,
and without money or the knowledge of his friends entered as a
redemptioner on board a vessel bound for Philadelphia, Soon


after his arrival his passage was paid by Mr. Savage, of Durham,
Bucks County, Pa., for which George bound himself as a common
laborer for a numlDer of years. This gentleman carried on ircai
works and appointed his new servant to throw coal into the fur-
nace. His hands became cruelly blistered, but being ambitious to
gain the approval of all around him, he persevered without com-
plaint. Learning his situation his humane master entered into a
conversation with him and was surprised to find him possessed
of a good education and superior talents. He immediately pro-
moted him to a clerkship in the counting-house. He filled his
new station admirably and gained the esteem and friendship of
all his new acquaintances. He rapidly made himself acquainted
with the formula of business and the customs and laws of his
adopted country.

"After some years Mr. Savage died and George Taylor be-
came proprietor of his entire business by marrying Mrs. Savage
after the usual time of mourning had passed. That excellent lady
was not slow in recognizing the worthiness of his character. The
romantic interest which she always felt in the lonely exile from
Erin ripened into a warmer feeling some years after the death of
her husband and she resolved to reward him with her hand and

No man could have made better use of the opportunities af-
forded him than George Taylor. With a heart filled with grati-
tude for his own good fortune he never turned from the poor or
lowly without rendering all the assistance in his power. He early
earned the confidence of his fellow-citizens as well as that of his
employer and for six consecutive years represented his district
in the Provincial Assembly — from 1764 to 1770. During these
years he resided in Northampton County, Pa., whither he had re-
moved soon after his marriage. Returning to Durham he was
again elected to the Assembly in 1775.

Remembering the history of his own country, he always lent
a willing ear to the cause of independence in America, though at
first he was opposed to absolute separation. After his election to
the Pennsylvania Assembly in 1775 he was a member of the com-
mittee appointed to draw up instructions for the delegates in the
Continental Congress. These instructions, forbidding them to
vote for separation, were revoked in June, 1776, and because some
of the delegates still hesitated to vote for the Declaration of In-
dependence others were chosen in their place on July 20, 1776.
George Taylor was one of these new delegates. With his mind
now fully made up for separation, he took his seat in Congress
on the day of his election and signed his name to the Declaration


with the other members when the engrossed copy of the instru-
ment was ready on the second day of August.

In the spring of 1777 he retired from public life, crowned, as
Judson writes, with the honors of a devoted and ardent patriot,
an enlightened and valuable citizen, a worthy and honest man.
He died at Easton, Pa., on February 23, 1781.

Matthew Thornton, as we have already stated, was a member
of Congress and signer of the Declaration of Independence for
New Hampshire. He was brought to this country from Ireland
by his father, James Thornton, who at first settled at Wiscasset,
Me. After a few years he removed to Worcester, Mass., where
young Thornton received a good classical education. He studied
medicine under Dr. Grant, of Leicester, Mass., and commenced
the practice of his profession at Londonderry, N. H., which was
principally settled by people from his native land, where he rapidly
rose in the estimation of his fellow-citizens, not only as a skillful
physician but as a worthy and an honest man, whose heart was
warm and whose mind was guided by the most kindly feelings. He
was an active and early advocate of American rights and bold
and fearless in his opposition to British usurpation. Taking a
leading part in the overthrow of the English government in New
Hampshire he was chosen its first President when the people took
matters into their own hands. In an address which he issued on
assuming office he urged the people to unite in the cause of inde-
pendence. "You must all be sensible." he concluded, "that the
affairs of America have come to an affecting crisis. The horrors
and distresses of a civil war which of late we only had in con-
templation, we now find ourselves obliged to realize. Painful
bevond expression have been those scenes of blood and devastation
which the barbarous cruelties of British troops have placed before
our eyes. Duty to God, to ourselves, to posterity — enforced by
the cries of the slaughtered innocents, have urged us to take up
arms in our own defense. We would therefore recommend to the
colony at large to cultivate that Christian union, harmony and
tender affection which constitute the only foundation upon which
our invaluable privileges can rest with any security or our public
measures be pursued with the least prospect of success."

Dr. Thornton was Chief Justice of the New Hampshire Court
of Common Pleas, and on September 12, 1776, he was chosen
delegate to the Continental Congress. As in the case of the dele-
gates from Pennsylvania he was allowed to fix his name to the
Declaration of Independence, although he was elected after its
passage. In 1779 he bought a farm at Merrimack and sought to
retire to private life, but the people would not hear of it and con-
tinued to send him forward as their representative on all important


occasions. He continued to take a deep interest in public affairs
until the last and wrote political articles for the newspapers even
after he was eighty years of age. Dr. Thornton was a large,
portly man, over six feet in height, of fascinating manners and an
expressive countenance lighted up with keen, piercing black eyes.
He was bitterly opposed to religious bigotry, remarkable alike
for purity, ability, and honesty in his public and private life. He
was kind, charitable, and liberal and well earned the title of "an
honest man," which was placed above his grave. He died in his
eighty-ninth year at Newburyport, Mass., on June 24, 1803, while
on a visit to his daughter. In 1887 the Legislature of New Hamp-
shire voted one thousand dollars for a monument to his memory.

John Montgomery, member of the Continental Congress,
was born in the north of Ireland on July 6, 1722, and lived their
until his twenty-fourth year, when he inherited a small fortune
and emigrated to America. He settled in Carlisle, Pa., where he
soon became a prominent business man and quickly won the con-
fidence of the people. As early as 1758 he was commissioned
Captain in an expedition against the Indians and was the Treas-
urer of his county for ten years previous to the Revolution.
In 1774 he was Chairman of the Observation Committee of Cum-
berland County, and in July, 1776, he was appointed by Congress
one of the commissioners to conclude a treaty of peace with the
Western Indians at Fort Pitt. He commanded one of the Penn-
sylvania regiments at the battle of Long Island and was taken
prisoner at Fort Washington, but was soon exchanged. After
his release he fought through the campaign of New Jersey in 1777
as colonel of a regiment of associators. He was elected to the
Continental Congress in 1782-3, where he served on important
committees and took a leading part in the debates. After the
war he was one of the burgesses of Carlisle and associate judge
of Cumberland County. During his whole career he took a keen
interest in public affairs and always stood ready to risk his fortune
and his life in behalf of his adopted country. He was one of the
founders of Dickinson College and acted as its trustee from its
establishment until his death. His son John was mayor of Balti-
more, attorney-general of Maryland, and member of Congress
from 1807 to 181 1.

Dr. David Ramsey, physician and historian, was born of
Irish parents in Lancaster County, Pa., on April 2, 1749. He
graduated from Princeton in 1765 and from the medical depart-
ment of the Pennsylvania University in 1773, occupying himself
with teaching in the interim. Settling in Charleston he soon
acquired celebrity as a physician and was also active with his pen
in behalf of the colonial rights. At the beginning of the Revolu-


tionary War he took the field as a surgeon and served during the
siege of Savannah. From 1776 to 1783 he was an active member
of the Soutli Carolina Legislature and was also a member of the
Council of Safety, In this latter capacity his activity in behalf
of independence made him so obnoxious to the British that on the
capture of Charleston in May, 1780, he was included in the forty
inhabitants of that place who were held in close confinement at St.
Augustine for eleven months as hostages. Dr. Ramsay was a
member of the Continental Congress from 1782 to 1786, long a
member of the South Carolina Senate, and its President for seven
years. During the progress of the Revolution Dr. Ramsay col-
lected materials for its history, and his great impartiality, his fine
memory, and his acquaintance with many of the leading actors in
the contest, eminently qualified him for the task and enabled him
to produce a work that stands even to this day as one of our most
reliable authorities. He published many works relating to the
stirring times in which he lived and was one of the most eminent
writers of the period. He was married twice, first to Frances,
daughter of John Witherspoon, and then to Mary, daughter of
Henry Laurens. His second wife was a distinguished literary
woman and gave her husband valuable assistance in his writings.
Dr. Ramsay died in Charleston on May 8, 181 5, his death being
the result of wounds received from the pistol of a maniac, con-
cerning whose mental unsoundness he had testified in court.

Nathaniel Ramsay, brother of the doctor, also a member of
the Continental Congress, was born in Lancaster County, Pa., on
May I, 1 75 1. A graduate of Princeton, he studied law and was
admitted to the Maryland bar in 1771. He was active in the Amer-
ican cause and became a captain in the first troops raised in Mary-
land. He took part in the battle of Long Island and continued
under Washington until he became commander of the Third
Regiment of the Maryland Line. He nobly distinguished himself
at Alonmouth, as will be seen from our description of that famous
battle, soon after which he was taken prisoner. He spent a long
time in prison or on parole and when he was released his place
had been filled. After the war he resumed the practice of his pro-
fession and represented Maryland in Congress during 1786 and
1787. He was made marshal of the District of Maryland in 1790
and again in 1794, in addition to which he received the appoint-
ment of naval officer of Baltimore, which he held during fi . e ad-
ministrations. He died in Baltimore on October 23, 1817.

William Whipple, signer of the Declaration of Independence,
was a member of Congress from New Hampshire from 1775 to
1779. He came of Irish ancestry and commenced lif-^ as a cabin
boy on board ship. Before he was of age he raisc^ himself to


the position of captain and was engaged in the European trade.
In 17^9, when in his twenty-ninth year, he gave up the sea and
estabhshed himself in business in Portsmouth, N. H., with his
brother Joseph. From the very beginning of the contest with
Great Britain he was an ardent advocate of American rights and
rapidly forged to the front as a trusted leader of the people. In
addition to his Congressional duties he was appointed a brigadier-
general in 1777 and commanded a brigade of New Hampshire
troops at the battles of Saratoga and Stillwater. On the surrender
of Burgoyne he signed the articles of capitulation on behalf of
General Gates and was selected as one of the officers who marched
the surrendered British troops to their place of encampment on
Winter Hill, near Boston. The brilliant victory thus achieved
over the British was largely due to General Whipple and the
troops under his command. In 1778 General Whipple acted with
General Sullivan in Rhode Island and was present at the siege of
Newport, which was abandoned on account of the withdrawal of
the French fleet. In 1780 General Whipple was appointed a com-
missioner of the Board of Admiralty but he declined, preferring
to serve in the Legislature of his own State, which he did for
years and was afterwards State Superintendent of Finance and
judge of the Supreme Court. In 1784 he was appointed a justice
of the peace and quorum throughout the State, and acted in that
capacity until his death in 1785. In all the duties that devolved
upon him in the many public offices which he filled he acquitted
himself with credit and his private life was a model of consistency
and virtue. Guided by a dear head and a good heart his entire
career, from cabin boy to signer of the Declaration, was remark-
able for its purity and patriotism.

Pierce Butler, third son of Sir Richard Butler, was born in
Ireland in 1744 and came to America as a lieutenant in the British
army. He resigned before the Revolution and thereafter became
active in the American cause. He settled in Charleston, S. C,
and represented that State in the Continental Congress in 1787
and 1788. He was a member of the Federal Constitution and took
an active part in its discussions. After the adoption of the Con-
stitution he was United States Senator from 1789 to 1796 and
again from 1802 to 1804, He opposed some of the measures of
Washington's administration but was a warm advocate of the
War of 1812. He continued to take an active interest in public
affairs until his death, which occurred in Philadelphia on Febru-
ary 15, 1822. His son Pierce became a noted lawyer and was mar-
ried to Fanny Kemble, the celebrated actress,

Hugh Williamson, to whom we have before alluded, was
born of Irish parents in Chester County, Pa,, on December 5, 1735,


and graduated from the College of Philadelphia, where he was a
professor for four yiears. He studied medicine in Edinburgh and
Utrecht and after his return to this country he became famous as
a physician, scholar and statesman. He became a member of the
American Philosophical Society and on January 7, 1769, was ap-
pointed one of its commissioners to observe the transits of Venus
and Mercury. In 1773 he went to England to solicit aid for the
academy at Newark, Del., and while there appeared before the
House of Commons in behalf of American rights. After traveling
and studying for three years on the Continent he returned to
America in 1776, bearing important papers. In 1777 he engaged
in business with his younger brother in Charleston, S. C, subse-
quently practiced medicine at Edenton, N. C, and served as sur-
geon in the North Carolina militia for two years. After serving
m the Legislature of that State he represented it in the Conti-
nental Congress in 1784, 1785, and 1786, and served as a delegate
to the United States Constitutional Convention in 1787. He was
elected to the First Congress as a Federalist, re-elected to the
second and served from March, 1790, to March, 1793, when he
removed to New York, where he married and devoted himself to
literary pursuits. He was associated with DeWitt Clinton in orga-
nizing the Literary and Philosophical Society of New York in 1814,
and was an advocate of Clinton's canal system. Dr. Williamson
was an active promoter of philanthropic, literary, and scientific
Institutions and a frequent contributor to the transactions of
learned societies in America and Europe. He published many
scholarly essays and was the author of the History of North Caro-
lina. He died in New York on May 22, 1819.

John Armstrong, soldier in the Revolution and member of the
Continental Congress, was born in the north of Ireland in 1725
and came to America long before the Revolution, settling in Car-
lisle, Pa. He served with distinction in the French War of 1755
and 1756, and in the latter year he commanded an expedition
against the Indians at Kittanning, where he seized their stores and
destroyed their settlement. For this service the Corporation of
Philadelphia gave him a medal, a piece of plate, and a vote of
thanks. He early espoused the patriot cause and was commis-
sioned a brigadier-general in the Continental array on March i,
1776. He did noble service at Fort Moultrie, S. C, and command-
ed the Pennsylvania militia at the battles of Brandywine and Ger-
mantown, but resided from the army on April 4, i y^y, on account
of dissatisfaction m regard to rank. He was elected to the Con-
tinental Congress from 1778 to 1780 and again in 1787 and 1788.
He held many local public offices and enjoyed the confidence and
esteem of his fellow-citizens until his death at Carlisle, Pa., on
March 9, 1795.


His son, John Armstrong, jr., was born at Carlisle, Pa., on
November 25, 1758, and also distinguished himself in the army
and in Congress. He enlisted in the Revolutionary army while
yet a student at Princeton, and received his first training in the
Pennsylvania regiment of his father's friend and fellow-coun-
tryman, Colonel James Potter. He was aide-de-camp to General
Mercer, and when the latter was fatally wounded at Princeton, he
tenderly carried him in his arms off the battlefield. He then be-
came an aide on the staff of General Gates and served with him
through the Burgoyne campaign which closed with the inglorious
surrender of the English at Saratoga. He was made adjutant-
general of the Southern army in 1780, but, owing to illness, he
was obHged to retire from the army before the battle of Camden.
When he regained his health he resumed his place on the staff of
General Gates, with the rank of major, which he held until the
close of the war.

While in camp at Newburg, N. Y., on March 10, 1783, he
wrote the first of the two celebrated "Newburg Letters." The
communication, which was anonymous, set forth the services and
destitution of the soldiers and called a meeting of the army of-
ficers to consider measures of redress and to arouse Congress to
a sense of justice to the army, then about to be disbanded. Wash-
ington, who was in camp at the time, issued orders forbidding the
meeting, but he had no sooner done so than a second and still
more impassioned address appeared, which he met by attending
the meeting in person. He shrewdly quieted General Gates, whom
he had just come to suspect of bad faith, by making him chairman
of the meeting. Then in calm and dignified tones he answered the
arguments of the anonymous writer and appealed to the officers
to remain faithful to the glorious records they had made. "Let
me request you," he concluded, "to rely on the plighted faith of
your country and place full confidence that Congress will adopt
the most effectual measures in their power to render ample jus-
tice to you for your faithful and meritorious service. By thus de-
termining and thus acting you will pursue the plain and direct
road to the attainment of your wishes ; you will defeat the insidious
designs of our enemies, who are compelled to resort from open
force to secret artifice ; you will give one more distinguished proof
of unexampled patriotism and patent virtue rising superior to the
pressure of the most complicated sufferings ; and you will by the
dignity of your conduct afford occasion for posterity to say, when
speaking of the glorious example you have exhibited to mankind,
'Had this day been wanting the world had never seen the last
stage of perfection to which human nature is capable of at-
taining.' "


The most profound silence pervaded the assembly when Wash-
ington arose to read his address. As he adjusted his spectacles,
he said, in a deeply touching voice: "You see, gentlemen, that
I have not only grown gray but blind in your service." This
simple remark had a powerful effect on the war-worn veterans
by whom he was surrounded. After reading his address Wash-
ington retired without uttering a word, leaving the officers to
deliberate without restraint. Their conference was brief. They
unanimously passed resolutions thanking their chief for the

Online LibraryJames HaltiganThe Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies → online text (page 25 of 67)