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

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cessive years, he petitioned the Legislature of the State, on the
importance and practicability of uniting the Western Lakes to
the Atlantic. He was, probably, the author of the letters signed
"Hibernicus," on the same subject, which were published at New
York about the beginning of last century. In 1774, he proposed
to supply New York with water by aqueducts, such as now bring
in Croton, and of which he exhibited models at public lectures.
During the War of 1812 he was "the projector and attendant of
the telegraph erected on Castle Clinton." He died in obscurity
and poverty, while others were growing famous and wealthy
upon ideas of his failing intellect.

Robert Fulton was born of poor Irish parents at Little
Britain, Lancaster County, Pa., in 1765. He early displayed
artistic tastes, and painted portraits for a subsistence, in Phila-
delphia, before he was quite a man. In 1786 he went to London,


lived with Benjamin West, and took out several patents; in
1796 he went to Paris, and resided with the Hon. Joel Barlow
where, in 1803, after many delays and mishaps, he launched the
first boat propelled by steam power, on the Seine, In 1806 he
returned to America, and ran a more complete model boat on the
Hudson. From this time forth his fortune needed no patron's
aid ; but he did not live long to enjoy its sweets. He died Febru-
ary 23, 181 5, in his forty-fourth year, too soon for his country,
though not too soon for history.

It is not now possible for us to estimate how much of the
growth and greatness of America is due to the canals of Colles,
and the steamboats of Fulton. In fifty years this nation has in-
creased its territory ten fold, its population seven fold, and its
wealth a thousand fold. Too seldom do we remember, when
borne triumphantly on the tide of all this prosperous increase,
that to these humble, studious men, stout-hearted wrestlers with
formidable problems, patient bearers, for truth's sake, of ridicule
and reproach, we owe so much of all we most boast of and
most enjoy.

Among the most distinguished mathemat'icians of this con-
tinent, Robert Adrain holds a conspicuous place. He was born
in Carrickfergus, September 30, 1775, and was, in 1798, a United
Irishman. After the failure of that memorable insurrection, he
emigrated to America, poor and undistinguished. His success
on Siese shores we transcribe from the record made by another
hand :

"Robert was the eldest of five children, and lost both his
parents in his fifteenth year. He was an excellent mathematician
and Unguist, and taught school at Ballycarry when only in his
sixteenth year. Mr. Mortimer, a gentleman of great wealth and
infiuence in Cumber, engaged him as an instructor of his chil-
dren ; but when the Irish people made an effort, in 1798, to shake
off their ancient oppressors, Robert Adrian took the command
of a company of the United Irish, while Mr. Mortimer, being an
officer of the English authorities, was offering a reward of fifty
pounds for his capture.

"At the battle of Saintfield, Mr. Mortimer received a mortal
blow. But it so happened that Mr. Adrian, having refused his
assent to some measure proposed in his division of the army, re-
ceived a dangerous wound in the back from one of his own men
the day before the battle, and was reported to be dead. This
stopped further search for him, and after several narrow es-
capes from the hands of Ireland's enemies, he found a refuge
in New York, then suffering from the yellow fever. He first
taught an academy at Princeton, N. J., then became principal of


the York County Academy, next took charge of the academy at
Reading, and became a valuable contributor to Baron's 'Mathe-
matical Correspondent,' and afterwards editor of the Analist,
which he continued for several years in Philadelphia,

"In 1 80 1 he was appointed professor of mathematics and
natural philosophy in Queen's (now Rutger's) College, New
Brunswick, had the degree of Doctor of Laws conferred on him,
and was soon after elected a member of the philosophical societies
in Europe and America. He edited the third American edition of
Hutton's Course of Mathematics, and made important correc-
tions, adding many valuable notes, and an elementary treatise on
Descriptive Geometry.

"On the decease of Dr. Kemp, Dr. Adrian was elected, in
181 3, professor of mathematics and natural philosophy in Co-
lumbia College, New York; soon after which he published a
paper on the figure and magnitude of the earth, and gravity,
which obtained for him great celebrity in Europe. He con-
tributed to the periodicals of the day, edited the Mathematical
Diary in 1825, and was looked up to as having no superior
among the mathematicians of America. The ease and facility
with which he imparted instruction, his fluency in reading the
Greek and Latin authors, and extensive acquaintance with gen-
eral literature, his social disposition, strong understanding, and
high conversational powers caused the students and professors
greatly to regret his resignation of his office in 1826. The senior
mathematical class had his portrait taken by the distinguished
Irish artist, Ingham, an admirable likeness.

"After leaving New York, he held for several years a pro-
fessorship in the University of Pennsylvania, of which institu-
tion he was vice provost. Towards the close of his life, his mem-
ory and other faculties of his mind suffered decay. Through life
he was a sincere Christian, and few theologians could better ex-
plain the more difficult passages of Scripture. His strong and
powerful intellect, and pure and fervent piety, were cited as a
refutation of the sentiment that the study of the abstruse sci-
ences tends to infidehty."

Nor must we omit to mention here the name of Matthew
Carey, one of the first American writers on political economy.
Mr. Carey was bom in Ireland, in the year 1761, and removed to
Philadelphia about the period of the Revolution. From 1785 till
1830, he was an unwearied student of questions affecting trade,
emigration, banking, wages, public schools, benevolent societies,
and the public health. He was, we believe, the first to propose
a monument to Robert Fulton. He was also a consistent friend
of liberty everywhere, of which his "Vindicae Hiberniae," "Olive


Branch," and "Case of the Greeks," remain as ample evidence.
He died at a good old agq, in Philadelphia, having reared up a
numerous family, full of hereditary ability, who seem destined
still further to dignify the name of Carey.

In his appendix McGee says his chapter on the services of
Irishmen to education and science might have been much enlarged
and adds the following:

"Among historical works we find Butler's Kentuckv, Ram-
say's South Carolina, Burke's Virginia, Edmund Burke s Euro-
pean Settlements in America, McMahon's Maryland, McSherry's
Maryland, Dwyer's Buffalo, O'Reilly's Rochester, O'Callaghan's
Documentary History of New York, Sullivan's Maine, Browne's
Jamaica, Walsh's Jamaica, Madden's Cuba, Breen's St. Lucia,
Warburton's Conquest of Canada, Bishop Burke's Tracts on
Nova Soctia. All these are the writings of Irishmen on historical

"In imaginative literature we have the poems of Thomas
Makin, John A. Shea, Mr. Gallagher, of Cincinnati; the Misses
Carey, Miss Anna C. Lynch, daughter of an United Irishman;
W. Mulchinock, and some other writers.

"In theology and politics we have done most. Bishop Eng-
land's works, the several Catholic controversies of Boston, New
York, Philadelphia, and Cincinnati; the learned works of the
Kendricks, brothers and archbishops; the political essays of
Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congress; Mat-
thew Carey and William Sampson, the speeches of Calhoun and
Emmet, the lectures and essays of Henry Giles, the letters
and lectures of Archbishop Hughes, the various journals
written by Irish hands; all these make up a fair contribution to
American literature of this class. In political economy we have
furnished Henry C. Carey, son of Matthew Carey, certainly the
most able and original American writer on that subject.

"In science, so long as we have Robert Fulton, Colles,
Adrian, and Oliver Byrne, we fear no comparison. In the appli-
cation of science to practical objects, De Witt Clinton, in New
York, and James Sullivan in Massachusetts, from their high
official positions, were mainly instrumental in the 'canal-ization'
of their respective States. The introduction of the cotton manu-
facture and the first railroad in Massachusetts were also effected
hy Patrick Tracey Jackson."



John Potts, the founder of Pottstown, Pa., was another Irish-
man whose name would never betray his nationahty and whose
family contributed not a little to the Keystone State. He left five
sons, all but one of whom distinguished themselves on the side
of American liberty and independence. Jonathan Potts, his eldest
son, became a surgeon in 1771, graduating in that year as M. D.
from the College of Philadelphia. He early espoused the cause
of independence and was Secretary of the Berks County Com-
mittee of Safety in 1775. In 1776 he was appointed surgeon in
the Continental Army and in 1777 was made Director-General
of the hospitals of the Middle Department. From 1768 until his
death in 1781 he was a member cff the American Philosophical
Society. His brother Thomas, also one of the members of this
Society, was commissioned colonel of one of the Pennsylvania
regiments in 1776. It was in the house of Isaac Potts, another
brother, that Washington established his headquarters in Valley
Forge. The Potts family, located in this vicinity, were extensive
manufacturers of iron. Isaac Potts established a forge upon the
creek which here enters the Schuylkill, and from that fact the
place obtained the name of Valley Forge. It was Isaac Potts,
too, who discovered Washington at prayer in the woods of Valley
Forge, when his great heart was wrung with the sufferings of
his soldiers and he appealed to the Most High in their behalf.
According to Lossing, Isaac Potts, at whose house Washington
was quartered, relates that one day while the Americans were
encamped in Valley Forge, he strolled up the creek, when, not far
from his dam, he heard a solemn voice. He walked quietly in
the direction of it and saw Washington's horse tied to a sapling.
In a thicket near by was the beloved chief upon his knees in
prayer, his cheeks suffused with tears. Like Moses at the bush,
Isaac felt that he was on holy ground and withdrew unobserved.
He was much agitated, and on entering the room where his wife
was he burst into tears. On her inquiring the cause he informed
her of what he had seen, and added, "If there is any one man
on this earth whom the Lord will listen to it is George Wash-
ington, and I feel a presentiment that under such a commander
there can be no doubt of our eventually establishing our inde-
pendence, and that God in his providence has willed it so."

John Potts, the founder of this family, is claimed by President


Roosevelt as one of his Irish ancestors. In a letter read at the
banquet of the American-Irish Historical society in January, 1905,
he thus writes :

"My Dear Mr. Sweeney:

"Replying to your letter of the 14th inst., I would state that
my Irish ancestors came to Pennsylvania early in the seventeenth
century. They included John Potts and his wife, Elizabeth Mc-
Vaugh (so set down in the records — I do not laiow what the
real name was), John Barnwell, whose wife was Sarah Craig, and
a man named Lukens, who may have been a German from the
Palatinate. They were all of them humble people, farmers,
mechanics, etc., although Sarah Craig is put down in the book
as being descended on her mother's side, through the Barnwells,
from various well-known Irish families, both of the Pale and
outside the Pale, the Butlers, the Fitzgeralds, O'Neills, and
O'Briens. But about this more illustrious descent I fear I can not
give vou any specific particulars. Sincerely yours,


John Barnwell was born in Ireland about 1671, according to
Appleton's American Biography, and came to this country toward
the end of the seventeenth century. He settled in South Carolina
and became prominent in public affairs. In 1712 he was appointed
commander of the forces sent against the Tuscarora Indians and
succeeded in driving them out of the colony. Colonel Barnwell
displayed the highest military skill in this expedition, marching
through an unbroken wilderness without provision trains or any
regular base of supplies, and to this day he is known to his
descendants as Tuscarora John. In 1722 he was sent to London
as the agent of South Carolina, but did not remain long abroad.
He died in Beaufort, S. C, in 1724.

His grandson, Robert Barnwell, joined the Revolutionary
Army when only sixteen years old and was dangerously wounded
soon after in the battle of Port Royal Island. He was taken
prisoner and confined in a prison ship in Cape Fear River, but
with his fellow prisoners he organized a revolt, overpowered the
guards, captured the ship and made their escape. He was after-
ward Speaker of the South Carolina House of Representatives,
President of the Senate and Member of Congress. He was married
to Elizabeth Potts, granddaughter of Th-^mas Potts, the Irish-
American Revolutionary Colonel whom we have already men-
tioned. Their daughter, Margaret Barnwell, became the wife of
Cornelius Van Schaick Roosevelt, grandfather of President Roose-
velt, and it is mainly through this union that the latter derives


the genuine Irish traits that have so often displayed themselves
in his distinguished career.

Since writing the foregoing letter President Roosevelt has
delivered his celebrated speech on the part taken by men of the
Irish race in the establishment of the United States — as colonists
in the early days who led the van of civilization, as patriotic
soldiers in our various wars and as educators, professional men,
merchants and general workers.

This speech, delivered by the President of the United States,
is such an important pronouncement and it corroborates so
strongly all that we have claimed on behalf of our people that we
transcribe it here as a most valuable chapter in the history of our
race in this Republic :


Judge Fitzgerald, and you, my fellow-members, and my
fellow-Americans : I listened with the greatest pleasure to the
introduction of my good and old friend the President of the
Society. But he did me more than justice when he described
the difficulty of my coming on here. The difficulty would have
been to keep me away. All I needed was the invitation ; I would
do the rest.

It is, of course, a matter of peculiar pleasure to me to come
to my own city and to meet so many men with whom I have
been associated for the last quarter of a century, for it was nearly
that time ago. Judge, that you and I first met when we were
both in the New York Legislature together, and to be greeted by
you, as you have greeted me to-night, I wish to express at the
outset my special sense of obligation — and I know that the rest
of you will not grudge my expressing it — my special sense of
obligation to Colonel Duffy and the officers and men of the Sixty-
ninth, who were my escort to-day. I shall write to Colonel Duffy
later, to give him formal notice, and to ask him to give the regi-
ment formal notice, of my appreciation, but I wish to express it
thus publicly to-night.

Now we will pass from the present to the past. The Judge
has spoken to you of the formation of the Society of the Friendly
Sons of St. Patrick in Philadelphia, in Colonial days. It was
natural that it should have .started in Philadelphia and at the
time of which the Judge spoke. For we must not forget, in deal-
ing with our history as a nation, that long before the outbreak
of the Revolution there had begun on the soil of the Colonies,
which afterward became the United States, that mixture of races


which has been and still is one of the most important features in
our history as a people. At the time early in the eighteenth
century, when the immigrants from Ireland first began to come
in numbers to this country, the race elements were still imper-
fectly fused, and for some time the then new Irish strain was
clearly distinguishable from the others. And there was one pecu-
liarity about these immigrants who came from Ireland to the
Colonies in the eighteenth century which has never been paralleled
in the case of any other immigrants whatsoever. In all oSier cases
since the very first settlements, the pushing westward to the
frontier, the conquest of the continent has been due primarily to
the men of native birth. But the immigrants from Ireland in the
seventeenth century, and those alone, pushed boldly through the
settled districts and planted themselves as the advance guard
of the conquering civiHzation on the borders of the Indian-haunted

This was true in Northern Maine and New Hampshire, in
Western Pennsylvania, Virginia, and the Carolinas alike. And,
inasmuch as Philadelphia was the largest city which was in touch
with that extreme western frontier, it was most natural that the
Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick should first be formed
in that city. We had, I wish to say, in New York, frequently
during Colonial days, dinners of societies of the Friendly Sons of
St. Patrick, but apparently the society in New York did not take
a permanent form; but we frequently had dinners on March 17
of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick here in New York City even
in Colonial days.

By the time the Revolution had broken out the men of dif-
ferent race strains had begun to fuse together, and the Irish
among those strains furnished their full share of leadership in
the struggle. Among their number was Commodore John Barry,
one of the two or three officers to whom our infant navy owed
most. I had the honor in the last session of Congress to recom-
mend that a monument to Barry should be erected in Washington.
I heartily believe in economy, but I think we can afford to let up
enough to let that monument through.

On land the men of this strain furnished generals like Mont-
gomery, who fell so gloriously at Quebec, and like Sullivan, the
conqueror of the Iroquois, who came of a New Hampshire family
which furnished Governors to three New England States. In her
old age the mother, Mrs. Sullivan, used to say that she had known
what it was to work hard in the fields carrying in her arms the
Governor of Massachusetts, with the Governors of New Hamp-
shire and Vermont tagging on at her skirts.

I have spoken of the generals. Now for the rank and file.


The Continental troops of the hardest fighter among Washing-
ton's generals, Mad Anthony Wayne, were recruited so largely
from this stock that Light Horse Harry Lee, of Virginia, the father
of the great General Robert Lee, always referred to them as
"The Line of Ireland." Nor must we forget that of this same
stock there was a boy during the days of the Revolution who
afterward became the chief American general of his time, and, as
President, one of the public men who left his impress most deeply
upon our nation, Andrew Jackson, the victor of New Orleans.

The Revolution was the first great crisis of our history. The
Civil War was the second. And in this second great crisis the
part played by the men of Irish birth or parentage was no less
striking than it had been in the Revolution. Among the three or
four great generals who led the Northern Army in the war stood
Phil Sheridan. Some of those whom I am now addressing served
in that immortal brigade which on the fatal day of Fredericksburg,
left its dead closest to the stone wall which marked the limit that
could not be overpassed even by the highest valor.

And, gentlemen, it was my good fortune when it befell me
to serve as a regimental commander in a very small war — but
all the war there was — to have under me more than one of the
sons of those who served in Meagher's brigade. Among them
was one of my two best captains, both of whom were killed,
Allen Capron, and this man Bucky O'Neill. Bucky O'Neill was
killed at Santiago, showing the same absolute indiflference to life,
the same courage, the same gallant readiness to sacrifice everything
on the altar of an ideal, that his father had shown when he died
in Meagher's brigade in the Civil War.

The people who have come to this country from Ireland have
contributed to the stock of our common citizenship qualities which
are essential to the welfare of every great nation. They are a
masterful race of rugged character, a race the qualities of whose
womanhood have become proverbial, while its men have the ele-
mental, the indispensable virtues of working hard in time of peace
and fighting hard in time of war.

And I want to say here, as I have said and shall say again
elsewhere, as I shall say again and again, that we must never
forget that no amount of material wealth, no amount of intellect,
no artistic or scientific growth can avail anything to the nation
which loses the elemental virtues. If the average man can not
work and fight, the race is in a poor way ; and it will not have,
because it will not deserve, the respect of any one.

Let us avoid always, either as individuals or as a nation,
brawling, speaking discourteously or acting offensively toward
others, but let us make it evident that we wish peace, not because


we are weak, but because we think it right, and that while we
do not intend to wrong any one, we are perfectly competent to
hold our own if any one wrongs us. There has never been a
time in this country when it has not been true of the average
American of Irish birth or parentage that he came up to this
standard, able to work and able to fight at need.

But the men of Irish birth or of Irish descent have been far
more than soldiers — I will not say more than, but much in addition
to soldiers. In every walk in life in this country men of this blood
have stood and now stand pre-eminent, not only as soldiers, but
as statesmen, on the bench, at the bar and in business. They are
doing their full share toward the artistic and literary develop-
ment of the country.

And right here let me make a special plea to you, to this
society and kindred societies. We Americans take a just pride in
the development of our great universities, and more and more we
are seeking to provide for creative and original work in these
universities. I hope that an earnest effort will be made to endow
chairs in American universities for the study of Celtic literature
and for research in Celtic antiquities. It is only of recent years
that the extraordinary wealth and beauty of the old Celtic Sagas
have been fully appreciated, and we of America, who have so
large a Celtic strain in our blood, can not afford to be behindhand
in the work of adding to modern scholarship by bringing within
its ken the great Celtic literature of the past.

My fellow countrymen, I have spoken to-night especially of
what has been done for this nation of ours by men of Irish blood.
But after all, in speaking to you or to any other body of my fellow-
citizens, no matter from what old world country they themselves
or their forefathers may have come, the great thing is to remem-
ber that we are all of us Americans. Let us keep our pride in the
stocks from which we have sprung, but let us show that pride, not
by holding aloof from one another, least of all by preserving the
old world jealousies and bitterness, but by joining in a spirit of
generous rivalry to see which can do most for our great common

Americanism is not a matter of creed or birthplace or descent.
That man is the best American who has in him the American
spirit, the American soul. Such a man fears not the strong and
harms not the weak. He scorns what is base or cruel or dishonest.
He looks beyond the accidents of occupation or social condition
and hails each of his fellow-citizens as his brother, asking nothing
save that each shall treat the other on his worth as a man, and
that they shall all join together to do what in them lies for the

Online LibraryJames HaltiganThe Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies → online text (page 28 of 67)