James Haltigan.

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

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tories that deal with the question, but they, as well as all others,
take it for granted, without ver^ careful search, that an Irishman
in New England was in early times as rare as a white blackbird.
But on consideration of the large 'Scotch-Irish' immigration to
New Hampshire and to the South, and of the occasional visits of
the Puritans to Ireland, it seemed strange if, with all the exodus
from that land of sorrow, so few should reach America. It was
found that a large number of American colonists were of Irish

Mr. Taylor found, as we have found, as all painstaking in-
vestigators will find, that the Irish came here in far greater num-
bers than was generally supposed and in ways entirely out of the
line oi ordinary emigration. They came here on the slave ships
of Elizabeth and Cromwell, and many of those forced to serve
as galley slaves on the warships of England deserted whenever
any of those vessels touched the American shore. Many of
them, too, came here as Puritans, like Emanuel Downing or
Robert Treat Paine, and though they had temporarily abandoned
their faith and nationality, through persecution or temptation


at home, their Irish nature was still strong within them and
only awaited a favorable opportunity to reassert itself. That
time came with the Revolution, when all Irishmen, regardless
of creed or previous affiliations, turned against England with
wonderful unanimity. Many shallow-minded writers endeavor
to prove the instability of the Irish character by referring to
the fact that so many of them turned to the side of England, but
our wonder is, in view of the never-ending and inhuman op-
pressions to which they were for centuries subjected, that they
survived at all.

That they survived in Massachusetts is almost as wonderful
as that they lived through the successive reigns of terror in Ire-
land, for they met there the same heartless treatment that they
experienced at home, with the exception that there were no
hireling armies to run them down and that the good qualities of
men were left comparatively free to expand themselves without
the festering influences of corrupt institutions.

For these reasons, as Mr. Taylor asserts, many contradic-
tions appear in the history of Massachusetts and good intentions
generally resulted in evil work. Many liberal-minded men arose
from time to time, but they were not powerful enough to cope
with the dense bigotry that prevailed.

Even John Winthrop himself was a man of much tolerance
and wisdom. He was liberal enough to send his eldest son, John
Winthrop the Younger, to Trinity College, Dublin, where, in
spite of the notoriously bigoted proclivities of the institution it-
self, and by mingling with the kindly people of Dublin, he im-
bibed some of the liberal principles which afterward distinguished
him. He was a man of singularly winning qualities and great
moderation, whose Puritanism was devoid of bigotry and who
retained the esteem of those who differed from him in opinion.
Yet neither his father nor himself could stay the hand of that
religious hatred which darkened the early days of the colony
which they established. Bitter intolerance generally prevailed
and became so deep-rooted that some of it exists to this day.

No truer words of Boston were ever written than those of
Mr. Taylor in his opening chapter: "Foimded for the sake of
an unrestrained worship of God, it was most bitter in religious
persecution ; giving its first thoughts to the establishment of re-
ligious education, it darkened ignorance in the days of witch-
craft superstition ; English of all things, it was of necessity anti-
Irish and classed that unfortunate people with the heathen tribes
of the forest; yet among her earliest records appear the dis-
tinctively Irish names of Cogan, Barry, Connors, McCarty,
Kelly; throughout her colonial history, when the wild Irish, the


Pope, the Devil, and the Pretender were classed together and
hated in the lump, the Irish were in their midst, though Irish
Catholicity remained till near the Revolution almost unrepre-
sented. And what more striking contrast than its first year and
its last past (1889), when an Irish Catholic mayor (Hugh
O'Brien) for the fourth time entered upon duties that none have
more ably or faithfully discharged."

Well may Mr. Taylor call attention to the great transforma-
tion which occurred in Boston between the first and the last year
of his chronicles. The difference between the old Boston and
the new was more than striking — it was wonderful. The con-
demned religion of the old days had become the strongest and
most respected in the new — the hunted Irishman of the earlier
times, who had to give security for his good behavior, had be-
come the honored chief magistrate in the later.

The means which brought about these changes was the
simple but firm determination of the Irish people that they would
not be crushed, that no matter how many times they might be
defeated, they would rally again and come to the front. It is the
same brave old spirit which has preserved our race through ages
of persecution and which in the end, with the help of God, will
confound our enemies and re-establish our independence.

The seven chapters which Mr. Taylor contributes to the
history of the Irish in Boston are filled with facts from the
public records which prove beyond a doubt the leading part which
Irishmen took in the establishment of the town even from its
earliest days. In the register of births, deaths, and marriages
in Boston, from 1630 to 1700, over two hundred distinctively
Irish names appear, while it is safe to say that far more than
that number disguised their names in order to escape the severity
of the law. Even in cases where the emigrant dared to place his
own old home upon record his connections neglected to give the
facts, and in the second generation there were few traces left of
the nationality of the first — at least on the surface.

Many Irish Catholic families were recorded as English Pro-
testants, and among this class was Peter Pelham, one of the
earliest artists of Boston, and Robert Breck, a native of Galway,
who settled in Boston in 1636, and from whose family and its
collateral branch, the Brecks of Medfield, come many of the
most respected citizens of Boston from that day to this.

Florence and Thaddeus Maccarty, who settled in Boston in
1686, were the heads of two families described as English, though
they were Irish beyond doubt. Florence Maccarty was worth
three thousand pounds at his death and two sons and three daugh-
ters survived him. Thaddeus Maccarty had four sons and one


daughter, and was also a man of considerable means. There
were other Maccarty^s of note in Boston about this time not con-
nected with these famiHes, for reference is made to Thomas Mac-
carty, who graduated from Harvard in 1691, and died in 1698,
and to Charles Maccarty, who was badly wounded in the expe-
dition against Quebec in 1690.

David Kelly was a land-owner in Boston in 1679. His son
David was born there in 1647 ^"d his son Edward in 1664. John
Kelly also lived there about the same time and had two sons,
John and Samuel.

Edward Mortimer, an Irishman, was a member of one of
the first fire engine companies organized in Boston, and is de-
scribed as "an accomplished merchant, a person of great modesty,
and could answer the most abstruse points in algebra, navigation,
etc." He had three sons and three daughters, the first of whom
was born in 1676.

Under Cromwell's government many Irish people were sent
to New England, and on their arrival were sold as servants or
slaves. In 1654 the ship Goodfellow, Captain George Dell, ar-
rived at Boston with a large number of Irish immigrants who
were sold into service to such of the inhabitants as needed them.
It is possible, Mr. Taylor writes, that this is the episode to which
Cotton IMather refers as one of the "formidable attempts of Satan
and sons to unsettle us." These immigrants must have been
Irish Catholics who were torn from their homes by Cromwell's
mercenaries and sold into slavery. Cotton Mather was undoubt-
edly right. Their coming here was the work of Satan, through
his favorite son, Cromwell, and the immigrants did their share
not only in unsettling but in completely upsetting the bigoted in-
stitutions which Mather upheld.

Mr. Taylor devotes a chapter to the Charitable Irish Society
of Boston, to which we have already alluded at some length. He
gives the personal records of the leading members and tells many
interesting episodes in their careers. We would like to copy this
chapter in its entirety but must content ourselves with a few of
its most striking passages :

"Daniel Gibbs was probably Captain Daniel Gibbs, of the
ship Sagamore, who brought 408 passengers from Ireland, arriv-
ing in Boston on September 7, 1737. It was doubtless in conse-
quence of his membership that the qualification, 'or trading to
these parts' was introduced into the requirements for member-

"William Hall was president of the society in 1766 and was
the first to have his name on the records in that capacity. He
served the town as constable in 1730. With John Carr and Cap-


tain James Finney he executed a bond of the penalty of six hun-
dred pounds to indemnify the town on account of one hundred
and sixty-two passengers imported by the said Finney in his
ship Charming Molley, November 7, 1737.

"Peter Pelham was a painter and engraver and the father
of fine arts in New England. In 1727 he painted a portrait of
Cotton Mather and afterward engraved a portrait from the
painting. In 1734 he established a school in Boston for the
teaching^ of reading, writing, needlework, dancing, and the art
of painting upon glass. As to his origin there is his own de-
scription of himself, in the rules and orders of the Charitable
Irish Society, as 'of the Irish nation, residing in Boston.' Be-
sides the fact of Peter Pelham's membership in that famous
first meeting of the Charitable Irish Society, the family interest
in Irish affairs is noteworthy. Henry Pelham, the son of Peter
by his second wife and half brother to Copley, the famous artist,
engraved a mezzotint of the Countess of Desmond, and was very
much interested in the antiquities of Kerry. He intended to pub-
lish a history of that county, but was cut off by accidental death
in Ireland while collecting data for his work. Henry Pelham
joined the Charitable Irish Society in 1774. He made a plan of
Boston in 1775, a tracing of which was reproduced in the Evac-
uation Memorial in 1870.

"By far the most striking circumstance in this connection
is the marriage of Peter Pelham, one of the founders of the
Irish Society, with the widow of Richard Copley. She was the
daughter of Squire Singleton, of Ireland, and had been married
in Limerick. They came to Boston, and John Singleton Copley
was born to them on July 3, 1737. Richard Copley died, and his
widow for some time kept a tobacco store on Long Wharf. In
1748 Pelham, who had probably lost his wife in 1734, married
the Widow Copley. He continued his school teaching and she
her shop. John Singleton Copley, the future artist, probably
learned as much from his step-father as his time would permit.
We may well guess that between the teaching and the engraving
and painting of pictures little was told of the secrets of art in
the three and a half years that Pelham lived, and Copley after-
ward vainly regretted the lack of proper instruction in his early
years. But in 1753 he engraved a portrait of the Rev. William
Welsteed that is said to show traces of Pelham's teaching. His
masterpiece was a portrait of his half brother, Henry Pelham,
which was called the 'Boy and the Squirrel.' It was sent to
England in 1774, and owing to the miscarriage of an accompany-
ing letter, its author was for a time unknown, but it was received
enthusiastically by the best judges of art in England, and its


phenomenal success finally drew the young artist to that country,
where he was joined in a few years by his family. He never
returned to America. His best pictures were painted here. One
of his later paintings, executed in England, 'King Charles the
First Demanding the Five Impeached Members in the House
of Commons, 1641,' is in the Boston Library.

"Robert Auchmuty, father and son, members of the Chari-
table Irish Society in the years that preceded the Revolution,
were learned lawyers, and their influence was felt in the progres-
sive tendency of the town. The elder Robert was instrumental
in bringing about the expedition for the capture of Louisburg,
He was distinguished for wit and learning; he was short in
stature, of crabbed manner, and had a squeaky voice. The son
was highly gifted with eloquence and rose to prominence in his
profession, but died in exile in London in 1788. The family
were Tories. They are called Scotch by the cyclopedias, but
the elder Robert was for three years President of the Irish
Society and its rule as to nationality has already been mentioned.

"Captain William Mackay, described as a gentleman in the
Boston Directory of 1789, lived on Fish street, now North street,
and was appointed in 1772 on a committee to draw up a state-
ment of the colony's rights and grievances. He succeeded Robert
Auchmuty in the presidency of the Society and continued to hold
that office till succeeded by Simon Elliot in 1788. During the
Revolutionary period he enjoyed to the fullest extent the confi-
dence of his townspeople, serving on many committees for various
purposes. Among other things he was a member of the Commit-
tee of Correspondence, Safety and Inspection, appointed by the
town in 1776. He died in 1801.

"Captain Robert Gardner furnished the town of Boston a
ship to take home 'a true account of the horrid massacre' of
November 5, 1770. This gentleman's interest in his fellow-
countrymen appears from the records of the Charitable Irish
Society. At his instance the Society voted, in 1794, a sum not
exceeding three pounds to purchase school books for poor chil-
dren of Irish extraction. Again in 1801 he advanced money from
his own purse to the distressed immigrants on the brigantine
Albicorne, trusting to the Society to repay him. The last record
we have of him is in 181 2, when he held the office of Treasurer
of the Society.

"An important part of the membership of the Charitable
Irish Society was the Irish Presbyterian Church, established in
Boston in 1727. They first worshiped in a building which had
been a barn on the comer of Berry street and Long lane, now
Channing and Federal streets ; and this unpretentious building


served them, with the addition of a couple of wings, till 1744,
when a comfortable church was erected that bore a conspicuous
part in the history of the town, and, indeed, of the nation, for it
was here that the Massachusetts Conventicm met to debate the
Federal Constitution, and finally to accept it, February 7, 1788,
and to this fact Federal street owes its name. Governor Hancock
presented to the new building the bell and vane of the old Brattle
street meeting house. Their first pastor was John Moorehead,
who was born near Belfast, Ireland, in 1703. He was described
as a forcible preacher, honest, and blunt, and an 'earnest and
enthusiastic young Irishman.' He maintained his connection
with the church until his death, which occurred just at the be-
ginning of the struggle for American Independence. He was
elected a member of the Charitable Irish Society in 1739 and gave
them sound advice upon occasion.

"Captain Daniel Malcom was a citizen of Boston of con-
siderable prominence in the exciting times that immediately pre-
ceded the Revolution. His name first occurs in the town records
in the meeting of March 10, 1766. Soon the attention of the
town was attracted to an event of no common importance, in
which Captain Malcom was the principal figure. The revenue
officers, suspecting contraband goods to be on his premises, began
a search without due warrant. The sturdy captain stopped them
at the door of a room that he had his own reasons for protecting,
and so stubborn and defiant was he that they were glad to post-
pone the affair. But when they returned their reception was
even worse. Captain Malcom had his Irish temper stirred and
would not suffer them to cross his threshold. Gathering his
friends about him, he showed fight, and for a moment it looked
as if bloodshed would follow. The British officers, however,
consulted the better part of valor and let the contraband goods

"Gage quartered a regiment in Boston and the frigate
Romney and four other war vessels were stationed in Boston
Harbor. The crews of these ships were strengthened by the fish-
ermen of New England, who were kidnapped by the press-gang.
The excitement finally culminated in the seizure of the sloop
Liberty, which belonged to John Hancock, who was a large ship-
owner. She arrived from Madeira in June, 1768, and made fast
to Hancock's wharf, now Lewis wharf. The cargo was wine and
it is said part of it was consigned to Malcom. Thomas Kirk, the
tidewaiter, or customs inspector, went on board her on Friday,
June 10, and was followed by Captain John Marshall, the com-
mander of Hancock's London packet-ship, with some others.
They fastened Kirk below and kept him there some hours, while


they removed part of the cargo. During the night they went on
with the good work and were not interfered with, a guard of
thirty or forty strapping fellows, bearing clubs, marching with
the loaded carts. The next day Captain Bernard, master of the
sloop, made entry of five pipes of wine as his whole cargo, and
then there was trouble. The collector, Joseph Harrison, and the
comptroller, Benjamin Hallo well, repaired to the wharf with the
declared intention of seizing the ship. Hallowell seized the vessel
and boats were sent from the Romney to bring her out under the
guns of the men-o'-war. Meanwhile the streets were filling with
an excited crowd. Malcom stood at the head of his friends on
the wharf and protested against the removal. He and the other
leaders threatened to throw the frigate's people into the sea.
Suddenly the sloop's moorings were cut and she was gone from
the dock. The customs officers now repented of their hasty action,
for the people became utterly furious. They attacked the officials,
broke their swords, and handled them without mercy. They
smashed the windows in their houses, seized the collector's boat,
dragged it to the common and made a bonfire of it.

"Captain Malcom was an Irishman and at the time of which
we write had only recently come to Boston. He was elected a
member of the Charitable Irish Society in 1766, elected on the
board of managers in 1767, and vice president the next year — a
position which he held until his death. He was one of the re-
sponsible representatives of the society in money matters. His
store on Fleet street was the resort of many of the more energetic
of the revenue haters and a constant menace to the peace of the
King's officers. Ireland could not have presented to the colony
a better man for the times, and if he had lived to hear the guns
of Bunker Hill it needs no prophet to say that he would have won
renown for himself and his race and shared gloriously in the
triumph of his adopted country. His fellow-citizens appreciated
him and showed their confidence by selecting him as their repre-
sentative in the troublesome and dangerous crisis in which he was
an actor; but there is every reason to believe that his proper
sphere was not diplomacy, but active and aggressive resistance.
His grave is on Copp's Hill, in the oldest of Boston burial
grounds. The stone over it is of hard blue slate, two inches thick
and showing about a yard above the ground. The inscription is
a just statement of his merits and reputation, but an additional
wreath is added to his laurels by the vindictive bullet marks of
the British soldiery who peppered the gravestone of the man who
feared nothing less than a British 'bloody-back.' The following
is the inscription on the stone : 'Here lies buried in a stone grave
ten feet deep Captain Daniel Malcom, merchant, who departed


this life October 23, 1769, aged forty-four years. A true son of
Liberty, a friend to the publick, an enemy to oppression, and one
of the foremost in opposing the Revenue Acts on America.' "

From the biographical sketches of distinguished men of early
times, the vi^ork of J. B. CuUen himself, together with data which
we have gleaned from other sources, we condense the following
interesting information of the Irishmen and Irish-Americans who
contributed to Boston's greatness from the very beginning of her
history :

JOHN HANCOCK.— It is stated by reliable authorities that
the ancestors of John Hancock emigrated from near Downpat-
rick. County Down, Ireland, and settled in Boston toward the
close of the seventeenth century. The Tyrone, Ireland, Consti-'
tution, quoted in the Irish World Centennial number of 1876,
says: "Those who are conversant with Reid's History of the
Presbyterian Church in Ireland are aware that multitudes of
Protestants left Ulster for the plantations of North America.
John Hancock's ancestor was among 'that number." The Han-
cocks have been for centuries actively and largely engaged in
the foreign and domestic trade of Newry and it was doubtless
in a commercial capacity that the first of the naiae came to Boston.
The family to which President Hancock belonged is, it is said,
now (1889) represented in Ireland by John Hancock, of Lurgan,
and by Neilson Hancock, the founder of the Irish Statistical
Society. Anthony Hancock, who came from Ireland, resided in
Boston in 1681, and he was evidently the founder of the family
in America. John Hancock was bom at Braintree, Mass., in 1737.
When quite young his father died and he was left in the care
of his uncle, a wealthy merchant of Boston, who s^ent him soon
after to Harvard College, where he was graduated in 1754. He
then became a clerk in his uncle's office and was sent by him on
business to England, where he became acquainted with many
of the leading public men. His uncle died in 1763 and left him
great wealth — the largest fortune in New England. He became
a leader in public affairs and in 1766 represented Boston in the
General Assembly. Incidentally his regard and generosity were
bestowed upon his kindred in Boston, an example of which was
his presentation of a bell and vane to the Irish Presbyterian
Church. He was from the first a sturdy opponent of the methods
of the London Parliament. He delivered, in 1774, the annual
oration in commemoration of the Boston Massacre and was
elected in the same year President of the Provincial Congress of
Massachusetts, and also a delegate to the Continental Congress.
On June 12, 1775, he was declared an outlaw by General Gage.
Martial law was proclaimed and those in arms and their friends


were pronounced rebels, but a free pardon was offered to all who
would return to their allegiance except John Hancock and
Samuel Adams. Hancock was again a delegate to the Conti-
nental Congress in 1775, and when Randolph, the first President,
resigned through ill health fourteen days after it had met, the
Massachusetts outlaw was chosen to fill his place. On July 4,
1776, Hancock, as President of Congress, and Charles Thomson,
of Maghera, Ireland, as Secretary, sigiied the Declaration of
Independence when it was adopted. With only their names at-
tached to it — the names of an Irish-American and an Irishman —
it was sent forth to the world, the other signatures not being
affixed until later on. The illustrious First Signer, on account
of weakened health, resigned from Congress in 1777. In the
following year, however, when General Sullivan was preparing
to attack the British on Rhode Island, Hancock hastened to his
aid at the head of the militia of Massachusetts, and took part in
the stirring events near Bristol Ferry in August, 1778. The year
following he was elected Governor of Massachusetts, a position
which he continued to hold for five consecutive years, when he
declined a re-election. He was again chosen Governor in 1787
and re-elected annually until his death, which took place Oc-

Online LibraryJames HaltiganThe Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies → online text (page 31 of 67)