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

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Stewart, Daniel Neal, James Mayes, Samuel Moor, Philip Morti-
mer, James Egart, George Glen, Peter Pelham, John Little, Arch-
ibald Thomas, Edward Alderchurch, James Clark, John Clark,
Thomas Bennett, and Patrick Walker.

The names of these men should be held in high honor by
their countrymen throughout all time. In a country far from their
native land, and surrounded on every hand by English prejudice
and hate, they were among the first to band themselves together
in behalf of their less fortunate fellow-countrymen and to keep
alive old customs which were dear to them at home. Though
nearly all of these men were Protestants, difference in faith was
not allowed to play any part in their work, CathoHcs being many
times selected for the highest offices.

During the thirty-eight years between its organization and the
Revolution the society continued to hold its meetings with almost
unvarying regularity. Until the spring of 1775 very few gaps are
noticeable in the records, but from that time until the fall of 1784
there was not a single meeting.

Imagine what that interval means to America and the world
at large ! And what momentous occurrences took place within
the decade ! A mighty struggle had taken place and out of it was
born the greatest nation on the earth — a nation that has held out
the lamp of hope and liberty to every struggling race in the past,
and that will, notwithstanding temporary aberrations, with God's
help, continue to do so in the future. That the Boston Irishmen
had other work to do during this interval than quietly meeting
in their hall, and that they did it nobly and well, is attested by the
following minutes which we copy from their record :

"At a meeting of the Boston Charitable Irish Society, Octo-
ber 26, 1784, at Mr. John Tufts, the President, William Mackay,
made a short and appropriate address, which by vote of the
society was placed on the record as follows :

"Gentlemen, members of the Charitable Irish Society, I con-
gratulate you on this joyful occasion, that we are assembled again
after ten years' absence, occasioned by a dreadful and ruinous war
of nearly eight years; also that we have conquered one of the


greatest and most potent nations on the globe, so far as to have
peace and independence. May our friends, countrymen in Ire-
land, behave like the brave Americans till thev recover their lib-
ABOUT THEM. They breathe that love of liberty so dear to
all true Irishmen, whether Catholics or Protestants, and helped
in no small way to create that feeling among their countrymen in
Ireland which afterward grew into the powerful organizations of
the United Irishmen, in which the Presbyterians of the North took
such a leading and prominent part.

At the centennial celebration of the society, which was held
on St. Patrick's Day, 1837, the orator of the occasion, the Hon.
James Boyd, thus referred to those brief minutes and portrayed
in glowing words the patriotic feelings which the Irishmen of the
American Revolution entertained for their native land :

"From 1 761 to 1775, regular entries are made of the meet-
ings and doings of the society, but from the latter date till Octo-
ber 26, 1784, it does not appear that any meetings were held. This
is good evidence that our countrymen of that day were not idle
spectators of the great and successful effort made by America for
its independence. Irishmen took their part in the noble struggle,
and embarked in it with their whole soul. Social enjoyments
were not permitted to interfere with the great work, to the accom-
plishing of which they had joined in pledging 'their lives, their for-
tunes, and their sacred honor.' When heart and hand and blood
were required in the cause of liberty, they contributed their share
most cheerfully; and when the cause had triumphed, and they
rested from their labor, one of the first acts of the society, in
resuming its meetings and intercourse, was to congratulate each
other on the success which had attended their efforts.

"On the night of the first meeting after the war, the President,
Mr. William Mackay, delivered a short address, in which he con-
gratulates his brethren on the 'joyful occasion' (as he expressed it)
'of meeting again after nearly ten years' absence, occasioned by a
dreadful and ruinous war — on having conquered one of the great-
est nations on the globe, so far as to have peace and independence' ;
and concludes in these words : 'May our friends, countrymen in
Ireland, behave like the brave Americans, till they recover their
liberties.' Such were the feelingS under which the members of
this society resumed their meetings on the close of the War of the

"It would be a most grateful task to lay before you the par-
ticular part taken by Irishmen in this country, in the great drama
performed on freedom's stage in those days in which every man
who had a soul worth saving was an actor. The part taken by


any of the members of this society is not a matter of record on our
books ; nor indeed should we expect that it would be. True merit
is never its own trumpeter, and as they fought for the common
cause, and received the reward of their valor in common with
native citizens, they would not be disposed to make any particular
note of how much they contributed to the promotion of liberty.

"Some things, however, we do know, which are worth notic-
ing. We do know that the leading spirits of those days, who were
deputed to set the machinery of the new government in motion,
knew of their own knowledge, and saw with their own eyes, that
Irishmen were entitled to be constitutionally adopted as free citi-
zens. They were so adopted; and thus their merits and services
were honorably acknowledged and rewarded. We know also that
the prayer of President Mackay's address, 'May our friends,
countrymen in Ireland, behave like the brave Americans, till they
recove? their liberties,' was not unheard. The spark elicited from
the first flint and steel that came in collision on Bunker Hill, kin-
dled a fire that beamed across the Atlantic. It gleamed on Ire-
land, and by its light her patriots saw clearly that their tyrant
rulers were not invincible; that which at first was but a light,
became a warmth — a heat — and fouad fuel of the right kind so
abundant in the breasts of Irishmen that ignition was the natural
consequence. The fire became a flame, which for a time threat-
ened the destruction of English rule in that country as well as
this; but by the explosion of 1798, hopes that had been raised
high, were for a time prostrated.

"My friends, I have somewhat accidentally carried myself
and your attention across the Atlantic ; let us remain there for a
moment. Let us invoke the aid of memory to waft us over the
dim path of bygone years, to the home of our forefathers and the
scenes in which we ourselves first inhaled the breath of heaven.
Let her bring up the time when stories of the American war were
told around by the seniors ; or tear-stirring songs, founded on inci-
dents in the rebellion of 1798, were sung by the juniors of the
family. Let us there remain and refresh ourselves with recollec-
tions of the days of our youth.

"With the mind filled with such recollections, we can easily
realize that the prayer of President Mackay, in 1784, was not
uttered in vain. What — can you tell me — tended more to prompt
the organization of the Society of the United Irishmen than the
success which attended the struggle in America? That success,
and the rational use which was made of it, kindled hopes in the
bosoms of Irishmen, which to have realized they were willing to
do as Americans had done — risk their lives, their fortunes, and
their sacred honor on the cast. They did so. To some of us, mem-


cry can show the very conflict, and the field made gory by the
blood of some of the noblest sons of Ireland. To others of us,
then too young to take a part, she can depict the approach of the
victor, with a torch in one hand and a rope in the other. We can
even see the patriot's dwelling in flames, and reduced to ashes,
and his wife and little ones, if spared, sent adrift on the world —
the patriot himself, if haply escaped from the field of battle, sus-
pended like a dog, at the corner of the street; and, as if that was
not enough, the next hour his head stuck upon a halberd and
lashed up for exhibition on a lamp-post. All this we can see, and
much more; much to weep over, and much that, as Irishmen, we
might exult in ; but, alas ! too much over which we will permit the
veil of time to remain undisturbed.

''Let us follow the noble example of President Mackay and
utter a prayer for our native land. May our countrymen in Ire-
land behave like the wise citizens of our adopted city and com-
monwealth, and thus make sure of obtaining the liberties which
Americans have secured."

Before closing the records of the Boston Irish Charitable
Society we must make one more extract from them. Although it
refers to a period long after the Revolution, the visit of President
Andrew Jackson to Boston in June, 1833, it has a bearing on the
days of the Revolution, and will not be out of place in this his-
tory. It shows the kind of an Irishman Andrew Jackson was, and
how deeply he sympathized with the land of his fathers. He knew
the atrocious story of England in Ireland and America. From his
earliest years he was an eyewitness of her inhuman conduct in
this country, and he gloried in the fact that God enabled him to
be the means of her humiliation and defeat. This is how he was
received by the Irishmen of Boston on June 22, 1833:

Pursuant to previous appointment, the society to the number
of about one hundred proceeded in a body to the Tremont House,
where they were received by President Jackson in that kind-
hearted, free and affectionate manner so characteristic of himself,
and so congenial to the feelings of Irishmen. After having been
introduced to him, first collectively, and then individually, by
Colonel Prescott, the President of the Society, Mr. James Boyd,
the same gentleman who delivered the centennial address before
alluded to, addressed the President as follows :

"Sir : The members of the Charitable Irish Society of this city
have with much anxiety sought this interview, and now feel very
proud in having an opportunity aflforded of paying their respects
to you personally. Your name, sir, has so long been familiar to
them, a subject of the highest admiration to many, and of kind
respect to all, that they thought they would be guilty of inhospi-


tality (a crime which Irishmen do not wish to be chargeable
with) did they allow this occasion to pass without visiting you
in a body. This society, sir, is comprised exclusively of Irishmen
and their direct descendants, a class of citizens in this community
not opulent, but I may be allowed to say industrious. We are all,
sir, working bees in the hive. We fill the place now that was once
occupied by men who have done the State some service in times of
peril and danger, men who did not withdraw themselves from the
ranks fighting the battles of liberty, nor ever withheld the most
zealous support to the Constitution and laws and magistrates of
this our adopted country. We hope, sir, the present generation
has not fallen off from the standing maintained by their fathers,
and that if occasion required, the motto on our banner would be
a promise which would be willingly performed at any time. As
I have already remarked, Irishmen have never been backward
in giving support to the institutions of this country, nor in show-
ing due respect to the Chief Magistrate thereof, but when the
highest office is held by the son of an Irishman, we must be
allowed to indulge in some feelings of pride as well as patriot-
ism. As this is your first visit to the northern portion of the
Union, permit us to hope, sir, that you may find much here to
please you, that you will return with a knov/ledge that this com-
munity is an industrious, a prosperous, and a happy one, and as
we hope the welfare of Irishmen is a subject not uninteresting to
you, we may be allowed to say that here we are generally con-
tented. We do our part toward the support of all public institu-
tions and receive a full share of their benefits.

"Allow me, sir, to hope that a^ou may have a safe and pleas-
ant journey till you again reach the center of the nation, and
that the remainder of your life may be as long and happy as the
past has been brilliant and successful."

The President replied in the following words :
"I feel much gratified, sir, at this testimony of respect shown
me by the Charitable Irish Society of this city. It is with great
pleasure that I see so many of the countrymen of my father
assembled on this occasion. I have always been proud of my
ancestry and of being descended from that noble race, and rejoice
that I am so nearly allied to a country which has so much to
recommend it to the good wishes of the world. Would to God,
sir, that Irishmen on the other side of the great water enjoyed
the comforts, happiness, contentment and liberty that they enjoy
here. I am well aware, sir, that Irishmen have never been back-
ward in giving their support to the cause of liberty. They have
fought, sir, for this country valiantly, and I have no doubt would
fight again were it necessary, but I hope it will be long before


the institutions of our country need support of that kind. Accept
my best wishes for the happiness of you all."

The members of the society were here about to withdraw
when the President again took Mr. Boyd by the hand, and in
the most affectionate manner held it whilst he expressed himself
as follows :

"I am somewhat fatigued, sir, as you may notice, but I
cannot allow you to part with me till I again shake hands with
you, which I do for yourself and the whole society. I assure you,
sir, there are few circumstances that have given me more heart-
felt satisfaction than this visit. I shall remember it with pleas-
ure, and I hope, sir, you and all your society will long enjoy
health and happiness."

It \\411 be seen from the foregoing extracts that the Boston
Irish Charitable Society was in those trying days composed of
men who were a credit to their race, and who were prepared on
all occasions to do their full duty to their adopted country. In
their early days and down to a not very remote period they had
to fight against the same enemy as they did at home. As in
Ireland, it mattered not whether they were Catholics or Protes-
tants, they were hated by their English enemies for being Irish.

Even liberal Englishmen have been persecuted and done to
death because they merely sympathized with Ireland. We could
fill pages with examples of this kind, but we will cite only one
case as an illustration — that of Sir Edward Crosbie, of Carlow.
The accusation that he had contributed toward the defense of
his own tenants, who were entirely innocent of crime and wrong-
fully charged with treasonable practices, weighed down every
proof of his own innocence — for every other charge carried with
it its own self-evident refutation, and he was condemned to
death on the gallows for the performance of a simple act of
Christian charity.

In the civilization of England the order of Christianity has
been reversed. As Dr. Madden says, the language of our Eng-
hsh rulers in Ireland has been : Your brethren are poor and
oppressed, but you shall not pity them; they are in prison, but
it shall be treason for you to go to them ; they are naked and open
to their enemies, but you shall not succor them ; they have been
hungry and thirsty and we have not given them to eat or drink;
and as we have not suffered them to murmur against us, neither
shall you sympathize with them, unless you are willing to share
in the punishment which is prepared for traitors and their accom-

This doctrine followed the English flag everywhere, and it
was so firmly established in America that even the Revolution,


thorough as it was, was not sufficient to drive it out. Some of it
remained and confronts us to this day, but the bigotry and opposi-
tion which Irishmen have encountered in the past or which now
vainly tries to raise its venomous head is simply part and parcel
of English, not American, civilization.

The second name on the list of original members of the Bos-
ton Irish Charitable Society is that of Andrew Knox, an Irish-
man born, the father of Henry Knox, who afterward so nobly dis-
tinguished himself in the War of the Revolution, who rose to the
rank of Major-General in the Army, who became the Secretary of
War and Navy in the Cabinet of the new nation, and whose entire
career in peace and war rendered his name second only to that of
Washington himself.

Like his father, and in common with many other noted Irish-
Americans of the time, he, too, was a member of the Boston Irish
Charitable Society, having joined its ranks on April 14, 1772,
being then in his twenty-second year. We will not pause to give
a sketch of his career here, but his name and fame will brighten
many of our future pages.

For the records of the early Irish of New Hampshire we are
mainly indebted to the labor and ability of Colonel John C. Line-
han. In an article written nearly twenty years ago he tells us
that among the descendants of the first settlers in the Old Granite
State are a large proportion bearing distinctively Irish names. In
all parts of the State the old Gaelic names may be found, many
abbreviated, or changed, but all showing unmistakably their Celtic

Some degenerate sons of Celtic sires, in these latter days,
dearly love to call themselves Saxons, but blood is thicker than
water, and the Macs sturdily maintain their origin.

That the Irish were among the first settler-, is very evident
from a perusal of many of the town histories. In the records of
"The History of Concord," by the Rev. Dr. Bouton, can be found
a petition from divers persons in Haverhill, Mass., to the "Great
and General Court" for a tract of land in a place called Penacook,
in June, 1725, in which will be found the following: "Ye petition-
ers would also suggest to ye honors that many applications have
been made to the government of New Hampshire for a grant of
the sd land, which, though it be the undoubted right and property
of this Province, yet it is highly probable that a parcel of Irish
people will obtain a grant from New Hampshire for it unless some
speedy care be taken by this honorable court to prevent it." So
the Irish, even in that early day, were in bad odor with their Eng-
lish "cousins," and for once got start on them, having already


built a fort on the east side of the Merrimac River, which was the
first building erected in what is now known as the city of Concord.

Massachusetts and New Hampshire alike claimed jurisdic-
tion over Penacook. The latter had made a grant of it to the
Irish from Londonderry, who named their town Bow, from a
bend in the river, while the former had also given a large portion
of the same territory to English settlers from Haverhill, Mass.,
who named their town Penacook. The dispute as to jurisdiction
between the two colonies was a fruitful source of trouble to the
settlers of both towns, which was not settled for years, and which,
when finally adjusted, brought about the name of Concord, to
signify the restoration of peace.

To show that the prejudice against the Irish was nothing new,
we find that an agreement was brought about that no lot should
be sold without the consent of the community. This was for the
special purpose of excluding the Irish, and Protestant Irish, too,
which shows how deep-seated was the English prejudice.

It is interesting to follow the trail, as it were, of these Irish
settlers, and the reader will, if he is of Celtic origin, be well sat-
isfied to do so.

In the journal of the committee appointed to lay out the new
townships we find that "about eleven or twelve of the clock we
arrived at Nutfield, alias Londonderry, and refreshed ourselves
and our horses with our own provisions at the house of one John
Barr, an Irish tavernkeeper, as we are informed; but we had
nothing of him but small beer." Shades of Hudibras, how neatly
that was put in, "had nothing but small beer." As they proceeded
on their journey they found, "At Amoskeag Falls, several Irish
people catching fish." When they reach Penacook and proceeded
to make their surveys, they were confronted by the New Hamp-
shire authorities, attended by about half a score Irishmen, who
kept some distance from the camp, and were informed that the
appropriating of these lands to any private or particular persons
might be attended with ill consequences to the settlers when it
appeared they fell in New Hampshire government. On their way
back the committee again saw the Irish catching fish at Amoskeag,
and put up once more at John Barr's.

Although the settlers of Penacook were of English origin,
and although measures were taken to keep out the Irish, never-
theless a few did settle in the township, among them Patrick Gar-
vin, after whom is named Garvin's Falls, on the Merrimac, about
two miles below Concord, and whose descendants are still resi-
dents of the city.

Patrick Gault was another whom we find located in Penacook
in 1767. Captain John Roche, a native of County Cork, was for


years a well-known citizen of the town. There are many Roches
and Gaults in the State now, probably their descendants.

Another who was, while a resident of the town, one of its
foremost citizens, was Colonel Andrew McMillan, who came from
Ireland to this country in 1754, and fought in the old French War
with General Montgomery, holding a lieutenant's commission. At
the close of the war he settled in Concord, where he engaged in the
mercantile business and kept for years the leading store in the
town. From 1771 to 1775 he held the position of Moderator, the
highest office in the gift of the people of the town, and discharged
all of the duties with fidelity and good judgment. In 1774 he
was the Colonel of the Fifteenth Regiment, Colonial Militia, his
Major being the afterward celebrated Benjamin Thompson, Count
Rumford. At die breaking out of the War of the Revolution he
retired to the land given him by the British Government for serv-
ice in the old French War, in what is now known as North Con-
way, and there his descendants now reside, respected citizens. The
McMillan House, North Conway, is probably named for him.

In March, 1775, an Irish schoolmaster was teaching school in
the English settlement of Penacook. One of the despised race
in the eighteenth century, doing what, perhaps, his ancestors were
doing in the eighth century, teaching the Anglo-Saxon the first
rudiments of learning. Here is the entry, page 258: "Patrick
Grimlon, for keeping school, 31 pounds 17 shillings and 6 half-

Jacob Shute, one of the original settlers, was a native of
Dublin. He was a stocking weaver by trade. When seventeen
years old he ran away and hid in the hold of a vessel coming to
America. He, with another stowaway, were found, and on their
arrival at Newburyport, were sold by the captain to Ebenezer
Eastman, of Haverhill, Mass., for the amount of their passage.
He accompanied Captain Eastman to Concord, where his descend-
ants still reside.

Matthew Thornton, a native of Ireland, was one of the two
signers of the Declaration of Independence from New Hampshire.
When quite young he came to this country and located at Worces-
ter, Mass., whence he changed his residence to Merrimack, in
the county of Hillsborough, N. H., where he made his home up
to the time of his death. The railroad station on the Concord
Railroad is called Thornton's, in his honor, and the house in
which he resided can be seen from the depot. Of him one of the
State historians writes : "The old town records show that Mr.
Thornton presided over tlieir town meetings and held various
town offices."

He died in 1803, at the age of eighty-nine. The epitaph on


his headstone at Merrimack is short, but expressive, containing but
three words: "The Honest Man." Captain James Thornton,
Executive Officer of the Kearsarge in the celebrated combat with

Online LibraryJames HaltiganThe Irish in the American revolution, and their early influence in the colonies → online text (page 6 of 67)