Tuesday, February 21, 2017

"We the People" (forget the celebrity President)

C5MtyisWQAAhYiE As the media world continues to obsess about Trump, one of our own prominent radio journalists told his audience today the every night he watches Fox News just to see what Trump has been up to. (He's a smart guy, I hope he was jesting - but it was a quip with significance, and shows the scale of the Trump personality). It's tragic and yet also perfect - perfect because for our celebrity age we now have the ultimate celebrity villain giving other celebrities opportunity to say publicity-grabbing things about him, which feeds the media machine and a generation of one-time news journalists who have become little more than gossip columnists then sensationalise and excitedly regurgitate the latest remarks and tweets, and invite other semi-celebrities to comment on them too.

Meanwhile, one journalist in particular has stuck to time-honoured methods by getting beyond the spokespeople to the real people. Chris Arnade is a man you need to read. Here is his latest Guardian article. This is what my recent post 'The President's Poverty Tour' was getting at. Arnade has a pile of similar articles, he takes great photographs (shown here) and he will be visiting Britain in a few weeks' time.

• Follow Chris Arnade on Twitter here. C5BvbPAWYAAC1VRC5MwdrpWQAUeGOKC4vr4jwWcAAVr1h

Monday, February 20, 2017

Sidney Edwards Morse on the Scotch-Irish, 1822

Virginia 1822 SE MorseAnother source,  a good generation before the ‘Famine Irish’ arrived in vast numbers, showing the usage of the term Scotch-Irish, this time in a fairly academic volume entitled A New System of Modern Geography or a View of the Present State of the World (Boston, 1822). The author, Sidney Edwards Morse, was a brother of the inventor Samuel Finley Breese Morse, and the family was of Ulster descent. The book is online here

The Morse brothers were both born in the 1790s; their father Jedidiah Morse born in 1761 was a Congregational pastor in New England and a descendant of Armagh-born Ulsterman Rev Dr Samuel Finley, a President of Princeton College. Jedidiah had published similar stuff in 1819, again using the term ‘Scotch Irish” (source here), and even earlier in 1810 (source here) and 1802 (source here). The earliest of his publications with the term seems to be 1789 (source here), where he also describes those in North Carolina as "descendants of people from the North of Ireland, and are exceedlingly attached to the doctrines, discipline and usages of the church of Scotland. They are a regular industrious people".

The breadcrumb trail of usages of the term ‘Scotch-Irish’ seems to be now be pretty much a continuous stream from the 1718 emigration families right up into the 21st century.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The President's "Poverty Tour", Appalachia, April-May 1964

Donald trump signDue to his seemingly endless flow of the bizarre, the incompetent and the ridiculous, since his inauguration Donald J Trump has become even more of a figure of ridicule and hate. I can’t think of a media outlet apart from Breitbart which could be considered anything other than anti-Trump. In some cases I think the media has rushed to exaggerate and misrepresent. But he has made it easy, very easy for them to do so. I am not a fan of Trump, but I am drawn towards the people who put their trust in him at the ballot box, who saw him as being their last opportunity for change in the corporate-political empire.

At least now the media is doing its job again, having been sycophantic Obama-worshippers for the past 8 years (giving only passing coverage to bombing campaigns and drone strikes, for which statistics vary, the destabilisation of other nations through ’springs’, etc), and who right up to the last minute were openly backing Clinton, who was just another establishment candidate. Yes Trump is a billionaire. But the establishment – media, Democrats and Republicans – all openly hate him. And that's a big reason why so many people voted for him.

However, what this media Trump-a-geddon has done is wipe out some of the intelligent journalism which was starting to emerge during 2016, which sought to explain Trump's rise, and which revealed a hidden demographic - a forgotten, abandoned, American underclass far from the urban and coastal élites. The people of last year's bestseller Hillbilly Elegy, which became a bestseller because it connected the journalist class with people they did not know even existed. For a brief few months, those people had a voice, albeit a small one. Now they are once again forgotten as all eyes are focussed on Trump himself. 

So the ‘progressive’ chatterati are virtue-signalling at an industrial scale, every Trump gaffe causing Twitter-tsunamis. Mutual back-slaps of how right on they are. Middle class progressive evangelicals are just as prone to this as anyone else, except they add a bit of Jesus into the mix. They enjoy pointing out online how they are more like Jesus than others are. This used to be called "raising legitimacy to ultimacy", and is a form of Luke 18 Pharisaism. The posturing - whether just to make political points, or when also wrapped in a theological gloss, is tiresome and self-aggrandising.

Well, forget Trump. He is merely the outworking of those forgotten millions. And underneath the fashionable outrage, the progressives are as disinterested in the working class and underclass as ever before - whether Trump voters, UKIP voters, Brexit voters, post-industrial parts of Scotland that I have been to and know people in – or in our own context, people in estates which are still in the grip of paramilitarism. Few of Northern Ireland's 'trendy vicar’ types would be seen dead at a band parade or inside an Orange hall, either through their own choice or the soft policies of those they answer to within their congregations. I have seen many churches on the 12th July and on other parade dates, situated along the parade routes with hundreds of 'unchurched' people standing outside, but with the doors shut and the building deserted. It's not only bad evangelism, it's bad neighbourliness, it's bad community engagement.

Previous Presidents also made publicity capital from these forgotten millions. Below is a film of Lyndon Johnson in the ‘Rust Belt’ and Appalachia in 1964. You can imagine how these images were carefully staged for maximum effect. Just like today. This 2014 retrospective makes for interesting reading.

Whether President or progressive tweeter, they are one and the same, both are merely exploiting the poor for their own publicity advantage.

• PS - I know those who do care, and a number of young ministers who are not scared to get their hands dirty and get stuck in. They're not doing the posturing. They're doing the hard work, far below the radar. Full credit to them.

• PPS - after posting this piece, I see that the Lancashire Post in the north west of England has a similar perspective. I have always had a soft spot for John Pilger’s view of international politics, as this article demonstrates so well.

Friday, February 17, 2017

"We didn't know that Presbyterians had suffered too"

William harris covenanters 1887


Last Friday evening I had the privilege of speaking to West Belfast Historical Society on the subject of the Covenanters in the 1600s. I tend to stick to doing talks in my own local area but one of the Society’s members had heard me give the talk in Newtownards about 18 months ago, and invited me to give it to WBHS. As the date approached I was a bit apprehensive; demographically West Belfast is overwhelmingly Catholic, and the meeting was to be in a Catholic church parish centre. So I made doubly sure that everyone understood the ground I’d be covering, a few weeks beforehand.

Stories of the Reformation, of standing up against successive monarchs (the great majority of whom were 'Established Church'), of defying the state, of being arrested and imprisoned and executed. Of ‘18,000 martyrs” as it says on the grand memorial at Greyfriars Kirkyard. It all went really well, and the conversations afterwards were great. A comment that a number of people made to me at the end, independently of one another, was "We didn't know that Presbyterians had suffered too”. 

There is a lesson here. It is critically important to share stories beyond our own communities. We need to rethink how the 1600s are discussed and understood.

• In 1689 no Presbytery meetings were held from March until September, and when these resumed it was to hold 'a solemn day of thanksgiving for the great mercy of a begun relief from bondage' (source here).

• A deputation of ministers was sent to London to bring a message to the new King William "former and present sufferings, well known to those who lived amongst them ... that all sufferings for nonconformity may be for the future prevented" (source here)

The more I read the more I am convinced that the 'innumerable crowds of people' who greeted William at Carrickfergus 'with continual shouts and acclamations' were expressing their great relief that at least 50 years of struggle against previous monarchs and parliaments had finally come to an end.

Maybe there will one day be scope to re-frame these important stories.

The Revolutionary Knoxes: Ulster-Scots origins of Major-General Henry Knox (1750–1806) and Rev Hugh Knox (1727–1790)

Not long after Newtownards man Rev John Moorehead (previous post here) had emigrated and became the first Presbyterian minister in Boston around 1728, founding the church called “Church of the Presbyterian Strangers”, he conducted a wedding.

It was just the second one he had ever done. The date was 17 February 1736, the happy couple were William Knox (born c. 1712) and Mary Campbell - just like Moorehead they were fresh Ulster emigrants (possibly from near Belfast, but more likely having emigrated from Belfast - although other sources say William was from Londonderry) coming to terms with life in the New World, and from most accounts it seems life as outcasts, unwelcome in English-dominated Boston. A number of early Presbyterian churches had been burned down by “hostile Yankees”, such as nearby Worcester (source here), and I have seen another source - which I can’t put my finger on just now - that describes one being destroyed during its construction.

William Knox appears to have become a soldier, because in the same church records (online here), on 3 August 1749, “Mary Knox, wife to Capt. Wm. Knox, had a son baptised called Henry”. The “Church of the Presbyterian Strangers” was on Bury Street, later Long Lane, now Federal Street, and the Knox family home was at 247 Federal Street.

William had a successful shipbuilding business and bought a wharf at Boston Harbour, but the business failed and he later abandoned the family and went to the Caribbean where he eventually died, on St. Eustatius island, in 1762.

[A Knox relative already in the Caribbean was Rev Hugh Knox, who had been born in Ulster around 1727/28. He was ordained in New York in 1755 and was appointed minister on the remote island of Saba, where he stayed for 16 years, before moving to the island of St Croix around 1772. Some sources say he was a formative influence upon the young Alexander Hamilton, helping to raise the boy after his father had died when he was aged just 11, and his mother just two years later. Hamilton is known today through the biographical musical of his life. Some of Rev Hugh Knox’s sermons were later published, including An Essay on Civil and Religious Liberty in 1777]

Henry Knox was a boyhood friend of David McClure (previous post here), did well at school, got a job in a bookstore, and was embroiled in the Boston Massacre of 1770 when soldiers opened fire on a mob who were attacking them. Henry had tried to intervene and prevent the bloodshed which eventually took place.

Henry went on to become the youngest major-general in George Washington’s army, then chief artillery officer, and when Independence was won, Knox was appointed Washington’s Secretary of War. No doubt he and Alexander Hamilton wold have met many times in Washington’s service, and might have talked about their common Ulster-Scots influences - because Rev Hugh and Henry were correspondents (see here)


Monday, February 13, 2017

Sir John Melville of Carnbee, Fife – buried Inch Abbey, Downpatrick, 1628

Inch Abbey 005L


This man came to Ulster in the early 1600s and once had a grand gravestone at Inch Abbey, Downpatrick (pictured above). It is described in detail in Walter Harris’ The ancient and present state of the county of Down (1744) and also repeated in the footnotes of Rev George Hill's Montgomery Manuscripts. Harris mistakenly called him James rather than John, an error which was repeated by Hill. The inscription is described as follows:

"S. Anno 1628. d.
"Then on the top of the Scutcheon in one quarter,
I.M., and in the other quarter, A. R. At the foot of the
Scutcheon on one side are these words thus placed: —
" Christo et Cruce
In Spero.
and underneath this inscription : —

This would suggest he was 68 years old (‘sexaginta octo’), so was therefore born in 1560, and it seems was a knight for 49 years so therefore had been knighted around 1579-80. He is identified as 'Sir John Melville of the Carnbee family at Inch, near Downpatrick' in the 1881 book Scottish Arms being a Collection of Armorial Bearings. It appears that he was a man of some influence; having been knighted by King James VI, Melville assisted in 1593 to revise the means of tax collection in Scotland (source here).

Carnbee is a parish in Fife, where the Melvilles lived for many generations, as far back as the late 1200s. They had been in Scotland since at least 1165 as shown in a charter from King William the Lion of Scotland to Galfrid and Gregory de Melville (source here).

The volume The East Neuk of Fife by Rev Walter Wood (1887) records the Melvilles having arrived at Carnbee by 1296. There is a short biography of Sir John and his second wife Alison Ross (the ‘A.R.’ on the gravestone) which speaks of them having to sell their Granton estate near Edinburgh in 1598. Interestingly, Sir John had been declared a rebel, having begun to build a mill on the land of King James VI at Kingsbarns without royal permission. Perhaps these events were what caused him to move to Ulster. Carnbee was then acquired by the Moncreiff family.

PS: It is worth mentioning that the Echlins and Monypennys, also from Fife, came to east Ulster in this period, both families settling at Portaferry, just a boat trip from Inch. An earlier Melville from Fife was an ally of John Knox’s during the Reformation, and was hanged in 1548 for his involvement in the murder of Cardinal David Beaton.


PPS: Herman Melville (1819–91), author of Moby Dick, was descended from this Sir John Melville: "Herman Melville, the most powerful of all the great American writers, was born on the 1st August 1819, in New York. His father, Allan, was the fourth child of Major Thomas Melville. The family was of old Scots lineage, being descended from that John Melville of Carnbee who was knighted by James the Sixth”. Allan Melville had visited Scotland on a genealogy visit in the early 1800s, armed with a family tree. He also traced Boston Tea Party patriot Thomas Melvill (1751–1832) and General Robert Melville (1723–1809) to our same Sir John - source here.


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Saturday, January 28, 2017

"The Silent Ulster Vote" - a podcast from 2012


I am thankful to Bruce Carlson of My History Can Beat Up Your Politics for posting this on Twitter earlier. I’m only 15 minutes into it and it’s really excellent - detailed, packed with content, a lot of which I had never heard before. Listen to it here: 

Friday, January 27, 2017

Ulster Historical Foundation - "The Northern Muse" - 60th anniversary


This event next Saturday evening promises to be truly excellent. I'm especially looking forward to seeing inside historic First Presbyterian Church in Rosemary Street in Belfast, and to hearing Nigel and Dianna Boullier playing authentic old-time County Down fiddle tunes. Nigel is the author of the remarkable Handed Down: Country Fiddling and Dancing in East and Central Down (available here).

• Book your ticket online; the Foundation is a charity and donations are suggested at £25 per person. Click here.

"You're Scotch-Irish, aren't you?" - Michael Stipe of REM

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I had expected some of this. I had met Stipe before, in Athens, Georgia, at the time when R.E.M. had just signed with Warner Brothers and was about to release Green. At the end of the conversation, he began studying my face. "You're Scotch-Irish, aren't you?" he said.

"No," I said. "I'm not."

"You have a very Scotch-Irish face."

"I'm not Scotch-Irish."

He reached out his hand and touched the back of it to my face. "You have Scotch-Irish cheekbones," he said. "I'll bet you have that somewhere in your background. I'm very good at figuring out where people came from."

(from this 2003 interview in Esquire magazine)