Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Waxing the Gospel: Mass Evangelism and the Phonograph, 1890-1900 - "the most in-depth look at the dawn of the recording industry ever issued."


They were Grammy-nominated in 2005 for 'Lost Sounds'; this year Archeophone Records have done another superb and ground-breaking job on this book and CD collection. Over 4 hours of music and a 408 page book, with Ira D Sankey singing 'My Ain Countrie'. Can I wait till Christmas?...

Before the 20th century, the “sacred” songs of Protestant camp meetings and revivals were as catchy, memorable and personal as the pop songs of that or any other time. Bringing you more recordings from the 1890s than any other historical album to date, Waxing the Gospel is a landmark collection of 102 tracks on three CDs in a 408-page beautifully illustrated hardback book. Commercial recordings go back to 1890 and feature pioneer artists Emile Berliner, Thomas Bott, J. W. Myers, Len Spencer, Steve Porter, and J. J. Fisher—as well as stunning instrumental performances by Baldwin’s Cadet Band, Holding’s Parlor Orchestra, and the U. S. Marine Band. Celebrity recordings by star evangelists include Ira D. Sankey, Dwight L. Moody, and Prof. John R. Sweney. And vernacular recordings taken in the field are by historic evangelical figures such as Winfield Weeden singing his original songs, and the “Golden Minstrel” of the Salvation Army, Edward Taylor, who accompanies himself on the guitar. It’s a great listen, a fascinating story, a book for the coffee table, and a resource you’ll want to have nearby.

As their own blog says:

Moody and Sankey “started the fire” . . . they were the Beatles of the 1870s, preaching and singing their saving word to millions in Great Britain and America. They and their compeers gave birth to a type of hymn called “gospel songs,” which were as popular in the late Victorian era among the masses as anything put out today by Rihanna or Beyonce. People embraced the gospel songs as personal anthems, stories of self-realization and awakening. They were so much part of the fabric of American culture that when the early industry started dabbling with a sacred repertoire, these were the pieces the record companies turned to. But as our extensive essay lays out, it didn’t happen immediately. At first the thought was, “Everybody has the hymnals and can sing the gospel hymns themselves, so why would they want records of them?” The story here is of how quickly our ancestors made the infant phonograph a tool of reiteration and remembering.


There's a dark and a troubled side of life...

Monday, September 26, 2016

Adam Douglass (1790–1849), the 1798 Rebellion and frontier Virginia – 'the first Irish-American novel'.

Adam Douglass was born in Belfast on 1 November 1790. His father, William Douglas (1746–1832), was born in Killinchy, and married Margaret Walker there in 1763. William was said to have been a ‘captain in the Irish Rebellion’ of 1798, under the leadership of his Killyleagh neighbour Archibald Rowan Hamilton. Both sets of grandparents were Scottish. 

In the summer of 1798, after the failure of the Rebellion, young Adam, accompanied by his uncle who was also called Adam, fled to America. Young Adam eventually returned to Ireland and signed up with the army, and fought at Waterloo in 1815 "where he was twice wounded and had his horse shot from under him”. He went back to America where he settled at New Market in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, among many Ulster families, and became a teacher and surveyor.

He wrote a two volume book - The Irish Emigrant: An Historic Tale Founded on Fact - which was published by John T Sharrocks at the town of Winchester, Virginia, in 1817. Winchester was the ‘gateway to Appalachia’, whose "inhabitants are a spurious race of mortals known by the appellation of Scotch-Irish." It has been called ‘the first Irish-American novel’. 

The story begins in County Antrim, goes to America, and ends up back in Ulster again. In the pics below you’ll see an extract which has the lead character returning to Ulster disguised in “the insignia of an Orange Man”. To have that reference this early is fairly significant. It's useful to point out that at this time, King George III had been the British monarch who had 'lost' America in 1776; his son Ernest Augustus was the top Orangeman in Ireland from 1817 until 1836, so this might well have 'chimed' with an informed Ulster-American audience at the time.

The thrust of the book seems to be to try to communicate to an American readership that the 1798 Rebellion was justified and that the peoples of Ireland could indeed co-operate and get along with one another, and no better place to do that than frontier America. Bear in mind that this is 30 years before the Potato Famine. This book, although ‘poorly constructed’, ‘melodramatic’ and ‘contains numerous awkward phrasings’ is none the less pretty important. 

Adam Douglass must have later moved north west, into Kentucky, for when he died he was buried in the Baptist cemetery of Old Goshen at Laconia, Indiana, just on the other side of the Ohio River. His wife, Nancy Pennebaker, was the sister of Isaac Pennebaker, a senator from Virginia. Nancy was from New Market so she and Adam Douglas may well have me there. She died six years earlier than Adam and was also buried at Old Goshen.

(PS: as an aside, when in Staunton during the summer, which is in the same Shenandoah Valley, I got talking to a shop assistant. She was about my age, caught the accent and we got talking. She said something like ‘it’s still very Scotch-Irish round here even after nearly 300 years. I’m Irish Catholic from New York, been living here for about 10 years, and there’s almost none of us around here even today”. She wasn’t making a loaded sectarian point, just a simple demographic one.)

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Friday, September 23, 2016

Carrowdore, May Crommelin (1849–1930) and 'Orange Lily' (1880)


Just beside the village of Carrowdore is Carrowdore Castle. It was built by the Huguenot Crommelin family. Our Wilson homestead was a tenant property within the estate at a time; local tradition says that one of the Wilson girls was a maid in the Castle and when a Crommelin child fell gravely ill, the Wilson girl stayed at the Castle for months to nurse the child back to full health. As a thank-you, Mr Crommelin allowed the Wilsons to live in the house rent-free for the rest of their days. Dozens of children were reared in the wee house at Ballyrawer / Ballyraer, including my grandfather William Wilson and all of his siblings. When I was wee I used to visit them, and nip off to play in the ‘plantin’ across the road from the house, when it was still wide open to the public. My brother built a house nearby a few years ago, where he still lives.

Even though the Crommelins lived in the castle as gentry and our lot lived in a wee cottage merely as tenants, both families ended up being buried up at Church Hill alongside each other, and eventually to be joined by Louis MacNeice.

Maria Henrietta de la Cherois-Crommelin (1848–1930), known as May Crommelin, was born at the Castle. She moved to London when she was about 30 and became a writer. One of her first novels was set in Ulster. Entitled Orange Lily (published 1880), it tells the tale of Ballyboley Orange Lodge and a small girl called Lily. There is a smattering of Ulster-Scots vocabulary throughout the dialogue; a New York edition is now available online here.

A number of the chapters are introduced by extracts from Robert Burns poems. There are references to ‘broad words’ and ‘Ballyboley dialect’. It’s easy to criticise how light the Ulster-Scots actually is. But, put yourself in her shoes - how do you convince a London publishing house that local vernacular is going to sell to a broad readership - not far into chapter one she writes that they “spoke as broad as their Scotch ancestors did”.

I think this one is interesting because of its range of cultural references too - country dances, fiddle players, the Orange lodge, the ‘broad words’, farm and community life.

May Crommelin was far from successful as a writer and the critics have not been kind to her. However, as a daughter of the Ards who attempted to give some voice to the local folk in her surrounding area, I think she deserves some credit. 

Comber and Kircubbin, Carrowdore and Kentucky - a tune from the 1840s... or earlier?

MacNeice Comber


The renowned poet Louis MacNeice was buried at Christ Church, Carrowdore - or as the locals call it, Church Hill. Many generations of my Wilson and Kerr ancestors lie there, just a few yards away. Our Wilson homesteads lie in the low ground below the church. Here is MacNeice’s modest plot.

In 2010, Faber & Faber pubished the Selected Letters of Louis MacNeice, edited by Professor Jonathan Allison, an Ulsterman who is now Professor of English at the University of Kentucky. I have never met Professor Allison but he seems to return to Belfast from time to time.

There is an interesting footnote here, in Imagined Differences, which reproduces an Ards Peninsula song called The Bright Orange Heroes of Comber, (sometimes called The Bold Orange Heroes of Comber) which Dr Allison recalled from his Bangor childhood. It is a song which has long intrigued me, as its tune is so unlike other Orange songs which I grew up with. The phraseology of the song title can be found in local newspapers from the 1870s, it describes the period of Daniel O’Connell’s “monster meetings” of the early 1840s. So the words are old. 

I first heard the song in the late 70s or early 80s from one of those old Ulster loyalist LPs which were so common back then during the Troubles, but the lyrics were more strident and sectarian than the original Ards Peninsula version, with the storyline relocated to Portadown rather than Greyabbey. It has been recorded by a range of artists - Jackie O’Brien and the Pikemen around 1968 (see here), and by Liam Andrews for the BBC in 1952 (see here). Cathal O’Boyle has commented on the lyrical structure of the song (see here).

The melody sounds very old. It’s still part of the flute band repertoire today, you’ll see clips on YouTube, but played to a stiffer rhythm which kills a lot of the mood. However, played on a mandolin, which of course is tuned the same as a fiddle, it sounds haunting, in D minor, and positively Appalachian. If the song does indeed date from the 1840s, it is perhaps a glimpse of a tune from a time even earlier than that. Perhaps the type of tune which was exported to New England, Pennsylvania and Appalachia…  and beyond.

• Ards version of The Bright Orange Heroes of Comber is here on YouTube
• Later Portadown version of The Bright Orange Heroes of Comber is here on YouTube 

The Bright Orange Heroes of Comber
On the twelfth of July last as Greyabbey town we passed
to Kircubbin where we did assemble
the rebels they did pray for a curse on us that day
and their hearts within them did tremble

As we passed down Shuttle Row, that's a rebel place you know
thinking we were useless lumber,
they swore they'd break our drum if we up to them did come
but we're the bright Orange heroes of Comber.

O'Connell he does boast of his great big rebel host
He says they are ten thousand in number.
But half of them, you'll find they are both lame and blind
but we're the bright Orange heroes of Comber.

So here's a loyal toast may all base traitors roast!
Confound the foes of the Orange Order!
For we'll give blow for blow while swift Boyne waters flow
for we're the bright Orange heroes of Comber

<< I'll try to upload an audio clip of the tune here >>


In the late Grady McWhiney and Forrest McDonald's much-debated 1989 book Cracker Culture, they wrote that a tune called ‘The Battle of the Boyne’ travelled to the USA where it became ‘Buffalo Gal’ or ‘Nashville Gal’ (see here).

I’m not knowledgable enough to know if any overtly Orange tunes made their way to America. The timelines don’t really fit. The demographics don’t really fit either. Orangeism only developed in the late 1700s and early 1800s, just as the massive wave of 1700s Ulster-Scots migration to America was slowing down. It was in Canada where, in the later 1800s, a large Orange publishing output emerged, such as this from 1876. But this section from the classic Gone With The Wind shows that there was at least a degree of awareness, with one tune featuring:

"... Gerald had come to America from Ireland when he was twenty-one. He had come hastily, as many a better and worse Irishman before and since, with the clothes he had on his back, two shillings above his passage money and a price on his head that he felt was larger than his misdeed warranted. There was no Orangeman this side of hell worth a hundred pounds to the British government or to the devil himself; but if the government felt so strongly about the death of an English absentee landlord's rent agent, it was time for Gerald O'Hara to be leaving and leaving suddenly. True, he had called the rent agent "a bastard of an Orangeman," but that, according to Gerald's way of looking at it, did not give the man any right to insult him by whistling the opening bars of "The Boyne Water."

The Battle of the Boyne had been fought more than a hundred years before, but, to the O'Haras and their neighbors, it might have been yesterday when their hopes and their dreams, as well as their lands and wealth, went off in the same cloud of dust that enveloped a frightened and fleeing Stuart prince, leaving William of Orange and his hated troops with their orange cockades to cut down the Irish adherents of the Stuarts ..."

Rory Fitzpatrick famously complained in God's Frontiersmen that the lead characters in Gone With The Wind should have been emigrant Ulster-Scots Presbyterians rather than emigrant Irish Catholics, which would have been a more realistic portrayal of life in the American South at that time. Regardless, this world-famous 1936 novel refers to Orangemen. But what if there was an earlier one, say from 1817, published in Winchester, Virginia, which did as well?... that will be the subject of a future post.

P.S.: To bring this post full circle, Louis MacNeice’s father, Rev Frederick MacNeice (1866–1942), was an Orangeman, yet one who rejected the Ulster Covenant of 1912. It’s the complexities and overlaps which make this place so interesting.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

David Childers, a North Carolina man: "My people were from back up in the hills ... Scotch-Irish savages"

This is a really good video, filmed for Our State magazine, the official publication for North Carolina. I subscribe to the digital edition having seen it when on holiday back in July.

The interview here is done by Bob Crawford, the bass player with the wonderful Avett Brothers who are from Concord in North Carolina - a town so-named because it was the agreed location for the 'county seat' between the German Lutherans and the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. Bob Crawford and David Childers have a side-project band called The Overmountain Men, where they put stories from American history into song (interview here). As Childers says: "“My people were from back up in the hills, where the Overmountain Men came from. Scotch-Irish savages.”

This interesting book from 1940, a historical travelogue, traces the Crawfords from Scotland to Ulster, then across to New England in 1718, and then onward into the rest of America.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

How good is good enough?

It’s a question that most religious people ask themselves at some point. 500 years ago it was the question that tortured a German monk called Martin Luther. He put it differently: "What good works can proceed out of a heart like mine; how can I, with works like these, stand before a holy Judge?”.

31 October 2017 is the 500th anniversary of the day that, driven by conviction, he took a hammer and went to the Facebook of its day, the local church door in the town of Wittenberg, and nailed up his ’95 Theses’ for all to consider. He didn’t want to start a new church, just to fix the old one. He didn’t know that somebody would copy the 95 Theses, print them, and cause them to ‘go viral’. He had no idea what a ‘Reformation’ was or would become. His motivation, right at the top of the page, was clearly stated. It wasn't political or revolutionary, it was almost a plea – “out of love for the truth and from the desire to make it plain”. 

Luther had found that he could never be good enough. Nobody could ever be good enough. Despite the claims of the Church to be able to forgive sin, the Bible said otherwise. Yet, in the most mind-boggling plot-twist, it turned out that the perfect standard that Luther’s dusty old monastery library Bible scrolls said that God requires, He had in fact already provided. Jesus Christ is not just a good moral example. He is Mediator-Advocate-Substitute.

I’ve had the privilege of working on some materials which have just been published to help tell Luther’s story - I did a wee bit of writing but mostly graphic design. The whole thing was planned, masterminded, researched, written and project-managed by Robert Campbell, a man uniquely placed to make it all happen - and the outcome has been praised by none less than Dr Carl Trueman.

I can be a bit authenticity-obsessive (you might have noticed that if you are a regular reader here) and so I even managed to locate some (supposedly) 16th century nails from Germany on eBay, for the main project image.

You can read the five booklets free at SAM 5736

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Rev Jonathan Boucher, c. 1770: – "the Scotch-Irish as it used to be called"

 “there is no dialect in America… unless some scanty remains of the croaking, guttural idioms of the Dutch, still observable in New York; the Scotch-Irish as it used to be called, in some of the back settlers of the Middle States …"
– Boucher’s Glossary of Archaic and Provincial Words, 1832.

The Glossary was published posthumously. Boucher (1738–1804) was an Anglican clergyman, a close friend of George Washington, and lived in America from 1768–75.
His Wikipedia entry is here.

Further south, down in the Carolinas, this famous quote from another Anglican clergyman, Charles Woodmason, appeared in 1767:

This is a very fruitful fine spot, through which the dividing line between North and South Carolina runs — The heads of P.D. River, Lynch’s Creek, and many other creeks take their rise in this quarter, so that finer body of land is no where to be seen, but it is occupied by a set of the most lowest vilest crew breathing Scotch Irish Presbyterians from the North of Ireland — They have built a meeting house and have a pastor a Scots man among them — A good sort of man — He once was of the Church of England, and solicited for orders, but was refused — whereon he went to Pennsylvania, and got ordained by the Presbytery there, who allow him a stipend to preach to these people, who (in his breast) he heartily contemns — They will no suffer him to use the Lord’s Prayer. He wants to introduce Watts’ Psalms in place of the barbarous Scotch version — but they will not admit it 

 Further early uses of the term Scotch-Irish can be found here

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

The Diary of Reverend David McClure, Pennsylvania, 1774

David McClure

Rev David McClure (1748–1820) was a Presbyterian missionary to the Native American Indians, but due to the effects of war he ended up in western Pennsylvania. He was also on the staff of Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire. The McClures are said to have fled from Scotland to Ulster “in times of persecution”, so therefore the mid 1600s, where they were caught up in the Siege of Derry of 1688–9. They left Ulster around 1729 and sailed to Boston where they founded a Presbyterian church called Federal Street Church.

"The congregation began as a group of Scots-Irish Calvinists gathered in a converted barn on Long Lane in Boston on November 15, 1729. The inhospitable residents of Boston dubbed them derogatorily as “The Church of the Presbyterian Strangers,” and the name stuck. "Their first house of worship was a barn, which sufficed until they were able, in 1744, to build a neat wooden edifice.’ (Wikipedia)


David was born in Newport, Rhode Island and died at East Windsor, Connecticut. His diary was published and is online here.

The diary is a treasure trove, once again slaying the claim that ‘Scotch-Irish’ was an unknown term to the early Ulster emigrants in America but was ‘retro-fitted’ to their story in the late 1800s.


"The people are mainly Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. On this journey we overtook several families moving from the older settlements in the East to the West. Iremember one in particular, a family of about twelve. The man carried a gun and an axe on his shoulders. The wife had the rimof a spinning wheel in one hand and a loaf of bread in the other. The little boys and girls each carried a bundle according to their age. Two poor horses were loaded with some of the bare necessities of life. On top of the baggage of one was a sort of wicker cage in which a baby lay, rocked to sleep by the motion of the horse. A cow was one of the company, and she was destined to bear her part of the family belongings. A bed cord was wrapped around her horns and a bag of meal was on her back. This family was not only patient, but cheerful; pleased at the prospect of finding a happy home in one of the valleys which stretched from the mountains westward on to Pittsburgh."

"The inhabitants of this country, many miles around, are Scotch Irish. They are presbyterians, & generally well indoctrinated in the principles of the christian religion, civil, hospitable & curteous to strangers. This description of people are removing almost daily into this country. Great numbers, within a few years, have come from Ireland."

The inhabitants west of the Appalachian mountains are chiefly Scotch Irish presbyterians. They are either natives of the North of Ireland, or the descendents of such & removed here from the middle Colonies. There are some Germans, English & Scotch. The presbyterians are generally well indoctrinated in the principles of the christian religion. The young people are taught by their parents & school masters, the Larger and Shorter Catechisms, & almost every family has the Westminster Confession of Faith, which they carefully study. Mr. Eurie, lives in a small neighbourhood of german quakers, with whom he can have little or no religious society, as the most of them are very ignorant & bigoted."

"Not able this day to preach, (being Sabbath) having been badly poisoned in the face, by some poisonous weeds. The people of this settlement are almost all of scotch irish descent. Immigrants from the North of Ireland, or descendents of such. They are presbyterians, well instructed in the principles of religion, & a number of them very exemplary and pious. The line between religious & irreligious characters is more discrimenating here, as well as over the mountains, than it is in New England, where the forms of religion are established by law, and where the irreligious are not much respected or promoted to Office in society."

“CARLISLE. Passed through this place, in which are two presbyterian churches, & one small episcopal Society. The people principally scotch-irish."


Gaelic-speaking Highland Scots were also among the frontier Pennsylvania community:

"Dined at Dr. Rogers, with a Scotch minister, who has lately arrived, with a company from the Isle of Sky, with the intention of making a settlement up the North River. His name, I think, is McClellan. Heard Mr. Treat preach in the afternoon, & in the evening, Mr. McClellan. He preached in the Erse language, to his companions, who appeared in the Scotch plaid dress, & attended with great decency.


Interestingly McClure also uses the term ‘Scotch and Irish” but to refer to one group of people, not two. Here’s an example where he contrasts them with the German settlers:

"It is strange that there should be so wide a difference in point of hospitality, between the Germans & the Scotch and Irish of this country. The former will put themselves to no trouble to oblige you, & expect a reward for every service, the latter, we found cheerfully shewing us any kindness which we needed, without any other reward, except the satisfaction of obliging a stranger."


"Call the Smithsonian, I've made a discovery"

Monday, September 19, 2016

Greater Appalachia comes to Ulster

(Update: ‘ultra runner’ Karl Meltzer has just set a new record for completing the Appalachian Trail, in under 46 days, fuelled by sweets and beer and bacon. Story here)


Generally speaking, Appalachia is thought of as being much smaller than its actual area - the purple, yellow and red areas on the map below, from the Appalachian Regional Commission. Yet it pushes both further south and west, and also up into the north east.

Greater Appalachia map ARC Map

In the town of Indiana, Pennsylvania, they have an annual Northern Appalachian Folk Festival each year, which was just last weekend. Yet the Appalachian Trail, the famous hiking route (I’ve only done a few of its 2200 miles) carries on even further, right up through New York State into New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. 

The highest peaks in the Appalachian mountains are in the northern area (Mount Washington in NH ia 6,288 feet; Mount Katahdin in Maine is 5268 feet) and in the south central area (Great Smoky Mountains are over 6000 feet). Mount Mitchell, again in the south central area, is the highest of all, at  6,684 feet.

25 million people live here, about 40% of which are classified as rural dwellers.

Over the past few years the Appalachian Trail has been extended, up into eastern coastal Canada, into Ulster and Scotland, passing through Greenland and Iceland on the way, and from Scotland into Scandinavia. The International Appalachian Trail website is here. What they’ve done is to include the existing Ulster Way, and a walking route through Donegal. 

Surely this now needs to be properly branded and signposted and advertised. North Carolinian Joe Norman walked the Ulster section in 2013.

NB: The AGM of the International Appalachian Trail will be held at the Ulster-American Folk Park on 22nd September (Thursday of this week) - see here.

Appalachian Trail map Static1 squarespace
International Appalachian Trail - Ulster section mapIAT map