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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Rob't said...

I could not find this book on Amazon or Google books. Do you know if it is available?

Mark Thompson said...

No there seem to be no digital editions online anywhere