Tuesday, December 04, 2018

Gibson Monongahela Pennsylvania Whiskey - the biggest distillery in America in 1900

This brand is now owned by a Canadian company but its origins are in 1856 when Ulsterman John Gibson (born in Belfast in 1794) bought 40 acres to build a distillery on the banks of the Monongahela River. He had been active in the spirits industry in Pennsylvania since about 1837. It became a huge operation and a settlement called Gibsonton Mill grew up around it. His son 22 year old son Henry inherited the business in 1883 and renamed it John Gibson’s So & Co. Prohibition killed the business until 1972 when the brand name was revived.

(The ‘Gibson’ script logo on the bottles looks suspiciously similar to the one which Orville Gibson would later stamp on the headstocks of his guitars and mandolins)

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Sunday, October 21, 2018

John White Geary - from Pennsylvania to San Francisco

Born in Westmoreland County in 1819, the son of Richard Geary and Margaret White, John White Geary has been described as ‘a giant of his times’. Literally so - he was 6’ 6”, and his life intersected with many of the most pivotal moments in American history. His brother Edward became a Presbyterian minister and was later a pioneer in Oregon.

John became an engineer, joined the Pennsylvania militia, led a regiment in the Mexican War of 1846, became US Postmaster for California, reaching the state via Panama just in time for the Gold Rush of 1849. In 1850 he was elected the first Mayor of San Francisco, but the family returned to Pennsylvania in 1852 for health reasons. After the death of his wife he was offered the governorship of Utah (which he declined) and then Kansas (which he accepted). He found himself embroiled in the early tensions of pro and anti slavery factions, and when Civil War broke out in 1861 he began recruiting troops for the Union Army, becoming a Colonel at the head of the First Brigade of the Eastern Army of the Potomac. When the war was over he became Governor of Pennsylvania.

He died in 1873 aged just 54. He had a state funeral; there are various monuments, streets and counties named after him.

‘… Geary possessed an ego to match his great stature. He shared the traits typical of the hearty Scotch-Irish pioneers of his Western Pennsylvania home. Stubborn to a fault, self-sufficient, of fiery independence, plain spoken, and possessed of a pride that countenanced no affront; these attributes, coupled with his, at times, shameless self-promotion invited envy, bitter rivalries and personality conflicts … As a staunch Presbyterian Christian, he came naturally to his aversion to slavery and had personally witnessed the excesses of the 'peculiar institution’...'

• Wikipedia entry here


Friday, September 28, 2018

William Cowan - Distillers of Belfast and Glasgow - No. 4 Irish Whisky & Loch Lomond Scotch Whisky

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Monday, September 24, 2018

Judge Joseph Neilson (1813-1888)

"In January, 1888, that well-known American jurist and illustrious Brooklynite, Judge Joseph Neilson, died. He was an old friend of mine, of everyone who came upon his horizon. For a long while he was an invalid, but he kept this knowledge from the world, because he wanted no public demonstration. The last four years of his life he was confined to his room, where he sat all the while calm, uncomplaining, interested in all the affairs of the world, after a life of active work in it. He belonged to that breed which has developed the brain and brawn of American character - the Scotch-Irish."

Neilson’s funeral service took place at 2nd Presbyterian Church, Clinton Street, Brooklyn, in January 1888. His father was Dr Samuel Neilson and his grandfather John Neilson, who emigrated from Ulster in 1760.


Wednesday, September 19, 2018

700 Years ago - the death of Edward Bruce and the end of the Bruce campaign in Ireland

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Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Elizabeth Jane Cochrane - 'Nellie Bly' - the journalist who travelled around the world in a record-breaking 72 days (1889-90)


She was born in 1864 in the town of Cochran Mills in Armstrong County on the outskirts of Pittsburgh. It had been named after her father Judge Michael Cochran (1810-1871). His father Robert Cochran had emigrated to Pennsylvania from County Londonderry. Her father died when she was just a child and her mother re-married, so it’s hard to see a direct family environment of distinctly Scotch-Irish values, but the community and region had been strongly so for over a century.

You’ll find references to her very easily online - a journalist who wrote under the pseudonym ‘Nellie Bly’. She first came to the fore through her championing of women’s causes and challenging what she saw as negative portrayals. She famously pretended to be insane in order to infiltrate an asylum for ten days, which she later wrote up as Ten Days in the Madhouse.

She travelled the world in 1889-90, beating Phileas Fogg’s famous 80 days achievement by doing so in 72 days, which was briefly a world record.

- Wikipedia entry here.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Hillbilly Elegy's time of reckoning

At long last, some of the voices from Appalachia who have been challenging the narrative of Hillbilly Elegy, will be published together in a new book entitled Appalachian Reckoning - A Region Responds to Hillbilly Elegy, by West Virginia University Press, edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll from Bowdoin College, where the recent 1718 Migration Ulster-Scots American Migration conference took place.

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