Sunday, April 23, 2017

The Regulator Movement and the Battle of Alamance

The Regulators - Extended Promo from Chris Laforet on Vimeo.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

A Scotch-Irish leader in pre-Revolution North Carolina: Rev David Caldwell (1725–1824) and the Battle of Alamance (1771)

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Rich coastal elites with their rigged political systems.
Lower class rural mountain communities, growing disaffected and resentful.
A huge culture gap.
Simmering tensions.

This basic storyline sounds very familiar to us today, sounding a lot like the Hillbilly Elegy 2016 narrative. but this was North Carolina in the 1770s. The state was being run by those on the east coast, with scant regard for the folk in the hill country in the west towards Appalachia. It was a ‘jobs for the boys’ culture – this website says that North Carolina was –

"divided into two generally different societies, an eastern seat of government appointing or controlling local officials, and there being confusing tax laws in place, it is easy to understand the feeling of alienation the backcountry people experienced.”

In the thick of it all was Presbyterian minister Rev David Caldwell (1725–1824). This biography gives us some insight –

“… In December 1775 delegates of the Continental Congress met with Rev. Caldwell. Although seemingly isolated on the frontier, Rev. Caldwell joined an intercolonial movement that aided attainment of America’s independence. Beginning in January, 1776, his sermons from the pulpit inspired wary and disaffected Scotch-Irish to take up arms and fight against British oppression …" 

And here is part of a sermon preached in this Revolutionary environment by Caldwell, in which he cites the Glorious Revolution as a template for liberty and the justified overthrow of the tyrannical Crown of his day, nearly 100 years later and half a world away –

“… The sin and danger of sloth, in relation to our civil liberty, or of yielding to the unjust demands of arbitrary power, is further evident from the fact that those in high life, or who administer the government, have all the allurements …

When James II abdicated the throne of England and raised an army of papists and confederate French, to establish popery and slavery, the British nation did not betray their religion or their liberty by an inglorious submission, nor did they desert the mighty cause of truth and freedom through sloth or cowardice …

They valiantly repelled the force and fury of his attacks and fearlessly proclaimed the Prince and Princess of Orange the King and Queen of Britain. They our forefathers, or many of them, sacrificed at Londonderry and Enniskillen their lives, that they might have down to us the fair inheritance of liberty and the Protestant religion; and in the whole course of their conduct in the support and defence of their rights they have set us an example which ought not to be disregarded … “

It is interesting to me to see again the Williamite Revolution presented in this way - not unthinkingly loyal to the Crown, but rather consciously pro-liberty and willing to rise up against the Crown. There is still something important to be done with that story for our time.

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Caldwell was a massive influence on North Carolina, making a huge impact as a community leader, physician and educator, as well as minister. He and his wife Rachel were both of Ulster parentage - David's father Andrew was from Ballycogan near Lifford, and Rachel's father was Rev Alexander Craighead from Donegal - a minister who required parents of children requesting baptism to swear the Solemn League and Covenant. So it's no surprise to see Londonderry mentioned in the sermon extract above. Their families had arrived in America and settled at Drumore Township in Pennsylvania, land which had been granted for an Ulster-Scots community by William Penn in February 1739.

Caldwell was involved in the Battle of Alamance on 16 May 1771, when the backcountry ‘Regulators’ (effectively the North Carolina version of the 'Sons of Liberty’, who were seeking to introduce regulations to root out political corruption and élitism) took up arms against a coastal militia. This is sometimes claimed to be the first battle of the Revolution.


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One of Caldwell’s students was John Morehead (1796–1866) who later became Governor of North Carolina. He recalled that Caldwell spoke with a “…broad Scotch accent which he often assumed, when he desired to be humorous or to worry a laggard pupil with a bad lesson…"

The other surviving sermon that I know of is orthodox theology, entitled The Doctrine of Universal Salvation Unscriptural. It seems that Caldwell’s time at Guildford, North Carolina, also included some of the Second Great Awakening revival, in 1791, by which stage he had been joined by another Ulster-descended minister, James McGready.

In 1842 Caldwell's successor and biographer wrote of the “Scotch-Irish Presbyterians” being “the most efficient supporters of the American cause during the struggle for independence”. A more recent and detailed biography is online here.

David and Rachel Caldwell are honoured still today with a heritage centre and park in Greensboro.


Caldwell Center Interior Rachel Caldwell plaque PHILOSOPHY AND LIBERTY
Biographer Finis Jay Caldwell has concluded that Rev David Caldwell would have developed his ideas of political liberty from John Locke’s Two Treatises on Government (1689), including that people may justifiably raise armed resistance to the state. This was required reading at the College of New Jersey when Caldwell was educated there as a young man.

And Locke’s concepts of liberty can be traced back to Lex Rex, the famous 1644 work by Samuel Rutherford (see here), and which just last summer the Washington Post connected with the Declaration of Independence (see here). And once you get to Rutherford, the philosophical lineage carries on back through Andrew Melville, John Knox and George Buchanan. Rutherford even quotes from Aristotle.

For today, one of the sharpest minds on these liberties is David Robertson, until relatively recently the Moderator of the Free Church of Scotland, and also until recently a very much pro-Independence voice in Scotland. These two articles, on his ‘Wee Flea’ blog, will give you a flavour:
A Warning for Scotland (March 2017)
Scots Calvinists were no Tartan Taliban (December 2015)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Foghorn Stringband - "I'm Longing For Home"

This superb old-time band have played in Northern Ireland a few times over the years, and are back again in a few weeks time on our side of the Atlantic but not north of the border this time, so I will be heading south to see them. What a glorious sound. Hoke around YouTube for loads of their music. Visit their website here. 17990178 1475868829098826 5060891437793644787 o

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Gibraltar: Turks, Scots and an 'Orange' Lodge - Belfast 1784 (as reported in the Pennsylvania Packet)

Gibraltar 1779

Gibraltar is in the news again due to 'Brexit' and the fallout from the ‘triggering' of Article 50. Just over 230 years ago, at the tail end of the American War of Independence, France and Spain tried to re-take Gibraltar from British control (who had held it since 1713) in a siege which lasted 3 1/2 years. During the siege, this particular story unfolded.

Surreal as the title of this post might sound, this is a true story. In the mid to late 1700s there were Masonic fraternities who used the name 'Orange'. People who know about these things tell me that they might in some way have honoured the memory of King William III, Prince of Orange – although some online Masonic sources say that lodges used colour as a naming system. There was one at Doagh in County Antrim and a more well known one in Belfast; there may have been others.

Whatever the background, in 1784 Captain Abraham Rahash and his son Ali Rahash made use of the generosity of Belfast's Orange Lodge No 257. Read the story for yourself, from the Pennsylvania Packet newspaper on Saturday 19 June 1784. Here is the full text:

Belfast, April 2. Last Monday captain Abraham Rahash, and his son Ali Rahash, two Turks, taken prisoners by the Spanish in attempting to bring relief to the garrison of Gibraltar, and had afterwards escaped and got to Leith, from whence they came to the town, well recommended by the grand lodge of Scotland, - visited the Orange Lodge No. 257. where they were treated with every respect, civility, and love, by the brethren of that numerous and respectable body ; who gave them a recommendation to other lodges, and a sum of money to enable them to return to Constantinople, the place of their nativity. How greatful to the liberal mind, to perceive the distinction of Turk and Christian, in short, all local and religious prejudices sunk in the more sublime affection which, as the offspring of one common parent, we all owe to one another ; and which every sound principle of religion and virtue never fails to heighten into pure philanthropy, when not obscured by the rankest bigotry and ignorance.

The story was retold in Historical Collections Relative to the Town of Belfast by Henry Joy (1817) - online edition here. The Packet had been founded by Ulsterman John Dunlap in 1771, and in 1784 it became the first daily paper in America. Even an experienced newspaper man like Dunlap, looking for content to fill the demanding pages of his daily newspaper, must have raised an eyebrow at this story from his homeland.

Orange Lodge No 257 is said to date from 6 June 1755. According to this 1782 source, the lodge met at the Donegall Arms once a fortnight. A Past Master of the lodge was Amyas Griffith, a prominent figure in Belfast's social and literary circles, who famously observed shortly after his arrival in Belfast in 1780 that 'the common people speak broad Scotch'. On 28 April 1783, John Brown, the worshipful master of the lodge laid the foundation stone for the Belfast White Linen Hall. The original copper plate bearing the inscription is said to be in the collection of the Ulster Museum. Here is an article about another of the lodge's members, William Todd Jones; and another here, on the consistently excellent Eddie’s Extracts, of lodge member Rev James Bryson. who was minister of 2nd Presbyterian Church, Belfast. The lodge was closely associated with the Belfast Volunteers.

Further research is needed into this unusual story.

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Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Wayfaring Stranger with Phil Cunningham - BBC (Episode 2)

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'Authentic, emotive and true'.

That's part of what I tweeted as the end credits rolled on episode two of 'Wayfaring Stranger' when it aired last Thursday night. It is hard to describe what it is like to wait nearly all your adult life for a programme of such quality and depth and to see it materialise in your own living room. A lifetime of listening, tracing the origins of early recorded music and before, years of reading, a honeymoon and also family holidays in Appalachia which were actually thinly-veiled research missions, years of seeing many of the jigsaw pieces but with no author or producer to have ever found the missing ones and then assemble them into a single picture. Until now. Until 'Wayfaring Stranger'.

Never underestimate the power of nostalgia to evoke memories. When Sheila Kay Adams sat on her porch with a five string banjo, playing 'Where the Soul of Man Never Dies' with Phil Cunningham pulling sweet yet sombre chords from his piano accordion, this was my mission hall life transported thousands of miles from where I and my ancestors were rared to a New World of rural North Carolina - and yet a world to which none of us truly belongs. I'm getting emotional just writing this blog post.

Why? Because music and stories can do that. You can hit me with a thousand facts, or just sing me one song. The song has the power.

And then came Ricky Skaggs, and Jerry Douglas, and Tim O'Brien, and Frank Newsome, and Fiddling John Carson, and Jimmie Rodgers, and the Carter Family, and William Walker, and - look, if you don't know who these people are then you owe it to yourself and your heritage to find out.

Many of the songs and tunes played were ones that I grew up with, that my late mother sang, that her mother sang, that her father collected on 78s, that I now have, and which appeared in popular hymnals on both sides of the Atlantic from the mid/late 1800s right up to the present day.

It was an honour to see my scratchy old 78 of Fiddlin John Carson being played on the programme, which I had loaned to the producers, Fiona and Sean. Last July I saw Carson's Ulster fiddle in the Country Music Hall of Fame in Nashville (my photo is below). ‘Pluperfect awful’ it might have been to Ralph Peer’s New York ears, but it meant something deep and powerful to Scotch-Irish country folk. I have now seen his musical story – our musical story – at long last properly told.

And the closing sequence, with the distinctive instrumentation of Johnny Cash’s superb, mournful, American Recordings version of Wayfaring Stranger as an outro, brings the whole story right up to the beginning of the 21st Century.


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• Watch Episode One of 'Wayfaring Stranger' here on BBC iPlayer
• Watch Episode Two of 'Wayfaring Stranger' here on BBC iPlayer


Tim O'Brien plays some of this song in the programme, this is a live version from YouTube:

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'Our State' magazine & Ulster Scots

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‘Our State’ is the official state magazine of North Carolina. Recent editions have included interesting references to Ulster Scots. 

The Carolina Scots
A Tartan of Our Own
Glory Bound
Moonshine Gets A Modern Twist

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Frank Newsome - 'Beulah Land'

The very wonderful Frank Newsome, an elder in the Old Baptist Church, appeared on 'Wayfaring Stranger' tonight in episode 2. Here he is, filmed around 2008.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

"... Ulster Scots ... dissenting traditions ... broadly suspicious of central authority ... unwillingness to accept the political authority of urban elites ..."

Gettysburg Confederate flag


Now doesn’t that sound familiar, and as if it were written just in the past few months? So says this article on the website Journal of the American Revolution from May 2014, entitled ‘Ireland and the American Revolution’, by Matthew P. Dziennik.

Over the past few months regular readers will have seen the vast Ulster-Scots imprint along the road towards the American Republic. On 28 July 1775 the leaders of the emerging new nation wrote an Address to the People of Ireland (online here), which was signed off by John Hancock. It is easy to imagine that the many Ulster-Scots around him were at his elbow as the words were being penned. Similar addresses were written to the people of Great Britain, Canada and Jamaica.

It also raises an interesting question - that for our ancestors, and the global diaspora, liberty was/is more important than nationality. Even in the Thomas Sinclair-penned words of the 1912 Ulster Covenant, ‘civil and religious freedom’ came before ‘citizenship’ and ‘Empire’.

Let’s be honest, some ‘Ulster-American’ stuff is pretty poor. I am ever more convinced there is a vast and credible story still to be fully uncovered, by people much smarter than me.

'The Gude and Godlie Ballates', Scotland, 1542-6

I have posted here before about the Lutheran-inspired Wedderburn Brothers of Dundee and their collection of ‘Gospel-ised’ folk ballads of the 1540s (see here for previous article). They used the familiar tunes of the day and changed the words to contain Reformation and Gospel themes. A stroke of genius.

This 1897 edition by the Scottish Text Society is brilliant – A Compendious Book of Godly and Spiritual Songs – containing bucketloads of wonderful contextual history and examples of similar things happening around the same time across Europe. The chapter entitled The Spiritualising of Secular Songs and Appropriation of their Tunes in particular is worth a read - click here.

Songs carry stories – around the world, and across the ages. Stop singing the songs which have meaning, and you dam the river of tradition. You cut off your own source.