Saturday, September 10, 2016

David Ramsay, the 'Father of American History' (1749–1817) and 'another eminent Scotch-Irishman of this era'

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So it turns out that the Father of American History is, as some might say, ‘one of ours’.

David Ramsey (1749–1817; Wikipedia entry here) was the son of James Ramsay and Jane Montgomery  - as the Oxford DNB describes them, ‘Protestant Irish immigrant farmers’. Some genealogy websites suggest they were from Donegal. It has also been suggested that Jane was a cousin of General Richard Montgomery.

The Archives of Maryland says that James Ramsay served as a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly for York County. David had two older brothers: William became a Presbyterian minister and Nathaniel a high-ranking politician. The family lived in ‘East Drumore’ township - apparently in a ‘whitewashed stone hut’.

Here is an old 1800s bio:

"David Ramsay was born in Lancaster county Pennsylvania on the 2d day of April 1749. He was the youngest child of James Ramsay a respectable farmer who had emigrated from Ireland at an early age and by the cultivation of his farm with his own hands provided the means of subsistence and education for a numerous family. He was a man of intelligence and piety and early sowed the seeds of knowledge and religion in the minds of his children. He lived to reap the fruit of his labours and to see his offspring grow up around him ornaments of society and props of his declining years. The early impressions which the care of this excellent parent made on the mind of Dr Ramsay were never erased either by the progress of time the bustle of business or the cares of the world. He constantly entertained and expressed the highest veneration for the sacred volume and in his last will written by his own hand five months before his death when committing his soul to his maker he takes occasion to call the bible the best of books. It was connected with all his tenderest recollections it had been the companion of his childhood and through his whole life his guide and friend and comforter … Dr Ramsay had the misfortune to lose an amiable and excellent mother very early in life but that loss was in some measure repairedby his father who took uncommon pains to give him the best education that could be then obtained in this country...

In Rupp’s History of Lancaster County (1844), which gives a similar account of the Ramsays, there is a reference to a 1717 community of Ulster emigrants ‘on the banks of the Octorara Creek, by a party of what are now known as the Scotch-Irish. They had many difficulties to encounter...'

He had served in the South Carolina legislature during the War of Independence, and later as a surgeon on the battlefields; his second wife was Frances Witherspoon (the daughter of Declaration of Independence signer John Witherspoon); he was held prisoner for a year.

Astoundingly, in the absence of John Hancock, Ramsay served as Chairman of the Continental Congress and eventually became President of the South Carolina State Senate. It was Hancock who in 1775 had signed off on Congress’ famous address To The People of Ireland (full text online here), which was printed in Strabane-born John Dunlap’s Pennsylvania Packet newspaper on 28 July that same year. Here is the concluding section –

Accept our most grateful acknowledgments for the friendly disposition you have always strewn towards us. We know that you are not without your grievances. We sympathize with you in your distress, and are pleased to find that the design of subjugating us, has persuaded administration to dispense to Ireland, some vagrant rays of ministerial sunshine. Even the tender mercies of government have long been cruel towards you. In the rich pastures of Ireland, many hungry parricides have fed, and grown strong to labour in its destruction … we should be unworthy that ancestry from which we derive our descent, should we submit, with folded arms, to military butchery and depredation, to gratify the lordly ambition, or sate the avarice of a British Ministry. In defence of our persons and properties, under actual violation, we have taken up arms; When that violence shall be removed, and hostilities cease on the part of the aggressors, they shall cease on our part also. For the atchievement of this happy event, we confide in the good offices of our fellow-subjects beyond the Atlantic. ()f their friendly disposition, we do not yet despond; aware, as they must be, that they have nothing more to expect from the same common enemy, than the humble favour of being last devoured.

In 1785 Ramsay wrote the two volume set History of the Revolution of South Carolina (online here) the first book in the USA to be granted copyright. Writing his own family experience into the context, on page 4 he says

...the assembly of the colony appropriated a large fund for bounties to foreign protestants who should settle in the interior parts. In consequence of this encouragement many arrived from Europe, particularly from Ireland. Great numbers also migrated from Virginia, Pennsylvania and other northern provinces...

In 1789 Ramsay published his History of the American Revolution. On page 23 he writes

This deterred great numbers, especially of the Presbyterian denomination who had emigrated from Ireland from settling within the limits of the governments, and fomented spirit of discord...


NB: It is in Wayland F Dunaway’s 1944 book The Scotch-irish in Colonial Pennsylvania where Ramsay is described as 'another eminent Scotch-Irishman of this era’.

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