Friday, December 30, 2016

"proud of his Scotch-Irish heritage" - Vick's VapoRub & the Richardson family of Greensboro, North Carolina

Product Vicks Vaporub

Lunsford Richardson II (1854–1919; Wikipedia entry here) is a name not many people know today. But his product is a world-famous brand. Here’s an article from the latest edition of the official North Carolina magazine, His original name – Richardson’s Croup and Pneumonia Cure Salve – was too long for the small jar, so he gave the honour to his brother in law, Dr. Joshua Vick.

Richardson’s son Jacob Henry Smith Richardson (1885– 1972) was a successful salesman for the firm, and he is said to have been "proud of his Scotch-Irish heritage” (source here). The Richardson-Vicks Collection is held at Greensboro Historical Museum.

Lunsford was a renowned advocate of African-American rights, borne out in October 1944 by the WW2 liberty ship S.S. Lunsford Richardson being named after him with a plaque affixed stating it had been at the "special request of the leading Negro citizens of North Carolina to honor the memory of a white friend." 71-year-old Watson Law, a Black friend of the Richardsons, was present at the official launch event at Brunswick, Georgia. Henry's attitudes seem to have been similar:

... Richardson was proud of his Scotch-Irish heritage and considered the South more "American" than other regions whose populations included more immigrants. He named North Carolina's racial heritage as one of its assets in an article about how the state could survive the Depression and improve its economy. His correspondence and writings contain numerous references to his racial attitudes, including a letter to the South African Information Service comparing apartheid to segregation in the American South ...

The Richardsons were of course Presbyterians, very involved in First Presbyterian Church in the town. According to this 1980 source, the first Ulster-Scots settlers in the Greensboro area arrived in 1753, a direct 'church plant' from Nottingham Presbyterian Church in present-day Maryland. Rev David Caldwell (bio here) was one of the town's outstanding historical figures - today an Historical Centre stands in his memory.

NB: Lunsford Richardson I (1808–56) had been a Democratic Senator in the North Carolina State Legislature for a time around 1854. He owned a mill on Little River in Johnson County, which was at risk of collapsing during a flood on 14 July 1856. He tried to save it but was drowned, a tragedy witnessed by his wife and daughter, and some men who were trying in vain to rescue him. A general biography of the family is included in Makers of America; biographies of leading men of thought and action which is online here. It traces the Richardsons to England and Scotland; the Scotch-Irish element must have been intermingled through the generations. The same book says this:

… the men have proven themselves capable, combining the shrewdness of the Scotch and the wit of the Irish. For two hundred years and more, the Scotch-Irish race has been a potential and beneficent factor in the development of the American Republic. All things considered, it seems probable that the people of this race have given color, to a great extent, to the history of the United States ...


Our difference 1890 vicks croup pneumonia salve mobile

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

The Avett Brothers - Away in a Manger

The words have been attributed to Martin Luther, the other more familiar tune written by Ulster-born William James Kirkpatrick. Here are the wonderful Avett Brothers of North Carolina playing it. It is a bit of a cliché perhaps, like most Christmas songs it has been over-done and the familiarity can breed contempt. Yet underlying the schmaltz is a deep eternal truth - that through Jesus Christ, God provides what He demands. And through faith alone in Christ alone we are made right with God. He didnt come as a moral teacher. He came to be Mediator and Substitute. The Gospel is truly ‘Good News’ because the pressure is off. Christ has done it all. Amazing grace.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Duncan MacNab (1820–96) and Saint Patrick's Scottish origins

440px Duncan McNab 1820 1896

Duncan MacNab (also spelled McNab) was a Catholic missionary to the Australian aborigines. Born in Morven in the Scottish Highlands, nearly 100 miles north of Inverness, he arrived in Melbourne on 29 July 1867 along with the Archbishop of Sydney, John Bede Polding, on board the ship Chariot of Fame. McNab became a great champion for aboriginal rights and he features in the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

His entry there gives a clue as to his departure from what had been 20 years of parish life in Scotland – "He dabbled in Gaelic literature and at Airdrie in 1862 fell foul of Irish parishioners, probably by arguing the Scottish birth of St Patrick”.

There is a huge full-page letter from McNab in the 28 June 1862 edition of the Glasgow Free Press newspaper where he lays out his case and counters his critics. Some weeks previously McNab had been accused in the pages of the paper by a fellow Catholic priest as follows – “I know well he hates everything Irish … [he is] a fair type of his Scottish order, in his contempt for, and opposition to, everything Irish: people, politics, habits, all except the Irish faith … an anti-Hibernian spirit in our Scottish friends? And yet where would they have a church today … were it not for the always open purse of poor despised and sneered-at Pat?" It is pretty rough stuff.

If the subject was controversial, McNab wasn’t going to lie down as he gave a lengthy ‘archaeological dissertation’ address on the subject in St Margaret’s schoolroom in Airdrie on 25 September 1865, which was published in Dublin by James Duffy the year after (online edition here). According to the history section of the church’s website, McNab had given a similar talk in Bathgate too.

Matters came to a head after he published a pamphlet to prove that St. Patrick was born in Scotland, and followed this with a lecture at Bathgate that was seen as being anti-Irish. Certainly rivalry between Scots and Irish Catholics was common at the time, among the clergy as well as the laity, and Father McNab was undoubtedly one of its victims.

There are some other brilliant stories about McNab there:

He dealt with repeated rumours that the Orangemen were preparing to attack his church and raze it to the ground, by letting it be known that he kept gunpowder in the house and would blow the church up rather than have it desecrated. It appears that this was no idle threat either, as Father Van Stiphout records that he found a small keg of gunpowder in a press in the house when he came there in 1893. 

• A 1989 thesis about McNab can be found here.
• His Wikipedia entry is here.

I really do need to pull together all of the Patrick-related Scottish and Ulster-Scots material I have gathered up over the years and get it published as a booklet or online.

NB: Many other writers, before and after McNab (such as Professor James H Todd of Trinity College Dublin and the Royal Irish Academy, who was also a Treasurer of St Patrick’s Cathedral in the city) have agreed with him that Kilpatrick near Dumbarton is the most plausible birth place for Patrick. However, the birth place issue is just one small part of a larger collection of Scottish Patrick traditions which today’s storytellers and tourism initiatives choose to ignore.


Saturday, December 17, 2016

William McKeague and "The Star Spangled Banner", 1750

Music travels. It turns out that around 1750 a Fermanagh man, William McKeague of the Sixth Enniskillen Fusiliers, composed a tune called “The March of the Royal Inniskillings”, probably based on an earlier Irish tune called “Squire Bumper Jones” from 1723. “The March of the Royal Inniskillings” was later picked up by John Stafford Smith in England and travelled across the Atlantic where it went on to become a world-famous anthem. Article here.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Ballyrawer, 1930s

My Wilson ancestors lived in a wee house at Ballyrawer/Ballyraer outside Carrowdore for generations. It was sold out of the family and was bulldozed just a few months ago. My aunt Betty supplied me with these photos just a few weeks ago. One shows the house, photographed from just across the Woburn Road within the old Crommelin ‘plantin’ of Carrowdore Castle which I mentioned here before in this post, around 1930. My great uncle Henry Wilson (1923–2003) and his sister Rhoda Wilson (1927-201?) are standing at the front gate, then just weans. Also below are the Wilsons’ maternal grandmother, Lizzie Kerr (1889–1966, who married Hugh Wilson, 1886–1967) and her mother Mary Kerr (d. 1945), presumably photographed around the same time.

My thanks are due to distant relative John Blair from Ajax in Canada (he is a descendant of these same Kerrs) who was able to confirm for me the tradition of a generation of our ancestors living in the house at no rent for a generation. John has pinned that down to a timeframe from 1879 (the houses were described as 'free for 17 years) until at least 1930 (described as 'free').

Ballyrawer1930 HRMary Kerr and Lizzie Kerr 1930

Monday, December 12, 2016

'Roots and Wings" - Reformed University Fellowship, Nashville, Tennessee

I posted about these folks years ago, and have just recently been reminded of them thanks to Sandra McCracken's new album entitled God's Highway. She has an earlier song called 'Portadown Station', inspired by, yes, our very own Portadown railway station. In 2015 she released Psalms, a collection of her own reworking of some of the Psalms. She has a certain Iris DeMent or Emmylou Harris quality; she is one of the Indelible Grace collective, whose album Live at the Ryman Auditorium is absolutely superb. Listen to the whole 18 track concert here; documentary film is below.

Cool heads and sharp minds

I like having friends with all sorts of opinions. It is good to stretch a bit to listen to what others think. It's even more impressive when somebody leaves a former opinion and changes their mind. A high-profile person who has done just that recently is Glasgow-born economic historian Niall Ferguson - recent Boston Globe article here.

Back in September he intriguingly suggested that the incoming President of the USA should appoint a 'Council of Historians', because history is the only example we can learn from, and understanding history and culture is very very important - article here. People in high office in Northern Ireland would do well to pay attention.

Ferguson was pro-Remain, an advisor to the Remain campaign, but has now changed his mind and is publicly announcing that on reflection he should have supported 'Brexit', the campaign to Leave the European Union. Here are some video clips from YouTube.

Denis Kearney was a new name to me but the parallels are fascinating; Kearney's great rival in Irish-American Californian politics was Frank Roney, someone who has featured on this blog previously. Niall Ferguson is a man worth listening to.

Sunday, December 04, 2016

"the greatest realignment in modern politics could take place rather quickly if the right national leader found a way to bring the Scotch-Irish and African-Americans to the same table"

After the circus that was the US Presidential election, here's a man with something to say. This might be the best speech I've heard from any American politician in a very very long time. Former Senator James Webb is the author of Born Fighting (2005) and has visited Northern Ireland on many occasions.

"...I think of a great friend of mine, a fellow marine named Mac McDowell, who served in my company in Vietnam. In fact, we were wounded on the same day. Mac has been very loyal to me, even though he was a conservative Republican. He runs a gun shop on a shooting range in Erie, Pennsylvania.

When I decided not to continue the attempt at the presidency, he sent me an email. He said, “This guy Donald Trump,” he says, “the Republicans hate him, the Democrats hate him, the media hates him, I think I found my guy.”

His sentiment of uniting Scotch-Irish and African Americans will seem to some like pie-in-the-sky. That is until you read Carter G Woodson of course. And Barack Obama. And Rosa Parks. And Gianno Caldwell. And I suspect many many others. Values can unite above ethnicity.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

Rosa Parks' Scotch-Irish great-grandfather, James Percival


Yes, that Rosa Parks. As this article from 1992 about her autobiography entitled Rosa Parks, My Story, states that her "Scotch-Irish great-grandfather was imported to Charleston, S.C., as an indentured servant". Similar comments are here in an article in The Washington Post in 1995.

He was James Percival (1832–1920), an indentured servant on the Wright estate of the town of Pine Level, Montgomery County, Alabama. He married African-American Mary Jane Nobels, who was a midwife and slave on the same estate. They had nine children.

Like everyone, Rosa Parks would have had 8 great-grandparents, of which James Percival was only one. Yet James Webb saw fit to mention her in his book Born Fighting, because, like Barack Obama, she apparently mentioned her Scotch-Irish ancestry in her own writings. That is surely significant. If anybody out there has the original source I would be very interested.

NB: There can however be an unhelpful 'elasticity' with the usage of the term Scotch-Irish, so it's always important to verify the sources. Sometimes it has been used too broadly, being used to mean someone whose ancestry was from either Scotland or Ireland, so not necessarily Ulster at all.

Alexander Mahood (1878–1968) - from Portavogie to Kansas

Emigration to America is a constant stream. People I went to school with live there, I have two cousins who live there. Obviously they emigrated within the past generation, not in the 1700s. They’ve never shot a musket or fought in a Revolution but they are just as important (maybe more important) than earlier migrations. We should try to connect better with those folk. I wonder if stats exist somewhere?

Outgoing President Barack Obama has re-stated his Scotch-Irish roots in a major interview in The New Yorker magazine. Here's the extract, and it's even more direct than the speech he ave back in the summer:

Obama will go down in history as the first African-American President, and he derives immense pride from that, but he never fails to insist on the complexity of his story. “I’m half Scotch-Irish, man!” he said. “When folks like Jim Webb write about Scotch-Irish stock in West Virginia and Kansas and so on, those are my people! They don’t know it, always, but they are.” (full article here)

Kansas is in the Mid-West, disparagingly described as 'flyover country' to the urban elites on the west and east coasts. Our people live there too. Below are two clippings reporting on a Portavogie man who was born around 1878 who emigrated to the USA around the turn of the century I assume, and lived in Kansas City. I am pretty sure my ancestors would have know him before he left. I wonder did Mahood ever encounter Obama's grandparents?...

Mahood 1 Mahood 2