Sunday, December 30, 2018

'American Negro Folk Songs' - Harvard University Press (1928)


Ironically, written by someone called Newman I. White (the Professor of English at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina), this book is obviously of its time in its usage of particular terminologies. Where it gets really interesting is in the chapter entitled ‘Religious Songs’ (online here) and specifically of the cultural sharing of music and hymns which took place between what the author terms ‘mountain whites’ and black people.

In our era, claims of ‘cultural appropriation’ between people groups insist that there must be a negative context - of the power of one group, who oppress and exploit another group -  for what would previously could well been regarded as 'cultural sharing'. This controversy over a statue of songwriter Stephen Foster in Pittsburgh provides one example of that.

Yet there is plenty of evidence to show that class is/was as much of a social issue as race - and that musically speaking, poor people shared songs and tunes and playing styles across imagined racial divides. White complains that often there was little distinction between the religious songs of the blacks and mountain whites. Exactly.

Marshall Taylor

African-American Kentucky Methodist minister Rev Marshall William Taylor published a volume of ‘Revival Hymns and Plantation Melodies’ in 1883, which is online here. Taylor’s biography is fascinating:

“...Marshall William Boyd (alias) Taylor was born July 1, 1846, at Lexington, Fayette County, Kentucky, of poor, uneducated, but respectable parents. He was the fourth in a family of five children, three of whom were boys, viz.: George Summers, Francis Asbury, and himself; and two girls, Mary Ellen and Mary Cathrine. He is of Scotch-Irish and Indian descent on his father's side. Hon. Samuel Boyd, of New York; Joseph Boyd, of Virginia; and Lieut.-Gov. Boyd, of Kentucky, were blood-relations of his, and all descended from the "Clan Boyd" of Scotland. His mother was of African and Arabian stock. His grandmother, on his mother's side, Phillis Ann, was brought from Madagascar when a little girl, and became the slave of Mr. Alexander Black, a Kentucky farmer, who at his death willed his slaves free…” - full bio online here

Poor people survive together. They fall in love together, make families together, they share life together. Cultures blend around the edges and so the races mix too. Music is one perfect example of that, as is Marshall Taylor’s complex ancestry - and above all, spiritual songs express a shared human condition, a shared hope, and a ‘for whosoever believeth on Him’ gospel. Here’s another Kentucky pastor - Claude Ely - with his raw and raucous 1934 composition ‘Ain’t No Grave’ that proves that fusion.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

'The Ulster Month' in 1922: When Ireland opted to 'Leave' but Northern Ireland opted to 'Remain'

The present day has echoes of nearly 100 years ago. Here’s a repost of this from September 2014. Ireland had opted to “Leave" the UK and set up the Irish Free State. But the Northern Parliament was given a month to decide what to do. it decided - by a vote of 40 for and 12 against - to ‘Remain’ in the UK:


Few people appreciate that Northern Ireland also seceded, from the Irish Free State, which had been effectively formed by a Treaty on 6 December 1921. A year later it had been adopted. During the following four weeks of 1922 - known as 'The Ulster Month' - provision was allowed for the Houses of Parliament of Northern Ireland to opt out of the new state. The inevitable happened - an address was presented to the King the next day which said:

"... MOST GRACIOUS SOVEREIGN, We, your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Senators and Commons of Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, having learnt of the passing of the Irish Free State Constitution Act, 1922, being the Act of Parliament for the ratification of the Articles of Agreement for a Treaty between Great Britain and Ireland, do, by this humble Address, pray your Majesty that the powers of the Parliament and Government of the Irish Free State shall no longer extend to Northern Ireland ..."

The King's response on 8th December 1922 was:

"... I have received the Address presented to me by both Houses of the Parliament of Northern Ireland in pursuance of Article 12 of the Articles of Agreement set forth in the Schedule to the Irish Free State (Agreement) Act, 1922, and of Section 5 of the Irish Free State Constitution Act, 1922, and I have caused my Ministers and the Irish Free State Government to be so informed ...'.

The vote in the Northern Ireland Houses of Parliament had been 40 for secession to 12 against.


Political historians will know far more about this period than me. I think this story deserves to be better known. And there are a whole series of “what if” scenarios to speculate about… perhaps if more flexible solutions had been offered, or found, the 20th century might have worked out differently.


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Ulster Month

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Scarvagh 'Sham Fight' was saved in 1904 by Henry Thomson's whiskey money

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Often Ulster’s unionist story is told as a selective, religious and conservative tale. But that’s not the full story - the more I read the more I’m finding whiskey money all over the place. James Craig, the future Prime Minister of Northern Ireland was part of the Royal Irish Distilleries global empire, and he even bought a hot water geyser in Iceland in the 1890s with a view to setting up a plant there (link here - a story widely known in Iceland).

• Further south, I recently discovered that Abbey Presbyterian Church in Dublin was built in 1864, entirely by the money of Glasgow-born Dublin wine and spirit merchant Alexander Findlater - at a cost of £13,000 which today is around £1.25million. His brother William Findlater was a merchant in Londonderry, and their sister Helen Findlater also settled in the Maiden City.

• Dublin's Christ Church Cathedral was restored in the 1870s by whiskey distiller George Roe to the tune of £230,000 - around £21.5million today.

• Interestingly, even the Irish whiskey giant John Jameson (1740-1823) whose surname is probably the most famous Irish whiskey brand, was actually a Scottish lawyer and distiller based in Dublin. He was born in Alloa, where he later died and was buried.

The annual ‘Sham Fight’ at Scarvagh House has been going for 185 years, re-enacting in very small scale the Battle of the Boyne. In the mid 1800s there were similar fights at Gilford and Banbridge. Tradition tells that in 1690 when William III’s army was camped at Scarva, a local man called Reilly brought cherries and fresh eggs to the troops, and as a reward William promised him as much land in the area as he could walk in one day. So Reilly set about it the very next morning, staking out the boundaries and later planting marker trees where the stakes were. The famous old manor house was built in 1717. A newspaper report of 1939 said that the trees were then still standing.

The ‘Sham Fight’ was originally held in the open at Aughlish crossroads. However according to the Dublin Evening Mail of 16 August 1865 a ‘counter-demonstration’ was held in the village by a group of around 350 ‘Fenians’, who marched from Laurencetown to Gilford and then towards Scarva. The 60th Rifles from Newry were sent to keep the peace, along with local police.

The Reillys then offered that the event be relocated to within their estate for 1866 - seemingly with Mr Reilly himself performing the role of William III. The Dublin Evening Mail gave an amusing account on 6 October 1866 of the first one -

‘… a most alarming condition of good feeling and jocularity was proved to exist between the Protestants and Roman Catholics of the district. The Roman Catholics and Orangemen are good friends at Gilford ...' 

The 1867 Scarva events - as reported in the Newry Telegraph - read like a full-scale day-long carnival with 15,000 visitors and the fight lasting for just over an hour. Scarvagh estate remained in the Reilly family until 1904, when it was put up for sale and the future of the ‘Sham Fight’ was at risk.

Enter Henry Thomson Jr (1840-1917), a local whisky millionaire (see previous post here) and prominent Unionist and Orangeman, who had been an MP in the 1880s as well as High Sheriff for County Down. He bought the Scarvagh estate and in doing so preserved the future of the ‘Sham Fight’ in perpetuity - he also gave land for Scarvagh Orange Hall to be built and which opened in 1908.

Other Thomson properties included Ballyedmond Castle, Downshire House and Altnaveigh House where in 1884 a vast 12th demonstration was held, with a reported crowd of 50,000 people and participants. Another branch of the Thomson family lived at Ravensdale in County Louth.

Henry Thomson died in Scarvagh House in 1917, was buried in St Patrick’s churchyard in Newry. His coffin was carried into the church by the officers of Altnaveigh LOL. and his obituary in the Belfast News Letter stated:

‘he secured to the Orangemen the right to use for ever eight acres of the Scarvagh House demesne for celebrations on the 12th and 13th July and the 12th of August each year. By this and other gracious acts he earned the undying gratitude of the Orange Institution, and his memory will be fondly cherished by the members of that Order in all parts of the Empire.

Newry reporter


A memorial Orange hall in Newry was built in his honour. His properties, and seemingly the whiskey business, were inherited by his nephew, Henry Broughton Thomson (1870-1939) who became a politician in British Columbia, was Food Controller for Canada during the Great War and later the Chairman of the Liquor Control Board.

In 1936, just three years before Henry Broughton Thomson died, Scarvagh estate was sold again, this time to Alfred Buller of Orangefield in Belfast, a land steward for Major Blakiston-Houston.


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

Yet another large distilling firm with operations on both sides of the North Channel.Cowans 1907Cowans 2 1907William Cowan 1896719d3207611989ff70735946a4ffd9db129 2013619112013 540x360CowanJug 2CowanJug 1

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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Monday, September 03, 2018

The Scotch-Irish Presbyterian Fiddle - Londonderry, New Hampshire

This is from the book entitled Two Hundredth Anniversary Celebration of Londonderry, New Hampshire, 1719-1919 (published 1923). No date given for the incident but the overall context of the chapter would suggest the 1700s.

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Sunday, September 02, 2018

Mike Compton & Joe Newberry - "What Would You Give In Exchange For Your Soul?"

I drove a 5 hr round trip to the annual bluegrass festival at the Ulster-American Folk Park mainly to see these guys in action. Awesome. Their set included this old 1930s classic. They also did an interview discussion session but I missed that sadly, hopefully it was recorded and might appear online.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Diversity and Division

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In recent reading about the history of the state of New Hampshire, I came across this very strange article in the New York Times - 'How Do You Diversify A Whole State?’ (online here). New England appears to be the ‘whitest’ region of the United States, and this is causing some people concern. I am not totally sure that is a ‘problem’ to be ‘fixed’. Those ‘white’ people will themselves be of a multiplicity of nationalities - Scotch-Irish, Irish, Scottish, English, French, Dutch, German, Swedish, etc. I have no time for racism - we are all one human race (see Acts 17:26) - but the article got me thinking. Your understanding of ‘diversity’ depends upon your understanding of ‘difference’.

Today, diversity seems to be measured by biology - that is, ethnicity and gender, as well as sexual orientation - sometimes called immutable characteristics. I’m not getting into the details of those, because some are now claimed to be ‘fluid’ things, but they appear to be the social fault lines by which ‘diversity’ is measured in Western societies generally. However, ‘age’ doesn’t seem to register much and that’s a pretty immutable thing. ‘Old white men’ are fair game in the diversity wars. Maybe I’m feeling that at 46 years old.

On reflection, my relatively sheltered childhood was in its own wee way surprisingly diverse, based on our very local definition of social differences. People are tribal and we group and divide all the time.

Growing up here on the Ards Peninsula, seldom venturing more than a few miles from home, diversity was getting people from two neighbouring - yet multi-generationally bitter rival - villages to co-operate. The only difference the people had was that they came from different places, they were the same in every other way. But bringing them together was a huge social achievement. For example, Portavogie v Ballyhalbert football matches were bloodbaths. Ballyhalbert wore red and Portavogie wore blue. People in each village were forbidden to paint their front doors in the other village’s colour. Marrying across the two villages was rare and maybe even socially unacceptable, as was moving house from one to the other. All of these stories have been passed down to me by my parents’ generation, it’s a bit mellower nowadays. There’s still huge rivalry between neighbouring schools.

To take things up a level, intra-Protestant co-operation was our next ‘diversity’. Getting the Brethren people to turn up at a Methodist or Church of Ireland event was - and maybe still is - unthinkable. Free Presbyterians and Non-Subscribing Presbyterians are ideologically and theologically worlds apart. ‘Protestant’ is a broad but sometimes useless term - the chaos of the many denominations within is almost unfathomable. Elim and Baptist people would be keeping an eye on each other. Maybe not so much as individuals, but certainly as organisations. 

Up another level to the yet broader Northern Ireland context - in religious terms Protestant and (Roman) Catholic co-operation is another ‘diversity’. Or in political terms, Nationalist and Unionist co-operation. Most individuals are neighbourly to one another, as our family always was, but there are still valid social differences to be acknowledged. So ‘cross-community' is another well-known ‘diversity’, and one which Northern Ireland society carefully monitors in employment practice, policing, etc.

Up again, this time to the ’national’ level of the UK and British Isles, we have 5 ‘Home Nations’. That in itself is yet another ‘diversity’, as of course are the cross-border issues on the island of Ireland. Ireland’s inability to come to terms with the cultural diversities on the island are a large part of our historic problems.

You could go on and on with this. Once you firstly ‘divide' people into groups, along whatever lines you decide matter, then ‘diversity’ has its arena.

We all come from and belong to ‘tribes’. But ultimately maybe we’re all individuals and the only diversity that should matter is diversity of thought and ideas, and that by working together we can pool our strengths and talents and make the world a better and slightly more unified place - no matter what our 'immutable characteristics' might be.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Rev John Logan (1793-1851): Scotch-Irish Baptist pioneer of Iowa

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Another Logan, and this time breaking the mould a little. Rev John A Logan was a Baptist pastor - his parents were Samuel and Ann Logan. They came from Ulster in the mid 1700s and then headed to Garrard County in frontier Kentucky.

John spent time in Sumner County, Tennessee (just north of Nashville); Dubois County, Indiana; and McDonough County, Illinois. He then headed about 60 miles west, across the Mississippi River, to found Long Creek Baptist Church of Danville, Ohio, among a group of frontier settlers in 1834. 

The Scotch-Irish arrived in America as Presbyterians, but within a generation they were becoming Baptists and Methodists to name but two. The first Baptist preacher in Pennsylvania was a Thomas Dungan, from the North of Ireland. The first Methodist in America was a Robert Strawbridge, from Ireland, in Maryland circa 1784.

• His entry on is here

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Wednesday, August 29, 2018

General John Alexander Logan of Illinois - another son of Ulster

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John Alexander Logan (1826-86; Wikipedia here) was one of Ulysses Simpson Grant’s closest colleagues - perhaps his ‘favourite officer’ - during the Civil War. There’s a famous statue to him at Logan Circle in Washington DC (one of the city’s major traffic junctions, with a Metro station of the same name.

Logan’s father - according to the website of his birthplace museum in Illinois - was a Dr John Logan who was born in 1788 in County Monaghan, 'of Scotch-Irish descent’ (link here). He emigrated with his parents, his father was yet another John Logan (1762–1840) and his mother was called Elizabeth (died 1805). They had six or seven children with them, another was born at sea. They arrived in Maryland and gradually headed west to Ohio and then Missouri.

Logan’s father married twice; his second wife would become the General’s mother - she was also said here to have been ‘of Scottish ancestry and had strong Scotch characteristics’. The family were Methodists, with Wesleyan preachers often visiting their home.

John A Logan is said to have been Mark Twain’s favourite public speaker, and seemingly established the Memorial Day holiday. In 1884 he unsuccessfully ran as Vice-President with James G. Blaine (yet another figure of Ulster descent).

Logan died in December 1886 and had a state funeral in Washington DC. His widow Mary published an autobiography in 1913 (online here).

Logan on Horseback Promotional Flyer

Sunday, August 26, 2018

General Benjamin Logan (1743-1802) – Scotland, Ulster, Pennsylvania, Revolution

General Benjamin Logan Google Art Project

Once again that journey, once again those experiences. Benjamin Logan’s ancestors were ‘Presbyterians who fled from Ayrshire in Scotland to escape persecution and settled in the north of Ireland’ (source here). His father, David Logan, was born in Ulster - possibly Armagh - and emigrated to Pennsylvania where he married Jane McKinley. They then moved to Orange County in Virginia around 1740 and Benjamin was born in 1743, and was baptised by a Rev John Craig on 3rd May. The county was renamed Augusta and David was one of the county’s militiamen. He died when Benjamin was just 15 and inherited the family farm. He gave it to his mother and siblings, and he headed to the frontier, marrying an Anne Montgomery. 

Benjamin and Anne then settled at the Holston settlement and was one of those who called Rev Charles Cummings in 1773. Shortly after Cummings’ authoring of the Fincastle Resolutions, the Logans again headed onwards and established Logan’s Fort near the present town of Stanford. The fort came under sustained attacks by combined forces of Native Americans and British troops. This 1830s book gives a bio and an account of a heroic rescue by Logan of a man called Harrison - “Logan who was bravery itself”.

Benjamin became colonel of the Kentucky militia and was second in command of all of the Kentucky militias during the Revolution. He was one of those who helped establish Kentucky firstly as a county in its own right in December 1776, and then as a state in its own right in 1792. His brother John was the first state treasurer (Wikipedia here)

Logan County in Kentucky is named after Benjamin. Benjamin and Jane's oldest son, William Logan, as also a significant figure in the history of the state (see here).

Here’s Benjamin Logan's Wikipedia

Friday, August 24, 2018

Old Thompson Whiskey - from Londonderry to Louisville, Kentucky

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Two Thompson brothers - James and Frank Thompson - were born in Longfield, Eglinton, County Londonderry. They emigrated aged around 16 in 1871 to Louisville in Kentucky. In the early 1900s they bought a bankrupt distillery in Owensboro, Kentucky which they renamed Glenmore Distillery.

Two of their other brothers who stayed here were Presbyterian ministers - Rev Samuel Thompson of Belfast, and Rev George Thompson, who was once the Moderator.

James Thompson sent funding for beds in Londonderry City Hospital - he authored a number of booklets about Ireland and the early settlers of Kentucky. He was invited to become the first US citizen to be a member of the Irish Parliament.

Culturally however James Thompson appears to have turned away from his Ulster Presbyterian roots, and was a member of American-Irish Historical Society. This Society was avowedly anti-Scotch-Irish in ethos and published output (see here for example).

There was a large Irish Catholic community in Thompson’s home town of Louisville, with its own newspaper, the Kentucky Irish American (see here). James sponsored the publication of a book, Irish Pioneers in Kentucky – which was a compilation of articles that had previously appeared in the Gaelic American – the cover of which gave his name in both English and also in Irish language, 'Seamas Mac Tomais' (PDF online here).

Various obituaries below give further biographical detail. The photo at the very bottom is from the Belfast News Letter, 1956

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Friday, August 17, 2018

Ulster Hall 'bogus arms'

Not sure what to make of this, I found this photo today when doing a bit of a clear up. Google Translate says that the slogan "lamh dearg na uachtar” translates as “red arm of cream”, but it is more likely to have been “red hand uppermost”The handwritten message on the back of the photo appears to say ‘Bogus arms to be removed and replaced by the proper Ulster arms, Ulster Hall, Belfast”. 

This photo seemingly from 1890 has what looks like the same feature.

The Hall was refurbished a few years ago and the current feature is just the yellow ‘9 County’ Ulster flag (see here), which I had photographed myself in 2005 (see here). You will notice that these show the Red Hand the ‘other' way round, ie as a right hand with the thumb to the right, whereas the black and white photo shows a left hand with the thumb to the left - the same as on the Linen Hall Library.

There is some correspondence in the local newspapers in 1934 about the arms on the Hall. Perhaps somebody out there can shed some light on this.

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Thursday, August 16, 2018

1690, the 12th of July - and only '12 years of Liberty'

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(The ‘head-space’ of summer gives opportunities to think, to talk with people. Conversations lead to thoughts which then become ideas. You’ll have seen more posts here over the past few weeks as various ideas bubble up - 15 posts over the past 4 weeks, which at a glance looks like a 300% increase compared with April - June!)

People generally view the ‘once upon a time’ events of King William III and 1690 as the installation of a monarchy, after which it was ‘happily ever after’. Or else that it brought about a perpetual Protestant supremacy, depending upon your perspective. These might be the impressions most folk have of the 12th July celebrations here every year. But as ever this is not the full story. People at the time regarded the Williamite Revolution as the overthrow of the previous, tyrannical, monarchy - replacing it with one which was not perfect, but much better. There are three key building blocks in re-thinking the period:

1. The Stuart Monarchy.
As I’ve posted here before, the Stuart monarchs had been increasingly tyrannical - and for Ulster and Scotland in particular, anti-Presbyterian - from 1603 onwards. It began with relatively low-level interference by the King in how churches operated, and crescendoed with widespread arrests and public executions. It's not even a typical 'Catholic v Protestant' story – during this era the power-hungry Stuarts were Anglicans for 72 years, and Catholic for just 3.

As just two examples – In the 1620s English 'non-Conformists' fled to the wildnesses of America in order to have religious liberty, founding a 'New England' colony. In 1661 Presbyterians in Ulster and Scotland were banned from preaching in their pulpits - beginning an era called 'The Killing Times'. Catholic convert King James II came to the throne in 1685 and immediately turned the south of Scotland into ‘a hunting field’ to round up Presbyterian Covenanters. One monument in Edinburgh recalls 18,000 'martyrs'.

When the 'Comber Letter' was discovered, even though probably a hoax, the widespread terror that it caused among the population was not unfounded - Ulster people knew full well what King James II's army was doing to their kinfolk in the south of Scotland. So what else could they do but flee for refuge behind the Walls of Londonderry? A royal diplomat commented on the starvations of the Siege - 'it matters not how many of them die they are but a pack of Scotch Presbyterians'.

During this whole period the established church was effectively an instrument of the state and Crown. ‘Dissenter’ and ‘Non-Conformist’ churches across the British Isles rejected all state interferences and manipulations. Even in England, many like John Bunyan, and the father of hymnwriter Isaac Watts were imprisoned for not ‘conforming’ with Anglicanism.

2. William’s Revolution of 1688was far from perfect, but it did end the overt persecutions and introduced - at least conceptually - ‘civil and religious liberty’. From 1688 until William’s death in 1702 considerable changes had been brought about - he made the Crown subject to Parliament, and introduced a whole host of liberties which we take for granted today. His biographers often refer to the institutional opposition to his proposed changes from those that we might describe as the ‘civil servants’ of the time. His arrival at Carrickfergus was greeted by thousands of people for good reason.

3. William's Death and the Return of PersecutionBut William died in 1702 and so did much of his Revolution. His sister-in-law Anne, the daughter of James II, came to the throne and re-introduced various forms of legal persecutions including the ‘Test Act’ of 1704. Her first cousin, Lord Cornbury, was Governor of New York and he was one of those who implemented her policies in ‘the Colonies’. Whilst Anne was barring Ulster Presbyterians from public office here, Cornbury was arresting Ulster Presbyterian Rev Francis Makemie and putting him on trial in what is described on a plaque in New York today as ‘the first great victory here for religious liberty’. Below is an artist's impression of the scene and a photo of the plaque.
Makemie Cornbury

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So the victory of the Boyne in 1690 was not a ‘happily ever after’ at all. It only brought about 12 years of Liberty. The Ulster-Scots emigrants of 1718 had experienced brutal Stuart tyranny, remembered what Williamite liberty had felt like, and opted to risk their futures - and maybe lives - to sail the Atlantic to live free once again.

Ulster-Scots have not always made wise decisions, but pretty consistently, they/we have chosen liberty before nationality. This is the consistent explanation for the paradox of ‘conditional loyalty’, their role in the 1776 American Revolution, the 1798 Rebellion at home, but also the Ulster Covenant of 1912 - the text of which begins ‘Being convinced in our consciences that Home Rule would be disastrous to the material well-being of Ulster as well as of the whole of Ireland, subversive of our civil and religious freedom …’. 

The basis of ‘The 12th’ is 12 Years of Liberty.

There is much to be re-thought. So Nesca Robb’s award-winning two-volume biography of William of Orange needs to be added to my reading list.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

A Presbyterian letter home in Ulster-Scots, New York, 1737: "There is a great wheen of the Native Folks of this Country turn’d Christians, and will sing the Psalms bonily"

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(this is a developed version of a recent post). Another wonderful detail in Michael Scoggins’ book The Scotch-Irish Influence on Country Music in the Carolinas is an account from the Virginia Gazette newspaper of September/October 1737. It was a very important colonial-era newspaper, for example it published the landmark Fincastle Resolutions in 1775. The 1737 article not only speaks of Irish and Scotch-Irish as distinctive immigrant groups, which in itself is culturally significant, but it also reproduces an early letter from an Ulster-Scots emigrant, writing ‘to the folks back home’, which was originally printed as a pamphlet and sent back to Ireland to encourage more migration.

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The letter was written by an Ulster-Scot called James Murray to a Presbyterian minister called Rev Baptist Boyd of Aughnacloy in County Tyrone. Some have speculated that the letter was partially fictitious, but Boyd was indeed the minister of Aughnacloy, from 1697–1749. It features in the recent book City of Dreams: The 400-Year Epic History of Immigrant New York by Tyler Anbinder (link here).

In the letter Murray says that he had been the cook on board the emigrant ship during their 10 week voyage, that New York was twice the size of Armagh, and that he had then become the Clerk and a school teacher at New York Presbyterian Church. It had been founded in 1716, and whose minister from 1727–54 was Rev John or Ebenezer Pemberton, who is mentioned toward the end of the letter.

Here is an image from the book, and the text of the whole letter. Linguistically, it’s pretty basic stuff, but the gist of it is a wonderful insight into the speech of the Ulster-Scots emigrants.

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The following Letter is said to have been sent from a Person settled in New-York, to his Countrymen, to encourage them to come over thither; which, that it might have the better Effect on the People, was printed and dispers’d in Ireland. A Copy of which being brought over, in one of the late Ships, We present our Readers with it.

A LETTER from James Murray, Thus directed; For the Kingdom of Ereland, in the North of Ereland, near to Aughnacloy, in the County of Tyrone, To Baptist Boyd, the Reverend Minister of the Gospel, in the Parish of Aughelow. Let aw Persons that see this, tak Care to send it to the Reverend Baptist Boyd, Minister of the Gospel, in the Parish of Aughelow, in the County of Tyrone, living near Aughnacloy. With Care.

Reverend Baptist Boyd,

Read this Letter, and look, and tell aw the poor Folk of your Place, that God has open’d a Door for their Deliverance; for there is ne Scant of Breed here, and if your Sons Samuel and James Boyd wad but come here, they wad get mere Money in ane Year for teechin a Letin Skulle, nor ye yer sell wad get for Three Years Preeching whar ye are. Reverend Baptist Boyd, there ged ane wee me in the Shep, that now gets ane Hundred Punds for ane Year for teechin a Letin Skulle, and God kens, little he is skill’d in Learning, and yet they think him a high learned Man: Ye ken I had but sma Learning when I left ye, and now wad ye think it, I hea 20 Pund a Year for being a Clark to York Meeting-House, and I keep a Skulle for wee Weans: Ah dear Sir, there is braw Living in this same York for high learned Men: The young Foke in Ereland are aw but a Pack of Couards, for I will tell ye in short, this is a bonny Country, and aw Things grows here that ever I did see grow in Ereland; and wee hea Cows and Sheep, and Horses plenty here, and Goats, and Deers, and Racoons, and Moles, and Bevers, and Fish, and Fouls of aw Sorts: Trades are aw gud here, a Wabster gets 12 Pence a Yeard, a Labourer gets 4 Shillings and 6 Pence a Day, a Lass gets 4 Shillings and 6 Pence a Week for spinning on the wee Wheel, a Carpenter gets 6 Shillings a Day, and a Tailor gets 20 Shillings for making a Suit of Cleaths, a Wheel-wright gets 16 Shillings for making Lint Wheels a piece, Indian Corn, a Man wull get a Bushell of it for his Day’s Work here; Rye grows here, and Oats, and Wheet, and Winter Barley, and Summer Barley; Buck Wheet grows here, na every Thing grows here. — Now I beg of ye aw to come our here, and bring our wee ye aw the Cleaths ye can of every Sort, beth o’Linen and Woollen, and Guns, and Pooder, and Shot, and aw Sorts of Weers that is made of Iron and Steel, and aw Tradesmen that comes here, let them bring their Tools wee them, and Farmers their Plough Erons; a Mason gets 6 Shillings a Day; fetch Whapsaws here, and Hatchets, and Augers, and Axes, and Spades, and Shovels, and Bibles, and Hammers, and Psalm Bukes, and Pots, and Seafaring Bukes, and fetch aw Sorts of Garden Seeds, Parsneps, Onions, and Carrots; and Potatoes grows here very big, red and white beth, fetch aw the Bukes here you can get, fetch a Spade, wee a Hoe made like a stubbing Ax, for ye may clear as muckle Grund for to plant Indian Corn, in ane Month, as will maintain Ten Folk for a Year.

Dear Reverend Baptist Boyd, I hea been 120 Miles inn the Wolderness, and there I saw a Plain of Grund 120 Miles lang, and 15 Bred, and there never grew nor Tree upon it, and I hea see as gud Meadow grow upon it, as ever I see in Ereland. There is a great wheen of the Native Folks of this Country turn’d Christians, and will sing the Psalms bonily, and appear to be Religious, that gee Ministers plenty of Skins for his Steepend, and he gets Siller plenty for the Skins again; Deer Skins and Bear Skins: Ye may get Lan here for 10 L a Hundred Acres for ever, and Ten Years Time tell ye get the Money, before they wull ask ye for it; and it is within 40 Miles of this York upon a River Side, that this Lan lies, as that ye may carry aw the Guds in Boat to this York to sell, if ony of you comes here. It is a very strong Lan, rich Grund, plenty of aw Sorts of Fruits in it, and Swin plenty enough; There are Cay, and Stirks, and Horses that are aw wild in the Wolderness, that are aw yer ean when ye can grip them: desire my Fether and my Mether too, and my Three Sisters to come here, and ye may acquant them, there are Leds enugh here; and bid my Brether come, and I wull pay their Passage: Desire James Gibson to sell aw he has and come, and I weel help him too; for here aw that a Man warks for is his ane, there are ne ravenus Hunds to rive it fre us here, ne sick Word as Herbingers is kend here, but every yen enjoys his ane, there is ne yen to tak awa yer Corn, yer Potatoes, yer Lint or Eggs: na, na, blessed be his Name, ne yen gees Bans for his ane here.

I bless the Lord for my safe Journey here, I was Cook till the Ship aw the Voyage, we war Ten Weeks and Four Days on the See before we landed; this York is as big as twa of Armagh; I desire to be remembred to aw my Friends and Acquaintance, my Love to your sel Reverend Baptist Boyd, and aw yer femily; I do desire you to send this Letter to James Broon, of Drumern, and he kens my Brether James Gibson, and he weel gee him this Letter: It shall be my earnest Request yence mere, to beg of ye aw to come here, I did value the See ne mere then dry Lan: Let aw that comes here put in a gud Store of Otes Meel, and Butter, and Brandy, and Cheese, and Viniger, but above aw have a Writing under the Han of the Capden of the Ship ye come in; if I was now in Ereland, I wad ne stay there, yet I think to gang there as Factor for a Gentleman of this City of York, he is my Relation by my Father, he is Returney of the Law here. There is Servants comes here out of Ereland, and have serv’d their Time here, wha are now Justices of the Piece; I will come to Ereland gin the Lord spare me about Twa Years after this, and I wull bring Rum, and Staves for Barrals, and Firkins, and Tanners Bark for to sell, and mony other Things for this Gentlemen, and my sel, for I wull gang Super Cargo of the Ship, so that if none of ye come I wull bring ye aw wee my sel, by the Help of the Lord.

Now I have geen you a true Description of this York, luke the 8th Chapter of Deuteronomy, and what it saith of the Lan there, this is far better: Now this is the last of 6 Sheets I hea writt to you on this Heed, I hope that you Fether wull be stoor and come, and aw that I have named, fear ne the See, trust in God, and he wull bring ye safe to shore, gin ye plees him, now the Lord make ye so to do. Ne more fre me, but my Duty till my Fether and Mether, and Sisters and Brether, and yence mere my kind Love till yer sel, Reverend Mr. Baptist Boyd; if any yen sends me a Letter, direct till Mr. John Pemberton, Minister of the Gospel in New-York, send it we ony Body comin till ony of these Parts, and let it be given to the Post Hoose in America, and I will get it fre John Pemberton, and now my Love till ye aw.

James Murray


 The letter appeared in Benjamin Franklin’s newspaper, the Pennsylvania Gazette a few weeks later in October/November 1737, again as a pamphlet in 1767 which language slightly tweaked in places (see here), and also in the Tyrone Constitution as a ‘curiosity’ in April 1888.

• This article originally published in Ullans, the magazine of the Ulster-Scots Language Society from 1994, discusses its significance.