Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Catherine Wasson / Clyde, New Hampshire & New York (1737–1824) - and a reference to 'Scotch-Irish' from 1831

I think it’s quite right that in recent years there has been an interest in finding and telling the women’s stories from history - without those we have only half of the picture. However, often they are hard to find as history has often been written, not just by men or for men, but focussed on the major political or military events. Plenty of men are also invisible within that historical record because they were ordinary, unimpressive, lower-class and - for publishers and writers at least, with books to sell - uninteresting. These men enjoy no ‘privilege’ either - forgotten and left out, or mere cannon-fodder statistics.

The American Revolution is something of an exception in that you do find women’s stories more frequently there. The 1848 three volume set Women of the American Revolution (online here) is a good example of that.

Catherine Clyde (1737-1824) (original surname Wasson) is a woman I have just recently found while researching Matthew Thornton, the Ulster-born signer of the Declaration of Independence.  Here is a long extract about her, from this 1903 biography of Thornton.

Matthew Thornton had a niece, named Catherine Wasson, who bore a brave and useful part in the Revolution. She was the daughter of a sister of Matthew Thornton, named Agnes, who married Dr. James D. Wasson, and she was born in Leicester, Massachusetts, in 1737. Dr. Wasson and his wife were among the early settlers of the New York frontier, where their home was at Amsterdam, near the Mohawk River. There Catherine Wasson knew as a playmate of her brothers, Joseph Brandt, or Thayendanegea, who, as chief the Mohawks, subsequently wrought such havoc throughout the New York frontier.

Catherine Wasson was married in 1761, at Schenectady, to Colonel Samuel Clyde, whose father, Daniel, had emigrated from Londonderry, Ireland, to Londonderry, New Hampshire, about 1732. The Clydes came originally from the River Clyde in Scotland. In 1762 Colonel Clyde and his wife moved to Cherry Valley, where six years, later he purchased a farm about a mile from the present village, the ownership of which has to this day remained in the Clyde family ...

Mrs. Clyde took charge of the farm, with her young children. She did all she could to redeem it from the wilderness and to encourage them in their labors. Colonel Clyde, by his kindness of heart and sympathy for unfortunate debtors, became financially embarrassed, and after his death in 1790, his farm was sold at sheriff's sale. Mrs. Clyde bought the farm, and by the help of her children paid for it. She died on May 31, 1824, at the age of 87, and was buried in Cherry Valley on the ground occupied as a fort at the time of the massacre.

Morrison, in his history of Windham, New Hampshire, says of Mrs. Clyde that she was patriotic, resolute, energetic, had a fine education, and was a woman of fine character. Hon. J. D. Hammond, who was personally acquainted with her, said of her :

"During the revolutionary war she embraced every opportunity to converse with young men, and to impress on their minds the inestimable value of the rights for which America was contending, of the duty of all citizens to hazard everything, even life itself, in their defense, and of the glory which would be the reward of patriotism. These conversations are said to have had a great effect on the minds of those to whom they were addressed."

Many of the children of Mrs. Clyde, whose lives were so bravely saved by her, and their descendants, afterwards attained distinction, both in civil life and in the service of their country in the Civil War.


The Clydes were caught up in the Cherry Valley massacre of 1778, in Otsego County, New York State, when the heavily Scotch-Irish fort and settlement was attacked by a combined force of British and Native Americans. Catherine and her children hid in a nearby forest. A detailed description is online here.

The 1831 book Annals of Tryon County; the Border Warfare of New York During the Revolution by William W. Campbell (online here) has further accounts, including yet another early usage of ‘Scotch-Irish’:

In New-York, Mr. Lindesay became acquainted with the Rev. Samuel Dunlop … he was an Irishman by birth, but had been educated in Edinburgh; had spent several years in the provinces, having travelled 'over most of those at the south; and at the time of his first acquaintance with Mr. Lindesay, was on a tour through those at the north. He went to Londonderry in New-Hampshire, where several of his countrymen were settled, whom he persuaded to remove, and in 1741 David Ramsay, William Gallt, James Campbell, William Dickson, and one or two others, with their families, in all about thirty persons, came and purchased farms, and immediately commenced making improvements upon them.

They had emigrated from the north of Ireland several years anterior to their removal here; some of them were originally from Scotland; they were called Scotch Irish—a general name given to the inhabitants of the north of Ireland, many of whom are of Scotch descent; hardy and industrious, inured to toil from their infancy, they were well calculated to sustain the labours necessary in clearing the forest, and fitting it for the abode of civilized man.

• Further biographical information on the Thorntons is available online in this 1905 book The Family of James Thornton.

Saturday, July 28, 2018

John Davidson, born Massachusetts, 1750 - 'they call us Scotch Irish so we are called so to this day' - the founder of Belfast, Maine

John Davidson

John Davidson's family emigrated from Moneymore in 1728, in very bloody circumstances. His reminiscences were written in 1832 when he was 82 years old and are online here. Below is a recent talk about his life and times in New England, and his founding of the town of Belfast, Maine.

Charlene Knox Farris: John Davidson, Belfast Founding Father from Belfast Community Media on Vimeo.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Ernest Milligan, his 1907 'Up Bye Ballads' and Sir John Byers

Earlier in the year I posted a series of seven articles on Ernest Milligan’s 1907 collection of North Down Ulster-Scots flavoured Up Bye Ballads. I’ve since found that there is a copy in the Princeton University Library collection which bears the handwritten inscription:

"21/12/07, to Sir John Byers with the author's compliments."

Sir John Byers (1853-1920) was an important figure at the time - a biography is online here. The Ulster Folk & Transport Museum has Byers’ collection of what it describes here as:

Collection of Ulster Dialect items manually recorded by Sir John Byers, c 1890-1910, and examples of proverbs and sayings (dialectal and otherwise) and folklore. The material was collected by Byers, a medical doctor, out of personal interest in this subject area and was recorded from the dialect content of the speech of his patients and from items found in the local press, in particular the Ballymena Observer. The collection consists of Byers' original hardback notebooks and typescript transcriptions of same prepared by his daughter.

A portrait of Byers is below. 


Monday, July 23, 2018

The Virginia Gazette, 'Irish and Scotch-Irish', 1737 - "there is a great wheen of the native folks of this country turn'd Christians, and will sing the Psalms bonely"

Yet another extremely early example of the use of the term ‘Scotch-Irish’, and in this case, being used in distinction from ‘Irish’. The context as you'll see below is a letter from an Ulster-Scot called James Murray, who had emigrated to New York, to a minister called Rev Baptist Boyd near Aughnacloy. The full letter is online here, and also on the Ulster-Scots Academy website here.

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Thursday, July 19, 2018

Northern Visions TV interview, summer 2009

Here’s an interview that Pete Bleakley of Northern Visions TV did with me back in summer 2009, just after I had finished my term as Chair of Ulster-Scots Agency. How time flies.