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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BNL 1956

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.


Saturday, August 11, 2018

An account of Scotch-Irish Women Psalm singers in the Carolinas, 1760s: 'The women sing as well or better than the Girls at the Magdalene Chapel, London'


Michael Scoggins’ book The Scotch-Irish Influence on Country Music in the Carolinas’ was one of the first on my list of summer reading. I have dipped into it a few times over the years but had never read it cover to cover. It is excellent, and I plan to post a few things here from it - but you really should get a copy for your own library.

Rev Charles Woodmason (1720–1789) frankly despised the Scotch-Irish. He was an Episcopalian from England, sent to frontier South Carolina. His intention was to limit the spread of 'backcountry revivalism’ which many scholars say fed into the 'Regulator Rebellion’ and Battle of Alamance, of which Rev David Caldwell was a key figure - I have mentioned him and his wife Rachel here in previous posts.

Here is Woodmason's account of Scotch-Irish women, a combined group of Baptists and Presbyterians:

‘On the 31 (Sunday) I gave service to about 400 people among whom a great number of Baptists and Presbyterians… excellent singing. The women sing as well or better than the Girls at the Magdalene Chapel, London – they all come from Virginia and Pennsylvania – not an English person or Carolinian among them’.

Woodmason’s famous quote – 'a set of the most lowest vilest crew breathing Scotch Irish Presbyterians from the North of Ireland’ – needs to be borne in mind here. To have given such praise to to singing of a people he had no time for speaks volumes.

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Friday, August 10, 2018

Where exactly is 'Trump Country'?

Nyt 2016 election precinctsBack on 25th July, the New York Times published a truly phenomenal piece of electoral cartography - a zoomable, detailed, precinct by precinct map of the 2016 US Presidential election results. It is visually stunning and technologically pretty breathtaking. Have a look here. Look at the ocean of Trump red. Or, as many in the US media have called it, ‘flyover country’, ie the places and people you can avoid as you jet in business class between the ‘progressive' coastal conurbations.

Readers here will know that JD Vance’s book Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis caught my interest through the media reports around the time that it came out - when I was on holiday in the USA in July 2016 - journalists were intrigued by its references to the 'Scots-Irish', a group which the metropolitan media class by and large didn't know. Initially I saw this as a good thing, a profile-raiser for Ulster-Scots / Scotch-Irishness generally, but when I got the book and read it I was very disappointed.

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I’ve been through Appalachia - a vast region which straddles maybe 10 states - four times over 20 years. I don’t think that Vance or his publishers set out to make Hillbilly Elegy what the media turned it in to - for him it was a 'memoir of a family', but the urban media made it first a regional characterisation, crudely broad-brushing its social breakdown and disintegration themes across all of Appalachia - and then worse still, they used it later in 2016 as a political explanation of how the Trump victory had happened.

‘Trump Country’ became a euphemism for Appalachia and the ‘Rust Belt’. It was, and is, lazy and untrue. But many American commentators still perpetuate the myth - such as this article from just two days ago. All this does is show how little the supposedly educated city dwelling ‘opinion formers' understand and care about the rest of their nation. I watched online how smart, rooted, Appalachian bloggers and journalists - both progressives and conservatives - expressed their rage at the stereotype. It was Deliverance for the 21st century - an easy trope which gave the upper middle class permission to once again blame and mock the poor ‘basket of deplorables’ whites. The South as America's scapegoat yet again - Rod Dreher's 2014 piece summarises this theme well.

This map destroys that notion. Outside of the big cities, and the Democratic Party strongholds, all of America is ‘Trump Country’, for better or worse. I have regular readers here who I know are pro-Trump, and also regulars who are anti-Trump. I have no particular ‘truck’ with Trump as a personality, but I can very much see how he became a lightning rod for a population who looked at Hilary Clinton and saw her as the embodiment of a failed, entitled, insider-elite political class and system. He just exploited it. He defeated all of the establishment Republican Party candidates as well the Democratic Party’s chosen candidate Hillary Clinton. Sanders might have been a stronger choice for them. The map shows the scale to which Trump succeeded.

Ironically, the map also confirms one of Trump’s soapboxes - that you can’t trust the experts. If supposed or assumed experts are still talking about ‘Trump Country’ then new experts need to be found. The pollsters and commentators were wrong pre-election - and some persist in their prejudices and wrongness post-election.

The Scotch-Irish / Appalachia / The Rust Belt / The South are neither responsible, nor to blame, for Trump. The system made him and he took full advantage, coast-to-coast, north, south, east and west. 

There is a simple principle in politics - if you malign people, you might well mobilise them against you. That doesn’t matter if the numbers are heavily in your favour, but when it’s a close-run thing then that’s a disastrous strategy. As an outsider looking in from this side of the Atlantic on the relentless media ridiculing of Trump voters, the media class could well be ushering in a second term.

• This came up in the enjoyable discussion I had on BBC Radio Ulster with Bruce Clark and Dr Brian Walker, chaired by William Crawley, earlier in the year. You can listen to that on iPlayer here.

• the video below by the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute gives some interesting analysis:

Wednesday, August 08, 2018

1683/1684 - Thomas Ferguson and the forgotten Scotch-Irish emigrants of Charleston, South Carolina?


The more you read the more you find. Numerous reputable sources refer to a Sir Richard Kyrle, who was based in County Cork but was also Governor of South Carolina and who was involved in an Ulster emigration led by a Thomas Ferguson in 1683 or 1684. 

This website lists some surviving primary records of the Ferguson venture - " Mr. Thomas Ferguson and other families from the north of Ireland, being desirous of settling in Carolina, in compliance with their request, some small river to be reserved for them for seven years. Instructions thereupon”. The land grant which they were attracted to seems to have been formalised in 1702, to a Hugh Ferguson.

The settlement appears to have been where the Ashley River meets the Cooper River. You can see ‘Ferguson’s’ marked on the 1733 map shown above, just outside the town walls. Interestingly, Dr Mark Jardine’s wonderful blog refers to a shipload of Covenanter prisoners being banished to the Carolinas from Scotland in 1684.

The first Presbyterian church in Charlestown was organised in 1685, its congregation made up of people from Scotland and also some who had come down from New England. The original building was just outside the town walls; it is long-gone but there are today a number of Presbyterian churches in the same area as Ferguson’s settlement. American Presbyterianism, its Origin and Early History (published 1885, online here) features a map which shows a lot of Presbyterian activity in New England, and with Charleston as an outlier much further south.

A 1710 letter refers to ‘five British Presbyterian’ ministers active in Charleston. In June 1714 the records of the General Synod of Ulster refer to a Rev John Jarvie, ordained by the Presbytery of Belfast, being onboard a ship sailing from Belfast Lough ‘bound for South Carolina; the seamen and passengers amount to the number of 70”. This ship arrived in Charleston in summer 1714.

So, another important story which needs some scholarly attention, another very early connection. 

• NB the primary source reference mentioned above is "Papers in the State Paper Office London: 1684, July 11. Craven and others, to Sir Richard Kyrle. Mr. Thomas Ferguson and other families from the north of Ireland, being desirious of settling in Carolina, in compliance with their request, some small river to be reserved for them for seven years. Instructions thereupon. 4 folios; p. 38"

Presb USA map

Maude Glasgow (1876-1955) - 'The Scotch-Irish in Northern Ireland and in The American Colonies' (1936)

Maudeglasgow watermark

Dr Maude Glasgow (1876-1955) is known for her 340-page 1936 book The Scotch-Irish in Northern Ireland and in The American Colonies (published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York), which was favourably reviewed in the newspapers of Ulster, Scotland and America, as well as in the 1936 annual year book of the Ulster-Irish Society of New York. I have an original copy, stamped ‘Linen Hall Library Belfast’ which I bought from a local bookseller maybe 20 years ago. Presumably the library had a clearout at some time. I can’t find an online edition, probably as it’s not yet 70 years since the death of the writer.

She is an interesting and unexplored figure. Born in Cookstown, her father was Silas Glasgow of Killycurragh where the family seem to have been members of Orritor Presbyterian Church. She studied in Dublin and then went to New York, graduating from Cornell University in 1901. She became a medical examiner for New York City Health Department. She was also prominently involved in some Suffragette activity in the city from 1908–10.

She wrote a series of books and papers championing women’s rights and freedoms, such as The Subjugation of Woman and the Traditions of Men (1940). Various newspaper obituaries described her as ‘retired physician and feminist’.

Biography here on the American Medical Women’s Association website
• short obituary below from the Ballymena Weekly Telegraph, 9 December 1955 

Glasgow Obituary

Maude glasgow

Ellen Glasgow (1873-1945) Pulitzer prize winning author

Ellen Glasgow was born in Richmond, Virginia, just 8 years after the American Civil War. Her father, Francis Thomas Glasgow, was a Presbyterian who had been raised in the Shenandoah Valley. Ellen wrote 20 books, winning the Pulitzer prize for her novel In This Our Life. Her autobiography The Woman Within was published posthumously in 1954. She is credited for having ‘helped direct Southern literature away from sentimentality and nostalgia’.

She seems to have had a strained relationship with her old-fashioned father who was the manager of Tredegar Iron Works; the family were members of Second Presbyterian Church in Richmond. It is said that she inherited his ‘iron will and philosophy irrevocably tied to his Calvinistic beliefs’ - it was said that he ‘never committed a pleasure’.

Her Civil War novel Barren Ground (1902) was focussed around Scotch-Irish mountain communities, a setting where this review observes there were no slaves or plantations. She regarded her 1935 novel Vein of Iron as her best work - a story set in rural Presbyterian Virginia about the significantly-named Fincastle family.


Monday, August 06, 2018

Joseph Earl Dabney (1929–2015) – 'Mountain Spirits: A Chronicle of Corn Whiskey from King James' Ulster Plantation to America's Appalachians and the Moonshine Life' (1974)

2018 08 06 17 50 44

In 1974, Joseph Earl Dabney, an award-winning author, newspaperman and PR executive (who was also a member of Dunwoody Baptist Church in the state of Georgia) published this book. His biographical obituary is online here. He is one of those people who I now wish I had contact with when they were still alive.

I am reading my way through Mountain Spirits: A Chronicle of Corn Whiskey from King James' Ulster Plantation to America's Appalachians and the Moonshine Life. I'm not a teetotaller (until fairly recently the occasional cold cider would do the job for me; I now do some design work with two local distilleries) but I have found this book to be superb - Dabney was very well-informed on the history and culture of Ulster, and he uses the terms Ulster-Scots and Scotch-Irish throughout.

It's scholarly yet accessible. Philosophically you can tell that Dabney was taken by the craft of the distillers and the relentless individualism of the push to the frontier and the defiance of government - initially the British Crown but then also the punitive measures introduced by George Washington and Patrick Hamilton, who redrew the boundaries of Pennsylvania, making the Virginian frontiersmen subject to Pennsylvanian land payments literally overnight, and of course the 'whiskey tax’ the government introduced to raise funds for the new republic. Dabney also traversed rural communities to talk with the moonshiners of the older generation to record their stories. A second edition - More Mountain Spirits - was published in 1985.

Dabney authored a number of other successful titles, including food books Smokehouse Ham, Spoon Bread & Scuppernong Wine (1998) and The Food, Folklore, and Art of Lowcountry Cooking (2010). He won the Jack Daniel Lifetime Achievement Award from the Southern Foodways Alliance in 2005.

His obituary describes him as 'A devout Christian, Dabney was a member of Dunwoody Baptist Church where he enjoyed the Young at Heart seniors group and sang in the choir.' In a Northern Ireland context, this is quite unusual for somebody fascinated by whiskey! One of the figures the book refers to was a Baptist pastor, a Rev Elijah Craig who some say invented bourbon whiskey in 1789 (Wikipedia entry here). A brand exists today which was named after him.

As is so often the case, traditions shorthanded in America these days as geographically Irish, turn out to be predominantly culturally Scotch-Irish. Spirit distillation is one of those things, at least in its earliest days. It is important to retain these distinctives where possible, not to claim that the Scotch-Irish are superior to others, but to acknowledge their role in the overall story.

Mountain Spirits: A Chronicle of Corn Whiskey from King James' Ulster Plantation to America's Appalachians and the Moonshine Life - is a first-rate book. Highly recommended for a taste of the pioneering independent spirit.

"The Scotch-Irish proved their mettle. They were a new kind of pioneer, who brought strong convictions to America, including a love of whiskey and a love of liberty’ - page 41

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Sunday, August 05, 2018

Summer 1718 - The Scotch-Irish 'hurricane' makes landfall in New England, 300 years ago

Hurricane earl nearing massachusetts 2010 25579 600x450

In summer 1718, the long-awaited Scotch-Irish cultural, spiritual and ideological hurricane reached America, making landfall in Boston and then dispersing to a number of points in New England.

The first attempt by the ship Eagle Wing had famously been driven back by an actual hurricane in 1636; during the 1670s an Ulster-Scots emigrant community from the west of the province had organically developed on the eastern shore of Maryland, for which in 1680 a Presbyterian minister was sought; in 1683 Rev Francis Makemie arrived. It is plausible that 1718 was possible because there were already kinfolk who had made the crossing to Maryland a generation before.

The New England states are where the serious impact tremors would be felt, a ’storm surge’ which would gradually reach all of the then 13 colonies, and which reverberates to the present day. There is a big job of research and digital bridge-building to be done.

John Hopkins Morison (1808-1896) was a significant figure in Peterborough, New Hampshire, and was descended from these early settlers. His posthumous biographical memoir from 1897 (online here) traces:

a) his paternal line to a John Morison who was born in Aberdeen in 1628, who came to Londonderry where he endured the Siege. His son, also called John, recalled trying to catch mice to eat for survival. The son, his wife Margaret Wallace, and grandson emigrated to America in August 1718, to Casco Bay, and John sr. joined them in 1720. He died in Londonderry New Hampshire on 16 February 1736, aged 108 years.

b) his maternal grandfather was a John Hopkins who could 'sing Scotch songs all day long without repeating a single song', and wife Isabella Reid, who also sailed for America.

John Hopkins Morison visited Londonderry in 1876 during a tour of Europe - his impressions of the city are on page 229 here. But he left disappointed as so much heritage and memory of the Siege had been lost.

Morison is another of those, often nowadays despised, 'old white men' - whose ideas and anti-slavery convictions transcended their own gender, ethnicity, cultural ’tribe' and skin colour in a way that their present-day critics are seemingly unable to understand or value. In 1839, aged 31, he organised a centennial celebration in Peterborough which I have blogged about before. A General John Hardy Steele (1789–1865; Wikipedia entry here), who five years later would become Governor of New Hampshire, had this to say of the Scotch-Irish women of that early hurricane:

“… We look back to the wives, sisters and daughters of the early settlers of this town. No hardship could discourage, no allurements divert them from industry. Although all their industry could not procure them costly attire, it gave them and their families comfortable clothing, and assisted their husbands and brothers to convert the wilderness into a field for the growth of rye, potatoes, and flax, and aided in the raising of sheep and cows to help in the support of the family.

The mother taught her children that strength, honesty, and virtue were the rubies that were highly to be valued ; that virtue and industry were the smoothest path to journey through life. They took much pride in keeping their children trim and neat, and regularly sent them to meeting. If they had shoes it was well ; if not they must so that part of the season which was comfortable without … After meeting, inquiry was made of the children about the text and sermon, and they were seated to say the catechism.

Let us look back to the time when the eighty- three husbands and sons signed the virtual Declaration of Independence which was read this day by one of the signers. Cut off from all connection with the parent country, they were deprived of every article not only of luxury but of clothing. They had to depend entirely on the large or foot-wheel, with their skill in turning them. Not one word of complaint was heard. When a neighbor or friend came in, the buzzing wheel was set aside, and a cheerful conversation introduced. Soon came the song, very often the " Battle of Boyne," and many others, as each one had a store of them. They passed the evening in cheerfulness. If a stranger was among them they made great exertions to treat him with the best they had …"


• The family traditions of the Siege of Derry were written down by Morison in his 1845 biography of relative Hon. Jeremiah Smith, who had been a member of Congress under George Washington, which is online here, from page 10 onwards. Their ancestor, John Morison, also claimed to have been at the Battle of Boyne where he saw the Duke of Schomberg die.

‘it is difficult for those born in cities to understand the intense interest excited among children in the country, and especially at that period, by incidents like these, related by one who had been personally engaged in them more than three quarters of a century before'

Morison's grave can be seen here.
• Interestingly another John Hopkins Morison was buried there in 2013, aged 100 (see entry here).

John Hopkins Morison

Brown, Corbett & Co - The Ulster Old Irish Whisky (Belfast)

Brown Corbett Ulster