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