Wednesday, April 26, 2023

The Friendly Sons of St Patrick - founded 1771

One of the curiosities of the history of Ireland is how concepts of Irishness became monocultural. One example is The Friendly Sons of St Patrick, founded on St Patrick's Day in 1771 in Philadelphia by various men who were close allies of George Washington.

Among the early members were men like General William Irvine (born Enniskillen) General William Thompson (claimed by Co Meath but I have my doubts; would appreciate more evidence*) and Colonel Ephraim Blaine (born in Donegal or Londonderry). Presbyterians all.

On 12 July 1774, Irvine and Blaine were among those who gathered 100 miles west of Philadelphia, at First Presbyterian Church in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, to agree the Carlisle Resolves in support of political reforms which would eventually become Independence. A William Thompson - perhaps the same one - was also there. Carlisle was a renowned centre of Scotch-Irish settlement. Do a search on this blog for some examples. And take a spin through this 1857 publication by the church's minister, Rev George Duffield.

The Scotch-Irish Presbyterians had imbibed the spirit, and understood the power, of that famous instrument which contributed so much, in Scotland, for the Protestant Reformation and Religious Liberty, viz : "The Solemn League and Covenant." It was their attachment, as Protestants, to the cause of civil and religious liberty, that brought them to this Western world. At an early period in the history of British oppression, as practiced in these Colonies, the same patriotic and religious spirit was kindled in them. Nowhere was it more vigorous, active and efficient than in Carlisle and Cumberland County.


In the 1892 History of the Friendly Sons by John C Campbell, who is presented on the title page as "Historian of the Hibernian Society"(on GoogleBooks here), Campbell spends the entire first chapter denying the validity of Scotch-Irishness. Have a read through for yourself.

This 'narrowing' of concepts of Irishness between the society's founding 1771 until this 1892 publication is probably just a reflection of what had also been happening on this side of the Atlantic. A far cry from Wolfe Tone's famous acknowledgement in 1798 of Ireland having three faith denominations, three cultural traditions.

Ireland is an island of cultural variety. 

* William Thompson was the first Colonel in the US Army, leading the first battalion authorised by Congress in June 1775. Wikipedia says he was born in Scotland. In 1896, the Ulster Journal of Archaeology published an article by M.I. Murphy of Bay City, Michigan, which said William Thompson was born in Maghera, and was the brother of Charles Thomson. A fanciful story, but untrue.

The Ancient Order of Hibernians had held an annual tribute event at his grave site at Old Carlisle graveyard for some decades. In 1988 the Donegal Society of Wilkes-Barre, and the Gobin Guards of Carlisle, had an eight feet stone Celtic cross memorial made in Ireland which was helicoptered onto his grave. The inscription claims him for County Meath.

The memorial was consecrated in May 1988 and a special service was held in the First Presbyterian Church – the building where he probably was present on 12 July 1774, preparing for independence. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

1638 & 1776

These illustrations are famous depictions of two seminal events.

Firstly, and engraving entitled 'The swearing and subscribing of the National Covenant in Greyfriars Churchyard, Edinburgh', published in The History of Protestantism by James Aitken Wylie (1878). Greyfriars Kirk is in central Edinburgh, just off the historic Grassmarket and the George IV bridge.

Secondly, "Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death! Patrick Henry delivering his great speech on the Rights of the Colonies, before the Virginia Assembly, convened at Richmond, March 23rd, 1775. Concluding with the above sentiment, which became the war cry of the Revolution', published by Currier & Ives (1876). This event – the Second Virginia Convention – took place at St John's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia. Patrick Henry's father was from Aberdeen; his sister Elizabeth was married to Ulster descended William Campbell.


Sunday, April 16, 2023

Rev. John Rosbrugh - Ulster to New Jersey to Pennsylvania - the 'Clerical Martyr of the Revolution', 1777.

I have been buried in a pile of books for the past month or so, for a very large and important project. In doing so, I have come across some really interesting stories which are new to me.

"John Rosbrugh was not a native born American but belonged to that sturdy class known as the Scotch-Irish, who have furnished so large a proportion of the brains, backbone and muscle which have been indispensable in shaping and maintaining our nationality. He was of the number of those who, for conscience sake, left Scotland and went to the North of Ireland, and who have made that part of Erin's Isle present socially, religiously and politically so marked a contrast with its more southerly portion. He was born in the year 1714, shortly before the family left Scotland, or shortly after they arrived in the North of Ireland, the exact date of the migration not being now attainable. Of the family to which he belonged we have no definite information further than that lie had an older brother, William. It seems that the same impulse which constrained the family to migrate from Scotland to the North of Ireland, impelled this William Rosbrugh, together with his brother John — though the latter was young in years — to take their departure for a land more inviting, beyond the sea, in America"... (1880 source here)

John Rosbrugh's Wikipedia page (link here) says he was born in Enniskillen, of Ayrshire parents. He graduated from the College of New Jersey at Princeton in 1761, along with David Caldwell, later of North Carolina, who would famously cite the ancestral memories of "Londonderry and Enniskillen" in a sermon in support of American independence. Back to Rosbrugh:

"... a call was presented to him to take charge of the Allen Township Presbyterian Church, in connection with Greenwich. Thus he was to be provided with a home in the Irish Settlement, Northampton county, Pennsylvania, among the Scotch-Irish, the stock from which he himself had sprung, as well as his wife. He was now called to the congregation in which his father-in-law, James Ralston, was an elder, and his wife's family were members".

Evidently this was also a Scots-speaking community:

"Mr. Rosbrugh, in making his pastoral visits, once came to a widow living alone. He found her at her devotions and did not disturb her until she was through. She read the Scripture, then lined a Psalm as she sang it, before prayer. He asked her why she lined the Psalm, as there were none to hear her when she was alone. "Ah!" said she, "it is sa quiet I fain would 'dight my gab twice wi'it." 

A more accurate spelling might be "it's sae quate I fain wud dicht ma gab twice wi' it".  In 1776, Rosbrugh's brother-in-law, John Ralston (link here), was appointed as a member of the Constitutional Convention for Pennsylvania. That same year, John Rosbrugh became Moderator of the Presbytery of Pennsylvania. Revolution was coming.

"These were Revolutionary times, and Mr. Rosbrugh was filled with the spirit of freedom. It was the heavy yoke, politically and religiously, which the Mother Country had imposed upon her people, that drove him and many of his class from the heather, hill and dale of Scotland, to their new homes in America. That the same yoke should be imposed upon them in their new home, seemed to him like the pursuit and oppression of the innocent..." 

Rosbrugh became a military chaplain in the American revolutionary army. Aware of the risk, he wrote his last will on 18 December 1776. Less than two weeks later, on 2 January 1777, aged 63, during the Battle of Assunpink Creek, near Trenton, New Jersey, Rev. John Rosbrugh was stabbed to death. A total of 17 bayonet wounds ended his life – inflicted upon him after he had surrendered to a small company of British 'Hessians' who he encountered in a grove of trees. They gave him five minutes to pray. Apparently, he prayed for them (additional source here). 

His body was buried near where he died by Captain John Hays, who according to one source had been born in west Donegal. He was later re-buried, some say in the Old First Presbyterian Church graveyard in Trenton.

Jane Rosbrugh raised their five children, with some financial support from the state of Pennsylvania. She died in 1809.

• Gravestone photo above from the excellent All Things Liberty website: "Once it was discovered that he was a Presbyterian minister, he was stabbed repeatedly and left to die".

Friday, April 14, 2023

1798 Rebellion - Breadalbane Service Medal

This came up at auction over the Easter Weekend, I didn't bid on it but maybe should have. This is the Scottish regiment that was in Lisburn during the 1798 Rebellion, and which took the executed United Irishmen leader, the linen merchant, 'General' Henry Munro's decapitated head down from Lisburn Market House - one source says "taken down to gratify the Scotch soldiers, as Munro was of Scotch descent”. The regiment also had Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland warrant number 340.

Munro's 'Scotch descent' has been explored by TGF Patterson, the noted Curator of Armagh County Museum, and also Colin Johnston Robb who was a respected authority on the 1798 Rebellion era. 

Sunday, April 09, 2023

Irish Shipping Ltd (1941-1984) - a symbol of wartime neutrality

 Interesting emblem. Wikipedia page here.

"I Still Carry You Around" - 1999

 On the cusp of the new millennium, Steve Earle joined forces with the Del McCoury Band to release "The Mountain" on 23 February 1999. Hilary and I went to see them play at the Ulster Hall on 17 May - it was one of the best concerts I've ever been to - we were up in the balcony, overlooking the stage, marvelling at the 3 piece suits and the single microphone, and the acoustic volume being operated through skilful choreography. From an era when cameras and recording devices were not allowed in venues, and could get you ejected if caught, I've not been able to find any pics or videos online. So, this grainy tv performance will have to do. 

Friday, April 07, 2023

"Donald McElroy - Scotch Irishman" - by Willie Walker Caldwell, (Philadelphia 1918)

"The Scotch Irish of America, through the commendable habit of that race, so it be not carried too far, to put their strength into deeds rather than into words, have missed their meed of credit for the important work they did in our struggle for liberty.

Now, our honored fellow-countrymen and co-patriots, the Puritans, have not made this mistake; they took their part in action nobly, and also they have taken care to record in history, song, and story the might and glory of their deeds.

The "Boston Tea Party" and the "Boston Massacre" will go down emblazoned on the page of history, but the fight at Alamance, and the vehement petitions urging resistance to tyranny sent up to state conventions, and the first Congress, by the Scotch Irish counties of Virginia, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania have scarcely been heard of.

It is my hope not only to show what the Scotch Irish have done for the cause of liberty, but also to give a just idea of the character of this people, a true picture of their home life, and a correct estimate of that religion which is so dear to them, and which has had so much to do with making them the freedom-loving, and withal broad-minded patriots they are.

Few men, I flatter myself, are better equipped to tell a Scotch Irish story than I, Donald McElroy, who in blood am pure blue Scotch Irish, who have been instructed by Scotch Irish divines in things temporal and spiritual, have fought under Scotch Irish leaders, and lived all my life among them"

Willie Walker Caldwell on Wikipedia
• Portrait photo below from Library of Congress

Sunday, April 02, 2023

"Tell a new, powerful, tale"