Tuesday, August 29, 2023

'The Break of Killyleagh, 1688' - further details just discovered on the Cuffies of Shrigley

Following this recent post, and my subsequent expedition in search of John and William Cuffies' grave, here is an article from the Belfast Weekly Telegraph on 30 April 1910. For all of the fixation on "kings in wigs", their respective armies on opposing river banks, and the obscurities of battlefield strategy – the far more emotive community story has been almost totally lost. Thankfully there were some people who wrote down a few fragments, like these below. (PS Mark Talbot was certainly a colourful character - Wikipedia here).


Tuesday, August 22, 2023

"Retribution will bring Rebellion" - Hugh Williamson and The Boston Tea Party, 16 December 1773

This coming December, the United States of America will celebrate the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, kicking off what will be two and a half years of rolling commemorations leading up to the 250th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence on 4 July 2026 (see website here).


Just a few days after turning 38, Hugh Williamson sailed out of Boston Harbour on one of John Hancock's fastest transatlantic ships, the Hayley, captained by James Scott, bound for London. In later years, both Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Adams would confirm that Hugh had been present at the 'Sons of Liberty' planning meetings for the Boston Tea Party. Williamson had then watched the Tea Party taking place, from 6pm-9pm on 16 December 1773, and he brought the Privy Council in London the first account of it - "he was the first to report to the British Government that occurrence" - one week before the official colonial government's own narrative arrived. Williamson told them that "retribution will bring rebellion".

As a later account wrote:

...The strange quiet that prevailed, except for the sound of ripping tea chests and numerous splashes in the water, made a lasting impression upon several witnesses. 
One of them was Dr. Hugh Williamson of Philadelphia, a leading advocate of American independence and a close friend of Benjamin Franklin's. Williamson had been in Boston for a month on business and was about to take ship for London. He had attended at least two of the large public meetings that preceded the Tea Party, and when he heard on the night of December 16th that the Party was in progress, he went at once to the scene. He found a little hummock about fifty yards from the nearest ship and, standing there, enjoyed a clear view of the proceedings. 
"The rioters made very little noise," he told the King's Council, in wonderfully self-contradictory phraseology, a few months later...

Williamson's full account to the Privy Council can be read online here.

According to an obituary, "his parents were natives of Ireland but their earlier ancestors it is believed came originally from Scotland". Hugh's parents had arrived in America among the early Presbyterian emigrants from Ireland – his mother, Mary Davison, with her father George via Londonderry in 1718/19 (on a ship said to have been captured by the infamous pirate, Blackbeard) – and his father, John W. Williamson, via Dublin, in 1730. They married in 1731, most likely at West Nottingham Presbyterian Church, Chester County, Pennsylvania – Hugh was born in West Nottingham township in 1735, the eldest of their ten children. John died in 1757, but Mary lived until she was 90 years old, dying in 1804.

Hugh Williamson studied under two renowned Ulster-Scots Presbyterians: Francis Alison, whose revolutionary philosophy forged the thinking of so many in the American colonies, and Armagh-born Samuel Finley, who was also part of the Williamsons' community of West Nottingham. In 1743 Finley had been banished as part of a series of anti-Presbyterian actions by Connecticut's colonial government - in The Scotch-Irish, or the Scot in North Britain, North Ireland, and North America (1902) author Charles Hanna described that action as "to be so contrary to the spirit and letter of the British Constitution as to work a forfeiture of the colonial charter" (vol II, p 24). But Finley would have his day - he moved to New Jersey and in 1761 he became President of the College of New Jersey at Princetown, later Princeton.

Hugh Williamson studied for a time at the University of Edinburgh, in 1764, and in 1767 he became Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Princeton. In 1770 he wrote this paper on climate change in Pennsylvania. In 1773 he, and another 'son of Ulster' Dr John Ewing, planned a tour of England, Scotland and Ireland to raise funds for their college in Newark.

It's quite a CV for a guy in his mid 30s. But he would soon become more than an intellectual – events combined to make him a, somewhat reluctant, revolutionary – who would become one of the signatories of the United States Constitution.

"Were not we of Scotch Irish race and Presbyterian faith pledged already to the cause since the first blood shed for American liberty was the blood of the Scotch Irish Presbyterians, spilled at the battle of Alamance, when the stern North Carolina "Regulators" had risen, like Cromwell's "Ironsides," against the tyranny of their royal governor?

The "Boston Tea Party”, therefore, found quickest sympathy among the Scotch Irish of the Southern and Middle States, and the earliest and grimmest of the resolutions sent up to the several assemblies, urging that Massachusetts be sustained, and kingly tyranny determinedly resisted, came from the towns and counties settled by these people.

"Freedom or death" was the consuming sentiment in the hearts of many Scotch Irish Americans for months before the typical orator of that race thrilled a continent by speaking those immortal words, "Give me liberty, or give me death”. 

- from W W Caldwell’s novel ‘Donald McElroy, Scotch-Irishman’ (1918)


More to follow...