Thursday, 26 February 2015

Ulster Settlers in America (pt3)

Some of the early colonists – their services in the American Revolution.

by M. I. MURPHY, Bay City, Michigan, U.S.

With note by Francis Joseph Bigger, Editor.


Another illustrious son of Ulster who occupies a prominent place in American history, and is better known than the foregoing, was Charles Thompson, the "perpetual secretary of the Continental Congress." Thompson was born in Maghera, County Derry, in 1730, and at the age of eleven years was brought to America, with his three brothers, by his father, who unfortunately died while in sight of the capes of the Delaware. When the first Continental Congress met in September, 1774, Thompson was unanimously chosen secretary, and he retained that position until his resignation in 1789. He would accept no pay for his first year's services, and Congress presented his wife, the aunt of the first President Harrison, with a silver urn as a token of its appreciation of his services and unselfish patriotism. The Declaration of Independence was drawn up by him from Jefferson's rough draft, and the only signatures affixed to the document on the 4 July, 1776, were his and President Hancock's, the other signatures not being affixed till the 2 August following. It will, without doubt, be of interest to all Irishmen to learn that John Hancock, the President of Congress, and the first signer of the Declaration of Independence, came of Ulster stock. It is stated upon good authority that the ancestors of President Hancock emigrated from near Downpatrick, County Down, and settled in Boston, towards the end of the seventeenth century.

Others of the signatories of that famous document came of Ulster parentage. Robert Treat Paine was one of them. He was the representative from Massachusetts, and his lineage was a royal one. According to O'Hart, "Henry O'Neill, of Dungannon, born in 1665, sixth in descent from Shane the Proud, Prince of Ulster, and cousin of Sir Neal O'Neill, who received his death-wound at the battle of the Boyne, changed his name to Paine, that of a maternal ancestor, to preserve a portion of his estates. He entered the British army, obtained grants of land in County Cork and other parts of Ireland, and was killed in 1698 at Foxford, in the County Mayo. His youngest brother, Robert, who also took the name of Paine, emigrated to America a little before the occurrence alluded to, and was the grandfather of Robert Treat Paine who signed the Declaration. He was born at Boston, 11 March, 1731, and studied theology at Harvard, accompanying the provincial troops on the northern frontier in 1755 as chaplain. He afterwards studied law, and conducted the prosecution of Captain Preston and eight of his soldiers when they were tried for their part in the "Boston Massacre" of 5 March, 1770. In 1773 and the year following he was elected to the General Assembly of Massachusetts; was sent as a delegate to the Continental Congress from 1774 to 1778; voted for and signed the Declaration of Independence. When, in 1780, the State Constitution of Massachusetts was adopted, he was made Attorney-General, which office he held till 1790, when he was made a judge of the Supreme Court. In 1804 he resigned that position on account of infirmities brought on by old age, and died in 1814, at the age of eighty-three.

Thomas MacKean, of Delaware, who also signed the Declaration, was President of Congress at the close of the war. He was born in Chester, County Pennsylvania, of Ulster parents. In 1765 he was a member, for Delaware, of the Congress of New York. He was a prominent member of the Congress of 1776 that convened at Philadelphia, and remained a member of that body till 1783, being the only one that served all the time. On the 10 July, 1781, MacKean was elected President of Congress, and, on the surrender of Cornwallis, Washington despatched a courier to him with the news. At the close of the war MacKean retired from public life, and took up his residence in Philadelphia, where he died, 24 June, 1817.

In Thomas Nelson, of Virginia, who also signed the Declaration, we find another descendant of the O'Neills of Ulster. His grandfather came from Strabane. County Tyrone, about the beginning of the last century. The name, originally O'Neill, was changed. That eminent Irish antiquarian, Eugene O'Curry, many years ago made out the pedigree of this delegate to Congress from Virginia, tracing his descent from Donald O'Neill, Prince of Ulster, who addressed in 1315 the famous "Remonstrance" to Pope John XXII., in which he denounced the atrocities perpetrated in Ireland, and justified the bringing over of Edward Bruce, brother of King Robert, of Scotland, to aid in expelling the English. Nelson was in Congress from 1774 to 1777, when ill health compelled him to resign. When Congress called for aid in 1778, he raised a volunteer corps, and went at their head to join Washington. He was sent to Congress in 1779, but sickness again compelled him to withdraw. He succeeded Jefferson as Governor of Virginia in 1781, and, as commander-in-chief of the troops of the State, placed himself at their head, joining Lafayette, who was then endeavouring to check Cornwallis. He continued in this capacity till the British surrendered at Yorktown, making constantly great personal sacrifices, himself guaranteeing the payment of a loan of two millions of dollars raised by Virginia, and insisting that his house should be shelled because the British occupied it. Soon after the surrender he resigned, retiring into private life till his death, which took place in 1789.

James Smith, another of the subscribers, was born in Ireland, and is said to have come from Ulster, but I can find no authority to confirm the assertion. So the list goes on. The embryo Republic was aided by gifts of money, deeds of arms, active civil service, and in many other ways by the sons and descendants of historic Ulster. The land of Shane the Proud and Hugh of Dungannon has a lasting monument in the names and fame of those whose acts so materially assisted to establish the United States of America; and she must also treasure the memory of patriots less known but equally true, such as James Moore, of Lurgan; Rev. John Murray, born in Antrim 22 May, 1742; Ephraim Blaine, born in County Donegal, 1741, the grandfather of the celebrated statesman, James G. Blaine (Blaine became the quartermaster of Washington's army in 1780, and by his strenuous efforts did much to alleviate the sufferings of the men); John Bleakley; John Brown, born in County Antrim, 1753; Hugh Holmes, Henry Boyle, William Erskine, Robert Rainey, Alexander Nesbitt, Oliver Pollock, who procured Spanish gunpowder for the Revolutionists; Samuel Carson, and many others, about whom little can be discovered save the part they played in the great drama of the Revolution.

The devotion of Ulstermen did not end with this epoch in American history. The great war of 1812 gave opportunity for their heroism and their genius. Among the brightest names in the history of Columbia are those of Andrew Jackson, victor of New Orleans and President of the United States, and Commodore Thos. MacDonough, both sons of Ulster parents.

Besides these two great men, we find such daring spirits as Captain Boyle, a native of Armagh, whose sea fights read like bits of fiction. He commanded a twelve-gun brig, The Comet, and in it attacked three British vessels, with a Portuguese convoy of 30 guns. He drove off the convoy, sank one of the British vessels, and brought the other two into Pernambuco as prizes. On the same cruise he captured the British ship Aberdeen, of eight guns, and two others often guns each.

Captain Johnston Blakely was born in Seaforde, County Down, October, 1781. He was brought to North Carolina by his parents, who died soon afterwards. A friend educated him, and in 1800 he entered the United States navy as a midshipman, and by July, 1813, had risen to the rank of a master commander. In the Wasp, on 28 June, 1814, he captured, after a severe engagement, the British warship Reindeer. The latter vessel made three desperate and unsuccessful attempts to board, in the last of which her commander was slain. For this exploit. Congress voted Captain Blakely a gold medal. On the 21 September, 1814, he captured and sent into Savannah the brig Atalanta. This was the last direct intelligence ever received of him. The Wasp, being heavily armed and sparred, and deep-waisted, probably foundered in a heavy gale. About the time of his death he was gazetted as a captain. His only child, a daughter, was educated at the expense of the State of North Carolina.

If the deeds of these men, as well as those of General Doherty and others of the same race, were omitted, what a gap there would be in the history of the United States in those times.

In the Mexican War of 1846, Dungannon was represented by two of the most illustrious soldiers under the Stars and Stripes – General James Shields and Major MacReynolds. Among other officers under Scott were Captain Magruder, of the artillery; Captain Casey and Lieutenant Neil, of the regular infantry, all of whom were distinguished for their bravery. All were Ulstermen.

One lamentable fact about the Irish-American heroes who fought under the American flag is the paucity of information regarding their ancestry. Even the birthplace of many an illustrious Irishman is unknown to us. All the information we can get from records is – "He was born in Ireland," or "he was born in the North of Ireland." The prejudice against Irish people in general during the early days of the colonies is responsible, without a doubt, for the meagre records kept of these gallant men.

Excellent work could be rendered by the literary and archaeological societies in various parts of Ireland by taking up the records of the families of these men. A connecting chain could be obtained in American records, and many facts of international interest might be gleaned. It is not merely a matter of pastime it is an imperative duty that a complete biographical encyclopaedia should be compiled and presented to the world, wherein the history of these men would be preserved for all time. The recounting of their deeds, without exaggeration and without bombast, would be a grander and more lasting monument than bronze or stone an example for generations to come, and an eternal proof of the Ulsterman's fealty to the country of his adoption.

NOTE BY F. J. B., Editor.

Through the kindness of an American correspondent, we have been able to peruse The History of Londonderry (United States), by Rev. Edward Parker, Boston, 1851. No more interesting local history than this could be produced, comprising, as it does, not only a full account of the early settlers of the place, but copious references to their Ulster origin and Scottish pedigrees. The lists of names in the appendix – viz., the original subscribers to the Petition to Governor Shute, of Massachusetts, praying for "incouragement" to transport themselves to the colonies; the original list of "proprietors" of Londonderry; and, finally, the list appended to the following portentous document "We, the Subscribers, do hereby solemnly engage and promise that we will to the utmost of our power, at the Risque of our Lives and Fortunes, with arms, oppose the Hostile proceedings of the British Fleets and Armies against the United American Colonies" – all these lists are composed of names exactly similar to those of our own Presbyterian communities; whilst their manners, customs, and mode of speech, till after the Revolution, were the same as those of their brethren in Antrim and Derry. We read of their ministers' ordinations and their communion seasons, when communion tokens were used; even their disputes are alike. For instance, we read of a deceased minister's son being preferred to a stranger who had been ordained, and a rival meeting-house being built for him. Then, again, when a disagreement arose amongst the Presbyterians, a rival Independent meeting-house was built in the district. Again, we read of a Court of Session for the trial of moral offences, just like our own Templepatrick Session, where the offenders were "admonished," and "ordered to appear before the congregation on the next succeeding Sabbath." One James Doake was accused of beating his father, but the Session considered the offence not proven, nevertheless they "rebuked James Doake for giving his father the lie."

These early colonists left Derry in five ships, landing in Boston on the 4 August, 1718, previous to which they had sent one of their number, the Rev. William Boyd, as a deputation to Governor Shute, with authority to make terms for their settlement, which he succeeded in doing. The Petition to Governor Shute has 319 signatures, only 13 of whom were marksmen. Nine of the Subscribers were Presbyterian ministers, and three were Scottish graduates. Such names as the following occur in the list – Houston, Porter, Thompson, Dunlop, Blair, Galt, Mitchell, Patterson, Curry, Anderson, Campbell, Ramsey, Ritchie, Gregg, Boyd, Bigger, Wilson, Haslet, Todd, Holmes, Black, Miller, Brice, MacKeen, Lamont, Orr, Lennox, Leslie, Crawford, Christy, Johnston, Smith, Knox, &c., &c.

The following were the reasons given for their emigration:– "1. To avoid oppression and cruel bondage. 2. To shun persecution and designed ruin. 3. To withdraw from the communion of idolaters. 4. To have an opportunity of worshipping God according to the dictates of conscience and the rules of His inspired Word." After these emigrants had landed in the colonies they experienced some privations, but soon obtained a grant of suitable land, and afterwards a Royal charter was granted, enabling them to establish what was practically a Presbyterian Republic, where the civil and ecclesiastical jurisdiction were one and the same. This was the first Presbyterian congregation in New England. The meeting-house was the head of the commune, and the governing circles widened from its centre. At the time of the Revolution, very few of these settlers or their descendants did not take side with the Revolutionists, still there were some. Colonel Stephen Holland, a gentleman of education, remained loyal, and his estate was confiscated and sold. Londonderry paid for bounties a larger sum than any other town, and, it is believed, contributed a larger number of revolutionary soldiers; and so bitter were they to any loyalists who sought to return after the Revolution and recover their possessions, that they decreed in public assembly "that nothing may ever be done for those infernal wretches by this State further than to provide a gallows, halter, and hangman for everyone that dare to show their vile countenances amongst us." Their first minister, the Rev. James MacGregor, was ordained in Derry, and the succeeding minister, the Rev. Matthew Clerk, left his charge in Kilrea. His successor, the Rev. Thos. Thompson, was ordained by the Presbytery of Tyrone. Other ministers were brought from the mother country as vacancies occurred indeed, the original settlers were largely augmented from time to time by friends and acquaintances from Antrim and Derry. The Rev. J. MacGregor was amongst the defenders of Derry in 1688, and had assisted in firing the large gun from the Cathedral tower that announced the approach of the relieving ships. He was afterwards minister at Aghadowey. His remains were borne to the grave in that new Derry beyond the seas by those who had been his fellow-defenders in the memorable siege of the city by the Foyle. Colonel William Gregg was the son of Captain John Gregg, who emigrated from Antrim with his father, Captain James Gregg. At the commencement of the Revolution, Colonel Gregg commanded a company of minutemen in Londonderry (U.S.), and was most active during the campaign, commanding the vanguard at the battle of Bennington, and received at its close the thanks of the Legislature. Another Gregg was Alexander, who made several privateering voyages during the Revolution.

The Rev. Joseph MacKeen, D.D., of Londonderry (U.S.), was the grandson of James MacKeen, one of the original settlers, who was born in Ballymoney, County Antrim, 13 April, 1715. At the Revolution he laid aside his studies and enlisted as a private soldier under General Sullivan, being present at the retreat from Rhode Island.

The Hon. Matthew Thornton was born in Ireland, and, whilst a child, left for the colonies with his father, where he studied medicine, acting as a surgeon in the expedition against Cape Breton in 1745. He held the rank of colonel in the Revolution, and was also a Justice of the Peace. Subsequently he was appointed a delegate to Congress, and signed the Declaration of Independence. He was a judge of the Superior Court, and then raised to the Chief-Justiceship of the Court of Common Pleas.

John Bell was born near Coleraine in 1678, and left for the colonies in 1719. His son Samuel, with his two sons and two brothers-in-law, were taken prisoners during the war by Burgoyne's army, and his house burned.

Captain Arthur Nesmith was at the battle of Bunker's Hill, and afterwards commanded a company in the Canada service. His father, James Nesmith, emigrated from the Valley of the Bann in 1718.

The above are but a few of the many incidents connected with the names of Ulstermen who settled at an early period in the colonies. It is quite evident that these pioneer colonists left on religious grounds, preferring to risk their lives in a new country, to exercise in the fullest extent their religious opinions, rather than live in Ireland, where their own sect was not the dominant party. The subsequent settlers left Ulster rather upon agrarian grounds, but their exodus must be dealt with in a subsequent article.

Reproduced from the Ulster Journal of Archaeology Vol. 2, No.1, Series 2, 1895.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Ulster Settlers in America (pt2)

Some of the early colonists – their services in the American Revolution.

by M. I. MURPHY, Bay City, Michigan, U.S.

With note by Francis Joseph Bigger, Editor.


The first marshal of the district of Pennsylvania was Colonel Francis Nichols, who was born at Crieve Hill, Enniskillen, in 1737. He was an officer in the army of the Revolution, and by his gallant conduct rose from the rank of a non-com- missioned officer to that of colonel. He was afterwards elected to Congress.

The three brothers Mease left a record of which all Irishmen may well be proud. Matthew Mease, the eldest, left his native place, Strabane, in the County Tyrone, and landed, a young lad, in Philadelphia, where his uncle, John Mease, also of Strabane, was an eminent and wealthy merchant. Matthew received a commercial training; but at the commencement of hostilities entered the American navy, and became the purser of the Bonhomme Richard. In the desperate encounter between that vessel and H.M.S. Serapis, Matthew Mease, not relishing the thought of being a spectator, obtained from Paul Jones the command of the quarter-deck guns, which were served under him until he was carried below to the cockpit, dangerously wounded on the head by a splinter. He died in Philadelphia in 1787.

James Mease, the second brother, was born in Strabane, and came to America before the Revolution. He was one of those who organised the First Troop of Philadelphia Cavalry, and served in it with gallantry during the war. He was eminent as a merchant, and subscribed £5,000 for supplies to the American army during the winter of 1780.

John Mease, the third son, also born in Strabane, emigrated to America in 1754, and on the ever memorable Christmas night in 1776 was one of twenty-four of the Philadelphia City Troop who crossed the Delaware with the troops under Washington, when the Hessians were captured. John Mease was one of five detailed to keep alive the fires along the line of the American encampment at Trenton, to deceive the British, whilst the Americans marched by a private route to attack their rear guard at Princeton. He served with his troop till the end of the war, suffering great loss of property in his warehouses and dwelling. He subscribed £4,000 to supply the army in 1780.

William Whipple, one of the subscribers to the Declaration of Independence, was born of Ulster parents in Kittery, Maine. In 1777, when Burgoyne was advancing on the colonies by way of Lake Champlain, the State of New Hampshire raised two brigades of militia, one of which was given to Whipple and the other to John Stark. Whipple served with his men under Gates at the battles of Stillwater and Saratoga, doing good service in both engagements, and establishing his own reputation, as well as that of his men, for bravery and determination. In 1778 he co-operated with General Sullivan in the siege of Newport. He was a judge of the Supreme Court of the State of Maine at the time of his death, 28 November, 1785.

In Colonel Enoch Poor we have another famous son of Ulster settlers in New Hampshire. He served as a colonel in the Continental army in the expedition to Canada in 1776, and afterwards at Crown Point. He was appointed Brigadier-General in 1777, and took part in the battles which resulted in the surrender of Burgoyne. He soon afterwards joined Washington in Pennsylvania; was with his command at Valley Forge, and participated in the pursuit of the British on their retreat from Philadelphia, and in the battle of Monmouth which followed. He died in 1780, at Hackensack, N.J., his funeral being attended by Washington and Lafayette.

John Dunlap was born in Strabane, County Tyrone, in 1746. He emigrated at an early age to America, settling in Philadelphia, where, like Franklin, he became a printer, and, by his industry and enterprise, one of the most extensive in the country. In November, 1771, he issued in Philadelphia the first number of The Pennsylvania Packet, or General Advertiser. From September, 1777, to July, 1778, while the British were in possession of Philadelphia, this newspaper was printed in Lancaster. From 1784 it was published daily, being the first daily paper published in the United States. John Dunlap was printer to the Convention which met in Philadelphia before the Revolution, and also to Congress, and was the first person to print and publish The Declaration of Independence. Thus an Irishman, Charles Thompson, Secretary of Congress, first prepared this immortal document for publication from the rough draft of Jefferson; the son of an Irishman, Colonel Nixon, had the honour of first publicly announcing and reading it from the State House; a third Irishman, John Dunlap, first printed and published it, while hosts of Irishmen contributed their property and their lives to sustain it. John Dunlap was one of the original members of the First Troop of Philadelphia Cavalry, and served as Cornet in it during the war. He amassed an immense fortune during his lifetime, and, besides owning considerable property in Philadelphia, he bought 98,000 acres of land from the State of Virginia, as well as large tracts in Kentucky. He died on the 27 November, 1812, in his 66th year, and was buried with military honours. John Dunlap was among the large subscribers to the fund for the purchase of supplies for the army in 1780, giving £4,000 for that purpose.

Major-General John Stark was born in Londonderry, New Hampshire, 28 August, 1728. His parents emigrated from Ulster in 1719 with the Derry colonists, and in this new settlement John was born. In 1736 the family removed to Derryfield, now Manchester, where John remained until he was twenty-four years old. He served with distinction in the French and Indian wars, and when the news of the battle of Lexington reached him, he immediately set out for the field of action. Receiving the commission of a colonel in Boston, he availed himself of the enthusiasm of the day and his own popularity, and in two hours had enlisted over eight hundred men. He fought at the head of his men in the battle of Bunker Hill, and later on took part in the fight at Three Rivers, in Canada. In the engagement at Trenton, Stark shared largely in the victory, and in the battle of Princeton stood beside Washington and exhibited all that daring and intrepidity so peculiar to himself, and which never failed to inspire his men with confidence and courage. The following March he resigned his commission, and retired to his farm. Insulted by Congress, triumphed over by younger and less able men, justice and self-respect impelled him to this course. But his patriotism still remained burning with undiminished vigour, and when Burgoyne came marching down from Canada all was forgotten, and he took the most active measures in recruiting troops. Rallying around their favourite leader, the militia came pouring in from all directions, and at the head of 1,400 men he marched against the British, and came up with them at Bennington. Here Stark reached the climax of his fame by a victory achieved over the British. He shared in the honours of Saratoga, and assisted in the council which arranged the surrender of Burgoyne. He also served in Rhode Island in 1778, and in New Jersey in 1780. In 1781 he was made Commander-in-Chief of the Northern Department of the American army, and made Saratoga his headquarters. The two following years, though engaged in no battles, his duties were complicated and onerous; nor did he relinquish his valuable services until his country was an independent nation. Stark was on the court-martial that tried Major Andre. He died in 1822, at the age of 94 years.

General William Maxwell was a native of the North of Ireland. He left home for America a few years previous to the Revolution, and settled in New Jersey, where, on receiving his commission as colonel from Congress in 1776, he raised a battalion of infantry. He was with General Schuyler on Lake Champlain, and in October, 1776, was appointed a Brigadier-General in the Continental army. After the battle of Trenton he was engaged in harassing the enemy, and during the winter and spring of 1777 was stationed near the enemy's lines at Elizabethtown. In the autumn of that year he was engaged in the battles of Germantown and Brandywine, and during the succeeding winter he was with the army at Valley Forge. He was active in pursuit of Clinton across New Jersey the following summer, and sustained an important part in the battle of Monmouth. After that engagement he was left with Morgan to annoy the British rear in their retreat towards Sandy Hook. In June, 1780, he was engaged in the action at Springfield, and in August of that year he resigned. He was highly esteemed by Washington, who, on transmitting his resignation to Congress, said "I believe him to be an honest man, a warm friend to his country, and firmly attached to its interests." He died in November, 1798.

Hugh Maxwell, also a distinguished Revolutionary soldier, though no relation to the foregoing, was said to have been born in the County Armagh on the 27 April, 1733. He was brought to America by his father while yet an infant, and served his military apprenticeship in the old French war, on one occasion being taken prisoner at Fort Edward, from whence he escaped in a daring manner. He entered the Continental service at the opening of the campaign, and was a lieutenant at the battle of Bunker Hill, where he was wounded, he was commissioned a major in July, 1777, serving in the battle of Saratoga, and a lieutenant-colonel at the close of the war. He died at sea, on a return voyage from the West Indies, on 14 October, 1799, aged 66 years. Thompson Maxwell, a younger brother, born at New Bedford, Massachusetts, also won distinction as a soldier in the Revolution.

Colonel James Patton, who came from County Donegal in 1750, obtained a grant of 120,000 acres of land from the Governor of Virginia, upon which a large number of his countrymen settled. He left a splendid military record as a soldier.

Richard MacAllister was born in the North of Ireland in 1725, and emigrated to America at an early age. In 1764 he founded MacAllister's Town, now Hanover, Pennsylvania. In 1776, MacAllister was colonel of the 2nd Battalion York County (Pennsylvania) Volunteers, which marched to New Jersey, and was embodied in the "Flying Camp" ordered to be raised by Congress on the 3 June of that year. This 2nd Battalion was commanded mostly by Irishmen. David Kennedy was lieutenant-colonel, John Clark was major, and there were Captains MacCarter and MacCloskey, all of these being natives of Ulster, or of that stock. Captain MacCarter, a mere youth of twenty-two, was killed at Fort Washington while fighting gallantly.

Lieutenant-Colonel David Grier was born in the County Donegal, near the borders of Derry, on the 27 June, 1741. He settled in York, Pennsylvania, when quite young, studied law, and was called to the Bar in 1771. He was commissioned a captain of a Pennsylvania company by Congress on 9 January, 1776, and finally commissioned Lieutenant-Colonel of the 7th Battalion of Pennsylvania, receiving a severe wound at the battle of Paoli in the fall of 1777, which barred him from further activity in the field; but, returning to York, he was engaged in the War Office. At the close of the war he resumed his legal practice, and ranked as one of the ablest lawyers of Pennsylvania. Grier died in 1790, of consumption, the result of his wound.

General John Clark, the son of an Antrim weaver, was born in Lancaster County, Pa., in 1751. At the first sound of war he laid aside his books and donned his sword, proving himself a man of extraordinary ability, attracting the attention of Congress; was commissioned a major by that body, and appointed an aide to General Greene. In 1776 he marched his detachment to join Washington on the Delaware, and, though surrounded by the British on all sides, brought his men through in safety, and joined his commander at Trenton. By this daring act he gained the confidence of Washington to such a degree that he was afterwards employed by him in duties for which no one would be selected who was not as true as steel. Disabled by a dangerous wound, he became ineligible for field service, and in January, 1779, he was appointed Auditor of Accounts for the army, acting in this capacity until the following November, when his failing health, much to his reluctance, forced him to quit the service. He died quite suddenly, on the 27 December, 1819, at York, Pa., and was buried in the Episcopalian graveyard, without a headstone to mark his last resting-place.

The list of Ulstermen who, by the force of arms, helped to make a foundation for the Republic seems almost inexhaustible. All professions, trades, and creeds are represented amongst them. The spirit which to-day animates that wonderful nation sprang into being during that epoch. Side by side with the clergyman, the doctor, and the lawyer, we find the rugged frontiersman, the farmer, and the artisan. The same impulse that thrilled the hearts of John M'Clure and his "Chester Creek Rocky Irish," a set of sturdy North Carolina farmers, swelled in the breasts of such characters as the Rev. James Caldwell, whose determined patriotism won for him the title of "The Fighting Parson;" Rev. John Craighead, the fighting clergyman of Chambersburg; Doctors Sheill and Cochran; William MacCree, of North Carolina; Andrew Pickens; William Gregg, who commanded the vanguard at Bennington; Colonel John White, of Georgia, and a host of others too numerous to mention.

It was not alone in the battle-field that the men of Ulster played a prominent part. On searching the annals, we find the men who stayed at home in the cities lending important aid to the Revolutionists, and one of the first who deserves to be mentioned in this respect is Blair MacClenachan, a native of Donegal, some say Antrim. He was a merchant of Philadelphia, and, when the war broke out, engaged in privateering, in which he was successful, accumulating great wealth. MacClenachan was an ardent patriot, and co-operated most liberally in all the patriotic exertions and schemes of Robert Morris and his compatriots in urging on, sustaining, and establishing the cause of American Independence. When the army of Washington was starving at Valley Forge in the winter of 1780, MacClenachan subscribed £10,000 for their relief. One of his daughters married General Walter Stewart.

Sharp Delaney, a native of the County Monaghan, was a druggist in Philadelphia at the  commencement of the Revolution. He subscribed £5,000 to the army relief fund in 1780. After the war he became a member of the Legislature, and George Washington appointed him Collector of the Port of Philadelphia, which office he held until his death.

John Donaldson, the son of Hugh Donaldson, of Dungannon, was a merchant of Philadelphia, and subscribed £2,000 for the relief of Washington's army in 1780.

John Murray, born in Belfast in 1731, was a member of the firm of Bunner, Murray & Co., dry goods merchants of Philadelphia, which subscribed £6,000 to supply the army at Valley Forge.

James Caldwell, a native of the North of Ireland, and a merchant of Philadelphia, subscribed £2,000 for the same purpose.

George Campbell was a native of Stewartstown, in the County Tyrone, where the family had long been settled. He was admitted to practice at the Armagh assizes in 1751, and pursued the profession of law until 1765, when he emigrated to Philadelphia, and spent the remainder of his life in that city. Campbell subscribed £2,000 to buy provisions for the army in 1780.

Thomas Barclay, another Ulsterman, gave £5,000 in 1780. Some years later he was appointed Consul-General from the United States to the Barbary Powers, but died at Lisbon on his way to the North of Africa. Richard Lalor Shiel was connected with the Barclay family.

Samuel Caldwell, a native of the North of Ireland, was an eminent shipping merchant of Philadelphia, and a partner of James Mease, mentioned earlier in this article, constituting with him in the firm of Mease & Caldwell. When the army fund of the Bank of Pennsylvania was started in 1780, Caldwell was a subscriber to the amount of £1,000.

The name of John Maxwell Nesbitt stands eminent amongst those of the American patriots. He was a native of the North of Ireland. During the war, he conducted one of the most extensive mercantile houses in Philadelphia, under the name of J. M. Nesbitt & Co., and afterwards, in conjunction with David Hayfield Conyngham, a native of Donegal, under the name of Conyngham & Nesbitt. He embarked his all in the cause of Independence, and, with a devoted patriotism not exceeded in history, staked his life, his fortune, and, what he valued more than both, his honour on the success of America. His benefactions to her cause were most liberal. When the Bank of Pennsylvania was formed for the purpose of supplying the Continental army with provisions, J. M. Nesbitt & Co. subscribed £5,000; but before that event Nesbitt had rendered most essential service to the army. This is related in Hazard's Register of Pennsylvania, vol. vi. page 28 – "So great was the distress of the American army in 1780, that General Washington was apprehensive that they would not be able to keep the field. The army, however, was saved by a combination of providential circumstances. General Washington having written to Richard Peters, giving him full information of the state of the army, that gentleman immediately called on J. M. Nesbitt, and explained to him the distress of the army, and the wishes of the General." Nesbitt replied "that a certain Mr. Howe, of Trenton, had offered to put up pork for him if he could be paid in hard money. He contracted with Howe to put up all the pork and beef he could obtain, for which he should be paid in gold." Howe performed his engagement, and J. M. Nesbitt & Co. paid him accordingly. Nesbitt told Peters he might have this beef and pork, and, in addition, a valuable prize just arrived to Bunner, Murray & Co. laden with provisions. Peters was delighted with the result of application; the provisions were sent, and the army was saved. Had the army disbanded at Valley Forge, it might have meant the failure of the American cause, therefore let the credit of this timely aid be given to Ireland, and to Ulster.

To be continued...

Reproduced from the Ulster Journal of Archaeology Vol. 2, No.1, Series 2, 1895.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Ulster Settlers in America

Some of the early colonists – their services in the American Revolution.

by M. I. MURPHY, Bay City, Michigan, U.S.

With note by Francis Joseph Bigger, Editor.

TO render a really good account of the important part taken by the colonists from the North of Ireland in the American War of Independence, would require not one book, but an entire series of them.

When William and Mary, in the first year of their reign, were called upon by both Houses of Parliament to discourage the manufactures of Ireland which competed with those of England, the restrictions which were then placed upon Irish industries were the means, according to Lord Fitzwilliam, of driving fully 100,000 emigrants from the country. Some of these people went to Germany, more went to Spain, but the vast majority emigrated to that new world across the water, contented to face the rigours of a climate to which they were totally unused, and to risk their lives in contact with the Red Indians, who had inhabited the wilds for centuries, and who looked upon the incursions of the white man into their territory as the invasion of an enemy.

Most of the wealth of the colonists came with the Ulstermen, who settled in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and a few in New York State, in little colonies which were often named after the place of their nativity. Thus we find a Belfast, Derry, Londonderry, South Londonderry, Antrim, Ballymoney, and similar names among those given to the various settlements founded by these people.

One of the earliest attempts at founding an Irish settlement in America was in the year 1636, when the Eagle Wing, with 140 passengers, left Carrickfergus to found a colony on the Merrimack River, "considering how precious a thing the public liberty of pure ordinances was." The Eagle Wing was fated never to carry out its mission, for, meeting heavy weather, the emigrants were obliged to turn back and give up their journey. Towards the end of Charles II's reign, Rev. Francis Mackenzie, one of the founders of Presbyterianism, left Uster for the colonies, and he was soon followed by Rev. William Tail, of Ballindruit, and by many others, both clergy and laity.

The first important settlement of Irishmen in the colonies was made in 1699, when James Logan, of Lurgan, with others from that place, accompanied William Penn to his new plantation, and there received a hearty welcome. Logan became one of the most important men of the colony, which he governed for two years after the death of Penn, and whose Capitol he enriched by bequeathing to it the most considerable library that had been opened up to its inhabitants up till that time. He was, for that age, a most tolerant man – even more so than his friend Penn, who wrote him as follows from London in 1708:– "There is a complaint against your government that you suffer public mass in a scandalous manner. Pray, send me the matter of fact, for ill use is made of it against us here."

The warmth of the reception which greeted Logan and his companions induced many emigrants, chiefly from the North of Ireland, to follow them to Pennsylvania, in the interior of which State we find townships called Derry, Tyrone, Coleraine, and Donegal as early as the year 1730.

From this time on, the influx of Irish immigrants was considerable. The arrivals at the port of Philadelphia for the year ending December, 1729, are set down as follows:–
English and Welsh ... ... ... 267
Scotch ... ... ... ... ... ... ...   43
Palatines (Germans) ... ...  343
Irish ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 5,655
Or a proportion of nearly ten Irish emigrants to one from all the other European countries. This statement will be found in Holmes' Anna's of America, vol. i. This influx, though not in as great disproportion to other arrivals, recurred annually at the same port till the end of the century.

In 1719 we find a settlement made by sixteen families from Derry on the banks of the Merrimack River. Ever mindful of the Motherland, they named the settlement after their native place, and it bears that name to-day. (See Note by Editor.)

Boston, too, early afforded a haven for Irish exiles. We find that in 1737 a number of "gentlemen of the Irish Nation" residing in that city adopted the following programme of association:– "Whereas, several gentlemen, merchants and others, of the Irish Nation, residing in Boston, in New England, from an affectionate and compassionate concern for their countrymen in these parts who maybe reduced by sickness, shipwreck, old age, and other infirmities and unforeseen accidents, have thought fit to form themselves into a Charitable Society for the relief of such of their poor, indigent countrymen, without any design of not contributing towards the provision of the town poor in general, as usual," &c.

The names of the twenty-six original members of the society are as follows:– Robert Duncan, Andrew Knox, Nathaniel Walsh, Joseph St. Lawrence, Daniel MacFall, William Drummond, William Freeland, Daniel Gibbs, John Noble, Adam Boyd, William Stewart, Daniel Neal, James Maynes, Samuel Moor, Philip Mortimer, James Egart, George Glen, Peter Pelham, John Little, Archibald Thomas, Edward Alderchurch, James Clark, John Clark, Thomas Bennett, and Patrick Walker. In 1737, William Hall was president; in 1740, Robt. Achmuty; in 1743, Neil MacIntyre; in 1757, Samuel Elliott; in 1784, Moses Black; in 1791, Thomas English; in the same year General Simon Elliott, jun., was elected; in 1797, Andrew Dunlap; and in 1810, Captain James MacGee.

Londonderry, on the Merrimack, grew to be one of the most prosperous of the New England settlements, and produced some of the greatest men of the revolutionary period. It sent colonies out to found new settlements. In Barstow's New Hampshire, page 130, we find the following significant remark:– "In process of time the descendants of the Derry settlers spread over Windham, Chester, Litchfield, Manchester, Bedford, Goffstown, New Boston, Antrim, Peterborough, and Ackworth, in New Hampshire, and Barnet, in Vermont. They were also the first settlers of many towns in Massachusetts, Maine, and Nova Scotia. They are now, to the number of 20,000, scattered over all the States of the Union." With this statement of Barstow we may add that Cherry Valley, celebrated in American history for the terrible massacre of its inhabitants by the Indians in 1778, was also in part settled by people from Derry.

The Irish settlement of Belfast, in Maine, was established in 1723 by a small number of emigrants who came mainly from the Irish city of the same name. Among them, however, was a Limerick schoolmaster named Sullivan, who, on the outward voyage, courted a female fellow-passenger, a native of Cork, whom he married shortly after his arrival in America. Later on they settled in New Hampshire, and lived to see two of their sons, John and James, at the highest pinnacle of civil and military authority. John Sullivan, afterwards Brigadier-General John Sullivan, made the battle of Bunker Hill possible by capturing the fort of William and Mary, near Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and carrying off one hundred barrels of gunpowder, fifteen light cannon, and the entire store of small arms, all of which were used in the fight at Bunker Hill. It was he who was the officer of the day in charge of the Continental Army on that memorable St. Patrick's Day, 1776, when the British left Boston never more to return.

It would be an utter impossibility to keep track of the emigrants from Ulster who settled in New England, or, for that matter, in any other section; they seemed to scatter in all directions. In the old burial-place in Worcester were to be seen, a few years ago, and they may be there even yet, two old tombstones. One of them bore the name of John Young, who died in 1730, aged 107 years; he was a native of Derry. The other was inscribed with the name of David Young, a native of Donegal, who died in 1776, aged 94 years.

In I761, Irish emigrants, to the number of about two hundred, settled in Nova Scotia. The town of Londonderry and the county of Dublin were in all probability named by them.

The coming of the Rev. George Berkeley, Dean of Derry, to America, for the purpose of founding a college for the conversion of the noble red man, in 1729, is one of the most interesting episodes in the early annals of our Irish settlers. In January of that year he, with his faculty, arrived at Newport, R.I., after a long and stormy voyage. Here, while waiting for the money voted him by Parliament, it was that he wrote his Minute Philosopher: here his son was born; and here it was that he composed those grand lines, so prophetic in theme and poetical in conception:–
"Westward the course of Empire takes its way,–
 The four first acts already past;
 The fifth shall close the drama with the day,–
 Time's noblest offspring is the last."

From Baldwin's Annuals of Yale College we learn that, when about to return to Ireland in 1732, he bequeathed his farm to Yale College, then in its infancy, and also presented it with his library, the finest collection of books that ever came at one time into America.

It would not do to pass over the period from the early settlements to the great struggle for independence without a few words on the campaign against Canada in 1755. It was in this war the men who afterwards led the Continentals to victory were trained in military science, and received the experience which in later days proved invaluable. Some of the prominent figures in this campaign were Ulstermen and their sons.

The first blow against the French was inflicted at Crown Point, on Lake George. Against this fort Captain MacGuinness, a son of one of the Derry settlers, marched with 200 men, surprised the garrison, and, after a sharp battle, put them to flight. In the very moment of victory the gallant MacGuinness fell, mortally wounded. The two other expeditions which were sent out at the same time utterly failed. That sent against Louisburg was cut to pieces in Indian ambuscades. The other, sent against Fort Du Quesne, shared the same fate; but it is worthy of note that, in covering the retreat of the soldiers in this event, George Washington, then young, first distinguished himself in arms.

In 1758 and 1759 fortune again rested on the banners of the British army. Louisburg, Fort Du Quesne, Quebec, Ticonderoga, and Niagara were all carried by British arms, and in 1760 the latter were complete masters of Canada.

Among the officers who commanded under Wolfe at Quebec was an Irish gentleman, Richard Montgomery, then in his twenty-first year. He held the commission of colonel. Montgomery was a native of Raphoe, in the County Donegal, and the son of Thomas Montgomery, at one time M.P. for Lifford. In this same Canadian war we find John Stark, of Londonderry, New Hampshire, and John Sullivan, already mentioned, undergoing that apprenticeship which afterwards served them so well.

The most glorious day in American history is perhaps the 19 April, 1775, when, near the village of Concord, Massachusetts,
"By that rude bridge that arched the flood,
 Their flag to April's breeze unfurled,
 Here once the embattled farmers stood
 And fired the shot heard round the world." – EMERSON.

The British regulars had fired upon and dispersed the minutemen at Lexington, and, hearing of military stores being concealed at Concord, marched to capture them. They were met at the little bridge by the Concord farmers, who had previous warning of their coming. As the regulars beheld the farmers drawn up to oppose their passage, they fired upon them. Several of the men dropped – some dead, some badly wounded. Major Buttrick, of the minutemen, then gave the order to fire, and two of the regulars dropped dead. The fire of the farmers then became so rapid that the soldiery were forced to retreat. On their way through the town they set fire to the Court-House and other buildings, and never halted till they reached Boston, thirty miles away.

Among those who stood at the bridge and shared in firing that initial volley for independence was gallant Hugh Cargill, born in Ballyshannon in 1739, and who emigrated to America just one year before the battle of Concord. He, together with a Concord citizen named Bullock, saved the records of the town from the soldiery. Cargill, on his arrival in America, was entirely destitute; but, by industry and careful economy, was a rich man at the time of his death, on 12 January, 1799.

During that long and terrible struggle the sons and grandsons of Ulster were ever to the front. The noble young Montgomery, who had returned to settle in America in 1772, laid down his life at Quebec. He was one of the first generals to fall on the American side, and this, combined with his youth and sympathy for his young wife, has endeared him to the American people of all races and creeds. Andrew Lewis is another prominent figure in Revolutionary annals. He was born in County Donegal. His father, John Lewis, had a quarrel with his landlord, in which the latter was killed, and the Lewis family fled, first to France and then to America. They landed in Virginia, where they founded the town of Staunton. Andrew and his four brothers distinguished themselves in aiding the Revolution, and it looked at one time as if Andrew would become Commander-in-Chief of the American troops, and take the position in American history which Washington so admirably filled. His brother, William Lewis, also born in Donegal, won distinction in the campaign. He was in command of a regiment of Virginians, in which two of his sons enlisted; one of them was afterwards killed, and the other maimed for life.

Daniel Morgan, the renowned hero of the Cowpens, was born in Ballinascreen, County Derry, Ireland. His victory over General Tarleton in this battle is one of the greatest episodes in the history of the war. With five hundred Irish-American soldiers he defeated a thousand English troops, and each one of his men brought home a prisoner.

General Henry Knox was the son of a Donegal Irishman, and was born in Boston. He was perhaps the most illustrious soldier of the Revolution next to Washington. Knox was the creator and organiser of Washington's artillery, and fought in every battle under Washington. He fought at Bunker Hill, and, when the American Government took shape, was appointed by President Washington' Secretary of War and of the Navy.

Anthony Wayne was born of North of Ireland parents in Pennsylvania. At the beginning of the war he was made colonel of one of the Pennsylvania Irish regiments. In 1777, Congress made him a general. When the British retreated from Philadelphia, and Washington desired to send a body of troops in pursuit, he picked out the corps commanded by Wayne, Morgan, Sullivan, and Maxwell – two Irishmen and two sons of Irishmen – for the work. At Brandy wine and Germantown, Wayne did good service. In the latter battle the right was commanded by two Irish-Americans – Wayne and Sullivan. Wayne carried his part on the field, his horse being shot under him in the charge. Wayne and Ramsey, the latter also of Ulster parentage, saved the army from Lee's disaster at Monmouth, and the history of that battle was written by the artillery of Knox, the bayonets of Wayne, and the rifles of Morgan all Irish. At Yorktown nothing could withstand the charge of Wayne. By the quickness and impetuosity of his movements he carried everything before him.

The greatest achievement of Wayne, however, and the one by which he will ever be best known to historical students, was the storming and capturing of Stony Point, on the Hudson.

This fortress had been considered almost impregnable, and an attempt at assault synonymous with insanity. Washington deemed the capture of the fort a matter of the utmost importance, and, knowing the dare-devil spirit of Wayne, selected him from among all his generals to undertake the expedition. Wayne proposed to take Stony Point by storm. "Can you do it?" asked Washington. "I'll storm hell, if you'll only plan it, General," answered Wayne. On the evening of the 15th of July, 1779, Wayne advanced to within half-a-mile of the garrison with a few hundred men whom he had led secretly through the mountains from Fort Montgomery. Stealthily they approached the fort at midnight, arranged in two columns. The greater part of the little force crossed a narrow causeway over a morass in the rere, and with unloaded muskets and fixed bayonets marched to the assault. A forlorn hope of picked men led the way to make openings in the abatis at the two points of attack. The alarmed sentinels fired their muskets, and the aroused garrison flew to arms. The stillness of night was suddenly broken by the rattle of musketry and the roar of cannon from the ramparts. In the face of a terrible storm of bullets and grape-shot the assailants forced their way into the fort at the point of the bayonet. Wayne, who led one of the divisions in person, had been brought to his knees by a stunning blow of a musket ball on the head. Believing himself to be mortally wounded, he exclaimed – "March on! Carry me into the fort, for I will die at the head of my column." He soon recovered, and at two o'clock in the morning he wrote to Washington – "The fort and garrison, with General Johnston, are ours. Our officers and men behaved like men determined to be free." In this assault the Americans lost about one hundred men – fifteen killed and the remainder wounded. The British had sixty-three killed; and General Johnston, the commander, with five hundred and forty-three officers and men, were made prisoners. The British ships, lying in the river near by, slipped their anchors and moved down the stream.

This exploit of Wayne's was called by General Charles Lee not only the most brilliant assault in the whole war on either side, but one of the most brilliant in history. The assault of Schiveidnitz by Marshal Laudohn he considered inferior to it.

A brother-in-law of General Wayne, Colonel John Stewart, a native of Ulster, commanded one of the main divisions in the charge at Stony Point. He distinguished himself by his gallantry to such an extent that Congress awarded him a gold medal.

Another of the same name, General Walter Stewart, is a prominent figure in the annals of that period. He was born in Derry, and came to the colonies while a mere boy. At the age of twenty-one he was appointed a colonel of infantry, to the great annoyance of many native American officers of greater age and longer standing. Stewart was called the "Boy Colonel." Later on his conduct justified the choice, and he rose to the rank of Brigadier-General. He married the daughter of Blair MacClenachan, of Philadelphia. General Stewart was remarkable for his beauty and his excellent manners.

Brigadier-General Thos. Robinson, who emigrated from the North of Ireland just previous to the Revolutionary war and settled in Philadelphia, was also a brother-in-law of General Wayne. General Robinson was one of the first American officers who visited England after the war, and, appearing in a box at Drury Lane Theatre in his full uniform, was received by the audience with loud cheers. A few moments later, another officer entered an adjoining box in the British uniform, and was greeted by a storm of hisses. That officer was the traitor, Benedict Arnold.

One of the most fiery and chivalrous of the American officers, and one whose patriotism was equal to his courage, was General William Thompson, a brother of the Secretary of the Continental Congress. Born in Maghera, County Derry, in the year 1727, he settled in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, on his arrival there. Thompson accompanied Montgomery on the Quebec expedition, was promoted to the rank of General, and commanded the American forces at the battle of Three Rivers, or Trois Rivieres, as it was then called, in Canada, June, 1776. Wayne and Irvine served under him in this engagement, and Generals Thompson and Irvine were taken prisoners. They were afterwards exchanged, and served during the remainder of the war. General Thompson died shortly after its conclusion.

William Irvine, a Brigadier-General in the Continental army, was born in Enniskillen on the 3 November, 1741. He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, studied medicine, was for some time a surgeon in the English Navy, and in 1763 removed to Carlisle, Pennsylvania, where he settled down to the practice of medicine. He was a member of the Convention which met at Philadelphia in 1774, and recommended a general Congress; he was representative for Carlisle in the Continental Congress till 1776. In that year, receiving authority from Congress, he raised and equipped the Sixth Pennsylvania Regiment; was taken prisoner at Three Rivers, Canada, and exchanged in 1778. After minor commands, he was, in the autumn of 1781, entrusted with the defence of the north-western frontier, which was threatened by the British and Indians; a charge not only requiring courage and firmness, but great prudence and judgment, and which was executed in a manner which fully justified the choice of General Washington. In 1785 he was appointed to examine the public lands of Pennsylvania, and suggested the purchase of the "Triangle," which gave to that State an outlet on Lake Erie. He was a member of the old Congress of 1786-8, of the Convention that revised the constitution of Pennsylvania, and of Congress, 1793-5. He died in Philadelphia, 29 July, 1804, aged 62 years. Two of his brothers and three of his sons also served in the army of the United States.

To be continued...

Reproduced from the Ulster Journal of Archaeology Vol. 2, No.1, Series 2, 1895.

Thursday, 5 February 2015

Belfast Sixty Years Ago: Recollections of a Septuagenarian (in 1896)

By Rev. NARCISSUS G. BATT, A.M., Rathmullan, Co. Donegal.

DONEGALL PLACE, now full of shops, was, half-a-century ago, a quiet street of private houses. Some of them had gardens and trees in the rere, and there was quite a grove at the corner of the square where Robinson & Cleaver now have their establishment.

The residents were either merchants of the town, or country gentlemen who came to Belfast for society in winter, as fashionable people now go to London for the season. At the beginning of this century the country had hardly settled after the Insurrection, and distant journeys were tedious and costly. My father, Samuel Hyde Batt, has been a week in coming from England, and my Uncle William, when in Trinity College, used to ride to Dublin, with a groom behind carrying his luggage. There was good local society, and people were hospitable. My mother was often taken in a sedan chair to spend the evening at some neighbour's, and we gave parties in return; when, after dinner, I, as a child, was admitted to the drawing-room to be petted by the ladies, and allowed to stand by their whist-tables. There were four members of our family domiciled in Donegall Place. My father, Samuel Hyde Batt, lived at No. 6 (now Cuming Bros.'), where I was born. His brother, Narcissus,1 lived where the Royal Hotel is now till his new house at Purdysburn was finished.2 Thomas, afterwards of Rathmullan, lived at No. 4 (now Hogg's). Thomas Greg Batt, son of Narcissus, was a director in the Belfast Bank. The Rev. William Batt lived near Fountain Street, where he died, long after the rest were gone. Our house had belonged to my grandfather, Captain Batt, who came from County Wexford in 1760. The other inhabitants were Hugh Montgomery, of Benvarden and Ballydrain (a director in the Northern Bank); James Orr, of the Northern Bank; William Clark, J.P., father of the late director of the Belfast Bank; James Douglas, of Mount Ida; Sir Stephen May, Mrs. May, John and William Sinclaire, Henry J. Tomb; Captain Elsemere, R.N.; Henry William Shaw; James Crawford, wine merchant; John S. Ferguson and Thomas F. Ferguson, linen merchants; and Dr. John MacDonnell, one of the MacDonnells of the Glens of Antrim, whose bust is in the Museum. He was a great friend of my mother's. His library, and the skeleton in it, inspired me with awe. The Nelson Club was next door to us before it removed to Donegall Square. Thomas L. Stewart resided in "the Castle," at the corner of Castle Place – a plain mansion with a walled garden in front, now removed. Though our premises behind reached to Callender Street, there was not much playground for me, so I used to take the air in the dull walk round the Linen Hall, or in Maclean's fields, then rural enough. The old paper-mill near the Gas Works in Cromac Street, with its dam and little waterfall, was a pleasant object for a walk, the Owen-na-varra, or Blackstaff, being then comparatively unpolluted. On these walks I used often to see some young men who subsequently made a figure in the world, as Hugh M'Calmont Cairns, Geo. A. C. May, subsequently Chief-Justice, and Thomas O'Hagan, afterwards Lord Chancellor. My generation of Belfast boys was not so distinguished, though Canon Tomb and Rev. Alexander Orr, both from our street, were respected clergymen. Some of my early companions were unfortunate: three boys, of good family, while yet young, destroyed themselves. I was too delicate for school, and only attended the Academy in Donegall Street for a short time. It was a dingy edifice at the corner of Academy Street, but the masters were of the clever Bryce family. One of my tutors was James Rea, a brother of the famous attorney, John Rea, a most amiable man, who died young. Our house was rather gloomy, but the front windows commanded a good view of whatever was going on. An old negro organ-grinder, with his dancing dogs, interested me. Sometimes a party of Orangemen from Sandy Row encountered the Hercules Street butchers, and stones flew about. Dr. Tennent's mansion was the only large house in Hercules Street. Lord Arthur Chichester and Emerson Tennent, son-in-law to Doctor Tennent, were once chaired through Donegall Place, and I was sorry that the handsome chairs, with their gilt canopies and rose-coloured silk hangings, were torn in pieces by the crowd after the procession. Beards were uncommon 60 years ago, and the mob showed their disapproval of Lord Belfast's venturing to wear one, calling him "Beardie" when he was a candidate for Parliament in 1837. The cholera cart in 1834 is a more dismal remembrance. It went through our street draped in black, with a bell to warn people to bring out their dead. There was a great panic, and people were afraid of being buried alive, as it was necessary to remove the infectious corpses speedily. Still our servant's mother was duly "waked" when she died of cholera. My mother made the daughter change her dress when she came home, and the clothes were burnt. The houses of decent working people in the middle of Belfast were by no means uncomfortable, though there were bad slums about Ann Street. The best houses, however, had cesspools, and sanitary arrangements were deficient. Some of the little docks near the end of High Street were very foul, yet I liked to walk on the quays, which were not yet encumbered with sheds, but open to the breeze from the lough. I saw a fine ship, the "Hindoo," launched near the present Harbour Office. The steamers "Chieftain" and "Eclipse" were comparatively small, but their smoke-stacks had iron ornaments, like crowns, on the top. I once left at night for Dublin by steamer, and in the morning found the vessel stuck in the mud where the Queen's Island is now. Before the present improvements in the Port of Belfast, the navigable channel wound like a serpent through the muddy estuary of the Lagan, still crossed in my time by the Long Bridge. It was our custom to spend a month or two in summer at the seaside. Holywood was then the popular resort. The old baths were where the stream falls into the sea near the old Parish Church. The bathing-box was on piles a long way out, and another wooden pier led to the little channel where boats were moored. Beyond Holywood all was rural and woodland. The Carrickfergus side was agreeable too, but not so near Belfast. I remember being shown the "suicide's grave" in the salt marsh at Ringlin's Point, beside what is now the entrance to Fortwilliam Park, on the shore side of the road; and a public-house (Peggy Barclay's) by the wayside rejoiced in the sign of the "Mill for grinding old people young." The picture represented men and women hobbling on crutches into the hopper of the mill and dancing out merrily below. I must have been greatly struck with this painting, as I remember it so well, and I sometimes wish now I could find out that mill. There are still a few of the older-fashioned style of buildings remaining in Belfast, though mostly disguised with stucco – even in High Street some old shops remain by the side of the lofty modern erections, and some of them bear the old names, like that of Patterson, recently removed from the corner of Bridge Street, the evidence of a long-established business. The oldest houses are those at the corner of Skipper Street, and those next Forster Green's. The latter was where the Biggers had long resided, and next to them lived a family called Quinn, where, in earlier times, Lord Castlereagh lodged.

(Seal with the Batt Arms.)
The cotton-spinning industry did not flourish in Ireland, nor did calico-printing, which my father attempted at Hydepark (so called after my mother, Anne Hyde). The firm was Batt, Ewing & Co. The Ewings, after leaving their house at Cottonmount, resided in Donegall Street (where the premises of the Brookfield Linen Co. now stand). Robert Ewing was married to a daughter of David Bigger, of the Trench, Molusk. who had, in conjunction with Moses and Aaron Staunton, started the Carnmoney Cotton Printing Works (now the Mossley Mills). Robert Anderson, a poet who contributed many pieces to the Belfast News-Letter, was a designer in this firm, having been brought over from the North of England by them for this purpose. Some specimens of these printed calicoes are still in the possession of one of the editors of this Journal, a grandson of David Bigger.

The old Belfast Bank was at the opposite corner of Donegall Street; where it now stands was the Assembly Rooms, where public balls were given and panoramas exhibited. I saw one of the siege of Antwerp, at that time a recent exploit. The Northern Bank was facing Castle Place, where the Bank Buildings now stand.

I was fond of seeing the machinery in the great factories on the Falls Road, but have a clearer recollection of a quaint garden there, where there were little ponds and islands, figures of Dr. Syntax and other celebrities carved and painted, and a water-wheel, which, as it turned, made music on bells. In those days watchmen cried the hours at night. Postage was heavy, and "franks" from members of Parliament were in great request. Our letters were folded square and sealed, without envelopes, and often crossed, making them hard to read, space was so valuable. Small-pox was very common, and blind and marked people were met with everywhere. I was not only vaccinated, but inoculated, by Moore, of Corn Market, who, I fear, broke the law to please my mother. He was a most popular apothecary and practitioner, the husband of a Greek lady. Beside Dr. MacDonnell, Dr. Purdon and Dr. Thompson were the chief physicians in Belfast. Typhus fever was often prevalent. At Newtownards I ventured to take a house that had been used as a temporary fever hospital, and some of my friends were afraid to visit me, but this was later on. I met Lord Dufferin there, fresh from college, and evidently full of talent.

Andrew Nichol, who drew many of the views in the Dublin Penny Journal, taught me drawing. He excelled in his water-colour drawings of the coast scenery of Ireland. Sir J. Emerson Tennent took him with him to Ceylon. There was also a promising young artist named James Atkins, who died in Malta in 1835, where my aunt and other friends had sent him to study. He copied the large picture, "The Martyrdom of S. Stephen," now in the Queen's College, I recollect an exhibition of his paintings for his mother's benefit.

In religious matters we were all exceedingly "low church." I was not confirmed till near my ordination by Bishop Mant, at his last ordination, at Hillsborough, in 1848. The great controversies of the day were between the "old light" and the "new light" Presbyterians. Dr. Cooke was the leader of the old lights, and I have often been taken to hear him preach, and can remember his favourite text, Col. i. 19. I liked better to go to the Parish Church, S. Anne's, where a military band sometimes played, and the Sovereign sat in his stall.

I went to see a public disputation between Rev. John Scott Porter, a Unitarian, and Dean Bagot, afterwards Vicar of Newry. It ended, as usual, in both parties thinking their champion victorious. Our own church was S. George's, which our family helped to build. It was a very dull Georgian building, with a huge "three-decker" pulpit in the midst. The oak seats, however, were handsome in their way, and so was the beautiful Corinthian portico. It was carved in Italy for Lord Bristol, the Volunteer Bishop of Derry, and, when his Palace at Ballyscullion was demolished, Dr. Alexander, Bishop of Down and Connor and Dromore, purchased it for S. George's. The Rev. R. W. Bland, late of Whiteabbey, was the incumbent; his curate, Rev. William Laurenson, an Oxford graduate, was a popular preacher, and, though he preached extempore, was never too long. It seems Mrs. Laurenson, in the gallery, made a signal with her pocket-handkerchief when it was time to wind up the discourse. As High Street was not always orderly in the evenings, the young ladies in our street went in a company to S. George's for mutual protection, and took notes of the sermons. Rev. A. C. Macartney was Vicar of Belfast. To Rev. William Laurenson succeeded Rev. William MacIlwaine. I heard him preach his first sermon as curate; he has told me that he unintentionally offended some of us by referring to "bats" as creatures unfriendly to the light, not knowing that there were Batts in the congregation. He was a learned man, and tried to make S. George's into a pro-cathedral, and did beautify it a good deal, brightening up the dull services; but the architecture of the church was too much against him. There used to be a transparency in the East window of David playing the harp.

The National Board of Education was a great subject of dispute among religious people; but my uncles were from the first in its favour, and put their village schools under the National system.

I must not conclude without a few words about the mail coaches, by which we used to get, by day or night, in about twelve hours from Belfast to Dublin or Derry. In fine weather an outside seat on the top of the Royal Mail was an exceedingly agreeable mode of travelling; we saw the country to much more advantage than from the railway, and, instead of skirting the dismal suburbs of the towns on the way, we dashed straight up the best streets to the chief hotel, where horses were changed, and a little crowd always collected to admire. The inside, however, was always stuffy, and often crowded; and the outside dangerous and uncomfortable in cold and wet weather. Besides, it was necessary to bespeak a place beforehand. I have driven 10 miles to Dromore for three successive mornings before I could get a seat in the Dublin coach. The red-coated coachmen and guards were fine manly fellows, and very friendly with the passengers, who, to be sure, always tipped them. The caravans, machines, and long cars that started from public-houses in Cromac Street, or in Ann Street at "The Highlandman," to take us to Ballynahinch or Newtownards, were poor affairs. The Derry coach started from the Donegall Arms, Castle Place (Robb's), and the Dublin coach from 10, Castle Street. The Carrickfergus and Larne coaches stopped in Donegall Street and North Street.

[1]  Narcissus Batt was Founder of the Belfast Bank.

[2]  Narcissus and Thomas were members of the Corporation for preserving and improving the port and harbour of Belfast.

This article appeared in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, vol. II, no. 2, 1896.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

Old Belfast

In 1789 Lieutenant Lawson published a Survey of Belfast Lough, a copy of which is now before us. On the Antrim side it extends nearly to Black Head, and on the opposite coast to Donaghadee. At the upper part it includes the town, and the district of Crumuck. [sic.] It is dedicated to the Earl of Donegall. Two engravings of the town itself, which accompany this Survey, are lithographed here.

An artist of about seventy years ago took upon him to give "A South Perspective View of Belfast, taken from Mr. Joy's Paper-Mill." The result of his labour appeared in a large tinted engraving, copies of which may be occasionally met with; and from it the reduced drawing, which is annexed to Lawson's Survey, and now copied here, has been made. Only two of the objects still familiar to the eyes of the present inhabitants appear in the view, – the steeple to the left being that of the Poor-house, and the next that of the Parish Church. The building with the heavy dome probably represents the Market-house, which then stood at the corner of High-Street and Corn-Market, the site now occupied by Mr. McComb's shop. The ancient bell which once repeated the hours, or rung the inhabitants to the market, was lately presented by the present Lord of the Castle to the Harbour Corporation. The old Long Bridge is shown in all its magnitude; but this, as well as Mr. Joy's paper-mill, which our artist selected as his point of sight, are now things of the past. The view, though far from being artistic or even correct, (buildings and objects which must have been in existence at the time, and within the range of vision, seeming to be overlooked,) gives, in a general sense, a very good idea of the appearance of Belfast at that period. The tongue of land, on which the old town originally stood, seems even at this comparatively recent time to have preserved something of its distinctive character, the water appearing to flow up for a great distance behind Ann-Street, – as far, indeed, as Arthur-Street, – and covering what now forms a very considerable portion of the modern town. The profusion of hillocks in the foreground, which may be presumed to represent hay-cocks, prove also that agricultural operations were proceeding in places now occupied by more imposing erections. The glass-houses in Ballymacarrett, if the magnitude of the volumes of smoke issuing from their summits be sufficient evidence, were in full blast; and they were at this time very generally visited by strangers as one of the sights of the town. Among the limited number of buildings here represented, which then composed the town of Belfast, some "old inhabitant" may happen to discover the house of his ancestors, or, peradventure, that near which his own childish foot-steps strayed.

About the same time that this perspective view was taken, a ground-plan of the town on a confined scale was also before the public, either preparatory to Williamson's enlarged map, or reduced by some other hand from that more correct and valuable document. Of this also we give a copy. A very cursory examination of this plan will prove how very inferior it is in minute accuracy to the maps of modern times -- those of the Ordnance Survey, for example. The true direction of the streets, in some instances, is not properly laid down, nor their comparative length and breadth at all preserved. The parish church, rather incorrectly marked with reference to adjoining streets, is called St. Mary's; Waring-Street is very unlike itself in width; the streets in connection with North-Street are not laid down as they now are; and places are shown as being built on, which were open for many years after. The Exchange at this time seems to have been in Ann-Street. Most of the other public buildings marked, are still known; but what is the meaning of "Line of Intended Canal," running apparently in front of the Linen Hall, then recently erected? Was it some engineering speculation of the day, in connection with that famous stream called the Blackstaff?*

The water surrounding an island in the view is probably the Lagan; if so, the draughtsman has ignored both the Blackstaff and Joy's Dam. The situation of the vessels leads to the supposition that the drawing was made previous to any embankments on the county Down side of the Navigation; and if so, its actual date must have been somewhat previous to 1789.

The view shows the Long Bridge, but does not recognise Ann-Street; and this map of the town we suspect is a transcript in part of a much older Survey carelessly adapted to a more recent general map of the district. It may perhaps be considered a map of about 1789. It shows Joy's Dam and the old course of the Blackstaff falling into the river above the Long Bridge. It also exhibits what in the old maps is called the "Long Bank," – the barrier which in ancient times protected the land above the bridge from the tidal water. A gentleman, to whom we showed this map a few days ago, recollected having been taken, when a child, along this bank, and having seen the waves breaking against it. The arches, shown on the plan given by the continuator of Rapin's History, were most probably about the part where Joy's Dam is here shown as intersected by this bank. That water-work, indeed, seems to have been little more than a confinement of a quantity of water in what had been the old bed of the Blackstaff, before it was directed into its present straight course, when the old course most probably gave vent to the superfluous waters only. A very intelligent contributor suggests, what we suspect is the fact, that all the maps of Belfast, previous to a comparatively recent period, have only been alterations, (not amendments,) of some ancient map, now perhaps lost; unless Captain Philips's is assumed to be the original.

The present plan, though rather incorrect and unsatisfactory, is, as well as other maps of Belfast, (both of more ancient and more recent date) well worth bringing under notice, as records of the progress of the town; and their publication in this Journal would ensure their preservation for the benefit and gratification of future inquirers into our local history. No apology is necessary to the readers of the Journal for presenting them with a plan and view of Belfast less than a century old. The changes have been so rapid and so sweeping, that the Belfast of that day has already passed into the realms of Archaeology.


* Some contributor will, we hope, reply to this query in a future number.

This article appeared in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, vol. 5, 1857.

Thursday, 22 January 2015

Views in Belfast (1833)

Being a Supplement
to the First Volume of the Dublin Penny Journal.


This church is situated in Donegal-street. It is the parish church, and was erected in the year 1778. It has a handsome Doric portico, and an Ionic tower, of considerable height, with a Corinthian cupola, which is of copper, the tower being formed of wood.


An extensive range of building, situated in Donegal-square, completely surrounded by a handsome railing, on a low brick wall, coped with stone. The area between the railing and the building being tastefully planted with evergreens, and flowering shrubs, affords a most agreeable promenade for the inhabitants at all seasons. The interior of the building is fitted up with different offices and rooms for the factors, and is particularly well calculated for the purposes for which it was designed.


The edifice erected for this Institution is an extensive range of building, surrounded by a wall, with an iron railing in front, situated at the western end of the town, apparently designed to form the centre of a square, on three sides of which, houses, many of them of a very elegant description, have already been erected. The building itself, however, although presenting rather a good front, is by no means of that architectural character which such an institution would demand.


Situated in High-street, and erected in the years 1811-12, on the site of an old church taken down in 1777, is an elegant edifice, the portico being one of the most beautiful pieces of architecture in the kingdom.


Is raised on framed foundations. The front is of modern or Scammozzian Ionic, having two columns and four pilasters, twenty-eight feet high, and fluted. The columns and interior pilasters form a piazza thirty-six feet long, and seven feet wide, over which rises a beautiful pediment. The front of the building is finished with a regular architrave, frieze, and block cornice, which give it a light, pleasing, and, at the same time, imposing effect. Around the windows are moulded architraves. The entrance is approached by a flight of eight steps, the floor of the building standing considerably above the level of the street. The interior is finished in a superb style. This elegant edifice was erected in the year 1828.


It being found that a Church was much wanted for the poorer classes of Protestants, the present edifice was erected. The sum of £2000 was granted by the Board of First Fruits; and £3000 were raised by subscription to complete it. It is a plain edifice, with a cut stone front and colonnade of the Ionic order, surmounted with an entablature; the other parts are of brick, with windows in recesses, ornamented with circular architraves. The interior is laid out to give as much accommodation as possible: there are seats for one thousand persons on the ground floor; and there is a handsome gallery, which holds upwards of six hundred persons -- it has been lately inclosed with an ornamental iron railing. It was opened in July, 1833. Near the Church a most commodious School-House has been erected, which was also completed out of the liberal subscriptions of the inhabitants.


Erected in the year 1827-28, is built of polished freestone, of excellent quality; the superstructure resting on a basement of granite-stone, which is elevated above the surface about three feet. On the north and south sides are two ranges of well-proportioned windows, separated by a facia-course, which surrounds the building. The principal entrance is on the west front, which has a handsome portico of the Ionic order, consisting of four columns, and antæ, which support a regular entablature and angular pediment. The columns measure twenty-seven feet in height; the capitals of which are imitated from the Ionic temple at Ilissus, near Athens. The entablature of the order is continued along the front of the edifice, supported by antæ, over which runs an attic balustrade. The interior of the house, which is well lighted, displays considerable elegance.

The Dublin Penny Journal, Vol. 1, Supplement: Views in Belfast (1833)

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Reminiscences of Belfast No2 (1857)

Some apology is perhaps due to the readers of this Journal, for introducing into its pages matters not strictly archaeological. Neither can the observations, such as they are, be properly called reminiscences, inasmuch as they are not exclusively personal, but drawn, to some extent, from information derived from other, but still generally living sources. The writer, however, certainly does not pretend to produce in them, either from his own recollection or that of others, anything on which could be bestowed the smallest amount of that research and learning expected in archaeological works; but being aware that even in such publications great interest has sometimes been attached, at least by certain readers, to the occasional papers of contributors on subjects purely local, or having reference to manners, customs, places, or occupations, that have passed away for ever in our own day or in the generation immediately preceding, and knowing how soon matters even quite recent are forgotten amidst the exciting events of rapidly-expanding towns, he is induced to contribute the few following slight and unconnected notes to the sum of local knowledge, in continuation of his former paper (vol. 3 [1855], p. 260). If much research and ability be required to bring to the open day, – to put in their true light, – objects or deeds which the rust of antiquity has shrouded for ages, some credit, though certainly far less in degree, may be conceded to those who endeavour to preserve things that are passing away, before that rust has concealed them from the public gaze.

Some observations were made in the former paper on the great changes that have taken place in the course of years on the public roads and entrances into Belfast. This naturally leads, as a sort of associating link, to remark on the mode of travel in those days as compared with the present. Beginning with that which was always, and which is still, one of our chief outlets, namely, the road to Carrickfergus, the writer has been informed that about the year 1811 the Academy boys, who were accustomed to assemble before school hours at the Church gate in Donegall Street, were rather disappointed if the ten o'clock bell rang before the "Royal Oak" came forward, that they might see the unusual spectacle, and give it a passing cheer. This it appears was the name of the sole conveyance at that time between Belfast and Carrickfergus; at least exclusively, for it is probable the mail-coach to Larne was running at this period. The vehicle named the Royal Oak or Carrickfergus coach, however, is described as having been originally, to all appearance, a private carriage; but it had fallen from its high estate to public uses, and was just sufficient to accommodate three or four inside passengers. Some person will remember whether it was a daily conveyance or confined to a tri-weekly journey; most probably the latter was sufficient for the travelling wants of the time. It rumbled down Donegall Street with its three or four "insides," the driver apparently quite proud of having accomplished in two or three hours his toilsome journey; and in truth the way, however beautiful and populous now, was in many places both bare and lonely. "Who that sees the unceasing movement of private and public conveyances now on that noble line of road – almost a continued suburb of the town – the crowds of passengers carried several times each day to Carrickfergus and the different stations on the railway, would think it credible that so great a change should have occurred in a space of time so comparatively short? Yet a nearly similar statement might be made of the increase of travelling on every great outlet from the town. Indeed travelling at the period now alluded to was a very serious affair, but about fifteen or twenty years earlier more serious still; and a journey to Dublin, for instance, at the era last referred to, was not to be lightly undertaken. The writer has often heard from relatives the usual method of accomplishing the latter exploit, sixty or seventy years since; for it is not possible to be precisely accurate in inquiries of this kind. A journey to Dubbin was then generally got over in about two days and a half in a post-chaise, at the small charge of nineteen-pence half-penny per mile. Two or three persons would commonly unite in this venture, reaching Newry on the first night, where, of course, they remained till the following morning; and in this way, if no accident occurred, arrived in the metropolis in the time mentioned. Glancing for a moment again to a period beyond those post-chaise days, it may be mentioned, as a statement worth noting, that a very old inhabitant of Belfast, lately deceased, was accustomed to relate, as one of the most curious things that had come to his knowledge in his time, that the ancestress of two or three of our leading families, (whose descendants, perhaps in the second or third generations, have risen to the highest commercial eminence, and who was herself in business,) was in the habit of going from this town to Dublin to purchase goods, mounted on horseback on a pillion behind her servant. This is no doubt an old story, and probably happened about the same time that linen was carried from Armagh to Dublin for sale on horses' backs, which is, I believe a recognised fact; yet it may not be so long ago either, as I have been informed by a very old person that, in her youth, she had seen pillion-riding practised by ladies of station, – one of title among the number. Leaving these remote days, however, and coming nearer our own time, it may be mentioned that, down to a comparatively recent period, travelling on horseback was quite the usual system tor business people; the state of the roads, and the want of public conveyances, rendering it indeed almost the only mode practicable. There are persons living still in towns twenty or thirty miles distant from Belfast, and many of them able to do a good day's work yet, who never thought of any other way of coming to town for business purposes but on horseback. The method of transacting the affair, so far as the travelling part of it was concerned, was after this fashion. A number of the shopkeepers, for instance, or other inhabitants of a town at some distance, would arrange among themselves when it might be convenient to go together, mounted, to their provincial capital, to purchase or sell goods, or transact other business. Their going united in this way was for the sake of company, or at least it was a very common practice; and if all were not ready at the same time, those who were unprepared would be waited for by the others for a day or two; the "go ahead" principle not being in so much vigour then as it is now, nor was time of so much value. It was but seldom that these travellers returned home on the same day, if the distance were considerable, on account of the fatigue of the journey, as well as the time it occupied; and to inquire whether, on some occasions, like the fragments of a routed army, they found their way to head-quarters again in smaller parties, how and when they best could, might, in Shakespearian phrase, be "to consider the matter too curiously." All this will seem very strange to the present travelling generation, accustomed to the speed, the punctuality, and economy of the railway. Very strange, no doubt, to them it will appear, to be told that there are persons still living who, when occasion obliged them to visit Antrim, found the most easy and convenient way of reaching that town was to go on horseback by the old Shankhill Road, right up North Street, and over the mountain above Wolf-hill. By such mode and by such way (the road by the shore, past the Whitewell, not being much better), was Antrim, as well as the important localities beyond it now accessible by railway, reached within a period of seventy years back, or less. Travelling on horseback for business purposes continued even after stage-coaches were introduced. Nor is this to be wondered at, as the roads, even quite near Belfast, in many instances continued down to a late period almost entirely unlit to be travelled with convenience by wheeled carriages. It is not much more than twenty years ago since the stage-coach between Belfast and Downpatrick required from four to five hours to complete its journey between these two places; – eight to nine weary hours of the day being taken up with the double journey. Old travellers on that road, very little previous to the time mentioned, will recollect when the coach stopped at the Beech hill above Belvoir, and several other hills on the road nearly as bad, where it was expected they would alight to enable the horses to drag the nearly empty vehicle up the steep ascents; and if any of them felt disposed to help the machine forward by a good push behind, the service was not thought altogether needless – at least it was the jest of the occasion. The road spoken of was shortly afterwards, no doubt, improved; and in a few months more I suppose the railway now in progress will be the means of reducing this journey to an hour or less, with the entire absence of all trouble and fatigue. Such will indeed be a contrast to what was stated to me once respecting the County Down roads and method of transport. A most respectable man told me, many years ago certainly, and when the informant himself was at a very advanced age, that in his younger days he had been accustomed to send oats to Belfast market in a sack slung across a horse's back, the distance being about sixteen miles, the roads being unfit for any lengthened journey with the wheeled cars of the day, the only vehicle known:– for there were no carts at the time, either for farmer or common carrier; and all this was in a part of the country distinguished now for its progress in everything tending to prosperity and material advancement.

But we must not lose sight of our town, our more special locality, in gossiping about these County Down roads and carriages. The old Corporation of Belfast was a sort of a myth – one of those unsubstantial things of which a good clear view could never be got. The members had, in a manner, no corporate identity; they were destitute of cloaks and cocked hats, without which, of course, no civic importance could be. Many of those dignitaries were non-resident; and the whole affair, though constituted under an ancient charter, had dwindled into the most perfect insignificance. There was certainly a chief magistrate called a Sovereign, who possessed some rights, and exercised magisterial authority. There was also very frequently to be seen, I remember, as a representative it may be supposed of the entire corporate body, an old man called a Sergeant-at-mace; but what the mace was like, and whether he possessed such a bauble at all, were subjects of frequent discussion among the juvenile population. These remarks are intended to be introductory to a circumstance rescued from forgetfulness, and which is of itself sufficient proof of the powerlessness or neglect of the old corporation, and of the very ineffective way in which things were done forty years ago. It is unnecessary to say that such a body as a day police was then unknown, but there actually was a time about that period when there was no night police. In consequence of the frequency of street robberies accompanied with violence, a number of the respectable inhabitants voluntarily enrolled themselves as watchmen to guard the town, and in parties of three or four individuals perambulated the streets during the night, holding their head-quarters in the old Exchange, now the Belfast Bank; and when those who had been out on duty, striking terror to evil doers, came in for rest, others proceeded to perform the same round. It has not been communicated to me how long this continued, whether it was the exclusive night force, or was auxiliary to a few hobbling old men with long grey coats and big wooden rattles, who either then or afterwards constituted the police. It is probable there were no other guardians of the night whatever than those respectable inhabitants who united for this necessary and useful purpose. Two of them, the writer is aware, (and there may be others) are still living; and the book containing the record of the proceedings of this volunteer force is yet in possession of an old and respected merchant of the town.

But if the Sovereign and the other members of the corporate body did not attract so much notice in those days as might have been expected, not so the town Bell-man. This functionary was in constant requisition, exercising his calling as if in a small country town full of petty cases and interests. Belfast then was in fact a small country town in comparison with its present greatness; and it is only among a community limited in point of numbers, and not spread over a very extended space, that the services of a bell-man could be suitable or effective. However, so it was – the bell-man was a reality. He wore a cocked hat and a long blue cloak with a yellow border. In this costume, which from some unaccountable cause soon lost its freshness, but with which he was perhaps furnished every year, he was accustomed to proclaim auctions; to announce that a boat of fresh herrings was on sale at Custom-House Quay; where cheap oaten meal was to be had; that a little girl had strayed away from home, giving, at the same time, a most minute account of the dress and appearance of the runaway; or that such an article had been lost, and offering a reward for its discovery; with the invariable addition "that no questions would be asked." These statements may all appear very trifling and unworthy of record, but really the change from such a state of society in an inconsiderable number of years, to the present civic importance of Belfast – so populous, and with so many great establishments, while the active and influential members of its community know generally nothing of the past history of the town which is the scene of their labours – should not be altogether unmarked. The particular instance brought forward is not mentioned on account of possessing anything remarkable in itself, but merely as one indicator of change and progress. Indeed the time was, and not very distant either, when all the people in the town seemed in a manner to know one another; when the few magnates among us created quite a sensation on their appearance in the streets; but now the magnates are so numerous that they are quite undistinguishable in the crowd. There would also seem to be an entirely changed state of feeling, both on matters on which it is forbidden here to make any comment, and likewise on social questions. As an instance of the latter I have just time to remark that it is little more than forty years ago since two men were publicly executed on a scaffold erected in Castle Place, in the most public part of the town, for attempting to destroy the inmates of a house in Peter's Hill with an infernal machine. Half a century earlier perhaps the heads of culprits would have been exposed, as matters of course, on spikes above the town or castle gates. The modern instance occurred, however, as related, and is only introduced here as a proof of the altered state of public feeling, as no such exhibition would now for a moment be thought of or tolerated; and I could mention many little pieces of domestic history pointing with equal distinctness to the changes which time produces. Thus, there was once a busy little mart of a book-shop in North Street, near the corner of Rosemary Street, which would now and then be closed up; on which occasions this notice would appear on the door, "Gone to Dublin, and will be back in a few days;" indicating both a very easy-going way of doing business, and that even in the book line the Irish capital was in a great measure the centre of supply. Let not this be wondered at, for there were no steam-boats; and even so lately as the winter of 1822 I knew an instance of a person being three weeks at sea before his passage was made from Belfast to Liverpool. Such cases were probably not rare; they formed effectual bars to any considerable intercourse; and direct trade of the smaller class of dealers with England or Scotland, now so general, was then all but unknown. I mentioned just now, what the curious eye might have detected at certain seasons and at a certain period of our town's history, on the book-shop window. On another closed shutter again, or perhaps on several, but in a more obscure locality, so well as I am informed, – the time being a fine sunny day in the month of July, – this notification might be seen, "Gone to the Races"! – so small and simple were Belfast people in these good old days. As in other large towns, the locality, and even the very residences occupied by the gentry or principal inhabitants of one generation become the shops and warehouses of the next, to descend again in some instances, and as time advances, to tenancies of a still lower character. It is unnecessary to say that Donegall Place was until lately the residence of that extinct body, the aristocracy of Belfast. At another period again, High Street contained the dwelling-houses of some of the most important families. So did Donegall Street, Castle Street, and some others; and even in North Street, it is not yet half a century since ladies might have been seen carried to evening parties in sedan chairs, (vehicles now, at least for that purpose, unknown in the town,) their tottering bearers enabled to see their way by the aid of a few public oil lamps which shed their feeble rays across the street.

The supply of water has always been a fertile source of trouble in rapidly increasing towns. The increase of inhabitants is indefinite, at least cannot be calculated on, and an over-abundant supply has not generally been provided to meet the wants of a subsequent time. Our town, of course, has not been free from the consequences of this perhaps inevitable course; but it also stands conspicuously forward as having, in its day of small things – at a very early period indeed – provided its inhabitants with water by artificial means. In the early part of the last century, underground wooden pipes were laid down in the streets, to convey water from the Tuck-Mill dam for the convenience of the inhabitants. I am not sure that anything of the kind was done so early in Liverpool, or in some other great places which have even exceeded Belfast in rapidity of growth. It is also to be noted, that this early water supply was probably to a great extent the result of private enterprise, being generally attributed to one of the Macartney family. These wooden pipes, however, continued to be serviceable down to a recent period. I remember two establishments, and there were probably others, which received water from this source; and I have seen many of these wooden pipes finally taken up. It must, no doubt, have been an entirely insufficient supply for the wants of the town; but the more recent history of the means taken at different periods to supplement it does not come within the scope of the present paper. I can only refer by light touches to matters of minor importance, and not at all to such a serious subject as pipe-water. Thus, many now rather grave personages in our streets will recollect when in their school-boy days there were two public fountains in Fountain-Street, (from which that street derives its name,) and from which water was carried by the inhabitants of the adjoining localities for domestic uses, their houses being unprovided with it; and also when that indispensable article was very generally conveyed through some of the streets by carriers, for sale, in casks, on small carts, drawn by donkeys or old horses, the owners ringing little bells to announce their approach. It was retailed by the bucket; and I believe that for some very highly-prized water there was, till lately, a revival or continuation of the more ancient and general practice.

The present subject is capable of great enlargement. There are many notices, for instance, regarding certain branches of trade and manufacture which have either become extinct, or have altogether risen up within memory. Flax-spinning, which has probably contributed more than any single cause to make Belfast what it now is, dates only from the year 1829. The cotton manufacture is, as is well known, much older; and persons have told me that they remember horse-power in Waring Street being employed in spinning cotton, at the same time that there were large establishments operated upon by a more powerful agent. Many will recollect also the sugar-houses in Sugar-House Entry, and elsewhere, and probably several other branches of manufacture, which, like states and empires, have had their periods of rise, decadence, and fall. Then again the rapid increase of the population is a subject worth taking a note about. An old inhabitant who died about two years ago, informed me, that when he came to Belfast as a youth to serve his apprenticeship, the utmost limit then put on the population of the town was 12 or 14,000. – But it is perhaps unnecessary to continue these rambling recollections any further; what has been written will serve to explain the nature of the information considered to be worth preserving, and may induce others to relate their reminiscences, and probably to bring forward some facts far more interesting than any which could be recorded by the present writer.


This article appeared in the Ulster Journal of Archaeology, vol. 5, 1857.