Irish Services to Education and Science

From A History of the Irish Settlers in North America by Thomas D'Arcy McGee

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Appendix V.

THE chapter treating upon the "Services of Irishmen to Education and Science in America," might have been much enlarged if the design had been to make a big book and a dear one. A few additional names and particulars may be useful, as indicating where further facts can be found.

Among historical works, we find Butler's Kentucky, Ramsay's South Carolina, Burke's Virginia, Edmund Burke's European Settlements in America, McMahon's Maryland, McSherry's Maryland, Dwyer's Buffalo, O'Reilly's Rochester, O'Callaghan's Documentary History of New York, Sullivan's Maine, Browne's Jamaica, Walsh's Jamaica, Madden's Cuba, Breen's St. Lucia, Warburton's Conquest of Canada, Bishop Burke's tracts on Nova Scotia. All these are the writings of Irishmen on American historical subjects.

In imaginative literature, our race has given less to America, than, from its tendencies, would be expected. In 1728, Thomas Makin's Latin poems appeared at Philadelphia; the poem on the Pontiac war, before alluded to, appeared thirty years after. With these exceptions, and the poems of the late John A. Shea, Mr. Gallagher, of Cincinnati, the Misses Carey, Miss Anna C. Lynch, daughter of an United Irishman, W. Mulchinock, and some other writers, we are not fully represented in this department.

In theology and politics we have done most. Bishop England's works; the several Catholic Controversies of Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Cincinnati; the learned Works of the Kendricks, brothers and archbishops; the Political Essays of Charles Thompson, Matthew Carey,[1] and William Sampson; the Speeches of Calhoun and of Emmett; the Lectures and Essays of Henry Giles; the Letters and Lectures of Archbishop Hughes; the various journals written by Irish hands; all these make up a fair contribution to American literature of this class. In political economy, we have furnished Henry C. Carey, certainly the most able and original American writer on that subject.

Yet, summing up all, it seems certain that, until the present, the Irish in America, in proportion to their numbers, have not done their share towards founding an American literature.

In science, so long as we have Robert Fulton, Colles, Adrain, and Oliver Byrne, we fear no comparison. In the application of science to practical objects, De Witt Clinton, in New York, and James Sullivan, in Massachusetts, from their high official position, were mainly instrumental in the "canal-ization" of their respective states. The introduction of the cotton manufacture, and the first railroad in Massachusetts, were also effected chiefly by the energy of another Irish American, PATRICK TRACEY JACKSON, born at Newburyport, August 14th, 1780. "His maternal grandfather," says his biographer, "from whom he derived his name, was Patrick Tracey, an opulent merchant of Newburyport,—an Irishman by birth, who, coming to this country, at an early age, poor and friendless, had raised himself, by his own exertions, to a position which his character, universally esteemed by his fellow-citizens, enabled him adequately to sustain."[2] When Arnold's expedition against Canada, by way of Maine, was quartered at Newbury, we find that on September 19th, 1775, the officers "dined at Mr. Nathaniel Tracey's," and on the 18th, "at Mr. Tristram Dalton's," another Irish merchant of Newbury. Writing from Fort Western, September 28th, Arnold returns his thanks "for the many favors received from" Mr. Nathaniel Tracey, at Newburyport, and desires his best respects to "Mrs. Tracey, your brother, and Mr. Jackson,"[3] This Mr. Jackson, afterwards a member of Congress, married Patrick Tracey's daughter, of whom the distinguished citizen of Massachusetts just mentioned, was born. After visiting India and the Cape, young Jackson went into the India trade at Boston, which, in 1812, he gave up for manufacturing. The beginnings of his cotton speculations are worthy of some detailed notice. His biographer says:—

"The first object to be accomplished was to procure a power-loom. To obtain one from England, was, of course, impracticable; and, although there were many patents for such machines in our patent office, not one had yet exhibited sufficient merit to be adopted into use. Under these circumstances, but one resource remained—to invent one themselves; and this these earnest men at once set about. Unacquainted as they were with machinery, in practice, they dared, nevertheless, to attempt the solution of a problem that had baffled the most ingenious mechanicians. In England, the power-loom had been invented by a clergyman, and why not here by a merchant? After numerous experiments and failures, they at last succeeded, in the autumn of 1812, in producing a model which they thought so well of, as to be willing to make preparations for putting up a mill for the weaving of cotton cloth. It was now necessary to procure the assistance of a practical mechanic, to aid in the construction of the machinery; and the friends had the good fortune to secure the services of Mr. Paul Moody, afterwards so well known as the head of the machine-shop at Lowell.

"They found, as might naturally be expected, many defects in their model loom; but these were gradually remedied. The project hitherto had been exclusively for a weaving-mill, to do by power what had before been done by hand-looms. But it was ascertained, on inquiry, that it would be more economical to spin the twist, rather than to buy it; and they put up a mill for about one thousand seven hundred spindles, which was completed late in 1813. It will probably strike the reader with some astonishment, to be told that this mill, still in operation at Waltham, was probably the first one in the world that combined all the operations necessary for converting the raw cotton into finished cloth. Such, however, is the fact, as far as we are informed on the subject. The mills in this country—Slater's, for example, in Rhode Island—were spinning-mills only; and in England, though the power-loom had been introduced, it was used in separate establishments, by persons who bought, as the hand-weavers had always done, their twist of the spinners.

"Great difficulty was at first experienced at Waltham, for the want of a proper preparation (sizing) of the warps. They procured from England a drawing of Horrock's dressing machine, which, with some essential improvements, they adopted, producing the dresser now in use at Lowell, and elsewhere. No method was, however, indicated in this drawing for winding the threads from the bobbins on to the beam; and, to supply this deficiency, Mr. Moody invented the very ingenious machine called the warper. Having obtained these, there was no further difficulty in weaving by power-looms."

In 1820, he was the founder of the city of Lowell, which he called for his relative and partner, Francis C. Lowell. From the sketch already quoted, we extract Mr. John A. Lowell's account of the event:—

"Ever prompt to act whenever his judgment was convinced, he began, as early as 1820, to look around for some locality where the business might be extended, after the limited capabilities of Charles river should be exhausted.

"In 1821, Mr. Ezra Worthen, who had formerly been a partner with Mr. Moody, and who had applied to Mr. Jackson for employment, suggested that the Pawtucket canal, at Chelmsford, would afford a fine location for large manufacturing establishments; and that probably a privilege might be purchased of its proprietors. To Mr. Jackson's mind, the hint suggested a much more stupendous project,—nothing less than to possess himself of the whole power of the Merrimack river, at that place. Aware of the necessity of secrecy of action, to secure this property at any reasonable price, he undertook it single-handed. It was necessary to purchase not only the stock in the canal, but all the farms on both sides of the river, which controlled the water-power, or which might be necessary for the future extension of the business. No long series of years had tested the extent and profit of such enterprises; the great capitalists of our land had not yet become converts to the safety of such investments. Relying on his own talent and resolution, without even consulting his confidential advisers, he set about this task at his own individual risk; and it was not until he had accomplished all that was material for his purpose, that he offered a share in the project to a few of his former colleagues. Such was the beginning of Lowell; a city which he lived to see, as it were, completed. If all honor is to be paid to the enterprise and sagacity of those men who, in our day, with the advantage of great capital and longer experience, have bid a new city spring up from the forest on the borders of the same stream, accomplishing almost in a day what is in the course of nature the slow growth of centuries, what shall we say of the forecast and energy of that man who could contemplate and execute the same gigantic task at that early period, and alone?"

Another service to his state was the introduction of the first railroad,—the Boston and Lowell. His biographer says:—

"In 1830, the interests of Lowell induced Mr. Jackson to enter into a business new to himself and others. This was the building of the Boston and Lowell railroad. For some years, the practicability of constructing roads, in which the friction should be materially lessened by laying down iron bars, or trams, had engaged the attention of practical engineers in England. At first, it was contemplated that the service of such roads should be performed by horses; and it was not until the brilliant experiments of Mr. Stephenson, on the Liverpool and Manchester railroad, that the possibility of using locomotive engines was fully established. It will be well remembered that all the first estimates for railroads in this country were based upon a road-track adapted to horse-power, and horses were actually used on all the earlier roads. The necessity of a better communication between Boston and Lowell had been the subject of frequent conversation between Mr. Boott and Mr. Jackson. Estimates had been made, and a line surveyed for a Macadamized road. The travel between the two places was rapidly increasing; and the transportation of merchandise, slowly per formed in summer by the Middlesex Canal, was done at great cost, and over bad roads, in winter, by wagons.

"At this moment, the success of Mr. Stephenson's experiments decided Mr. Jackson. He saw, at once, the prodigious revolution that the introduction of steam would make in the business of internal communication. Men were, as yet, incredulous. The cost and the danger attending the use of the new machines were exaggerated; and even if feasible in England, with a city of one hundred and fifty thousand souls at each of the termini, such a project, it was argued, was Quixotical here, with our more limited means and sparser population. Mr. Jackson took a different view of the matter; and when, after much delay and difficulty, the stock of the road was subscribed for, he undertook to superintend its construction, with the especial object that it might be in every way adapted to the use of steam-power, and to that increase of travel and transportation which few had, like him, the sagacity to anticipate.

"Mr. Jackson was not an engineer; but, full of confidence in his own energy," and in the power he always possessed of eliciting and directing the talent of others, he entered on the task, so new to every one in this country, with the same boldness that he had evinced twenty years before, in the erection of the first weaving-mill.

"The moment was an anxious one. He was not accustomed to waste time in any of his undertakings. The public looked with eagerness for the road, and he was anxious to begin and to finish it. But he was too wise a man to allow his own impatience, or that of others, to hurry him into action before his plans should be maturely digested. There were, indeed, many points to be attended to, and many preliminary steps to be taken. A charter was to be obtained, and, as yet, no charter for a railroad had been granted in New England. The terms of the charter, and its conditions, were to be carefully considered. The experiment was deemed to be so desirable, and, at the same time, so hazardous, that the Legislature were prepared to grant almost any terms that should be asked for. Mr. Jackson, on the other hand, whose faith in the success of the new mode of locomotion never faltered, was not disposed to ask for any privileges that would not be deemed moderate after the fullest success had been obtained; at the same time, the recent example of the Charles River Bridge showed the necessity of guarding, by careful provisions, the chartered rights of the stockholders.

"With respect to the road itself, nearly everything was to be learned. Mr. Jackson established a correspondence with the most distinguished engineers of this country and of Europe; and it was not until he had deliberately and satisfactorily solved all the doubts that arose in his own mind, or were suggested by others, that he would allow any step to be decided on. In this way, although more time was consumed than on other roads, a more satisfactory result was obtained. The road was graded for a double track; the grades reduced to a level of ten feet to the mile; all curves, but those of very large radius, avoided; and every part constructed with a degree of strength nowhere else, at that time, considered necessary. A distinguished foreigner, Mr. Charles Chevalier, has spoken of the work on this road as truly 'Cyclopean.' Every measure adopted shows conclusively how clearly Mr. Jackson foresaw the extension and capabilities of the railroad.

"It required no small degree of moral firmness to conceive and carry out these plans. Few persons realize the difficulties of the undertaking, or the magnitude of the results. The shareholders were restless under increased assessments and delayed income. It is not too much to say that no one but Mr. Jackson, in Boston, could, at that time, have commanded the confidence necessary to enable him to pursue his work so deliberately and so thoroughly.

"The road was opened for travel in 1835, and experience soon justified the wisdom of his anticipations. Its completion and successful operation was a great relief to Mr. Jackson. For several years it had engrossed his time and attention, and at times deprived him of sleep. He felt it to be a public trust, the responsibility of which was of a nature quite different from that which had attended his previous enterprises.

"One difficulty that he had encountered in the prosecution of this work led him into a new undertaking, the completion of which occupied him a year or two longer. He felt the great advantage of making the terminus of the road in Boston, and not, as was done in other instances, on the other side of the river. The obstacles appeared, at first sight, insurmountable. No land was to be procured in that densely populated part of the city, except at very high prices; and it was not then the public policy to allow the passage of trains through the streets. A mere site for a passenger depot could, indeed, be obtained; and this seemed, to most persons, all that was essential. Such narrow policy did not suit Mr. Jackson's anticipations. It occurred to him that, by an extensive purchase of the flats, then unoccupied, the object might be obtained. The excavations making by the railroad at Winter Hill, and elsewhere, within a few miles of Boston, much exceeded the embankments, and would supply the gravel necessary to fill up these flats. Such a speculation not being within the powers of the corporation, a new company was created for the purpose. The land was made, to the extent of about ten acres; and what was not needed for depots was sold at advantageous prices. It has since been found that even the large provision made by Mr. Jackson is inadequate to the daily increasing business of the railroad."

In the summer of 1847, this remarkable man, who had enriched almost every citizen in the state more than himself, by the improvements he introduced, died at Beverly, Massachusetts, of dysentery. If he had another Christian name, we would have monuments to his memory. As yet the trump of fame in the east refuses to sound the pre nomen PATRICK! Poor human nature!

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[1] A friend has furnished us the following condensed note of the Irish antecedents of that excellent and able man, the late Matthew Carey:—

"He was established in the printing and publishing business in the city of Dublin, Ireland, as long ago as 1777. Two years later, having written and published a patriotic political pamphlet, he was obliged to leave that country. He went to Paris, and was there employed in the office of Dr. Franklin, who was at that time the American envoy to the French court. In the course of a year afterwards, he returned to Ireland and commenced the publication of the 'Freeman's Journal.' In 1784, being then editor and proprietor of 'The Volunteer's Journal,' a paper which had called into existence the 'Volunteers of Ireland,' he was arrested and underwent a trial before the English House of Commons.

"On being discharged, he resolved to settle in America, and in January of the following year he established, in Philadelphia, a paper called 'The Pennsylvania Herald.' This was followed by the 'American Museum,' a periodical which, to the present day, is regarded by students of American history as an invaluable book of reference.

"Mr. Carey subsequently commenced the publication of books, and became one of the principal publishers in the country."

[2] Memoir of Patrick Tracey Jackson, Merchants' Magazine for 1848

[3] Coffin's History of Newbury, p. 249.