The First Irish Emigrants in Barbadoes, Pennsylvania, New York, Maryland, Virginia, Carolinas, Kentucky

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

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Chapter II.

The First Irish Emigrants,—In BarbadoesIn PennsylvaniaIn New YorkIn MarylandIn VirginiaIn the CarolinasIn KentuckyAdventure of Simon Butler in Delaware

THE half century after the voyage of Columbus was spent in exploring the harbors, rivers, and coasts of the “New World.” Colonization followed,—the Spanish nation still leading. In 1565, the Spaniards founded St Augustine, in Florida; in 1562, the French had built a Fort in Carolina, and in 1608, they founded Quebec; in 1585, Raleigh settled 180 emigrants at Roanoke; in 1606, Jamestown was begun; in 1629, Plymouth, and in 1634, Baltimore. These are the first authentic dates of North American settlements.

The first Irish people who found permanent homes in America, were certain Catholic patriots, banished by Oliver Cromwell to Barbadoes, in 1649. After the failure of the confederation formed in that year, 45,000 Irishmen were transported beyond the seas, some to France and Spain, and several ship-loads to Barbadoes. In this island, as in the neighboring Montserat, the Celtic language was commonly spoken in the last century, and, perhaps, it is partly attributable to this early Irish colonization, that Barbadoes became “one of the most populous islands in the world.” At the end of the 17th century, it was reported to contain 20,000 white inhabitants.

During the last quarter of the 17th century there does not appear to have been any considerable emigration from Ireland. After the Restoration of Charles II., in 1660, the influence of the Duke of Ormund procured letters patent suspending the Navigation Laws, so as to allow Ireland comparative freedom of trade. From this, manufactures flourished, and there was no “surplus population” left. The French Refugees, who fled from the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, in 1685, contributed their manufacturing skill still further to enrich the country, which certainly enjoyed, in the interval from the Restoration to the Revolution, unusual prosperity.

The revolution of 1688 marks a new and less prosperous era for the Mother Country. William and Mary, in the first year of their reign, were called, by both Houses of Parliament, to discourage the manufactures of Ireland which competed with those of England, which they complacently consented to do. By this invidious policy, according to Lord Fitzwilliam, “100,000 operatives” were driven out of Ireland. “Many of the Protestants,” says an historian of Irish trade, “removed into Germany,”—“several Papists at the same time removed into Spain.” Another cotemporaneous writer speaks of multitudes having gone to America from Ireland “in consequence of the rack rents there.” A cotemporary account estimates that 3000 males left Ulster yearly for the colonies.[1] And we hear, at intervals, amid the confusion of this panic flight, the stern accents of Swift, upbraiding the people with their submission, and reproaching the aristocracy with their suicidal impolicy, in cultivating cattle and banishing men.

In the Colony of Pennsylvania one of the earliest settlements of Irishmen was made. In 1699, James Logan, of Lurgan, and others, accompanied William Penn to his new plantation, and were most heartily welcomed. Logan became one of the most considerable men in the colony, which he governed for two years after the death of Penn, and whose capital he enriched by bequeathing to it the most considerable library hitherto opened to its inhabitants. He was, for that age, a most tolerant man,—even more so than his Quaker friend, Penn, who writes him from London, in 1708: “There is a complaint against your government, that you suffer public Mass in a scandalous manner. Pray send the matter of fact, for ill use is made of it against us here.”[2] This charge reflects honor now where it shed suspicion then The name of Logan is honorably identified with the city in which he exercised his beneficent authority.

Attracted by this precedent, others followed the emigrants of 1699, chiefly from the North of Ireland. In the interior of the State we find townships called Derry, Donegal, Tyrone, and Coleraine, so early as 1730. The arrivals at the port of Philadelphia, for the year ending December, 1729, are set down as—

English and Welsh, 267
Scotch, 43
Palatines, (Germans,) 343
Irish, 5655 [3]

Or, a proportion of ten Irish emigrants to one from all other nations in Europe. And this constant influx, though not in so great disproportion to other arrivals, recurred annually at the same port, till the close of the century.

In 1729, several families from Longford took shipping at Dublin, with a Captain Rymer, for Pennsylvania. He appears to have been one of those brutal mariners still to be met with in the emigrant trade. Although they made the coast of Virginia, and saw land for several days, he would not land them, until he had extorted an extra payment, and his officers were in such awe of him, they dare not remonstrate. At length he landed them at Cape Cod, whence some of them moved to the banks of the Hudson. Of these was Charles Clinton, who had then three children of Irish birth, destined to become historical men in the annals of New York.[4]

The Colony of Maryland, founded by Roman Catholics, held out special attractions to the first emigrants of that denomination. The Irish rising of 1641, it is thought, “affected the population of the province.”[5]

The Carrols emigrated to the colony about 1689, and were, in common with the other Catholic settlers, disfranchised by the Protestant Revolution of 1688. Thus, by a singular reverse, the descendants of those who were the first to proclaim complete freedom of conscience in the New World, were for near a hundred years deprived of it by the children of the fugitives to whom they had first afforded the protection elsewhere denied them.

The Irish population in Virginia began about the year 1710, and chiefly settled along the Blue Ridge, in what are now the counties of Patrick and Rockbridge. The McDowells, Breckenridges, McDuffies, McGruders, and others, were of this colony, and the two rivers Mayo, as well as the localities called McGaheysville, Healys, Kennedys, McFarlands, Lynchburgh, and Kinsale, are evidently of Irish origin.

In 1737, a considerable Irish colony obtained a township on the Santee River, in South Carolina, in the district called, from its Indian proprietors, the Waxhaws. Williamsburg, on the Black River, was entirely peopled by our race in 1734, as was Camden, on the Wateree. “Of all other countries,” says the historian of that State, “none has furnished the province with so many inhabitants as Ireland. Scarce a ship sailed from any of its ports for Charleston, that was not crowded with men, women, and children.” One of our settlements in that colony was peculiarly unfortunate. “The Council having announced, in England and Ireland, that the land of the ejected Yemassees would be given to the actual settlers, five hundred persons from Ireland transported themselves to South Carolina, to take the benefit of it. But the whole project was frustrated by the proprietors, who claimed those lands as their property, and insisted on the right of disposing of them as they saw fit. Not long afterwards, to the utter ruin of the Irish emigrants, and in breach of the provincial faith, these Indian lands were surveyed, by order of the proprietors, for their own use, and laid out in large baronies.” “Many of the unfortunate Irish emigrants,” adds the historian, “having spent the little money they brought with them, were reduced to misery and famished. The remainder removed to the northern colonies.”[6] Among the Irish settlers in the Waxhaws, we notice the now famous names, Rutledge, Jackson, and Calhoun.

After the Williamite war, in Ireland, several emigrant Irish families arrived in North Carolina, and settled there. Of these, the most active and distinguished was Governor James Moore, who headed the revolution of 1705, which converted the province from a proprietary to a popular government, elective from the people. He held out against all the force and power of the proprietors, and was the first people’s Governor of Carolina. He transmitted his spirit and his influence to a succession of eminent descendants. He claimed relationship to the Drogheda family of the same name, and probably was a native of that vicinity.

In 1746, the settlement of Kentucky was commenced under the intrepid Daniel Boone, by whose side, also, we find Irishmen. The historian of Kentucky observes, “for enterprise and daring courage none transcended Major Hugh McGrady.[7] A Harland, a Mac-Bride, and a Chaplain, deserve also to be mentioned.” The second Kentucky settlement was formed, in 1773, by James and Robert McAfee, and the third, in 1775, by Benjamin Logan, an Irish Pennsylvanian. Simon Butler, McLellan, and Hogan, all Irishmen, were also pioneers of Kentucky, and among the first to explore the country beyond the Ohio.[8] The same hardy race of backwoodsmen also sent out the first successful pioneers of population on the greater current of the Mississippi, to mark along its banks the sites of future settlements. As a specimen of what the Irish pioneer then endured, we give the following stirring episode in the early history of Kentucky:—

"Simon Kenton, alias Butler, who has been heretofore noticed, now claims further attention, as connected with the occurrences of this year. His active and enterprising spirit had induced him to join Colonel George Rogers Clark, and he was with him at the capture of Kaskaskias. After the fall of that place, Butler, with others, was sent to Kentucky with despatches. On their way they fell in with a camp of Indians with horses. They broke up the camp, took the horses, sent them back to Kaskaskias, and pursued their route by post to St. Vincennes. Entering that place by night, they traversed several streets, and departed without discovery, or alarm, after taking from the inhabitants, who were hostile, two horses for each man. When they came to White River, a raft was made on which to transport the guns and baggage, while the horses were driven in to swim across the river. On the opposite shore there lay a camp of Indians, who caught the horses as they rose the bank.

"Butler and his party, now finding themselves in the utmost danger, permitted the raft to float down the stream, and concealed themselves till night; when they made another raft, at a different place, on which they crossed the river, returned safe to Kentucky, and delivered the letters, as they had been directed. Some of them were intended for the seat of government.

"This part of his duty being discharged, Butler made a tour to the northern part of the country, and in the same year was made prisoner by the Indians. They soon after painted him black, and informed him that at Chillicothe, where they were going, he should be burned. Nor were they willing to permit him to pass the interim without adding to his mental pains those of the body. Not more to torture him than to amuse themselves, they mounted him on an unbroke and unbridled horse; tied his hands behind his body, and his feet under the animal; and then let him loose to run through the bushes.

"This he did, capering and prancing through the worst thickets, thereby to discharge his load, but in vain. There is no means of checking the horse, or of guarding the body, or face, or eyes, from the brush. This rends the clothes, and almost tears the flesh from the bones,—to the very great amusement of the savages, and to the equal danger of the rider’s life.

"The horse at length worries himself, becomes gentle, and rejoins the cavalcade, which now approaches within a mile of Chillicothe. The Indians halt, dismount their prisoner, and prepare the stake. At this they kept him tied and standing for nearly twenty-four hours, with what sensations, can better be imagined than expressed. From the stake, however, he was not released by fire, but taken by the Indians to run the gauntlet. At this place there were assembled five or six hundred Indians, of all ages, sexes, and conditions. These were armed with switches, sticks, and every kind of hand-weapon known to savages, and formed into rows, reaching to the council-house, distant nearly one mile. Butler was now told that he was to run between those files to the drum, which was beaten at the council-house door; and that, if he could get into the council-house, he should be cleared, but that he was to expect a blow from each Indian as he passed. Next, he was placed between these ranks, and put into motion, by an order and a blow. In a little time he broke through one of the files, before he received many blows, and continued running for the council-house door, which he had nearly gained, when he was knocked down by a warrior with a club. Here he was severely beaten, and again taken into custody.

"In this distressed and miserable condition, when life had become burthensome, and death would have been relief, was he marched from town to town, often threatened to be burned at the stake, and frequently compelled to run the gauntlet.

"On one of these occasions he broke the rank, determined, at the risk of his life, to make his escape; and had actually gained a considerable advantage of his foot pursuers, when he was met by some Indians coming to town on horseback, and compelled to surrender.

"At thirteen towns he ran the gauntlet, and was certainly to have been burned at the Lower Sandusky; but an accident suspends his progress, and seems to change his destiny.

"At the Upper Sandusky resided Simon Girty, who had just returned from an unsuccessful expedition against the frontiers of Pennsylvania, and in very bad humor. Hearing that there was a white prisoner in town, he sought him, fell upon him, threw him on the ground, and, to color his violence, accused him of stealing the Indians’ horses. Butler, recognizing Girty, made himself known. They had been comrades and friends. Girty is astonished to find him in such a situation; relents, raises him from the ground, offers him his hand, promises to save him from further injury, and to obtain his release from captivity.

"The horrors of his mind now yielded to the cheering prospects of hope and better fortune, and the little life which yet languished in his bruised and emaciated body became an object of his solicitude.

"A council was called, the case stated, and Girty’s influence obtained a decree of liberation in his favor. Girty now took him to his house, bestowed on him the rites of hospitality, washed his wounds, and dressed him in a new suit of clothes.

"For five days he was at liberty, and felt himself recovering both strength and spirits. But such is the instability of a disorganized democracy, and the spirit of ferocity in uncivilized man, that the chiefs of several neighboring towns, hearing that the white prisoner was set free, now became dissatisfied, and, repairing to Sandusky, demanded another council. This was accordingly held, and the former decree in favor of Butler, notwithstanding all Girty’s exertions, promptly reversed. He is once more reduced to the condition of a prisoner, and his former sentence of death renewed against him. Girty was now compelled to give him up, and he was marched away to Lower Sandusky, to be burned. At this place he met with Peter Drewyear, Indian Agent from Detroit. Drewyear, from motives of humanity, interceded with the council, and obtained permission to take Butler with him on his return home. At Detroit, he was given up to the British governor, and paroled, with orders to appear at nine o’clock, each day, when the drum beat for parade.

"This partial freedom was solaced with joy by meeting with Jesse Coffer, Nathaniel Bullock, and others, from Kentucky, who had been taken prisoners by the Indians, and found safety for their lives at a British garrison.

“In some short time, Butler and the men just named found means of escape, and, in 1779, returned to Kentucky, after a march of thirty days through the woods.”[9]

Romance has nothing equal to this simple story. It wants nothing of the grandeur of "Mazeppa," but the Polish fore-ground, which encloses so well that kindred legend of the wilderness.

The State of Delaware, originally disputed between certain Connecticut settlers and Pennsylvania, became, shortly before the Revolution, the home of several Irish families. In the contests of the two parties of settlers, Colonel Plunkett, an Irishman, commanded what is called "the Pennyite" force, and Colonel Zebulon Butler "the Yankees." Among those who fell in this contest, special mention is made of "Thomas Neill, an Irishman of middle age, and the most learned man in the valley." He joined the Yankees because, as he said, "they were the weakest side." His captain, McKarrachan, killed in the Wyoming massacre, was also an Irishman. He emigrated from Belfast, in 1764, and was a magistrate of Westmoreland County, before the war.

It was a strange chance, in that memorable massacre, that the British commander was Colonel John Butler, a remote relative of the American defender, Colonel Zebulon Butler. If the Indian slaughter at that siege has aspersed with blood the name of the one, it has covered with glory that of the other.[10]

This family of Butler, destined to give so many distinguished names to America, originated in Kilkenny. The founder of the Pennsylvania house of that name emigrated as Agent for Indian Affairs, towards the close of the 17th century. Attracted, probably, by his example or advice, other cadets of the Ormond stock had settled in Carolina and Kentucky, from whom many generals and senators have been furnished to the Union.[11]

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[1] Dobbs on "Irish Trade:" Dublin, 1729.

[2] Watson’s Annals of Philadelphia, p. 290.

[3] Holmes’ Annals of America, vol. i.

[4] Hoozack’s Life of DeWitt Clinton.

[5] Bozman’s Maryland, vol: i.

[6] Ramsay’s South Carolina.

[7] In Ireland there was a famous family of this name, near Mayo, whose decay an Irish bard of the Jacobite era pathetically laments:—

“’Tis my grief that Patrick Loughlin is not

Earl in Erris still;

That Brian Duff no longer rules as

Lord upon the Hill;

That Colonel Hugh McGrady should

Be lying stark and low,—

And I sailing, sailing swiftly

From the County of Mayo.”

McCarthy’s "Book of Irish Ballads.

[8] Marshall’s Hist. of Kentucky, chap. iii. vol. i.

[9] Marshall’s Kentucky, vol. i.

[10] The historian of Wyoming tells a pleasant anecdote of an Irish settler,—"an old man named Fitzgerald. The Indians and their allies placed him on a flax-brake, and told him he must renounce his rebel principles and declare for the king, or die. ‘Well,’ said the stout-hearted old fellow, ‘I am old, and have little time to live any how, and I had rather die now a friend of my country, than live ever so long, and die a Tory.’ They had magnanimity enough to let him go."—Miner’s Hist, of Wyoming, p. 200.

[11] The present General William O. Butler, of Kentucky, and Pierce Butler, Senator for South Carolina, are of this family.