The Irish in Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine

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

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Chapter III.

The Irish in Massachusetts—In New Hampshire—In Maine—Bishop Berkely in Rhode Island—His Gift to Yale College

IN the Colony of Massachusetts Bay, prejudices against natives of Ireland existed from the beginning. At a meeting held in 1725, at Haverhill, for settling the town of Concord, it was resolved, "That no alienation of any lot should be made without the consent of the community." "The object of this regulation," says Mr. Moore, "undoubtedly was to exclude Irish settlers, against whom a strong national prejudice existed, heightened, perhaps, by zeal in differing religious opinions."[1] And these were not individual prejudices, for the General Court of the colony, claiming jurisdiction over the neighboring territory, resolved, in 1720:—"Whereas, it appears that certain families recently arrived from Ireland, and others from this province, have presumed to make a settlement," &c., &c.,—"that the said people be warned to move off within the space of seven months, and if they fail to do so, that they be prosecuted by the attorney general, by writs of trespass and ejectment." The Irish settlers would not be moved off, and it does not appear that the attorney general ever tried his writs upon them.

In the capital of New England, (as the eastern colonies began to be called,) some Irish settlers had early homes. In 1737, forty "gentlemen of the Irish nation," residing at Boston, 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 may be 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."

The names of the twenty-six original members of this Society are as follows:—

"Robert Duncan, Andrew Knox, Nathaniel Walsh, Joseph St. Lawrence, Daniel McFall, William Drummond, William Freeland, Daniel Gibbs, John Noble, Adam Boyd, William Stewart, Daniel Neal, James Maynes, Samuel Moor, Phillip 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, Robert Achmuty; in 1743, Neil McIntire; in 1757, Samuel Elliot; in 1784, Moses Black; in 1791, Thomas English; in same year, General Simon Elliot, Jr., was elected; in 1797, Andrew Dunlap; and in 1810, Captain James McGee.

At the period of the foundation of the Charitable Society, the Irish in Boston were chiefly Protestants, and the 8th Article of the Constitution declared that none but Protestants were eligible to its offices or committees. The most absurd ideas of Irish inferiority prevailed. In 1752, an Irish servant was openly "sold for four years." Catholics, however, were "tolerated," and, at the period of the Revolution, there were several Catholic families in Boston, after which they rapidly increased.[2]

In 1636, the Eagle Wing, with 140 passengers, sailed from Carrickfergus to found a colony on the Merrimack. This vessel having put back by stress of weather, the project was, for many years, abandoned. Towards the end of the 17th century, it was again revived, and "the Londonderry settlement" was formed in the spring of 1719. It began with but sixteen families, who gave the name of their native home to their new abode. They were all Presbyterians in religion, and of that Celtic stock, first planted in Scotland from Ireland, then re-naturalized in the parent land, previous to its deportation to the sterner, but more independent, soil of New England. Few settlements were more prosperous, or productive of great men, than this. "In process of time," says Barstow, "the descendants of the Londonderry 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."[3] Cherry Valley, in New York, was also in part peopled from Londonderry.[4]

In the year 1723, the Irish settlement of Belfast was established in Maine, by a few families. Among these was a Limerick schoolmaster, named Sullivan, who, on the outward voyage, had courted a female fellow-passenger, a native of Cork, to whom he was married some time after his arrival in America. This gentleman had two sons, John and James, whom the father and mother lived to see at the summit of civil and military authority. In 1775, James Sullivan founded in the same State the township called Limerick, from which city several of its first settlers were brought over.

At Wellfleet, Cape Cod, and at Saybrook, Conn., we find some Longford emigrants,—Higginses and Reillys. One of the earliest settlers at Plymouth was the founder of the Higgins family, now so numerous in New England; and the first deed of record in Hampden County, Mass., is an Indian transfer of land to one of the Reillys.

The name of Ireland Parish, under Mount Holyoke, still shows the place of their settlement.

Some Irish families also settled early at Palmer and Worcester, Mass. On a tombstone, in the old burial place of the latter town, are the names of John Young, a native of Derry, who died in 1730, aged 107; and David Young, a native of Donegal, who died in 1776, aged 94 years.

In 1761, 200 Irish emigrants settled in Nova Scotia. The town of Londonderry and County of Dublin were probably named by them. After the peace of 1763, a large number emigrated to the same colony, where, under the distinguished Irish Bishop, Dr. Burke, the diocese of Halifax was founded, in 1802.

One of the most interesting episodes in the early annals of our predecessors here, is the voyage of Berkely to New England, to found his long-projected college of Saint Paul's, for the civilization of the red men. George Berkely was a native of Kilkenny, born near Thomastown, in 1684. His "Theory of Vision," composed in his twentieth year, made his name familiar in Europe. After travelling through France and Italy, he was promoted to the rich deanery of Derry. In the year 1725, his mind became fully impressed with the project of founding a college for the conversion of the red race, which he broached the same year, in a pamphlet entitled "A Proposal for converting the savage Americans to Christianity, by a college to" be erected in the Summer Islands, otherwise called the Isles of Bermuda." After great exertions, certain lands in the West Indies, and an instalment of =£10,000, were voted to him by the English Parliament, to be paid over as soon as the project went into operation. He at once resigned his deanery, stipulating for a yearly salary of £100, and "seduced some of the hopefullest young gentlemen" of Dublin University to accept professorships in the future Saint Paul's, at £40 per year.[5] In January, 1729, Berkely and his companions arrived at Newport, R. I., after a long and stormy voyage. Here, the inconstancy of courts pursued him. He was kept in waiting three years for the money voted him by Parliament, and finally assured by Walpole that there was no prospect of its ever being paid. In these three years he was not inactive. He had a farm of ninety acres near Newport, where "Whitehall," the house he inhabited, still stands. Tradition points out his favorite retreat for reading, among the rocks that project over the deep waters of Narraganset Bay. Here his son was born, here his "Minute Philosopher" was composed, and here, also, he wrote those grand lines, so poetical in conception,—

"Westward the star of Empire takes its way,—
The three first acts already past; [6]
The fourth shall close it with the closing day,—
Earth's noblest empire is the last."

When about to return to Ireland, in 1732, he bequeathed his farm to Yale College, then in its infancy. He also presented it with "the finest collection of books that ever came at one time into America,"[7] Thus, though his first design in favor of civilization was defeated, these private benefactions went far to supply its place; and the historian of art in America will yet take pleasure in recording that the first organ which hymned the praise of God in New England, and the first artist that had dwelt amid its woods, were brought hither by the illustrious Bishop of Cloyne. This artist was the architect of Faneuil Hall, as first built, and the teacher of Copley, the first considerable native painter, produced in the American Colonies.[8]

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[1] Jacob B. Moore's Sketch of Concord. N. H., Hist. Collections of N. H., p. 155.

[2] The following letter from Concord, Mass., furnishes some interesting particulars about a good man, one of the first settlers of that town:—

"With some difficulty, I found the last resting-place of our countryman, HUGH CARGILL. It is from the grave I write. It is marked by a plain slab, surmounted by an urn in relievo, on which is inscribed the initials of the deceased. The inscription is nearly defaced, but, after hard rubbing, I made out the following:

'Here lies interred the remains of HUGH CARGILL, late of Boston, who died in Concord, January 12, 1799, in the 60th year of his age. Mr. Cargill was born in Ballyshannon, in Ireland; came to this country in the year 1774, destitute of the comforts of life; but, by his industry and good economy, he acquired a good estate; (demised?) to his wife, Rebecca Cargill; likewise, a large and generous donation to the town of Concord, for benevolent purposes.'

"Further down on the stone are the following lines: 'How strange, O God that reigns on high,

That I should come so far to die!
And leave my friends where I was bred,
To lay my bones with strangers dead!
But I have hopes, when I arise,
To dwell with them in yonder skies.'

"I find, in the statistics of the town, the following additional facts:

'Mr. Hugh Cargill bequeathed to the town the Stratton Farm, so called, which was valued, in 1800, at $1300, to be improved as a poor-house; and the same to be improved by and for the benefit of the poor, and to be under the special direction of the town of Concord for the time being, and for the purpose aforesaid, forever.

'This farm is now the pauper establishment. He also gave several other parcels of real estate, valued at $3720, the income of which is solely to be applied for the benefit of the poor.'—Hist, of the Town of Concord.

"It is also said he gave the ground to build the Orthodox meeting-house, but I could not find for certain if this is so.

"He was present on the memorable 19th of April, 1775, at the first battle tor American liberty, and rendered good service, together with one Bullock, in saving the town records from the ravages of the brutal soldiery.

"There was another eminent Irishman, about the same time, in Acton If I find anything about him, I will send it along.

"Yours, very truly, JOHN GRAHAM."

[3] Barstow's New Hampshire, p. 130. It may not be out of place to append here what I have been obliged to establish in detail elsewhere,—the inaccuracy of certain New Hampshire orators and others, in inventing a mixed race, whom they call "Scotch-Irish." To each of them we may say, as we have said to one of their best men:—"When you assert that the McClellands, Campbells, McDonalds, Magills, Fergusons, McNeils, McGregors, &c., of Ulster, Scotland, and New Hampshire, are of a race 'entirely distinct' from the O'Flings, Sullivans, and Murphys, of the same or adjoining settlements, you are, I repeat it, in error. We are the same people. Our original language is the same. Our fathers, speaking a common Gaelic tongue, fought, intermarried, and prayed together. The 'Mac' is our joint inheritance, as the Norman prefix 'de,' or the Saxon affix 'son.' Time and ignorance have obscured the early connexion of the two nobler kingdoms; and, I grant you, it is more flattering to New England pride to claim kin with Bruce and Burns, whom they do know, than with Brian and Carolan, whom they as yet know not. If, indeed, a 'Wizard of the West' should arise, like him of the North, to throw enchantment round Ireland's illustrious names, I have no doubt they also would find many anxious to claim kindred with them."

[4] McKensie's Remarkable Irishmen, Part I., where one of the Cherry Valley families, named Campbell, is particularly noticed.

[5] Swift's Letter to Lord Cartaret; Swift's Works.

[6] "The three first acts,"—Asia, Africa, and Europe.

[7] Baldwin a Annals of Yale College, p. 417.

[8] The artist's name was Smibert; his picture of the Berkely family is in Yale College, Connecticut.