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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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John Sullivan & The Battle of Trenton

john-sullivanThe Battle of Trenton is a small but pivotal battle during the American Revolutionary War which takes place on the morning of December 26, 1776, in Trenton, New Jersey.

The Continental Army has previously suffered several defeats in New York and has been forced to retreat through New Jersey to Pennsylvania. Morale in the army is low. To end the year on a positive note, George Washington, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, devises a plan to cross the Delaware River on the night of December 25–26 and surround the Hessian garrison.

Because the river is icy and the weather severe, the crossing proves dangerous. Two detachments are unable to cross the river, leaving Washington with only 2,400 men under his command in the assault, 3,000 less than planned.

Washington’s army marches 9 miles south to Trenton. One division commanded by John Sullivan, the third son of Irish settlers from the Beara Peninsula in County Cork, secures the important bridge over the Assunpink Creek to the south of the town. This prevents escape and ensures the high number of Hessian prisoners captured.

The Hessians have lowered their guard, thinking they are safe from the American army, and have no long-distance outposts or patrols. Washington’s forces catch them off guard and, after a short but fierce resistance, most of the Hessians surrender, with negligible losses to the Americans. Almost two thirds of the 1,500-man garrison is captured, and only a few troops escaped across Assunpink Creek.

Despite the battle’s small numbers, the American victory inspires rebels in the colonies. With the success of the revolution in doubt a week earlier, the army had seemed on the verge of collapse. The dramatic victory inspires soldiers to serve longer and attracted new recruits to the ranks.

John Sullivan goes on to serve as a delegate in the Continental Congress, the third Governor of New Hampshire and a judge of the United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire. He dies on January 23, 1795 at the age of 54 in Durham, New Hampshire. He is buried in the Sullivan Family Burial Ground in Durham.

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Birth of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Playwright & Satirist

Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan, Irish satirist, playwright and poet, and long-term owner of the London Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, is born on October 30, 1751 in Dublin, where his family has a house on then fashionable Dorset Street.

While in Dublin Sheridan attends the English Grammar School in Grafton Street. The family moves permanently to England in 1758 where he is a pupil at Harrow School from 1762 to 1768. After his period in Harrow School, his father employs a private tutor to directs his studies.

In 1775, Sheridan’s first play, The Rivals, is produced at London’s Covent Garden Theatre. It is a failure on its first night. He casts a more capable actor in the lead for its second performance, and it is a smash which immediately establishes the young playwright’s reputation and the favour of fashionable London. It has gone on to become a standard of English literature.

Shortly after the success of The Rivals, Sheridan and his father-in-law, Thomas Linley the Elder, a successful composer, produce the opera, The Duenna. This piece is accorded such a warm reception that it plays for seventy-five performances.

The following year, Sheridan, his father-in-law, and one other partner purchase a half-interest in the Drury Lane theatre and, two years later, buy out the other half. Sheridan is the manager of the theatre for many years, and later becomes sole owner with no managerial role.

His most famous play, The School for Scandal (Drury Lane, May 8, 1777), is considered one of the greatest comedies of manners in English. It is followed by The Critic (1779), an updating of the satirical Restoration comedy The Rehearsal. He has a rivalry with his fellow playwright Richard Cumberland and includes a parody of Cumberland in The Critic. In 1778, Sheridan writes The Camp, which comments on the ongoing threat of a French invasion of Britain.

In 1780, Sheridan enters Parliament as the ally of Charles James Fox on the side of the American Colonials in the political debate of that year. He remains in Parliament for 32 years.

On February 24, 1809, despite the much vaunted fire safety precautions of 1794, the theatre burns down. On being encountered drinking a glass of wine in the street while watching the fire, Sheridan is famously reported to have said, “A man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside.”

When he fails to be re-elected to Parliament in 1812, his creditors close in on him and his last years are harassed by debt and disappointment. On hearing of his debts, the United States Congress offers Sheridan £20,000 in recognition of his efforts to prevent the American Revolutionary War. The offer is refused.

In December 1815 Sheridan becomes ill and is largely confined to bed. He dies in poverty on July 7, 1816, and is buried in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey. His funeral is attended by dukes, earls, lords, viscounts, the Lord Mayor of London, and other notables.


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Laying of the Cornerstone for the White House

The cornerstone is laid for the White House in the newly designated capital city of Washington, D.C., on October 13, 1792. Earlier in the year, work begins on the neoclassical White House building at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue under the guidance of Irish American architect James Hoban, whose design is influenced by Leinster House in Dublin and by a building sketch in James GibbsA Book of Architecture.

Hoban is an Irish Catholic raised on an estate belonging to the Earl of Desart in Cuffesgrange, near Callan, County Kilkenny. He works there as a wheelwright and carpenter until his early twenties, when he is given an “advanced student” place in the Dublin Society‘s Drawing School on Lower Grafton Street. He studies under Thomas Ivory. He excels in his studies and receives the prestigious Duke of Leinster‘s medal from the Dublin Society for drawings of “Brackets, Stairs, and Roofs” in 1780. Later, Hoban finds a position as an apprentice to Ivory, from 1779 to 1785.

Following the American Revolutionary War, Hoban emigrates to the United States, and establishes himself as an architect in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1785.

Hoban is in South Carolina by April 1787, where he designs numerous buildings including the Charleston County Courthouse. President George Washington admires Hoban’s work on his Southern Tour and summons the architect to Philadelphia, the temporary national capital, in June 1792.

In July 1792, Hoban is named winner of the design competition for the White House. His initial design seems to have had a 3-story facade, nine bays across, much like the Charleston courthouse. Under Washington’s influence, Hoban amends this to a 2-story facade, eleven bays across, and, at Washington’s insistence, the whole presidential mansion is faced with stone. It is unclear whether any of Hoban’s surviving drawings are actually from the competition.

In 1800, President John Adams becomes the first president to reside in the executive mansion, which soon becomes known as the “White House” because its white-gray Virginia freestone contrasts strikingly with the red brick of nearby buildings.


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Death of John Barry, Father of the American Navy

John Barry, an officer in the Continental Navy during the American Revolutionary War and later in the United States Navy, dies on September 13, 1803 in present day Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He comes to be widely credited as “The Father of the American Navy,” a moniker he shares with John Paul Jones and John Adams, and is appointed a captain in the Continental Navy on December 7, 1775. He is the first captain placed in command of a U.S. warship commissioned for service under the Continental flag.

After the war, Barry becomes the first commissioned U.S. naval officer, at the rank of commodore, receiving his commission from President George Washington in 1797.

Barry is born on March 25, 1745, in Tacumshane, County Wexford. When his family is evicted from their home by their British landlord, they move to Rosslare on the coast, where his uncle works a fishing skiff. As a young man, Barry determines upon a life as a seaman and he starts out as a ship’s cabin boy.

Barry receives his first captain’s commission in the Continental Navy on March 14, 1776, signed by John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress. Barry is a religious man and begins each day at sea with a reading from the Bible. He has great regard for his crew and their well being and always makes sure they are properly provisioned while at sea.
During his naval career Barry commands the USS Delaware, USS Lexington, USS Raleigh, and USS Alliance.

On February 22, 1797, he is issued Commission Number 1 by President George Washington, backdated to June 4, 1794. His title is thereafter “commodore.” He is recognized as not only the first American commissioned naval officer but also as its first flag officer.

Appointed senior captain upon the establishment of the U.S. Navy, he commands the frigate USS United States in the Quasi-War with the French Republic. This ship transports commissioners William Richardson Davie and Oliver Ellsworth to France to negotiate a new Franco-American alliance.

Barry’s last day of active duty is March 6, 1801, when he brings USS United States into port, but he remains head of the Navy until his death.

Barry dies of asthma on September 13, 1803, at Strawberry Hill, in present-day Philadelphia, and is buried in the graveyard of Old St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church in Center City, Philadelphia.

(Pictured: Portrait of Commodore John Barry, US Navy, by V. Zveg, 1972, from the 1801 portrait by Gilbert Stuart.)


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Death of Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Playwright & Satirist

Richard Brinsley Butler Sheridan, Irish satirist, playwright, poet, and long-term owner of London‘s Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, dies on July 7, 1816, at 14 Savile Row, London.

Sheridan is born on October 30, 1751 in Dublin, where his family has a house on then fashionable Dorset Street. While in Dublin Sheridan attends the English Grammar School in Grafton Street. The family moves permanently to England in 1758 where he is a pupil at Harrow School from 1762 to 1768. After his period in Harrow School, his father employs a private tutor to directs his studies.

In 1775, Sheridan’s first play, The Rivals, is produced at London’s Covent Garden Theatre. It is a failure on its first night. He casts a more capable actor in the lead for its second performance, and it is a smash which immediately establishes the young playwright’s reputation and the favour of fashionable London. It has gone on to become a standard of English literature.

Shortly after the success of The Rivals, Sheridan and his father-in-law, Thomas Linley the Elder, a successful composer, produce the opera, The Duenna. This piece is accorded such a warm reception that it plays for seventy-five performances.

The following year, Sheridan, his father-in-law, and one other partner purchase a half-interest in the Drury Lane theatre and, two years later, buy out the other half. Sheridan is the manager of the theatre for many years, and later becomes sole owner with no managerial role.

His most famous play, The School for Scandal (Drury Lane, May 8, 1777), is considered one of the greatest comedies of manners in English. It is followed by The Critic (1779), an updating of the satirical Restoration comedy The Rehearsal. He has a rivalry with his fellow playwright Richard Cumberland and includes a parody of Cumberland in The Critic. In 1778, Sheridan writes The Camp, which comments on the ongoing threat of a French invasion of Britain.

In 1780, Sheridan entered Parliament as the ally of Charles James Fox on the side of the American Colonials in the political debate of that year. He remains in Parliament for 32 years.

On February 24, 1809, despite the much vaunted fire safety precautions of 1794, the theatre burns down. On being encountered drinking a glass of wine in the street while watching the fire, Sheridan is famously reported to have said, “A man may surely be allowed to take a glass of wine by his own fireside.”

When he fails to be re-elected to Parliament in 1812, his creditors close in on him and his last years are harassed by debt and disappointment. On hearing of his debts, the United States Congress offers Sheridan £20,000 in recognition of his efforts to prevent the American Revolutionary War. The offer is refused.

In December 1815 Sheridan becomes ill and is largely confined to bed. He dies in poverty on July 7, 1816, and is buried in the Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey. His funeral is attended by dukes, earls, lords, viscounts, the Lord Mayor of London, and other notables.


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Birth of Major General Thomas Conway

thomas-conwayThomas Conway, a major general in the American Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, is born in Cloghane, County Kerry, on February 27, 1735. He becomes involved with the alleged Conway Cabal with Horatio Gates and later serves with Émigré forces during the French Revolutionary War.

Conway is born to James Conway and his wife Julieanne Conway. As a child, he immigrates to France with his parents. At 14, he enrolls in the Irish Brigade of the French Army and rises rapidly to the rank of colonel by 1772.

Following the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War he volunteers to the Continental Congress for service with the American rebels in 1777. Based on an introduction from Silas Deane, the Congress appoints him a brigadier general on May 13, and sends him on to George Washington.

Conway commands the leading brigade on the American right flank at the Battle of Germantown, and is justly praised for his actions. However, Washington opposes his promotion to major general, believing that many American-born officers with longer and valuable service deserve the rank. This, and Conway’s condescending attitude, lead to continued friction between the men. Congress appoints Conway a major general anyway in December 1777, and makes him inspector general of the army.

When his name is used politically, it is used to describe the infighting known as the Conway Cabal. During the affair, he has written a letter to General Horatio Gates in which he refers to Washington as a “weak general.” The letter is intercepted by Washington and his backers after its delivery is botched by Brigadier General James Wilkinson, and is brought before the Congress for inquiry. When the contents of the letter are made public, Conway loses his command as a result. He tries a ploy that had worked before his promotion, and submits his resignation to Congress in March 1778. This time, however, it is accepted, so he is forced to leave the Continental Army. John Cadwalader shoots him in a duel on July 4, 1778. When he recovers, he writes an apology to Washington and returns to France.

Conway later returns to the French Army. In 1787 he receives promotion to Maréchal-de-camp (Major General) and an appointment as Governor of French colonies in India.

In 1793 he fights with royalist forces in opposition to French Revolution in southern France. Their loss forces him to become an exile from his adopted country.

During the French Revolution he is condemned to death. He is saved only by an appeal to Great Britain, against which he had fought in the American Revolution, but is compelled to flee from France for his life. He supposedly returns to Ireland and remains there until his death.

After that Conway disappears from history. He is believed to have died about 1800 in poverty and exile.


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Death of James Hogun, American Revolutionary War Officer

James Hogun, Irish American military officer who is as one of five generals from North Carolina to serve with the Continental Army during the American Revolutionary War, dies on January 4, 1781.

Born in Ireland around 1721, Hogun migrates to North Carolina, then a British colony, in 1751. Settling in Halifax County, he raises a family and establishes himself as a prominent local figure.

A member of the county’s Committee of Safety, he represents it at the North Carolina Provincial Congress and helps to draft the first Constitution of North Carolina. When North Carolina decides to raise three more regiments for George Washington’s Continental Army, James Hogun is appointed colonel of one of them, the 7th North Carolina. He participates in the battles of Brandywine and Germantown in 1777, where Hogun is cited for “distinguished intrepidity.” The Continental Congress promotes Hogun to brigadier general in 1779, although several congressmen and the North Carolina General Assembly wish to see Thomas Clark of North Carolina promoted instead.

In November 1779, Hogun is sent south in command of the North Carolina Brigade to the aid of General Benjamin Lincoln, who is facing an anticipated British assault at Charleston, South Carolina. The march south, through one of the worst winters ever, is a severe one and Hogun’s numbers are reduced by the time he reached Charleston on March 3, 1780. Before the end of the month, British General Henry Clinton’s men are besieging the city. The Americans, though outnumbered more than two to one, have a few successes but soon they are running low on food and ammunition.

At a council of war May 11, the decision is made to surrender. The surrender the following day is one of the worst American defeats of the war — more than 2,500 men become British prisoners. The British hastily build a prison on Haddrel’s Point, a peninsula in Charleston’s harbor, to hold the prisoners, but the site is incomplete and conditions are harsh.

Generals McIntosh, Lincoln, and Scott, and other high-ranking officers accept parole from the British and depart. Generals William Moultrie and Hogun refuse, preferring to stay with their men. The British are trying to recruit colonial soldiers to serve them in the West Indies. In spite of his flagging health, Hogun fears some of his men might weaken if he departs.

As winter sets in, Hogun’s condition worsens. On January 4, 1781, he passes away and was buried near the prison. Like so many other Irish-born soldiers before and after him, James Hogun had given his last full measure of devotion to his adopted country.