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


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Death of John Dunlap, Printer of the Declaration of Independence

John Dunlap, Irish printer who printed the first copies of the United States Declaration of Independence and one of the most successful Irish American printers of his era, dies in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on November 27, 1812.

Dunlap is born in 1747 in Strabane, County Tyrone, in what is now Northern Ireland. When he is ten years old, he goes to work as an apprentice to his uncle, William Dunlap, a printer and bookseller in Philadelphia. In 1766, William Dunlap leaves the business in the care of his nephew, who eventually purchases the business. Initially he makes a living by printing sermons, broadsides and handbills. In November 1771, he begins the publication of the Pennsylvania Packet, or General Advertiser, a weekly newspaper. In 1773 he marries Elizabeth Hayes Ellison.

During the American Revolutionary War, Dunlap becomes an officer in the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry and sees action with George Washington at the battles of Trenton and Princeton. He continues in the First City Troop after the war, rising to the rank of major, and leading Pennsylvania’s cavalry militia to help suppress the Whiskey Rebellion in 1794.

In 1776, Dunlap secures a lucrative printing contract for the Continental Congress. In July 1776, fighting between the American colonists and the British forces had been going on for over a year. On July 2, the Second Continental Congress votes on the Lee Resolution to secede. Two days later, they approve the final wording of a public declaration regarding their decision, which ultimately comes to be known as the Declaration of Independence. President of Congress John Hancock signs the fair copy with Secretary of Congress Charles Thomson attesting it. That evening Hancock orders Dunlap to print broadside copies of the declaration. He prints perhaps 200 broadsides, since known as the Dunlap broadsides, which are the first published versions of the Declaration.

Dunlap also prints items for Pennsylvania’s revolutionary government. In 1777 he takes over the printing of the Journals of the Continental Congress from Robert Aitken, but loses the contract in 1779 after printing in his newspaper a letter from Thomas Paine that leaks news of the secret French aid to the Americans.

In 1784, Dunlap’s paper becomes a daily with a new title: the North American and United States Gazette. It is not the first daily in the United States as the Pennsylvania Evening Post is the first in 1783, but it becomes the first successful daily.

Continuing to serve the changing needs of the government, Dunlap and his partner David Claypoole print the Constitution of the United States on September 19, 1787 for use by the Constitutional Convention, and later publish it for the first time in the Pennsylvania Packet.

Dunlap’s major financial success comes from real estate speculation. During the American Revolutionary War, he purchases property confiscated from Loyalists who refuse to take Pennsylvania’s new loyalty oath. After the war, he purchases land in Kentucky. By 1795, when he is forty-eight, he is able to retire with a sizable estate. Retirement does not agree with him, however. According to his friend, Dr. Benjamin Rush, he becomes a drunkard in his final years. He dies in Philadelphia on November 27, 1812.


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Death of Thomas Fitzsimons, U.S. Merchant & Statesman

thomas-fitzsimonsThomas Fitzsimons, American merchant and statesman of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, dies in Philadelphia on August 26, 1811. He represents Pennsylvania in the Continental Congress, the Constitutional Convention and the United States House of Representatives.

Fitzsimons is born in Ireland in 1741. In the mid-1750s his family immigrates to Philadelphia, where his father dies soon thereafter. He has enough education that he begins work as a clerk in a mercantile house. He marries Catherine Meade on November 23, 1761 and forms a business partnership with her brother George. Their firm, which specializes in the West Indies trade, operates successfully for over 41 years.

The firm is soon hit by the new revenue measures created to help support the finances of the British Empire, including the much reviled Stamp Act of 1765. Concerned with these ideas, Fitzsimons becomes active in the Irish merchant community in Philadelphia. He is a founding member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick in 1771 and later, in 1774, a steering committee organized to protest the Coercive Acts.

When Pennsylvania begins mobilizing and organizing a militia to fight the British, Fitzsimons is soon involved. He serves as captain of a company of home guards under the command of Colonel John Caldwalader. Initially his company serves as part of the soldiers who man posts along the New Jersey coast. His unit later serves as part of the reserve at the Battle of Trenton in 1776. Later in the war, he served on the Pennsylvania Council of Safety and heads a board to oversee the newly formed Pennsylvania Navy.

Fitzsimons enters active politics as a delegate to the Continental Congress in 1782 and 1783. He is a member of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives from 1786 until 1795. He is also a delegate to the U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787. Although not a leading member of that convention, he supports a strong national government, the end of slavery, the United States Congress‘s powers to impose a tariff on imports and exports, the granting the House of Representatives, and power in equal to the United States Senate in making treaties. He is one of only two Catholic signers of the Constitution of the United States, the other being Daniel Carroll of Maryland.

After the Constitution is established, he serves in the first three sessions of the House of Representatives as a Federalist, where he favors protective tariffs and a strong navy, co-drafting the Naval Act of 1794 authorizing the original six frigates of the United States Navy. He fails to win re-election in 1794. This was partially attributed to public opinion turning against the Federalist Party over the forceful suppression of the Whiskey Rebellion. Although he never holds elective office again, he serves in 1798 as head of the committee of merchants overseeing the subscription-loan to build a warship at private expense for use in the Quasi-War.

In 1796, FitzSimons, along with James Innes of Virginia, is appointed by President John Adams to serve as one of two American members on the five-man debt commission charged under Article VI of the Jay Treaty with examining the claims of British subjects unable to collect debts incurred by Americans prior to the American Revolution. FitzSimons, Innes and Samuel Sitgreaves, who replaces Innes upon the latter’s death, become annoyed with the arguments used by their British counterparts to inflate the claims total. FitzSimons and Sitgreaves angrily and permanently seceded from the board in July 1799. The claims are eventually disposed of by a lump-sum payment, agreed upon by United States Minister to Britain Rufus King with British Foreign Secretary Robert Banks Jenkinson and approved by President Thomas Jefferson and the Senate in 1802.

While withdrawing from politics, Fitzsimons remains active in civic and business affairs. He serves as president of Philadelphia’s Chamber of Commerce, as a trustee of the University of Pennsylvania, Director of the Delaware Insurance Company and a director of the Bank of North America from 1781–1803. He is a founder of the bank and supports efforts to found Georgetown College. He also helps found the Insurance Company of North America.

Fitzsimons dies on August 26, 1811, in Philadelphia, where he is buried in the cemetery of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church, which is in present-day Independence National Historical Park.


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Andrew Lewis Appointed Brigadier General of the Continental Army

andrew-lewis-statueIrish-born Andrew Lewis is appointed a brigadier general in the Continental Army on March 1, 1776. He is most famous for his 1774 victory in the Battle of Point Pleasant in Lord Dunmore’s War. He also helps found Liberty Hall, later Washington and Lee University, when it is made into a college in 1776.

Lewis is born in County Donegal to Colonel John Lewis and his wife Margaret Lynn. In 1732 John Lewis, having killed his landlord in an altercation, flees to Virginia with his sons Andrew and Thomas. They become among the first settlers in western Augusta County.

Lewis receives a basic education and learns the skills of a surveyor. He spends at least fifteen years farming and working as a surveyor in southwestern Virginia. He also serves as county lieutenant and later captain in the Augusta County militia.

Early in the 1740s Lewis marries Elizabeth Givens, daughter of Samuel and Sarah (Cathey) Givens, formerly of County Antrim. They establish their own home, called Richfield, in what later becomes Roanoke County near Salem.

The Virginia frontier becomes a battleground in the French and Indian War, as do the frontiers of the more northerly colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland. Virginia organizes a militia to defend settlers subject to attacks by Indians upset at encroachments into their territories. Lewis becomes a captain in George Washington‘s regiment. However, after the loss at the Battle of Fort Necessity in 1754, Washington is forced to surrender to the French. Lewis retreats across the Appalachian Mountains.

Washington proposes a series of frontier fortifications to protect settlers east of the Appalachians. Lewis initially serves to build Fort Dinwiddie on the Jackson River of present-day Bath County and is relieved of his command September 21, 1755. The Virginia assembly approves Lewis’ promotion to major and assigns him to oversee the region along the Greenbrier River. On February 18, 1756, he leads the Big Sandy expedition from Fort Frederick with a mixed force of militiamen and Cherokees to raid the Shawnee towns along the Big Sandy and Ohio rivers to retaliate for Shawnee attacks. He leads several expeditions against both Indian settlements and French outposts. During the Forbes Expedition, he is captured during Major James Grant‘s attack on Fort Duquesne during the Battle of Fort Duquesne in September 1758. Taken to Quebec, he remains a prisoner until late 1759.

Upon the formation of Botetourt County from Augusta County in 1769, Lewis is elected to the House of Burgesses and reelected several times until 1780, though the American Revolution precludes much attendance in later years.

When the American Revolution begins, Governor Dunmore suspends Virginia’s legislature. The Whigs form a provisional congress, which includes both Lewis and his brother Thomas as delegates. When the Continental Congress creates a Continental Army in 1775 and makes George Washington its commander, he asks that Lewis be made a brigadier general. However, initially the Continental Congress had decided there should be only one general from each state, and Charles Lee is the first Virginian commissioned as Brigadier General.

On March 1, 1776, Lewis becomes a brigadier general, overseeing Virginia’s defense and raising men for the Continental Army. Virginia’s Committee of Safety calls on Lewis to stop Governor Dunmore’s raids along the coast from his last stronghold, a fortified position on Gwynn’s Island in the Chesapeake Bay. On July 9, 1776 he leads Virginia’s forces which capture the island as Lord Dunmore escapes by sea, sailing to the Caribbean, never to return.

On April 15, 1777, Lewis resigns his commission, alleging poor health. However, he also faces discontent among his men and the army as a whole. Moreover, he is bypassed when promotions are announced for Major General in early 1777. George Washington, in need of every able officer, expresses his disappointment to Lewis.

Lewis remains active in the legislature, and in 1780, Governor Thomas Jefferson appoints him to the Executive Council. The following year, he falls ill while returning home from a council meeting. He dies of fever in Bedford County on September 26, 1781. He is buried in the family plot at his home. His gravesite is not marked. Colonel Elijah McClanahan, who marries Lewis’ granddaughter, Agatha Lewis McClanahan, attended his funeral as a young man, and later identifies his grave to Roanoke County’s Clerk of the Court. In 1887 General Lewis’ remains are re-interred in the East Hill Cemetery at Salem, Virginia.

(Pictured: Statue of General Andrew Lewis outside the Salem Civic Center)


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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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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 Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congress

Charles Thomson, Irish-born Patriot leader in Philadelphia during the American Revolution and the secretary of the Continental Congress (1774–1789) throughout its existence, dies in Lower Merion Township, Pennsylvania, on August 16, 1824.

Thomson is born in Gorteade townland, Maghera parish, County Londonderry, to Scots-Irish parents. After the death of his mother in 1739, his father emigrates to the British colonies in America with Charles and his brothers. His father dies at sea and the penniless boys are separated in America. Charles is cared for by a blacksmith in New Castle, Delaware, and is educated in New London Township, Pennsylvania. In 1750 he becomes a tutor in Latin at the Philadelphia Academy.

During the French and Indian War, Thomson is an opponent of the Pennsylvania proprietors’ American Indian policies. He serves as secretary at the Treaty of Easton (1758), and writes An Enquiry into the Causes of the Alienation of the Delaware and Shawanese Indians from the British Interest (1759), which blames the war on the proprietors. He is allied with Benjamin Franklin, the leader of the anti-proprietary party, but the two men part politically during the Stamp Act crisis in 1765. Thomson becomes a leader of Philadelphia’s Sons of Liberty. He is married to the sister of Benjamin Harrison V, another signer, as delegate, of the Declaration of Independence.

Thomson is a leader in the revolutionary crisis of the early 1770s. John Adams calls him the “Samuel Adams of Philadelphia.” Thomson serves as the secretary of the Continental Congress through its entirety. Through those 15 years, the Congress sees many delegates come and go, but Thomson’s dedication to recording the debates and decisions provides continuity. Along with John Hancock, president of the Congress, Thomson’s name (as secretary) appears on the first published version of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776.

Thomson’s role as secretary to Congress is not limited to clerical duties. Thomson is also noted for designing, with William Barton, the Great Seal of the United States. The Great Seal plays a prominent role in the January 14, 1784 ratification of the Treaty of Paris. Britain’s representatives in Paris initially dispute the placement of the Great Seal and Congressional President Thomas Mifflin‘s signature, until mollified by Benjamin Franklin.

But Thomson’s service is not without its critics. James Searle, a close friend of John Adams, and a delegate, begins a cane fight on the floor of Congress against Thomson over a claim that he is misquoted in the “Minutes” that results in both men being slashed in the face. Such brawls on the floor are not uncommon, and many of them are promoted by argument over Thomson’s recordings. Political disagreements prevent Thomson from getting a position in the new government created by the United States Constitution. Thomson resigns as secretary of Congress in July 1789 and hands over the Great Seal, bringing an end to the Continental Congress.

Thomson spends his final years at Harriton House in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania working on a translation of the Bible. He also publishes a synopsis of the four evangelists in 1815. In retirement, Thomson also pursues his interests in agricultural science and beekeeping. According to Thomas Jefferson, writing to John Adams, Thomson becomes senile in his old age, unable to recognize members of his own household.


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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.


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Birth of Charles Thomson, American Revolution Patriot

charles-thomsonCharles Thomson, Patriot leader in Philadelphia during the American Revolution and the secretary of the Continental Congress (1774–1789) throughout its existence, is born in Gorteade townland, Maghera parish, County Derry, on November 29, 1729.

After the death of his mother in 1739, Thomson’s father emigrates to the British colonies in America with Charles and two or three brothers. The father dies at sea, and the penniless boys are separated in America. Charles is cared for by a blacksmith in New Castle, Delaware, and is educated in New London, Pennsylvania. In 1750 he becomes a tutor in Latin at the Philadelphia Academy.

During the French and Indian War, Thomson is an opponent of the Pennsylvania proprietorsAmerican Indian policies. He serves as secretary at the Treaty of Easton (1758), and writes An Enquiry into the Causes of the Alienation of the Delaware and Shawanese Indians from the British Interest (1759), which blames the war on the proprietors. He is allied with Benjamin Franklin, the leader of the anti-proprietary party, but the two men part politically during the Stamp Act crisis in 1765. Thomson becomes a leader of Philadelphia’s Sons of Liberty. He is married to the sister of Benjamin Harrison V, another signer, as delegate, of the Declaration of Independence.

Thomson is a leader in the revolutionary crisis of the early 1770s. John Adams calls him the “Samuel Adams of Philadelphia.” Thomson serves as the secretary of the Continental Congress through its entirety. Through those 15 years, the Congress sees many delegates come and go, but Thomson’s dedication to recording the debates and decisions provides continuity. Along with John Hancock, president of the Congress, Thomson’s name appears on the first published version of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776.

Thomson’s role as secretary to Congress is not limited to clerical duties. According to biographer Boyd Schlenther, Thomson “took a direct role in the conduct of foreign affairs.” Fred S. Rolater has suggested that Charles Thomson was essentially the “Prime Minister of the United States.” Thomson is also noted for designing, with William Barton, the Great Seal of the United States. The Great Seal plays a prominent role in the January 14, 1784 ratification of the Treaty of Paris. Britain’s representatives in Paris initially dispute the placement of the Great Seal and Congressional President Thomas Mifflin‘s signature, until mollified by Benjamin Franklin.

But Thomson’s service is not without its critics. James Searle, a close friend of John Adams, and a delegate, begins a cane fight on the floor of Congress against Thomson over a claim that he was misquoted in the “Minutes” that results in both men being slashed in the face. Such brawls on the floor are not uncommon, and many of them are promoted by argument over Thomson’s recordings. Political disagreements prevent Thomson from getting a position in the new government created by the United States Constitution. Thomson resigns as secretary of Congress in July 1789 and hands over the Great Seal, bringing an end to the Continental Congress.

Thomson spends his final years at Harriton House in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, working on a translation of the Bible. He also publishes a synopsis of the four evangelists in 1815. In retirement, Thomson also pursues his interests in agricultural science and beekeeping. Charles Thomson dies on August 16, 1824, in Lower Merion Township, Pennsylvania. He is buried at Laurel Hill Cemetery in Philadelphia.