seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of Andrew Johnson, 17th President of the United States

andrew-johnsonAndrew Johnson, the 17th President of the United States (1865 – 1869), dies on July 31, 1875 at his daughter Mary’s farm near Elizabethton, Tennessee after suffering two strokes.

Johnson assumes the presidency at the time of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln as he is Lincoln’s Vice President. He is a Democrat who runs with Lincoln on the National Union ticket, coming to office as the American Civil War concludes. He favors quick restoration of the seceded states to the Union without protection for the former slaves. This leads to conflict with the Republican-dominated Congress, culminating in his impeachment by the House of Representatives in 1868. He is acquitted in the Senate by one vote. His main accomplishment as president is the Alaska Purchase.

Johnson is born in poverty in Raleigh, North Carolina on December 29, 1808. His grandfather emigrated to the United States from County Antrim in what is now Northern Ireland. He never attends school and is apprenticed as a tailor and works in several frontier towns before settling in Greeneville, Tennessee. He serves as alderman and mayor there before being elected to the Tennessee House of Representatives in 1835. After brief service in the Tennessee Senate, he is elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1843, where he serves five two-year terms.

On October 17, 1853, Johnson becomes the 15th Governor of Tennessee serving for four years until November 3, 1857. He is elected by the legislature to the United States Senate on October 8, 1857. During his congressional service, he seeks passage of the Homestead Act of 1862 which is enacted soon after he leaves his Senate seat in 1862.

Southern slave states secede to form the Confederate States of America, which includes Tennessee, but Johnson remains firmly with the Union. He is the only sitting senator from a Confederate state who does not resign his seat upon learning of his state’s secession. In 1862, Lincoln appoints him as military governor of Tennessee after most of it has been retaken. In 1864, he is a logical choice as running mate for Lincoln, who wishes to send a message of national unity in his re-election campaign. Their ticket easily wins the election. He is sworn in as Vice President on March 4, 1865. He gives a rambling speech, after which he secludes himself to avoid public ridicule. Six weeks later, the assassination of Lincoln elevates him to the presidency.

Johnson implements his own form of Presidential Reconstruction, a series of proclamations directing the seceded states to hold conventions and elections to reform their civil governments. Southern states return many of their old leaders and pass Black Codes to deprive the freedmen of many civil liberties, but Congressional Republicans refuse to seat legislators from those states and advance legislation to overrule the Southern actions. Johnson vetoes their bills, and Congressional Republicans override him, setting a pattern for the remainder of his presidency.

Johnson opposes the Fourteenth Amendment which gives citizenship to former slaves. In 1866, he goes on an unprecedented national tour promoting his executive policies, seeking to break Republican opposition. As the conflict grows between the branches of government, Congress passes the Tenure of Office Act in 1867 restricting his ability to fire Cabinet officials. He persists in trying to dismiss Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, but ends up being impeached by the House of Representatives and narrowly avoiding conviction in the Senate. He does not win the 1868 Democratic presidential nomination and leaves office the following year.

Johnson returns to Tennessee after his presidency and gains some vindication when he is elected to the Senate in 1875, making him the only former president to serve in the Senate. In late July 1875, convinced some of his opponents are defaming him in the Ohio gubernatorial race, he decides to travel there to give speeches. He begins the trip on July 28, and breaks the journey at his daughter Mary’s farm near Elizabethton, where his daughter Martha is also staying. That evening he suffers a stroke but refuses medical treatment until the following day. When he does not improve two doctors are sent for from Elizabethton. He seems to respond to their ministrations, but suffers another stroke on the evening of July 30 and dies early the following morning at the age of 66.

President Ulysses S. Grant has the “painful duty” of announcing the death of the only surviving past president. Northern newspapers, in their obituaries, tend to focus on Johnson’s loyalty during the war, while Southern ones pay tribute to his actions as president. Johnson’s funeral is held on August 3 in Greeneville. He is buried with his body wrapped in an American flag and a copy of the U.S. Constitution placed under his head, according to his wishes. The burial ground is dedicated as the Andrew Johnson National Cemetery in 1906 and, with his home and tailor’s shop, is part of the Andrew Johnson National Historic Site.


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Death of Alex “Hurricane” Higgins, Snooker World Champion

alex-hurricane-higginsAlexander Gordon “Alex” Higgins, Northern Irish professional snooker player, who is remembered as one of the most iconic figures in the game, dies in Belfast, Northern Ireland on July 24, 2010. He is nicknamed “Hurricane Higgins” because of his fast play.

Higgins is born in Belfast on March 18, 1949.  He starts playing snooker at the age of eleven, often in the Jampot club in his native Sandy Row area of south Belfast and later in the YMCA in the nearby city centre. At age fourteen and weighing seven and a half stone (47.6 kg), he leaves for England and a career as a jockey. However, he never makes the grade because, in his youth, he drinks a lot of Guinness and eats a lot of chocolate, making him too heavy to ride competitively. He returns to Belfast and by 1965, at the age of sixteen, he has compiled his first maximum break. In 1968 he wins the All-Ireland and Northern Ireland Amateur Championships.

Higgins turns professional at the age of 22, winning the World Snooker Championship at his first attempt in 1972, against John Spencer winning 37–32. Higgins is then the youngest ever winner of the title, a record retained until Stephen Hendry‘s 1990 victory at the age of 21. In April 1976, Higgins reaches the final again and faces Ray Reardon. Higgins leads 11–9, but Reardon makes four centuries and seven breaks over 60 to pull away and win the title for the fifth time with the score of 27–16. Higgins is also the runner-up to Cliff Thorburn in 1980, losing 18–16, after being 9–5 up. Higgins wins the world title for a second time in 1982 after beating Reardon 18–15 (with a 135 total clearance in the final frame). It was an emotional as well as professional victory for him. Higgins would have been ranked No. 1 in the world rankings for the 1982-1983 season had he not forfeited ranking points following disciplinary action.

Throughout his career, Higgins wins 20 other titles, one of the most notable being the 1983 UK Championship. In the final he trails Steve Davis 0–7 before producing a famous comeback to win 16–15. He also wins the Masters twice, in 1978 and in 1981, beating Cliff Thorburn and Terry Griffiths in the finals respectively. Another notable victory is his final professional triumph in the 1989 Irish Masters at the age of 40 when he defeats a young Stephen Hendry, which becomes known as “The Hurricane’s Last Hurrah.”

Higgins comes to be known as the “People’s Champion” because of his popularity, and is often credited with having brought the game of snooker to a wider audience, contributing to its peak in popularity in the 1980s. He has a reputation as an unpredictable and difficult character. He is a heavy smoker, struggles with drinking and gambling, and admits to using cocaine and marijuana.

First diagnosed with throat cancer in 1998, Higgins is found dead in bed in his flat on July 24, 2010. The cause of death is a combination of malnutrition, pneumonia, and a bronchial condition. Higgins’ funeral service is held in Belfast on August 2, 2010. He is cremated and his ashes are interred in Carnmoney Cemetery in Newtownabbey, County Antrim.


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Birth of Samuel Haliday, Irish Presbyterian Minister

burning-bushSamuel Haliday, Irish Presbyterian non-subscribing minister to the “first congregation” of Belfast, is born on July 16, 1685 in Omagh, County Tyrone, in what is now Northern Ireland. His refusal to sign the Westminster Confession of Faith leads to a split between Subscribing and Non-Subscribing adherents.

Haliday is the son of the Rev. Samuel Haliday (1637–1724), who is ordained presbyterian minister of Convoy, County Donegal, in 1664. He then moves to Omagh in 1677, leaving for Scotland in 1689, where he is successively minister of Dunscore, Drysdale, and New North Church, Edinburgh. He returns to Ireland in 1692, becoming minister of Ardstraw, where he continues until his death.

Haliday enters Glasgow College, enrolled among the students of the first class under John Loudon, professor of logic and rhetoric. He graduates M.A., and goes to Leiden University to study theology in November 1705.

In 1706 Haliday is licensed at Rotterdam and in 1708 receives ordination at Geneva, choosing to be ordained there because of its tolerance. He becomes chaplain to the 26th (Cameronian) Regiment of Foot, serving under John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough in Flanders. He is received by the Synod of Ulster in 1712 as an ordained minister without charge, and declared capable of being settled in any of its congregations. For some time, however, he lives in London, where he associates with the Whig faction, in and out of the government, and uses his influence to promote the interests of his fellow-churchmen. He opposes the extension of the Schism Act 1714 to Ireland. In 1718 he takes a leading part in obtaining an increase in the regium donum and the synod of Ulster thanks him. He introduces two historians, Laurence Echard and Edmund Calamy, in a London social meeting with Sir Richard Ellys, 3rd Baronet.

In 1719 Haliday is present at the Salters’ Hall debates, and in the same year receives a call from the first congregation of Belfast, vacant by the death of the Rev. John McBride. He is at this time chaplain to Colonel Anstruther’s regiment of foot. It being rumoured that he holds Arian views, the synod in June 1720 considers the matter, and clears him. His accuser, the Rev. Samuel Dunlop of Athlone, is rebuked.

On July 28, 1720, the day appointed for his installation in Belfast, Haliday refuses to subscribe the Westminster Confession of Faith, making instead a declaration to the presbytery. The presbytery proceeds with the installation, in violation of the law of the church, and in the face of a protest and appeal from four members. The case comes before the synod in 1721, but though Haliday still refuses to sign the Confession, the matter is allowed to drop. A resolution is, however, carried after long debate that all members of synod who are willing to subscribe the confession might do so, with which the majority comply. Hence arises the terms “subscribers” and “non-subscribers.” He continues to be identified with the latter until his death. A number of members of his congregation are so dissatisfied with the issue of the case that they refuse to remain under his ministry. After much opposition they are erected by the synod into a new charge.

The subscription controversy rages for years. Haliday continues to take a major part in it, both in the synod and through the press. To end the conflict, the synod in 1725 adopts the expedient of placing all the non-subscribing ministers in one presbytery, that of Antrim, which in the following year is excluded from the body.

Haliday is a lifelong friend to the philosopher Francis Hutcheson. In 1736 Thomas Drennan is installed as his colleague in Belfast. Haliday dies at the age of 54 on March 5, 1739.

(Pictured: The burning bush is a common symbol used by Presbyterian churches; here as used by the Presbyterian Church in Ireland. The Latin inscription underneath translates as “burning but flourishing”. In Presbyterianism, alternative versions of the motto are also used such as “burning, yet not consumed”.)


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Birth of Samuel McCaughey, Politician & Philanthropist

samuel-mccaugheySir Samuel McCaughey, Irish-born pastoralist, politician and philanthropist in Australia, is born on July 1, 1835 at Tullynewey, near Ballymena, County Antrim, the son of Francis McCaughey, farmer and merchant, and his wife Eliza, née Wilson.

McCaughey comes to Australia with an uncle, Charles Wilson, a brother of Sir Samuel Wilson, and lands at Melbourne in April 1856. He immediately goes to the country and begins working as a jackaroo. Within three months he is appointed an overseer and two years later becomes manager of Kewell station while his uncle is on a visit to England.

In 1860, after his uncle’s return, McCaughey acquires an interest in Coonong station near Urana with two partners. His brother John who comes out later becomes a partner in other stations.

During the early days of Coonong station McCaughey suffers greatly from drought conditions, but overcomes these by sinking wells for artesian water and constructing large tanks, making him a pioneer of water conservation in Australia.

In 1871 McCaughey is away from Australia for two years on holiday, and on his return does much experimenting in sheep farming. At first he seeks the strains that can produce the best wool in the Riverina district. Afterwards, when the mutton trade develops, he considers the question from that angle.

In 1880 Sir Samuel Wilson goes to England and McCaughey purchases two of his stations, Toorale and Dunlop Stations, during his absence. He then owns about 3,000,000 acres. In 1886 he again visits the old world and imports a considerable number of Vermont sheep from the United States and also introduces fresh strains from Tasmania. He ultimately owns several million sheep, earning the nickname of “The Sheep King.”

In 1900 McCaughey purchases North Yanco and, at great cost, constructs about 200 miles of channels and irrigates 40,000 acres. The success of this scheme is believed to have encouraged the New South Wales government to proceed with the dam at Burrinjuck.

McCaughey becomes a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council in 1899, and in 1905 he is made a Knight Bachelor. He suffers from nephritis and dies from heart failure at Yanco on July 25, 1919 and is buried in the grounds of St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Narrandera. He never marries.

 


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Kidnapping of RIC Constables Clarke & Murdock

royal-irish-constabulary-badgeAlexander Clarke and Charles Murdock, both constables with the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), the police force in Ireland from 1822 until 1922, are kidnapped and murdered by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) near Clonmany, County Donegal on May 10, 1921.

The disappearance is the most notorious incident to occur in Clonmany during the Irish War of Independence. Both men are stationed at the RIC Barracks in Clonmany. They go on patrol in the evening but are kidnapped near Straid in County Antrim. Both men are shot and their bodies are dumped in the sea near Binion.

Clarke’s body washes up on the seashore near Binion the following day. Constable Murdock reportedly survives the initial attack despite being thrown into the sea. He swims to the shore and seeks refuge among the residents of Binion. However, he is betrayed to the IRA who murder him. His body has never been found. Local tradition suggests that he is buried in a bog near Binion hill.

In June 1921, a military court is held in Clonmany to conduct a postmortem for Clarke. The court finds that Clarke had died from gunshot wounds to the heart, jaw and neck and that his firearm and ammunition were missing. At the time of his death, Clarke is 23 years old and unmarried.

A few weeks later, on July 10, 1921 Crown Forces raid a number of houses in Clonmany looking for Sinn Féin activists. Three unnamed young men from the village are arrested but are released shortly afterwards and allowed to return home.


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Birth of Charlotte Milligan Fox, Composer & Music Collector

charlotte-milligan-foxCharlotte Milligan Fox, Irish composer and music collector, is born on March 17, 1864 in Omagh, County Tyrone in what is now Northern Ireland.

Milligan is the eldest of eleven children born to Methodist parents Seaton Milligan (1837–1916) and Charlotte Burns (1842–1916), with nine surviving including Alice Milligan and Edith Wheeler. All nine children enroll at Methodist College Belfast which provides a privileged and exceptional education. She studies classical piano and composition at the Royal College of Music in London and the Conservatoires of Frankfurt and Milan. Following her marriage to Charles Eliot Fox in 1892, she settles in London.

In 1904 Fox co-founds with Alfred Perceval Graves the Irish Folk Song Society, an offshoot of the Folk-Song Society formed in 1898. Its aim is to collect and publish Irish airs and ballads, in addition to holding lectures and concerts on the subject. She acts as the society’s honorary secretary. The rules of the Society are collected in volume 4 of the Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society. The subscription is 5 shillings payable every January and committee meetings are held at the Rooms of the Irish Literary Society in London.

Fox is a musician in her own right and tours Ireland collecting folk songs and airs. She undertakes a series of tours of County Antrim between 1909 and 1910 with her sisters Edith Wheeler and Alice Milligan. The sisters record and transcribe songs by Irish singers, then publish articles and musical scores in The Journal of Irish Folk Song.

In 1910 Fox visits the east coast of the United States where the New York branch of the Irish Folk Song Society is formed. “The Bardic Recital” is produced on March 16 at the National Theatre in Washington, D.C. She collects and arranges the music for the play.

Fox rediscovers Edward Bunting‘s papers, and under the provision of her will they come to Queen’s University Belfast in 1916. From these papers she writes The Annals of the Irish Harpers. The publication of The Annals of the Irish Harpers stimulates a revival of interest in both the Irish harp and Edward Bunting. Alice Milligan nurses her sister prior to Fox’s death in London on March 25, 1916. An obituary of Charlotte Milligan Fox is in The Irish Booklover (1916). The Journal of the Irish Folk Song Society (1917) has a poem in remembrance of Charlotte Milligan Fox. The same issue has a memoir of Fox by Alice Milligan and an appreciation of Fox by Alfred Perceval Graves.

During 2010 and 2011, the Ulster History Circle mounts plaques for famous Ulster figures. Charlotte Milligan Fox and Alice Milligan have a plaque mounted on Omagh Library, 1 Spillar’s Place, Omagh, County Tyrone.


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Birth of Irish Nationalist Bobby Sands

Robert Gerard Sands, commonly known as Bobby Sands, Irish nationalist and member of the Provisional Irish Republican Army, is born on March 9, 1954 at Abbots Cross, NewtownabbeyCounty Antrim, outside Belfast.

Sands is the oldest of four children born to John and Rosaleen Sands, and the couple’s first son. Sands grows up in Belfast under the cloud of nationalist and loyalist divisions. At an early age, Sands’s life is affected by the sharp divisions that shape Northern Ireland. At the age of ten, he is forced to move with his family out of their neighborhood due to repeated intimidation by loyalists.

“I was only a working-class boy from a Nationalist ghetto,” Sands later writes about his childhood. “But it is repression that creates the revolutionary spirit of freedom.” Loyalist intimidation proves to be a theme throughout Sands’ life. At the age of 18, he is forced out of his job as an apprentice car builder. Not long afterwards, he and his family have to move again, as a result of political trouble.

The steady number of conflicts pushes Sands to join the Republican Movement in 1972. His ties to the movement soon capture the attention of the authorities, and later that year, he is arrested and charged with possessing firearms in his house. He spends the next three years of his life in prison. Upon his release, Sands immediately returns to the Republican Movement. He signs on as a community activist in Belfast’s rough Twinbrook area, quickly becoming a popular go-to person for a range of issues affecting the neighborhood.

In late 1976, authorities arrest Sands again, this time in connection with the bombing of Balmoral Furniture Company and an ensuing gun battle. After weathering a brutal interrogation and then a court proceeding that offers up questionable evidence connecting Sands and three others to the attack, a judge sentences Sands to 14 years in prison at the Long Kesh Detention Centre, a facility used to house Republican prisoners from 1971 until 2000, located just outside of Belfast.

As a prisoner, Sands’s stature only grows. He pushes hard for prison reforms, confronting authorities, and for his outspoken ways he is frequently given solitary confinement sentences. Sands contention is that he and others like him, who are serving prison sentences, are actually prisoners of war, not criminals as the British government insists.

Beginning on March 1, 1981, Sands leads nine other Republican prisoners in the H-Block section of the Maze prison on a hunger strike that lasts until death. Their demands range from allowing prisoners to wear their own clothes to permitting visits and mail, all of which are central in improving the inmates’ way of life.

Unable to move authorities to give in to his requests, and unwilling himself to end his hunger strike, Sands’s health begins to deteriorate. During the first seventeen days of the strike alone, he loses 16 pounds. A hero among his fellow nationalists, Sands is elected as a Member of Parliament (MP) for Fermanagh and South Tyrone while in prison. Sands becomes the youngest MP at the time. However he dies less than one month later without ever having taken his seat in the House of Commons.

Only days after slipping into a coma, on the morning of May 5, 1981, Sands dies from malnutrition due to starvation. He is 27 years old and has refused to eat for 66 days. He becomes so fragile over his final weeks that he spends his final days on a water bed to protect his deteriorating and fragile body. At time of his death, Sands is married to Geraldine Noade, with whom he has one son, Gerard.

The announcement of Sands’s death prompts several days of rioting in nationalist areas of Northern Ireland. Over 100,000 people line the route of Sands’s funeral. He is buried in the ‘New Republican Plot’ alongside 76 others. Their graves are maintained by the National Graves Association, Belfast.

While loyalists dismiss Sands’s death, others are quick to recognize its significance. Over the next seven months, nine other IRA supporters die on hunger strike. Eventually, the British government gives proper political recognition to the prisoners, many of them earning their release under the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.

Bobby Sands’ final days are depicted in the 2008 Steve McQueen film Hunger, with actor Michael Fassbender portraying Sands.


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Claire McCollum Proposes to Alastair Clarke

claire-mccollumClaire McCollum, newsreader at Downtown Radio in Newtownards, County Down, Northern Ireland, makes headlines herself on February 29, 2000 when she proposes on air to Dungannon and Ulster rugby star Alastair Clarke and he accepts.

McCollum is born on June 5, 1974 in Carrickfergus, County Antrim. An MA graduate at the University of Dundee, she begins her career in broadcasting with Macmillan Media in 1997. She also works as a researcher for CNN and as a newsreader on Downtown Radio.

McCollum joins UTV in March 2000. As well as presenting and reporting for UTV Sport, she has also presented UTV News bulletins and Sport on Sunday.

In February 2009, McCollum announces she is leaving UTV as part of a voluntary redundancy scheme at the station. In an interview with a regional newspaper, she announces her intention to become a freelance broadcast journalist.

Following her departure from UTV, McCollum builds up her portfolio with BBC Northern Ireland. She becomes synonymous with many of Northern Ireland television’s highest profile events. She co-hosts BBC Proms in the Park at Titanic Slipways, the Olympic flame arriving at Belfast City Hall and the Clipper Homecoming in Derry.

McCollum also presents and reports on two series of the popular BBC Northern Ireland consumer programme In Your Corner and covers many major sporting events including the North West 200, Commonwealth Games in Manchester, Northern Ireland’s Football World Cup qualifiers, Tennis Legends in Belfast and the Belfast International Horse Show. She is also a regular presenter on Balmoral Agricultural Show and Children In Need programmes and hosts the second glittering ‘Celebrity Strictly Come Dancing’ extravaganza for Children in Need.

McCollum and Clarke have two children and reside in her hometown of Newtownabbey, County Antrim.


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Birth of Louis MacNeice, Poet & Playwright

louis-macneiceLouis MacNeice, British poet and playwright, is born in Belfast on September 12, 1907. He is a member, along with Wystan Hugh Auden, Cecil Day-Lewis, and Stephen Spender, of a group whose low-keyed, unpoetic, socially committed, and topical verse is the “new poetry” of the 1930s. His body of work is widely appreciated by the public during his lifetime, due in part to his relaxed but socially and emotionally aware style.

MacNeice is the youngest son of John Frederick MacNeice and Elizabeth Margaret (“Lily”) MacNeice. His father, a Protestant minister, goes go on to become a bishop of the Anglican Church of Ireland. The family moves to Carrickfergus, County Antrim, soon after MacNeice’s birth. His mother dies of tuberculosis in December 1914. In 1917, his father remarries to Georgina Greer and his sister Elizabeth is sent to board at a preparatory school at Sherborne, England. MacNeice joins her at Sherborne Preparatory School later in the year.

After studying at the University of Oxford (1926–30), MacNeice becomes a lecturer in classics at the University of Birmingham (1930–36) and later in the Department of Greek at the Bedford College for Women, London (1936–40). In 1941 he begins to write and produce radio plays for the British Broadcasting Corporation. Foremost among his fine radio verse plays is the dramatic fantasy The Dark Tower (1947), with music by Benjamin Britten.

MacNeice’s first book of poetry, Blind Fireworks, appears in 1929, followed by more than a dozen other volumes, such as Poems (1935), Autumn Journal (1939), Collected Poems, 1925–1948 (1949), and, posthumously, The Burning Perch (1963). An intellectual honesty, Celtic exuberance, and sardonic humour characterize his poetry, which combines a charming natural lyricism with the mundane patterns of colloquial speech. His most characteristic mood is that of the slightly detached, wryly observant, ironic and witty commentator. Among MacNeice’s prose works are Letters from Iceland (with W.H. Auden, 1937) and The Poetry of W.B. Yeats (1941). He is also a skilled translator, particularly of Horace and Aeschylus (The Agamemnon of Aeschylus, 1936).

By the early 1960s, MacNeice is “living on alcohol,” and eating very little, but still writing. In August 1963 he goes caving in Yorkshire to gather sound effects for his final radio play, Persons from Porlock. Caught in a storm on the moors, he does not change out of his wet clothes until he is home in Hertfordshire. Bronchitis evolves into viral pneumonia and he is admitted to hospital in London on August, 27. He dies there on September 3, 1963 at the age of 55. He is buried in Carrowdore churchyard in County Down, alongside his mother.

MacNeice’s final book of poems, The Burning Perch, is published a few days after his funeral. His life-long friend from Oxford, W.H. Auden, who gives a reading at MacNeice’s memorial service, describes the poems of his last two years as “among his very best.”


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Death of William Paterson, U.S. Senator & New Jersey Governor

william-patersonWilliam Paterson, Irish-born American jurist, one of the framers of the Constitution of the United States, United States senator (1789–90), and governor of New Jersey (1790–93), dies in Albany, New York on September 9, 1806. He also serves as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1793 to 1806.

Paterson is born on December 24, 1745 in County Antrim, to Richard Paterson, an Ulster Protestant. He immigrates with his parents to New Castle, Pennsylvania in 1747, eventually settling in Princeton, New Jersey. At the age of 14, he begins college at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), graduating in 1763. After graduating, he studies law with the prominent lawyer Richard Stockton and is admitted to the bar in 1768. He also stays connected to his alma mater and helps found the Cliosophic Society with Aaron Burr.

Paterson serves twice in the Provincial Congress of New Jersey (1775–76), is a delegate to the state constitutional convention (1776), and from 1776 to 1783 is attorney general of New Jersey.

In 1787 Paterson heads the New Jersey delegation to the federal Constitutional Convention, where he plays a leading role in the opposition of the small states to representation according to population in the federal legislature. As an alternative to James Madison‘s large-state Virginia Plan, he submits the small-state New Jersey Plan, also called the Paterson Plan, which advocates an equal vote for all states. The issue is finally resolved with the compromise embodied in the bicameral Congress —representation by population in the House of Representatives, and equality of states in the Senate.

Paterson is instrumental in securing ratification of the final document in New Jersey and is elected one of the state’s first two U.S. senators. He resigns his seat in 1790 and serves as governor of New Jersey until 1793, when he is named an associate justice of the United States Supreme Court.

On September 9, 1806, Paterson, aged 60, dies from the lingering effects of a coach accident suffered in 1803 while on circuit court duty in New Jersey. He is on his way to the spa at Ballston Spa, New York, to “take the waters”, when he dies at the Manor of Rensselaerswyck home of his daughter, Cornelia, and son-in-law, Stephen Van RensselaerStephen Van Rensselaer, in Albany, New York. He is laid to rest in the Van Renssalaer family vault. When the city acquires the property, his remains are relocated to Albany Rural Cemetery in Albany County, New York. Also buried there are Associate Justice Rufus W. Peckham and President Chester A. Arthur.

The city of Paterson, New Jersey and William Paterson University are named for William Paterson.

(Pictured: Portrait of William Paterson (1745–1806) when he was a Supreme Court Justice (1793–1806). This image is from a copy by C. Gregory Stapoko(1913-2006) of the original by James Sharples(1751-1811))