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


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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 Commodore Thomas Macdonough

thomas-macdonoughCommodore Thomas Macdonough, American naval officer noted for his roles in the first Barbary War and the War of 1812, whose family is from Dublin, is born on December 31, 1783, in the New Castle County, Delaware town then known as “The Trap,” but now renamed McDonough in his honor.

Before joining the U.S. Navy, Macdonough, for unknown reasons, changes the spelling of his last name from “McDonough” to “Macdonough.” He joins the Navy in 1800 as a midshipman and spends the first years of his naval career fighting pirates, including the famous Barbary pirates operating out of Tripoli. When the War of 1812 breaks out, Macdonough, then a lieutenant, is made the commander of all the Navy’s forces on Lake Champlain, an extremely important post due to the threat of British invasion from Canada. The opposing sides build their fleets on the Lake through most of 1813.

In August of that year, British General Sir George Prévost begins his invasion from Canada. Moving along the western edge of Lake Champlain, he hopes to use the guns of his fleet to help cover his advance. The British army outnumbers the Americans better than two to one, but Prévost needs to use the Lake to supply his army, thus the fleet of Thomas Macdonough becomes a prime target of the British fleet on Lake Champlain.

The two fleets are fairly evenly matched, but the guns of the British ships have an advantage in range. Macdonough comes up with a brilliant plan to negate this advantage. He anchors inside Plattsburgh Bay in such a manner that the British can not fire at them from long range and have to come around Cumberland Head and approach them head on, presenting their bows to the American guns. From there it becomes a close-range slugging match, more to the liking of the Americans.

On board his flagship, the USS Saratoga, Macdonough fires the first shot, hitting the HMS Confiance, the flagship of Captain George Downie, commander of the British fleet. Macdonough continues to work the gun through the fierce 2 ½-hour battle. Twice his men are sure he has been killed as he is knocked out and lay on the deck. But twice he rises and returns to action. Finally, with Captain Downie dead, and their ships devastated, the largest ships of the British fleet strike their colors, and their gunboats run for home.

On land, General Prévost has engaged the American land forces as the British fleet attacks. When it becomes apparent the American fleet is victorious, Prévost knows that further movement south is futile. He breaks off the attack and retreats toward Canada. Thomas Macdonough’s fleet has ended the British invasion. It is one of the greatest victories in the history of the U.S. Navy.

For his enormous contribution to the momentous victory, the United States Congress has a medal struck in Macdonough’s honor, and New York and Vermont present him with huge tracks of land. He continues his Navy career after the war.

On November 10, 1825, Macdonough dies of consumption aboard ship while commanding the USS Constitution as it is passing Gibraltar. His body is returned to the United States and is buried in Middletown, Connecticut. He is laid to rest alongside his wife Ann Shaler, a lady of a prominent family in Middletown, she having died just a few months earlier.


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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.