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


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Birth of James Graham Fair, Mining Tycoon & U.S. Senator

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James Graham Fair, banker, mining tycoon, and United States Senator from Nevada, is born in Clogher, County Tyrone on December 3, 1831. He is credited with discovering the Big Bonanza, one of the richest pockets of gold and silver on the Comstock Lode.

Born in what is now Northern Ireland in 1831 to Scotch-Irish parents, Fair immigrates with his family to the United States when he is a boy and grows up on a farm in Illinois. Following the 1849 California Gold Rush, he travels to California. He earns a reputation for understanding ore bodies, inspiring his eventual employment as superintendent of various mines.

The 1859 discovery of the Comstock Lode in Nevada provides Fair with new opportunities. In 1865, he becomes superintendent of the prestigious Ophir Mine. Two years later, the Hale and Norcross Mine in Virginia City hire him as assistant superintendent, but the owners dismiss him within a year for unclear reasons.

While at the Hale and Norcross, Fair meets John William Mackay, whose success at the Kentuck Mine made him a millionaire. The two Irish immigrants recognize common interests and form an alliance. Mackay gives Fair the position of superintendent of the Rising Star Mine in Idaho, a property he had recently acquired. The venture proves unsuccessful, but it solidifies a working relationship between the two.

Fair works quietly with Mackay and investors James C. Flood and William S. O’Brien to obtain control of the Hale and Norcross Mine. Fair turns it to profit with better management. He and Mackay combine their expertise to acquire and explore other claims. In 1873, largely through Fair’s persistent search in the Consolidated California and Virginia Mine, the partnership discovers the famed Big Bonanza, one of the richest ore bodies in history. Fair and the others become extremely wealthy. He uses his assets to defeat the incumbent William Sharon for a seat in the United States Senate, which he holds in an undistinguished way from 1881-1887 as a Democrat.

Fair develops real estate in San Francisco and acquires mining property outside Nevada. Theresa Fair, his wife, is respected in Virginia City for donations to causes including those of the Catholic Church and the Daughters of Charity. When she divorces her husband in 1883 for habitual adultery, national public opinion turns against the senator. During his bid for reelection, he finds little support. Even Mackay fails to come to his aid, and he easily loses his seat to William Morris Stewart in 1887. He then moves back to San Francisco.

James Fair dies on December 28, 1894 in San Francisco of diabetes mellitus at the age of 63. He is buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma, California.


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Birth of Robert Nugent, Civil War and Indian Wars Officer

robert-nugentBrigadier General Robert Nugent, Irish-born American United States Army officer during the American Civil War and the American Indian Wars, is born on June 27, 1824 in Kilkeel, County Down, in what is now Northern Ireland.

Nugent serves with the Irish Brigade‘s 69th Infantry Regiment, from its days as a National Guard unit and into its incorporation into the Union Army at the start of the war. He is one of its senior officers at the First Battle of Bull Run.

When the unit is originally mustered out of service, the 90-day enlistment terms having expired, Nugent accepts a commission as a captain in the regular army. He is immediately assigned to the 13th Infantry Regiment whose commanding officer, Colonel William Tecumseh Sherman, personally requests. Taking a leave of absence to return to New York, he assists Thomas Francis Meagher in organizing the Irish Brigade. The newly reformed 69th Infantry Regiment is the first unit assigned to the Irish Brigade and, with Nugent as its colonel, he leads the “Fighting 69th” at the Battles of Fair Oaks, Gaines’s Mill, Savage’s Station, White Oak Swamp, Glendale and Malvern Hill.

Nugent is shot in the stomach at the Battle of Fredericksburg and is eventually forced to resign his command. He is appointed acting assistant provost marshal for the southern district of New York, which includes New York City and Long Island, by the United States War Department. An Irishman and Democrat, his appointment is thought to assure the Irish American population that conscription efforts would be carried out fairly. The Irish American, a popular Irish language newspaper, writes that the selection is a “wise and deservedly popular one.” He encounters resistance from city officials wanting to remain uninvolved, however by mid-June reports to his superior officer and provost marshal general Colonel James Barnet Fry that conscription efforts are “nearing completion without serious incident.”

Understanding the seriousness of the situation, Nugent attempts to keep the draft selections quiet and in isolated parts of the city. In Manhattan however, lotteries are placed in the heart of Irish tenement and shanty neighborhoods where the draft is most opposed.

In the ensuing New York City draft riots, Nugent takes command of troops and attempts to defend the city against the rioters. Despite issuing the cancellation of the draft, the riots continue for almost a week. His home on West 86th Street is looted and burned by the rioters during that time, his wife and children barely escaping from their home. Upon breaking into his house, furniture is destroyed and paintings of Nugent and Meagher are slashed, although a painting of Brigadier General Michael Corcoran is reportedly left untouched.

On October 28, Nugent is relieved of his post and succeeded by General William Hays. Returning to active duty, he assumes command of the Irish Brigade in November 1864, shortly after the death of Corcoran. He is present at the battle of Battle of Spotsylvania Court House, the Siege of Petersburg and the Appomattox Campaign. As its last commanding officer, he and the Irish Brigade also march in the victory parade held in Washington, D.C. following Robert E. Lee‘s surrender at Appomattox Court House.

Nugent is brevetted Brigadier General for distinguished leadership of the 69th Regiment on March 13, 1865. The veterans of the Irish Brigade are honorably discharged and mustered out three months later. Nugent remains in the regular U.S. Army for the next twenty years, a formidable “Indian fighter” during the American Indian Wars with the 13th and 24th Infantry Regiments. In 1879, he retires at the rank of major and resides in New York where he is involved in the Grand Army of the Republic, the War Veterans’ Association of the 7th Regiment and an honorary member of The Old Guard.

Nugent becomes ill in his old age, complications arising from his wounds suffered at Fredericksburg, and remains bedridden for two months before his death at his McDonough Street home in Brooklyn on June 20, 1901. In accordance with his last wishes, he is buried at Cypress Hills National Cemetery.


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Birth of Patrick Henry Jones, Postmaster of New York City

patrick-henry-jonesPatrick Henry Jones, American lawyer, public servant, and Postmaster of New York City during the mid-to late 19th century, is born on November 20, 1830, in County Westmeath.

Jones attends grammar school in Dublin for three years until emigrating with his family to the United States in 1840. They settle on a farm in Cattaraugus County, New York where Jones spends most of his childhood. Because of his poor background, he receives only a limited education at the Union School in Ellicottville. In 1850, the 20-year-old Jones becomes involved in journalism and travels as a correspondent throughout the Western States for a leading New York journal. He later becomes the local editor for the Buffalo Republic and one of the editors of the Buffalo Sentinel.

Eventually, Jones decides to pursue a career in law and later studies under the firm of Addison Rice. He is admitted to the bar in 1856 and afterwards practices law with Addison in Ellicottville as a full partner. By 1860, he has established himself as one of the most prominent lawyers in western New York. A lifelong Democrat, he becomes disillusioned by the party’s support of Southern succession from the Union and, in May 1861, decides to join the military in defense of the United States.

Upon the outbreak of the American Civil War, Jones readily joins the Union Army. On July 7, 1861, he enlisted with the 37th New York Volunteers, popularly known as the “Irish Rifles”, under Colonel John H. McCunn. Jones has a successful career serving in the Union Army, being involved in thirty major battles and countless skirmishes, and reaching the rank of brigadier general. He remains at that rank for the rest of the war and resigns on June 17, 1865. He is one of ten Irish Americans to become brigade commanders and one of four Irish-born officers to become a divisional commander.

After his resignation, Jones resumes his law practice in Ellicottville and in November 1865 is elected on the Republican ticket as Clerk of the New York Court of Appeals. On August 13, 1868, Jones is appointed by Gov. Reuben E. Fenton as Register of New York City to fill the vacancy resulting from the death of Charles G. Halpine. On April 1, 1869, Jones is appointed by President Ulysses S. Grant as Postmaster of New York City. From 1875 to 1877, Jones is again Register of New York City, elected in November 1874 on the Republican ticket. Afterwards he resumes his private practice.

In 1878, Jones is involved in the Alexander T. Stewart bodysnatching case when he is contacted by the kidnappers to act as an intermediary between themselves and the Stewart estate. When negotiations stall between the Stewart family’s lawyer Henry Hilton, he assists Stewart’s widow in negotiating for the return of her husband’s body.

Jones suffers serious medical problems in his old age, specifically deafness and chronic diarrhea, which his physician blames on his exposure to artillery fire and his time in the swamps along the Chickahominy River during his military service. He also suffered from constant pain in his right sciatic nerve, attributed to his old war wound suffered at Chancellorsville, as well as his wound in the gluteal region.

In early July 1900, Jones begins suffering from severe gastroenteritis. His condition does not respond to therapeutic treatments as he loses control of his bowels and is unable to keep down solid food, living on scalded milk and brandy. On July 18, 1900, Jones dies from cardiac failure, indirectly caused by his gastroenteritis, at his home in Port Richmond, New York. His funeral is held at St. Mary’s Church two days later and he is buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery.