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


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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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Death of John McElroy, Founder of Boston College

Death of Jesuit John McElroy, the founder of Boston College, at age of 95 in Frederick, Maryland, on September 12, 1877.

McElroy is born on May 14, 1782 in Enniskillen, County Fermanagh, the younger of two sons. In the hopes of providing a better life for John and his brother Anthony, their father, a farmer, finances their travel to the United States. In 1803 the two young men board a ship leaving the port of Londonderry and arrive in Baltimore, Maryland, on August 26. McElroy eventually settles in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., and becomes a merchant.

In 1806, McElroy enters Georgetown College in Washington, D.C., the same year he enters the novitiate of the Society of Jesus as a lay brother. He eventually manages the finances of Georgetown College and in 1808 erects the tower building. He managed the school’s finances so well that through the period of economic hardship following the War of 1812, he is able to send several Jesuits to Rome to study.

McElroy is ordained in May 1817, after less than two years of preparation. As a new priest, he is assigned to Holy Trinity Catholic Church in Georgetown as an assistant pastor. In his short time at Trinity, he contributes to the growth of the congregation and enlarging of the church building. This is achieved by increasing the monthly subscription for congregation members from 12½ cents to $12.50 on July 3, 1819. The following day he travels to most of the congregation members’ homes and collects $2,000 in pledges. He immediately sets to work having the Church modified to include two lateral-wing chapels, which are first used on October 3, 1819.

On January 11, 1819, McElroy is granted United States citizenship. Also in 1819, McElroy starts a Sunday School for black children who are taught prayers and catechism simultaneously with spelling and reading, by volunteer members of the congregation. McElroy spends his remaining years in Georgetown teaching the lower grades.

In 1823, McElroy begins negotiations with the Sisters of Charity in Emmitsburg, Maryland, for the establishment of a school for girls in Frederick. In 1824, the St. John’s Benevolent Female Free School is founded by the Sisters of Charity of Saint Joseph at 200 East Second Street in Frederick. In 1825, McElroy sets to work replacing the pre-American Revolution log cabin that houses the school with a modern building large enough to also house an orphanage.

McElroy’s next task is to found an educational institution for boys. On August 7, 1828, the construction of St. John’s Literary Institute begins. The following year the construction is completed and the school is opened, a school which is currently operating under the name of Saint John’s Catholic Prep.

In October 1847, McElroy is welcomed in Boston, Massachusetts, by the Bishop of Boston, John Bernard Fitzpatrick, to serve as pastor of St. Mary’s parish in the North End. Bishop Fitzpatrick sets McElroy to work on bringing a college to Boston.

In 1853, McElroy finds a property in the South End where the city jail once stood. After two years of negotiations the project falls through due to zoning issues. A new site is identified and city officials endorse the sale. In 1858, Bishop Fitzpatrick and Father McElroy break ground for Boston College, and for the Church of the Immaculate Conception. Classes began in the fall of 1864, and continue at this location until 1913 when the college moves to its current location at Chestnut Hill. Initially Boston College offers a 7-year program including both high school and college. This joint program continues until 1927 when the high school is separately incorporated.

In 1868, McElroy retires to the Jesuit novitiate in Frederick, Maryland. He visits Georgetown for the final time in 1872 to celebrate his golden jubilee. His eyesight is failing and while moving through his home he falls, fracturing his femur, which eventually leads to his death. Father John McElroy dies September 12, 1877 at the Jesuit novitiate in Frederick, Maryland. For some years leading up to his death, he is regarded as the oldest priest in the United States and the oldest Jesuit in the world. He is buried in the Novitiate Cemetery. In 1903, the Jesuits withdraw from Frederick and the graves are moved from the Frederick Jesuit Novitiate Cemetery to St. John’s Cemetery.