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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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Birth of George Clinton, Soldier & Statesman

george-clintonGeorge Clinton, American soldier and statesman considered one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, is born in Little Britain, Province of New York, British America on July 26, 1739. A prominent member of the Democratic-Republican Party, he serves as the fourth Vice President of the United States from 1805 until his death in 1812. He also serves as Governor of New York from 1777 to 1795 and from 1801 to 1804. Along with John C. Calhoun, he is one of only two vice presidents to hold office under two presidents.

Clinton’s parents are Colonel Charles Clinton and Elizabeth Denniston Clinton, Presbyterian immigrants who had left County Longford in Ireland in 1729 to escape an Anglo-Irish regime that imposed severe disabilities on religious dissenters. His political interests are inspired by his father, who is a farmer, surveyor, and land speculator, and serves as a member of the New York colonial assembly. He is the brother of General James Clinton and the uncle of New York’s future governor, DeWitt Clinton. He is tutored by a local Scottish clergyman.

Clinton serves in the French and Indian War, rising to the rank of lieutenant in the colonial militia. He begins a legal practice after the war and serves as a district attorney for New York City. He becomes Governor of New York in 1777 and remains in that office until 1795. He supports the cause of independence during the American Revolutionary War and serves in the Continental Army despite his gubernatorial position. During and after the war, he is a major opponent of Vermont‘s entrance into the union due to disputes over land claims.

Opposed to the ratification of the Constitution of the United States, Clinton becomes a prominent Anti-Federalist and advocates for the addition of the United States Bill of Rights. In the early 1790s, he emerges as a leader of the incipient Democratic-Republican Party and serves as the party’s vice presidential candidate in the 1792 presidential election. He receives the third most electoral votes in the election, as President George Washington and Vice President John Adams both win re-election. He does not seek re-election in 1795, but serves as governor again from 1801 to 1804. He is the longest-serving governor in U.S. history until Terry Branstad surpasses his record in 2015.

Clinton is again tapped as the Democratic-Republican vice presidential nominee in the 1804 presidential election, as President Thomas Jefferson dumps Aaron Burr from the ticket. Clinton seeks his party’s presidential nomination in the 1808 presidential election, but the party’s congressional nominating caucus instead nominates James Madison. Despite his opposition to Madison, Clinton is re-elected as vice president.

George Clinton dies in Washington, D.C. on April 20, 1812, leaving the office of vice president vacant for the first time in U.S history. He is buried in the Old Dutch Churchyard in Kingston, New York. His nephew, DeWitt Clinton, continues the Clinton New York political dynasty after his uncle’s death.

(Pictured: Portrait of George Clinton by Ezra Ames, 1814)


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The Boston Massacre

boston-massacre-1770The Boston Massacre, a riot known as the Incident on King Street by the British, takes place in Boston, Massachusetts on March 5, 1770. British Army soldiers shoot and kill several people while under attack by a mob.

The incident is heavily publicized by leading Patriots, such as Paul Revere and Samuel Adams, to encourage rebellion against the British authorities. British troops have been stationed in Boston, capital of the Province of Massachusetts Bay, since 1768 in order to protect and support crown-appointed colonial officials attempting to enforce unpopular Parliamentary legislation.

Amid ongoing tense relations between the population and the soldiers, a mob forms around a British sentry, who is subjected to verbal abuse and harassment. He is eventually supported by eight additional soldiers, who are subjected to verbal threats and repeatedly hit by clubs, stones and snowballs. Without orders, they fire a ragged series of shots into the crowd, striking eleven men. Three Americans, ropemaker Samuel Gray, mariner James Caldwell, and Crispus Attucks, die instantly. Samuel Maverick, a 17-year-old apprentice ivory turner, is struck by a ricocheting musket ball at the back of the crowd and dies a few hours later, in the early morning of the next day. An Irish immigrant, Patrick Carr, dies two weeks later. Christopher Monk, another apprentice, is one of those seriously wounded in the attack. Although he recovers to some extent, he is crippled and eventually dies in 1780, purportedly due to the injuries he had sustained in the attack a decade earlier.

The crowd eventually disperses after Acting Governor Thomas Hutchinson promises an inquiry, but the crowd re-forms the next day, prompting the withdrawal of the troops to Castle Island. Eight soldiers, one officer, and four civilians are arrested and charged with murder. Defended by lawyer and future American president John Adams, six of the soldiers are acquitted, while the other two are convicted of manslaughter and given reduced sentences. The men found guilty of manslaughter are sentenced to branding on their hand. Depictions, reports, and propaganda about the event, notably the colored engraving produced by Paul Revere, further heighten tensions throughout the Thirteen Colonies.

(Pictured: Famous depiction of the Boston Massacre engraved by Paul Revere (copied from an engraving by Henry Pelham), colored by Christian Remick, and printed by Benjamin Edes. The Old State House is depicted in the background.)


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Laying of the Cornerstone for the White House

The cornerstone is laid for the White House in the newly designated capital city of Washington, D.C., on October 13, 1792. Earlier in the year, work begins on the neoclassical White House building at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue under the guidance of Irish American architect James Hoban, whose design is influenced by Leinster House in Dublin and by a building sketch in James GibbsA Book of Architecture.

Hoban is an Irish Catholic raised on an estate belonging to the Earl of Desart in Cuffesgrange, near Callan, County Kilkenny. He works there as a wheelwright and carpenter until his early twenties, when he is given an “advanced student” place in the Dublin Society‘s Drawing School on Lower Grafton Street. He studies under Thomas Ivory. He excels in his studies and receives the prestigious Duke of Leinster‘s medal from the Dublin Society for drawings of “Brackets, Stairs, and Roofs” in 1780. Later, Hoban finds a position as an apprentice to Ivory, from 1779 to 1785.

Following the American Revolutionary War, Hoban emigrates to the United States, and establishes himself as an architect in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1785.

Hoban is in South Carolina by April 1787, where he designs numerous buildings including the Charleston County Courthouse. President George Washington admires Hoban’s work on his Southern Tour and summons the architect to Philadelphia, the temporary national capital, in June 1792.

In July 1792, Hoban is named winner of the design competition for the White House. His initial design seems to have had a 3-story facade, nine bays across, much like the Charleston courthouse. Under Washington’s influence, Hoban amends this to a 2-story facade, eleven bays across, and, at Washington’s insistence, the whole presidential mansion is faced with stone. It is unclear whether any of Hoban’s surviving drawings are actually from the competition.

In 1800, President John Adams becomes the first president to reside in the executive mansion, which soon becomes known as the “White House” because its white-gray Virginia freestone contrasts strikingly with the red brick of nearby buildings.


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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 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.