seamus dubhghaill

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


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Death of James O’Neill, Irish American Theatre Actor

James O’Neill, Irish American theatre actor and the father of American playwright Eugene O’Neill, dies in New London, Connecticut, on August 11, 1920.

O’Neill is born on November 15, 1847 in County Kilkenny. The family emigrates to the United States and settles in Buffalo, New York. In 1857 they move to Cincinnati, Ohio where James is apprenticed to a machinist.

At the age of 21, he makes his stage debut in a Cincinnati production of Dion Boucicault‘s The Colleen Bawn (1867). Also in 1867, he has a minor part in Edwin Forrest‘s production of Virginius, and then joins a travelling repertory company. By the age of 24 he has already established a reputation among theater managers as a box-office draw, particularly with the ladies. But he is also working doggedly at his craft, ridding himself of all vestiges of brogue and learning to pitch his voice resonantly. He is considered a promising actor, quickly working his way up the ranks to become a matinée idol.

In 1874 O’Neill joins Richard M. Hooley‘s company, and the following year tours San Francisco, Virginia City and Sacramento. He then heads back east to join the Union Square Company.

On June 14, 1877, while in New York City, O’Neill marries Mary Ellen Quinlan, daughter of Thomas and Bridget Quinlan. In the fall of 1877, three months after his marriage, a woman by the name of Nettie Walsh sues O’Neill, claiming that he had married her five years earlier, when she was only 15, and that he is the father of her three-year-old son. Nettie Walsh loses her case and the publicity, although it wounds his bride, enhances his reputation as a romantic leading man.

As early as 1875, while a stock star at Hooley’s Theatre in Chicago, O’Neill plays the title role in a stage adaptation of Alexandre DumasThe Count of Monte Cristo. In early 1883 he takes over the lead role in Monte Cristo at Booth’s Theater in New York, after Charles R. Towne dies suddenly in the wings after his first performance. O’Neill’s interpretation of the part caused a sensation with the theater-going public.

O’Neill soon tires of the Count and his lines come out by rote and his performances become lackadaisical. Monte Cristo remains a popular favorite so he continues the role on tour as regular as clockwork. He goes on to play this role over 6,000 times.

In the middle of 1920 O’Neill is struck by an automobile in New York City and taken to Lawrence+Memorial Hospital in New London, Connecticut. He dies, at the age of 72, on August 11, 1920 of colorectal cancer at the family summer home, the Monte Cristo Cottage, in Connecticut. His funeral at St. Joseph’s Church is attended by, among others, O’Neill’s sister, Mrs. M. Platt of St. Louis and Edward Douglass White, Sr., Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. O’Neill is buried in St. Mary’s cemetery.


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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.