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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 Conor Cruise O’Brien, Politician, Writer & Historian

conor-cruise-o-brienConor Cruise O’Brien, politician, writer, historian and academic often nicknamed “The Cruiser,” is born in Rathmines, Dublin on November 3, 1917. He serves as Minister for Posts and Telegraphs from 1973 to 1977, a Senator for University of Dublin from 1977 to 1979, a Teachta Dála (TD) for the Dublin North-East constituency from 1969 to 1977 and a Member of the European Parliament (MEP) from January 1973 to March 1973.

Cruise O’Brien follows his cousin Owen into Sandford Park School, which has a predominantly Protestant ethos despite objections from Catholic clergy. He subsequently attends Trinity College Dublin before joining the Irish diplomatic corps.

Although he is a fierce advocate of his homeland, Cruise O’Brien is a strong critic of Irish Republican Army violence and of what he considers the romanticized desire for reunification with Northern Ireland. His collection of essays Maria Cross: Imaginative Patterns in a Group of Modern Catholic Writers (1952; written under the pseudonym Donat O’Donnell) impresses UN Secretary-General Dag Hammarskjöld, who in 1961 appoints him UN special representative in the Congo, later the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He orders UN peacekeeping forces into the breakaway Katanga province, and the resulting scandal forces him out of office. Despite UN objections, he writes To Katanga and Back (1963) to explain his actions.

After serving as vice-chancellor of the University of Ghana (1962–65) and Albert Schweitzer Professor of Humanities at New York University (1965–69), Cruise O’Brien enters Irish politics. He holds a Labour Party seat in Dáil Éireann from 1969 to 1977 and then in the Senate from 1977 to 1979, representing Trinity College, of which he is pro-chancellor (1973–2008).

In 1979 Cruise O’Brien is named editor in chief of the British Sunday newspaper The Observer, but he leaves after three tumultuous years. He remains an active newspaper columnist, especially for the Irish Independent until 2007. His books include States of Ireland (1972) and On the Eve of the Millennium (1995), as well as perceptive studies of Charles Stewart Parnell, Edmund Burke, and Thomas Jefferson.

Conor Cruise O’Brien dies at the age of 91 on December 18, 2008 in Howth, Dublin.


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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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Andrew Lewis Appointed Brigadier General of the Continental Army

andrew-lewis-statueIrish-born Andrew Lewis is appointed a brigadier general in the Continental Army on March 1, 1776. He is most famous for his 1774 victory in the Battle of Point Pleasant in Lord Dunmore’s War. He also helps found Liberty Hall, later Washington and Lee University, when it is made into a college in 1776.

Lewis is born in County Donegal to Colonel John Lewis and his wife Margaret Lynn. In 1732 John Lewis, having killed his landlord in an altercation, flees to Virginia with his sons Andrew and Thomas. They become among the first settlers in western Augusta County.

Lewis receives a basic education and learns the skills of a surveyor. He spends at least fifteen years farming and working as a surveyor in southwestern Virginia. He also serves as county lieutenant and later captain in the Augusta County militia.

Early in the 1740s Lewis marries Elizabeth Givens, daughter of Samuel and Sarah (Cathey) Givens, formerly of County Antrim. They establish their own home, called Richfield, in what later becomes Roanoke County near Salem.

The Virginia frontier becomes a battleground in the French and Indian War, as do the frontiers of the more northerly colonies of Pennsylvania and Maryland. Virginia organizes a militia to defend settlers subject to attacks by Indians upset at encroachments into their territories. Lewis becomes a captain in George Washington‘s regiment. However, after the loss at the Battle of Fort Necessity in 1754, Washington is forced to surrender to the French. Lewis retreats across the Appalachian Mountains.

Washington proposes a series of frontier fortifications to protect settlers east of the Appalachians. Lewis initially serves to build Fort Dinwiddie on the Jackson River of present-day Bath County and is relieved of his command September 21, 1755. The Virginia assembly approves Lewis’ promotion to major and assigns him to oversee the region along the Greenbrier River. On February 18, 1756, he leads the Big Sandy expedition from Fort Frederick with a mixed force of militiamen and Cherokees to raid the Shawnee towns along the Big Sandy and Ohio rivers to retaliate for Shawnee attacks. He leads several expeditions against both Indian settlements and French outposts. During the Forbes Expedition, he is captured during Major James Grant‘s attack on Fort Duquesne during the Battle of Fort Duquesne in September 1758. Taken to Quebec, he remains a prisoner until late 1759.

Upon the formation of Botetourt County from Augusta County in 1769, Lewis is elected to the House of Burgesses and reelected several times until 1780, though the American Revolution precludes much attendance in later years.

When the American Revolution begins, Governor Dunmore suspends Virginia’s legislature. The Whigs form a provisional congress, which includes both Lewis and his brother Thomas as delegates. When the Continental Congress creates a Continental Army in 1775 and makes George Washington its commander, he asks that Lewis be made a brigadier general. However, initially the Continental Congress had decided there should be only one general from each state, and Charles Lee is the first Virginian commissioned as Brigadier General.

On March 1, 1776, Lewis becomes a brigadier general, overseeing Virginia’s defense and raising men for the Continental Army. Virginia’s Committee of Safety calls on Lewis to stop Governor Dunmore’s raids along the coast from his last stronghold, a fortified position on Gwynn’s Island in the Chesapeake Bay. On July 9, 1776 he leads Virginia’s forces which capture the island as Lord Dunmore escapes by sea, sailing to the Caribbean, never to return.

On April 15, 1777, Lewis resigns his commission, alleging poor health. However, he also faces discontent among his men and the army as a whole. Moreover, he is bypassed when promotions are announced for Major General in early 1777. George Washington, in need of every able officer, expresses his disappointment to Lewis.

Lewis remains active in the legislature, and in 1780, Governor Thomas Jefferson appoints him to the Executive Council. The following year, he falls ill while returning home from a council meeting. He dies of fever in Bedford County on September 26, 1781. He is buried in the family plot at his home. His gravesite is not marked. Colonel Elijah McClanahan, who marries Lewis’ granddaughter, Agatha Lewis McClanahan, attended his funeral as a young man, and later identifies his grave to Roanoke County’s Clerk of the Court. In 1887 General Lewis’ remains are re-interred in the East Hill Cemetery at Salem, Virginia.

(Pictured: Statue of General Andrew Lewis outside the Salem Civic Center)


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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.