seamus dubhghaill

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


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Birth of Philip Embury, Methodist Preacher

Philip EmburyPhilip Embury, Methodist preacher and a leader of one of the earliest Methodist congregations in the United States, is born in Ballingrane, County Limerick on September 21, 1729.

Embury’s parents are members of the colony of Germans that emigrate from the Palatinate to Ireland early in the eighteenth century, and in which Methodism co-founder John Wesley labors with great success. The colony forms from refugees from the War of the Spanish Succession. Embury is educated at a school near Ballingrane and learns the carpentry trade. He is converted on Christmas day 1752, becomes a local preacher at Court-Matrix in 1758 and marries Margaret Switzer that fall.

In 1760, due to rising rents and scarce land, he goes to New York City and works as a school teacher. In common with his fellow emigrants, he begins to lose interest in religious matters and does not preach in New York until 1766 when, moved by the reproaches of his cousin Barbara Heck, sometimes called the “mother of American Methodism,” he begins to hold services first in his own house on Barrack Street, now Park Place, and then in a rigging loft on what is now William Street. The congregation thus forms what is probably the first Methodist congregation in the United States, though it is a disputed question whether precedence should not be given to Robert Strawbridge, who begins laboring in Maryland about this time. Before this, he and Barbara Heck worship along with other Irish Palatines at Trinity Church in Manhattan, where three of his children are baptized.

The first Methodist church is built under Embury’s charge in 1768, in association with Thomas Webb and others, on the site of the present John Street United Methodist Church. He himself works on the building as a carpenter and afterward preaches there gratuitously. In 1769, preachers sent out by John Wesley arrive in New York City, and Embury goes to work in the vicinity of Albany at Camden Valley, New York, where he continues to work at his trade during the week and preaches every Sunday. He and several others receive a grant of 8,000 acres to develop for the manufacture of linen. He organizes among Irish emigrants at Ashgrove, near Camden Valley, the first Methodist society within the bounds of what becomes the flourishing and influential Troy Conference.

Philip Embury dies suddenly in Camden, New York in August 1775, in consequence of an accident in mowing. He is buried on a neighboring farm but in 1832 his remains are removed to Ashgrove churchyard and in 1866 to Woodland cemetery, Cambridge, New York, where a monument to him is unveiled in 1873, with an address by Bishop Matthew Simpson.

(Pictured: Portrait of Philip Embury by John Barnes, Salem, 1773)


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Death of William James MacNeven, Physician & Writer

william-james-macneven-1William James MacNeven, Irish American physician and writer, dies in New York City on July 12, 1841.

MacNeven is born on March 21, 1763 at Ballinahown, Aughrim, County Galway. The eldest of four sons, at the age of 12 MacNeven is sent by his uncle Baron MacNeven to receive his education abroad as the Penal Laws render education impossible for Catholics in Ireland. He makes his collegiate studies in Prague. His medical studies are made in Vienna where he is a pupil of Pestel and takes his degree in 1784. He returns to Dublin in the same year to practise.

MacNeven becomes involved in the Society of United Irishmen with such men as Lord Edward Fitzgerald, Thomas Addis Emmet, and his brother Robert Emmet. He is arrested in March 1798 and confined in Kilmainham Gaol, and afterwards in Fort George, Scotland, until 1802, when he is liberated and exiled. In 1803, he is in Paris seeking an interview with Napoleon Bonaparte in order to obtain French troops for Ireland. Disappointed in his mission, MacNeven comes to the United States, landing at New York City on July 4, 1805.

In 1807, he delivers a course of lectures on clinical medicine in the recently established College of Physicians and Surgeons. Here in 1808, he receives the appointment of professor of midwifery. In 1810, at the reorganization of the school, he becomes the professor of chemistry, and in 1816 is appointed to the chair of materia medica. In 1826 with six of his colleagues, he resigns his professorship because of a misunderstanding with the New York Board of Regents, and accepts the chair of materia medica at Rutgers Medical College, a branch of the New Jersey institution of that name, established in New York as a rival to the College of Physicians and Surgeons. The school at once becomes popular because of its faculty, but after four years is closed by legislative enactment on account of interstate difficulties. The attempt to create a school independent of the regents results in a reorganization of the University of the State of New York.

MacNeven, affectionately known as “The Father of American Chemistry,” dies in New York City on July 12, 1841. He is buried on the Riker Farm in the Astoria section of Queens, New York.

One of the oldest obelisks in New York City is dedicated to him in the Trinity Church, located between Wall Street and Broadway, New York. The obelisk is opposite to another commemorated for his friend Thomas Emmet. MacNeven’s monument features a lengthy inscription in Irish, one of the oldest existent dedications of this kind in the Americas.


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Hercules Mulligan Cleared of Suspicions by George Washington

hercules-mulliganHercules Mulligan, tailor and spy during the American Revolutionary War, is cleared of suspicions of possible Loyalist sympathies when George Washington has breakfast with him on November 25, 1783, the day after the British evacuate New York City and Washington enters it at the end of the war.

Mulligan is born in Coleraine, County Londonderry to Hugh and Sarah Mulligan. The family immigrates to North America in 1746, settling in New York City. Mulligan attends King’s College, now Columbia University, in New York City. After graduating, Mulligan works as a clerk for his father’s accounting business. He later goes on to open a tailoring and haberdashery business, catering to wealthy British Crown force officers.

Mulligan is introduced to Alexander Hamilton shortly after Hamilton arrives in New York. Mulligan helps Hamilton enroll at the Elizabethtown Academy in New Jersey, and later, the College of New Jersey at Princeton, now Princeton University. After Hamilton enrolls at King’s College, he lives with Mulligan in New York City. Mulligan has a profound impact on Hamilton’s desire for revolution.

In 1765, Mulligan is one of the first colonists to join the Sons of Liberty, a secret society formed to protect the rights of the colonists and to fight British taxation. He also helps to mob British soldiers in the Battle of Golden Hill. He is a member of the New York Committee of Correspondence, a group that rallies opposition to the British through written communications. In August 1775, he and the Corsicans, a New York volunteer militia company, under fire from HMS Asia, successfully raid four British cannons in the Battery. In 1776, Mulligan and the Sons of Liberty knock down a statue of King George III in Bowling Green, melting the lead in the center to cast bullets to use against the British. Mulligan continues to fight for liberty following the Declaration of Independence.

While staying with the Mulligan family, Alexander Hamilton comes to share Mulligan’s views. Initially siding with the British before coming to New York, Hamilton is persuaded to change his views and join the Sons of Liberty. As a result, Hamilton writes an essay in 1775 in favor of independence, which causes a sensation and helps hasten the Revolution. When George Washington speaks of his need for reliable information from within New York City in 1776, after the Continental Army is driven out, Hamilton recommends Mulligan due to his placement as tailor to British soldiers and higher-ups.

This proves to be incredibly successful, with Mulligan saving Washington’s life on two occasions. The first occurs when a British officer, who requests a watch coat late one evening, tells Mulligan of their plans. “Before another day, we’ll have the rebel general in our hands.” Mulligan quickly informs Washington, who changes his plans and avoids capture.

Mulligan’s slave, Cato, is a Black Patriot who serves as spy together with Mulligan, and often acts the role of courier, in part through British-held territory, by exploiting his status as a slave, letting him pass on intelligence to the Continental Army without being stopped.

It is not known what happened to Mulligan’s slave Cato. However, on January 25, 1785, Mulligan becomes one of the 19 founding members, along with Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, of the New York Manumission Society, an early American organization founded to promote abolition of slaves.

Following the Revolution, Mulligan’s tailoring business prospers. He retires at the age of 80 and dies five years later on March 4, 1825. Mulligan is buried in the Sanders tomb behind Trinity Church. When the church is enlarged, the Sanders tomb is covered. Today, there is a tombstone located in the southwest quadrant of the churchyard bearing Mulligan’s name.