seamus dubhghaill

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


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Capture of Gustavus Conyngham, the Dunkirk Pirate

gustavus-conynghamIrish-born United States Navy Captain Gustavus Conyngham, “The Dunkirk Pirate,” is captured by the British Royal Navy in the waters off New York on April 27, 1779.

Conyngham is born in County Donegal in 1747 and emigrated to British America in 1763 in search of a better life. He settles in Philadelphia in order to work for his cousin Redmond Conyngham in the shipping industry. When the American Revolutionary War begins in 1775 he immediately sailed to France to try to procure supplies needed for the war effort.

The British become aware of Conyngham’s plans and manage to maneuver him out of his ship with the help of the Dutch. After the loss of his ship, he heads back to France, hoping to connect with an ally to the United States. It is there he meets Benjamin Franklin, who helps him in his adventures many times in the future. They form a lasting relationship, and Conyngham eventually awards Franklin the nickname “the Philosopher” for his intellectual fortitude and resourcefulness. Franklin is entrusted with several commissions of the Continental Navy, and on March 1, 1777 Conyngham is appointed Captain of the lugger Surprise.

Conyngham scores a first victory that would warm the heart of any Irishmen, capturing the British merchant ship Prince of Orange on May 3, 1777. Later that year he is commissioned a captain in the Continental Navy and given command of the USS Revenge. He begins a series of highly successful raids into British waters from the port of Dunkirk, thus earning his sobriquet “The Dunkirk Pirate.”

In 1778 Conyngham sets sail for the West Indies and terrorizes British vessels there before finally returning to Philadelphia on February 21, 1779. He and his men had claimed 60 prize vessels in just 18 months. When he sets sail again his luck runs out and his ship is captured by the British vessel HMS Galatea on April 27, 1779. Conyngham was taken to prison in England and treated harshly by his British captors.

After two failed escape attempts, Conyngham tunnels his way out of Mill Prison in Plymouth and manages to make his way to the continent. He joins John Paul Jones on a cruise on the Alliance before returning to the United States. He is captured by the British again in March 1780 and spends another year in Mill Prison.

After the war Conyngham fails in his efforts to continue his naval career or to gain recognition from the United States Congress for his service during the war. He had lost the commission papers given to him by colonial representatives in Paris in 1777. It is said that he assists in the defense of Philadelphia against his old British foes during the War of 1812.

Gustavus Conyngham dies in Philadelphia seven years later on November 27, 1819. Nearly a century later, John Sanford Barnes, a retired navy captain and naval historian, acquires a cache of autographs and documents from a sale by Charavay of Paris. In the collection is Conyngham’s commission from Benjamin Franklin. Barnes publishes his discovery in September 1902, proving that the “Dunkirk Pirate” had never been a pirate at all, but one of the first heroes of the United States Navy.

(Pictured: Captain Gustavus Conyngham, Continental Navy. Painting by V. Zveg, 1976, based on a miniature by Louis Marie Sicardi. Courtesy of the U.S. Navy Art Collection, Washington, D.C. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph.)

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Birth of Sir Hans Sloane, Physician & Naturalist

Generated by IIPImageSir Hans Sloane, Irish physician and naturalist whose collection of books, manuscripts, and curiosities form the basis for the British Museum in London, is born on April 16, 1660 in Killyleagh, County Down in what is now Northern Ireland.

As a child Sloane possesses a strong curiosity of nature, and he develops a particular interest in plants. After studying medicine in London, he travels in France, taking an M.D. degree at the University of Orange in 1683. In 1685 he returns to London and is elected a fellow of the Royal Society. He proceeds to practice medicine as an assistant to British physician Thomas Sydenham. He is made a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1687. That same year he accepts an opportunity to visit Jamaica, traveling as personal physician to the Christopher Monck, 2nd Duke of Albermarle, who had been appointed to govern the island.

The journey to Jamaica provides Sloane with the chance to pursue his interest in the natural sciences. During the 15 months of his travels, he visits multiple islands in the West Indies, including Saint Kitts, Nevis, and Barbados. He ultimately collects specimens of about 800 plants. He also records information on and collects specimens of various fish, mollusks, and insects, and he observes the local peoples and contemplates the natural phenomena of the area. His observations and the specimens he collects during the voyage lay the foundation for his later contributions to botany and zoology and for his role in the formation of the British Museum. He returns to England in 1689, his trip having been cut short by Monck’s death. His collection of plants from the West Indies is one of the first from that region to reach England.

Sloane’s trip to Jamaica also leads to his invention of a milk chocolate beverage. While on the island, he encounters a local drink made from a cacao plant. The beverage apparently makes him nauseous. To avoid this, he decides to mix the cacao material with milk. He finds this concoction to be not only more tolerable but also tasty and healthy. Shortly after his return to England, his milk-based concoction is sold by apothecaries as a medicinal product. His recipe later forms the basis for a milk chocolate product manufactured by Cadbury.

In 1696 Sloane publishes in Latin an elaborate catalogue, Catalogus Plantarum Quae in Insula Jamaica, on the plants he collected in Jamaica. He later publishes Natural History of Jamaica (2 Vol., 1707 and 1725), a comprehensive account of his studies of the natural phenomena of the island country.

Sloane also makes important contributions to medicine. He is physician to Queen Anne, King George I, and King George II. He is created a baronet in 1716, becoming the first medical practitioner to receive a hereditary title. He is relatively progressive as a physician, and, while serving George I, he adopts the practice of inoculation against smallpox for members of the royal family. In 1719 he is elected president of the Royal College of Physicians, a post he serves until 1735. In 1727 he becomes president of the Royal Society, succeeding physicist and mathematician Sir Isaac Newton. He holds the position until 1741. He earns a reputation as a specialist in eye diseases, and he eventually publishes Account of a Medicine for Soreness, Weakness and Other Distempers of the Eyes (1745).

Sloane is also known as an avid collector, and he benefits greatly from the acquisition of the cabinets of other collectors, including amateur scientist William Charleton and English apothecary and botanist James Petiver. When he retires from active work in 1741, his library and cabinet of curiosities has grown to be of unique value, and on his death he bequeaths his collection to the nation, on condition that parliament pay his executors £20,000. The bequest is accepted and goes to form the collection opened to the public as the British Museum in 1759.

Sloane has no son that survives beyond infancy, and the baronetcy becomes extinct upon his death in London on January 11, 1753.

(From: Encyclopaedia Britannica, http://www.britannica.com/biography/Sir-Hans-Sloane-Baronet/)


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Funeral of Sister Theresa Egan

sister-theresa-eganIrish soil is sprinkled over the casket of Sister Theresa Egan as more than 2,000 mourners attend her funeral on the tiny Caribbean island of Saint Lucia on January 7, 2001. The nun is brutally murdered while attending Mass on New Year’s Eve. She is described as a “cheerful and committed” woman by her colleagues.

Sister Egan, originally from Clonaslee, County Laois, trains as a nun at the order’s convent in Ferbane, County Offaly, and leaves Ireland in her early 20s. She spends the first 20 years on the missions, working for long periods in the West Indies, including Grenada.

Sister Egan lives in Saint Lucia for more than four decades, serving as a teacher and administrator at several Catholic schools. She comes from a religious family and seven of the nine children join orders. She is survived by three elderly sisters, all Presentation nuns, and at least one brother.

When the attack takes place Sister Egan, 73, is serving communion at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in Castries. According to local police the attack is carried out by a group of men, dressed in traditional rastafarian clothes, who claim to be opposed to the island’s main churches.

Sister Egan is beaten to death after she tries to escape the attackers. One other person reportedly dies at the hospital after the attack. At least 12 are injured including another Irish nun, Sister Mel Kenny from Clonmacnoise, County Offaly.

Two men who identify themselves as Rastafarians are formally charged with murder and attempted murder among other offences.

Her funeral mass takes place in the same Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception where she died. At the front of the basilica, candles are arranged to spell out the words “sister” and “peace.” She is then buried on a hillside overlooking the capital, Castries, where the attack occurred.

The reasons for attack on the Castries cathedral are unknown and lead to much speculation in the Saint Lucian press. Initial reports say the two suspects tell police they are prophets sent by Haile Selassie, the late Ethiopian emperor worshiped as a god by Rastafarians, to combat corruption in the Catholic church. However Rastafarian leader Ras Bongo Isley says the attack is not the work of real rastafarians, since the movement “teaches love and peace.”

There are also reports that the men belong to an anti-Christian organisation, and that “satanic” symbols had been posted on the doors of Cathedral of Immaculate Conception and other churches a week before the attack. The accused, however, are said to deny any knowledge of the symbols.


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Death of Admiral Sir Peter Warren

peter-warrenAdmiral Sir Peter Warren, KB, British naval officer from Ireland who commands the naval forces in the attack on the French Fortress of Louisbourg, Nova Scotia in 1745, dies on July 29, 1752. He also sits as MP for Westminster.

Warren is born on March 10, 1703 in Warrenstown, County Meath, the youngest son of Michael Warren and Catherine Plunkett, née Aylmer, who was the first wife of Sir Nicholas Plunkett.

In 1716, when he is 13 years old, Warren signs on as an ordinary seaman in Dublin and he and his brother initially serve together. He rapidly rises in the ranks, becoming a Captain in 1727. His ship patrols American colonial waters to provide protection from French forces. He becomes involved in colonial politics and land speculation.

In 1744, Warren is made commodore and commands a 16-ship squadron off the Leeward Islands, capturing 24 ships in four months. In 1745, he commands a group of ships that support the Massachusetts forces in the capture of the Fortress of Louisbourg. The prize system of the time allows naval officers to profit from the capture of enemy ships, and this expedition earns Warren a fortune, a promotion to the rank of Rear Admiral of the Blue, and a knighthood.

From July 1747 to August 3, 1747 Warren is appointed to the command of the Western Squadron. He is second in command of the British fleet on the HMS Devonshire at the First Battle of Cape Finisterre. His conduct in the battle wins him further fame, a promotion to Vice Admiral of the Red and much prize-money.

Warren’s lands include several thousand acres on the south side of the Mohawk River west of Schenectady, New York, now known as Florida, Montgomery County, New York, roughly across from present day Amsterdam. He brings two nephews, William Johnson, eventually Sir William Johnson, and Michael Tyrrell to clear and manage the land. Tyrrell soon leaves, asking his uncle for support with a naval appointment. Tyrrell has a very distinguished naval career, rising to Admiral. He becomes sick while headed to London from the West Indies and is buried at sea. In 1741, Warren builds Warren House, a mansion overlooking the Hudson River on his 300-acre estate in Greenwich Village. He also owns property on Long Island, the van Cortland Estate in Westchester County, New York and South Carolina.

While on a visit to Ireland in 1752, Peter Warren dies suddenly in Dublin on July 29, 1752 “of a most violent fever.” The towns of Warren, Rhode Island and Warren, New Hampshire are named after him, as well as Warren Street in Lower Manhattan.


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Death of Confederate General Joseph Finegan

Joseph Finegan, Irish-born American businessman and brigadier general for the Confederate States Army during the American Civil War, dies on October 29, 1885, in Rutledge, Florida.

Finegan is born November 17, 1814 at Clones, County Monaghan. He comes to Florida in the 1830s, first establishing a sawmill at Jacksonville and later a law practice at Fernandina Beach. At the latter place, he becomes the business partner of David Levy Yulee and begins construction of the Florida Railroad to speed transportation of goods and people from the new state’s east coast to the Gulf of Mexico.

By the outbreak of the American Civil War, Finegan has built his family a forty-room mansion in Fernandina Beach at the site of the modern Atlantic Elementary School. At Florida’s secession convention, Finegan represents Nassau County alongside James Graham Cooper.

In April 1862, Finegan assumes command of Middle and East Florida from Brigadier General James H. Trapier. Soon thereafter, he suffers some embarrassment surrounding the wreck of the blockade runner Kate at Mosquito Inlet. Her cargo of rifles, ammunition, medical supplies, blankets, and shoes is plundered by civilians. Eventually, most of the rifles are found, but the other supplies are never recovered.

In 1863, Finegan complains of the large quantity of rum making its way from the West Indies into Florida. Smugglers are buying it in Cuba for a mere seventeen cents per gallon, only to sell it in the blockaded state for twenty-five dollars per gallon. He urges Governor John Milton to confiscate the “vile article” and destroy it before it can impact army and civilian morals.

In February 1864, General P.G.T. Beauregard begins rushing reinforcements to Finegan after Confederate officials become aware of a build-up of Federal troops in the occupied city of Jacksonville. As Florida is a vital supply route and source of beef to the other southern states, they can not allow it to fall completely into Union hands.

On February 20, 1864, Finegan stops a Federal advance from Jacksonville under General Truman Seymour that is intent upon capturing the state capitol at Tallahassee. Their two armies clash at the Battle of Olustee, where Finegan’s men defeat the Union Army and force them to flee back beyond the St. Johns River. Critics have faulted Finegan for failing to exploit his victory by pursuing his retreating enemy, contenting himself by salvaging their arms and ammunition from the battlefield. However, his victory is one rare bright spot in an otherwise gloomy year for the dying Confederacy.

Finegan is relieved of his command over the state troops and replaced by Major General James Patton Anderson. This change in command is necessary as Finegan is ordered to lead the “Florida Brigade” in the Army of Northern Virginia, where he serves effectively until near the end of the war.

Finegan returns to Fernandina Beach after the war to discover his mansion has been seized by the Freedmen’s Bureau for use as an orphanage and school for black children. It took some legal wrangling, but he is eventually able to recover the property. The untimely death of his son Rutledge on April 4, 1871, precipitates a move to Savannah, Georgia. There, Finegan feels at home with the large Irish population and works as a cotton broker.

It is while living in Savannah that Finegan marries his second wife, the widow Lucy C. Alexander, a Tennessee belle. They eventually settle on a large orange grove in Orange County, Florida. Finegan dies on October 29, 1885, at Rutledge, Florida. According to The Florida Times-Union, his death is the result of “severe cold, inducing chills, to which he succumbed after brief illness.” He is buried at the Old City Cemetery in Jacksonville.


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The Navigation Act 1651

The Navigation Act 1651 is passed on October 9, 1651, by the Rump Parliament led by Oliver Cromwell. It authorises the Commonwealth of England to regulate trade within the colonies. It reinforces a long-standing principle of government policy that English trade should be carried in English vessels. The Act is a reaction to the failure of the English diplomatic mission led by Oliver St. John and Walter Strickland to The Hague seeking a political union of the Commonwealth with the Republic of the Seven United Netherlands, after the States of Holland had made some cautious overtures to Cromwell to counter the monarchical aspirations of stadtholder William II, Prince of Orange.

The stadtholder dies suddenly, however, and the States are now embarrassed by Cromwell taking the idea too seriously. The English propose the joint conquest of all remaining Spanish and Portuguese possessions. England would take America and the Dutch would take Africa and Asia. But the Dutch have just ended their war with Spain and already taken over most Portuguese colonies in Asia, so they see little advantage in this grandiose scheme and propose a free trade agreement as an alternative to a full political union. This again is unacceptable to the British, who would be unable to compete on such a level playing field, and is seen by them as a deliberate affront.

The Act bans foreign ships from transporting goods from outside Europe to England or its colonies, and bans third-party countries’ ships from transporting goods from a country elsewhere in Europe to England. These rules specifically target the Dutch, who control much of Europe’s international trade and even much of England’s coastal shipping. It excludes the Dutch from essentially all trade with England, as the Dutch economy is competitive with, not complementary to the English, and the two countries therefore exchange few commodities. This Anglo-Dutch trade, however, constitutes only a small fraction of total Dutch trade flows.

The Act is often mentioned as a major cause of the First Anglo-Dutch War, though it is only part of a larger British policy to engage in war after the negotiations have failed. The English naval victories in 1653 (the Battle of Portland, the Battle of the Gabbard and the Battle of Scheveningen) show the supremacy of the Commonwealth navy in home waters. However, farther afield the Dutch predominate and are able to close down English commerce in the Baltic and the Mediterranean. Both countries hold each other in a stifling embrace.

The Treaty of Westminster (1654) ends the impasse. The Dutch fail to have the Act repealed or amended, but it seems to have had relatively little influence on their trade. The Act offers England only limited solace. It cannot limit the deterioration of England’s overseas trading position, except in the cases where England herself is the principal consumer, such as the Canary Islands wine trade and the trade in Puglian olive oil. In the trade with the West Indies, the Dutch keep up a flourishing “smuggling” trade, thanks to the preference of English planters for Dutch import goods and the better deal the Dutch offer in the sugar trade. The Dutch colony of New Netherland offers a loophole through intercolonial trade wide enough to drive a shipload of Virginia tobacco through.

The 1651 Act, like other laws of the Commonwealth period, is declared void on the Restoration of Charles II of England, having been passed by “usurping powers.” Parliament therefore passes new legislation. This is generally referred to as the “Navigation Acts,” and, with some amendments, remains in force for nearly two centuries.


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First Irish Convict Ship Arrives in Botany Bay

The Queen, the first ship delivering Irish convicts, arrives at the penal settlement of Botany Bay in New South Wales, Australia on September 26, 1791. About 30% of all Australians are of Irish birth or descent. Many emigrated freely but many are descended from convicts transported there in the early years of the colony.

Britain has a policy of transportation. Up until the American Revolution most are sent to the American colonies or the West Indies. By the 1780s, Britain badly needs prison space. Petty criminals are housed on overcrowded prison ships anchored on the River Thames. In 1786, the government decides to start a prison settlement in the new colony at Botany Bay.

The transportation is arranged by a private company and those convicts who arrive there are actually the lucky ones, as conditions on the journey are horrendous and many die en route. The organisers of the transportation ships operate on a contract basis. They are paid a certain amount per head and the less provisions they give the prisoners the more profit they make.

The first two fleets of convict ships sail from England. The first ship to sail directly from Ireland is the Queen, which leaves Cork in April 1791 and joins the third fleet sailing from England. On board are 133 male convicts, 22 females and three children. The youngest on the ship is two-week-old Margaret, daughter of convict Sarah Brennan. The youngest convicts are 11-year-old David Fay and 12-year-old James Blake, convicted for stealing a pair of buckles. The oldest convict is 64-year-old Patrick Fitzgerald from Dublin, who is sentenced to seven years for stealing clothes. Seven men and one woman die on the voyage and within a year, half the men who had sailed on the Queen are dead. Young James Blake dies within a few months of landing.

The last convict ship sails from Ireland to Australia in 1853 and over the course of 60 years, 30,000 men and 9,000 women are transported for a minimum of seven years. While a good number of them are patriots and rebels – United Irishmen and Young Irelanders – the majority are transported for petty crimes.

Transportation continues for more than 60 years and is followed by assisted emigration. More than 100,000 travel on assisted passage during the 1850s alone. Some are assisted on their journey by charitable organisations in an effort to relieve distress. The last transportation ship, the Phoebe Dunbar, sails from Dun Laoghaire in 1853, bound for Perth.