|Letters from America
|Irish Emigration Database
|Philadelphia, Penn., USA
|re the history of Pennsylvania
|The Nation, 6 June 1846
|The Linenhall Library, Belfast
|Document added by LT, 07:12:95
|Letters from America.
Philadelphia, 14th May, 1846.
IRISHMEN OF OTHER DAYS.
To-day I write from the library established here
more than seventy years ago by Benjamin Franklin. It
is largely furnished with English and French authors,
and is admirably conducted for the convenience of students.
It is on many accounts a place of interest to
the thoughtful Irishman. Some of the earliest and most
important records of America are here deposited.
William Penn, the founder of the state of Pennsylvania,
received his education in a Quaker school at
Clonmel, in the house of Charles the Second. It was
there he became a Quaker. Being connected with the
enterprise and adventure of Lords Berkely and Cartaret
in the New World, who had obtained grants of New
Jersey from that Monarch, William Penn returned to England,
ingratiated himself with the King's brother, the
Duke of York (afterwards James the Second), and obtained
a patent to take possession, as proprietor, of that
immense tract of country now designated Pennsylvania.
Penn was assisted in the settlement of the wilderness by
one Logan, an Irishman of great talent and enterprise,
who may be said to have laid the foundation of literature
in the new state. He was many years president of the
council of the province, and left behind him in the
Loganian Library a monument of his zeal, intelligence,
In their intercourse with the native Indians, Penn
and Logan behaved in the fairest and kindest manner.
There was no butcheries, no robberies, no confiscations
of land. The aborigines were paid for their lands.
Quiet settlements were procurred for them in the interior;
and, for a generatoin at least, they were not made
to feel, by any act of harshness, the presence of the
Under the wise and humane policy of these two intelligent
men, a stream of adventurers flowed into the
new colony from the parent countries, and particularly
from Ireland. The current increased considerably after
the fall of James the Second. Those Irish who were
persecuted by the fanatics of William the Third and
Queen Anne's time, faced to France and to the wildernesses
of America, carrying with them a hatred of that
tyranny from which they fled, and a love of that freedom
for which they suffered.
The north, as well as the south of Ireland, sent its
quota to the new settlements-for when the woollen
trade was put down King William (of Glorious memory),
upwards of fifty thousand Irish families were
sent adrift upon a cold world. Many of them found
homes in the American colonies. And thus was begun
that system of emigration which has continued since,
increasing each new year, and promising, at no distant
day, to react with miraculous effect upon Britain.
Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia, and the neighbouring
terrorities, received the large majority of their
early settlers from Ireland. These settlers were of two
creeds-Catholic and Presbyterian. The Episcopalians
were in power at home for half a century-they occupied
the fat livings, lucrative offices, and valuable lands-and
they only, and their retainers, were permitted to breathe
the air of their native country in peace. Those Presbyterians
and Catholics who cut out their homes in the
American wilderness, tought their children to hate that
government and that aristocracy which had desolated
their lovely native land. The Episcopalian party in the
new colonies had assumed a tyrannic authority, under
cover of a purer religion, during the ascendancy of their
co-believers in England; but the increase of new settlers,
the dissemination of knowledge, and a thousand other
circumstances, tended to untwist that rope of bigotry
and tyranny which bandaged a young nation almost to
The days of colonial agitation arrived. The heavy
hand of England was felt by the enterprising colonists.
The embargo laws, so familiar to the oppressed Irish, had
been in operation here. The merchants were not permitted
to trade with any country direct but England,
nor to send their produce out in any ships but
those of English build. The anti-manufacture laws, so
familiar to the poor Irish, were in operation here. The
native-born was not permitted to smelt or manufacture
the rich metals found embowelled in his own hills, nor
even to saw up into planks the pine and oak that covered
the wild earth; nor could textile fabrics be manufactured
here. All things requiring the application of knowledge
and the investment of capital must come from England.
In addition to all these restrictions came the proposition
from the British parliament to lay taxes on the poor
scattered colonists-to draw a revenue from their labour
and from their very thoughts.
At this stage in the existence of the young colonies,
let it be for ever remembered, that an Irishman begun an
agitation in opposition to the british government. He
was Charles Thompson, of Philadelphia, one who brouht
to the task he undertook a great heart and a great
mind-one whom no perils could terrify, and no diplomacy
deceive. He, in truth, was the organiser of the
American resistance-the Carnot of the American Revolution.
For ten years before the battle commenced he led
the agitation in Philadelphia. When it began he was
Secretary to Congress. And for eight years of its perilous
conflict in the field, his genius was present to unite,
direct, and animate its efforts.
The world-posterity can see in this great Revolution
but the one colossal figure-of Washington. But
there were other men of fertile resources, of towering
genius, and of Spartan bravery, whom Washington did
not create, but whom he found occupying the field of
freedom when he was called to the command, and without
whose active co-operation he never could have succeeded.
The day is coming when some light will be flung
back upon that glorious group-when the persons and
deeds of those valiant Irishmen who laid down their
wealth and their lives before the shrine of liberty shall be
revealed to the admiring gaze of a grateful posterity.
Facts and documents are in my possession which enable
me to say, that the Irish exiles of the last century were
the foremost men, the chief leaders of that movement
which destroyed in America the authority in England.
These facts and documents will, I hope, one day or other
see the light. When they do, they will tend to animate
the exiles of the present century to deeds of equal spirit
and wisdom in reference to another oppressed colony,
with whose fate and fortune their own are identified.
I stated in my last, that the Mexican army had appeared
on the banks of the Rio Grande river. This is
the boundary line between the state of Texas and Mexico.
Some skirmishing has commenced between the American
and Mexican armies, by which the Americans lost
in an ambush the entire of a reconnoitring detachment;
following up this success, the Mexican General Padua
has crossed the river, and, by a dexterous manoeuvre,
has got to the rere of the American General (Taylor),
whose army of 2,000 men he has surrounded and
cut off from their magazines of provisions and stores.
The Mexicans are reported at 8,000 picked men, with
able commanders-the Americans at this point at 2,000;
but levies of volunteers are now being made in the
southern cities to proceed directly to their support. The
country is wrought up to a high state of excitement indeed.
The President, Congress, and Senate, have
passed a bill authorising the immediate equipment of
50,000 volunteer soldiers, for which an appropriation of
ten million dollars has been made. Meetings are now
being held in all parts of the country to enrol volunteers,
and to prepare for that which is now inevitable-a long
and bloody war.
It is unnecessary to fill my letter with the surmises
and rumours that I find around me; but my deep and
settled conviction is, that England is at the bottom of this
war. The Mexican General circulated a proclaimation
through the American camp, assuring to those who
would join his standard great pay and the protection of
England! Every day will, I think, make the agency
of England in this affair more manifest. Her object is,
of course, to occupy or divert the American army,
while she lands an army of occupation upon the banks
of the Columbia river in the Oregon. A British fleet
sailed from Portsmouth, if I remember rightly, some
months ago for the Pacific, and may have ere this arrived
before the disputed territory. Should this turn
out well-founded, we are likely to have busy times on
this side of the Atlantic, and, of course, on the other
The Repealers of Philadelphia held a glorious meeting
the other evening; it was the best held in this city
for at least two years. In the absence of the patriotic
president, Robert Tyler, Esq., the chair was filled by
Colonel Dickson, an Irishman of valor, of heart, and
mind. The question is safe here. I am happy to inform
you that an increased fervour of sympathy is manifested
for the suffering people of Ireland. Just as the
war broke out there were many indications of a movement
in aid at least of the starving people, and which,
of course, would extend to their political and social
The brave and successful opposition to the coercion
bill by the patriotic band of Irishmen who defeated Peel
at every step in the House of Commons, is the theme of
every man's approbation. May their success stimulate
themselves and their countrymen to greater deeds of
agitation!-and now is the time for a move in advance.
Every tide brings hither ship-loads of our countrymen.
A special destiny directs their steps. Those that
now arrive seem to be acquainted with the way of getting
on in this country somewhat better than those who
came here three or four years ago. They face towards
the great western lands in little swarms; and this is
what they should continue to do, for in the cities they
are slaves, while in the west they become lords of the
soil. With the charity of religion, the steadiness of
temperance, and the industry of Irishmen, they cannot
fail to establish themselves happily in the vacant
lands westward. To-day their home it may be a wilderness;
but in one or two years it loses its dreary aspect,
smiles on the toiling cultivator, yields him a rich
abundance for his family, and plenty to sell, whereby
necessaries of comfort and luxury can be procured. The
settler of this day is lonely, but in one or two years he
will be surrounded bu others like himself, who push
cultivation and population backwards, and reciprocate
with him the social hospitalities he generously
administered to others.