Particulars of some Irish Settlers in Pennsylvania
From A History of the Irish Settlers in North America by Thomas D'Arcy McGee
THE following letter, given verbatim, will be found suggestive of many useful reflections to our readers:--
"York, Pa., March 29th, 1852.
"SIR:--With the hope of being able to send you some facts for your History, I made an examination of the local history of York county, and hasten to send you the result of my 'labor of love.' I am the more anxious to see the names of our brave countrymen rescued from the obscurity of the grave, on account of the base ingratitude with which they have been neglected; for I believe that York, above all other counties in the state, is the most negligent in doing justice to her illustrious dead. The reason of this is obvious. Many parts of the county were settled by Irish families as early as 1734; towns were founded, and Celtic names given to them; but the Germans, who form, at present, the majority of the population, succeeded, in the course of time, in making themselves masters of these Irish settlements, and they now talk about us as if we were the outcasts of the earth, despised by God and man. Hanover, which was founded by an Irishman, whose name it bore for many years, has now a German name and German masters. What is the reason, sir, that the Irishman loses so much ground when brought into practical competition with his German neighbor?
"It would be a tedious undertaking were I to give you an account of all the men of Irish birth and parentage who figured conspicuously in York county; the names of those whom I regard as particularly deserving of notice, are James Smith, 'the signer,' John Clark, Richard McAllister, and David Grier.
"JAMES SMITH is too well known for me to say much concerning him; yet there is not a record, in manuscript or in print, that gives a full biography of this distinguished Irishman. In Sanderson's 'Lives of the Signers' is the best account of him that has been published. The author came to York before he wrote it, and had an interview with James Johnston (Smith's son-in-law), and procured all the information that could be had respecting him.
"Thinking that I might be able to learn something of his life, I went to Mr. D. G. Barnitz, the executor of his estate (for there is not one of his descendants living), and learned from him that an accident, which happened in 1805, shut out from the world forever the possibility of procuring a detailed history of his services in the Revolution. In the destruction of his office by fire, his books and papers of business, which were on the lower floor, were saved; but all his numerous private papers, which were in the upper part of the building, were destroyed. Among these were the records of the family, manuscripts of his own, connected with the history of his times, and numerous letters from Franklin, Adams, and many other distinguished men of the Revolution. Mr. Smith died, in York, on the 11th of July, 1806. His monument, in the Presbyterian churchyard, states that he was ninety-three years old at the time of his death I have been informed, by those who knew him, that he would never tell his age to his most intimate friends; there is, therefore, no small difference of opinion with regard to it. Some of his friends say that he was not so old by many years as is represented. There is one thing certain, that he must have been a member of the bar between sixty and sixty-five years. He was the first who raised a company of volunteers in this state, in opposition to the law of England.
"JOHN CLARK was born in Lancaster county, Pa., in 1751. His grandfather was an Irish weaver; but at what time the family came to this country, I am not informed. He had just commenced the practice of the law when the Revolution broke out; he relinquished it, and entered the service of his country, being then twenty-four years old. He proved himself no ordinary man. Attracting the attention of Congress, he was shortly commissioned as major, and was appointed aide-de-camp to Greene. In this capacity he rendered important service to the cause of liberty. He was confidential agent to Washington, and often procured him the most valuable information concerning the motions of the enemy. On one of his daring reconnoitring expeditions he fell into the hands of the British, and would have lost his life had he not effected his escape, which he did by the assistance of an English officer, who was a brother freemason. On another occasion, he took a party of the enemy prisoners, and marched them into Washington's camp. When the young officer in scarlet gave up his sword, the keen eye of Clark perceived some masonic devices on the scabbard, and asked permission to return it to the owner as a present; being refused by Washington, he kept the sword and standard, and left them to his children as reliques of the war. I have seen these, and many other memorials of his bravery, which are preserved by his daughters, three of whom are yet alive, in this place. Some years before his death, he was offered two hundred pounds if he would return the standard to the British government: he rejected the proposal with scorn.
"In 1776, he marched his detachment to join Washington on the Delaware. 'I crossed the river in the night, and lay, under a tree, with only a blanket over me,' are his own words, in a letter, which is now before me, containing also instructions how to avoid the Hessians, in the handwriting of Gen. Greene. Though surrounded on all sides by the enemy, he joined his beloved commander at Trenton, and gained his confidence so much that he was afterwards employed by him in duties for which no one would have been selected who was not true as steel.
"He continued to serve in the field until January, 1779. Previous to this period, he had accidentally received a dangerous wound from a pistol, which went off at the moment his servant was taking it up to put it in his holsters. The disability resulting from the effects of this wound had made him ineligible for active field service, and, on the tenth of the above-named month, he was appointed Auditor of Accounts for the army, in which capacity he acted until the first of November following, when the feebleness of his health compelled him, reluctantly, to quit the service; and he thus lost the benefits of pay, bounty, land, and commutation; and, though disabled by a severe wound, he had not, until the pension act of 1818, the benefit of a pension.
"In 1819, the committee of the United States Senate reported on his claim, but would not recognize a depreciation account at that time. His daughters are very indignant, and I think justly so, at the treatment they have received from Congress. They are very old, and have not wherewith to place a slab over the mortal remains of their heroic father.
"After the close of the Revolutionary War, Gen. Clark resumed the practice of the law, and continued in it until the time of his death. On the 27th of December, 1819, he attended court as usual, in good health, and returned home in the evening, and retired about half-past eight o'clock; at nine, on the same evening, he was dead. Thus ended the earthly career of as brave a man as ever drew a sword in the cause of liberty. He was sixty-eight years of age when he died. His remains are resting in the Episcopalian graveyard, without even a headstone to mark the grave of the brave soldier; but his epitaph is written on the hearts of all who knew him, and will not be effaced so long as man can appreciate true greatness and exalted virtue.
"General Clark's papers are now in my possession. I send you two letters, carefully copied from the original, as written by Washington,--one to Congress, the other to Clark while on one of his expeditions. While on his dangerous missions, the gallant Col. Fitzgerald was often the bearer of despatches to him from Washington: this shows what confidence the father of his country had in these men.
[WASHINGTON TO GENERAL CLARK.]
'Head-quarters, Nov. 10th, 1777.
'DEAR SIR:--I am favored with yours of this date, and send you fifty dollars for the purposes you mention. I beg I may have the most instant intelligence of any accounts that you may obtain, because I believe that some move of consequence is in agitation among the enemy. I shall, for that reason, be obliged to you for remaining a few days longer at your present station, as I can put more dependence upon having any accounts regularly and expeditiously forwarded by you than by any other in that quarter. I shall, with pleasure, give you that character to Congress which I think your services deserve; and am, dear sir, your most obedient servant,
[WASHINGTON TO CONGRESS, INTRODUCING CLARK.]
'Head-quarters, Valley Forge, Jan. 2d, 1778.
'I take the liberty of introducing Gen. John Clark, the bearer of this, to your notice. He entered the service at the commencement of the war, and has for some time past acted as aide-de-camp to Major-General Greene. He is active, sensible, and enterprising, and has rendered me very great service, since the army has been in Pennsylvania, by procuring me constant and certain intelligence of the motions and intentions of the enemy. It is somewhat uncertain whether the state of his health will admit of his remaining in the military line: if it should, I shall, perhaps, have occasion to recommend him in a more particular manner to the favor of Congress, at a future time. At present, I can assure you, that if you should, while he remains in York, have any occasion for his services, you will find him not only willing, but very capable of executing any of your commands.
'Respectfully, GEO. WASHINGTON.'
"RICHARD MCALLISTER was born in Ireland, in 1725, and came to this country when he was young. The first account of him that I can find in the records of this county, is in 1749, when he was elected Sheriff. In 1764 he founded the town of Hanover (a flourishing borough in this county). It was called McAllister's Town for many years before the Germans got it. The statute, by which it was erected into a borough, in 1815, says that it 'shall be comprised within the tract of land of Richard McAllister, deceased.' The only one of his descendants, at present living there, saws wood for his daily bread! Richard entered the army at an early period. In 1776, he was colonel of the second battalion of York County Volunteers, which marched to New Jersey, and was embodied with the 'Flying Camp,' ordered to be raised, by Congress, on the 3d of June in that year. This second battalion was mostly commanded by Irishmen. David Kennedy was lieutenant colonel, John Clark was major, and there were Captains McCarter and McCloskey. They all fought like heroes at Fort Washington, where Capt. McCarter received his death-wound, and died on the fifth day. He was twenty-two years old when he thus offered his life upon the altar of his country's freedom.
"Col. McAllister was a member of the Provincial Conference of Committees, which met at Philadelphia on the 18th of June, 1776; so was Col. Kennedy, Col. McPherson, and James Smith,--all Irishmen. He was also a member of the Council of Censors, which met on the 10th of November, 1783. After a life devoted to the service of his adopted country, he died, in Hanover, on the 7th of September, 1795, aged seventy years. His son, Archibald McAllister, was a captain in the eleventh regiment of the Pennsylvania line.
"I have thus endeavored to give you a brief sketch of those brave men. I have received, from Mr. D. G. Barnitz, a short memoir of David Grier, which I transcribe here:
" 'Lieut. Col. DAVID GRIER was born at Braeke, Romelton, near Londonderry, county Donegal. Ireland, on the 27th of June, 1741, O. S. He emigrated to this country at an early period, and studied law with Mr. Bowie, and was admitted as a practising attorney of York county on the 23d April, 1771. He was commissioned a captain of a Pennsylvania Company, by Congress, on January 9, 1776, and afterwards commissioned major of the sixth battalion of Pennsylvanians, on the 1st June, 1776. He was finally commissioned, on the 12th January, 1777, lieutenant colonel of 'the seventh battalion of Pennsylvania, in the army of the United States.' He was wounded at the battle of Paoli, in the fall of 1777; and, returning to York, was employed in the War Department,--being unable, from the severity of the wound, to be actively engaged in the field. At the close of the war, in 1783, he resumed the practice of the law, and continued to be ranked as one of the ablest lawyers of Pennsylvania until 1790, when he finally died, from consumption, the effect of his wound. He left to survive him a widow and four daughters; three of these died unmarried, and the fourth was married to Hon. C. A. Barnitz, who was a distinguished attorney, and represented York county both in the state and national councils. DANL. G. BARNITZ, ('Grandson of Lieut. Col. Grier.')
"I am informed by Major Emmett, a worthy citizen of this place, that his grand-uncle, who came to this country about the year 1730, was the founder of Emmettsburg, in Frederick county, Md. I believe his name was Abraham Emmett. Perhaps some of your readers in that place can give you a fuller account of him.
McSherrystown, in Adams county, was founded by the grandfather of James McSherry, the historian of Maryland. Gettysburg was founded by Major Getty, also an Irishman. "I intend, God willing, to visit Adams county next summer, and, if I find anything of interest, I shall send it on to you. I think I risk nothing in saying that you can rely with certainty upon all that I have written. Wishing you success, I remain your obedient servant,