Irish in the American Revolution

Margaret Anne Cusack
start of chapter | Chapter XXXV

In 1765 an agitation was commenced in Philadelphia, by Mr. Charles Thompson, an Irishman, who, after ten years devoted to the cause of his adopted country, was appointed the Secretary of Congress. It has been well remarked, that the Irish, and especially the Irish Catholics, were, of the three nationalities, the most devoted to forwarding the Revolution; and we cannot wonder that it was so, since the Government which had driven them from their native land, ceased not to persecute them in the land of their exile.[7] The first naval engagement was fought under the command of Jeremiah O'Brien, an Irishman.[8] John Barry, also an Irishman, took the command of one of the first American-built ships of war. The first Continental Regiment was composed almost exclusively of Irish-born officers and men, and was the first Rifle Regiment ever organized in the world. Thompson, its first, and Hand, its second colonel, were natives of Ireland. At the siege of Boston the regiment was particularly dreaded by the British.

In 1764 Franklin came to England[9] for the second time, and was examined before the House of Commons on the subject of the Stamp Act. He was treated with a contemptuous indifference, which he never forgot; but he kept his court suit, not without an object; and in 1783, when he signed the treaty of peace, which compelled England to grant humbly what she had refused haughtily, he wore the self-same attire. Well might the immortal Washington say to Governor Trumbull: "There was a day, sir, when this step from our then acknowledged parent state, would have been accepted with gratitude; but that day is irrevocably past."

In 1774, Burke was called upon by the citizens of Bristol to represent them in Parliament, and he presented a petition from them to the House in favour of American independence; but, with the singular inconsistency of their nation, they refused to re-elect him in 1780, because he advocated Catholic Emancipation.


[7] Exile.—Maguire's Irish in America, p. 355: "It would seem as if they instinctively arrayed themselves in hostility to the British power; a fact to he explained alike by their love of liberty, and their vivid remembrance of recent or past misgovernment. " The italics are our own. The penal laws were enacted with the utmost rigour against Catholics in the colonies, and the only place of refuge was Maryland, founded by the Catholic Lord Baltimore. Here there was liberty of conscience for all, but here only. The sects who had fled to America to obtain "freedom to worship God," soon manifested their determination that no one should have liberty of conscience except themselves, and gave the lie to their own principles, by persecuting each other for the most trifling differences of opinion on religious questions, in the cruelest manner. Cutting off ears, whipping, and maiming were irl constant practice. See Maguire's Irish in America, p. 349; Lucas' Secularia, pp. 220-246.

[8] Irishman.—See Cooper's Naval History.

[9] England.—He wrote to Thompson, from London, saying that he could effect nothing: "The sun of liberty is set; we must now light up the candles of industry." The Secretary replied, with Celtic vehemence: "Be assured we shall light up torches of a very different kind." When the Catholics of the United States sent up their celebrated Address to Washington, in 1790, he alludes in one part of his reply to the immense assistance obtained from them in effecting the Revolution: "I presume that your fellow-citizens will not forget the patriotic part which you took in the accomplishment of their revolution and the establishment of their government, or the important assistance they received from a nation in which the Roman Catholic religion is professed."