The Butler Family

Butler family crest

(Crest No. 19. Plate 68.)

THE Butlers are of Norman origin, and were one of the most noted families who accompanied William the Conqueror to England in 1066. The original name of the family was Fitzwalter, from Walter, one of their ancestors. Theobald Fitzwalter came to Ireland with Henry the Second, who conferred on him the office of chief butler for Ireland, the duty of which was to attend at the coronation of the kings of England and present them with the first cup of wine. From this office the family adopted the name of Butler.

King Henry the Second bestowed on the Butlers large possessions in Ireland, with that lavishness with which English kings have always given away other people’s property. In the reign of Edward the Third Tipperary was turned into the County Palatine of Ormond under the Butlers, who were possessed of such royal privileges that they ruled almost like kings. Branches of the family were afterward among the nobility in the Counties of Waterford, Wexford, Wicklow, Carlow, Kilkenny, Dublin, Meath, Longford, Fermanagh, and Galway.

Twenty-five patents ennobling various branches of this family were issued, embracing peerages in England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, and it is said that no other family has left so many ancient baronial and castellated mansions in Ireland. In the Irish peerage the Butlers have borne the titles of Ormonde, Dunboyne, Cahir, Mountgarret, Ikerrin, and Galmoy.

The Butlers furnished many eminent names to Anglo-Irish history. Theobald, the second of the name in Ireland, was lord justice in 1247. Theobald, the fifth of the name, accompanied Edward the Fourth in his Scottish wars, and was distinguished for his valor. James Butler was created first Earl of Ormonde, and was granted the annual rent of the city of Waterford. James, the second Earl of Ormond, was for a time lord deputy of Ireland, and his successor, the third earl, filled many important offices and built Kilkenny Castle, the chief seat of the Butlers. Many others of this family were lord deputies and lord lieutenants of Ireland, and were eminent in war and diplomacy.

James Bulter, the twelfth Earl and Duke of Ormonde, who played so great a role during the wars of Charles the First and the Parliamentarians and the Irish Confederates, was one of the ablest men of his century. His life is entirely identified with the history of his time.

“With military talents of a superior order,” says a historian of the Confederation of Kilkenny, “he was in every respect equal to many of the generals of his time. In diplomacy, however, he excelled them all.” Endowed with a fascinating address and a singular grace of manner, he readily gained the confidence of friends and foes, and used both for the furtherance of his objects, with the ability of a Bismarck and the tact of a Talleyrand. His son, Lord Butler of Moor Park, held many commands in the army, was envoy extraordinary at the court of France, and was distinguished as Admiral of the Blue in 1673 against Van Tromp, and afterward in the service of the Prince of Orange.

His second son, the second Duke of Ormonde, joined King William the Third on his arrival in England, commanded the Life Guards at the battle of the Boyne, and afterward accompanied the king to Flanders, where he was severely wounded at the battle of Landen. He succeeded Marlborough as commander-in-chief. His estates were confiscated after the accession of George the First, and he turned Jacobite and joined the Pretender in France.

The heads of all the branches of the Butlers, except the house of Ormonde, espoused the cause of James the Second on the outbreak of the Revolution, several of them being colonels. Of these was Pierce Butler, Viscount Galmoy, descended from the tenth Earl of Ormonde, and born in 1652. He was privy councillor of Ireland under James the Second, and colonel of a regiment of horse in his army. He rose to the rank of major-general, and fought with distinction at the Boyne and Aughrim. He was one of the signers of the Treaty of Limerick, and followed Sarsfield to France. He could have received back his estates, embracing 10,000 acres in Kilkenny and 5,000 in Wexford, by transferring his allegiance to William the Third, but he would not consent to the offer. He served in many campaigns in the Irish Brigade in the service of France in command of the Regiment of Galmoy, and afterward as brigadier, participating in the engagements of Carpi, Chiari, Santa-Vittoria, Luzzara, and at the sieges of Brisach and Landau, and the battle of Spire.

He afterward entered the service of King Philip the Fifth of Spain signalizing himself at the battle of Cassano in 1705, and at Calcinato the following year attaining the rank of lieutenant-general. His son was killed at the battle of Malplaquet in 1709. Viscount Galmoy died at Paris in 1740. O’Callaghan, writing of this branch of the Butlers, says: “The successive claimants of the title of Galmoy were down to the Revolution officers in France, in whose armies, as well as in others, various gentlemen honorably represented a name of which the illustrious General Lafayette is related to have said in the war for the independence of the United States of America, that ‘whenever he wanted anything well done, he got a Butler to do it.’”

Richard Butler, Viscount Mountgarret, born in 1578, was a descendant of the eighth Earl of Ormond. He married a daughter of Hugh O’Neill, and, supporting the cause of his father-in-law, greatly distinguished himself by his defense of Ballyragget and Cullahill strongholds. He joined the Irish Confederates in 1641, and captured all the towns and forts in Kilkenny, Waterford, Tipperary and other places. The people of Cork objected to his jurisdiction, insisting on having a general of their own, and, by the diversion created by this unfortunate policy, all the advantages gained by the Confederate armies were lost. In 1642 he was chosen president of the Supreme Council of Kilkenny, and the following year he took part in the battle of Ross and the capture of the Castle of Berris by his son Edmund, Viscount Mountgarret, who died in 1651, having been outlawed by Cromwell and excepted from pardon for life or estate; but after the restoration his son recovered his father’s estates and titles from Charles the Second.

Walter Butler was also a descendant of the house of Ormond, and with his brother James entered the German imperial service, where both received the commands of regiments. They distinguished themselves in many engagements under Tilly and Wallenstein during the Thirty Years’ War. Walter was one of the conspirators who compassed the assassination of Wallenstein in 1634 on discovering that that great commander was about to go over to the enemy and betray the Emperor. For this crime as some call it, or heroic deed, as others call it, he was created a count of the empire, and was granted large estates in Bohemia, which his descendants still possess. He took a distinguished part in the battle of Nordlingen in 1634, and dying shortly afterward was buried with almost regal honors at Prague, in which city he and his brother founded a college of Irish Franciscans.

Rev. Richard Butler, born 1795, was one of the founders of the Irish Archaeological Society and the author of valuable writings on Irish antiquities. Many others of the name were eminent churchmen.

In the history of the United States also, the name of this family is honorably conspicuous. Pierce Butler, of the Ormond branch, born in Ireland in 1744, settled in South Carolina previous to the Revolution. He served in the old Congress of 1787, was a member of the convention that framed the Federal Constitution, and represented South Carolina in the United States Senate from 1789 to 1796, and from 1802 to 1804.

Major-General Richard Butler, also a native of Ireland, served with distinction through the Revolutionary War. He was killed and scalped in an engagement with the Indians in 1791. Five of his sons served under Washington, and it was of these that Lafayette made the complimentary remark quoted. Another of this name, William O. Butler, of Kentucky, whose grandfather came from Ireland, served with General Jackson in the Florida War, and as major-general with Taylor. He superseded Scott, and on the conclusion of the Mexican War led the American forces home. In 1848 he was on the Democratic ticket with Cass as candidate for vice-president.

Major General Benjamin F. Butler


The most illustrious representative of this family in America was the late General Benjamin F. Butler. He was born in New Hampshire in 1818. His father, Captain John Butler, served with credit in the war of 1812, and fought with Jackson at the battle of New Orleans.

General Benjamin F. Butler served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1853 and in the State Senate in 1859.

He was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1860, and withdrew from the Baltimore Convention of that year, refusing to sit in a body where, as he said, “the African slave trade, which was piracy by the laws of the country, was advocated.” On the outbreak of the Rebellion, General Butler was among the first to offer his services to the Government, and on May 13, 1861, he occupied Baltimore with the Eighth Massachusetts Regiment. A few days later he was made major-general, and took command of Fortress Monroe and the Department of Eastern Virginia. His declaration making negroes “contraband of war,” his hanging of Mumford in New Orleans for pulling down the American flag, and especially his famous “Order 28,” in relation to women who insulted Union soldiers, made him for a time the most conspicuous man in the army. General Butler’s military services to the Union were fruitful of results. He was the first to march into Washington with an organized force of militia; the first to seize Annapolis and thus clear the way to the National Capital for the entry of the Union troops; the first to fortify Washington from an assault by the enemy from Harper’s Ferry; the man who, by the seizure of Baltimore, kept the critical State of Maryland within the Union; the man who, without orders, fortified the mouth of the James River with keen prescience at the opening of the conflict, where the results of the war were ultimately determined.

General Butler also, by his seizure of Fort Hatteras and Fort Clark, practically reduced Virginia and North Carolina.

Subsequently he raised a division of six thousand men, which cooperated with Farragut and resulted in the first fruits of the war—the capture of Vicksburg and the opening of the Mississippi River.

General Butler was also the first who mustered the slaves into the armies of the Union, without waiting for Congress, and thereby weakened the South and recruited the armies of the Union by one hundred and fifty thousand men.

In 1864 General Butler devised the strategic campaign against Richmond, which finally caused the collapse of the Confederacy and resulted in the termination of the war. No greater eulogy was ever written of a commander than the sentence which General Butler wrote, without thought, of himself: “In all my military movements I never met with disaster nor uselessly sacrificed the lives of my men.”

In his political career General Butler was, from the viewpoint of party politics, inconsistent, but he was always consistent in his advocacy and support of the rights of the people.

As an exemplification of General Butler’s character, I may mention a few incidents that came under my personal notice. Walking one morning along a street of Boston, an old and ill-conditioned man accosted him, saying he wished to have his advice. “Come to my office to-morrow morning,” said the General, “and I will talk with you.” “But they won’t let me in,” said the old man. “Come at nine o’clock in the morning, and I will see that they do let you in,” said General Butler. At the time specified the old man was at General Butler’s outer office, and on receiving cards from persons of importance, the General asked if a man of such an appearance was there. The boy said “Yes;” and the General said: “Send him in first.” Succinctly stated, the story was that the old man was the owner of a push cart; that a big brewery wagon had run against it and broken it and his leg; that he was laid up in the hospital for weeks; and that he sued for damages and lost his case in court. General Butler listened to the old man’s grievance, and calling one of his assistant lawyers sent him with a note to the court, saying he wanted the case reopened. The brewery company settled at once at nearly four times the amount originally sued for. The old man entered General Butler’s office a few days afterward and said: “General, they have paid me; what do I owe you?” “You owe me nothing,” was the answer.

Another instance: Walking along the street one day a little newsboy, more persistent than usual, said: “Please buy one, General Butler?” “How do you know I am General Butler?” “Oh, we all know General Butler,” answered the gamin. The General’s attention was arrested, and he asked: “What does your father do?” “He’s dead.” “And your mother?” “She goes out washing, and I sell newspapers.” “Tell your mother to send you to my office in the morning,” said General Butler. General Butler next day dressed the lad and sent him to school, but he made him come for one hour after school closing to his office every day to report for duty. This he did to impress on the boy that he was supposed to be always ready for work. The boy some years afterward was admitted to the Massachusetts Bar. General Butler also got the lad’s mother a position as janitress of a building, that saved her going out washing any more.

Another instance of General Butler’s big heartedness: A widow, whose only son had been killed in the war, became crippled with rheumatism, and was sent to the county poor house. She had previously refused to make application to the Government for a pension, as she did not wish to ask anything as long as she was able to make a living. The case incidentally came to General Butler’s hearing, and he immediately proceeded to Washington and had a special act of Congress passed for the back pension due the woman. She received about $1,600, and when she afterward called on General Butler to ask what she owed him, the characteristic answer came: “You owe me nothing.”

These are only a few of a multitude of instances that came under the writer’s experience of the generosity, the unselfishness, the magnanimity, and the kindness of General Benjamin F. Butler.