Did you see the Volunteers!
Did you see the Volunteers!
Marching to parade
Their hearts are true
Their facings blue
They are six feet high without a shoe
Did you see the Volunteers!
This popular song of the late eighteenth century could apply to any number of rebel uprisings then taking place. From France to Ireland or across the Atlantic Ocean to America, filled with pride and gumption, men took up arms against the tyranny of royals and religion.
The Kingdom of Great Britain was waging sea and foreign land battles with Spain, France, the American colonies and even the Dutch Republic. As the century closed out, an uprising of a different sort arose on its own soil. Angered at Anglican rule over the Kingdom of Ireland, the United Irishmen, consisting mostly of Presbyterians, launched a revolt which came to be known as the Irish Rebellion of 1798.
Leading up to the revolt, rebellious sentiment was fueled by the rhetoric of important Irish statesmen and politicians such as Wolfe Tone and Thomas Emmet. Their impassioned speeches roused a population already on the brink of an upheaval; they were just the tipping point.
Around the countryside, the United Irishmen swelled their ranks of revolutionaries. Men, even those seemingly too young to fight, joined in village militias. They took up arms against a larger, more organized British army, aided by the Orangemen, Irishmen who sided against their own.
In the end, an estimated 10,000 to 30,000 people lost their lives and Ireland was no better off. The Acts of Union 1800 only strengthened the British stronghold over the Kingdom of Ireland.
Yet, over the following decades, tales of heroism and tragedy of the Irish rebels became the stuff of lore and ballads. In 1854, perhaps inspired by talks of a rebel uprising on American soil, an elderly Irish ex-patriate now living in Baltimore shared her eyewitness account of the Irish Rebellion. Painstakingly handwritten by her nephew, Francis, Aunt Flora’s story was squirreled away for more than 150 years and only now has been rediscovered in a private collection.
Flora was born and raised in Derry, on Rosemary Lane, the daughter of a shipping merchant. Her story of coming to America is not of a woman seeking to find riches in a new land, nor was she part of the mass import of workers and merchants following the Revolutionary War. Rather she had little choice. The year was 1799 and she was a Caldwell. Just a few months earlier her entire family was forever banished from Ireland following their role in the uprising.
At the outbreak of the Rebellion in 1798, Flora’s first cousin, Richard Caldwell, was made captain of a rebel militia. With a bounty on his head he escaped to Scotland but was brought back to face a charge of high treason. The story goes that as he was being marched to the gallows, his father, a man of some prominence, successfully negotiated his son’s release and a reprieve was granted just steps away from the hangman’s noose. The price of his release? Exile from the Kingdom of Ireland, not just for Richard but his entire family, cousins and all.
Upon their arrival in America in 1799 the Caldwells split up, with Flora, her sister Ann, and radical cousin Richard settling in Baltimore. It was here that Ann and her husband took in a young widow and her infant son, all but adopting the boy. The young man, Flora’s nephew by proxy, went on to become one of Maryland’s most famous sons, Francis Blackwell Mayer, the artist.
* * *
November, 1854, Annapolis, Maryland
We had a happy time indeed until the Rebellion
The Rebellion of ’98!
Aye, certainly! The trouble had been long brewing. We were always an oppressed people by the English.
At the close of the American war the combined fleets of France and Spain were riding triumphant in the Irish channel and she was threatened with a formidable invasion. Most of the British troops had been withdrawn and in this perilous situation Ireland was advised by the ministry to defend herself as well as she could. The latent spirit of the Nation was roused at the approach of danger. Upwards of one hundred thousand heroes instantly appeared self-armed, self-clothed ready to oppose the menacing foe. These were the ever memorable and ever glorious volunteers of Ireland.
Did you see the Volunteers!
Did you see the Volunteers!
Did you see the Volunteers!
Marching to parade
Their hearts are true
Their facings blue
They are six feet high without a shoe
Did you see the Volunteers going to Parade!
The first that in the field appears,
The first, the Dublin Volunteers,
(Let them ever be revered),
With his grace, the Duke of Leinster, His condescension ever kind,
His honest heart, his virtuous mind,
To Ireland’s glory never blind,
His grace the Duke of Leinster!
A great song of that day! It was sung by ballad singers and by the servants as they went about their work, By every-body! There was a great deal of pleasantry in the people even in their tribulation. The Duke of Leinster was a great favourite with the people, he was always a friend to Ireland.
It must have been a review of the Volunteers of Ulster, by Lord Charlemont,that I saw at Ballymoney. I sat in the carriage as a little child. You have heard of the great display of the Volunteers in Dublin. They did themselves great credit, I can assure you.
The enemy was intimidated and they shrunk into their ports and Ireland was unmolested.
The hour of security and social intercourse produced reflection and the saviors of their country quickly discovered that they existed in a state of thralldom to the British parliament.
That was a glorious day for Ireland!
This happened in 1782 and a rapid increase of national prosperity followed and the capital improved in Splendour and magnificence. But the object of creating disunion and annulling the benefits obtained was never lost sight of by the Ministry and the happy state of Ireland continued only until the dissolution of the Volunteer associations by act of parliament and until other schemes were put in practice. To dissipate the Union of sentiment which prevailed, in 1784 the British parliament went the full length of annihilating the independence so lately acquired and imposed new restrictions on Trade and Manufacturing. This treacherous and ungenerous proceeding excited a sudden and general indignation among the Irish—many of whom now extended their views to a wider sphere of political freedom.
Och, aye! The feelings of the people were hurt.
Among the means adopted by the favourers of innovation was the institution of political clubs.
Yes, that was the commencement of the United Irishmen.
The principal of these was honored by the sanction of the Duke of Leinster and other distinguished characters.
But they did not go the length of some of them. They only wanted reformation in the “political system;” it was the others who formed the “Society of United Irishmen.” It originated in Belfast but was instituted in Dublin in 1791. Theobald Wolfe Tone, founded it, he was a distinguished lawyer; Oliver Bond, the father of my friend, Miss Bond, he died you may know in prison; Thomas Addis Emmet, the brother of Robert Emmet, [Arthur] O’Connor and Dr. MacNeven came to America after the Rebellion. This society extended soon all over Ireland and its proceedings were as cautious and secret as its organization was perfect. Catholic Emancipation and parliamentary reform were the avowed object of their pursuit. By the former was understood total abolition of political distinctions between Protestants and Catholics, the latter the exclusion of the borough representation from parliament. To attain this object by a military force was attempted as early as 1792 when money was raised to arm and embody a body of men in the metropolis under the name of the “National Guards.”
Yes, their uniform was of green and the buttons had the harp on them but without the crown, to signify, it was said, their intention to abolish monarchy.
The 9th December 1792 was appointed a general muster of these guards, probably with a design to give confidence to their friends by a display of their force or perhaps as was feared by some to seize even then the city and to commence a civil war. But on the 8th Dec. the Lord Lieutenant and Council issued a proclamation interdicting all seditious assemblies and commending the magistrate to support them if necessary, by military force. The muster never took place. A counter proclamation from the heads of the society followed exhorting their Volunteers to resume their arms for the maintenance, as before, of tranquility against internal and foreign enemies.
On account of this manifesto many of the conspirators were seized, many of whom were men of the first rank and fortune, of the most amiable character and the warmest philanthropy.
The proceedings of the conspiracy became less open tho’ not less vigorous. They had coupled their cause with that of the Catholics and every exertion which was made for that body paved the way for their designs. Lord Westmorland as Lord Lieutenant, in a speech from the throne, recommended the claims of the Catholics. The impulse of all disinterested men was greatly in favour of the measure. Burke wrote and spoke for the Catholics and sent his only son to Ireland, and the whole eloquence of the British house of Commons was roused in their behalf. To oppose this the aristocracy of Ireland annoyed their partisans under the names of the “Orange Party,” formed to perpetuate the abuses and oppressions of government by discountenancing every innovation.
There it is, they were the horrid set, the bitter Orangemen, “The Catholics called a convention and framed a petition which was presented to the King by Edmund Burke the determined champion of Catholic Emancipation. The King was graciously pleased to recommend the relief of his Catholic subjects to his two houses of parliament in Ireland. The measure was voted against by parliament who declared their disapprobation of their claims. In 1795 Earl Fitzwilliam succeeded Lord Westmorland as Lord Lieutenant and it is ever to be regretted that he was so soon recalled. For had the measures intended to have been carried out by him been adopted the nation would have continued in peace and prosperity. He was succeeded by Earl Camden.
His arms are engraved on our breakfast set. His name was Pratt.
In 1795 the union of the Presbyterian, Catholics and United Irish into one party with the avowed object of Independence took place. The association was extended in the Northern counties and in Dublin with industry and success. The latter was greatly promoted by the displeasure occasioned by the French War, a ministerial measure adopted apparently without reason, and so highly condemned by many in the nation as to add materially to the number of malcontents in both Kingdoms of Britain. The rapacious insolence of the soldiery towards the lower orders.
Yes, they suffered bitterly.
In the marches of troops, the horses of farmers or peasantry were brought to unreasonable distances and severely abused unless money was given to procure better treatment, and they were otherwise maltreated. The carts were lost. The accommodations of soldiers billeted was also severely felt.
And are ye sure the news is true?
And are you sure he’s weel?
Is this a time to talk of wark?
Mak haste lay by your wheel!
Is this a time to talk of wark?
When Colin’s at the door?
Gie me my cloak, I’ll doon the gray
And see him safe ashore.
For there’s nae luck about the house
There’s nae luck ana;
There’s little pleasure in the house,
When our gude man’s a-wa.
Indeed, yes, there would come in car loads of these people at night, men, we-men and children and we were obliged to take them into the house. Oh the noise and confusion at night when the military came into the Town. Everybody was taxed with these soldiers, and as I tell you it was a terrible noise when they came, especially with their we-men and children. We never admitted the we-men and children above stairs, we laid pallets for them in the kitchen and out houses.
Discontent rose high also on account of the militia bill, which enacted compulsory lines of soldiers for the internal defence of the Country. Those on whom the lots fell were obliged to serve four years, pay a heavy fine or find a substitute. Some unable to pay sustained the seizure and sale of their goods and some for intemperate expulsions of discontent were committed to gaol and harshly treated.
Oh they were as ill-treated a set of people as ever were. After a continued series of acts of violence and outrage the Lord Lieutenant issued his proclamation for disarming the inhabitants of the North on the 13 March 1796—and on the 21st of the same month Mr. Grattan, after a speech delivered with his usual force of talent and brilliant ability, moved for an enquiry into the causes which produced this proclamation but his motion was unfortunately rejected. What Grattan had attempted in the Irish parliament, Fox and Lord Moira did in the English but with no better success. Moira was a great man. He was grandfather to that poor woman Flora Hastings, she was the abused creature!
The appointment of General Sir Ralph Abercrombie on the 12th September 1796 to the chief command of the forces in Ireland gave general satisfaction and afforded a ray of hope to drooping despondency. The subsequent display of his eminent virtues justified that expectation.
He made the tour of the Island and having on his return to Dublin issued general orders to the several military commanders, he reprobated the irregularities of the soldiery and he directed the necessary restraint for their disorderly conduct. He then in his dispatches to government urged the adoption of coercive measures, but in vain. Unwilling therefore to risk the loss of humane or manly character or to tarnish his military fame by leading troops to cold-blooded slaughter or civil desolation he resigned his command. Ah clever! Alas! he was too good and too great a blessing for this ill-fated land to possess at that time—he did all in his power to prevent the woes that followed. His splendid exploits in Egypt have rendered his fame immortal; may the olive branch which he waved in Ireland be never forgotten among his unfading laurels.
A contest or trial of strength seems to have now arisen between the existing government and the association. Each vigorous measure adopted on one side excited another to counteract it on the opposite—the Defenders and the Orangemen.
To procure arms, the lower classes assembled in parties in the night and disarmed the adherents of government. He saved the cross of their friends in prison and to testify their attachment to the gentlemen of their party, they met in large bodies in the day to dig potatoes or reap their corn grain. Their assembling in far greater numbers on these occasions than the objects required, their marching with music in military order, and their extraordinary meetings at funerals and matches of foot-ball appeared as intended to habituate themselves to a readiness in repairing to appointed places of meeting, or as a display of force to encourage their friends or intimidate the enemy.
Yes, that was the beginning in the North. We used to make green cockades for the men and we ripped the feather beds to hide them in. Then it was, we sung the song,
“Oh if you’ve a mind to gain freedom
Go travel the globe all around
The like of the old Irish nation
In a corner is scarce to be found.
Oh there ye’ll find true hospitality
Whiskey and friendship gilyore
With Erin-go-bragh and green-ribbons
The ladies so much do adore.
“Was it not for heavy oppressors
How snug and how happy we’d be
Our land is so fertile and pleasant
No poor at our doors we would see,
But our brave Irish heroes now feel it
They surely will give them a blow
With a whack of Shelalagh they’ll twist ‘em
Huzza! They will banish each foe.
Then there was the death of Porter, a Presbyterian clergyman who was hung at the gable end of his own church. His son is in Congress. And McCracken, oh! But that was the awful thing! His sister went to the gallows with him.
Acts of a violent and menacing nature in the North, produced a proclamation in which all magistrates and loyal subjects were strictly commanded to use their best endeavors for the prevention or punishment of such treasonable proceedings. Notwithstanding the enforcement of this proclamation the United Irish of Ulster.
Oh aye, my cousins were of them, would have obtained and employed the means of insurrection, if the French forces embarked at Brest for the invasion of Ireland had not have been prevented by a storm from effecting their landing at Bantry Bay in December of that year.
It was Wolf Tone who had planned and succeeded in obtaining the assistance of the French—an instance of wonderful energy and success against most discouraging circumstances.
On 3rd March 1797 a proclamation to disarm the malcontents was issued and on the 17th the civil power was declared inadequate to the preservation of peace—and the military were directed to aid the magistrates. The severity with which these orders were executed crippled the action of the Society in the North. The houses of the suspected were burnt, the inhabitants tortured and acts of the most cruel vigor used to frustrate the designs of the Union, but although order was apparently restored throughout Ulster the preparations for insurrection were not abandoned.
Meanwhile the organization of the society was extended with great vigor in the South and West. Notwithstanding, the first expedition of the French had failed. The renewed appeals of the committees of the United Irishmen induced the Directory to again attempt a landing. A much larger army than before was embarked for this purpose in a Dutch fleet but the fear of the British Navy, superior in strength, occasioned a sudden debarkation of these troops: and when, contrary to the judgment of its admiral this armament was obliged to sail, it was totally defeated on the 11th October 1797 by a squadron of British vessels under command of Lord Viscount Duncan.
Yes, he was a Scotsman, we knew his sisters—they were extraordinary tall we-men. Still, after this disappointment, hopes of new success from France were sedulously encouraged. But while on the one side the chiefs of the United Irish proceeded in their plans, with a resolution to avoid, if possible, an insurrection until the landing of their French auxiliaries or some other favourable event the government on the other was determined to disorganize their system and destroy the strength of the conspiracy before actual hostilities began. After the proclaiming of many districts in the southern and midland counties, the imprisonment and transportation of some thousands of persons, and other acts of power a very severe wound was inflicted on the Union by the arrest of the thirteen members composing the provincial committee of Leinster with other principals of the conspiracy at the house of Oliver Bond in Dublin on the 12 March 1798.[Tone’s] arrest was grounded on the information of Thomas Reynolds.
Aye a terrible fellow. Oh the horrid fellow! A Roman Catholic gentleman of a place called Kilkea Castle in the county of Kildare, and provincial delegate for Leinster who had been induced by the arguments of that gentleman to betray the cause of Ireland.
He retired to France (Paris) where he was living in obscurity in 1833 or thereabouts.
When Dr. Byrne, who married my niece, was in Paris he was in one of the Restaurants and he saw Reynolds there sitting at his dinner. He dined there regularly. He came forward and leaned over him and looking him full in the face he said slowly, “Where is McCann? Has Ivers from Carlow come?” That was the watchword by which he had betrayed the United Irishmen. He turned as pale as pale could be and never was seen there again.
He was an atrocious creature. He was always known after as Traitor Reynolds.
In this arrest were included the most able and active leaders of the union. Thomas Addis Emmet, a counsellor of distinction, Arthur O’Connor, Dr. W. J. MacNeven and Oliver Bond. This and other arrests and other strong measures to which the government had hitherto resorted, though very debilitating to the conspiracy were far from sufficient to destroy it. At length recourse was had to a general proclamation and military execution and on the 30th March 1798 all Ireland was put under Martial Law and the military sent out at free quarters in all parts of the Kingdom. What hardships, what calamities, what misery must not the wrecked people suffer, on whom are let loose such a body as the soldiery then in Ireland are described to be in the general orders of Abercrombie. Oh dreadful! dreadful!!
They became masters of every house in the country the owners were obliged to procure them whatever they demanded, their will was law. Houses with their furniture were burned, thousands were scourged, picketed and tortured to force confessions of concealed arms or plots and every species of cruelty was perpetuated.
God bless me! Yes, dreadful scenes, murder! Even the dress of a person became a sufficient cause of suspicion, any who wore green or had their hair cut short.
Such persons on being pointed out by some loyal neighbor were immediately seized and brought into the guard house where pitched-paper cases well-heated were pressed on their heads and then turned out in their agony to the jeers of the crowd.
Is it any wonder the people rose?
The 23rd May had been appointed for a general rising.
It must have been about that time, for it was warm weather, that my cousin Richard marched through the Town of Ballymoney with a body of the United Irishmen. They were a set of young fellows seventeen and eighteen years old with green cockades in their hats, uniformed and armed with pikes and he was called “Captain.” They were going to join the insurgents in Belfast. Richard’s father knew nothing of his connection with the United Irishmen. His conduct caused great excitement. By four o’clock next morning my sisters and my cousin set out to walk to the bleach green two miles from town. Half way they heard the military coming from Coleraine. They were completely frightened, knew not to turn this way or that, they separated, cousin to her fathers. Sister soon found herself at the Tavern at Ballymoney. The soldiers were there slashing the cheeses with their swords, the beautiful cheeses the place was famous for, and carrying the crocks of new milk into the middle of the street and dashing them on the stones. The greatest destruction of property imaginable! The house at the corner and the next one to Aunt’s was on fire. They could say nothing against her. The people were very energetic in saving her property they moved it to the church but much was stolen. The soldiers had pointed canon to our street and were firing and plundering the town. The little drummer boys and fifers took pictures from the walls and the trinkets and toys of the children. The child, Anne, they called her “the beauty of the North” spoke to the officers, remonstrating, and they ordered the soldiers off. The fire leaped from one side of the street to the other burning houses of Orangemen and Irishmen and left the town in ashes!
The militia of the neighborhood, Orangemen, even more malicious than the Regulars went to the bleach green to search for Richard. He was then in Coleraine. These Yeomanry, as they were called, were cavalry. They rode up to the door and spoke like gentlemen to Richard’s father who invited them to breakfast.
After breakfasting they went back a mile and then returned and (ungratefully) set fire to the house. Jas Parks, the baby was rushed through the smoke in his cradle. Poor cousin was drugged by the heels over a bureau which had stuck fast in the narrow stairway; all upstairs was on fire. The house was burned to the ground and my uncle’s goods lay scattered on the green.
Uncle did not forget us in his misfortune.
To Miss Ann or Flora Caldwell (1798!)
My dear girls,
I care not, nor I will not, bring my mind to conceive it possible that you will be turned out of your house as I understand has been threatened. Therefore, Comfort my poor Aunt. Should, however, such a diabolical thing happen all of you should stick by it until you be turned out by the shoulders. Then I, poor I, have an asylum for you in John Gondey’s house. The idea involuntarily rushes into my mind how we will without murmur or complaint rehearse all our little woes to each other and all join in praise of that Merciful Being who has not permitted worse to befall us, and who has sent these tryals our way to prepare us for a world of Endless felicity. We are the creatures of his own formation, the objects of his care. Therefore, my dears, neither repine or despair.
Your affectionate Uncle,
My Aunt was not molested and I went to the bleach green to assist my uncle. For five days and nights cousin and I watched the few things we had saved in an open tent in the fields, sitting up by watches, for fear the enemy might return to burn the bleach-works.
In a few days the United Irishmen were dispersed. Richard escaped to Scotland with five hundred pounds on his head which was lifted by a Presbyterian clergyman who took him a few weeks after. He got the reward but he never held up his head after. He lived and died a despised man. Richard was sent to Dublin, was tried and condemned to be hung for high-treason.
The father went forward to Lord Henry Murray who commanded the troops at Coleraine and with hat off plead like a Roman for his son’s life. And Uncle Ball made interest with Lord Erne to induce the Lord Lieutenant Cornwallis to commute the sentence to banishment. As Richard marched through the town of Ballymoney, past the Orangemen, the horrid set that had assembled to see his execution, an express arrived with his reprieve.
The sentence was commuted to banishment of the whole family from the British dominion. We got leave to remain the winter.
Meantime cousin John—Richard’s brother, had been arrested in a house in Dublin and confined in Kilmainham jail. He shared the sentence of his family.
As he left the Jail Lord Edward Fitzgerald was carried in half dead. He had been arrested on the 19th May after a desperate resistance in which he mortally wounded two of his captors. He was a leading spirit of the Revolution and his arrest was fatal to the hopes of the United Irishmen. He died in great agony from the effects of this furious conflict.
Oh what a commotion that made in Ireland!
All down in the North there was the greatest distress and vexation but his death really ended the “Rebellion of ’98.”
In the spring of 1799 the brig Peggy was chartered and we sailed for America. There were nine clergymen aboard and our six weeks’ voyage was the consequence the sailors said. We were boarded by a French Man of War but my cousin John’s acquaintance with French saved us from capture and also his being a Mason. The bay of New York after a voyage, you can’t think how delightful everything looked, beautiful. Oh but it was! The yellow fever prevailed and we landed at the Quarantine on Staten Island. And under the trees by a spring we milked the cows, our bread and milk was the greatest treat mortals ever had. Uncle settled in New York at Bayside, L.I. We were two days in reaching Philadelphia by way of Newark and Elizabethtown and at Trenton bridge we crossed into Pennsylvania. We passed two days in reaching Baltimore stopping at Elkton, M.D. and arriving at the “Indian Queen” corner of Hanover and Baltimore Street.
St Paul’s Church was then the extremity of Charles Street and in Lexington St. the furthest improvements, beyond were all in woods.
Dr. Smith was a fellow boarder and as soon as it was perceived that his attentions [with my sister, Ann] were serious it was not thought delicate to remain in that relation and my sister visited New York and Philadelphia. After her return she was married.
A year after your grandfather, Francis Blackwell, arrived. He had been married by Dr. Robinson of Armagh, his wife’s brother. [She was] such a pleasant, affectionate creature you have no idea of. Everything indeed we could wish in a friend. Your mother was born soon after we saw her and two months later your grandmother died of brain fever; an awful, awful death hers, a week after your grandfather sailed for Java. The man was so distressed we asked him to give us the child and we took your mother home.
Francis Blackwell went to sea until 1825 when he was disabled by a fall from the yard arm. He took charge of a plantation in the South and afterwards became Post-master at Pikesville, MD. My brother and he were on Londenslager’s Hill during the defense of Baltimore 1814. F. B. was 1st Lieutenant in the First Marine Artillery of the Union, composed of sea captains and mates of vessels. (At the time of the war Dr. Smith bought Pikesville.) Children were always delighted when he came home from his voyages. The stories he had to tell were so informing to them.
“I hope I’ll not be long on the way, when the time comes, to be a tax on any one, Frank.”(Aunt Flora to Francis Mayer Blackwell, Jan 1856)
Arthur O’Connor (1763–1852) was arrested, released, and re-arrested for his role in the Rebellion. In 1802 he was released on condition of banishment to France where he later served as a general under Napoleon.
Francis Rawdon-Hastings, 1st Marquess of Hastings (1754–1826) was a British politician and military officer who served at the Lexington and Concord, Bunker Hill and other battles, commanded a Loyalist corps called the Volunteers of Ireland, and had a distinguished career in the southern campaigns during the American Revolution.
Henry Joy McCracken (1767–1798), a founding member of the Society of the United Irishmen, refused to testify against his compatriots and was executed for his role in leading military operations during the Rebellion.
The Peggy was built in 1793 and met its fate in 1821. In 1808 she was captured by the French and recaptured by HMS Guerriere which was famously captured and burned by the USS Constitution in 1812.