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Irish in American Independence Day

James Smith, 1719-1806

American Independence Day July 4th couldn’t have happened without us Irish! We may be a comparatively tiny country but did you realise 4 of the signatories of the Declaration of Independence were in fact Irish? 3 born on the island and one a 2nd generation irish man.

JAMES SMITH (1719 – 1806): 
Smith was born in Co Armagh, Ireland in 1719 and went to Pennsylvania as a young boy. He recieved his education in Philadelphia before going on to become a land surveyor and a lawyer. A member of the Continental Congress 1776-1778, he served in the War of Independence as a Colonel of Pennsylvania Militia 1775- 1776. Obviously, Smith is the name of many English settler families in Ireland, but is also a synonym of the Irish surname ‘MacGowan’.

GEORGE TAYLOR (1716 – 1781):
George Taylor was born in Co Cork Ireland in 1716. He went to America in 1736 as an indentured servant. Indentured servants were people whose passage was paid by the colonists already living in America, and in exchange for the passage, they had to agree to work for free for five to seven years for the people who paid their way. A Mr. Savage, who ran an iron foundry outside Philadelphia, paid for young George to come over, in 1736. When Mr. Savage found that George could read and write, he made him a clerk in his foundry. A few years later, Mr. Savage died, and George then married his widow, Anne Savage, and took over the iron business in Pennsylvania, in Bucks County. He was a member of the Committee of Correspondence, 1774-1776, and of the Continental Congress, 1776-1777. Taylor, of course, is an English occupational name, numerous in Ulster and Dublin since the fourteenth century.

MATTHEW THORNTON (1714 – 1803): 
Born in Co Limerick, Ireland in 1714, his family emigrated to the USA when he was just 3 years old. When their ship landed in Maine in mid-winter, the passengers had no place to live, so they remained aboard ship. In the spring, the family decided to go to Worcester, Massachusetts, where Matthew grew up and became a doctor through the time-honored tradition of studying with an established physician. He went on to practice medicine in Londonderry, New Hampshire from 1740. There, he met his wife Hannah who at only 18yrs of age was almost 30 years his junior. Thornton was active in pre- revolutionary agitation and became a member of the Continental Congress in 1776 and in the following November signed the Declaration of Independence, one of the last of the 56 men to do so.

EDWARD RUTLEDGE (1749 – 1800): 
The youngest of the signatories at just 26 years of age, was born in Charleston, South Carolina but was 2nd generation Irish as a son of Dr. John Rutledge who emigrated from Longford, Co. Tyrone (Ulster) to South Carolina in 1735. Edward’s mother was Sarah Hext. The couple had five sons and two daughters. At the age of 27 Sarah became a widow with seven children when Edward was about one year old. He went on to study law at Oxford university before returning to Charleston to practice. His mother gave him a 640-acre plantation in Saint Helena Parish that had been her father’s and thus enabled him to meet the property qualification for election to the Commons House of Assembly. It wasn’t long before Rutledge was one of the leading citizens in Charleston, and owned quite a bit of land and had almost 50 slaves. In 1775 he represented South Carolina as a delagate to the second Continental congress.

So there you have it! Irish men were very much part of the American declaration of independence. Happy 4th of July all!