Singing Freedom’s Song – Texas, the Irish and the War for Southern Independence – Part I – Descent Into the maelstrom.

The minstrel boy to the war is gone,
In the ranks of death ye will find him;
His father’s sword he hath girded on,
And his wild harp slung behind him;
“Land of Song!” said the warrior bard,
“Tho’ all the world betray thee,
One sword, at least, thy rights shall guard,
One faithful harp shall praise thee!”

Thomas Moore, (1779-1852)

Margaret Edythe Young’s social milieu may be thought of as originating in the antebellum South every bit as much as it did in Ireland. The Irish had more experience in dealing with tyranny than the Americans – they had been persecuted since before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, their revolution started in 1688, would not end until 1921 and they are still dealing with it today as the six counties in the north of Ireland remain Europe’s last captive nation over twenty years after the Berlin Wall has been torn down – and they were particularly sympathetic to the cause of Southern Independence. That is not surprising considering that  the South wanted the same thing the Irish wanted – to be left alone – Sinn Fein, after all, translates to “ourselves alone” but unfortunately world history is not composed of stories of peoples being left alone.

The Fenian Harp of 1798

In the next several entries we will deal with the her world and how it was formed and how the events that happened to her maternal grandfather and grandmother – and these are two very different histories even if they have the same starting point – shaped her world.

Margaret Edythe Young’s sister Laureene used to be fond of saying that certain things went back to ancient history and if we had unlimited space and time I am sure we could trace the causes of the War for Southern Independence back to Adam and Eve – well at least to Cain and Able – but we are limited to 50 gigabytes on this blog and our own mortal span so we are going to use important dates in the lives of members of her family and look outward to see what was happening in and to the state and nation that she was born in to. In this first entry we will be using Galveston newspapers but will also be using New Orleans and other Texas newspapers as sources about these events.

We must tell the reader that we do not accept the idea that the War of Northern Aggression was launched solely – or even primarily – to free the slaves. These unfortunate souls from Africa, who had been egregiously exploited by so many for so long,  constituted less than 6% of the population and were as excluded from the mainstream of American life in the north as they were in the South – be they slave or free – Harriet Beecher Stowe’s works of fiction notwithstanding. There is substantial evidence to support the idea that many involved in the abolitionist cause were more concerned with keeping slaves out of the territories and removing blacks from the United States than they were with respecting their natural rights as human beings. Far more than their southern brethren they were advocate of ethnic clensing.

To really understand what was going on in the United States you need to understand that Abraham Lincoln was a railroad lawyer long before he made an alliance of convenience with the abolitionists and that his most important task on assuming office was not the freeing of slaves but the completion of the transcontinental railroad which required a strong central government as opposed to sovereign states. When he took office the president was a primus inter pares with the governors and it was not too far from the mark to say that  when he was removed from the office to the cry of sic semper tyrannis there was some merit to the observation. Consider that his conduct of the war and the building of the railroad were done almost entirely by executive fiat and that his one great legislative achievement, the Homestead Act of 1862, was done solely in support of the latter and you may realize that he dovetails perfectly into the American idea of manifest destiny. Considering that he had lost his seat in Congress in 1848 for his opposition to the manifest destiny practices of James K. Polk against Mexico his flip-flop is simply another brick in the edifice of Lincoln the politician as opposed to the alabaster sepulcher of Father Abraham, the Great Emancipator, that comes to us in most hagiographies that pass for history.

from New Orleans 1854 city directory

On the 17th of January 1854 in New Orleans a baker named David Adams who had been born in Ireland married a young Irish maid named Mary Anne Davis who had come from County Louth, Ireland to New York and then on to New Orleans when the father of the family she worked for, Charles Leaman, gave up his position as a Long Island Sound pilot, signed on as master of a vessel bound for New Orleans and started an apprenticeship as a Mississippi River pilot. We do not know what happened to the pilot or his family but David and Mary Anne Adams were the maternal grandparents of Margaret Edythe Young.

Japanese woodcut of Admiral Matthew Galbraith Perry

On the 31st of March of that same year the President of the United States conferred full powers on his commissioner, Matthew Galbraith Perry, special ambassador of the United States to Japan and the august sovereign of Japan gave similar full powers to his commissioners, Hayashi-Daigaku-no-kami, Ido, Prince of Tsus-Sima; Izawa, Prince of Mmimasaki; and Udono, member of the Board of Revenue to conclude the Treaty of Kanagawa which began with the assurance that there shall be a perfect, permanent and universal peace, and a sincere and cordial amity, between the United States of America on the one part and between their people, respectfully, (respectively,) without exception of persons or places. Except for the brief interlude of 1941-1945 – during which a mere 3,500,000 soldiers, sailors, marines and civilians were slaughtered – the treaty seems to have held up pretty well. There may have been some increased trade at the Port of New Orleans due to this treaty but sixty years before the Panama Canal was a reality it was far more important to the ports of California, Oregon and Washington and a further impetus to the United States in expanding from sea to sea.

Political Map of the Kansas-Nebraska Act

Of more immediate consequence was the passage on the 30th of May 1854 of An Act to Organize the Territories of Nebraska and Kansas. Since very few histories explore the causes of the War Between the States by doing anything other than using icons as flashcards a brief explanation is in order. The act was designed by Democratic Senator Stephen A. Douglas of Illinois,  a longtime legislator from a free state, who proposed the simple solution of allowing the people to be sovereign in a democracy. In the language of the act itself, and when admitted as a State or States, the said Territory or any portion of the same, shall be received into the Union with[or] without slavery, as their constitution may prescribe at the time of the admission. The underlying reason for the act was the creation of territory to be settled by farmers in furtherance of the goal of building the transcontinental railroad – something Douglas aspired to ever bit as much as Lincoln, almost as much as he aspired to the presidency,  again every bit as much as Lincoln.

New Orleans was the largest and most prosperous port in the South and an indication of this stature may be seen in the fact that its newspaper, then called just The Daily Picayune [it would not become the Times-Picayune until 1914], had both a morning and an evening edition. Although the act was passed on May 30 in Washington the issue of that date in New Orleans is still reporting on action on the bill in the House and Senate from the previous week – news not being an instantaneous affair yet – and while there is no editorial content opposed to the act neither is there much praising it. Far greater attention is paid to the possibility of seizing Cuba from Spain and annexing it. Considerable attention is also given to the arrival of the steamship Charles Morgan [not to be confused with the famous whaler of that name], under Captain Lawless, from Galveston with news from both there and elsewhere in the State of Texas. The greatest coverage is given to indian attacks from Corpus Christi to Hondo to Blanco which had resulted in a number of settlers being killed, more displaced and the Army being called in for a punitive expedition which, under Sergeant McNally, caught them, stripped them of both their booty and their possessions and left them for the coyote.

John Brown

As with most compromises cobbled together by committees the Kansas-Nebraska act was probably doomed before the ink was dry on Franklin Pierce’s signature. If it was not stillborn Kansas quickly killed it. The most radical elements of the abolitionists flocked to Kansas en masse, falling like acorns from a diseased tree, and even set up their own state government in usurpation of the one established by the settlers who had actually come there to farm the land and turn the frontier into part of the nation. No one personified the madness of the violent abolitionists more than John Brown. Coming to Kansas in October 1855 by May 24, 1856 his group, which included four of Brown’s sons, led seven settlers  from their homes, during the night, and hacked them to death with broadswords – although none actually owned slaves. In August of that year Brown was run out of Kansas and would seek asylum and support from his fellow radical abolitionist across the north – he would be heard from again.

Abraham Lincoln

In the meantime the Whigs would pass in to history. The party of Calhoun would give way to the party of free labor, free land and free men which operated publicly on the twin promises of ending slavery and of ending the plantation system. This latter idea – revolutionary agrarian reform which required the redistribution of legitimately owned property – was the basis of the party’s popularity with the immigrants who had neither knowledge of nor appreciation for the sacrifices and genius of our Revolution and Founding but who wanted to homestead the west on free land and the cupidity of their southern collaborators who wanted what they hadn’t worked for. Lincoln, the railroad lawyer, was perfectly positioned with the support of the newly emergent states on what was then the frontier to support the western movement and the railroads that made the expansion possible and him rich. By feigning poverty and wearing a hair shirt in public, allowing him to  make his deal with the radical abolitionists,  he was able to take control of the party. By fulfilling that latter part of the bargain he plunged the nation into war and destroyed almost everything that the founders had created.

David and Mary Ann continued to live their lives in New Orleans. He worked as a baker and she was busy with three children. Robert, the eldest, was five years old in 1860. Mary Ann – who would become Margaret Edythe Young’s mother was three. Margaret Jane was only a year old at the time of the 1860 census. The census records are good guides but they are not precise. Part of that is due to the fact that they were handwritten so that the family that Mary Ann worked for in New York – named Leaman – becomes Scaman on – through either poor optical character recognition software or poor eyesight, or both. Her birth date varies from 1833 to 1837 and her daughter’s varies from 1857 to 1859 – the older they got the younger they got which may indicate a problem with reporting rather than recording – so the term “about” has added significance for pre-20th century records although even now we are finding dubious birth certificates from the 1960’s.

Col. Robert E. Lee, USA

Whether she was one or three Mary Ann Davis [fille] celebrated her birthday on October 28th. Just before her birthday, on the 16th of October 1859, John Brown – who had spent the last three years collecting money from wealthy abolitionists in order to establish a colony for runaway slaves – led his raid on the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, Virginia because he needed weapons. In an event that had at least as much irony as iron to it the first victim of the raid was a black railroad baggage handler named Hayward Shepherd, who was shot and killed after confronting the raiders. Then Brown, who expected local slaves to rise up against their owners and join the raid, found that not only did this not happen, but townspeople began trying to recapture the arsenal.

Authorities in Washington ordered Colonel Robert E. Lee to Harpers Ferry with a force of Marines to capture Brown. On Tuesday the 18th of October, at a signal from Lieutenant J.E.B. Stuart, the door was knocked down and the Marines began taking prisoners and Brown was taken to the Jefferson County seat of Charles Town for trial. Brown was tried on the 26th of October for treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia, found guilty after five days of deliberation, and sentenced to death. Brown and his men were prosecuted and executed for taking over a government facility by force of arms resulting in the deaths of innocent civilians  – nor does the historical record deny the murders they committed in Kansas or during those raids – but that did not stop the abolitionists from immediately using the executions as an example of the government’s support of slavery. John Brown became their martyr, a hero murdered for his belief that slavery should be abolished.

Henry David Thoreau

As an example of how little regard for the facts his abolitionist supporters had we have A Plea for Captain John Brown by Henry David Thoreau delivered as a public oration at Concord, Massachusetts on Sunday evening, the 30th of  October 1859. Starting out with, “We can at least express our sympathy with, and admiration of, him and his companions, and that is what I now propose to do.” he proceeds to whitewash the murders in Kansas with, “When the troubles in Kansas began, he sent several of his sons thither to strengthen the party of the Free State men, fitting them out with such weapons as he had; telling them that if the troubles should increase, and there should be need of his, he would follow, to assist them with his hand and counsel. This, as you all know, he soon after did; and it was through his agency, far more than any other’s, that Kansas was made free.” After a rant that must have filled the better part of an hour – or more – he concludes, Jeremiah like, “I wish to say, furthermore, that you had better, all you people at the South, prepare yourselves for a settlement of that question, that must come up for settlement sooner than your are prepared for it. The sooner you are prepared the better. You may dispose of me very easily. I am nearly disposed of now; but this question is still to be settled,–this negro question, I mean; the end of that is not yet.”, Adding a call for revenge this apostle of peaceful civil disobedience gives lie to his reputation for eloquence  and his fellow travelers.

Extensive parts of Thoreau’s diatribe was against the press coverage that had referred to Brown as everything from being of dubious parentage, to being functionally illiterate, unhygienic and mad. The font page of The Daily Picayune of New Orleans on the 28th of October 1859 had extensive coverage of the proceedings including:

  • The implication of prominent Republican politicians and abolitionists in the plotting of the raid and their extensive financial support of the raiders.
  • Reports from the first day of Brown’s trial where the counsel tried to introduce a defense of insanity only to be shouted down by Brown.
  • The full confession of John Copeland, taken prisoner with Brown, giving the names of parties that induced him to go to Harpers Ferry and revealing that a similar raid had been planned for Kentucky.
  • The U. S. Marshals who received the confession have other evidence that they believe fully establishes the complicity of many prominent men in the north but it is withheld for the present from motives of public policy.
  • Cook, another of Brown’s accomplices, and several others who escaped with him had fled to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania where they had been captured and returned to Charlestown, Virginia for trial.

Considering that it was a Southern newspaper the tenor of the Picayune article is remarkably even-handed even quoting extensively from a New York Herald report by a correspondent who had been allowed to visit Brown in his cell which paints a picture of a courteous, if confused, man trying to write letters to summon aid from the legions whom he believed supported him and who turned out to be ephemeral in his hour of greatest need.

Stephen Aaron Douglas

One of the great myths of American history is that Abraham Lincoln won the Lincoln-Douglas debates. These debates were not part of the presidential campaign of 1860 but rather were part of the Illinois senate contest of 1858 in which Douglas beat Lincoln 54% to 46% – in a free state. It is important to remember that when Douglas said, “Slavery is not the only question which comes up in this controversy. There is a far more important one to you, and that is, what shall be done with the free negro?” he was not being racist, in the way that modern politicians – of all races – use race baiting rhetoric but was expressing a commonly held concern and echoing the same sentiment expressed by Lincoln when he said, “I, as well as Judge Douglas, am in favor of the race to which I belong having the superior position. I have never said anything to the contrary.” Nor was Lincoln, the politician, as opposed to slavery as the marble Lincoln memorialized with Washington and Jefferson on the mall even supporting a 13th amendment of which he said, “I have no objection to its [slavery] being made express and irrevocable.” Lincoln was bright enough to realize that the formula that Ludwig von Mises would express in saying, “Servile labor disappeared because it could not stand the competition of free labor; its profitability sealed [slavery’s] doom in the market economy.” was the only genuine solution to the problem but Lincoln, the man whom William Lloyd Garrison said, “had not a drop of anti-slavery blood in his veins”, suggestion to illiterate and property less ex-slaves unprepared for freedom on Feb. 3, 1865 was that they “Root, hog, or die”. There is a good deal of difference between being willing to allow the market to operate efficiently to cure social ills – a view that probably both Lincoln and Douglas shared – and starting a revolution to destroy a one nation and build a new one which is, in fact, what Lincoln did slaughtering over 600,000 citizens in the process in fulfillment of his bargain with the railroads and the abolitionists.

John C. Breckinridge

The Democratic nominating convention of 1860 met in Charleston, South Carolina and the failure of its platform to recognize the claims of the Southern States brought about the withdrawal of delegations from Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, South Carolina, Florida, Texas and Arkansas. The convention reconvened in Baltimore, Maryland and still could not reach agreement and the Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Maryland delegations left the convention. At this point Douglas became the nominee of the northern democrats and John C. Breckenridge, the sitting vice president, became the nominee of the Southern Democrats. Douglas’ support, both north and south, was predominantly among the Irish Catholics but in a four-way race, even though he came in second in the popular vote, he came in last in the electoral vote and Lincoln won with less than 40% of the popular vote and no state south of the Mason-Dixon line. Secession would come, in fact, after the election of Lincoln but it had already been accomplished long before he took the oath of office and undertook the War of Northern Aggression.

Election day 1860 was Tuesday the 6th of November and the Galveston Civilian and Gazette, a weekly paper, reports on a number of issues regarding the election from the fight between Southern Democratic supporters of John C. Breckinridge with the Northern Democratic supports of Stephen A. Douglas in California [Lincoln would win the state] to the cold hard facts regarding electoral votes where New York had the most with 35, Maine had 8 and Texas only had 4. In column two there is a long article excoriating Bishop T. M. Eddy of M. E. Church North for his “clerical insolence” in attacking President Buchanan for being pro-slavery and then in column three Buchanan himself comes under attack for not being more supportive of the settlers in Kansas who were under constant attack from abolitionists irregulars. Lincoln is quoted as saying “[if] you undertake to destroy the Union it will be our duty to deal with you as old John Brown has been dealt with.” Following is a full column dissection of the Chicago platform of “Black Republicanism” and another describing, and debunking, the pro-Union rally in New York. On the 13th of November the Civilian and Gazette reports in the leading right column, “LINCOLN PROBABLY ELECTED”. However sound the arguments and however ardent the beliefs the calculus of the election had been set and ironically for Douglas it would be popular sovereignty that defeated him and he would be left with nothing to do but hold Lincoln’s hat at his inauguration.

David G. Burnett

By the 20th of November the Galveston News is reporting on South Carolina leading the way to secession, with Georgia and Florida following each move, Alabama passing an appropriation of $1,000,000 for defense of the state, Mississippi calling up her Minute Men and Maryland and Virginia trying to work out compromises that would force the north to respect the rights of the South. On the same date in the Civilian and Gazette there is the following notice:


You have been called to meet tonight to take counsel for the best interest of the state. There are those among you, open and undisguised in the belief that the crisis demands secession by the State of Texas, from the American Union. The faith of others still clings to the Union, and to the faith that our general government was constructed with too much wisdom, is surrounded with too many safeguards, and confers too many blessings to be abandoned and overthrown at the first success of a bad party, or the first elevation of a bad president. All concur that it is time for the wisest and best counsels. There is among us a distinguished, venerable and virtuous citizen, who has been with Texas in her six troubles, and clings to her in her seventh, David G. Burnett the first president of [the Republic of] Texas. Place him tonight in the chair. Let him invoke the true wisdom and patriotism of this people, and let them have fair, open, honest, sincere expressions. Every citizen of Galveston should be present. The action of the meeting tonight will go forth as the voice and sentiment of our City, and no man who feels one pulsation for the true interests of his country but should come forward to do his duty. Civis

We do not have a record of the meeting but we do know that when the actual vote on secession came Galveston voted with over seven hundred in favor and less than three dozen opposed.

On the 20th of December 1860 South Carolina became the first state to formally secede and The Daily Picayune reports on the 25th that, “the Hon. Caleb Cushing returned here [Washington, D.C.] today from his special mission to South Carolina. He reports that the authorities of the State will endeavor to prevent the seizure of the forts near Charleston. But that the people will act in the matter as soon as they deem it necessary.”  Other states would follow – Mississippi on the 9th of  January 1861, Florida on the 10th of  January 1861,  Alabama on the 11th of  January 1861, Georgia on the 19th of  January 1861, Louisiana on the 26th of  January 1861, Texas on the 1st of  February  1861, Virginia on the 17th of  April 1861, Arkansas on the 6th of  May 1861, North Carolina on the 20th of  May 1861 and Tennessee on the 8th of  June 1861. Some left the union before Lincoln’s election was confirmed by the Electoral College on the 13th of February, most had gone before he was sworn in on the 4th of March while the last two were forced out by his depredations against the South in response to secession and Sumter.

Fort Sumter, Charleston Harbor, South Carolina

On April 10, 1861, Brig. Gen. Beauregard, in command of the provisional Confederate forces at Charleston, South Carolina, demanded the surrender of the northern garrison of Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. Garrison commander Anderson refused. On April 12, Confederate batteries opened fire on the fort, which was unable to reply effectively. At 2:30 pm, April 13, Major Anderson surrendered Fort Sumter, evacuating the garrison on the following day. The bombardment of Fort Sumter was the opening engagement of the War for Southern Independence. Although there were no casualties during the bombardment, one northern artillerist was killed and three wounded (one mortally) when a cannon exploded prematurely while firing a salute during the evacuation on April 14.

The war had started. David Adams would move his family to Galveston and neither they nor it would ever be the same again. Next week the saga continues.

The Great Seal of the Confederacy



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