Cleveland Irish: Oh Say Can You See

To join the Society, of Cincinnati, you have to be a male and a descendent of an officer of the American Continental Army or the French forces who fought in the Revolutionary War. The society only takes one male per family at a time, similar to the right of primogeniture.

It is named after Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus. He was a Roman statesman who has been attributed with selfless service to the republic in times of need and relinquishing his position as emperor in times of peace.

The city of Cincinnati was named after this society of over 4,400 members in the United States, France and in 25 over countries. Cincinnati residents in 1843 witnessed the removal of the last of the Wyandots, and de facto the last of all Native Americans, from Ohio.

That historical moment occurred due to the efforts of members of The Society of Cincinnati. There were Irish folk on both sides of that historical moment.

Cover of A Man of Distinction Among Them: Alexander McKee and the Ohio Country Frontier, 1754-1799 by Larry L. Nelson
Cover of A Man of Distinction Among Them

Ohio Frontier

Alexander McKee was the second son of Ireland born Thomas McKee and Margaret Tecumsapah Opessa. It was just Mary on Thomas’s death certificate; she was Shawnee.

Alexander married Edna Yellow Britches Rising Sun in 1739. Alex McKee was able to maintain relationships with the British and the Shawnee as well as other Native American groups. He assisted in trade, military alliances and diplomacy.

In 1794, Alexander was named Deputy Superintendent General of the British Indian Department. He sided with the British in the Revolutionary War, so no Skyline Chili, but part of a fascinating narrative of Ohio history and Irish blood.
Please reference, A Man of Distinction Among Them: Alexander McKee and the Ohio Country Frontier, 1754-1799 by Larry Nelson, for additional information.

On the other side, in various ways, was Hugh McGary. I was at Tradewinds discussing the family tree with my cousin Tom and his finance Amelia.

Hugh ain’t a McGarry. Hugh is the son of Sarah and John McGary. The family arrived in America from Ireland as indentured servants in 1750; Hugh was six years old.

Major Hugh McGary had lost a stepson to the Shawnee. He was on the losing end at the Battle of Blue Licks, one of the last battles of the Revolutionary War and the last American defeat in the war. While Hugh was calling Daniel Boone a coward, Alexander McKee assisted leading Shawnees, Delawares, Mingos, Wyandots, Miamis, Ottawas, Ojibwas, Potawatomis, Canadians and British loyalists to victory. 

It was four years later that Hugh put a hatchet through Shawnee leader Moluntha’s head. Moluntha was, at the time, unarmed and an ally of the Americans.

His death paved the way for Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa, also known as The Prophet, to create the largest confederation of indigenous groups that included thousands of warriors in the Great Lakes region. Tecumseh did not survive the War of 1812.

Statue of Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, Cincinnati, Ohio

Fight for your Right

James Lingan survived the Revolutionary War, but did not survive the War of 1812, either. He was beaten to death in the Baltimore Riots of 1812.

James was a supporter of the freedom of the press and was killed as he defended the Baltimore Federal Republican from a mob upset due to the publication of anti-war articles. He was an original member of the Society of Cincinnati and one of the first Americans to lose his life defending the right of free speech.

Robert Ross met his demise in Baltimore as well. He was born in County Down and attended Trinity College in Dublin.

Robert joined the British army in 1789 and saw action in the Netherlands and Spain before arriving in America. Under his command, British troops won a victory at Bladensburg in 1814 and then captured Washington, DC.

His troops, which were over 40% Ireland born, set fire to the White House and the United States Capitol building. Major General Ross was killed in action at the Battle of North Point by US sharpshooters Daniel Wells and Henry McComas soon thereafter.

Henry McComas was a descendent of Daniel Alexander McComas, Sr., who was captain of the guard at Edinburgh Castle. He was forced to flee, with a bounty on his head, to America for vowing to destroy the protestants. Daniel McComas settled in Maryland around 1687.

Over 5,000 British troops failed to capture Fort McHenry in Baltimore in September of 1814. James McHenry was born in Ballymena, County Antrim in 1753. He was Secretary of War for George Washington and John Adams. James was a physician by trade and the fort bearing his name was completed in 1803.

As you may know, Francis Scott Key wrote a song about the battle at Fort McHenry. As you may not know, Delia Foley’s Pub is in Federal Hill, just up the street from Fort McHenry. The Shepherd’s Pie is good, but the Lump Crab Mac and Cheese is the game changer.

The Irish on Both Sides

This is just one example of how the Irish were on both sides of the fighting during the War of 1812 and in the Ohio Wars that preceded it. Charleston had an Irish Volunteers Company, founded in 1798, that fought in the Continental Army, as well as the Seminole War and the Mexican War.

They fought for the Confederate army in the American Civil War.
Their founding in 1798 is an example of the presence of Irish Republicans who were forced to renew their battle with the British empire in North America. They fought a British army that was 250,000 soldiers strong by the end of the War of 1812 and over a third of those soldiers had Irish blood.

The stories of Alexander McKee, Hugh McGary, Robert Ross and James McHenry contribute to the collective narrative of the Irish in the Americas. McKees Rock ,PA, and Evansville, IN, are part of their stories and are a reminder of the Irish contributions to the history of the Americas.

Fort McHenry is now maintained by the National Park Service and can be visited by water taxi in the Baltimore Harbor that once was full of British ships firing upon the fort. Next month we will focus on the Irish who defended Ohio from British attack, both on land and on Lake Erie.

Find this column and others from the November 2023 issue here!

Francis McGarry

Francis McGarry

*Francis McGarry holds undergraduate degrees from Indiana University in Anthropology, Education and History and a Masters in Social Science from the University of Chicago. He is the Executive Director of Bluestone Hibernian Charities and proprietor of McGarry Consulting. He is a past president of the Irish American Club East Side and the founder and past president of the Bluestone Division of the Ancient Order of Hibernians.

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