Cleveland Irish: The War of 1812 and the Irish

By Francis McGarry

Moses Cleaveland never came back to Cleveland. We have discussed those who were here before that Moses and those first settlers of the Western Reserve in previous months. My Aunt Irene would remind me to get back to the good Irish Catholic folk.
If I am out of punch-in-teeth distance, a slightly precarious endeavor than when playing the 2-1 game with young Matthew, I would retort that our story is just part of the story.  

The Cleveland Irish narrative has its roots in local history as the geographical and social setting the first Irish immigrants had to navigate. Our collective narrative can also be connected to national and global events.

The year before the Irish Rebellion of 1798, Lorenzo Carter was setting up shop in the Flats. Two decades later, the effects of those events intersected, if not before.

American Revolution and the Irish
The Anglo-French War (1778-1783) and the American Revolution kept the British busy, and the Irish too. Irish Volunteers were enlisted to defend their island from invasion, American or French, and over 40,000 Irishmen joined the ranks.

Meanwhile, British policy embargoed Irish exports to market, forcing Irish provisions to the military. Many in Ireland questioned this military and economic relationship.

In 1779, Dublin merchants boycotted English consumer products. The Dublin Volunteer Company of Artillery placed two cannons on the Trinity College Green, demanding free trade. England amended their trade policy, but that did not deter Irish revolutionary voices. The Irish Rebellion of 1798 was brutal.

Prisoners on both sides were executed and, despite early success, the rebellion was put down with a vengeance. Survivors of the United Irish Rebellion, those making up an Irish revolutionary diaspora, formed the nucleus of the anti-British riots in America during the War of 1812. They provided a significant proportion of volunteers who served in the American army and aboard navy and privateering ships.

John Barry
Those who joined the US Navy followed in the footsteps of Co. Wexford born John Barry. He was granted “Commission Number 1” by President George Washington on June 4th, 1794. Commodore Berry was the first commissioned naval officer and also its first flag officer. The Ancient Order of Hibernians venerate him annually on September 13th, the anniversary of his death.

In June of 1812, the American vessel, Vermont, prepared to disembark at the port of Dublin and commence its quotidian Atlantic adventure. Congress declared war on June 18th, unbeknownst to the crew and passengers aboard.

Captain Frederick Lee of the US Cutter Eagle boarded and searched the Vermont on July 17 off the coast of Connecticut. The passenger list was produced by the captain of the Vermont, Samuel Nicoll.
It included 83 Irish men, women and children, as well as three Americans. The passengers identified these counties as their place of origin: 24 Co. Monaghan, 16 Co. Kildare, 11 Dublin City, 11 Co. Cavan, 7 Co. Meath, 7 Co. Wicklow, 3 Co. Longford, 1 Co. Kilkenny, 1 Co. Wexford, 1 Jamestown (C0. Leitrim), and 1 not reported.

My research indicates that guy was most probably from Mayo and ashamed to say so. Passengers included 18 females, including five youths and 68 males, including 12 youths. One child was “born at sea”, another was “an infant” and no gender was listed for either.

Not all of the passengers listed an occupation. Those that did, did so as follows: 15 laborers, seven clerks, six weavers, three farmers, three gentlemen, two carpenters, two tailors, two millwrights, one painter, one saddler, one music master and passenger Matt Perang was listed as a “G.” He was 27, so not quite an “OG.”

Irish Immigration
That glimpse of 1812 Irish immigration provides interesting demographics, with a tacit contextual port variable, Dublin. Passengers shared relative port proximity and support historical narratives of the majority of Irish immigration at that time; up to 75% of all immigration was from Ulster.

The occupation data indicates a more raconteur chronicle juxtaposed to the accepted unskilled laborer label the Irish immigrant has been reduced to historically. Although that is more commonly applied to the Famine Irish, this sample still supports a separate factual interpretation.

This was the last vessel transporting Irish immigrants until the end of the war. Three years later, the proliferation of Irish immigration commenced and coincided with the building of canals. This is also a random sample made historically significant by the War of 1812, context.

In May of 1812, on the eve of war, the British offered America an “equal share” of their trade with other European nations. That was an offer to suspend the current Orders of Council and allow American merchants to conduct European trade under British licenses. The Americans did not entertain the offer of abstemious commercial freedom.

Even as the war was fought, American politicians debated trade restrictions. Thomas Jefferson believed it was vital “to keep open markets.” Many farmers and merchants agreed with trading with the enemy in principle and in practice.

Spanish Florida and Amelia Island, not Banc, were imported to the island and subsequentially smuggled into the US. This was not limited to the American south. Small vessels from Chesapeake Bay to Canada engaged in trade with British vessels off the American coast.

British troops in Canada, up to two thirds of them, were consuming American produced provisions. That would have direct impact on farmers and merchants in Ohio and those adjacent to the Great Lakes.

Irish Prisoners of War
The British and the Americans treated prisoners of war comparatively in the same manner if they were captured on land. However, the British treated prisoners captured at sea considerably more harshly. Those practices were called into question because of the Irish.

In October of 1812, the Battle of Queenston resulted in a substantial number of American troops being taken prisoner. That included a large percentage of Irishmen, or at least by the standards of the Royal officials.
Those born in Ireland, naturalized American citizens or not, were determined to be British subjects by the British of course. Those Irishmen were then re-transported to England to be tried for treason.

Puerile patriotism pummeled prudence. The United States ordered British POW’s held in close confinement as hostages. The British retaliated in the same manner and then the US re-retailiated. In 1814, POW’s in both armed forces were held in hostile conditions with the threat of execution.

This is the beginning of a discussion of the of the world the first Cleveland Irish were introduced to and the world they brought with them. Next month we shall continue and look at the local effects of the War of 1812 and post war Irish immigration.

*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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