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The Irish-Born Signatories of the American Declaration of
By Chevalier William F. Marmion, M.A.
Fifty-six men signed the Declaration of July 4, 1776. Forty-eight were
born in the American 'Colonies'. Of the eight foreign-born, three were born
in Ireland. These men have been neglected in our history books.
Before the election of John Fitzgerald Kennedy in 1960, the United States
was long referred to by its own citizens as 'a Protestant country'. Catholics
were often regarded suspiciously; in spite of shedding blood for the new
republic from the very beginning, they were still not totally accepted on
many levels of American life. Certainly, the election of Kennedy changed
this — but that was when the Republic was already approaching its two hundredth
year of existence. And even in 1928 the first Catholic candidate for President,
Governor Al Smith of New York, had been overwhelmingly defeated arguably
because of suspicion of his religion.
Therefore, in the Catholic schools of the United States and here in Ireland,
it is no wonder that the one signatory of the Declaration of Independence
who was a Catholic was emphasised: Charles Carroll of Carrollton in Maryland.
This man was held up by Catholics as tangible proof of their patriotism
and loyalty, for indeed Carroll was a great patriot and remarkable in many
respects. Descended from the noble Ely O’Carrolls, princes in Tipperary,
he was born in 1737 in Maryland which had been the only colony set up for
Catholic emigration from England, thanks to Lord Baltimore. Carroll was
a member of the Continental Congress and later served as the first US Senator
from Maryland. A cousin, John, became the first United States Roman Catholic
bishop in 1790, founded Georgetown College in 1791, and went on to become
the first Archbishop (of Baltimore, 1808).
The defensiveness of Catholics and the non-ecumenical times led to three
Irish patriots of the American revolution being almost totally neglected.
For indeed among the fifty-five Protestants who signed the document which
changed the course of freedom in the world were three men born in Ireland!
The following is just a short capsule of each.
Smith was born in Northern Ireland in 1719 and went to the American colonies
as a boy. A member of the Continental Congress 1776-1778, he served in the
war of independence as a Colonel of Pennsylvania Militia 1775-1776. Smith
died on 11 July 1806. He was also a lawyer and legislator. Obviously, Smith
is the name of many English settler families in Ireland, but is also a synonym
of the Irish surname 'MacGowan'.
George Taylor was born in Ireland in 1716. He went to America in 1736. Taylor
operated a furnace and was an iron manufacturer in Pennsylvania, in Bucks
County. He was a member of the Committee of Correspondence, 1774-1776, and
of the Continental Congress, 1776-1777. He died on 23 February 1781. Taylor,
of course, is an English occupational name, numerous in Ulster and Dublin
since the fourteenth century.
Born in Ireland in 1714 Thornton went out to America as a child. He practised
medicine in Londonderry, New Hampshire from 1740. Thornton was active in
pre-revolutionary agitation and became a member of the Continental Congress
in 1776 — a number of his letters and letters to him survive. He was also
active in the war itself, as Colonel of New Hampshire Militia, 1775-1783.
He died on 24 June 1803.
Thornton is an English name, but MacLysaght says it is used as a synonym
for Drennan, Meenagh, Tarrant, Skehan. Some Thorntons were Elizabethan planters
These men, Irish-born, fought for human freedom and equality — and need
to be rescued from the ashes and studied further. And certainly all Irish
people and those of Irish descent in America can be justifiably proud of
them. Especially those who bear their surnames.