While a number of the Irish immigrants who could be found in Connecticut during the seventeenth century came as adventurers or soldiers – such as many of those mentioned above – a far greater percentage came as refugees or enslaved laborers forced from their homes due to the political environment resultant of the Irish Uprising of 1641 and following the conclusion of the English Civil War ten years later. Oliver Cromwell’s campaign against Irish Catholics during the conflict, as well as following the execution of Charles I in 1649, is noted for its savage and brutal character and included the slaughter of unarmed captives, women, and children. In the decade following the Irish Uprising, the Irish population was reduced from 1.6 to 1.1 million, this through the slaughter or banishment of roughly one-third of the population. The Act for the Settlement of Ireland, enacted by Parliament in 1652 in an effort to relieve the debts accrued by the English army’s campaign in Ireland, left indelible and widespread marks on the population of the country. Under the act, some two-and-a-half million acres of Irish land was confiscated from Irish and Old English Catholics in order to pay off the Adventurers – individuals who had helped finance the Protestant army – while additional acreage was seized to reimburse those who had provided provisions and arms for Cromwell’s cause.

Of Cromwell’s enemies, those fortunate enough not to have been executed were either dispossessed of their property and banished from their homes, or were punished with seizures based upon and relative to the perceived seriousness of their participation in the rebellion. Those forced from their lands were to be transplanted to Connaught (alternately Connacht), the northwestern section of the country comprised of the modern counties of Galway, Leitrim, Mayo, Roscommon, and Sligo. Known as the Transplantation, this policy had horrid consequences for the Irish people. Thousands died of famine and disease en route to or upon arrival in Connaught, while others were never even able to set out on the journey. As John Q. Pendergast notes in The Cromwellian Settlement of Ireland, “While the Government were employed in clearing the ground for the Adventurers and Soldiers (the English capitalists of that day), by making the nobility and gentry yield up their ancient inheritances, and withdraw to Connaught, ‘where they could wish the whole nation,’ they had agents actively employed throughout Ireland, seizing women, orphans, and the destitute to be transported to Barbadoes and the English Plantations in America.”9 He continues, “The Commissioners for Ireland gave them orders upon the governors of garrisons, to deliver to them prisoners of war; upon the masters of workhouses, for the destitute in their care, ‘who were of an age to labour, or if women were marriageable and not past breeding;’ and gave directions to all in authority to seize those who had no visible means of livelihood and deliver them to these agents of the Bristol sugar merchants, in execution of which latter direction Ireland must have exhibited scenes in every part like the slave hunts in Africa.”10 The human impact of the Cromwellian policy was terrible. Between 1652 and 1656, the remainder of the standing armies of Ireland, some 35,000-40,000 men, were exiled to Spain without their families, while another 50,000 Irish men, women, and children are estimated to have been kidnapped, transported to ports such as Bristol and Liverpool, and shipped to the English colonies in North America and the West Indies. All this having been in addition to the tens of thousands of individuals killed in the conflict itself.11

One such individual who was brought to the Connecticut Colony under such conditions was Edmund Fanning. Family

histories note that Fanning was a native of County Kilkenny and a former captain in the service of King Charles. He was shipped to the New England Colonies as a  trophy prisoner and indentured servant along with his wife Ellen during the 1650s. Tradition has it that Edmund and Ellen Fanning first arrived in New London before being placed on Fishers Island by John Winthrop Jr., future Governor of the Connecticut Colony, in the interest of managing his livestock. Fanning quickly rose in prominence among local colonists and in 1664, at the end of his term of servitude, returned to New London. Between 1664 and 1665 he was granted roughly 150 acres in what are now the towns of Stonington, Groton, and Ledyard, Connecticut, and between 1665 and 1666 was among the 13 original proprietors of Stonington. The family cemetery can still be found on Lantern Hill Road in Ledyard (See Inventory Index), while resources related to the descendants of Edmund and Ellen Fanning can be found throughout the southeastern corner of the state. Among the latter is the 1769 birthplace of another Edmund Fanning, son of Gilbert Fanning, who between 1797 an 1798 became the first American captain to circumnavigate the globe aboard the ship Betsey.12 During his exploits Fanning became the first Westerner to record a group of South Pacific islands, which today bear the name of the Fanning Islands. These including the Fanning, Washington, and Palmyra Islands.13

Although a public and political outcry against Transplantation forced cessation of government support for the practice in Britain in 1655, it by no means came to an end. Those acting above or along the fringes of the law continued to deal in the captive trade either by continuing to acquire victims through kidnapping or by sending individuals to the New World on the false pretense that they would live a free life upon their arrival. Such persistence on the part of the agents – known as “man-catchers” – who rounded up the captives, and the slave merchants who shipped them across the Atlantic, was the result of the fact that the business had proven quite lucrative for both parties. The business continued well into the eighteenth century and, as noted, the Connecticut colony was an active receiver of the trade. An advertisement in the Connecticut Gazette from January 5, 1764 documents the activity, announcing, ‘Just Imported from Dublin in the Brig Darby, A Parcel of Irish Servants, both men and women, and to be sold cheap by Israel Boardman, at Stamford.’”14

Among the latter individuals were those known as “redemptioners”, persons who entered into an arrangement of indentured servitude in exchange for passage across the Atlantic. Perhaps among the most notable of those who found themselves in Connecticut was Matthew Lyon, an Irish redemptioner bonded into servitude upon his arrival in New York circa 1764. Born in County Wicklow, Ireland in 1750, Lyon was educated in Dublin where he eventually took up work as a printer. After landing in the New World Lyon was bound to Jabez Bacon of Woodbury, Connecticut. Bacon is described as a “Tory merchant prince, entrepreneur, and ‘banker’”15 and Lyon likely performed a variety of services in both the Bacon house and his nearby store before being sold to Hugh Hannah, of Litchfield, Connecticut, for a pair of bulls. The exceptionality of Lyon’s story followed his transfer to Hannah, from whom he was eventually able to purchase his freedom around 1774. Lyon then married a Mary Hosford, niece of American patriot Ethan Allen, and moved to Wallingford, Vermont, where he organized a company of militia. Lyon would later volunteer for Ethan Allen’s regiment of “Green Mountain Boys,” with whom he participated in the celebrated capture of Fort Ticonderoga, New York in May 1775. Lyon went on to serve as Vermont’s first member of Congress from 1797 to 1801, during which time he was involved in a spat of violence with a fellow Congressman, Representative Roger Griswold of Connecticut. Allegedly Griswold made a disparaging comment towards Lyon, whereupon the Irishman spit in his face. Griswold assaulted Lyon with a cane a few days later. Lyon narrowly avoided a censure vote by the House of Representatives for his actions. In 1802, he relocated to Kentucky, which he would represent in the National House of Representatives from 1803 to 1811.16

Another Irish immigrant who made notable contributions to the cause of the American Revolution was John McCurdy, a resident of Lyme, Connecticut. McCurdy emigrated from County Armagh in 1745 and established himself in the colony as a successful merchant and shipowner. While in New York, presumably on business, in 1765, McCurdy acquired a copy of the Virginia Resolutions of 1765, which were being clandestinely circulated at the time. Histories hold that McCurdy, “had a hereditary sense of wrong against the British government, which was quickly roused when oppressive measures were inaugurated against the American colonies, and he was fearless in his wish to meet the crisis with determined and outspoken opposition.”17 This stance inspired McCurdy to bring copies of the document back to New England, where it was widely published and distributed. He was also responsible for the publication of a notorious speech given before Parliament by the Irish soldier and politician, Colonel Isaac Barré, in response to the introduction of the Stamp Act in February 1765. Likewise exposed to the speech while visiting New York, McCurdy recognized the significance of Barré’s oratory and brought it back for publication in a New London newspaper. McCurdy’s actions were seen as a critical component of the outbreak of civil disobedience and formation of organizations such as the Sons of Liberty, both central in the movement of the colonies towards revolution. It is claimed that during the conflict both General George Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette spent nights in McCurdy’s Lyme home (See Inventory Index), the former on April 9, 1776, and the latter on July 27, 1778. The John McCurdy House still stands just south of the Old Lyme Green in what is now Old Lyme, Connecticut (See Inventory Index).18

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