Monday, 21 February 2011

Carnton - a Scotch-Irish plantation

The historic Carnton Plantation is situated in Williamson County, some miles from Nashville, and it was established in 1826 by Randal McGavock (1768-1843), who was mayor of Nashville in 1824-25.

The McGavock family were Ulster-Scots and the estate was named after their ancestral home district near Glenarm in county Antrim.  They had settled in Ulster in the 17th century and like most Ulster-Scots settlers in Antrim they were Presbyterians.  James McGavock (1728-1812) emigrated from Ulster to America in 1754 and he was the father of Randal McGavock.

For several generations the Carnton Plantation was the home of the McGavock family and the African-American families who lived as slaves on the property.  Randal McGavock's son John (1815-1893) inherited the farm upon his father's death.  John McGavock married Carrie Elizabeth Winder (1829-1905) in December 1848 and they had five children.  Three of the children died at young ages but two survived, Winder McGavock (1857-1907) and his sister Hattie (1855-1932).

On 30 November 1864 the Confederate Army of Tennessee attacked a well-entrenched Union force at Franklin, about 20 miles from Nashville, and this was the scene of a bloody and decisive battle.  It lasted less than five hours but it led to 9,500 soldiers being killed, wounded, captured or counted as missing.  Nearly 7,000 of that number were Confederate soldiers.  This was the bloodiest five hours of the Civil War.

As the battle went on the doors of the Carnton mansion were opened to provide shelter for injured and dying Confederate soldiers, who required medical attention.  One soldier wrote that 'the wounded, in hundreds, were brought to [the house] during the battle, and all the night after.  aAd when the noble old house could hold no more, the yard was appropriated until the wounded and dead filled that.'  The house became in fact a field hospital during that battle.

Many of the floors in Carnton became stained as the Confederate blood soaked through the carpets and seeped into the wooden floors.  Many blood stains are still present today and the heaviest stains are in the children's bedroom which was used as an operating room.

Afterwards most of the Confederate dead were buried in shallow graves on the battlefield and so in 1866 the McGavocks designated nearly two acres of land near the family cemetery for the re-interment of almost 1,500 Confederates.  Today, the McGavock Confederate Cemetery is the largest privately owned military cemetry in America and it is a lasting memorial to those soldiers.

The McGavock family owned Carnton until 1911, when Susie Lee McGavock, widow of Winder McGavock, sold it.  The house suffered years of neglect but in 1973 it was placed on the National Register of Historic Places and in 1977 it was handed over to the Carnton Association.  Since then it has been restored and maintained as a historic attraction for visitors.

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Sumner A Cunningham (1843-1913) - founder of The Confederate Veteran

Sumner A Cunningham
Sumner Archibald Cunningham was the founder, publisher and editor of the Nashville publication The Confederate Veteran.  The magazine was one of the most influential publications of the New South and made Cunningham a central figure in the 'Lost Cause' movement of the late 19th century.

He was born in rural Bedford County, Tennessee, on 21 July 1843 and was of thoroughly Ulster-Scots ancestry on both sides of his family.  His father was John Washington Campbell Cunningham (1812-1855),  his mother was Mary Ann Buchanan (1820-1889) and they were married in Lincoln County, Tennessee, on 13 September 1842.

His paternal grandparents were Humphrey Cunningham (1777-1836) and his wife Margaret Patton (1780-1847).  Humphrey was the son of George Cunningham (1753-1837) of North Carolina and the grandson of Humphrey Cunningham (1730-1806) of Pennsylvania and his wife Rhoda M Simeral (Summerville) (1733-1831), who was born in county Donegal.  Margaret Patton was born in North Carolina and was the daughter of Thomas Patton (1726-1808) and his wife Margaret Erwin.  Her grandfather Matthew Lander Patton (1705-1778) was born in Londonderry and emigrated from Ulster to Pennsylvania.

His maternal grandparents were Samuel Buchanan III (1778-1852) and Rachael Greenfield.  Samuel's grandfather, also Samuel Buchanan (1690-1774), was born in county Tyrone about 1690 and emigrated from Ulster to America with his father, Alexander Buchanan, in 1702.  The name Buchanan is Scottish and the Buchanans probably came from Scotland to Ulster in the 17th century.

The Samuel Buchanan who emigrated from Ulster was the father of John Buchanan, who was born in Washington County, Virginia, in 1721, and the grandfather of Samuel Buchanan III, who was born in Virginia on 13 March 1778.

Sumner A Cunningham's Ulster-Scots ancestors were therefore from Londonderry, Tyrone and Donegal.  They had lived through the troubled times of the Williamite War and the Siege of Derry and they left Ulster in the early 18th century.

With the advent of the Civil War, Sumner A Cunningham joined the local home guard in October 1861 and then in November his unit was assimilated into company B of the 41st Tennessee Infantry in the Confederate States Army.  He saw his first fighting at Fort Donelson the following February but was captured when the post fell and spent several months in Camp Morton in Indianapolis before being exchanged.  After their release Cunningham and his fellow Tennesseans joined General Joseph E Johnston in Mississippi.

The 41st missed the siege of Vicksburg and the subsequent surrender of Pemberton's army but did participate in the siege of Jackson a few days later.  Cunningham then missed two critical battles due to sickness.  While his comrades fought under Bragg at Chickamagua, he was suffering from malaria and when he rejoined them for the siege of Chattanooga, he missed the decisive battle at Missionary Ridge, again because of illness.

Promoted to the rank of sergeant major, Cunningham fought through the entire Atlanta Campaign and Hood's foray into Middle Tennessee, including the battles of Franklin and Nashville, but in December1864 he went home and ended his military service.

In 1872 Cunningham published a limited edition of his reminiscences of life in the 41st Tennessee Infantry, which give a good overall picture of the life of a western Confederate soldier.  This was edited and republished in 2001 by Dr John A Simpson.

After the war Cunningham returned to Shelbyville and worked for a time as a merchant but he had an interest in journalism and he bought and edited the Shelbyville Commercial (1871), Chattanooga Times (1876) and Catersville Express (1879).  In 1883 he started a monthly magazine called Our Day,which was publsihed in New York but directed at southern audiences.  However each business venture ended in financial failure and in 1885 he joined the Nashville American as a staff correspondent.

In 1892 Cunningham was assigned the responsibility for collecting funds to erect a monument to the recently deceased president of the Confederacy, Jefferson Davis, and he established a newsletter to keep patrons informed of the progress of this initiative.  This developed into the Confederate Veteran, which was founded in January 1893 as a monthly magazine to commmemorate the Confederate soldier.  Charging a subscription rate of only one dollar a year, Cunningham made his magazine available to a wide audience and by 1904 it had one of the largest subscription lists in the South, with a readership of 22,000, the majority of whom hailed from the western portion of the former confederacy.  The magazine published reminiscences of former soldiers as well as reports of reunions and memorials and it also reported on the local and regional activities of the United Confederate Veterans and United Daughters of the Confederacy.

Cunningham published and highlighted the forgotten story of Sam Davis, 'the boy hero of Tennessee'.  His efforts to educate Tennesseans on the exploits of Davis led to the construction of a monument on Nashville's Capitol Hill in 1909 and Cunningham considered the Davis memorial the 'crowning glory' of his career.

Cunningham died in Nashville on 13 December 1913 after a brief illness.  He was aged seventy and was seated at his desk, working on a proposed monument to commemorate Daniel Decatur Emmitt, the composer of the famous song Dixie.  He was buried in Willow Mount Cemetery in Shelbyville.

After his death his secretary Edith Drake Pope assumed the editorship of the Confederate Veteran and kept it going until 1932. 

Beginning in 1921 the United Daughters of the Confederacy sponsored the Cunningham Memorial Scholarship at Peabody College in Nashville.
  • John A Simpson, S A Cunningham and the Confederate Heritage: 1994
  • John A Simpson, Reminiscences of the 41st Tennessee: The Civil War in the West: Shippensburg, 2001
  • The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture


Rev James Hugh McNeilly (1838-1922)

Rev James Hugh McNeilly (1838-1922) was a Presbyterian minister in Nashville and the grandson of an Ulster emigrant.  During a ministry that spanned forty years, all of which he spent in Nashville, he ministered in four congregations and did much for the furtherance of the gospel.

His grandfather Hugh McNeilly was born in Belfast in 1765 and emigrated from Ulster to Pennsylvania.  He moved from there to Mecklenburg County in North Carolina and there in 1800 he married Margaret Martin.  They moved to Dickson County, Tennessee, and there they purchased a tract of land.  Hugh cleared the land, built a log cabin and and farmed the land until his death in 1836. 

Hugh and Margaret McNeilly had several children and Robert McNeilly was born on a farm near Bellview in Davidson County on 12 March 1807.  He became a lawyer but he was also a farmer and operated a grist mill and a saw mill.  McNeilly owned 450 acres of land and had ten slaves.  McNeilly served in the Tennessee General Assembly from 1837 to 1838 and he was a life-long friend of President James Knox Polk (1795-1849), who was also from Tennessee and also had Scotch-Irish ancestry.  His brother Thomas McNeilly also served in the Tennessee General Assembly as a senator for two terms from 1859 to 1863.

Robert McNeilly moved to Charlotte in Dickson County in 1842 and he was the circuit court clerk for Dickson County from 1842 to 1862.  He was a friend of Christopher Strong (1760-1850), an Ulster-Scot who emigrated from Ulster to America in 1771 and fought in the War of Independence.  In his will Christopher Strong freed his slaves on condition that they agree to go to Liberia and McNeilly accompanied them on the journey to Liberia. 

McNeilly was a devout Presbyterian and served for many years as a ruling elder in the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church but eventually he changed to the Presbyterian Church, Old School, and he was superintendent of Union Sunday School in Charlotte.  He died at White Bluff on 11 January 1885.

On 17 August 1837 Robert McNeilly married Margaret Larkins (1811-1898), who also had Scotch-Irish ancestry, and they were the parents of James Hugh McNeilly (1838-1922), who was born on Jones Creek in Dickson County on 9 June 1838.  He was educated at Jackson College in Columbia, Tennessee, from which he graduated in 1856, and then at the Theological Seminary in Danville, Kentucky.  He was licensed as a Presbyterian preacher in 1860.

McNeilly served in the Confederate States Army from September 1861 to May 1865.  He was a chaplain to the 49th Tennessee Infantry Regiment and distinguished himself on the field of battle.  During the war his father Robert was imprisoned for a short time in Nashville for sending supplies to three sons who were serving in he Confederate States Army but eventually he was released by the military governor, Andrew Johnson, another Scotch-Irish politician, after taking a 'modified oath of allegiance'.

On 10 October 1865 James Hugh McNeilly married Mary Russell Weatherford (1848-1914) and they had six children.

After the war McNeilly returned to Nashville and in November 1867 he became pastor of Woodland Street Presbyterian Church, whiere he was pastor for ten years.  He was also pastor of Moore Memorial Presbyterian Church on Broadway for eleven years from 1879 to 1890.  After that he organised Glen Leven Presbyterian Church where he was pastor for twenty years.  At various times, when First Presbyterian Church was without a pastor, he also provided pastoral service to that congregation.

His entire ministry was spent in Nashville and then in 1911 he retired because of poor eyesight but he was appointed pastor emeritus of the four congregations which he had ministered.

Dr McNeilly served several terms as chaplain to the Tennessee United Confederate Volunteers and he wrote many articles for the Confederate Veteran.  He also took part in the dedication ceremony of the Battle of Nashville Monument and many other important events for the UCV. 

He wrote Religion and Slavery: A Vindication of the Southern Churches, which was published by the Methodist Episcopal Church South in 1911.  This grew out of a paper he had presented to the Presbyterian Ministers Association of Nashville in 1905.  The following year he wrote The Failure of the Confederacy: Was It a Blessing?, which was published by the Sons of the Confederate Veterans in 1912,

Dr James H McNeilly died on 28 September 1922, at the age of eighty-four. 
  • James H McNeilly, Reminiscences of Rev J H McNeilly DD: typed copy in Tennessee State Library
  • James H McNeilly, Religion and Slavery: A Vindication of the Southern Churches: 1911
  • Robert Ewing Corlew, A History of Dickson County: Nashville, 1956

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Henry M Rutldge (1775-1844) - a celebrated citizen of Nashville

Henry M Rutledge was the only son of Edward Rutledge (1749-1800), who signed the American Declaration of Independence, and the grandson of Dr John Rutledge (1713-1750), who emigrated from county Tyrone to America about the year 1735.  The Rutledges were one of the reiver clans on the border between Scotland and England in the 16th century and many of them came to Ulster in the 17th century.

Dr John Rutledge married Sarah Hext and they were the parents of Edward Rutledge, who was born in Charleston, South Carolina, on 23 November 1749.

He was educated in law at Oxford University and was admitted to the bar in England.  Edward became a lawyer and was a delegate to the Continental Congress from South Carolina in July 1774.  He signed the Declaration of Independence and then left Congress in November 1776 to join in the defence of his colony.  He was a member of the Charleston battalion of artillery and attained the rank of captain.  He returned to Congress in 1779 but left again in 1780 when the British invaded South Carolina.  Edward Rutledge was a militia officer during the Revolutionary War and he fought in the defence of Charleston. 

Edward Rutledge served in the South Carolina legislature from 1782 to 1798 and was then governor of South Carolina for two years from 1798 to 1800.  However his health was declining and he died on 23 January 1800.  He was buried in the family plot in St Philip’s churchyard, Charleston.

On 1 March 1774 Edward Rutledge married Henrietta Middleton (1750-1792), a daughter of Henry Middleton (1717-1784), who had signed the Declaration of Independence.  They had three children of whom the eldest was a son Henry Middleton Rutledge (1775-1844), who was born on 5 April 1775.

Henry Rutledge studied law and then after an extensive tour of America he sailed for England, where he hoped to complete his legal education.

Back in America he became a successful lawyer and on 15 October 1799 he married his cousin Septima Sexta Middleton (1783-1865), a daughter of Arthur Middleton of South Carolina, another signatory of the Declaration of Independence.  Septima Sexta is Latin for seventy-six and her father named her for the year 1776 in which the American Declaration of Independence was made.  Shortly before their marriage Septima's mother presented the couple with Jenys, a 942-acre plantation adjacent to Cedar Grove.

Rutledge was a respected figure in Charleston and on 4 July 1804 he delivered an oration in St Philip’s Church, Charleston, in commemoration of American independence.  The event was organised by the American Revolution Society of which he was a member.

Henry Rutledge and his wife moved from Charleston to Nashville and in 1814 they built a house called Rose Hill, on College Hill.  Much of the original house was burned during the Civil War but it was restored and extended.  Today the house, at the corner of Rutledge and Lea, is used by the law firm of Blackburn & McCune.

As a lawyer and a planter, Henry was a prominent citizen in the city and he was one of the four vice-presidents at a civic dinner when General Lafayette visited Nashville on 4, 5 May 1825.

Henry M Rutledge died on 20 January 1844 and was buried in Nashville City Cemetery.


Genon Hickerson Neblett & Mary Bray Wheeler, Chosen Exile: The Life and Times of Septima Sexta Middleton Rutledge, american Cultural Pioneer:  1982

Wednesday, 19 January 2011

General Robert Armstrong (1792-1854) - postmaster of Nashville

Robert Armstrong was born in Abingdon, Virginia, on 28 September 1792 of Ulster-Scots ancestry.  The Armstrongs were one of the reiver clans of the Scottish Borders and they were extremely powerful but after the Union of the crowns of Scotland and England in 1603, King James I moved to pacify the Borders and many Armstrongs were moved to Ulster.  Later various members of Armstrong families crossed the Atlantic to America during the Ulster-Scots migration of the 18th century.

Early in the 19th century, the Armstrong family moved from Virginia to Knox County, Tennessee.  This was named after Henry Knox (1750-1806), a revolutionary general and secretary of war, who was born in Boston of Ulster-Scots parents.

Robert Armstrong was educated in Abingdon but at the age of 20 he returned to Tennessee and was made lieutenant of a company of volunteer artillery.  He served under Andrew Jackson in the Creek War of 1813-14 and displayed considerable courage at the Battle of Enotochapko on 24 January 1814.  He was seriously wounded but recovered and also distinguished himself at the Battle of New Orleans in 1815.

On 9 June 1814 he married Margaret Dysart Nichol (1798-1834), a daughter of Josiah and Eleanor Nichol, and she too was of Ulster-Scots descent.  The marriage took place against the wishes of her parents and the ceremony was held in Andrew Jackson's living room at The Hermitage in Nashville.  Margaret's father Josiah Nichol (1770-1833), a prominent Nashville merchant, was born in Fahan, county Donegal, and emigrated from Ulster to America about 1788,

Robert Armstrong was postmaster at Nashville from 1829 to 1845.  During that period, in 1836, as brigadier general, he commanded the Tennessee Mounted Volunteers in the campaign against the Seminole Indians in Florida.  This culminated in the Battle of Waterloo Swamp, in which the Indians were defeated.

Armstrong was a supporter and friend of Andrew Jackson and he ran unsuccessfully for governor of Tennessee in 1837.

When James K Polk became president of the United States of America in 1845, Armstrong was sent as United States consul to Liverpool.  This was one of the most important positions in the foreign service.  Polk was also from Tennessee and of Ulster-Scots descent.

Before Armstrong left for Europe in the spring of 1845 and a few months before the death of Andrew Jackson, the former president bequeathed his sword to Armstrong.  This was a token of his personal friendship and his estimation of Armstrong's military service.  In 1855, after Armstrong's death, his family presented the sword to the United States government.

In 1851 Robert Armstrong and Andrew J Donelson (1799-1871), who also had Ulster-Scots ancestry, became the joint proprietors of the Washington Union, a Democratic newspaper.  Soon afterwards Donelson was forced out by several factions in the Democratic Party and Armstrong became the sole proprietor.  In this capacity he was appointed printer for the House of Representatives.

Robert Armstrong died in Washington DC on 23 February 1854 and his funeral was attended by President Pierce and his cabinet, with a corps of pall-bearers from the Senate and House of Representatives.  In January 1855 his body was moved to Nashville and finally reinterred in the city cemetery.

Robert Ewing, 'Portrait of General Robert Armstrong', Tennessee Historical Magazine, July 1919

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Meharry Medical College and its Scotch-Irish benefactors

Meharry Medical College in Nashville was established in 1876 as the first medical school in the South for African-Americans and its first benefactors were a family of Scotch-Irish Methodists.

Central Tennessee College was chartered in 1867 by northern missionaries of the Methodist Episcopal Church as a college for freedmen.  It provided education for African-Americans at a time when segregation made that necessary.  The college was renamed Walden University in 1900, in honour of a Methodist bishop, but it closed in 1925 and later the site was leased to Trevecca Nazarene University.

The medical department of Central Tennessee College was founded in 1876 and received generous support from Samuel Meharry and his four brothers, Alexander, Hugh, Jesse and David.  It received a separate charter in 1915, becoming Meharry Medical College, and today it is a graduate and profesisonal institution affiliated to the United Methodist Church.  Its mission is to educate healthcare professionals and scientists.

Alexander Meharry (1763-1813) and his wife Jane, the parents of the five Meharry brothers, were born at Ballyjamesduff in county Cavan of Scottish ancestry.  An earlier Alexander Meharry had fled from the district of Ayr to Ulster in the reign of Mary Queen of Scots.

Alexander and Jane was married in 1794 and then emigrated from Ulster to Pennsylvania.  They settled for a time at Connellsville, where their first son was born, but in 1798 they moved west to Manchester in Adams County, Ohio, and they had six more sons and a daughter. 

Samuel Meharry was born there on 7 December 1810 but tragedy hit the home on 20 June 1813 when his father, Alexander Meharry, died as a result of an accident.  He was hit by a falling tree when he was returning from a camp-meeting.  At that time his wife was expecting another child and when that child was born on 17 October 1813 he was named Alexander after his father.

The three oldest brothers, Hugh, Thomas and James, moved to Indiana in 1827 and the following year they settled on land in Montgomery County.

Samuel Meharry was raised in Adams County, Ohio, and as a young man he became a salt trader.  This business took him far and wide and on one occasion he was travelling through the rough terrain of Tennessee when his wagon slipped off the road and fell into a swamp.  He was helped by a family of freedmen, whose names are unknown, and they gave him food and shelter for the night.  The next morning they helped him recover his wagon and he is reported to have told the former slave family, 'I have no money but when I can I shall do something for your race.'  Samuel had a keen interest in the condition of African-Americans and he was a staunch abolitionist.

His younger brother Alexander Meharry joined the Ohio Methodist Conference in September1841 as an itinerant preacher and served in various places in Ohio and Kentucky.  Alexander informed Dr John Braden, president of the Central Tennessee College, that Samuel had an interest in the welfare of African-Americans and when Braden approached Samuel Meharry he gave a donation of $100 towards the building of a medical college in Nashville.  After that he gave further donations and his brothers gave even more.  Their total support was around $15,000.

It was therefore appropriate that the college in Nashville was named after the Scotch-Irish family who were such generous benefactors.

Biographical Record and Portrait Album of Tippecanoe County, Indiana:  Chicago, 1888
Meharry History Committee, History of the Meharry family in America: descendants of Alexander Meharry I, who fled during the reign of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, on account of religious persecution, from near Ayr, Scotland, to Ballyjamesduff, Cavan County, Ireland; and whose descendant Alexander Meharry III emigrated to America in 1794: Lafayette 1925
Charles V Roman, Meharry Medical College, A History: 1934




Saturday, 15 January 2011

First Presbyterian Church, Nashville

Rev Thomas B Craighead (1750-1825), a Scotch-Irish Presbyterian minister, arrived in Nashville in 1785 and established the first congregation in the area with a minister.  He was therefore the founding father of Presbyterianism in Nashville.

The next Presbyterian minister to come to the area was Rev William Hume (1770-1833), who was a Scot.  He was installed on 2 December 1801 and did more than any other to sustain the early Presbyterian witness.

In 1814 Rev Gideon Blackburn (1772-1838), another Scotch-Irish minister, with a committee of six women and one man, went to the county court house to formally charter the Presbyterian congregation, which had already been in existence for 28 years.  In that year the First Presbyterian Church was built at the corner of Fifth Street and Church Street and ever since there has been a Presbyterian church on that site.
The original First Presbyterian Church
In 1815, after the Battle of New Orleans, the state of Tennessee presented General Andrew Jackson with a ceremonial sword on the front steps of the church.  Rev Allan Dirchfield Campbell joined the faculty of Cumberland College as a professor in 1820 and that same year First Presbyterian Church called him to be their minister.

The original church building was destroyed in a fire in 1832 but a second building was then erected on the same site.  It hosted the inauguration of James Knox Polk, a Scotch-Irish politican and future president, as governor of Tennessee but it burned down in 1848.

The congregation then hired the Philadelphia architect William Strickland, who was in Tennessee to design and supervise the construction of the Tennessee State Capitol, to design the present building.  The construction work started in 1849 and ended in 1851.

When it was built the church had only 350 members but they erected a building with space for 1,000 and so they ran out of money to finish it.

During the Civil War the building was seized by the United States government and used as a hospital.  After the war the congregation received reparations and they began the process of finishing the interior and exterior of the church.  The columns were put in place in 1871, the interior was reconfigured in 1880 and the organ was enlarged in 1914.

First Presbyterian Church, the third and current building, around 1920
By 1954 the First Presbyterian congregation was considering a move out of the city to the suburbs and they voted to do so.  However through the encouragement of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and local efforts, they were persuaded not to demolish the building.  Instead they sold it to those members of the congregation who did not want to move and so in 1955 the Downtown Presbyterian Church was formed.  It has continued to worship and minister to the needs of the city from the same location, where Presbyterians have worshipped for almost two hundred years. 

The Old First Presbyterian Church in Nashville was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1993.

Friday, 14 January 2011

David Campbell Kelley - Confederate soldier and Methodist minister

Dr David Campbell Kelley was one of the most widely known ministers of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.  He was born in a log cabin in Leeville, Wilson County, Tennessee, of Ulster-Scots ancestry on 25 December 1833.

His father, Rev John Kelley (1801-1864) was a son of Dennis Kelley, a soldier in the American Revolution, and his paternal grandmother was Elizabeth Thompson.  Dr Kelley's great-grandfather had emigrated from Ireland to America.

 Kelley family log cabin in Leeville
His mother was Margaret Lavinia Campbell (1805-1877), daughter of Colonel David Campbell (1753-1832) of Knox County, Tennessee, and Jane Montgomery, daughter of Colonel Hugh Montgomery of Salisbury, North Carolina.  Colonel David Campbell was the son of 'Black David' Campbell, who was born in county Londonderry in 1710 and emigrated from Ulster to America, where he died in Augusta County, Virginia, in November 1753.

John Kelley and Margaret Campbell were married on 27 January 1833 and David Campbell Kelley was their first child.  He graduated from Cumberland University in Lebanon, Tennessee, in 1851 and then joined the Tennessee Methodist Conference as an itinerant preacher in 1852.  Later that year he was sent to China as a missionary and worked there for four years.  Kelley retained a lifelong interest in missions and he was secretary and treasurer of the board of missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.

In the summer of 1861, with the start of the Civil War, he organised a cavalry company as Kelley's Troopers or Kelley's Rangers, to serve in the Confederate States Army.  This was the first cavalry company from Madison County and it was made up of men from the New Market and Maysville area.  The company travelled by rail to join Lieutenant Colonel Nathan Bedford Forrest's battalion at Memphis and Kelley was soon promoted to major.

Battle of Shiloh
Kelley so distinguished himself by his coolness in action and bravery in the face of danger that he was rapidly promoted and made major of battalion.  Kelley was elected lieutenant colonel of Forrest's regiment the day before the Battle of Shiloh and he also fought at the Battle of Murfreesboro.  Afterwards he commanded a regiment and then a brigade, winning a brilliant reputation as 'Forrest's fighting preacher'.  In late 1862 the company was transferred to Colonel A A Russell's 4th Alabama Cavalry, serving with that regiment for the remainder of the war.  It surrendered with Forrest at Gainesville, Alabama, in May 1865.

After the war Kelley served as a pastor of several of the largest Methodist churches in Tennessee - Gallatin (1888-1890), Springfield (1891-1892), Elm Street, Nashville (1892-1894), Bellbuckle (1894-1896) and Columbia (1896-1898).  From 1898 to 1901 he was presiding elder of Nashville District.

He was instrumental in the formation of Vanderbilt University in 1873 and subsequently served as a trustee.  Kelley also secured the funds for the building of the Nashville College for Young Ladies, a Methodist institution which opened in 1880, and he served as its president.

Dr Kelley was strongly opposed to the drink trade and in 1890 he stood as a candidate for governor of Tennessee on the prohibition ticket.  His canvass of the state doubled the prohibitionist vote but he was unsuccessful.

On 30 May 1901 he presided at the dedication ceremony for the General N B Forrest memorial statue in Forrest Park in Memphis.  Kelley had been both a friend and chaplain to General Forrest and he was one of the surviving members of the general's staff.  The ceremony took place during a Confederate Veterans reunion and Kelley was associated with the Confederate Veteranx movement.  He was also elected president of the Tennessee Society of the Sons of the American Revolution in 1888.

Dr Kelley died in Nashville on 19 May 1909 after nearly sixty years as a Methodist minister.  His last words were, 'My work is done,' and what a work!  He had been a Methodist missionary, a Methodist minister, an educationalist and a Confederate colonel, a truly remarkable man.

Dr Kelley was very interested in his Ulster-Scots roots and he was a member of the Scotch-Irish Society of America.  At the First Scotch-Irish Congress in 1889 he gave an addresss on The Scotch-Irish in Tennessee, at the second he spoke about General Sam Houston and at the third he gave an address on Andrew Jackson.

The name of Dr Kelley is still associated with the site in west Nashville known as Kelley's Point Battlefield.  According to Bob Henderson, president of the Battle of Nashville Preservation Society, 'Kelley's Point illustrates that Nashville had the most extensive line of battle during the Civil War.  From Kelley's Point the Confederate line arched over 14 miles across the county from west to east Nashville.  The actions at Kelley's Point were also the largest sustained battle between the Confederate cavalry and the Union navy.  For two weeks prior to the battle four artillery pieces under the command of Kelley's Confederate cavalry effectively blockaded the Cumberland River against seven heavily armed Union gunboats.  Confederate cavalry and Federal gunboats clashed in six separate engagements.  Part of the site has been preserved from developers and is now Brookmeade Park at Kelley's Point Battlefield, with interpretive signage to explain its historical significance.

Dr Kelley's wife, Mary Owen Campbell Kelley (1836-1890) was an author of children's books.
  • Nashville Christian Advocate 21 May 1909
  • Confederate Veteran August 1909
  • Nashville Christian Advocate 11 February 1910
  • Proceedings of the Second Scotch-Irish Congress p 288





Thursday, 13 January 2011

Mary McConnell White and the historic Travellers Rest

Travellers Rest, Nashville
Mary McConnell White (1782-1862) was the daughter of General James White (1747-1821), the founder of Knoxville, and he was the grandson of Moses White, who moved from Scotland to county Londonderry with his wife Mary Campbell in the latter part of the 17th century.

Moses and Mary White had seven children and one of them, Moses White II, left Ulster for America in 1741.  He settled in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, and married Mary McConnell.  They moved from there to Iredell (Rowan) County in North Carolina and James White was the fourth of their six children.

James White married Mary Lawson (1742-1819) from North Carolina and they had threee sons and four daughters.  Mary McConnell White was one of those daughters and she was born on 11 November 1782.

James White's fort in Knoxville
James White was a captain in the North Carolina militia in the Revolutionary War and afterwards received a grant of land on the banks of the Holston River, now the Tennessee River, which flows through Knoxville.  The family moved to the Holston River basin in 1785 and White laid out the settlement known as Knoxville in October 1791.  This was named in honour of General Henry Knox, the American Secretary of War, whose family were from Ulster.

Mary McConnell White married Dr Francis May and they had five children but Dr May died and on 28 July 1820 she married Judge John Overton (1766-1833).  Overton had moved to Nashville in 1789 and during his first year lodged with another young lawyer, Andrew Jackson.  They remained close friends and Overton was Andrew Jackson's 'campaign manager'.  Historians largely attribute Jackson's rise to the presidency to Judge Overton.

In 1796 Overton purchase an estate of 320 acres from the heirs of David Maxwell.  The estate was six miles south of Nashville and work on a house started in 1799, just three years fater Tennessee had become a state.  Overton gave his home the biblical name Golgotha, 'the place of the skull', because of the large number of Native American skulls that were unearthed when the cellar was dug but by 1804 the name was changed to Travellers Rest.

Travellers Rest in Nashville
Three of the children from her first marriage came with Mary to her new home and she had three more children between 1821 and 1826.  Judge Overton died on 12 April 1833 but Mary survived him by almost thirty years.

At the start of the Civil War the house was occupied by Mary, her son John and his wife Harriet and their children.  At that time the farm covered 1,050 acres and was worked by eighty slaves.  When Union soldiers occupied Nashville in February 1862, John Overton fled his home to avoid arrest and imprisonment and went south, where he financed a Confederate regiment and became a militia officer.  Mary was then 80 years of age and she died on 12 December 1862.

General John Bell Hood of the Confederate States Army arrived from Franklin on 2 December 1864 and made Travellers Rest his headquarters.  From there he directed the building of a five-mile defensive wall south of Nashville and in the house he met with other prominent Confederate soldiers.

During the Battle of Nashville the women and children hid in the cellar awaiting the outcome and on 16 December 1864 Union General W L Elliott slept in the same bedroom previously occupied by General Hood.

The family retained ownership of the house until 1946.  It was acquired in 1954 by the National Society of Colonial Dames of America in Tennessee and became the house museum of the state society.  It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and every year, in early September, the Civil War Encampment at Travellers Rest re-enacts the Confederate occupation preceding the 1864 Battle of Nashville.

Mary's brother Hugh Lawson White (1773-1840) was a United States senator, soldier, lawyer and judge, as well as a nominee for the American presidency in 1836.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

James M Cowan - the Scotch-Irish donor of the Cowan colection

Nashville was known as the 'Athens of the South' and a full-scale replica of the Parthenon in Athens was built in Nashville in 1897 as part of Tennessee's Centenial Exposition.  Originally built of plaster, wood and brick, it was rebuilt in the 1920s with concrete and in 1927 it became home to a magnificent collection of sixty-three paintings known as the Cowan Collection.

This collection of paintings was provided through the generosity of James Montgomery Cowan, a Scotch-Irish philanthropist, who was born in 1858 in Hernandez, Mississippi.  At the age of thirteen, he moved with his family to Tullahoma in Tennessee and remained there until he was in his twenties.  Several of his immediate relatives were buried in Tullahoma and he considered the state of Tennessee to be his ancestral home.

Cowan moved to Cincinnati and became a successful insurance executive in Aurora, Illinois.  while he was in his thirties he began collecting art and this was his real passion in life.  By the time of his death in 1930 he had amassed some seven hundred works of art.

In 1897 Cowan was invited to the Centennial Exposition in Nashville, held at the future site of what is today Centennial Park, and this further strengthened his affection and admiration for Tennessee.

He decided to donate a collection of paintings to Nashville and in April 1927 twenty-one crates arrived in the city from the Grand Central Galleries in New York City.  These were the first of three shipments of paintings and at that point the donor was anonymous.  It was not until his death in 1930 that the identity of the donor became known.

The collection spans the years 1765 to 1923 and Cowan was very specific in the choices for his collection.  His selection emphasises the landscape and seascape more than any other subject matter and all the artists were American.  Most of them were also members of the National Academy.

There were several Cowans in the Tennessee Scotch-Irish Society - John W Cowan, Robert Cowan and Samuel Cowan in Nashville and J D Cowan in Knoxville - and it seems that James M Cowan was also of Ulster-Scots ancestry.  As regards the Cowans of Tullahoma we have the evidence of a letter written on 28 March 1895 by his father Dr James Benjamin Cowan (1831-1909), who was chief surgeon to the famous Confederate soldier Nathan Bedford Forrest:
My father was Samuel Montgomery Cowan.  Before the late war between the states we had a family tree but it was lost and I will have to write from memory.  My great-great-grandfather was Samuel Cowan.  His sons were John, James, Samuel, William and Robert.  I don't know that I have given them in order of age ... Samuel Cowan had several daughters.  One of them, Elizabeth, married Samuel McCroskey, and their daughter Elizabeth wed Samuel Houston.  Samuel and his brother William Houston have often been at my father's home, and they called each other cousin. ... I have known many members of these families and they all trace back to the same place, to Samuel Cowan or his brothers.
My great-grandfather was Major John Cowan ... My grandfather [Captain James Cowan] was an elder in the Presbyterian Church and all of his family, as far back as I know them or their history, were Presbyterians.
Samuel Cowan's family came at quite an early date.  He came from Londonderry, Ireland, and our family came from Scotland to Ireland.
Cowan's grandfather Samuel Montgomery Cowan (1801-1881) was a minister in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Linn Boyd - Scotch-Irish statesman who was born in Nashville

Linn Boyd was born in Nashville, Tennessee, on 22 November 1800 and he was the son of Abraham Boyd and Elizabeth Linn, who were married in Nashville in 1798.

His grandfather James Boyd was a Virginian who moved to South Carolina and was killed in the struggle for independence.  his father also founght in the Revolutionary War, having enlisted at the age of sixteen.  The Boyd family were of Ulster-Scots descent and Linn's paternal grandmother Martha Burns was related to the Scottish poet Robert Burns.

Linn Boyd moved with his parents to New Design, Trigg County, Kentucky.  At the age of nineteen he was a United States Commissioner and negotiated a treaty with the Chickasaw Indians for land near the Ohio and Mississippi rivers.

He married Alice C Bennett on 20 October 1822 in Paducah in McCracken County, Kentucky, and they had several children.  They included Ward Boyd, who was born in Nashville in 1823, and three more boys who were born in Paducah,  These were Butler Boyd, born in 1824, Linn Boyd Jr, born in 1825, and Felix Boyd, born in 1827.

In 1826 Linn Boyd became a farmer in Calloway County and was elected to the Kentucky state legislature from 1827 to 1832.  He served at the same time as his father, who had been elected from Trigg County.

Linn Boyd moved back to Trigg County in 1834 and was elected to the United States House of Representatives from 1835 to 1837 and then from 1839 to 1855.  Altogether he was a member of Congress for eighteen years, including four years from 1851 to 1855, as speaker of the House.  Linn Boyd was a Democrat and, like Andrew Jackson, stood firmly against the United States banks.  In 1850 he proposed a 'little omnibus' bill, which combined the measure for defining the Texas boundary and the assumption of Texas debt with a proposal to organise the New Mexico territory.

Boyd was married for the second time after the death of his first wife.  His second wife, Anna Rhey Dixon, was a widow and they had one son, Rhey Boyd.

In 1856 Linn Boyd was proposed as a candidate for vice president at the Democratic National Convention but he was unsuccessful.  He was elected lieutenant governor of the state in 1859 but when the Senate convened he was too ill to preside over its deliberations.

He died in Paducah, Kentucky, on 17 December 1859, before he was sworn into office, and was buried in Oak Grove Cemetery.  Boyd County in Kentucky was formed in 1860 and named after him.
  • Belle Stanford, Pioneer History of the Boyd Family: Indianapolis, 1892
  • William Henry Perrin, Counties of Christian and Trigg, Kentucky: historical and biographical: 1884 
  • Holman Hamilton, 'Kentucky's Linn Boyd and the Dramatic Days of 1850', Kentucky Historical Society Register (July 1957)

The Ulster-Scot who brought Presbyterianism to Nashville

In the foreword to a history of Presbyterianism in Nashville, Dr James H McNeilly said:
Among the forces which have moulded the moral and religious character of the people of Tennessee, the Presbyterian Church must be allowed a prominent place.  The first settlers of the State were largely of that hardy, earnest Scotch-Irish race, upon which Presbyterianism has made the deepest impression.
It was the Scotch-Irish who brought Presbyterianism to Nashville and the first Presbyterian preacher, Rev Thomas B Craighead, came of a line of Presbyterian ministers

His grandfather Rev Thomas Craighead (1664-1739) came from Scotland to Ulster and was ordained as minister of First Donegal Presbyterian Church in 1698.  Eventually he emigrated with his family from Ulster to America and arrived in Boston in October 1714. 

Rev Alexander Craighead (1706-1766) emigrated from Ulster with his family and he followed in his father's footsteps by becoming a Presbyterian minister.  He preached in Middle Octorara Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania and then moved on to Augusta County, Virginia.  Finally he settled in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina, where he was pastor of the Sugaw Creek and Rocky River congregations.  He was a supporter of the Great Awakening and is regarded as the spiritual father of the Mecklenburg Declaration of Independence, which was writtennine years after his death.

Alexander Craighead married Agnes Margaret Brown and they were the parents of Thomas Brown Craighead, who was born in Bath, Virginia, in 1750.  He graduated from the College of New Jersey (now Princeton) in 1775 and was ordained by the Presbytery of Orange in 1780.  After preaching in South Carolina, North Carolina and Kentucky he moved to Nashville in 1785 when James Robertson and other pioneers invited him to establish a Presbyterian church and school. 
He settled at Haysboro (later Spring Hill), six or seven miles east of Nashville.  There a small stone building, 24 ft by 30 ft, was erected and it served as both church and school.  Craighead preached there for thirty years and there he established Davidson Academy, which was the cradle of the University of Nashville. 

Thomas Craighead preached frequently in Nashville until 1816.  He was a liberal Presbyterian and believed, for example, in 'free will'.  Such views led him into controversy with the Presbyterian synod and he was suspended in 1811.  However he continued to preach and teach and the sentence was rescinded shortly before his death in 1824, at the age of seventy one.

  • William States Jacobs, Presbyterianism in Nashville: A Compilation of Historic Data: Nashville, 1904

Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Andrew Jackson's background in Ulster

Professor H W Brands from the University of Texas wrote a bestselling biography of President Andrew Jackson and in it he described Jackson's family background in Ulster.
Among the Ulster immigrants were a man named Andrew Jackson and his wife, Elizabeth.  Andrew was one of four sons of a linen draper named Hugh Jackson, whose luck at the linen craft wasn't sufficient to entice any of the boys to follow in his footsteps.  Instead they went into farming.  But they never acquired the capital to purchase land and had to content themselves with renting plots from the better-to-do.  One son, his father's namesake, went off to the army, with whom he fought against the French and Indians in America, in the uplands of the Carolinas.  On returning home he told Andrew and the others what a lovely country that was and how a man who might never hope to own property in Ulster could easily become a freeholder in the Carolinas.  There was the small matter of those Indians, who remained unreconciled to the presence of large numbers of immigrants, but the Ulster Scots had been fighting their neighbours for centuries, and the Indians couldn't be any tougher than the Highlanders or the Irish.  Elizabeth Jackson heard similar stories, included in letters from her four sisters who had emigrated to the same vicinity her brother-in-law extolled.
Professor Brand also set their journey to America in the context of a flood of Scotch-Irish emigration:
During the mid-eighteenth century - when famine gripped large parts of Ireland, including the north - as many as ten thousand Scotch-Irish left Ulster each year for America.  The route from Belfast to Philadelphia and thence to the Pennsylvania frontier became a regular Scotch-Irish highway.

  • H W Brands, Andrew Jackson: New York, 2006

Andrew Jackson's ancestral home

Andrew Jackson (1767-1845) was the seventh president of the United States of America and the man who shaped the modern Democratic Party.  He is remembered as the protector of popular democracy and individual liberty for American citizens and also for his toughness, which earned him the nickname 'Old Hickory'.  More nearly than any of his predecessors, Andrew Jackson was elected by popular vote and as president he sought to act as the representative of the common man.

He was born in a log cabin in the Waxhaws region, on the border between North Carolina and South Carolina, but his parents were Ulster-Scots and his ancestral home was at Boneybefore, on the outskirts of Carrickfergus.
 
In 1765, two years before he was born, his parents, Andrew Jackson and Elizabeth Hutchinson, emigrated from Ulster to America.  They probably landed in Pennsylvania and then made their way overland to the Scotch-Irish settlement in the Waxhaws.

The Jackson homestead in Ulster was demolished many years ago, when the nearby railway line was being developed, but an Andrew Jackson Centre has been established in a nearby cottage, which was built around 1750 by another Ulster-Scots family, the Donaldsons.  This single-storey thatched cottage was used as a family home until the mid 1970s and the Jackson home would have been almost identical.

Today the centre has a display gallery depicting the life and career of Andrew Jackson and this is about to be updated.  Perhaps Carrickfergus will also erect signs at the edge of the town stating that Carrickfergus is the ancestral home of President Jackson.

In the grounds of the Andrew Jackson Centre there is an exhibition dedicated to the US Rangers, an elite American army regiment that was formed in Carrickfergus in 1942 and based there throughout World War II.

Fort Nashborough

Fort Nashborough was the stockade for the settlement that became the city of Nashville and it was built by Scotch-Irish pioneers James Robertson and John Donelson and the other settlers.  The fort enclosed two acres on the bank of the Cumberland River and it provided shelter for the first settlers until Indian attacks ended in 1792.
Today a reconstruction stands on the banks of the Cumberland River near the site of the original fort.  The present historic site was reconstructed in 1930 and then rebuilt in 1962 on a smaller scale than the original two-acre enclosure.  The fort was recreated using the construction techniques of the early settlement, including rectangular single-pen cabins, combination limestone and wood chimneys, and the saddle notching of the logs.

The local Daughters of the American Revolution, led by Lizzie Elliott, funded the reconstruction of the fort as part of the organisation's national effort in the early 20th century to identify and preserve historic places.

Near the fort is a sculpture of the founders of Nashville, James Robertson and John Donelson.  The statue depicts them shaking hands in 1780 and represents the beginning of Nashville's history.

Monday, 3 January 2011

Montgomery Bell Academy

Montgomery Bell Academy is a preparatory day school for boys in grades 7 to 12 in Nashville.  It was established in 1867 in the aftermath of the American Civil War and is named after Montgomery Bell, a Scotch-Irish industrialist who made his fortune in the early 19th century as the 'ironmaster' of Middle Tennessee.  When he died in 1855 he left $20,000 for the establishment of a boys school in Nashville and this was invested by Dempsey Weaver of the Planters Bank.  By 1867 the investment had grown to $46,000 and it was used to establish Montgomery Bell Academy as a preparatory department of the University of Nashville.

In 1875 the University of Nashville's operations were split into three separate entities, one of which was Montgomery Bell Academy, and in 1881 the trustees moved MBA to a six-acre tract east of the old site.  Down through the years the school has encountered many difficulties but in 1911 circumstances began to improve and since then it has prospered.

In 1956 the board of trustees decided to embark on a rebuilding programme and this included the Bownlee O Currey Gymnasium.  This was named in honour of the head of the MBA board of trustees from 1943 to 1952 and another Nashville citizen with Ulster-Scots ancestry.   The first of the Currey family had emigrated from Ulster to America in the 18th century.

Montgomery Bell Academy has extensive exchange links with other boys' schools throughout the English-speaking world including Eton College and Winchester College in England.

Montgomery Bell (1769-1855) - Scotch-Irish industrialist

The Montgomery Bell Academy in Nashville and the Montgomery Bell State Park carry the name of a 19th century Scotch-Irish industrialist who had Ulster-Scots ancestors on both sides of his family.

Montgomery Bell was the youngest of ten children and was born on 3 January 1769 in West Fallowfield Township (now Highland), Chester County, Pennsylvania.  His parents were John Bell and Mary Montgomery Patterson, who were both Scotch-Irish Presbyterians.

Bell was too young for active service in the American Revolution but he watched as five brothers marched off to war.  He had little opportunity for formal education and at the age of sixteen was apprenticed to a tanner.  Soon after this he joined his brother, Patterson Bell, in the hatter's trade and at the age of twenty he moved to Lexington, Kentucky, where his recently widowed mother lived.  Montgomery Bell opened a hatter's shop in Lexington and employed twenty men in the making and selling of hats.  He also operated grist mills and lumber mills and met with considerable financial success.

In 1802 Bell decided to move to the Cumberland region of Tennessee.  He gave his hat business to his nephew, Patterson Bean, sold some of his property and in September 1802 he appointed his lawyer power of attorney to liquidate his remaining assets.

Montgomery Bell worked for a year for James Robertson, the founder of Nashville, and his wages, together with the money raised from the sale of his businesses, enabled him to purchase Robertson's share in the Cumberland Iron Works.  He also bought 640 acres of land, which provided iron-rich soil and virgin timber that could be converted into charcoal.  The total cost for the iron works and the land was $16,000.

The iron works lay about twenty miles south of Clarksville, a frontier county seat on the Cumberland River.  As the area grew new counties were created in the following year and Bell quickly became active in the civic affairs of the new Dickson County.  He was appointed as one of the five justices of the peace and became a member of a committee to choose a county seat.  Later he was named to a county board of education.

Bell developed his iron business with great energy and in 1805 he bought the Yellow Creek Iron Works, which had just been opened by a competitor in Montgomery County.  In 1808 he bought a 4,800 acre stand of timber and iron ore and the following year he was producing more than two hundred tons of pig iron a year.  The following year his brother Patterson Bell, anticipating war with England or France, urged him to cast cannon balls and offer them to the United States Army.  Soon Bell had government contracts to supply not only cannon balls for the army but also canister for the navy, to be delivered at the Gulf of Mexico.  The cannon balls used by Andrew Jackson in the Battle of New Orleans were forged by Bell.

His work force consisted of white immigrants from North Carolina and Virginia and also slave labour.  At one point he owned more than three hundred slaves and at busy times he hired more.

After the War of 1812 Bell suffered from the decline of government contracts and increasing competition and in 1825 he sold Cumberland Furnace for $50,000.  Bell built his last furnace near present-day Dickson in 1845 and named it Worley Furnace after one of his trusted slaves, James Worley.  This was an unusual honour for an African-american in the early 19th century.  By that time Tennessee ranked third among the states in iron production and most of the state's pig iron production came from Middle Tennessee.

However by the 1840s Bell was well into his seventies and his iron manufacturing activities declined substantially.  He had moved to Nashville and there he enjoyed horse racing and other sports.

Bell was interested in the future welfare of his slaves and representatives of the American colonisation Society in Tennessee convinced him that colonisation in Liberia would best ensure their safety and happiness.  As a result he sent several groups to Monrovia in the early 1850s, at considerable expense to himself.  The transfer of one group of thirty-eight cost him $3,000 for transportation and several thousand dollars more for tools and supplies to go witth them.

Montgomery Bell died on 1 April 1855 and at the time of his death he was living in an old dilapidated house near the Narrows of the Harpeth but his will provided $20,000 for the establishment in Nashville of a school for boys and $1,000 for the First Presbyterian Church in Nashville.
  • The Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture
  • Robert E Corlew, A History of Dickson County: Nashville, 1956
  • George E Jackson, Cumberland Furnace, A Frontier Industrial Village: 1994


Grand Ole Opry

In 1925 the National Life and Accident Insurance Company created the WSM radio station in Nashville in order to promote their business.  The company was founded by Cornelius A Craig in 1902 and the station was opened by his son Edwin C Craig on 5 October 1925.  The call letters WSM stood for 'We Shield Millions' and the station opened with a 1,000 watt transmitter from the fifth floor of the company's downtown building.

Just a month after WSM opened George D Hay arrived from Chicago to become the station manager and on 28 November he broadcast an hour of old-time fiddle music.  It was very popular and in December 1925 he introduced an old-time music segment or Barn Dance.

On 10 December 1927 this Saturday show was renamed the Grand Ole Opry and it became a major factor in the popularisation of American country music.  As audiences for the live show increased the venue became too small and in October 1934 the Opry moved to the Hillsboro Theatre.  It moved again in 1936 to the Dixie Tabernacle and then to the War Memorial Auditorium. 

On 5 June 1943 the Opry moved to the historic Ryman Auditorium, which had opened in 1892 as the Union Gospel Tabernacle, and the Ryman was home to the Opry until 1974.

After thirty years at the Ryman, the show moved to the 4,400 seat Grand Ole Opry House in the Opryland USA theme park.  The theme park closed in 1997 but the Opry continues to play several times a week at the Grand Ole Opry House, except for an annual winter run at the Ryman Auditorium.

The Grand Ole Opry has been described as 'the show that made country music famous' and it has its roots in a radio station that was set up by a Scotch-Irish businessman.

Nashville stars with Ulster-Scots roots (1)

Quite a number of country music stars have Ulster-Scots roots, including Nashville's first lady of country, Dolly Parton, who grew up in the Great Smoky Mountains.  Her father Robert Lee Parton could trace his roots back to the early settlers and her maternal uncle Bill Owens said, 'My family comes from Scotch-Irish descent'.

When she performed in Belfast in 2002 Dolly Parton said, 'With my Scotch-Irish ancestry its ridiculous that I haven't been here before.  Obviously my roots have been a massive influence on my music.'

Ricky Skaggs, who has won fourteen Grammy Awards, is another country music star with Ulster-Scots roots.

He said, 'My family on my mother's side were Scots-Irish - they were Fergusons who left Limavady and East Donegal for America in the early part of the 18th century.  They eventually moved to Kentucky where I grew up with a real taste for bluegrass music which has its origins in the north of Ireland and Scotland.'

Ricky Skaggs is one of the foremost exponents of bluegrass music and he is absolutely clear in his statement that bluegrass has its roots across the Atlantic in Ulster and Scotland.

  • Belfast Telegraph 24 November 2002
  • Billy Kennedy, The Scots-Irish in the Hills of Tennessee: 1995

The Ulster-Scots roots of country music (2)

The Ulster contribution to country music was also noted in The Story of English by Robbert McCrum, William Cran and Robert MacNeil:
The Scots-Irish brought with them a rich oral culture, aphorisms, proverbs, superstitions and an ability to turn a striking phrase - mad as meat axe, dead as a hammer, so drunk he couldn't hit a wall with a handful of beans.  It was the frontiersmen who first spoke of someone with an axe to grind or someone who sat on the fence when he could perhaps go the whole hog.  Their rhymes and ditties came from the traditions of Scotland and Ireland.  Their ballads, such as Edward, tell the stories of their ancestors, and the tunes of the Scottish lowland ballads of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries have been an important influence in the making of American country music.  Today the ballads of the Scots-Irish ... are imitated and reproduced from Arkansas to Alberta, by singers like Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers who have internationalised a style that was once confined to the hills.
Peter Coats Zimmerman, a Tennessee journalist and music enthusiast, wrote Tennessee Music and in it he also highlighted the Scotch-Irish roots of country music:
Many of the European early settlers were Scotch-Irish Protestants, originally from Scotland, who migrated first to Ireland and then to America, trying to escape poverty, political chicanery and religious intolerance.  In 1790, this ethnic group constituted some 10 per cent of the US white population.  They brought their easily portable fiddles and, in their heads, memories of their native songs ... The Scotch-Irish influence still lingers in old-time fiddling.
According to Dr Bill Ivey, a former director of the American Country Music Foundation in Nashville and a historian and ethnomusicologist:
The sounds of drone notes, associated with the pipes and fiddles, are very pronounced.  The story telling elements of balladry of the Scots-Irish also remain strong.  They may not be as strong or dominant as they were in the 1920s because country music, like blues and jazz, has since come into contact with other forms of music but the roots of the Scots-Irish in country music are very pronounced.
It was the Scotch-Irish rather than the Celtic Irish who provided the roots of country music.

  • Robert McCrum, William Cran and Robert MacNeil, The Story of English: 2002
  • Peter Coats Zimmerman, Tennessee Music: San Francisco, 1998
  • Billy Kennedy, The Scots-Irish in the Hills of Tennessee: 1995

The Ulster-Scots roots of country music (1)

There is a long tradition of music in Nashville and the first settlers brought that love of music with them.  It is recorded in John Donelson's Journal that religious services, music and dancing were part of the two-day celebration when the flatboats arrived at the Bluffs.

Today Nashville is regarded as the capital of country music.  Regular radio broadcasts of the Grand Ole Opry, a country music programme, began in 1925 and went on national networks in 1939.

The Ulster-Scots contributed in many ways to the making of modern America and one of these was their contribution to the folk music of the American people, from which country music developed.

It was the Scotch-Irish who travelled down the Shenandoah Valley and it was they who settled the country music heartland of Appalachia.

Peter McCabe, a former editor-in-chief of Country Music, wrote the book Honkytonk Heroes and in it he described the Scotch-Irish roots of American country music:
It was the Scotch-Irish settlers, bringing their traditional songs and instruments to the Appalachian mountains, to the South and later to the West, who gave birth to what eventually became known as country music.  These settlers preserved many of the songs and sounds of the old country, as is made evident by so many folk or country ballads now called American which have similar versions, with the same lyrics or message - cousins, you might call them - in Scotland, Ireland or England today.  ... But inevitably the new environment prompted new songs - new stories to tell, new tragedies to lament, new myths and legends to perpetuate - and in place of bagpipes and lutes there appeared zithers, guitars and banjos.  and yet, even here there are similarities.  The wail of a fiddle in a bluegrass song bears a striking resemblance to the haunting sound of Scottish bagpipes.
According to the musicologist William H A Williams:
Ireland's initial impact upon American music came predominantly from Ulster ... Whatever their influence in terms of cabin and barn styles, field layout, town planning, and so on, it seems likely that he greatest and most lasting contribution of the Scotch-Irish was music.  And however one may define their particular religious and ethnic identity, musically they should be considered Ulstermen, for they brought with them the mixture of Scottish and Irish tunes which is still characteristic of large parts of Northern Ireland.
  • Peter McCabe, Honkytonk Heroes: New York, 1975
  • W H A Williams, 'Irish Traditional Music in the United States', America and Ireland: 1776-1976: The American Identity and the Irish Connection: 1980