J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Hector McNeill: young immigrant from Ireland

Hector McNeill was a ship's captain during the Revolutionary War, listed third among American captains of privateers on a list drawn up in October 1776. His loyalty to the Continental cause was remarkable considering how Bostonians treated him when he had arrived in the country about forty years earlier.

McNeill was born in County Antrim, Ireland, on 10 Oct 1728, of parents whom late-nineteenth-century historians would carefully label as "Scotch-Irish," to distinguish them from Irish Catholics. The McNeill family arrived in Boston on 7 Sept 1737. In a memoir he wrote in 1773 for his "children, and Freinds," he wrote:

Here we met with a verey indifferent reception from the People of the country, who seem’d to have a contempt for Strangers, of what denomination soever; more Especially those who came from Ireland (whom they took for granted were all Roman catholicks). . . .

On our Landing at Hubbards Wharf, my father was accosted by that churlish old man himself. He ask’d in an angry tone, from whence we came; who sent for us; why we came there; and why we did not stay in our own country. To all these questions, my father answered him in few words, telling him with some heat and firmness, that ’twas not him who sent for us, nor were we accountable to him in any respect whatsoever. The Vile wretch snarled as he went and shut his window, growling out something about takeing the Bread out of childrens mouths, etca., etca. This verey uncouth Salutation from the first man we met at Landing, lookd verey discouraging and wrought so deeply on my fathers spirrits, that he did not recover himself for some moments. At length the Tears running freely over his manly cheeks, gave Way to that Passion he could no otherwise vent, and he became calm before we reached the house of our Benefactors.

A Little Lad who lived next door Observeing me a Stranger, fell into conversation with me, and being highly diverted with my manner of Pronounceation, (whither to amuse himself or some of his comrades to whom he intended to introduce me) led me out into the streets where we soon met with other Boys who were going to see a Ship Launched. Thither I accompany’d them where were gathered togeither great numbers of Spectators among others many small boys, some of whom began to make remarks on my dress and appearance.

At length one more Audacious then the Others, singled himself out, and endeavour’d to Provoke me by his Scurrilous Language, which I for some time bore with christian Patience, (considering my self a Stranger, and haveing taken great notice of the reception my father had just received from Old Hubbard I expected little favour from those who were now round me). At length this unmannerly boy most unhappily for himself, call’d me Irish. The word was scarcely out of his mouth, before he had my little fist—dab—in his Eyes. A Battle ensued and he was beaten most unmercyfully; for tho I had but just come on shore from a fateaguing half starved Passage, the Agitation of Spirrits into which I had been thrown by that days Adventures supply’d my want of Strength and Experience too. For I had never been bred to a fighting or quarelsome life.

I returned to our Lodgings highly Extol’d by the Spectators for my courage and dexterity, little thinking of the train of Mischiefes and hardships, which began to follow me from that moment forward. For dureing the whole time of my Boy-hood in the town of Boston my life was one continued State of warfare. Scarcely ever did the day Pass, but one, two, or more Battles, was my sure lot. As the country boys were verey apt to cast reflections on me or my country, so never did I let them Pass unpunished. Even those who were much too old, and too Strong for me, I never Permitted to insult me with impunity. Untill at last I became such an Adept at Boxing, that they became civil and Complisante to me for theire own sakes. . . .

On my first appearance at a Publick School, where we were upwards of two hundred boys, (our Masters name was Allen,) I happened to be the only Stranger (for not being country born in those days made one an Alien to all intents,) here to theire everlasting Shame, I was cruely treated. For they Seldome contented themselves with threshing me one at a time, but would frequently shew me foul-play, and get at me two or more at once, untill they had master’d me for that time. This I allways revenged singley whenever an Oppertunity offer’d, untill at last, being brought by custom, to suffer a great deal of Bruseing and in my turn to Pay as well, they let me alone in peace.

Here I would not be understood to glory in haveing been the cock of the school. Nor would I have any body think, that I approve of a quarelsome fighting life, in Either Boys or Men; but I reather mention theese things (tho meer childish triffles) to Shew Posterity how hard the fate of Strangers was in those days in New England; and of all Strangers none so disliked as those whom they called Irish, of whom they thought as the Jews of Old, with respect to the Galileans (can any good come out of Ireland). But blessed be god the times are much alter’d; the People of New England, have now a better Oppinion of us; they haveing found by Experience, that the Protestant Settlers from the North of Ireland, are the most invaluable Set of People theire New country can boast of, they being in generall industrious, Sober, honest, people; and Valiant in theire Wars with the french and Indians, from which incumbrance this country has not been long Exempted. This more than can be said of the People of any Other country whatever who have yet come among the New-Englanders.
This passage is from McNeill's memoir, published in the Massachusetts Historical Society Proceedings in 1922. I added some paragraph breaks to make it easier to read on screen.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you. As an immigrant myself, all I can say is; how little things change.