Few men enjoy a higher public profile at the moment than John Kerry, the current US Secretary of State and the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party in the presidential election of 2004. Kerry is of Ulster-Scots descent, being a descendant of the Revd James McGregor of Aghadowey who famously led his congregation in the ‘five ships’ exodus from Coleraine to Boston in 1718.
Adlai Stevenson II, the one-time Governor of Illinois and the Democratic Party’s nominee against Dwight Eisenhower in the presidential contests of 1952 and 1956, is often regarded as the ‘best President the United States never had’. Famously described as ‘an egghead’ by Eisenhower, this engaging politician was descended from William Stevenson who had emigrated from Ulster in 1748. Adlai Stevenson I, Adlai Stevenson II’s grandfather, served as the 23rd Vice-President of the United States between 1893 and 1897.
These are just three of the many interesting characters to which Alister McReynolds draws attention in Kith and Kin: The Continuing Legacy of the Scotch-Irish in America. Alister likens historical research to mining in a disused mine where nuggets are to be found lying all around but his modesty belies his industry.
As a resident of Lisburn, Alister looks at the lives of two men born in the town who had significant impact in their new homeland. Samuel Sloan (1817- 1907) emigrated to New York (via Quebec) when he was one-year-old and became an outstanding business executive. He is most famous for his tenure as President of the Delaware, Lackawanna & Western Railroad Company which connected Buffalo, New York, and Hoboken, New Jersey. He died at the age of 89, having been the president of seventeen corporations during his lifetime.
Sinclair Mulholland was born in Lisburn in 1839 and emigrated to New York with his parents when he was still a boy. Attracted to the military life, he became active in the ranks of the militia in the years before the Civil War. During the Battle of Frederickburg (13 December 1862) he was wounded during the famous charge up Marye’s Heights. At the Battle of Chancellorsville (3 and 4 May 1863), he distinguished himself by saving the guns of the 5th Maine Battery which had been abandoned to the enemy. For this he was complimented in general orders and later received the Congressional Medal of Honor. A certain amount of ambiguity surrounds his role in the Battle of Gettysburg (1-3 July 1863). By the end of the Civil War he had attained the rank of Major General. After the war, he became Chief of Police in Philadelphia and wrote a history of 116th Pennsylvania.
Alister has a keen interest in the Ulster-Scots contribution to the growth and development of New England states, especially Maine and New Hampshire. Along with Frank Ferguson, Alister published Robert Dinsmoor’s Scotch-Irish Poems in 2012. His affection for Dinsmoor’s output is evident in a chapter subtitled ‘The picture painted with words and letters of the Scotch-Irish pioneer settlement in New England’.
Alister’s fascination with the American South is demonstrated by articles on Old Ripy Whiskey and Clayton McMichen and Jimmie Rodgers.
Old Ripy (pronounced Rippy) is considered one of Kentucky’s premier pre-prohibition brands of bourbon. The Ripy family started production in 1869 at the Tyrone Distillery and later Anderson County Distillery. The Ripys, a family of Huguenot descent, had their Ulster origins in Ballymagorry, near Strabane, hence the name of the Tyrone distillery.
Clayton McMichen (1900 - 1970) was an American fiddler of Ulster-Scots origin from northern Georgia. He was one of America’s most successful country acts in the 1920s and recorded widely. ‘Jimmie’ Rodgers (1897 - 1933), was another American country singer of Ulster-Scots ancestry who rose to fame in the early years of 20th century and was variously known as ‘The Singing Brakeman’, ‘The Blue Yodeler’, and even ‘The Father of Country Music’. The music of Clayton McMichen and ‘Jimmie’ Rodgers remains highly evocative of Scotch-Irish everyday life in the Appalachians.
Kith and Kin constitutes a genuinely fresh and original contribution to the Ulster-Scots story. The book is a handsomely produced, well illustrated and highly informative publication.