Longford people played a huge role in early American
The Longford townland of Clonbroney may seem like a world
apart from the power centre of Washingtons Capitol
Hill, but a local history enthusiast currently tracing the
journey of Longford emigrants during the 1700s has
revealed a collection of influential characters including
Longford links to a US Vice President and Newtownforbes
descendants who played a role in the infamous Gunfight at
the OK Corral.
Former secondary school teacher at St Felims College,
Ballinamore and a native of Ballinalee, Gerry Brady is currently
investigating the fate of numerous Longford families who
migrated to America on the George and Anne ship
in the summer of 1729.
A life long history enthusiast, Gerry has long been intrigued
by the tales of the Denniston brothers Alexender and Hans
who took a leadership role in the Battle of Granard in 1798.
As Gerry discovered the Denniston brothers escaped the massacre
and fled to America where Alexander opened a store in the
town of Newbury, NY.
While it was widely known that the Dennison brothers had
escaped to America it was not clear why they had chosen
to settle in that particular area of the United States but
as Gerry discovered they were in fact following the path
of their Longford cousins as he explained Everyone
knew that the Denniston brothers escaped to America but
what is interesting is the fact that they had headed for
the area near Little Britain where in fact their cousins,
the Clintons had previously settled. The Clinton family
of course produced George Clinton who went on to become
Vice President and of the US from 1804 to 1812 and the present
day Longford Denniston family are directly related to this
revolutionary war hero.
So what exactly was the Denniston-Clinton relationship and
why has the Longford connection to a former Vice President
of the USA been largely ignored?
Gerry believes that the reason may partly lie in the particular
era and distance which was not conducive to maintaining
family ties in the homeland. You have to remember
were talking about the 1700s and once a family
made the journey to the US little was known about them afterwards.
Of course, a huge amount of George Clintons private
papers were lost when a fire broke out in the Library of
Congress some time around 1910/1911 so the link may have
been lost or overlooked.
Indeed the hugely influential character of George Clinton
upon US history has perhaps been lost to his Longford ancestors
as Gerry explained his important role saying As a
general in the revolutionary war, George Clinton was a hero
and indeed after Washington he was probably the best known
of the revolutionary generals. In fact one of the reasons
he remained in politics in New York for so long was due
to his impressive war record. When the British evacuated
New York on 25 November, 1783, Washington and Clinton, as
commander-in-chief and governor, side by side on horseback,
led the American forces as they took over the city.
In tracing George Clintons rise to Vice President
of the USA, Gerry explained how the Clinton family made
the transition from Clonbroney to America during the 1700s.
George Clintons grandfather Alexander Denniston was
a Scottish soldier of fortune who came over to Ireland towards
the end of the seventeenth century and settled on the County
Longford estates of Arthur Forbes, first Earl of Granard.
Alexander and his wife, Catherine Montgomery, had eight
children, one of whom, Elizabeth, married a Charles Clinton
c 1722. Charles Clinton (unrelated to the recent President
of that name) who was born in Co. Longford in 1690, also
belonged to an immigrant family with Scottish links who
had settled somewhat earlier on the same Granard estates.
The early decades of the eighteenth century were the years
of the Penal Laws. As Presbyterians, the Clintons
and the Dennistons did not escape the rigours of the Penal
Code, although the disabilities suffered by Dissenters were
not as severe as those experienced by their Catholic neighbours.
These laws, coupled with economic hardships, crippling
taxation and high rents, were greatly resented by ambitious
families like the Clintons and the Dennistons. The years
1725-29 saw an astonishing wave of Presbyterian emigration
to America from all the northern counties of Ireland. In
the early summer of 1729, Charles Clinton engaged a ship,
the George and Anne, and together with his wife and family
and some one hundred and sixty of his Presbyterian relations
and neighbours from the Longford area, set sail from Dublin
for Pennsylvania, explained Gerry.
Following an horrific voyage of four and half months during
which half of the crew and passengers perished including
two of the Clintons three children, the George and
Anne landed off the shore of Cape Cod, Massachusetts.
The Clinton party subsequently founded a tiny colony which
they named Little Britain upriver from New York on the Hudson
river. George Clinton was born to Elizabeth Denniston and
Charles Clinton in 1739. As a lawyer, soldier and politician,
George Clinton became one of the great popular heroes of
the Revolutionary War against England. He was New Yorks
first governor and indeed is known as the Father of New
York having served a total of twenty one years, the longest
any person has held that office.
George Clinton has long-held ambitions for the Presidency
(he sought election several times) but these were never
fulfilled. He was, however, elected Vice President of the
United States in 1804 as a Republican and served four years
under Thomas Jefferson. In 1808 he was re-elected and served
under James Madison and he died in office in 1812.
George Clinton was widely regarded as a forceful and straightforward
type of man as indeed anecdotal evidence suggests. He
was a shrewd man who was said to be very tight with money.
Clinton was also a partner with Washington in several profitable
land deals and in 1805 he sold half of his Greenwich Village
farm on Manhattan Island to John Jacob Astor for $75,000
of the Astor millionaire fame. Other stories suggest that
at one stage when he was allocated a certain amount of money
to entertain visitors and dignitaries, he didnt use
it but indeed kept it all for himself. Noted for his carefulness
with money, he died one of New Yorks wealthiest men,
A grandson of the Longford born Charles and Elizabeth Clinton,
De Witt Clinton, son of General James, also became one of
the great figures in nineteenth century New York. Politician,
scholar and scientist (there is a genus of herbs, CLINTONIA,
named in his honour) he was Governor of New York State,
mayor of the city of New York on several occasions, state
senator and unsuccessful candidate for the Presidency in
1812. He was mainly responsible for the construction of
the Erie Canal (nicknamed Clintons Ditch) which greatly
contributed to the growth of New York as Americas
leading Atlantic port. DeWitt Clinton also served as secretary
to his uncle George Clinton during his terms as Vice President
Other interesting Longford links include the famous McCloughrys
from Newtownforbes who also travelled on the George and
Ann ship to the USA in 1729 as Gerry explained. The
McCloughrys from Cleghill, Newtownforbes travelled
with the Clinton party on the George and Ann. Interestingly,
some one hundred and fifty years later, two direct descendants
of that family, the brothers Frank and Tom McLaury (their
father had altered the family surname) who were members
of the notorious Clanton Gang, were controversially gunned
down by Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday in Tombstone, Arizona
Territory, during the famous Gunfight at the O.K Corral
on the afternoon of 26 October 1881, said Gerry.
Emigrant Longford families undoubtedly left their mark on
American history and the Clintons are perhaps one
of the unsung heroes of the past. Today a statue of George
Clinton represents New York state in Statuary Hall in the
Capitol, while served counties, townships and other landmarks
in the US bear the Clinton name. As history enthusiast Gerry
Brady concluded It is important to realise the importance
of the Clinton-Denniston descendants who are directly linked
to the present day Longford Dennistons. Regrettably, the
contribution of the history of the United States of these
distinguished Longford exile families is today largely unknown
or forgotten in their county of origin and I suppose Im
just trying to shed some fresh light on the past.
- courtesy of The Longford Leader and Mairead OShea