“Mum, Dad, I’m going to America”
How many times has this news been shared across Irish kitchen tables since emigrant ships first departed these shores? When the first of the Stuart children decided that their future was no longer in Ulster but in the newly formed United States of America, is this how they broke the news to their family in Rose Hall? Perhaps, but what we do know is that more than 200,000 people left the province of Ulster for North America between 1750 and 1850 knowing that they might never see their loved ones at home ever again.
In the early 1800s the Stuart children attended a nearby school next door to the Catholic chapel in Lawrencetown. One of the Stuart children, George, later wrote that his teacher was ‘like nearly all the Irish schoolmasters of that day - a very severe man, whipping us unmercifully’.
Ann Jane was the first to leave Rose Hall around 1820 to care for her uncle James Stuart in Philadelphia. He had settled there about 1790 when it was still the seat of the US national government. Soon after, she married Mr William H Scott, a native of county Monaghan, who was in business in the city.
John was the first of the Stuart boys to leave home in 1822 when he was 26 years old. He took with him a few webs of linen as his first venture in commercial speculation. After John had set sail to Liverpool, his father David regretted not giving him more money to help him in the new country. He followed his son to Liverpool and found him already boarded the ship for America. He told him that he was sorry for letting him leave with so little money and handed him a bag of guineas. John refused to take it telling his father, ‘I’ll be happier without it, for I think I have got my share.’
On the 1 January 1825, father David Stuart died and was buried in Donacloney Presbyterian churchyard. Later in 1825, brothers David and Joseph left home and joined John in Philadelphia. These three brothers founded the firm of ‘Stuart and Brothers’ in 1828. It became one of the largest importing houses in the country, with branch houses in New York, Manchester and Liverpool. The remaining Stuart brothers emigrated to America as the business expanded: William sometime before 1830; George 1831 and James 1832.
Ocean travel was hazardous in those days and so it proved for two of the Stuart brothers. In 1830, brothers David and William set sail from New York to Liverpool on the ship “S.V. Robert Fulton” loaded with flour and 114 people. As the ship neared the Azores, it attempted to rescue an English ship in difficulty and ran aground on the west coast of Flores Island. According to reports, everyone on board was saved by swimming to shore. The Stuart brothers had to stay on the island for some time before they were able to get a boat that would take them towards home in Ireland. Meanwhile, news of the shipwreck reached Rose Hall by way of another passenger who had made it back to New York. They did not know what had become David and William and if they had survived. Imagine the scene then, when the two sons given up as lost, suddenly burst thought the front doors of Rose Hall, into their mother’s arms.
As the business grew in America and in England, the Stuart men never forgot home and what they left behind. This included the ladies of Banbridge and Lurgan.
John married Sarah Waugh from Seapatrick, Banbridge in 1826; Joseph married Anna Watson from Lurgan in 1827; and David married Jane McClelland from Banbridge in 1839. Perhaps some of the lace in the Stuart collection was purchased to wear on these occasions?
It is through the Joseph Stuart family line that the lace collection has come into the possession of the museum today. Both Joseph Stuart and his son Joseph married daughters of wealthy linen manufacturers from Lurgan. Anna Watson was the daughter of Robert Watson, the owner of ‘The Flush’ linen factory, as it was locally known. Founded in 1808, it was one of the earliest hand loom factories in Ireland and known for manufacturing fine quality handkerchiefs.
On a personal note, my mother-in-law Dorothy Livingston and her sister Rosaleen worked in ‘The Flush’ in the early 1970s, cutting the cloth, embroidering, pressing and folding handkerchiefs until it finally closed in the 1980s. They described working there as being in one big family, looking out for one another to the point of taking up a collection to help pay medical bills for a colleague.
Young Joseph Stuart married Marianne Malcolm, a daughter of James Malcolm, owner of Malcolm’s Powerloom linen factory. Malcom was a pioneer in linen powerloom weaving, building one the first powerloom factories in 1855. By 1866 James Malcolm was making alterations and extensions to the factory to increase the number of power-looms for weaving cambric and cambric handkerchiefs. It became the first factory in the United Kingdom for hemstitching of linen by machine.
John, David and William moved to England to set up set up merchant houses and banking institutions in Liverpool and Manchester. Sadly, William had poor health and died aged 40. He is buried with his father, mother and two sisters in Donacloney. The story of the Stuarts from Rose Hall will continue in the next blog with tales of service in the American civil war, when singing a hymn got you kicked out of church membership, and standing with Presidents.
George Stuart’s autobiography, ‘The Life of George H. Stuart’
Shipwreck site of SV Robert Fulton
Linen Heritage - Lurgan Linen Trail