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This letter is in the collection currently held at Gilford Castle. It is connected to many other papers of William Donaldson which I will also transcribe and post. The letter of 1812 (already posted) is a continuation of this conversation with Oswald Lawson.
Some of the footnote numbers which I have inserted have been left blank. It is easier for me to do it this way and then fill them in later. NOTE Freeduff is a townland of 303 acres in the Parish of Creggan in Co. Armagh.
Marion Quednau helped in the typing of this which speeded up its transcription immeasurably. Peter McWilliam of Dublin was helpful with additional information for the footnotes. Note: I use red fonts where more work is needed.
Sharon Oddie Brown, November 19, 2003

Footnotes updated July 24, 2007.
NOTE: It is likely pertinent that in the Belfast Newsletter 18 Sep 1797 there was the following:
Armagh Assizes. The Assizes ended the 14th instant at which the following persons were tried before the Right Hon. Lord Yelverton and the Hon. Judge Chamberlaide .. David Lawson, William Donaldson and Arthur Clark were indicted for high treason, but their trials were put off until the next assizes.
[my emphasis] Then in the Belfast Newsletter 30 Mar 1798, there is a record of the Monaghan Assizes. On the 19th instant, the Monaghan Assizes were opened before the Hon. Justice Downes and Baron George, when the following persons were brought to trial ...William Donaldson and Alex Clark also indicted last Assizes for high treason were discharged under the Habeus Corpus Act. ..? Evidently this did not deter William Donaldson from his work and the Court record shows he was busy the next month.
Also of interest: Jul 12, 1798. The court met this day to adjournment and proceeded to the trial of William Craig, Thomas Craig and James Hall, confined by William Barker, Esq., a magistrate, for stealing a gun. William Lowden of Camley, near Newtownhamilton, being duly sworn, says that in Apr 1797 as near as he can recollect, two men came to his father's house, to wit, the prisoners William Craig and James Hall. ..that he was in bed, and his brother came to him and said two men wanted him to join them in the United business, which he declined, and said he would rather quit the country. His brother went out of the house and returned with the two prisoners. The prisoner then asked him where he intended to go and told him he could not go ...that they told him if he did not go with them it would be too late, for the French were in the country and all the King's stores would be seized before 10 o'clock that morning. After that he got up from his bed and put on his clothes. William Craig brought a book to him. ..and swore him a United Irishman. That they made him make a roll of the names of the men they had sworn in that morning, to the number of 14 or 16 men. The prisoner said they were going to return the men to William Donaldson of Cloghog, near Newtownhamilton, as he was their leading man.
NOTE: William was chairman and leader of the United Irishmen in Tullyvallen and Tullynaval and attended Freeduff Presbyterian Church. It is likely he was the author of "Paine's Age of Reason, with remarks containing a vindication of the doctrines of Christianity from the aspersions of that author". It was written by: "A Citizen of the World". Thomas Russell mentions him several times in his Journals and says also that Donaldson thought that after the revolution that this country and England will be deluged with blood. SOURCE: Journals and Memoirs of Thomas Russell. C.J. Woods. ed. Irish Academic Press. 1991

Mr. Oswald Lawson [1]
Freeduff
27th February 1811

Dear Oswald:

I take this opportunity of writing to you by Mrs. N [2] . I have little news of importance to communicate to you from your native country.  We have had an uncommon severe winter of frost, snow and rain, which continues to the present time; we have been inundated frequently this winter, so much so, that in part of my meadows & grazing ground, there is from 2 to 4 inches of stratum of mud and grit deposited, which promises an abundant crop of grass for the coming season; the labour of the fields is necessarily much behind, there is no stubble ground ploughed yet, nor can it be done, for the land is in a quagmire.  I have got some lay ground ploughed which is all that can be done at present.  Notwithstanding our markets are lamentably low.  Wheat from £1:10s to £2:2 per barrel, barley from 19s to £1:1 & Do oats from 13s to 14s & Do potatoes from 2d to 3 per stone. 

Peter Finerly [3] has been found guilty of publishing a libel against L. C. Reagh [4] , concerning the Walkrin [5] expedition, he is sentenced to 18 months imprisonment, & to give 1000 security; he made a manly and animated speech before the sentence was pronounced upon him, during which he was frequently interrupted by the court. 

Doctor Dickson [6] has a work ready for the press to be published by subscription, in one large Vol. octavo price 10s a narrative of his sufferings, privations, and inflictions during more than 3 years and 7 months; on a pretext of his being accessory to the Insurrection in Ulster 1798, the information on which he was arrested, confined, dragged from prison to prison on land to sea, sea to land and Country to Country – the Expulsive treatment which he received in Irish and British prisons – the conduct of the ______(?) the general Synod of Ulster, towards him and his family, during and since that period; and the relation in which he stands to that body.  I saw the manuscript [7] and think it will be a work of some merit it will exhibit his brethren of the gown in a melancholy point of view it has excited much interest and curiosity, there are152 Agents employed in getting subscriptions; In Dublin alone there are 1500 subscribers; it is thought he will make £1000 of it. 

David McWilliam [8] was thought to be dead at Cape Coast Castle [9] but his father and family have had letters from him giving an account of his misfortunes; he and a Mister Suderland [10] & 2 Negroes went out in a small boat, and not being well acquainted with the current they carried off by them; they however made the small island of Ferdinand ____(?) when they were made prisoners by the natives stripped of their clothes and exposed naked to the perpendicular rays of an equatorial sun during the space of 36 days.  They at length escaped with their 2 Negroes in a canoe and made the mainland in 2 days & 2 nights, without provisions or water they were then arrested by the natives and was obliged to leave their 2  Negroes as hostages until they sent goods for their ransom they were 4 months absent, which gave rise to the opinion that they were lost.

Roger [11] was here last week, he had two letters with him from you, one dated from Norfolk [12] , the other from Lisbon; I trust you have made something considerable of that trip.  I think our Army will be obliged to return shortly from the Continent, they have made a Spanish voyage of it. 

Our Catholic countrymen continue their meetings with great perseverance; the Lord -------and council, however in their anti-papistical zeal have found a ______(?) to disperse them; what result will be time only can develop.

In your letter to Jno. Stitt [13] you have mentioned the quantity of animals hides appropriated to the use of flogging the unfortunate Africans!!!  Your account exhibits a melancholy spectacle of the depravity of Human Nature.  If you consider that God is the essence of Goodness and that his presence pervaded the immensity of space it is the most daring effrontery to commit such horrid crimes in his presence, and to think of meeting him in future with these cruel outrages staring us in the face – Monsieur Le Vallant [14] who travelled in the interior of Africa for 5 years, and consequently had an opportunity of knowing the language, customs and manners of these children of Nature, describes them as a generous and hospitable race of man, when their manners has not been contaminated by having intercourse with the whites; on the contrary near the seacoasts when they have intercourse with the Europeans they are mean and degenerated.

________(?) Blayney [15] is a prisoner in France he will [a stain on the document here from the wax of the seal renders a small section illegible. The only readable bits: “la” and then “to £2”]  burning the houses and assassinating the Irish.  I’m surprised that I haven’t heard from Derry.  I imagine if he has written his letter must have been mislaid.

Blowden [16] is writing a sequel to his Irish history.  I have seen the introduction to it; he gives a true account of the Lys___(?) of Orangism in the County of Armagh -------   in which he gives a full account of the persecution of B. Coil [17]

Mrs. D [18] . and your old friend Eliza [19] desire to be remembered most affectionately to you ---

Eliza is remarkably tall since you saw her, she reads remarkably well and writes tolerably well she’s making considerable progress in Arithmetic.  She is in the golden [lull] ?

I am Dead Assured with good wishes for your welfare and happiness yours Most Sincerely
William Donaldson 


[1] Oswald LAWSON. NOTE: A David LAWSON was tried along with William DONALDSON. SOURCE: Belfast Newsletter 18 Sep 1797. There was also an Oswald LAWSON who was a shipper for John D. Townes & Webb of Petersburg, USA and who was mentioned in slave manifests. SOURCE: Manifests of Slave Shipments Along the Waterways, 1808-1864 Charles H. WesleyThe Journal of Negro History, Vol. 27, No. 2 (Apr., 1942), pp. 155-174 doi:10.2307/2714731
[2] Mrs. N. This could be a NOBLE or a NUGENT or something else altogether.
[3] Peter FINERLY was a printer "late of Mountrath Street in the city and town of Dublin" SOURCE:. A Complete Collection of State Trials p 923. In his newspaper "The Press" he alleged that Wm ORR, who had been faced trial because of his role in the United Irishmen, had been unjustly excuted. His language was passionate. For example: Feasting in your castle, in the midst of your myrmidons and bishops, you have little concerned yourself about the exiled and miserable cottager, whose dwelling, at the moment of your mirth, was in flames; his wife and his daughter then under the violation of some commissioned ravager; his son agonizing on the bayonet, and his helpless infants crying in vain for mercy. SOURCE: p 933.
[4] Lord C. Reagh is Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, Irish chief Secretary who was instrumental in passing the Act of Union. SOURCE: 11Oct2004 email from Peter McWilliam
[5] I do not know what the Walkrin expedition was.
[6] William Steel DICKSON, 1744-1824 was born in Carnmoney, Co. Antrim. He was licenced as a minister in 1767 (later in 1783, he received his Doctor of Divinity at Glascow) and became a Presbyterian minister in the parishes of Ballyhalbert (now Glastry) in the Ards Penisnsula and Portaferry, Co. Down. In 1771. In 1776 he spoke against “unnatural, impolitic, unprincipled” war with America and later suffered secession from his congregation. In 1778 he became involved in the volunteer movement and on March 22, 1778 advocated for the enrolment of Catholics. In 1780, he moved to a congregation in Portaferry and became moderator general of the synod of Ulster. Along with other United Irishmen such as Thomas Ledlie Birch, he supported Robert Stewart in the 1783 election battle in Co. Down against Hill and assisted in obtaining a pledge for unanimous and immediate Catholic emancipation. He was arrested at Ballynahinch before the projected insurrection as he had been serving as adjutant-general for Co. Down on behalf of the United Irishmen. He served some time in a jail on a boat along with Thomas Ledlie Birch as one of his cellmates and then was incarcerated in Scotland  until he was released in 1802. Upon his release, he returned to minister at Portaferry, but the hatred of some drove him out of there and he accepted a call to Keady, Co. Armagh at a greatly reduced stipend.  On September 11, 1811, he was severely beaten by Orangemen as he was returning from attendance at a Catholic meeting. In 1812, his book was published. In old age he was supported by the charity of friends and when he died in 1824, he was buried in a pauper’s grave in Clifton Street Cemetary, Belfast. There was no mark on the grave until 1909 when a stone was erected “Do cum onora na h-Ereann – For the honour of Ireland”  SOURCES: Dictionary of National Biography found at www.pgil-eirdata.org  as well as “The Summer Soldiers: The 1798 Rebellion in Antrim and Down” A.T.Q. Stewart.
[7] Dickson, William Steel, A Narrative of the Confinement and Exile of William Steel D.D.  Belfast, 1812
[8] David McWILLIAM. NOTE: A Thomas McWILLIAM was minister in Freeduff from 1837 to 1863 and a colleague of Rev Daniel Gunn BROWN - a noted activist on the side of tenant farmers. There is likely a connection.
[9] On the Niger River
[10] Mister SUDERLAND
[11] Roger ?
[12] Norfolk, Virginia, America
[13] John STITT. This is likely a local STITT - there was a John STITT of Freeduff living at this time.
[14] There is an African bird called: Le Vallant’s Cisticola. I don’t know of any other connection.
[15] I suspect the man referred to is the following: The 11th Lord, Andrew Thomas, was perhaps the most famous Blayney of all. He ruled the estate for fifty years from 1784 to 1834. He was one of the most illustrious soldiers ever to come from Co. Monaghan and as commander of the 89th Regiment of Foot, 'Blayney's Bloodhounds' as they were called, he fought with distinction in the Napoleonic Wars. He was taken prisoner when making a raid from Gibraltar into Spain and was kept prisoner for some years by the French government. He wrote a two-volume account of his experiences in the Napoleonic Wars [Narrative of a Forced Journey through Spain and France as a Prisoner of War in the Years 1810 to 1814, by Major-General Lord Blayney (London, 1814)]. He was captured by one of the O'Callaghans of Culaville, a colonel in the French army and a prominent United Irishman who escaped after 1798. It is said he insisted on Blayney being held to ransom for some of the United Irishmen who were in British prisons.' SOURCE: PRONI
[16] BLOWDEN? This may be the priest and author Father (Charles) BLOWDEN.
[17] Bernard COYLE, a Roman Catholic who was active in the United Irishman movement in South Armagh in the 1790s. SOURCE: 11Oct2004 email from Peter McWilliam.
[18] Presumably William DONALDSON’s wife, Barbara DONALDSON, née BRADFORD
[19] If this is their daughter Eliza DONALDSON b. 1806, then she is quite advanced for a five or six year old - not that this is impossible. It may also be that the source for her birth date is suspect..

 

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