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NAMES: Oswald LAWSON of Newry, Co. Armagh & Norfolk, Virginia; William DONALDSON of Freeduff, Co. Armagh; General B---VAL (I can't read his name); Dr. Edward SHERIDAN; Thomas KIRWAN of Dublin; Dr. William Steel DICKSON; Mark DEVLIN, Esq.; Rector Dr. Henry STEWART; James ?; Alderman WALMSLEY; Ann SCOTT and Unnamed SCOTT; Barbara DONALDSON. OTHER PLACES: Derry.
Sharon Oddie Brown. January 5, 2010
Update: Added scan of accompanying drawing. December 23, 2010
Updated footnote #6 re: General Benival.

Please NOTE: Some of the transcriptions may be inaccurate – for example I am uncertain of the name “General Benival” [B---val]. The footnotes and transcription represent my best to date and should be improved upon during the next few months.


Mr. Oswald Lawson[1],





Freeduff[3] 18 February 1812

Wm. Donaldson[4]



Dear Oswald,


I have read yours of the 22nd Nov. last and am happy that you and sister[5] were there well

- When I heard from Newry last all were well & much in the same way your sister left them – The Catholics and the Irish Government commanded by General Beneval[6] truly have had a hard and well fought campaign – The Catholics gained a decided victory in November last, by the acquittal of Dr. Sheridan[7] for a breach of the Convention Act of 93[8] which was enacted by the then Parliament of Ireland for the purpose of suppressing the Dungannon Meetings[9], which had given so much alarm to the prerogative faction of that day, but not by any Means to interfere with the Right of petition. – Notwithstanding the Crown lawyers interpretation of the act was quite otherwise. The memorable jury of Nov 1811 however after a long debate of the Lawyers on each side the Question, gave a decided negative to the interpretations both of the Court of Lawyers by their verdict of acquittal. – Government much chagrined at this defeat commenced the attack in the Judicial field at last turn having previously put their Battalion of testimony in Castle training, their next case was to procure a select jury.


Thos. Kirwan Esq.[10] Was now singled out for tryal[11], being a colleague of Dr. Sheridan, they being Delegates from the Parish of St. Mary’s Dublin to the Catholic Comm the alleged offence was therefore exactly the same, but from the extraordinary precautions that was resorted to it was easy anticipate the result. Kirwan was found guilty after a deliberation of only 20 minutes by the jury !!!!! Notwithstanding that it was the same persons who gave evidence in both cases.


General B----val in his turn has now gained two important victories over the Catholics of Ireland one here and the other in the imperial Parliament. – The Catholics are now reduced to the alternative of transacting their business by aggregate meetings, they are however dayly acquiring strength of numbers, which appears from the Protestant petitions in their favour, the signatures of which for numbers and respectability has exceeded their most sanguine expectations.


Their annual dinners of even in Dublin to the Friends of Religious toleration, has been productive of much good, as they have been alluded by the Most reputable Noblemen and Gentlemen of the Country, who have set an example to the people under them the effect has been so powerful, that that Monster religious bigotry has hid his head. This has been remarkably the case since you left this Country. The breathings of religious freedom have been called forth from those kinds of toleration on the occasion of their health being given in brilliant speeches replete with learning reason & philosophy. – Dr. Dickson[12] made a conspicuous figure on these occasions & has supported the character of the Presbyterians of Ulster in a masterly stile, a character however that his brethren of the gown has no claim to, with a few honourable exceptions, Since they have been taken into pay, they are at the disposal of the unmitred Bishop[13] who is himself a true bred durable hack; bestrode by every Administration; they are truly a most degenerate body, who have sinned against Eight and sacrificed public virtue on the Altar of Mammon. – Your townsman Mark Devlin[14] acquitted himself with honour in two long speeches at the Down & Antrim Catholic Meetings[15]. The Catholics will in my own opinion will be finally admitted into the pale of the Constitution (such as it is) the necessity of the times demand that all should be united against a formidable foe – I have seen the correspondence of Foster and Monroe from which it appears your Government are satisfied that Bonaparte has removed his _____rous decrees from the language of your house of representatives a war with the United States is inevitable unless something is done on the part of our government, we will then have a world in arms against us together with 4,000,000 of our own people!!!!! There are great hopes from the Prince (?) Regent when he is at liberty to act that period being now arrived I trust these hopes will be realized, but I have my doubts.


Dr. Dickson’s publication[16] has succeeded beyond his most sanguine expectations; the Catholics of Ireland has given it their patronage and are subscribing for it at a guinea a copy by way of compensation for his living 40 years the friend of religious toleration and the many privations and losses he has sustained in supporting that example, it thought he will clear 6 or £8000 by it, he has stirred up the clerical hive against him, the very drones to whom nature has denied the means of resistance displays a buzzing prosecution against him; but he will make more by publishing their villainy than the Regumdonum and the widows fund will both amount to.


The tythe is heavy hard upon us, our Rector Dr. Stewart[17] charges me 10s per acre for the tythe of oats & 8s for hay he is also charging for the scythe of flax which was never known in our Parish. The Clergy holds every _______ with the ______ of death, you may sever the arm from their body, but you will not make it quit its hold. Our religious establishment is one thing that we _____ gradually  _____ in our Constitution as it is an established truth that a government can exist longer without than with it, witness the Government of China that has existed 4000 years without a religious establishment. The United States in our own day and time is another proof of this fact, I can not say of their religion as their Lord and Master said of his; their yoke is easy nor is their burden light.


The little folk as you call them – seems to answer the end of their creation tolerably well; James[18] has 9 children living and 2 dead; the death of Ald Wamsley [19]has done little for him he is struggling hard with the world (?). John[20] has one child and another about to make its appearance his wife has proved better than was expected. Ann[21] of Ballymarally is married last week to one Scott[22] of whom I know little as yet as it is of her own making.


As your letter did not reach me in time to drink your health on Christmas day, I shall pledge you on the first day of May if I am spared that long.


Mrs. D.[23] joins in love and best wishes to you and Mrs. M[24] as does yours Most sincerely, Freeduff 16th Feb 1812


Wm. Donaldson.


PS write to me by the first opportunity and let me know how our exiled Countrymen are doing. I have not had any amt. out of Derry[25]. I expected a letter from him on the receipt of mine. The picture you draw of the Virginians[26] is very pleasing th___ happy for you that you have your lot among such People. What a happy asylum for the oppressed of all Nations but particularly the Irish, what a blessed escape to get from under the devouring fangs of oppression and to set down amongst a Nation of bosom friends in a far country

This is the watercolour sketch that accompanied the letter.


[1] Oswald LAWSON, born in Newry and left in 1809 but planned to return.

·        He was a brother of David LAWSON who was tried along with William DONALDSON. SOURCE: Belfast Newsletter 18 Sep 1797.

·        He went to Virginia to settle his brother David’s estate in 1809. SOURCE: Reports of Cases Argued & Determined in the Court of Vice Admiralty at Halifax Nova Scotia from the Commencement of the War in 1803 to the end of the year 1813 in the time of Alexander Croke, L.L.D. Judge of that Court. By James Stewart Esq. A member of his Majesty's Council and Solicitor Gen. for the Province of Nova Scotia. London. 1814. November 21, 1812. The schooner PATRIOT, William Reardon, Master, taken by the ACUSTA. The claim was given by Oswald Lawson, as a subject of his Britannic Majesty, and as master of the vessel on behalf of himself for the schooner and cargo being flour, peas and beans. He stated that he was born at Newry, in Ireland, which he left three years ago, and proceeded to Virginia, for the purpose of settling the estate of David Lawson, his brother, who died there; that the estate still remains unsettled, but as soon as it is settled he intends to return to his native country. NOTE: More details of the legal case follow. It seems that he was playing both sides of the legal fence: American Law & British Law.

·        I suspect he was the same 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] Norfolk, VA is currently a medium sized city – population of about 235,000 and the name LAWSON is still current. I have included the following snippets – just me thinking out loud - since I know nothing more about either David LAWSON or Oswald LAWSON and their connections to Norfolk (although, it is worth noting that the JACKSON of Ballybay who fled Ireland after the failed 1798 uprising also settled in Virginia). The merchants of Ireland and Virginia frequently went back and forth between the two countries, choosing whatever domicile suited their current purposes.

·        This may be of no significance, but in 1684 a Thomas JACKSON bought 100 acres of land from Col. Anthony LAWSON. Then in 1742, the will of Elizabeth LAWSON was witnessed by Christopher JACKSON. SOURCE: http://lawsondna.org/Media/virginiacounties/Norfolk.html

·        A David LAWSON married a Susannah DENBY Nov 9, 1799 in Norfolk, Virginia. SOURCE: http://lawsondna.org/Media/virginiacounties/Norfolk.html

·        At the time of this letter, they already had their own newspaper and courthouse and the start of a police service and were already a strategic military and transportation point.

·        The name LAWSON is associated to the early days of the city of Norfolk – in 1682, Col. Anthony LAWSON who came from Londonderry was one of the purchasers of the town site. His grandson was Thomas LAWSON (1789-1861), Surgeon-General.  During the American Revolution, and Andrew LAWSON  was taken prisoner by the British. Lake Lawson is named for these families. As is South Lawson Park and the Lawson building SOURCES: http://norfolkhistorical.org/contest/2001_essays/essay.php?entry_id=2  and http://history.amedd.army.mil/surgeongenerals/T_Lawson.html

·        Another LAWSON, was the naturalist John LAWSON, born in Yorkshire and worte about his travels in A New Voyage to Carolina. SOURCE: http://www.cummingmapsociety.org/Lawson%20Brochure.pdf

·        A picture of the wife of Gavin LAWSON (planter and merchant) in Virginia in 1770: http://www.history.org/History/clothing/intro/clothing.cfm

·        In the early 1790s, there was an influx of Haitian refugees as well as free blacks and slaves. In 1804, a serious fire destroyed 300 buildings and was a serious setback for local businesses.  In 1807, their ports were closed as a result the Embargo Act (which was part of what ensnared Oswald LAWSON ). In 1812, Fort Norfolk was the headquarters for defence in the War of 1812.

[3] Freeduff is a townland of 303 acres in the Parish of Creggan in Co. Armagh and was the home of William DONALDSON.

[4] William DONALDSON (1768-1815) of Freeduff was the son of Samuel DONALDSON & Elizabeth MAFFET. He married Barbara BRADFORD of Cavananore, daughter of Thomas Bradford and Elizabeth Breakey. They had one daughter, Elizabeth, who died unmarried in Dublin. Barbara BRAFDFORD was both a grand-aunt of Sir Thomas JACKSON but because of the complexity of intermarriages was also a 1st cousin once removed.

·        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 DONALDSON 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

·        After his [Samuel Donaldson – father of William] children joined the United Irishmen his fortunes declined somewhat because of property destruction by the English troops. Samuel suffered from rheumatism and was unable take care of himself so he lived with his son George. SOURCE:  Irish Edition of Alexander ban Donaldson: Our Ancestor 1691-1776. 1989. p291

·        William’s brother Alexander named a son George Washington DONALDSON – a name indicative of his politics. His sister Margaret was known as a night-time rider and deliverer of clandestine messages for the cause of the United Irishmen.

·        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. SOURCE:  Belfast Newsletter Sept 18, 1797

·        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.

[5] Sister of David and Oswald LAWSON – name unknown.

[6] General B---VAL – NOTE: I have yet to figure out the full name and who this might be. Thanks to an email on Sept 7, 2015 from Gérald Arboit Directeur de recherché. Centre Français de Recherche sur le Renseignement (CF2R), I can add (for the benefit of readers who may want to research more): This general real name was George Callender. He was born in Craigfoth (Scotland) in March 1770 and died on February 16, 1824. Lieutenant-colonel of the Rifle Brigade, he fighted in Italy and in Corfu (1799-1801), before joining the French and obtaining the fictive rank of lieutenant general. In France, he was firstly employed at the army against Britain (1805), where he wrote several reports on projects to invade Britain. Then, he was disbanded and lived poorly, always sending letters and reports to the War Ministry Clarke. Without answer, until 1808, when he proposed to go in Ireland and Scotland to gain a Party for Napoleon.The Donaldson's letter you published on Internet mentioned that he was in Ireland in 1811. A French newspaper edited in England in 1810 talked about previous missions in England, Ireland and Scotland. But I don't think in went in theses countries before Spring 1808 and, after an intelligence mission in Spain that we still don't know anything, in 1810-1811. Callender papers are available in French archives, but don't talk about Ireland, just England, on the period 1804-1808.

[7] Dr. Edward SHERIDAN of Dominick Street, Dublin.

·        SEE ALSO: Speeches of Peter Burrowes, Esq. and the trials of Edward Sheridan, M.D. and Thomas Kirwan, merchant, upon indictments under the convention act: including the proceedings evidence relative to the alleged interference of Sir Charles Saxton, with the jury on Mr. Kirwan's trial; in a speech to evidence thereon. Peter Burrowes. 1812. Printed by JJ Nolan Dublin. NOTE: He was the defence lawyer.

·        From 1795 to 1815 ensued a period of penal legislation the like of which fortunately has never been paralleled in our history. Under the new Acts no Catholic could set up a school, nor could any Catholic be sent abroad for education. The lands of the Catholic must be split up at his death between all his sons, unless one of them had become a Protestant, when all went to him. This had the effect of dividing and subdividing all the great Catholic properties. No Catholic might buy land from a Protestant, or keep weapons for his defence, or a horse of more than the value of 5 pounds. A Catholic who tried to convert a Protestant committed a punishable offense. No Catholic priest might come to Ireland from abroad. SOURCE: The Proceedings Before the Court of King's Bench in Ireland in the case of Dr. Edward Sheridan for misdemeanors in violation of the Irish Convention Act, November, 1811. Quoted in Some Famous Medical Trials, Leonard A. Parry, Willard H. Wright.

[8] The Convention Act prohibited assemblies for the purpose of petitioning the king. It marked the beginning of efforts to quell the activities of the United Irishmen and Volunteers

[9] In February 1793, Ulster reformers who were behind the aims of the United Irishmen held a representative convention at Dungannon where the delegates pledged their support to parliamentary reform. This was just before the Convention which made such meetings against the law was passed.

[10] Thos. KIRWAN Esq.

·        He was a Roman Catholic SOURCE: See: A report of the proceedings in the cases of Thomas Kirwan, merchant, and Edward Sheridan, M.D., for misdemeanors charged to be committed in violation of the Convention Act. By Thomas Kirwan. Published in 1811, printed by Graisberry and Campbell, and sold by G.P. Archer (Dublin).

·        He was convicted in January 1812. SOURCE:  Daniel O’Connell by Robert Dunlop. 1900.

·        The Judge in his address to the prisoner, on sentencing him, said, “The Court entertains the most sanguine hope that this Act of Parliament, which is never before been awakened into action, will be allowed to assume its long slumber in the Statute Book, and in that hope has resolved to inflict upon you a nominal punishment ... the sentence of the court is that you, Thomas Kirwan, be fined one mark and discharged. The mark was equal to 13s 4p  SOURCE: The Case of Dr. Edward Sheridan in Some Famous Medical Trials. Leonard A. Parry, Willard H. Wright..

[11] COPY OF THE WARRANT. By the Right Honourable William Downes, Lord Chief Justice of his Majesty's court of King's Bench, in Ireland. County of the City of Dublin, to wit. Whereas it appears to me by information upon oath, that on the ninth day of July last, a number of persons assembled at the Shambles street, in the County of the City of Dublin, did propose and resolve that a committee of persons, professing the Roman Catholic religion, should be appointed to represent the Roman Catholics of Ireland, for the purpose, or under the pretence of preparing petitions to both Houses of Parliament, for the repeal of all laws in force in Ireland, particularly affecting the Roman Catholics of Ireland. And whereas I have also received information on oath, that on the 31st day of the said month, divers other persons assembled in the Roman Catholic Chapel, in Liffey Street, in the County of the city of Dublin, for the purpose of appointing five persons to act in such committee as aforesaid, as representatives therein of the parish in which said Chapel is situate; and that at said meeting at Liffey Street, one Edward Sheridan was appointed one of the said representatives, and that Thomas Kirwan, Gregory Scurlog [NOTE: He was neighbour of SHERDAN on Dominick Street], Henry Edmond Taaffe, and Dr. John Breen, were four of the persons so there assembled, and that they and each of them then and there acted in such appointment of the said Edward Sheridan to be such representative as aforesaid, against the form of the statute in that case made and provided. These are, therefore, in his Majesty's name, strictly to charge and command you, to apprehend and bring before me or some other of the Justices of his Majesty's said Court of King's bench, the bodies of the said Thomas Kirwan, Gregory Scurlog, Henry Edmond Taaffe, and Dr. John Breen, that they be dealt with according to law, and for your so doing they shall be your sufficient warrant. Given under my hand and seal the eighth day of August 1811. William Downes. SOURCE: Monthly Magazine or British Register (of Politics, Literature and the Belles Lettres). 1811. London.

[12] Dr. 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.

[13] I would assume this is a reference to an actual person.

[14] Mark DEVLIN. I am guessing that he would have been the Mark DEVLIN Esq of Boat St. Newry, a solicitor. His wife Mary died 1784, age 30. They had a daughter (Kate m. WHITTINGTON) and likely a son. SOURCE: Ros Davies website.

  • His involvement continued: WE, the Undersigned, request a MEETING of the CATHOLIC INHABITANTS of the PARISH of NEWRY, at the NEWRY CATHOLIC POOR SCHOOL, on SUNDAY the 13th day of January, 1828, at the hour of TWO o'Clock, for the purpose of Petitioning the Legislature for the ENTIRE and UNCONDITIONAL Restoration of our unjustly withheld Rights ; and of adopting such other proper measures, with reference to this subject, as may appear necessary to said Meeting. Newry, 8th January, 1828. DENIS MAGUIRE, CONSTANTINE MAGUIRE, JOHN CARAHER, PATRICK M'PARLAN, MARK DEVLIN, CHARLES JENNINGS, P. C. BYRNE. The Newry Commercial Telegraph January 8, 1828 Newry, County Down

[15] I would assume that one of these meetings was the one held at Newry on Sept 9, 1811. An Account was given by an R. SAVAGE in 1811 – I do not have this document.

[16] Dickson, William Steel, A Narrative of the Confinement and Exile of William Steel D.D.  Belfast, 1812

[17] Rector Dr. Henry STEWART was the rector from 1809-1817 of Creggan Church of Ireland. A number of Sir Thomas JACKSONs relations were church wardens during this time.

[18] James ? NOTE: I do not know anything about him.

[19] Alderman WALMSLEY NOTE: I do not know anything about him.

[20] John ? NOTE: This is possibly John DONALDSON of Tullyvallen, Co. Armagh, one of William’s brothers (b abt 1772) whose wife Agnes DOWNES had a son b 1812.

[21] Ann ? married Unnamed SCOTT Feb 1812

[22] Unnamed SCOTT married Ann Unnamed Feb 1812

[23] Mrs. D. is likely Barbara DONALDSON née BRADFORD (1783-1865), wife of WIliam DONALDSON. Sir Thomas JACKSON (1841-1915) was her grand-nephew.

[24] Mrs. M.? NOTE: MAFFET is one possibility for her name.

[25] NOTE: This Derry connection is interesting given the LAWSON family connection to Derry (see Norfolk footnote).

[26] I scanned this in 2005 - but have only just uploaded it. December 23, 2010..



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