East Wind Rising
"The humour of going to America still continues, and the scarcity of provisions certainly makes many quit us. The humor has spread like a contagious distemper...it affects only Protestants, and reigns chiefly in the north." -- Archbishop Boulter, Primate of Ireland, 1728
From its beginning, this story is about the land.
The mob that came for John Lewis on a day in 1729, in County Donegal in the Province of Ulster in what is today Northern Ireland, was after his land. We do not know the hour or the day it happened, and indeed we cannot be sure of the season or the year. Most of the story is long lost, its details shrunken in memory even as its concept was enlarged to mythical dimensions, eventually recalled in fragments by elderly grandchildren nearly a century after it happened (when at last someone thought to write it down). They chiseled a reference to it on John Lewis's gravestone, because what happened that day made his life legendary, and led to everything else, but stone-carvers are necessarily cryptic, and they referred only to a conflict with an "Irish Lord."
The man who led the mob was armed with a musket and most likely self-medicated with rage and whiskey. He was not a lord of the realm, as the tombstone half a world away would later imply, but one Sir Mungo Campbell, John Lewis's landlord. Campbell was most likely a baronet (a rank roughly equivalent to that of knight) who had inherited his father's land and minor title, but not his father's character.
John Lewis's father Andrew Lewis and Mungo's father Hugh Campbell had passed a generation in a settled and prosperous relationship. Lewis had a leasehold on a portion of Campbell's Donegal County land, and as the tenants were diligent and reliable, so the landlord was fair and responsive. Thus John Lewis had grown to manhood, there he had eventually brought his wife Margaret Lynn, there he had seen his parents into the grave and five children into the world. There his family had enjoyed a remarkable island of stability and peace, in a country that all the while had been seething with ancient hatreds and sparking with sudden violence.
Around 1725, things had started to unravel for the Lewises. Hugh Campbell died, leaving his land to his self-indulgent son just as a long drought settled in, withering the crops year after year. Meanwhile nothing reduced the taxes, or relaxed the tithes that every resident, regardless of religion, owed to the established Church of England. To these burdens one was now added that was common elsewhere in Ireland but had not affected John Lewis while Hugh Campbell was alive. It had long been the habit of the English landlords, most of whom were living in England, to raise rents on their Irish properties whenever they needed money, regardless of the effects on their tenants. Apparently Mungo Campbell liked this idea, and decided to impose the rack rents, as they were called, on John Lewis.
Just as Campbell was no lord of the realm, so Lewis was no downtrodden serf. He had a good lease -- "for three lifetimes," as his grandchildren would recall it -- had met his obligations, and knew his rights. He took the case to court, according to one version of the story, and won. Perhaps he thought that with the dispute thus settled, he could go back to his home and resume his life. But Mungo Campbell was not to be dissuaded by a court. He had become overly impressed, apparently, with the ways of imperious English aristocrats. Forgetting that he was no lord and his tenant was no vassal, the young Campbell decided to impose his will by force. He collected a band of supporters, either hired hands or raucous friends, and marched out to eject the Lewises from their home.
Forewarned, John Lewis gathered his family in the house, shuttered the windows and barred the door. He had living with him at the time his brother, who was ill and bedridden, in addition to his wife Margaret Lynn and five children: Ann, an infant; Margaret, a toddler; William, five years old; Andrew, nine; and Thomas, the eldest at 11. Mungo pounded on the door and demanded that the Lewises leave the premises. Hotly, John Lewis refused. The ruffians surrounded the house and tried to break down the door, but succeeded only in splintering it. Inside, disbelieving, John Lewis waited for his young landlord to come to his senses.
Instead, Mungo Campbell stuck through the cracked door a musket loaded with buck and ball, and fired. The ball struck John Lewis's brother where he lay in his sickbed, wounding him mortally. A pellet of buckshot tore through Margaret Lynn's hand. With his wife and brother wounded and bleeding, the one dying and the other no doubt shrieking with pain and fright, John Lewis was transformed. He wrenched open the door, charged outside, and with his shillelagh split open the skull of the young Mungo Campbell.
Deprived of leadership and of the prospect of reward, the other outlaws fled, leaving Lewis to comfort his wife and children, bury his brother, and contemplate his hollow victory. Knowing there could be no justice in Ireland for any tenant rising up against any landlord, he prepared to flee for his life.
A strong wind was blowing through Europe as the 18th Century began. The pressure gradient ran away from the tyranny, religious oppression, frequent wars and grinding poverty of the corrupt old monarchies, westward toward a fresh New World where, it was said, one could speak and worship as one chose, one could own land, improve one's lot in life, make a safe place for a family and live to see it grow. Those who had something solid in Europe -- land or money or family or maybe just a title -- hung on to it and let the wind blow. Of the multitudes who could claim neither possessions nor hope, only a small minority would try to sail this wind to a new life, and most of those who tried, as was the case with John Lewis, were pushed by circumstances into an adventure they would as soon have missed. The wind they tried to ride was strong and cruel; those who lacked strength or character or cunning, whatever their dreams, could be dashed to destruction before it.
A paradigm shift -- any vast new idea -- begins in the hearts of individual people who act anew because of a powerful new idea or circumstance. Often, they are spurred to action by what they find unacceptable in their world, often they are led to change by religious fervor or by greed. Individuals who tack across the prevailing winds of culture can be dismissed as merely eccentric; if small groups join them, they will still be seen as aberrant malcontents; but when like-minded groups grow to critical mass -- not necessarily an overwhelming majority, not even, necessarily, a majority, just enough -- then culture itself is suddenly transformed.
This family's crisis was created by the forces that had shaped them and their world; their reaction to their crisis would help reshape those forces and that world. Andrew Lewis, 11 years old when he saw his father kill, his uncle killed and his family uprooted, would live to consider, embrace, and then powerfully enact into the history of the world a new paradigm of human entitlement and personal freedom embodied in a new republic that would bestride the world. Yet for all that new paradigm and that new republic would ennoble human history and enable human progress, it would embody as well significant evils. It would do so, as most cultures do, without discussion, dismissing the wrong it felt required to do with simplistic rationalizations followed by a profound forgetting. And yet, ignored, two of these offenses -- a virulent form of racism and a new kind of greed -- would continue to irritate the body politic to the point of abcess, even cancer.
To understand the end of a story we need to comprehend how it begins. Our story begins with a strong wind blowing toward the west, taking certain sailors with it.
By the time Andrew Lewis was born in County Donegal, the English had been trying to subdue the tribes of Ireland for five and a half centuries, King Henry II making the first attempt with an invasion in 1171 . British overlords regarded the emerald isle, as they would later view the New World, as a country with some interesting economic prospects that was unfortunately infested with natives. English armies were able to correct this situation and maintain the crown's authority in Dublin, on the nearby east coast, but beyond the city and its immediate environs, beyond the area called the Pale, the authority -- and the armies -- had a way of dissolving.
During the first half of the 16th Century, Henry VIII had been able to gain somewhat tenuous control of the whole country of Ireland, and in the latter decades of the century, Elizabeth's armies had crushed the organized resistance of most of the native chieftains. Yet when James I took the English throne in 1603 (to become famous for establishing a new version of the Bible, for espousing the divine right of kings and for persecuting Catholics), Ireland was still in turmoil.
Francis Bacon, a principal advisor to King James and an advocate of England's manifest destiny to rule the British Isles and the world, had nothing but contempt for Ireland. He did not know which was worst; "the ambition and absoluteness of the chiefs," the "licentious idleness" of their soldiers or the "barbarous laws, customs, their brehon laws, habits of apparel, their poets or heralds that enchant them in savage manners, and sundry other dregs of barbarism and rebellion." The crown was motivated not merely by a desire to export law and order, but by national security: England's enemies -- the Catholic Pope, the crowns of Spain and France -- saw in any Irish insurrection an opportunity to gain a foothold on British soil for their priests and their generals.
As James took the throne, a bloody, eight-year insurrection by the clans of Ulster had just been brought to an end. The last stand of the Gaelic chieftains against the English juggernaut had been ground down by a scorched-earth policy that had left Ulster, the northernmost of Ireland's four provinces, largely depopulated. Yet the principal leaders of the revolt -- Hugh O'Neill of County Tyrone and Rory O'Donnell of Tyrconnel (the ancient name for Donegal), had been allowed to retain their vast real-estate holdings and their titles (they had been made earls by Queen Elizabeth in an attempt at pacification). Both were soon involved in new intrigues and, learning that they had been found out, fled the country in September of 1607, an event remembered in Irish history as the Flight of the Earls. The crown confiscated their estates and those of the chieftains who went into exile with them, an area of land extending over much of the province of Ulster. The earls were soon replaced as chief rebel in Ireland by one Sir Cahir O'Dogherty of Innishowen, who was in his turn hunted down and killed in 1608. King James, perplexed, wanted a final solution to the Irish problem. Francis Bacon and other advisers thought they had one.
They focused on Ulster, the source of most of the recent troubles. As the English historian Thomas Babington Macaulay would observe, the Irish "were distinguished by qualities which tend to make men interesting rather than prosperous. They were an ardent and an impetuous race, easily moved to tears or laughter, to fury or to love." Such men did not pull well under a yoke.
Sir Arthur Chichester, Lord Deputy of Ireland, proposed that establishing law and order in Ulster would require planting among the wild Irishmen "colonies of civil people of England or Scotland." (By "civil," Chichester did not mean polite, but civilized, a word not yet in general use.) By "planting," he meant what had been undertaken in 1607 at Jamestown in Virginia: the forceful establishment, in an area populated by primitive tribes, of an English system of plantation agriculture, common law, established religion and pitiless subjugation of the natives. In 1609 King James ordered the plantation of six of the nine counties of Ulster.
Four times before, in the 1560s and 70s, Queen Elizabeth had given adventurers large tracts of Irish land on condition they settle them with civil English farmers. All three had failed in the face of fierce opposition from the natives, just as Sir Walter Raleigh (who had come to the Queen's attention by putting down an Irish rebellion in 1580) had failed to establish Roanoke Island in the New World.
This time the Ulster plantation was better organized. Those taking up estates (offered in three sizes, of 1,000, 1,500 and 2,000 acres) were required to live on the land and improve it with buildings and fences. Additional lands were set aside for churches, schools and villages; everything was properly surveyed and recorded. If a native pressed a prior claim to ownership, some treason was rooted out of recent history and another tract of land was confiscated. By 1610, half a million acres of land were made available to planters, who were sternly cautioned to avoid relationships with the natives. Hiring "mere Irish," as the Catholic residents were called, renting land to them and above all marrying them were strictly forbidden.
On Francis Bacon's recommendation, "to allure by all means fit undertakers," the king created a new order of baronet. Gentlemen who agreed to take up Ulster land, and who paid £1,000 into a fund for the support of troops in Ireland, were permitted to assume a dignity roughly on a par with a knight although a baronet remained a commoner.
The offers of Irish land and titles did not raise unqualified enthusiasm in England. Established gentlemen there were "a great deal more tenderly bred," recorded the Reverend Andrew Stewart at the time of the plantation, "and entertained in better quarters than they could find here in Ireland." Those who did leave the comforts of home and the intrigues of court for the hard and remote circumstances of Ireland often found the "marshiness and fogginess of this Island unwholesome to English bodies." Many, according to Stewart, died "of a flux, called here the country disease, at their first entry." But the perspective was quite different from the hardscrabble farms of lowland Scotland, whose tenants were also British subjects and eligible for the offer of free land. From the beginning of the plantation, more Scots than Englishmen moved into Ulster, where they presented the King with a new population that was fully as bull-headed as the old.
It was a community set apart not only by the circumstances of its origins and by surrounding events, but by hard-won and vigorously defended religious and political ideas. To a remarkable degree, in a world just emerging from feudalism, these people (who left feudalism behind when they left Scotland) had a sense of personal worth. Unlike the Irish Catholics, they bent their knee to no pope, bishop or priest. Their Presbyterian religion, founded in Scotland by John Knox in the mid-16th century, gave an unprecedented amount of authority to the ordinary members of the congregation. They elected their elders, including the minister, who together governed the church as a session. Lay elders served with ministers on the presbytery, the regional body that administered groups of churches and supervised the ordination and discipline of the ministers.
The Presbyterian church had taken the Reformation further than the Lutherans or the Anglicans in rejecting not only the authority of the pope and the supremacy of the mass, but the doctrinal authority of priests and bishops -- and virtually all forms of liturgy (they would not even bend their knee to God, but prayed standing). To prepare themselves for finding the meaning in the word of God and the life of Christ without the necessary interdiction of clergy, they placed great emphasis on universal education. Knowledge and free will notwithstanding, the individual was not free to act however he pleased; to maintain the strict morality of their lives in the absence of higher church authorities, they gave the congregation the authority to supervise in minute detail the affairs of its members.
This was an odd kind of freedom, to modern eyes. No one wandered about exercising free will at random, or learning alone whatever seemed interesting. That kind of independence was unthinkable, and would have been considered dangerous -- to the individual soul, to the community and to the very order of society -- had it been considered at all. This was a kind of corporate freedom, the right to march in lock step with one's right-thinking co-religionists and neighbors, knowing that at the slightest misstep one would be herded back into the group. Yet no distant king or bishop told this herd what to do, and that was a new and precious freedom indeed.
"We met every week," recalled the Presbyterian Reverend John Livingston of his work in Ulster after 1630, "and such as fell into notorious scandal we desired to come before us." Those who appeared, confessed and repented had their misdeeds recounted before the congregation; those who "would not be convinced to acknowledge their fault" were "debarred from the communion; which proved such a terror that we had very few of that sort." The zealousness of this oversight -- from the admonishment of scolds to the persecution of witches -- became characteristic of Puritanism.
Whatever the excesses and limitations of the sessions and presbyteries, the great underlying reality was that this religion was home-made; it was something for ordinary people to study, discuss and act out, individually and in community. It was in fact a new birth of freedom, and the Scots Presbyterians of Ulster found it a bracing tonic indeed.
Unlike the English Anglicans, the Scots gave no place to their church in the affairs of state, but held separate their sacred and secular institutions. As British subjects, they were nevertheless required to pay heavy tithes to the established Church of England, an additional tax on their livelihoods that acted as a constant gall. But while tithes could be collected, respect could not be forcibly imbued; the monarchy might well be the highest evolution of statehood, it might well be the instrument that lifted men from feudal servitude and constant tribal war, but kings were subject to the cool appraisal of any Scots Presbyterian. And resistance to the crown was required, in the words of John Calvin himself, "if we are inhumanly harassed by a cruel prince; if we are rapaciously plundered by an avaricious or luxurious one; if we are neglected by an indolent one; or if we are persecuted on account of piety by an impious and sacrilegious one."
Thus reverence for the English King and his divine rights was no part of this community's heritage. War with Britain had been a tradition of many generations in the Borders, the counties of Lowland Scotland from which most of the Scots settlers in Ulster had come. King James, a Scotsman himself, was able to suppress overt rebelliousness with years of hangings, drownings, brandings, whippings and banishments; but the hostility to the British crown simmered on.
Nor did the Lowlanders have any kind feelings for tribal clansmen, such as they had once feared in the Scots Highlands, and such as they now found in Ireland. From the beginning of their sojourn in Ulster, the settlers' principal enemies were wolves and wood-kernes, the latter being Irish fighting men who traditionally had claimed their food and shelter from the community as a right due their profession. Although most such swordsmen had been deported, small bands of them remained who, with the wolves, preyed constantly on the planters' cattle and possessions. Thus from the beginning the Presbyterians were preoccupied with defending themselves from the marauding of beast and barbarian.
The Scots -- proud of their own emergence from what they considered to be barbarism into religion, morality, discipline and learning -- reviled the people who remained in a state that seemed to them lawless (because the laws were different from their own) and without culture (because the traditions were alien to their own). These prickly, moralistic Christians had no compunctions whatever about hanging as malefactors or burning as witches any miscreants who belonged to a culture less advanced than their own. Nor did they see anything wrong with visiting on those of a lower station precisely those persecutions for which they despised the British.
The same King James who ordered the Plantation of Ulster had seen, when he had been king of Scotland, that the democratic and independent ideas of the Presbyterians posed a threat to the authority of the monarchy. He preferred the outcome of the Reformation in England, where a prince could still exert influence over the church by way of the bishops. With this in mind, he deftly maneuvered his own countrymen into accepting the idea of life terms for the moderators of their presbyteries.
British impositions on the Scots continued under King Charles, who was not as diplomatic as James had been, and who set off a firestorm when he dictated in 1637 that the Presbyterians would henceforward use the Anglican liturgy and prayer book. True to Calvin's advice, the Presbyterians resisted this "impious and sacrilegious" prince, joining English Puritans in a Solemn League and Covenant (for which they became known as "Covenanters") to maintain their religious independence and resist what they regarded as an attempt to revive Catholicism. Charles marched into Scotland at the head of an army to impose his will. It was a big mistake; the flinty Scots faced him down and made him sign a humiliating treaty that retracted his earlier demands.
Charles's treasury had no money left with which to support a distant war, and when the parliament refused to raise any more he dissolved it, and in 1640 he challenged the Scots anew. By way of response they marched across their border, occupied much of northern England, and demanded to be paid for their trouble while a peace treaty was devised. The much harassed Charles was forced to convene a new parliament in order to raise money; but the parliament he summoned turned out to be more interested in curtailing his powers and establishing a constitutional monarchy. Within two years their conflict would become a great civil war.
While confronting Scotland, Charles never stopped worrying about all those Scots in Ireland. In 1639 he had required every Presbyterian in Ulster to take what became known as the Black Oath -- to swear never to oppose the king's command or to make any contrary oaths or commitments. Agents of the crown expended a great deal of energy taking a census, sending commissioners to ceremoniously administer the oath, and keeping records of those sworn and not sworn.
Then the British administration set out to raise an army in Ireland. It intended to recruit only Protestants, but when King Charles let it be known that the army would be deployed to enforce his will in Scotland, his commanders decided it would not make much sense to rely on Ulster Scots. The only other fighting men to be found in sufficient numbers in Ireland were Irish Catholics, who were duly inducted. Then, after introducing them to and training them in organized military service, Charles abruptly changed his mind, disbanded the army and sent these newly dangerous men back to their homes.
In October of 1641, the native Irish, led no doubt by these recently trained soldiers, rose against their Protestant overlords and began a great slaughter in Ulster. Fighting at first directed primarily against the English spread across the island and soon involved the Scots as well. Something like 15,000 Protestants were killed, many of them tortured to death. The fighting went on for 11 years, a period of war and privation during which the potato became the staple food of Ireland, primarily because a potato crop could not easily be confiscated or destroyed by marauding troops.
Meanwhile, in August of 1642, the struggle between Charles I and parliament turned into civil war. Scotland's Covenanters fought at first on the side of the parliament, in the vain hope that in victory the Presbyterian church might become the established church of England. After two years of reverses, the parliamentarians, or Roundheads (a term of contempt referring to the short haircuts of some lowly apprentices who joined an early anti-royalist mob), began to prevail, especially after their victory at the battle of Naseby in 1645. While Roundhead generals such as Thomas, Lord Fairfax (who commanded the victorious troops at Naseby) and Oliver Cromwell steadily improved, King Charles was a chronic blunderer, and in 1646 got his army overwhelmed and himself taken prisoner.
But Charles escaped, somehow made a treaty with the Scots Covenanters, and led them into England and another defeat by Oliver Cromwell at Preston in 1648. This time the Roundheads took no chances with Charles and beheaded him, only to see his son continue the war with the help of the Covenanters -- who still hoped to establish their church in the place of the Anglican church -- and their brethren in Ireland. By 1651, resistance to the parliamentarians in England, Scotland and Ireland had been brutally put down by Oliver Cromwell. For Ireland, Cromwell's triumph meant more confiscation of land -- some six million acres handed over to Cromwell's troops, most of whom soon intermarried, converted, and became mere Irish.
After the death of Cromwell in 1658, a newly elected parliament invited Charles II to return from exile and remount the throne on condition that he ensured amnesty for his former enemies and toleration for all religions. The deal was consummated in 1660, but in less than a year Charles re-established the Anglican Church, restored the episcopacy, and declared illegal the Scots Covenants. For three decades the Covenanters of the Western Lowlands, unlike the majority of Scots Presbyterians, resisted fiercely, maintaining their religious freedom in the face of imprisonment, torture and massacre, three times rising in organized rebellion that was each time harshly put down by a king who had discovered at last how to apply military power. These decades were to be remembered as the "killing times." Their harshness, contrasted with the comparative religious freedom of nearby Ulster, prompted the migration of thousands more Scots to Ireland.
It was into these times that John Lewis was born, in County Donegal in 1678.
When King Charles died in 1685, his brother James ascended the throne, thus introducing another schism into the hopelessly tangled animosities of the British Isles. James was a convert to Roman Catholicism, who tried to establish religious freedom in the face of intractable resistance from parliament and the princes of the Church of England. When in 1688 James had a son who stood to succeed to the crown, the parliament deposed him and invited James's son-in-law, the Dutch Protestant William of Orange, to take the English throne.
James sought to reclaim his crown by way of Ireland. He gathered there in 1689 an army consisting of Irish Catholics and troops provided by the Catholic Louis XIV of France. The Ulster Scots stood firm for William of Orange and Mary, holding out at Enniskillen, in western Ulster, and through a 105-day siege of Londonderry in the north until William arrived in 1690 and crushed James at the Battle of the Boyne. Another million and a half acres of Irish land were confiscated and made available for planting. But William of Orange brought religious toleration, political union and economic prosperity to Scotland, and thus removed the causes of Scots migration to Ireland. A few years into the 18th century, the migration stopped.
As the 17th Century waned, the population of Ireland was estimated at just over one million, 70 per cent of whom were dispossessed Irish Catholics living in serf-like conditions and smoldering with rage. About 200,000 English Anglican overlords or civil servants were scattered across the country, living in baronial splendor. The Presbyterian Scots, about 150,000 strong, made a place between, most of them in Ulster. (In that province, the population of 1641 was estimated to be 100,000 Scots and 20,000 English). Among them lived other displaced people, including French Huguenots and English Puritans left over from Cromwell's armies, with whom the Scots not only lived but intermarried, something they only very rarely did with the Irish natives.
Mungo Campbell's father Hugh was of Scot descent, but John Lewis's father Andrew was not. There are two traditions in the John Lewis family, each based on the hazy recollections of his aged grandchildren; that the original Lewis in Ulster was a French Huguenot named Louis who had fled French repression; and that he was a Welsh Cromwellian soldier taking up land as a reward for his service. Whichever was the case, the Lewis family by the 1720s was fully assimilated in the Scots Presbyterian community that lived in Ulster and tried to avoid the constant plots, risings, alarms, repressions, riots and contentions that comprised the story of Ireland at the turning of the 18th century.
Values were changing in Ulster. At the close of the previous century land had been cheap and people scarce, especially in the aftermath of the 1688 revolution. Driven from Scotland by the Covenanter troubles and drawn to Ireland by good land and long leases -- typically of 31 years, or "a lifetime," in duration -- Scots had flocked to Ulster anew and had built up their leaseholds. By the time these leases began to expire, around 1720, there were other offers to consider. Native Irishmen got together and offered two or three times the rent that the landlord was getting; not that they were necessarily going to be able to pay it in the future, but they could make the offer. And the landlord, beguiled by the idea of ready cash, might convince himself that the Irish natives were as productive and industrious as the Scots, and set a new price for his land.
It was all too much. Repeatedly, the government of Britain had wrecked the Irish economy, by prohibiting the export of cattle, sheep and swine or their products; of woolen manufactures, of dyed linens -- virtually any product that became successful enough to compete in any way with any English interest. In 1704 the Test Act, directed against Roman Catholics, excluded Presbyterians, as well, from civil and military office, and imposed fines on any Presbyterian minister who dared to celebrate a marriage. Meanwhile the tithes to the Church of England continued to come due, and now came the droughts and the rack rents.
Not for the first time, and not for the last, the Scots refused to accept injustice. They would not make a foolish bid just to keep the land. In the face of the rack rents, in 1717, the first wave of Scots Presbyterians once again set their faces to westward, and sailed to a new land. Twelve years later, Robert Gambie wrote from Londonderry that "there is gone and to go this summer from this port 25 sail of ships, who carry each from 125 to 140 passengers to America; there are many more going from Belfast, and the ports near Colrain, besides great numbers from Dublin, Newly and around the coast. Where this will end God only knows."
That was the year that John Lewis and his family joined them.