The secret history of early Orangeism…


THIS MONTH in 1795 saw high tensions in Armagh and the event known in history as the Battle of the Diamond.

This skirmish has long-lasting impact on Irish history, not because of the outcome of the battle but of what came out of the event itself.

After the battle, local Protestants, who had been in the centre of a tense and volatile area where retaliations were the norm, decided to band together in mutual protection. But after the battle, what really happened next?

orange medal
An early Orange medal

Who was involved in the early Orange Order, what influenced the new organisation, and how, within a few short years, had its headquarters moved from James Sloan’s Inn at Loughgall to the metropolitan setting of Dublin?

The Battle of the Diamond, it is worth saying, did not occur in isolation. And the focus on the Orange story after the Diamond was not an accident of history or of random inspiration. To begin with, the Orange tradition had been a long-standing one in Irish Protestant society.  In the years after the Glorious Revolution, Protestants had celebrated the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne in July, or William III’s birthday in November. William had been seen as the deliverer of Protestantism and Protestants in Ireland and at the higher level of society banquets were held to mark these occasions. In Dublin an organisation called the Aldermen of Skinners Alley was comprised initially of Protestant alderman who had been thrown off the city corporation during the Jacobite Ascendancy, and had immediate reason to celebrate the legacy of William. At the other end of the social spectrum were the Boyne Societies, initially formed of men who had fought for William at the Boyne and elsewhere. We know little of the structure or activities of these societies but we do know that they were widespread and that after the Orange Institution was formed they continued to function, amalgamating in most if not all cases with the new structure.

A sense of the importance to the Protestant community of the Boyne societies is that they may have crossed the Atlantic with 18th century emigration movement. There is a long-standing historical tradition that Ulster Protestant emigrants in the Appalachians were called King Billy’s Men because of their adherence to the folk history of William of Orange. I found that this certainly pertained to a music tradition in the 1990s when I met a folksinger from Edneyville, North Carolina, called Robbie Gilbert. We were at a re-enactment weekend at the Elijah Clarke State Park in Lincolnton, Georgia, and discussion centred on the folk culture which emigrants might have taken with them. Robbie played a tune on his guitar which had come down the generations among the mountain people. He did not know what the tune was called or anything other than its basic provenance. He played Lillieburlero, the William march, the tune which was said to have chased James II from three kingdoms. But there was perhaps more than the music by way of historical legacy. During the Revolutionary War, General Cornwallis attempted to capture the south as part of a pincer against Washington in the north. But he stirred up a hornets nest in the Appalachian states. At Sycamore Shoal’s in Tennessee, the Over Mountain Men assembled to take on the British and Tory force moving north from Georgia. Rev. Samuel Doak, a Presbyterian minister from the Sixmilewater Valley in County Antrim, delivered a fiery sermon to the crowds that were gathered and there were rousing cheers at the instruction to go forward “by the sword of the lord and of Gideon”. These specifically chosen words and their connection to Orange Order ritual are either an outstanding coincidence or they hint at the deeper reason for the term King Billy’s Men from the Mountains.

Am Revolution
A marker in North Carolina highlights the route of the Over Mountain Men to battle in 1780; were they Orangemen in all but name?

If that is the case, there is a parallel with the formation of the Orange Institution just 15 years after the Ulster American victory at Kings Mountain in October 1780. The parallel is that in times of trouble, the Protestant community looked to a sense of security. The motto from the Revolution to ‘trust in God but keep your powder dry’ was highly apt.

There were at least two other groups who are important players on the stage of Irish history relating to the Orange tradition. One is, again, at the upper end of the social scale. The Masonic Order was widespread in Ireland and an extremely important fraternity with strongly ritualistic overtones. Interestingly it is in the Masonic Order that we find the strongest connections to the Orange Institution of the 1790s, both in terms of terminology and also in relation to the structure, ritual and symbolism of the new organisation formed in 1795. George Benn in his detailed History of Belfast from the 19th century mentions an Orange Lodge in the city in 1784, noting that the members processed through the city to publicly donate towards creation of a Market House in the city.  The significance of William III as a bringer of civil and religious liberty was an important factor in Masonic attachment, and the Masonic Order played an important role in the structure of Orangeism.

trowbridge ontario
Orangemen in Trowbridge, Ontario; the organisation quickly spread to Protestant settlements across the world, and with Protestant emigrants

The second grouping which was significant in terms of the development period of early Orangeism was the organisation known as the Peep o’ Day Boys. This was a group which was dedicated to depriving Catholics of weaponry, hence the title accorded to the fact that they raided homes at break of day. Most historians would detail the economic background to these raids and the fact that looms were often broken up suggests an ulterior reason for the activities. The discovery of what are believed to be temporary settlements of refugees from this ‘linen war’ in Galway recently lends credence to the displacement which occurred due to the activities of the Peep o’ Day Boys.[1] Historians disagree as to whether the Peep o’ Day Boys became the Orange Order or not. What we do know from contemporary documents is that some certainly made their way elsewhere; the diary of John Blair’s voyage from Larne to South Carolina in 1796, for example, notes the presence on the Sally of Savannah of both members of the Catholic Defenders and Protestant Peep o’ Day Boys; Blair tells us that the argument between the groups continued on the high seas, for around 6am on June 19, 1796, there was “a general scuffle between the parties we have on board, namely Defenders, or Roman Catholics, and Break of Day Boys, or Protestants. It was occasioned by the former accusing the latter of a murder committed in Ireland; they intend going to law as soon as we arrive in America.”

The Peep o’ Day Boys, whether some of them joined the Orange Order, certainly informed the progress of the new Order: most likely in the direction of ensuring that it was more controlled and structured.

The Peep o’ Day Boys were certainly what appears to have been a reason for the battle ground being determined for the Diamond outside Loughgall in September 1795. Armagh was a place of considerable tensions and often deadly attacks.  The rise of the Defenders is clearly charted through the 1790s and the most notorious, brutal and murderous attack was that at Forkhill on the schoolmaster Alexander Barclay, who opened his door at night on the voice of his neighbour Terence Byrne, to be violently assaulted, his tongue and fingers cut off, his wife similarly brutally assaulted and subsequently dying, and her 13 year-old brother also savagely attacked. This 1791 outrage resulted in one man being hanged. But while it was the most brutal it was not isolated.

Prior to the Diamond attack there had been many other incidents, including in June 1795 when two large bodies believed to be Peep o’ Day Boys and Defenders were prevented from attacking each other by a party of militia. During the summer there had been several small affrays in the vicinity of the Diamond crossroads and Defenders came from farther afield to join these.  In September 1795 explanations as to why the Defenders emerged at the Diamond include;

  1. As already related, the area had become a cockpit of intermittent conflict
  2. It has been suggested that it was believed by the Defenders that the Peep o’ Day Boys met at Dan Winter’s inn,
  3. and/or that Dan Winter was a member of the organisation.
  4. that the location was strategically important owing to its location and could have been a significant ‘bridgehead’ for the Defenders in continuing attrition, leading to the flight of Protestants from the area
Memorial at the Diamond in County Armagh commemorating the battle in September 1795

This makes rational sense of the assembly of Defenders to attack the Diamond in September 1795. Herewood Senior outlines that there was serious trouble in the Spring of 1795, when a Defender was beaten by Peep o’ Day Boys during a cock-fight at Dan Winter’s Inn at the Diamond, and that retaliations had continued in the interim, despite efforts by the authorities to curb them.  The Battle of the Diamond was therefore another aspect of ongoing troubles. We know that the Defenders came into the area from September 14 and that there were attacks on Protestants and their houses in the Tentaraghan area, with some Defenders houses then being attacked in retaliation.  On 18th September a gravel pit at Annaghmore was taken possession of by around 500 Defenders, while local Protestants, greatly alarmed, assembled on Cranagill Hill opposite.  One of the Defenders was killed that morning in a skirmish near Teaguy or Teague nearby.

Defenders from as far away as Monaghan, Lough and Tyrone, appear to have assembled on a hilltop overlooking the Diamond and this was soon responded to by Protestants assembling on the adjacent hill. The Diamond was a strategic area and consisted of around 14 cottages, four or five of which were inhabited by members of the Winter family. Despite efforts at negotiation by landlords and Roman Catholic clergy, which resulted in a short-lived truce, on September 21, 1795, the skirmish at the Diamond took place, with considerable loss to the Defenders. It has been suggested that almost 50 of them were killed and only one Protestant wounded.

And in the aftermath of the Battle, history tells us that the Orange Institution was formed.

The story as to how it was formed offers options;

  1. the Institution was formed in the back garden of Dan Winter’s cottage after the end of the battle
  2. The Institution was formed at James Sloan’s Inn in the aftermath of the Battle

On the face of it an incompatibility exists between the Order being formed in Winter’s garden and at Sloan’s public house.  Rev. John Brown suggests that

“It is very probable that a meeting of some kind was held at the Diamond on the day of the fight, and that a decision was taken to form an organised society to counteract the existing organisation of the Defenders…It is not so likely that what finally seems to have been a fairly elaborate ritual and secret system of signs and passwords was devised at such a meeting under such circumstances. A more accurate guess may be that this was done either that same evening, or very shortly afterwards, in James Sloan’s inn at Loughgall, according to a decision already made at the Diamond.”[2]

Brown makes the point that the Peep o’ Day Boys do not appear to have had any systematic method of recognition or assembling. Another possibility for the meeting at Winter’s (at a bush beside a spring well, we are told) could be that it involved existing Peep o’ Day Boys and that discussion was about a more structured approach suggested by someone such as James Wilson of the Dyan, who was present at the Diamond with his Orange Club members.

Brown may be accurate in what he suggests about the meeting in Dan Winter’s garden (his house was by that stage roofless after a concerted attack):

“May we suggest that, if any form of initiation took place that day at or near Dan Winter’s house, it was James Wilson and his men who admitted certain people, whom they thought they could trust, to the secret means of recognition belonging to their own society? These were already devised. The idea would have been to extend the existing organisation to cover County Armagh, and the meeting at James Sloan’s Inn in Loughgall on the same evening falls naturally enough into place. It would have been a meeting of those already initiated, for the purpose of initiating others and for making preliminary plans for the fuller extension of the society.”[3]

A weapon in the Orange museum in Loughgall, believed to have been used at the Battle of the Diamond

Wilson was the man who received the first Orange warrant from James Sloan, while the Diamond men received No. 118 eventually, suggesting some form of disagreement or schism initially. The first several warrants of the new organisation all went to Orange Clubs, including Derryscallop, Derryaughill and Knocknacloy, something which Rev. Brown did not see as a matter of chance as was suggested by R. M. Sibbett in 1939. The traditional story of how the first warrant was issued was now the men from the Diamond arrived at Sloan’s and sought it, but were sent out for paper and ink by Sloan, who was working in his garden. While they were away, Wilson arrived on the same mission and when told that ink was being sought, he is supposed to have broken a twig of hyssop from a tree in the garden and asked Sloan to write with it (possibly in Wilson’s blood). When this was done the Loughgall party was so upset they did not seek a warrant until 117 others had been issued. This story seems almost allegorical, especially considering that hyssop was symbolically a tree of eternal truth from Biblical times, so perhaps this reference was ritualistic and clear to the initiated. What the truth of the story, the first warrant went to the Orange Boys.

The Orange Club or Orange Boys of Dyan had been formed by James Wilson after an incident in Benburb in which Defenders had been abusive to local Protestants after a funeral and he had sought support from fellow members of the Masonic Order. It was St. John’s Day, June 24, 1794. Protestants who had gone to Benburb to defend their co-religionists had often ended up fighting each other, so Wilson’s motive appears to have been a uniform structure and response.  The Masonic Order members were reluctant to accede to his request and as a consequence he supposedly stormed from their meeting saying that he would light a star in Dyan that would eclipse them forever. He found a more ready response in men including Isaac Jeffs and bothers John and Abraham Dilly, who lived near Moy, and they devised a constitution, signs and passwords for the Orange Clubs. These Clubs would have provided a strength to the fledgling Orange body, to which was added a more detailed ritual. The fact that the first warrants went to them suggests a deal between Wilson and the others and Sloan.

An early Orange seal on a member’s certificate

Interestingly, the founders of the Orange Order were Freemasons; Wilson, Sloan and Winter were all members of the fraternity. Wilson was a member of Caledon Lodge No. 333, Sloan and the Winters members of Loughgall Lodge No. 603. Other Masons are recorded as having helped set down the ritual; Captain John Gifford is said to have helped devise the ritual and he was a Freemason and an officer of the Royal Dublin Militia. He is placed at Loughgall when the first meeting takes place. Another Freemason, John Templeton, is said to have helped introduce a higher degree at a meeting at which Dan Winter was present the following year, this being the Marksman or Plain Purple degree.

The prevalence of early degrees resulted in considerable debate within the early Orange movement. Aiken McClelland, Orange historian, notes that for the next 30 years the Orange Order, under the influence of brethren who were also members of the Knights of Malta, “formed the basis for an amazing number of degrees.”[6] The debate of degrees would lead to much discussion for a number of years and it is clear that the structure involved had borrowed from the Knights of Malta and Masonic Orders. Ironically, early Orangeism shared at least the influence of structural ancestry with the Defenders organisation;

 “Like the Defenders and nearly all contemporary fraternal societies, the new Orange Society took the Masonic Lodges as its model, and many early Orangemen were also Masons. Meetings and initiation ceremonies were held behind hedges and in ruined buildings, attended by armed members…”[7]

 As time went on, the system changed to ensure greater control; the introduction of the Purple or Marksman degree required members to swear not to initiate members into the Order ‘on roads or behind hedges’.[8] 

 This change happened quite quickly; within a year, it would seem. Another change which seems to have occurred quite rapidly also involved the leadership of the organisation. Some local gentry, such as the Blackers of Carrickblacker, William Brownlow of Lurgan, and the Verners of Churchill were involved with the early Order. Others were opposed but in the turbulent era of the 1790s it became clear that the existence of a body of men who foreswore loyalty to Crown and Constitution could be useful.  Thomas Knox MP of Dungannon was reflective;

“As to the Orange Men we have a rather difficult card to play, they must not either be entirely discountanced, on the contrary, we must, in a certain degree, uphold them, for, with all their licentiousness, on them we must rely for the preservation of our lives and properties, should critical times occur. We do not suffer them to parade, but at the same time, applaud them for their loyal professions. I hope I shall be able to manage it with our Tyrone people that they shall not be lost to the cause of their King and Country and at the same time, be kept within due bounds.”[9]

Orangemen were viewed with potential fear by the gentry, because they represented an independent and potentially volatile force in society. The much stated ethos of equality within the lodges, mentioned in subsequent generations, may not have been or be seen as such a virtue in Protestant Establishment Ireland, where the fabric of society seemed under considerable onslaught. Efforts were quickly made to ensure that the early Orange Order was controlled and channelled.

Orangemen were soon to be found in the ranks of the local yeomanry, and often whole lodges formed yeomanry units.  But that was not without concerns to the authorities: Thus, when two local Orange societies were encouraged to form yeomanry corps near Saintfield and Downpatrick in 1798, John Waring Maxwell, who entered into an arrangement with the societies, had to accept their electing their own leaders from the lodges as yeomanry officers. The fear of the authorities over loss of control was also revealed in a comment from Alexander Knox to Sir George Fitzgerald Hill in County Londonderry; “I hear of an Orange lodge in Derry. I trust you and your connection will keep clear…”

However, local gentry became increasingly involved in the organisation – historian Allan Blackstock suggests as a means of controlling the new combinations that were being formed among tenants.  The newly formed Orange Order, while professing loyalty, was a body which caused concern because it came from lower social roots; the founders of the Order included a Presbyterian farmer from Tyrone and an innkeeper from Armagh, for example, while many of the members were undoubtedly tenant farmers and labourers. Historians would see little coincidence in the fact that within three years of its foundation, the balance of power had been shifted from Sloan’s Inn at Loughgall to Dawson Street in the centre of Dublin.

By 1797 Thomas and David Verner had formed an Orange Lodge in Dublin, No. 176, which was to prove extremely influential, attracting some of the prominent of the Protestant nobility. A Grand Lodge was formed in Portadown in July 1797 but probably due to the influence of LOL 176 in attracting members of the nobility and gentry the Grand Lodge of Ireland was formed in April 1798 in or near Verner’s house at Dawson Street in the city. This signified a new chapter in the history of the development of Orangeism and to some extent the closing chapter of the early formative period. The founding fathers, Wilson, Sloan, Winter, all move off the centre stage and are replaced by others whose social standing is greater. Brown reminds us of this;

“On the occasion of a great Orange demonstration on the 12th of July, 1797, a Grand Lodge had been formed in Portadown. James Sloan, Dan Winter, James Wilson and their like retired from notice, and William Blacker, Thomas Verner, David Verner, and Thomas Seaver of Armagh, Dr. William Atkinson and William Hart of Antrim, and John Crossle of Tyrone, with Wolsey Atkinson as acting Grand Secretary, took over the direction of Orangeism.”[10]

Interesting questions remain and may never be fully answered. There were other organisations in existence prior to the Battle of the Diamond; the Orange Clubs, the Peep o’ Day Boys, Boyne Societies and others. The exact balance of their early involvement remains unclear. The influence of the Masonic Order in terms of the ritual, structure and influence of the early Orange Order also remains unquantifiable. There is debate as to the decision to form the new organisation and the issuing of the warrants is a grey area.  One thing is very clear, however, which is the potential of the new organisation to be more appealing, more structured and more durable than any of its predecessors.

The Battle of the Diamond was really only a skirmish in the context of numbers involved and fatalities. The ‘whinny hill’ where the men of Dyan are supposed to have taken their oath as Orange Boys was hardly an icon historical site. But those places are landmarks in the evolution and development of an organisation which would become an institution and would spread and be known in many parts of the English speaking world.

The motive was very clear in the Armagh of the 1790s: quite literal protection of Protestants and their property. The means was through establishment of a structured network of defensive bodies, to be known as lodges, and brought together under a centralised control. Some historians argue that this structure in itself was enough to counter the Defenders and prevent further outrages. And the opportunity was to a large extent the events of September 1795, because they focused in a very real way the dangers which had to be overcome – about which people were “encompassed” to quote Orange ritual. Opportunities also existed in terms of connections with the Orange Clubs and the Masonic structures which the founders were familiar with. Out of that was created a new structure with signs and passwords which were then much more than speculative, as lives could have depended on them.

It is generally accepted that the Orange Order was born following the Battle of the Diamond. But there are many intriguing questions surrounding those few days in September 1795 and what followed on from them. The subsequent history of Orangeism is well documented but perhaps that little less intriguing.

An old Orange certificate; the early structure, ritual and symbols of the organisation owed much to the Masonic Order and the chief founding fathers of the Institution were all Freemasons
[1] Archaeology Magazine, 2017; 220 Year old refugee camp found near Galway
[2] Rev. John Brown in Orangeism a new historical appreciation, Belfast, 1967
[3] Brown, op cit, p99
[4] Quoted in Sibbett, History of Orangeism in Ireland and throughout the Empire
[5] Sibbett, op cit, p290. Underline emphasis mine.
[6] Aiken McClelland, ‘The Origin of the Imperial Black Chapter of the British Commonwealth’, Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries in Ireland, 1968, Vol. 98
[7] Hereward Senior, The Early Orange Order, 1795-1870, in Williams, ed, Secret Societies in Ireland, Dublin, 1973
[8] Op cit, p39
[9] An Ascendancy Army. The Irish Yeomanry 1796 – 1834, Allan Blackstock, Four Courts Press, 1998
[10] Brown, p107

Tornados that carried away crops and damaged houses in bygone Ulster


WHILE summer sunshine may not have been with us to date for as long as we would like, the weather is still a far cry from the Carrick tornado of 1775.

The remarkable phenomenon occurred on September 2, 1775, when an ominous black cloud appeared above Divis Mountain in Belfast.

A short time later, it separated into two distinct parts, one moving on the northern side of the mountain and the one which was to cause severe damage locally coming down towards the Shankill district of the city.

The account is detailed by Samuel McSkimin in his history of Carrickfergus, published originally in 1811.

McSkimin highlights that the tornado carried up ten cocks or stooks of hay, resulted in terrified reapers fleeing from its path.

It then caused damage near Whitehouse and when it arrived at Carrick carried away hay and corn which had been cut in the fields “having twirled them in the air in a most singular manner.”

Several trees were uprooted near Woodburn Bridge, while at Windmill Hill on the outskirt of Carrick several people were physically lifted from the ground and ended up in a nearby ditch.

More corn and hay including several hayricks were carried away by the devastating whirlwind, but at Duff’s Hill the wind entered a house through an open door and knocked down the rear of the property, leaving only the front standing.

The tornado then moved across Kilroot and Broadisland with similar effect in the hay fields, but at Larne Lough it became even more dramatic; McSkimin says that “it lifted up the waters till they appeared like floating white clouds, and transported them to a considerable distance”

It also touched more landfall on part of Islandmagee, causing more damage, before it disappeared over the North Channel.

The land which the tornado travelled across was about half a mile in breadth, according to the historian’s estimate.

It was then succeeded in its wake by lightning, heavy peals of thunder and then rain or hail.

“The hail, or rather masses of ice, fell in a great variety of irregular shapes: several pieces measured upwards of six inches in circumference,” McSkimin related.

An account in the Belfast News Letter, meanwhile, reveals that there was a second tornado in Carrick in June 1834.

The report details that around 4pm “a cloud of singularly black and ominous appearance was seen floating towards the northern part of Kilroot, two miles from Carrickfergus. Presently a vivid flash of forked lightning was observed to issue from the cloud, and followed by deep roll of thunder, during which the cloud advanced with singular rapidity in the direction of a farm house,”

It detailed that two young persons became greatly alarmed by the thunder, which was followed by a loud whirring noise.

They ran away and tried to find some shelter in a nearby house, but were lifted by “a sudden jerk from the ground” and ended up over a hedge in the next field, thankfully unharmed.

But an unfortunate hen near them was taken up in the wind and thrown down some distance away dead.

The house was then struck by the wind, which, having damaged a fence at the front, carried the thatch from the roof and part of the scraws or sods underneath and, according to the newspaper report, carried them off like an enormous bale.

Inside the house, the wind broke Delph on a dresser and exited through the roof of the building.

Cattle in the fields also fled as the winds approached, but the incident was over in less than a minute, it seemed.

“On the 2d September, 1775, similar tornado passed over in nearly the same direction, and with nearly similar awful effect” the paper informed its readers.

Although tornadoes are regarded as unusual weather phenomenon, British has been hit on other occasions by them in the past; the most damaging were believed to be in England in 1810, while several people died when a tornado struck Chester and Barry in Wales in October 1913.

In December 1954 six tornadoes were confirmed over England on one day and in 2014 a tornado was also recorded in England.

Tornadoes usually occur in particularly violent thunderstorms.

Nothing quite as devastating as the 1775 and 1834 tornados have been recorded since, although in the summer of 1893, on a cloudless, warm sunny day a whirlwind was observed in the Ballycarry area, raising hay in a hayfield in a spiral column which was said to have extended upwards of 30 feet into the air


Ulster has unique place in American military history

GI arrival pic 1942

NORTHERN IRELAND has a unique place in American military history, the only part of the world where an American regiment has been formed on non-American soil.

The US Rangers was created in Carrickfergus in June 1942, just months after tens of thousands of General Infantry (GI) troops had arrived in Ulster as part of the Allied war effort.

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941 resulted in the US entering the war, and in January 1942 the first troopship arrived in Belfast.

On board was a young army captain named William Darby. Born at Fort Smith, Arkansas, Darby had been appointed to serve as aide-de-camp to Major General Russell P. Harte, commander of the 34th infantry.

The young army captain, like many thousands of other GIs, could trace his ancestry to Northern Ireland and also like many others was far too busy to look further into his family history.

He was disappointed at his posting as aide to Hartle, and voiced his feelings that he would rather have been assigned command of a combat unit than a staff post.

This situation would dramatically change when the opportunity arose to head up a new unit shortly after arriving in Ulster.

Initially, however, Darby’s personality was utilised as an ambassador in the community to which the Americans had arrived

Paul Jeffers, author of “Onward we charge, The heroic story of Darby’s Rangers in World War II” (2007) notes that “Because his temperament was deemed more congenial than Hartle’s gruff and often brusque bearing, he was given responsibility for engaging socially with the Irish, who suddenly found not only their community inundated with thousands of American soldiers but their quiet countryside, narrow lanes and scenic byways resounding to the rumbling and roar of military vehicles.”

National Geographic 1943 August

Wartime photograph of US soldiers in Ulster

Within a few months around 40,000 US troops had arrived, and a review of the forces led to a decision that commando training would be beneficial. Colonel Lucian K. Truscutt, tasked with considering the value of such training, suggested on May 26, 1942, a that a force of 400-500 men be raised from US troops in Ulster.

The Americans did not wish to use the term commando for their new unit out of deference to the British army.

And after consideration of what they should name the new force, the term Rangers was selected. It is not clear what exact deliberation took place, but the use of Rangers suggests a knowledge of the Scotch-Irish history on the American frontiers in colonial times.

An Ulsterman named Robert Rodgers, from Tyrone, had formed a militia which protected settlements against Indian attacks and the French. It was renowned for its ability to move swiftly and was known as Rodgers Rangers.

Hartle appears to have selected the name and it is likely that recent prominence in the public consciousness through Northwest Passage in 1937, written by novelist Kenneth Roberts, and the 1940 film of the same name starring Spencer Tracy and Robert Young had brought the legacy of the original Rangers to his attention.

Hartle had been given responsibility for forming the unit and selecting its commander, and in the course of discussion Darby was quick to volunteer.

Over a two-week period, 575 men were chosen from 2000 who had volunteered to serve.

The men were aged between 17 and 35 years and included Corporal James Haines of Kentucky, who had been a lion tamer in the Frank Buck Circus, and Samson P. Oneskunk, a Sioux Indian from South Dakota. Many of the men were from the Mid-West of America.

The Rangers volunteers boarded a convoy of trucks and headed off to training camp in Carrick, where the training was strenuous. In Carrick the early training highlighted that this was to be an elite unit; marching with their full pack and equipment, the Rangers covered five miles in an hour.

On June 19, 1942, the five companies of the Rangers were reviewed on a soccer field, the military band of the Signal Corps playing as Darby and British General Robert Laycock being present. Laycock was to take charge of the Rangers training in Scotland.

The Rangers sailed from Larne to Scotland, then were to travel by train to the Highlands. Arriving at Fort William, they were met by a Cameron Highlander band and made their way to Achnacarry Castle. Situated 18 miles from Ben Nevis, the castle had been loaned to the government for the duration of the war, and the area was ideal for training and honing the speed marches which had been started in Carrickfergus.

The training was more intensive and everyone was treated equally, as Darby expected his officers to be at the front of the line in any training.

There was one fatality in the Highlands, when a Ranger drowned during training. The men were also expected to operate under live fire, their ‘opponents’ deliberately firing over their heads.

It was in the Highlands that the Rangers recorded an impressive 87 minutes to cover 10 miles on one of their speed marches, and this swiftness was later be demonstrated in North Africa during their first operation, the men marching overnight and digging in prior to a surprise attack on Italian positions.

A second phase of training would take place in the highlands and islands of Argyll, which was ideal for mock beach landings and which included a three day exercise involving a raid on Tobermory and Mull.

The landscape changed for the troops when they were moved to Dundee for more training and were taken into the homes of local people, often arriving for their training each morning with their ‘piece’ or lunch provided for them.

The Rangers were then attached to the 1st Infantry Division – known as the ‘Big Red One’ – in Glasgow and were to undergo landing training in the Firth of Forth.

At Gourock, they embarked on three ferries which had been converted as landing ships for the Rangers.

Appropriately, these highlighted the two parts of the UK with which they were now intimately associated; the vessels were the Ulster Monarch, Royal Ulsterman and Royal Scotsman.

They were bound as part of a massive convoy for the Mediterranean and a major assault on North Africa. Ships from the US, Northern Ireland and England were involved in this great convoy, which arrived off Gibraltar on November 5, 1942.

The Rangers objective was Arzew in Algers. The landing at Arzew was highly successful, with few losses or injuries, although there had been a mishap when one of the landing craft tipped a platoon into the sea as they were lowered down from the ship; thankfully, no one had been injured, but equipment was lost and war photographer Phil Stern was distraught about the loss of film.

Darby was for a time military mayor of Arzew, working with the civilian mayor of the town. Charactistically he became bored, as did his men. Further action lay ahead in Tunisia and elsewhere, however, while new Rangers battalions were being raised, the 2nd battalion in Tennessee was preparing to enter the European Theatre of War.

For the 1st and 3rd battalions with their colonel Robert Darby, Operation Torch would take them from North Africa to Sicily and then to the Italian mainland.

Fighting proved intense on the mainland and the Rangers suffered disastrous losses at Cisterna with high casualty rates.

The outcome of the overall war was however becoming clearer and would continue to be so after the Normandy Landings, in which other Rangers battalions were involved.

Darby was sent back to the United States for a time but then returned to Italy, which was to be where he would meet his death after a stray German shell exploded nearby. Darby and other officers had been monitoring the German flight from the area, when the shell was fired back into the town.

Fatally wounded, his death brought to an end an extraordinary personal chapter, and a chapter in the story of the elite regiment.

At home in Fort Smith, Arkansas, Darby is remembered through a museum which used to be his family home, a local school named in his honour and a special day in his honour in Arkansas generally.

When new Rangers train they learn about Carrickfergus as the birthplace of the US Ranger and Colonel William Darby, ‘El Darbo’, a man whose promotion from captain to colonel had been rapid and dramatic within a short space of time.

The US Rangers museum in Carrickfergus, which is located at the Andrew Jackson Centre, is a reminder of the outstanding personal story of William Darby and the outstanding military achievements of his beloved Rangers. And also of the strategic importance of Ulster during the Second World War.


Colonel William Darby, leader of the Rangers


Neglecting our history leads to a dangerous place for everyone

ballyclare mural carsonA RECENT wall mural in County Antrim has spoken volumes about our community’s understanding of history.

 The mural, featuring Sir Edward Carson, uses three words to describe the most prominent leader of unionism.

 The words are “Politician”, “Barrister” and “Ulsterman”.

For those of a certain age range, the song title by Meatloaf is appropriate: “Two out of three ain’t bad”.

Because the last designation of Carson as an Ulsterman is decidedly not correct.

Sir Edward Carson was born in Dublin. When he first came north to Ulster his thick Dublin brogue was noticeable and initially is said to have caused some suspicion.

He would have described himself as an Irishman first and foremost. He saw the strength of Ulster Unionism in preventing Home Rule for Ireland as a whole. It is fair to say he emerged disillusioned after the outcome of the Fourth Home Rule Bill – the Government of Ireland (1920) Act – paved the way for partition of Ireland.

The nuances of those positions and outlooks are lost for generations of Ulstermen and women who know little and understand less of the complexities of their own history.

It is not surprising that a mistake like that on the mural should crop up.

And it is not solely the fault of the mural painter. It is symptomatic of a community which is dangerously ignorant of its history.

This is not a recent phenomenon.

Education underachievement in Protestant working class communities has been recognised and documented for years.

Protestant adults often lament that they learned more about the Tudors than they did about their own history.

In maintained schools there is a focus and discussion on Irish history which is largely missing in the state sector.

The roots of this situation may well lie in the educational system which was established when Northern Ireland was created, and the Orange Institution has to bear some of the responsibility for what transpired.

Lord Londonderry, as education minister, proposed that the education system should be a unified one. This suggestion had two main opponents, the Roman Catholic Church and the Orange Order.

Together they ensured that there would be a separate education system. One wanted to ensure that they continued to control their own schools. The other did not want everyone to be educated together.

In the tense period of the 1920s this can perhaps be understood.

But the outcome was that children from Protestant backgrounds were taught more about English history than who they were and what traditions they belonged to. As the state system developed it followed a path which increasingly ensured that Irish history was not a priority. Maybe it was all about trying to appear more British than anyone else. If so, maybe they won the battle. But the war has, it is fair to say, now come close to being lost.

It is very clear that a crisis point is being reached in the state sector. Lack of knowledge about the past is undermining any sense of confidence within what we might describe as the Protestant, Unionist and Loyalist community.

This is combined with a disengagement of young people from the political system, a fall in church attendance among the young and, indeed, factors such as the age profile of the Orange Institution. The old certainties on which unionism had its building blocks, are shrinking.

Sadly, there are still probably some people who don’t get it: who do not understand that without a sense of the past, people are not confident in their present and unsure of what their future is all about.

While it may be fantastic that such large numbers turn out on the Twelfth, this one day a year phenomenon means very little, as republicans fully realise. What really matters is the cultural struggle which is taking place on all the other days of the year.

In a study on history, identity and the school curriculum in Northern Ireland (2005), authors K C Baron and A W McCully argue that perceptions need to be challenged in relation to history in schools: “…in order to address history’s role in ongoing community conflict, educators may need to challenge more directly the beliefs and assumptions held by students of varied backgrounds, as well as provide a clearer alternative to the partisan histories encountered elsewhere.”

The Key Stage Three curriculum in Northern Ireland pronounces that history develops pupils as individuals by “helping pupils to understand the past so that they can begin to make sense of the world they live in today and learn to investigate where the present values and attitudes come from.”

The situation appears to be, however, that teaching of history is limited in the context of the chronological history of Ireland and post-partition Northern Ireland.

Similarly time spent on focusing on identity is very much dependant on the individual school and teachers. Some are very good. Others avoid any issues which might cause debate on cultural identity.

Often unionist identity is not acknowledged in any meaningful way, nor any effort made to understand the historical perspective. Instead, aspects such as the Troubles are studied by older pupils without context of the centuries of history which shaped them.

While some politicians might feel ‘the hand of history on their shoulders’, no one seemed to want to open the classroom door and have the lessons of the past examined.

The unionist community has, as a consequence, been let down by the system, including, it should be said, their own representatives in that system.

Perhaps where things started to go wrong in the 1920s was not the insistence by the Orange Order and others of a separate schools system based on religion, but on the lack of insistence of a common history curriculum for all schools which would examine the same history.

In Ulster schools today a shared history curriculum which would focus on the history that has shaped us would be beneficial; it would counter ‘community history’ of the street, which can be imbalanced and inaccurate and it would challenge perceptions. It also has the potential to build confidence.

Sadly for many in the unionist community there is no strategic sense of how important that issue is. Middle class unionist children will continue to do well at Grammar schools and then many will make the journey to English or Scottish universities. The majority will not return. They will get jobs and marry.

But there will often be a different story in Protestant working class communities. Universities will not be queuing up to offer places to those who are underachieving. Already lacking in confidence, they will then face the relentless diet of nationalist perceptions of who they are and how they are a collective negative in society.

History has many nuances. Some unionists find it hard to understand, for example, that Presbyterians from Ulster played such a role in the War of Independence in America. One person told me how they were ‘traitors who should have been hanged’ – using a modern perspective which casually ignores the complexity of history. In a country which provided 17 of the Presidents of the United States, such a view is a bit skewed, to be more than kind.

The reason people do not understand the complexity of history in this part of the world is that most of them never appear to have heard it mentioned in the classroom.

The end result is that within the state system and the unionist community, the major manifestations of history have been around the Twelfth, and these have not even been fully understood or articulately explained in most cases.

The end result of all of this is the sort of mural which appeared in Ballyclare recently. A small mistake perhaps in defining Carson as an Ulsterman. But like the iceberg, only the tip of a much deeper and wider problem. And a problem which no one seems to want to address.

This article originally appeared in the Orange Standard newspaper

Forgotten threads of a family tapestry woven together over a century later…

THREADS of an amazing family story have come together thanks to a combination of anecdote, artefact and the internet.

Our family has long known that we have distant relatives somewhere across the Atlantic. My grandmother once lived in South America and her sister married and settled there.

However, the family connection was lost around the time of

Agnes Craig of Ballyboley, County Antrim, in Argentina; the mystery photograph spurred a successful search for lost family connections

the First World War, and no documentation existed to identify the surname which Ellen Craig had assumed through her marriage. For a long time we thought she had gone to Canada.

However one of the family members, Richard Wallace, a retired school vice principal, has found the time in recent years to try and track down the missing family. In this week’s edition of the Larne Times I tell the story of Richard and the amazing results of the family quest.

For through the agency of the internet and, we now have established connection with the family again – after finding them in Argentina. The internet also highlighted another link to Canada, where my grandmother’s brother Alexander Craig, died in a mining accident in Alberta in 1907.

The artefacts which we had included a fading photograph from the early 20th century of Agnes Craig, my grandmother, in Argentina. There are also two large chests with her initials in an attic, reminder of her journey out to Buenos Aires and then return back in 1909 to County Antrim.

The amazing story of lost family connections started for Isobel and Richard Wallace when they were going through old family photographs.

One, which Isobel’s late mother had told her was her grandmother, Agnes Craig of Ballyboley, particularly intrigued. On the back of the mount was elaborate printing from the photographer, who was in Florida, Buenos Aires.

Agnes Craig_Buenos Aires picture_Fixed
The reverse of the photograph showing it was taken in Buenos Aires

Richard was taking a family history class some time later and began to piece together his wife’s family as a part of illustrating how the internet could help to track down information.

Some details about the family were known, including how another of the Craigs – Alexander – died in the mining accident in Edmonton, Alberta, in 1907. Richard was able to access information on this accident on the internet.

And through work on the church registers at Ballyeaston, he was also able to detail the members of the Craig family.

This resulted in the pieces of the jigsaw coming together in relation to the South American connection. Agnes Craig’s sister Ellen had been the first to make her way to Argentina, along with another local woman named Mary J. McKinty. Richard was able to find online the ship’s list which showed that Ellen sailed from Newport in Wales on the ship Iberia in January 1899.

“I was looking for Agnes Craig in the search but an Ellen Craig came up. It was by sheer chance. She had sailed from Newport in Wales and her voyage took 50 days. There was no occupation listed for her but later we found out she had gone out to be a governess in Buenos Aires. While she was at the ranch she met John Lacy Clark, an American from Kentucky, who was visiting his godparents and learning the Spanish language. They were married and it seems that her sister Agnes and brother Thomas went to Argentina for the wedding,” Richard explained.

But it was through that the mystery of the missing family was finally revealed. The Ballynure couple, having identified that Ellen had got married in October 1902 John Lacy Clark, then found details of the American posted on the family history site.

The story that emerged was that in 1902 Agnes Craig and her brother Thomas had gone to Argentina to live with their sister. The photograph which Isobel Wallace had of Agnes had been taken at that time.

Agnes decided not to stay in South America, however, and came home in 1909, while her brother Thomas remained in Argentina until 1914.

When she returned home she married my grandfather, Ballycarry farmer and local poet William James Hume, and settled down on the outskirts of the village. She died in childbirth when she was 46, leaving six children, the eldest of them 15 years of age.

Her brother Thomas came back from Argentina in 1914 on a ship to Liverpool and, along with other ex-patriots joined up. He served with the Scots Guards and was to be killed in France in 1916.

Thomas Craig in front of the first house
Thomas Craig of Ballyboley pictured on his sister’s ranch in Argentina; he later enlisted and was killed in the First World War. The photograph came from the family in Argentina.

Ellen Craig sadly died young too, of consumption at the age of 40, leaving five children, the youngest 12 years of age. Her husband remarried and had a second family.

Once contact had been established with the Argentinian family, Richard says he was able to find out many more details about the Craigs including photographs taken on the ranch, and in turn they received details from Northern Ireland with great interest.

The Argentinian family had memories of their Uncle Thomas, who was killed in the First World War, but not of Agnes, probably because she left earlier.

All five of the children of William John Craig and Isabella Houston of Ballyboley crossed the Atlantic for new lives.

Richard believes that the death of William John Craig at the age of just 28 was the catalyst for this. His widow remarried, which resulted in her giving up the rights to the family farm, but her new husband Hugh Smyth of Larne died within a few years, leaving her with two more children.

The children of William John Craig were to receive monies from the Will when they reached the age of 21, and it is after this time that the Craig family starts to emigrate, leading Richard and Isobel to believe they had enough money to think of starting a new life elsewhere, perhaps through the sale of the family farm, managed by their uncle who was a local schoolmaster.

Isobel said “I grew up with mummy saying that the photograph was taken of her mummy in Argentina and that she went out to help her sister, but she never knew how long her mother was there,”

“My mother left her own home at Ballycarry when she was a young girl to work in Belfast and she never came back to live there, so she would have missed out on any information which may have been discussed at home,” she added.

Her mother, Iza Campbell died in January 2016 in her 103rd year, the last surviving child of Agnes and William Hume of Ballycarry.

Another of the Craig family – Sarah – married James Alexander Huxley of Larne and the couple and their son Thomas Hanna Craig Huxley made a new life in Edmonton, Alberta. But Sarah died at the age of 30 in 1913 and her husband enlisted with the Canadian Expeditionary Force and was killed in France; his name is on Larne War Memorial.

James Alexander Huxley, one of many Ulstermen who served and were killed in the Canadian forces in the First World War

Educational underachievement in Northern Ireland has to be addressed…

“Our ones leave and don’t look back.”

These are the words of a woman from Rathcoole in North Belfast cited in Susan McKay’s incisive study ‘Northern Protestants. An unsettled people’ (Blackstaff, 2007).

It is an interesting comment and it seems to bear sociological sense. I have seen it happen myself and it is much more a Protestant preserve than something which is shared in the whole community here.

The Roman Catholic community is more cohesive and also, from a Protestant perspective at any rate, more focused on moving together. I have had the privilege to be welcomed into maintained schools in the past and it has been very obvious that there is a strong sense of pastoral care and community connection.

I watched a nature programme some time ago which showed how migrating ants in the Amazon basin managed to move downstream by forming an impressively unified body which slipped into the river and was carried on the tide.

If Catholics were ants, they would be soldier ants like that, all moving forward together and making sure their leaders remained dry on top of the structure they created.

In all honesty, if Protestants were in the same position, they would be more likely to float off in different directions, debating as they went.

It is wrong, all too easy to generalise. But the bottom line is that when Protestants move up the social ladder they tend to not look back.

The women from Rathcoole said she sometimes bumped into people who had used to live in the sprawling working-class estate. But when she spoke to them, they denied ever living there. She must, they told her, have been mistaken.

In a way this whole outlook probably has some root in the legacy of the Protestant Reformation traditions of open thought and the ability to be individualistic in our outlooks. Go to the Bible Belt of the United States and you are amazed at the number of Protestant churches which abound. At a religious level this is all probably very healthy, showing that different interpretations of the Bible are part of the fabric and psyche of the Reformation of Luther, Calvin, Knox and the other leading lights of Protestant tradition.

But there is at least one area where it is not helpful and not healthy.

Unionists once proudly boasted that Northern Ireland had the best education system in the United Kingdom. The grades were so good that we were outshining students elsewhere. However, the reality is somewhat different now.


Educational underachievement in working class communities in Belfast and elsewhere is an issue that needs addressed

It has been recognised for several years that there is problem in the working-class Protestant community and that under-achievement, particularly among boys, is a major issue.

Of course, if you are middle-class and your children are being educated at grammar school, there is no cause (on the face of it) for alarm. Perhaps this is why the Grammar system is defended so robustly by some. But if you are working-class and your child has not got to Grammar School, then there is a different reality.

It is not unique to Northern Ireland. Sean Moncrieff in “The Irish Paradox. How and what we are such a contradictory people” (Dublin, 2015) notes the same educational disconnect in the Republic, again class-based: an Irish Times study in 2010 found that at secondary schools in Cabra, Ballymunn, Finglas and Blanchardstown between 11% and 14% of students went on to third level education. For schools on the more affluent south side of the city the figure was 100%.

This has other implications says Moncrieff; “If you’re born into a middle class home, you’re far more likely to end up doing a middle-class job”. That has implications for your life experience and that of your family.


Students waiting for graduation; studies showed that middle-class students in Dublin were more likely to go on to third level education

This is where the Catholic community in Ulster has had an edge, a principal from the maintained sector once told me. He said that in the 1960s Catholics learned that the only way to get out of poverty was through education. The thirst to advance has served that community well.

No doubt, it was a cohesive approach and no doubt it was assisted at all levels of influence, from the home, the church and the wider community.

Ironically, this used to be the world view of Ulster Protestants too. Whenever they arrived in America in numbers and settled on the frontiers, the first buildings to be erected included a school.

The problem in Protestant communities appears to be that, for many in working-class areas, there is an unfortunate disconnect from the sense of the value of education, and that for the community generally there is a disconnect between those who are middle-class and those who are not.

It might seem not to be an issue when viewed from the leafy suburbs or the ninth green.

But a community with no prospects and no sense of value is a community which will be troubled for years to come. Choosing to ignore that will not ultimately be the option it has been up to now. A survey of the young flag protesters from North Belfast threw up an interesting comment from one: ‘they’re taken our flag and we have nothing left’ he said. He saw no prospects and the only constant seemed to have been removed from his perspective.

As a society, whatever our differences, we really should be offering more than that by way of hope for the future.

The President, God, the Bible and Ballycarry…

THOMAS Jefferson was a highly intellectual figure and is regarded as a towering intellect and probably the greatest President the United States has ever had.

President Jefferson was master of many disciplines, which ranged from surveying and mathematics to horticulture, architecture and mechanics. His keen interest in religion and philosophy earned him the presidency of the American Philosophical Society.  Well versed in linguistics, he spoke several languages. He also founded the University of Virginia after retiring from public office and among those who physically worked on this project was an Ulster exile named John Neilson from Ballycarry in County Antrim.

Thomas Jefferson

Jefferson shunned organized religion, but was influenced by both Christianity and deism. He was also responsible for what is known as the Jefferson Bible, an extraction from the Bible of the sayings and works of Christ, which he believed to be the essence of Christianity.

Jefferson discarded everything else. Like many he doubtless pondered on apparent contradictions in the text of the Bible. He lived in an age when old certainties were being questioned and this applied to understanding of religion.

The issue of whether the Bible should be viewed allegorically at some points has exercised many minds over the centuries. On one hand are those who believe that what is now in print is entirely literal and infallible. On the other are those who see allegorical aspects which were meant to be illustrative but not taken literally.

Different people have their own paths to understanding. That’s why Jefferson did not form a church or intend his Bible to be in some public contest for truth.

Jefferson believed that Christ was the centre of belief and he noted that the Jewish belief system was Deism, belief in one only God. Most commentators would see this as a considerable influence on his views. Hence the Jefferson Bible is a much shorter book and only employs the actual verses of the Bible which mention Jesus and excludes any supernatural accounts.

The proper title for what is known as ‘the Jefferson Bible’ was ‘The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth’. Jefferson’s effort could be titled as literally ‘Christ Centred’ although evangelical churches would probably not appreciate that view of the work.

In the mix of the President’s views, there is also the Masonic Order and its universality in terms of belief and outlook, highlighted perhaps best by Robert Burns’ poem A Man’s a Man for a’ that:

“That man to man, the world o’er
Shall brithers be for a’ that”

Whether Jefferson was a Freemason is still debated by historians. But many of his circle – and other Presidents – were.

Andrew Jackson, Andrew Johnston, James Knox Polk, James Buchanan and Warren Harding are among the Scotch-Irish Masons who were President. The first of them, Andrew Jackson, was Grand Master of the Tennessee Freemasons in 1822-23, and another Andrew Johnston was photographed in his Masonic regalia.

Although Jefferson may not have been a member of the Masonic fraternity, he clearly shared much outlook and ethos with Freemasonry. He was a product of and influenced by the European Enlightenment whose ideas had found a ready home among the universality of Masonry.

The same ethos and influences had been prevalent in 18th century Ulster. In the 1790s the ideas of the Enlightenment were finding favour among thinkers and debaters within the Presbyterian community. Some took the ideas further, forming and joining the United Irishmen, who eventually rebelled in an attempt at establishing their own government.

There would seem to be a relationship between Presbyterian United Irishmen and Freemasonry. The two most senior leaders of the United Army of Ulster to be executed after the failure of the Rising were both Masons; Henry Joy McCracken and Henry Monroe. William Orr, the martyred hero of the United Men in 1797, was waked after his death by the Masons of the village of Ballynure and a Masonic salute was said to have been given at his grave by a military officer.

Ballycarry is a few miles east of Ballynure, and one of those who survived the Rising there was the poet James Orr, one of the founders of a Masonic Lodge in the village in the early 19th century, although it is not clear whether he was a Mason in 1798.

The gravestone of John Neilson in Virginia. Neilson’s brother was hanged for his part in the 1798 Rebellion in Ireland, John was a political exile in Virginia

Another survivor of the Rising was John Neilson, whose 16 year old brother William was hanged for his small part in the 1798 Rising locally. John was exiled to the West Indies but the ship he was on was captured by the French and he was released. He ended up in Virginia.


We do not know whether John Neilson of Ballycarry was a Freemason, but we do know that he was one of a small group of 1798 exiles around President Thomas Jefferson and that he was personal architect to the President (which might well indicate, at that time, that he was indeed a member of the Freemasons). It is very likely that the pair shared similar outlook and views. It would be interesting to be able to step back and peruse the library of Neilson and view what political, philosophical and religious texts might have been on the shelves in the 1820s.

Monticello, Jefferson’s house in Virginia; John Neilson was his architect

It would also have been interesting to overhear any conversations on such weighty issues as religion and politics between the two men.


One thing we can be sure amidst all the mystery is that Jefferson’s religious philosophy was really quite simple.

John Neilson may not entirely have subscribed to Jefferson’s religion views, for the President did not believe in the divinity of Christ. He was convinced, however, that the teachings of Jesus constituted the “outlines of a system of the most sublime morality which has ever fallen from the lips of man.”  He did acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being (the Great Architect of Masonry…) but questioned the concept of the Trinity of orthodox Christianity.

“To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the general precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian in the only sense in which he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence, and believing he never claimed any other,” Jefferson wrote to his daughter in 1803 enclosing the text which has become referred to as The Jefferson Bible.

I like that Jefferson never clearly accepted anything at face value. He seems to have been on a life-long quest for knowledge, information and answers.

In respect of God, he advised his nephew Peter Carr in 1787: “Question with boldness even the existence of a god; because, if there be one, he must more approve the homage of reason, than that of blindfolded fear”.