Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Captain & the Irish

Pawtucketville Cmtry
(Photo from: FindAGrave)
The story could be taken directly out of today’s headlines.  A prominent citizen using racial slurs.  Strangers in a neighborhood being eyed suspiciously.  But the events of this story happened right here in 1822.
Captain John Ford was one of the most respected citizens living in this part of East Chelmsford.  (Lowell would not be named a town until 1826.)  He was a hero of the American Revolution having led the minutemen of Chelmsford back in 1775 and being present at the Battle of Bunker Hill.  He was a tall man, wiry, and always ready to work.  Following the war he bought a parcel of land down by the Pawtucket Falls and set up a saw mill with a house nearby.  He was known on occasion to wear his old army coat with large brass buttons.  Cpt. Ford was proud of his war record and probably sat with his friends at Moses Davis’ tavern (now called the Spaulding House) to swap stories .  He often told the story that upon arrival at the mill one day he saw an Indian who proceeded to attack the Captain with a knife.  Luckily he was wearing his coat with the large buttons which deflected the blows.  The Captain took a metal bar and struck the Indian dead who fell into the sluice way of the mill and down the river.
Was the Captain merely spinning a good yarn, or was he telling of actual events?  What does the story say about the good Captain?  The next event may tell us a little more about him.
The first of the Irish laborers arrived here in April of 1822.  They probably pitched their tents and set up their camps around the area of Tilden Street.  We’re told that citizens would watch each morning as the gangs picked up their picks and poles and marched down Merrimack Street making their way to Pawtucket Falls.   What was going on in the minds of the Yankees as they saw these strangers invade their new town?  Within months the numbers of Irish had swelled to hundreds. 
Things came to a head for Captain Ford in the Fall of 1822.  An early biographer wrote, “His patriotism was sadly shocked when hundreds of Irish were first brought here to dig our canals
Cpt. Ford's grave, Pawtucketville Cmtry
(Phot fr: FindAGrave)
.”  The hero of the American Revolution may have seen this as a foreign invasion.  The War against the British was still alive in the memories of much of the population.  The changes that were taking place did not fit with the Captain’s ideals of why he served.  ” On one occasion when he could not refrain from indulging in some angry, disparaging words in their hearing, they fell upon him and beat him severely and dangerously.”   According to his family the beating hastened his demise.  He lingered for two months, and he passed to his reward on November 6, 1822.  The services were widely attended with the old Chelmsford militia  accompanying him to his grave.  His remains are in the little cemetery on Mammoth Road within hearing distance of the falls where he spent much of his life.

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