-By Ed Callahan
Charlestown Historical Society
On March 9, 1864, the steamship “Nova Scotian” of the Canadian owned Allen Steamship Line docked in the harbor at Portland, Maine. On board this particular vessel were 102 young men from Dublin who had been induced to emigrate to the United States with a promise of free passage, immediate employment upon arrival and a free suit of clothes. Shortly after docking, the 102 Dubliners were boarded on a train bound for Somerville and then marched over to Charlestown. What followed was one of the more outrageous and bizarre episodes in the long history of Charlestown’s Irish community. An individual identified as P.H. Finney was the “emigration agent” who convinced the young men to emigrate to Boston from Dublin. The “Nova Scotian” sailed from Liverpool on February 27, 1864.
Once in Charlestown, the men were sent to a warehouse owned by Charlestown oil dealer Jerome G. Kidder. Kidder’s building was located on Bunker Hill St. and was not outfitted to house 102 young men. Upon arrival, the men were provided crackers, cheese and beer and were required to sleep on the warehouse floor all the while believing that they were shortly to commence work on the railroads. The next morning, which was a Thursday, the men were not provided breakfast-but as the Boston Pilot later reported, whiskey “by the bucket full”. More than a few of them drank to excess.
After the whiskey was consumed, Mr. Kidder addressed the men. He informed them that their arrival had caught him off guard and that there was unfortunately no employment to be had. He then recommended that the men enlist in the 28th Massachusetts Irish Regiment. Those sober enough to understand the situation later testified that police officers barred the exits to the warehouse and that “enlistment agents” roamed among the men attempting to enlist them. Several of the Dubliners immediately realized that they had been duped into emigrating and that Finney and Kidder had been working in tandem to secure their enlistment and earn a considerable bounty for each of the men who actually enlisted. The Pilot later estimated that Finney and Kidder could have earned up to $62,500 if all of the men had taken the plunge.
By Thursday word had spread throughout Charlestown and in particular the “Point” neighborhood that something strange was taking place in Kidder’s warehouse. The Boston Pilot dispatched a reporter to the scene and Charles Sweeney, a Charlestown resident, lawyer and Clerk of the Charlestown Police Court visited the warehouse and confronted Kidder and accused him of trapping the Dubliners for profit. Kidder profusely denied the accusation and then ordered the Irishmen out of his warehouse. Confused, hungry, exhausted and suffering from the effects of overindulgence of whiskey, the Dubliners were in a difficult situation.
It was then that the Irish residents of Charlestown sprang into action. The Pilot reported that the men would have been “starved into enlistment had not the benevolent hearts of the Irish women of the neighborhood not provided them with food.” The Pilot reported that Charlestown resident Captain John Warren took control of the situation. John Warren was one of Charlestown’s most prominent Irishmen and a resident of Bunker Hill St. He was born in Clonakilty, County Cork and later enlisted in the 63rd New York Volunteer Regiment where he achieved the rank of Captain. After his period of service expired, Warren became a leading figure in the Fenian Brotherhood, serving as the “State Center” for the Massachusetts branch. Warren asked his Irish neighbors to house the Dubliners and many of them readily complied. The Pilot reported:
“The men were turned out and would have remained without food or shelter, but for the energetic movements of Captain John Warren of Bunker Hill St., who aided by the warm sympathies and ready hospitality of the Irish families in the neighborhood succeeded in billeting them out-a few here and a few there-for the night. Mr. L.R. Bingham, also was generous in hospitality providing many of the men with food. On Friday morning, the intelligence of the condition of these men and the manner in which they had been entrapped was circulated in Boston and Charlestown, and caused much excitement was aroused in consequence to it”.
The Pilot further reported that; “The poor fellows were filled with gratitude for the kindness and cheering hospitality they had received from their country women”. The Pilot, known as the “Irishmen’s Bible” pursued this story thoroughly, learning that Finney and Kidder planned to bring over as many as 1,000 Irishmen and that the plot had been discovered in England and in violation of international law. The Pilot reporter actually discovered a story in a Dublin newspaper announcing that Finney had sent more than 100 young Dubliners to work on the United States railroads, with free passage part of the bargain.
The editors of the Pilot published the following statement on March 19, 1864:
“We rejoice that this iniquitous scheme of buying and selling young Irishmen, enticing them away from home under false pretenses, and then disposing of them at a profit in the military service against their will-only forced to such an alternative by their necessities-has been nipped in the bud. We trust and believe that the disclosure will be effectual in breaking up this nefarious business”.
A group of prominent Irishmen setup a committee to investigate the entire affair. The Committee was chaired by Charles Donnelly, Esq. and its members included Eneas Smyth, Dr. Patrick Morris, James Dowling, Edward Ryan, Martin Lynch, John Horan, and Michael McCarffrey. They interviewed many of the Dubliners along with Finney and Kidder. Jerome G. Kidder denied emphatically that he was involved in any emigration scheme for profit and the Pilot ridiculed him unmercifully. In the committee’s final report, the members indicate that the condition of the men would have been much worse, “…but for the kindness of the good people of Charlestown who ministered to their wants.” The committee further indicated that they had uttered so many contrary and vague statements that they could not say definitively that they had been engaged in an enlistment scheme and the matter was dropped but not entirely forgotten.
The descendants of members of the 28th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry have an organization that maintains the memory of the 28th and the men who served in it. The members indicate that the well-known Irish ballad was possibly written to memorialize the enlistment scheme. The song is variously called “Pat in America”, “By the Hush” or “Paddy’s Lamentation”.
John Warren entered the service of the 63rd N.Y. Infantry on April 14, 1861 as the Captain of Company B and his home community is listed as Charlestown. Warren was dismissed from service on February 28, 1862 and then re-enlisted with the 63rd, on April 9, 1862. But he did not last long and was again “dismissed”, this time on September 17, 1862. One has to wonder, why did a Charlestown resident travel to New York City to enlist? Why was he enlisted as a Captain? Most importantly, why was he “dismissed” on two separate occasions?
The history of the 63rd New York Voluntary Regiment might provide us some additional clues to John Warren’s story. The 63rd Regiment was recruited into service by the legendary Irishman Thomas Francis Meagher, an Irish revolutionary figure also known as a “Meagher of the Sword”. The 63rd, was organized on Staten Island and became an integral component of perhaps the most famous brigade on the Federal side, the famed “Irish Brigade”. Other regiments within the “Irish Brigade” included the 69th N.Y, the 116th Pennsylvania and the 9th Massachusetts. Thomas Francis Meagher was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General of the Irish Brigade on February 5, 1862. The 63rd N.Y. became known as the “Independent Irish Regiment”.
In his book, “New York in the War of Rebellion” by Frederick Phisterer, the author clearly indicates that Thomas Francis Meagher sent recruiters to Boston to recruit for the 63rd. It is possible, that the allure of serving with Meagher prompted John Warren to enlist with the 63rd N.Y. rather than with one of the Massachusetts Irish regiments. As to why Warren was “dismissed” on two occasions, we can only speculate. Perhaps he was more interested in recruiting for the Fenian Brotherhood rather than battling with the Confederates.
The March 19, 1864 edition of the Boston Pilot indicates that Captain John Warren was a resident of Bunker Hill St. So there can be little doubt that Charlestown resident John Warren was the “State Center” for the Massachusetts branch of the Fenian Brotherhood and it is highly likely that Charlestown’s Irish community strongly supported the Fenian movement. In fact The New York Times reported that there was a “large mass meeting” of the Fenians held in Charlestown in December of 1866.
The membership of Fenian Brotherhood whether here in the United States or in Europe were fully committed to severing all ties between Great Britain and Ireland. Many of the leaders of American Fenianism were American Civil War veterans who like Charlestown’s John Warren honed their military skills while in the service of the Union armies. The American branch was neither a secret nor oath bound society. American Fenians simply took a pledge and accounts of their meetings, speeches, and resolutions were widely published in American newspapers sympathetic to their cause.
In February 18, 1867, a meeting of former Union officers was held in New York City under the leadership of James Kelly, a Lieutenant Colonel of the 69th New York. John Warren was elected Secretary of this group. In March of 1867, an uprising took place in Ireland but completely failed and hundreds of Fenians were captured and imprisoned. The American Fenians, who were unaware of the collapse of the revolt hoped that success was possible and moved quickly to supply their Irish counterparts with weapons and military expertise. The American Fenians under the command of Union army veterans and former U.S. Congressmen James E. Kerrigan secured an 81 ft. brigantine called the Jacmel Packet then loaded it with about 5,000 surplus Union and Confederate weapons. The Jacmel with a crew of 5 and 40 American Fenians on board, including John Warren set sail from New York on April 13, 1867.
On Easter Sunday, April 21, 1867, while in the mid-Atlantic, the Fenian’s renamed the Jacmel Packet, “Erin’s Hope”. On May 23rd the newly christened “Erin’s Hope”, arrived at the Irish coast and attempted to land, without success at Sligo Bay. With provisions on board dwindling and serious tensions brewing between the crew and the Fenians, Captain John Cavanaugh decided to go ashore and assess the situation. There Cavanaugh met with Richard O’Sullivan Burke, a figure well known in Irish revolutionary circles who informed Cavanaugh that the rebellion had failed and suggested that “Erin’s Hope” unload its cargo in Cork. The brigantine eventually landed at Helvic, near Dungarvin, County Waterford, where the British Navy spotted the ship and many of the Fenians, including Charlestown’s John Warren were arrested.
“Colonel” John Warren was put on trial in the fall of 1867 at Dublin’s Commission Court before Chief Baron Pigot and Mr. Justice Keogh. The trial caused quite a sensation because John Warren was a naturalized United States citizen who had served his country during the Civil War. Warren refused to acknowledge the jurisdiction of an English court because of his American citizenship. Pending trial, Warren was detained at the infamous Kilmainham Jail. A jury was unmoved by his defense and he was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment in Britain’s horrific Chatham Prison.
At his sentencing, John Warren made a highly articulate and impassioned plea to Chief Baron Pigot to reverse his sentence. He was not successful. Warren was sentenced along with two other Fenian prisoners, William Halpin and Augustine Costello. Warren’s last words to the Chief Judge were; “ I am sure that I shall live longer than the British Constitution”.
The Fenian Brotherhood then proceeded to wage a massive public relations campaign to force the British Government to release the American Fenians and John Warren was at the center of this epic legal, political and diplomatic conflict. In November of 1867, Warren drafted a statement “…to the honorable members of the United States Congress in session assembled” and stated in part:
“I ask you gentlemen, as I lie to-night in my lonely dungeon, cut away from mother, wife, sisters, children and friends, immured in a living tomb now for the last six months, what feeling must I have towards my government? Which of the two governments up to the present time is to me more treacherous: The government which invites me to renounce all former allegiance whatsoever, confers upon me the full rights (on paper) of American citizenship, affixes its official seal to the act, and extracts a fee for so doing, and, when this citizenship is contemptuously and defiantly repudiated by the government whose allegiance I renounced, tolerates and abandons me to my fate, or the government from which I expect nothing, my natural enemy, the enemy of every aspirant of freedom…”
As a direct result of the plight of John Warren and his Fenian comrades, the United States Congress passed the Expatriation Act and entered into the Anglo-American Treaty of 1870. The rights of naturalized American citizens had been altered forever. One legal scholar indicated that the Expatriation Act, “emphasized the natural right if an individual to change allegiance, but it also affirmed the power of nations to create and defend its citizens”.
In March of 1869, John Warren was released from Chatham Prison, after American diplomatic officials negotiated his release. Warren and Augustine Costello, also of the Erin’s Hope adventure, lectured throughout Ireland against the British Government.
In 1870, the British Parliament passed the “Warren & Costello Act” by which the right of a British subject to abandon his allegiance and become naturalized under another government was for the first time acknowledged. The Boston Pilot reported of John Warren that he “…aided materially and directly in forcing England to withdraw from her untenable position of “once a subject always a subject.”
John Warren eventually found his way back to Charlestown and later apparently moved over to Boston. Warren worked as a journalist in New York for sometime after his return to the United States. He was the founder of the first Irish nationalist newspaper in the United States, “The Fenian Spirit” in 1864. Later he founded “The Irish Republican” in Boston. He was also the founder of the first labor organization in Massachusetts, the Charlestown Laborers Association also in 1864.
Warren died on September 14, 1895 astoundingly after being struck by a piece of stone that fell off a Masonic Temple in downtown Boston. At the time of his death, he held the rank of General in the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
John Warren is buried at St. Paul’s Cemetery, Arlington, Massachusetts.
The best version of the song “Paddy’s Lamentation” is assuredly the version performed by Sinead O’Connor. It is available for viewing and listening on Youtube.