Observance of St Patrick’s Day in early times in Southern states
The day was appropriately observed in Baltimore in 1795
Irishmen are taking much interest in the collection of historic data about the first observances and celebration of St Patrick’s Day in the United States. Those south of the Ohio River are interested in the observances which took place south of Mason and Dixon’s line more than in the observances in Boston, Philadelphia and New York.
A long Irish history
In 1855, Baltimore, like Louisville, was the scene of many Know-nothing outrages — though for fifty years previous to that time, Irishmen had been prominent in the business and social life of Baltimore. In a paper read before the Irish Historical Society of Maryland, it was shown that fifty years before the American Revolution, Irish names were found on every page of the annals of Baltimore.
A majority of those early comers were Protestants from Ulster, but in 1791, the Irish Catholics begun to arrive in great numbers and were able to found St Patrick’s church — the second Catholic congregation in Baltimore where Archbishop John Carroll always preached on St Patrick’s day.
The earliest mention of a St Patrick’s Day observance in Baltimore found in the old papers of that time was in 1790. It was held in Fountain Inn, the place where General Washington and many noted men put up in those days. There was to have been a parade in 1795, but it was abandoned on account of the severity of the weather.
Celebrations in the late 1790s
There were balls again on St Patrick’s Day 1797, but no mention of militia turnouts. The Assembly Room having been sold, the dances were held in the Fountain Inn, the management of which had changed from Daniel Grant to James Bryden. There is no subsequent newspaper account of these affairs. However, of St Patrick’s day 1798, there is at least a reporters narrative.
Brief as it is, and unquestionably unsatisfactory as it is, it is extremely interesting. Says the Baltimore Telegraph of that time:
“Saturday being St Patricks day, a number of respectable citizens composed principally of the sons of Hibernia dined together at different places of entertainment for the purpose of celebrating the same, where good humor and harmony prevailed and many patriotic toasts were drunk. At 11 o’clock, Capt Stewart’s Irish Brigade and Keatings Irish Grenadiers, accompanied by a detachment of Capt Weavers artillery with two pieces of cannon, marched to Federal Hill and fired three volleys in honor of the day. Afterward, they partook of an elegant entertainment at Capt Stewart’s, where mirth and universal good humor prevailed about the festive board.”
St Patrick’s day in 1803
In 1803, the American Patriot of Baltimore mentions a St Patrick’s observance as follows:
“The 17th inst. has been celebrated according to ancient custom with great festivity and merriment by the sons of St Patrick in this city. Though the Irish harp has been for some time unstrung, yet there was no lack of pipers fiddlers and flutes on St Patrick’s day in the morning. A band of patriotic and excellent musicians paraded the principal streets and complimented several gentlemen with airs most grateful to those who are always alive to Eire go Bragh.
In the evening, there was a subscription ball given at the Columbian Inn, West Baltimore Street, by some of the most respectable Irish characters in the city, when the ladies of Hibernia had an opportunity of displaying their agility and native charms. On this day, we were happy in not witnessing any marks of national prejudice or disrespect so common but so disgraceful and illiberal in the other cities.”
In this year (1803), the Hibernian Society of Baltimore, which still exists, was formed. John Campbell White, the grandfather of a distinguished Maryland lawyer William Pinkney White, former Mayor Governor and United States Senator, must be regarded as the founder of the Hibernian Society. His name is the only one appearing in these preliminary notices, and he was chosen the first President and reelected annually until his death ten years later. Mr White started a distillery when he first arrived in Baltimore from Ireland, and made much wealth out of it.
Top illustration: Vintage US/Irish relations St Patrick’s day postcard, c1905