Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Jackson “Connexion”

For years now, I have been collecting and collating information on the line of Jacksons whose earliest known roots are at Lisnabo(e), Co. Meath. They then moved on to Ballybay, a town in Co. Monaghan sometime in the mid 1700s. Some then moved on to America in the early 1800s. Some of these were United Irishmen who had been charged with treason and banished to America. In spite of their passion for liberty, some of them subsequently owned slaves when they got to America, and some  sired children with them.

There is a childish taunt that is often untrue: Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words can never hurt me. The United Irishmen Jacksons were equally skilled in producing both lethal words and lethal weapons. Ironically, foundries were used for both.

On the weapons side, Henry Jackson, one of the Lisnaboe/Ballybay Jacksons, had a foundry in Dublin where he manufactured the pikes which were used against the government forces. When it came to the printed word, Isaac Jackson – one of the Quaker Jacksons - was one of the most prolific. He established the first Dublin foundry for making lead type in 1747. Sometimes the interests of these two foundry owners, the one who made the weapons and the one who printed the words, intersected.

In March 1791, the Henry Jackson who manufactured pike heads served on a 13 man committee to publish an affordable edition of Thomas Paine’s The Rights of Man. I suspect that this edition would have been published by one of Isaac Jackson’s children – either Robert who succeeded his father in the business, or else Rachel Maria Jackson who took over when her brother died. Tom Paine’s writing is a good fit with the other kinds of publications that these Jacksons printed.

In 1796, a cart-load of weapons bound for Ballybay and allegedly made at Henry’s foundry was one of several batches of weapons that were seized that year. They would have been but a small bit of what Henry’s foundry produced, and it didn’t seem to slow him down. A year later, an eye witness reported:

Have I not seen in Henry Jackson’s Foundry in Church Street heaps of Balls ready for use in Cannon (???) to the exact caliber forwarded for the expected French Ordinance — yes Sir yes — and exultingly pointed out to me by Mr. Jackson himself.
SOURCE: Bill Farrell’s site. 

The reference to the expected French Ordinance was to the planned, albeit ill executed, landing of French soldiers to assist in the overthrow of the government.

On March 12th, 1798, Henry Jackson was finally arrested, and then incarcerated at Dublin’s Kilmainham jail. When he was discharged on September 28, 1799, he made his way almost immediately to America. He settled first in Philadelphia, and later in Baltimore, where he lived with his daughter Eleanor, widow of the United Irishman, Oliver Bond, who had died in Kilmainham Prison in 1798.

These days, you can tour the prison, but the Jackson’s headquarters at 87 Pill Street no longer exists. Strange as it may seem, given the history, the old Pill St. is now covered over by the expanded Courts of Justice.

Of course, a new continent inevitably leads to new stories. When Henry Jackson had to flee, he took with him a young nephew, James Jackson (1782-1840). The boy’s mother had died when he was two years old. This James Jackson grew up to be a successful business man, and he was a close friend of the future President Andrew Jackson until they had a falling out. He started in sales in Nashville, and in 1818 moved to Lauderdale Co., where he died in Florence, Alabama.

Testimonials at the time of death are often excessively effusive when powerful men are involved, but he seemingly had earned it. He was praised as a generous donor to local charities, a man whose counsel was valued, who put others first, and was known to be both frank and candid. Not mentioned was the fact that, like other large land-owning farmers in the region, he also owned slaves – 52 of them at the time of his death.

This James had seven children, and in an instance of the kinds of surprising turns that history can take, his second son sired a child with a slave known only as Easter. Her great grandson – and this is the surprise - was none other than Alex Haley, author of Roots. If I have correctly deciphered the notes prepared by Nancy Carlson, a researcher for Alex Haley, as well as the text in Haley’s book Queen – his book that followed Roots - then the outline of this part of this JACKSON family tree looks like this:

 1  James Jackson b: 22 Apr 1822 in Forks of Cypress, near Florence Alabama, USA d: 1879 in Florence  +Easter  
........ 2  Queen Jackson b: Bet. 1857 - 1858
............ +Alexander Haley b: 1846 in Alabama
.................. 3  Simon Alexander Haley b: 1890 in Savannah, Hardin Co, Tennessee
...................... +Bertha Palmer b: 1895 in Henning, Lauderdale CO., Tennessee
............................. 4  Alex Haley b: 11 Aug 1921, Ithica New York d: 10 Feb 1992, Seattle, Washington

These two books, Queen and Roots, were key catalysts for change when it came to introducing the experiences of American slaves into the mainstream understanding of American history. Nothing can take that away from them. Even so, it seems that Alex Haley cannot be credited with being the sole author of either of them. Queen was essentially written by David Stevens, who would later say that his writing was guided mainly by the long conversations he had with Haley about his grandmother, and a little bit by a 700 page outline that Haley left. 

The story about the writing of Roots is murkier and even a little tawdry. It was established in a court case that significant portions had been plagiarized from Harold Courlander’s novel, The African. The judge in the case gave Haley good advice: Settle with Courlander. He did this to the tune of $650,000 - in 1978 dollars – with an agreement that Coulander keep quiet, which he did until he died in 1996.

In the end, Haley died with his reputation largely intact, and his Pulitzer Prize still in his possession. In some respects, I figure that this is fair enough. These books, and the television miniseries and movie that were based on them, dramatically changed how the average American understood the experiences and impacts of slavery. In spite of the plagiarism.

As for the Jacksons from Ireland, I suspect that there are a significant number of other African-Americans who will find – if they test their DNA – that they too are related to such Jacksons. Who knows? That part is yet to be written. My musician brothers would really like me to find evidence that has us related to Jackson Browne - since both names are in our heritage. They will have to wait.

For now, a few links will take you to the material that I have assembled on these Jacksons:

An outline tree of the Jacksons of Lisnaboe 
An annotated report on sources connected to the outline tree. 
A rootsweb tree that will be continually updated (now more than 10,0000 related names included). 

NOTE: I am more than grateful for all the work done by so many. In particular, I have leaned on the work of Adam Edwards and Bill and Mary Farrell in writing this piece. They, in turn, stand on the shoulders of countless others.

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