Sunday, February 4, 2024

Rev. William JACKSON (1737-1795): Seen through the framing & lens of his Writing

It is easy to frame the lives of people based on a single event. Once they have been interpreted within such a frame, that initial picture – for better or worse - can be devilishly hard to shake.

  • Watergate: Richard Nixon (1919-1994),
  • Beheaded: Anne Bolyn (abt 1507-1536),
  • Arsenic: Rev William Jackson (1737-1795).

In 1982 when my youngest daughter was born, the medical specialist’s framing of her diagnosis of CDLS said that there was a 50/50 chance that she would not live past the age of two, and that if she did, she would likely be autistic and non-verbal. But then there was the wisdom of our GP: You need a different way to see your daughter. The medical lens is too small. Try something different. Maybe have her horoscope done. Crazy as that may sound, we did that, and even crazier - it turned out to be a better predictor of how her adult life would play out than what the initial framing had predicted. For more than two decades, she has lived independently and worked part-time at retail stores.

A Google algorithm churns out 127,000 hits in 42 seconds for the frame of: “Arsenic + Rev William Jackson (1737-1795)”. His death – by arsenic - is the most click-bait-worthy aspect of his life. It may also be the least important, even though there is no debate over the fact that he was in the court room, as he stood awaiting sentence, when he keeled over and died from poisoning, likely self-administered. Doing a search of his name with other identifiers does not reveal much more. Short of doing a horoscope (impossible since we have no definite date of his birth), what other frame might help us to learn more about him?

How did he go from being an Irishman, born into privilege (probably in Dublin), ordained as an Anglican minister (probably in England), and then go on to live most of his adult life in London where he earned his living as a journalist, becoming an United Irishman activist, and then flitting between England, Ireland and Paris in the 1790s, only to end up being betrayed by a friend and ultimately convicted as an agent of the French government? A traitor?

  •          There is no record of his ordination in Ireland. There are a couple of William Jacksons who were ordained in England in the right time frame. They do not appear to be him.
  •         In the newspapers of the day, he was called “Pastor Jackson”. This is how ministers were referred to when they had not been given a benefice or otherwise granted a parish.
  • The early accounts claim that he attended Oxford, but there is no record of him attending there.
  • Was his ordination simply opportunistic (didn’t know what else to do?), or was it the result of sincerely held beliefs?
  • Was he as dangerous and unlovable – personally, politically and faith-wise - as historians such as Lucyle Werkmeister (Notes for a Revised Life of William Jackson ) allege?

Churchill’s quip about Russia comes to mind: a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, but perhaps there is a key. If so, what would be the key?

One key has been to use the records in the Memorials of Deeds. Leases get handed down from generation to generation; old deeds get recited in newer ones. When an uncle (or aunt) is a mentor or guardian or if a spinster aunt (or bachelor uncle) leaves a bequest, there is sometimes a record of this. That kind of support could make all the difference to a young man like him, one whose father had died when he was a toddler.

Thanks to such leases, his maternal GORE connections are now well documented. In one of the quirkier bits of Irish history, it turns out that he was a second cousin four times removed of Constance Georgine Booth-Gore (1868-1927), better known as Countess Markievicz, an activist in the 1916 Easter Rising. His politics, like hers, were likely a 180o turn from the politics of their respective families. The blood line of dissent had continued.

Where next? Two thoughts from my 2019 post: Rev. William Jackson & his Gore ancestry:

Family systems theory asserts that individuals need to be understood from their birth order as well as from the role they played and were seen to be playing in their family. Did they feel valued? Did they feel resilient? Did they feel worthy? It is significant that Rev. William was the youngest of four sons, that he was fatherless at a young age and finally that he was likely raised with his wealthy Gore relations in London. It also seems likely that the prestigious Sale family played a part in his upbringing. Although Dr. Edward Sale had died when Rev. William was abt. six years old, his wife Catherine – aunt to Rev. William - lived till abt. 1770. A year before her death, she had been the executor of his oldest brother Richard Jackson’s will.

Secondly, if the Gore’s legal, political and financial firepower had been called upon to defend Rev. William, they would have been unlikely to have been outgunned. That they were silent in his defence perhaps speaks volumes.

His father was a provost, and like the GOREs, his family must have included many well connected merchants, politicians and legal minds. Significantly, not a single GORE or JACKSON claimed any connection to him when he was on trial. [SEE: Richard JACKSON, father of Rev. William JACKSON]. This silence, at a time when people thrilled to news of crime and treason amongst the elites, is suspicious. Did the influence of his paternal relations sweep his connections to them under the carpet? In an article, published in the Oracle in 1795, the author [possibly Peter Stuart, who knew him personally] warned against raking into the secrets of his Family, which, as it is not implicated in his guilt, ought not to share in his disgrace.

Seeking another kind of framing, I turned to looking at him through the lens of his own words. Several chapter-book-length publications pieces are available online:

Thirty Letters on Various Subjects Vol I. William Jackson. 1783. Printed for T. Cadell, and T. Evans, in the Strand; and B. Thorn and Son, in EXETER Update: Feb 7, 2024.: Other historians had attributed these letters to Rev William, and I had blindly followed. This was William Jackson (1730-1803) of Exeter, a portrait painter.

Political thought: Thoughts on the Causes of the Delay of the Westminster Scrutiny Rev. Mr. Jackson. 1784  [he quotes Milton’s Paradise Lost: First and Last on ME, ME ONLY, as the source and spring, all the blame Lights due.]

Sermons on Practical and Important Subjects by the late W.F. Jackson Tried and convicted for High Treason in Dublin, April 1795. printed for T. Evans, No. 46, in Paternoster-Row, [1795] First published in the 1760s (late 1760s?), the description of his style – plain and practical … vigorous and animating – was also evident in Observations.

Sodom and Onan: a Satire Published in 1772, the chapbook was sold at #23 opposite St. Dunstan’s Church, Fleet Street, London

An answer to the declaration of the king of England respecting his motives for carrying on the present war (1793).

Observations in answer to Mr. Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason” Jackson completed this pamphlet two months before his unanticipated death (although his death may not have been unanticipated to him as he was writing it). As he refuted Paine’s arguments, he did not have access to his reference library. This may have contributed to its casual tone.

As I read, I heeded the advice that he gave in one of his letters published when he was 46 years old: let go of custom (i.e. confirmation bias), and think afresh:

In justice to myself, let me observe, that truth sometimes does not strike us without the assistance of custom; but so great is the force of custom, that, unassisted by truth, it has worked the greatest miracles. and I am neither ambitious of the honour, or the danger, of enlightening the world, but, if I can soften prejudices which I cannot remove—if I can loosen the fetters of custom [a lens?]  where I cannot altogether unbind them, and engage you to think for yourself—my end will be answered, and my trouble fully repaid. [SOURCE: Thirty Letters on Various Subjects Vol I. William Jackson. 1783. Printed for T. Cadell, and T. Evans, in the Strand; and B. Thorn and Son, in EXETER. Update: Feb 7, 2024.: Other historians had attributed these letters to Rev William, and I had blindly followed. This was William Jackson (1730-1803) of Exeter, a portrait painter.

Some time before the initial publication of these letters, a set of his sermons which he had preached at Tavistock Chapel, St. John the Evangelist, Drury Lane, London were first published. NOTE: I need to run this down. Some sources suggest that he preached and/or published them before 1766, the year that he became editor of The Public Ledger; some suggest afterwards. The reviews were favourable. They were then repackaged and republished just after his death, taking full advantage of his infamy to goose up sales.

Art. 38. Sermons on practical and important Subjects. By the late Rev. W. F. Jackson. Tried and convicted for High Treason, in Dublin, April 23, 1795. 8vo. 239 pp. 4s. sewed. Evans. 1795* Anything very remarkable happening to an author renders his works immediately an object of traffic. The melancholy catastrophe of Mr. Jackson's life has called these sheets, long ago printed and designed for publication, from the retirement in which they had begun to change their colour: and, with the addition of only five pages and a title, has brought them forward to the public eye. So strange are the perversions of the human mind, that we shall not attempt to enquire by what extraordinary combination of circumstances a writer, whose discourses express a strong and even a rigorous piety, could have been led to the commission of such crimes as those which stained the latter days of this teacher. His sermons, eleven in number, are rather above than below the common level of composition. Sometimes his expressions are rather harsh, and sometimes there appears an affectation of rhetorical flourish, or pathetic appeal to the feelings; but, on the whole, they are such as lead the reader to regret, yet more strongly than before, the unhappy termination of the author's career. The British Critic and Quarterly Theological Review, vol 7-8 p 557. 

The fact that he preached at Tavistock Chapel, Drury Lane, connected me to Dr. Campbell’s 1775 Diary of a Visit to England. This Rev. Doctor Thomas Campbell (1733–95), was a Church of Ireland clergyman, born at Glack, Co. Tyrone, eldest son of the Rev. Moses Campbell (1695?–1772) and his wife, Elizabeth (née Johnston) of Tully, Co. Monaghan. A bit in this diary shed light on the experiences of bias against the London-Irish gentry at the time of Rev. William:

I then dined at the Crown and Anchor in Sussex Street where we were charged 3-10 for a pound of cod &c – It is amazing the passion our Countrymen have for appearing great in London – This very learned gentleman Doctor Jackson (45) methought affected a consequence from calling for shrimp sauce &c while the Waiter (I saw) was laughing at him for his brogue and appearance – I verily believe that if a Coleraine man was to come here and he wd bespeak nothing but Salmon merely because it is the most expensive fish in London; though he has it at home for less than a farthing a pound. p 50

Dined at the Bedford where I met Doctor Jackson – lamenting the state of his wife from the case of Perraus (77) her brothers. p59 Notes on the Diary: I have not been able to find out anything about the Perreaus’ [possibly Perreaux ?] sister who was married to Dr. Jackson p 121.

NOTE: This Dr. Jackson was most likely Richard “Omniscient” JACKSON (1720-1787), born at Ballycastle in Co. Antrim, so the mention of his Coleraine accent fits. On the other hand, the Ballycastle of Co. Down, is likely where Rev. William hailed from. This suggests that the two men were not closely related, even though both had corresponded with Benjamin Franklin.

After the first publication of these Tavistock sermons, Rev. William took a significant moral detour in both tone and content with his 1772 Sodom and Onan: a Satire. This no-holds-barred rant was likely written to curry favour with Elizabeth Chudleigh (the self-styled Duchess of Kingston). On March 25th, 1776, she paid him £30 to feed her version of events to the papers - to buttress her defence in the court case against her (for bigamy).  [SOURCE: The Royal Trial that Shocked Georgian England]. Shortly afterwards, he followed Chudleigh to Paris.

Rev. William was in his mid 30s when he wrote Sodom. His young wife had recently died of cancer (the dates are a bit fuzzy, but this is the likely timeline). By several accounts, he was devoted to her and was commended for his care of her [SOURCE: The Jackson Episode in 1794. Frank Macdermot in An Irish Quarterly Review, Vol. 27, No. 105]. Regrettably, we know nothing more about her, although I suspect that her birth name was either NAYLOR or FARRELL (SEE: Update Jan 2024 in Blog Post Dec 2023). Is it possible that the intensity of his rage in Sodom was - at least partly – the impact of displaced grief, a way to harness energy in the midst of depression? Hard to say. Is anything revealed in his portrait on the cover?


Since nothing sells like scandal and conspiracy, this meant that when Sodom was sold at #23 opposite St. Dunstan’s Church, Fleet Street, London, it sold well. The visual pun of the foot (on the cover page of Sodom in front of Esqr) was a sly reference to the fact that Samuel Foote, the playwright whom Jackson was smearing and defaming, had lost a leg after a riding accident. Throughout the text, its mean-mindedness was nothing short of breath-taking, especially coming from a Parson. No wonder in the mid-1760s, when he was a journalist, and editor of The Public Ledger, he was nicknamed Viper Jackson. SEE: Richard Norton’s Homosexuality in 18th Century England,  and Matthew J. Kinservik’s The Politics and Poetics of Sodomy in the Age of George III.

Here is a taste in the opening to Sodom, where Rev William goes full bore against Samuel Foote:

 Then, in the last year of his life, he wrote: Observations in answer to Mr. Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason” The two pieces could not be more different, but there are some aspects that they have in common: humour, accessible language, and compellingly shaped arguments. At the same time, it is inescapable that his homophobic Sodom was full of disgust, loathing, vindictiveness and righteousness, while his disagreements and arguments in Observations are couched in compassion. How to understand how all this could co-exist in one man?

My father might be a similar example. He regularly drank himself into anger, but in a mid-life crisis when faced with a career choice of becoming a salesman for Seagram’s Whiskey, or an Anglican minister, he chose the ministry. We used to joke that this was merely a choice between two kinds of spirits. Not an uncommon one for men of his ilk. As for Rev. William, he was known to down four bottles of claret at a single dinner [SOURCE: Frank Macdermot]. Possibly while he was nattering on about theology in a reasonably coherent manner, as my father was wont to do. In my father’s case, his drinking did not abate, so my mother simply coped with it, concealing the empties before putting them in the garbage so the garbageman wouldn’t find out.

While I am not excusing or recommending this kind of choice, it seems to have been an integral part of Rev. William’s character. These days, we would frame this behaviour as alcoholic. An alternative perspective could be that a few bottles of claret can lubricate the tongue to succeed in the profession of a preacher or journalist: both require standing on soap boxes, and both can make a man feel like he matters.

If we follow his own words, there are glimpses into what may have contributed to Rev. William’s transition away from the broken man that he had so obviously been in his mid-life years:

I believe in the truth of revelation; after having read everything written against it, that I could meet with. Mine is not a professional faith, It arises from having searched into the evidence at an adult., unshackled by any church [p70]

My life has been a concatenation of afflictive circumstances.; A disastrous series of contingent woes. Loss of property and relatives by fire, singular casualty, and agonizing disease. Nearly a third portion of my existence has been consumed in watching the ceaseless depredations death was making on those most dear to me. Heavy calamities! As such, they staggered my nature, for we are only men, but they did not shake my reliance. I mentally gravitated to the center of being, and was sustained by Almighty power in the orbit of life. Observations in answer to Mr. Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason” [pp 70-71]

Later in Paris, siding with the cause of American, French and Irish revolutionaries may have given him a renewed sense of purpose. He was involved with the radical British expatriates in Paris and attended the famous meeting at White's Hotel in November 1792, a gathering that included Lord Edward Fitzgerald and Thomas Paine. Their ideas fired him up but with a calmer sense of purpose. In Observations in answer to Mr. Thomas Paine’s “Age of Reason”, when he disagrees with Paine’s Age of Reason, his tone is no longer that of Viper Jackson:

When the present and future generation shall be swept by the hand of time among the mouldering ruins of ancient worlds, the name of Mr. Paine, will live in celebrity. This compliment is most willingly bestowed, it comes warm from the heart. But when a man without powers adequate to the purpose; without any of the diversity of ancient literature necessary for the investigation, without oriental language, or oriental knowledge, attempts to write down an Eastern book of at the least three thousand five hundred years antiquity, and professedly of everlasting importance to our species, we cannot forbear to censure such a man for the rash exposure of his ignorance. p29.

Unlike in Sodom, he is no longer employing the polarizing tactics of mean subversive puns. Rather, he seems intent on simply convincing his audience that God speaks to mankind through revelation not just reason. Seen through this frame, we can understand him not only as a preacher but as a man and also with respect to where he stood on the issue of Deism, as advocated by Paine (and other revolutionaries), an approach to Christianity which sought to dismiss personal revelation and to undermine the authority of religious institutions. Not only did Rev William continue to believe in God’s revelation and miracles, but also in their necessity:

Here is the truth, and disingenuous it is; men light their reason at the torch of revelation, and then disown the source from which from whence they are illuminated. As the powers of man are limited to the objects of the senses, beholding a fine display of things, and all, carried on mechanically in a rotationally circle, what is there to induce him to look further? When told of a God, who gave existence to matter, form to a universe, and habitation to immensity; man can then ascend on contemplations wing, and from the wonders he beholds in the creation, infer the power, wisdom, and goodness of the creator. [p35.]

Key to his belief in the limits of reason:

Reason, so pompously extolled as the chief excellence of the human mind, cannot discover first principles; they must be revealed; And then they furnish groundwork for the reasoning faculty to compare, apply, and deduce consequences. This is the order of our nature. To reverse it is to grope our way in the dark; Or to follow an ignis fatuus [a will-o'-the-wisp; something deceptive or deluding] that leads us bewildered through the mazes of conjecture, into the cavern of ignorance. When therefore, Mr. Paine says that it is only “by the exercise of reason man can discover God, he mistakes, because the discovery came originally from Revelation, and the notices of it to be found among the Heathen nations of antiquity, and those of the present times, are traditions, more or less corrupted, of the fact so originally revealed.

Not that he wasn’t above being bratty. In one instance, there is the way that he censors Paine’s reliance on science - more amusing to those of us who have seen a man land on the moon:

It is not yet been ascertained to any certainty whether the Moon, the nearest to our earth, is inhabited, or habitable. Bishop Wilkins proposed a method of flying to the moon. If this were practicable, Mr. Paine might take. A journey, thither, and bring us a packet of news from the inhabitants. p44.

Furthermore Rev. William places Christian revelation solidly within the context of Jewish faith:

Here again is mystery; here is miracle, here is truth enveloped in mystery; her customary garb. As to prophecy, I have already referred to passages in the ancient Scripture on that subject; I will only, therefore, summarily observe, that the original language of revelation. communicates ideas of future events; rites, ceremonies, signs, and emblems, were instituted to keep these events in remembrance, and shadow out, if so may be phrased, what would happen in future ages. The whole of the Jewish ritual was prophecy and figure. [p45]

This leads to another bone that he picked with Thomas Paine. When Paine claimed that the Bible “is a history of wickedness, which has served to brutalize mankind [For Paine’s antisemitism and islamophobia SEE: A Concise History of American Antisemitism, Robert Michael, p70], Rev. William countered:

Among the Jews, there have, in all ages, been men of exemplary piety. Their belief has influenced their conduct. The Jewish scriptures, therefore, have not a tendency to corrupt and brutalize mankind. The two hinges on what Judaism turns, are, the love of God and the love of man. [p22]

He then quotes Luke 10:26 where, when Jesus is asked “What is written in the law [referring to Jewish law]? What is your reading of it?” Jesus, speaking as a Jew interpreting the Law, replies:

Thou shalt love the Lord thy God [Jehovah Aleim], with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy strength; And thy fellow creature as thyself”. [p22]

He asks Paine to consider the values that they shared, and to consider that the same values - which had shaped the egalitarianism of American and French revolutions - had their roots in the Jewish tradition:

Is this an injunction calculated to corrupt and brutalize mankind? Does it not, on the contrary, breathe that very spirit which Mr. Paine has recommended in many parts of other writings, the spirit of philanthropy? Love of God must exalt, and love of man expand the soul; both combined, sublime our nature into something above mortality. p23

He places the history in the Bible in a more inclusive frame, relating it to their own politics:

By the tablature of the Bible, it appears that Jewish kings, ministers, judges, officers, secretaries, and all the inferior regalia tribe, were three thousand years ago exactly the same description of characters, that they were among us Europeans in the last century: some good, some bad, the generality indifferent, all imperfect, and the best ordinarily the worst accommodated, as to the goods of fortune p23.

As for Paine’s islamophobia, he accuses Paine of using the authority of his public fame to sanction whatever he might think proper to advance. When Paine states that Mahomet and Christ were of obscure parentage, he offers Paine a history lesson:

Mahomet was an Arab of the tribe of the Korashites; which was accounted the noblest of all their tribes, and he was lineally descended from the founder. His grandfather Abdel Motallab, was the head and governor of this tribe, residing at Mecca, the seat of the government. He had thirteen sons, the eldest of whom, Abdalah, was the father of Mahomet. He was therefore, the most illustrious family in Arabia.

 Misstating the descent of Mahomet, Mr. Paine, as egregiously falsifies his condition. He calls him a mule driver. Camels and mules are to him the same species of animals. The city of Mecca was badly situated as to soil., but most conveniently placed for merchandise. The principal inhabitants were merchants.

The commodities which they imported from India, Ethiopia, and the southern parts, they sent into Syria, Persia, and Egypt, on camels. Muhammad, being engaged with his uncle in this kind of merchandise, accompanied the cargoes, and superintended the sale. This is Mr. Paine's “mule driver of obscure parentage”. [p46]

Given that Rev. William was most likely descended from a class of Irish JACKSONs who were members of the merchant class as far back as the 1600s, he likely had an understanding of how trade routes facilitated not only trade but also the transmission of ideas. He later references:

Sale’s translation of the Koran, is by far the best version in our language; And the preliminary discourse prefix, contains a very learned account of the real and different tenants held by the most enlightened disciples of MOHAMMED. [p.62]

This translation was published in 1734, three years before Rev. William was born, and as the first translation in English to be based directly on the Arabic text, it remained the definitive text in the decades that followed. It is possible that a JACKSON-SALE family connection might have led to Rev William experiencing a surprisingly early and life-altering reading of the Koran.

The details of George Sale's early life, like Rev. William’s are hard to track. He reportedly attended The Kings School, Cambridge, although there is no record of him being there (absent records same as Rev. William’s). Some say he held heretical views. After studying at the Inner Temple in 1720, he practiced as a Solicitor, though only when he needed to. His real passion seems to have been writing and translating and his work with the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. Here is some known family history which could point to this possible JACKSON-SALE connection:

A John SALE (d abt 1730), a merchant of Dublin, was a step-father of Anne GORE (daughter of Elizabeth TIFFIN (bef 1664-btw 1735-1736) & Francis GORE) and hence was a step-grandfather to Rev. William JACKSON. We do not know who John SALE’s father was, but his lifespan as well as his occupation as a merchant make him a good fit to be a brother of the translator of the Koran, George SALE (1796-1736) whose father Samuel SALE was also a merchant.

Rev. William’s father, Richard JACKSON died when William was a mere toddler, and sometime after that, the family resided in London. Given the reliance of young widows on extended family, William may have lived with his mother Anne JACKSON née GORE and members of the SALE family in either Kent or London. The footnotes to a 1782 letter that Rev. William wrote to Benjamin Franklin allege that Rev. William was born in Dublin, … moved to London at an early age.

A convergence of profession also contributes to this hunch of this SALE-JACKSON connection. Rev William’s father as well as his oldest brother (also named Richard) were both lawyers, same as George SALE who studied law at the Inner Temple, a professional training institute for barristers.  

Information about the grave of George SALE’s son at Find-a Grave as well as research done by Jean Thomas in an Ancestry Tree, reveals that George SALE (1796-1736), was the son of Samuel SALE, a London merchant. He was born in Kent and married twice. Firstly Mary JARRETT, with whom he had a daughter Sarah SALE (1716-1792); Secondly Marianne D’ARGENT [aka Mary Ann]. Their children included: George James SALE (1728–1773), William Mitchel SALE (1730–), Jane SALE (1732–) & Samuel (1734–1755) The latter died in an earthquake in Lisbon, Portugal.

A 2nd JACKSON-SALE familial link occurs a generation later but the echoing of a forename contributes to my hunch that it too could be relevant. A Samuel SALE (b bef 1834), father of Hannah SALE (1854-1929) married William JACKSON of Ballygibbon, Co. Kildare. The Jacksons of Ballygibbon, Co. Kildare trace back to the late 1600s, and the name Richard is used for at least one descendant in this family line, and the name William occurs frequently.

Rev William not only tracked Mohammed’s ancestry, but also included Christ’s:

With respect to Christ he was the tribe of Judah, of the House of David, and lineally descended from Abraham; A pedigree of only forty-two generations. [p.46]

Clearly, tracking lineage mattered to him. In the final paragraph of Observations, he mentions his Irish heritage,

Such, then, as the work is, I, with great deference, submit it to the candor and indulgence of the Irish nation; of which my paternal and maternal ancestors were centuries ago; from which I sprang; and for the real happiness of which offer an ardent prayer to HIM - - -  who disposeth the faith of empires. [p72]

We know that his GORE ancestors were living in Ireland in the early 1600s and that his two most likely JACKSON lineages – from Co. Down and/or Coleraine JACKSONs - also trace back to the early 1600s. Earlier, when he refers to Paine’s description of the prophets being itinerant poets and musicians, he adds:

An Highlander playing a Scottish air on the bagpipes is a prophet; an Irish Harper is the same, the instrument and the latter, however, being the most agreeable, the harpist is the better prophet. [p26]

In this passage, is he acknowledging his bifurcated Irish-Scottish heritage, and at the same time – possibly - an allegiance to Irish-Celtic sensibilities? This is a bit of a reach, but …

In 1794, the Northern Star stated that Rev. William was: accidentally an alien to this country … Irish blood only flows through his veins. Richard Robert Madden (1798-1886), may have taken this reporting one step too far in: The United Irishmen – Their Lives and Times when he alleged:

THE subject of this memoir, though not born in Ireland, was descended from a highly respectable family of a northern county, of the Newtownards branch of the Jacksons, from which the celebrated American general of that name sprung. [NOTE: Madden is off the mark here, but the error is understandable. The Newtownards branch of JACKSONs included President Andrew Jackson. Stonewall Jackson was in the Tartaragan branch.

There is more to learn about Rev. William’s Irish ancestry, but by using the framing of his own words, we can at least see that in spite of his many insecurities, his volatility, his sensual embrace of life and his love affair with good claret, his faith in a personal God was sincere. When he died, there was a scrap of paper in his pocket in his own handwriting:

Turn thee unto me and have mercy upon me; for I am desolate and afflicted! The troubles of my heart are enlarged.O bring thou me out of my distresses. Look upon my affliction and my pain, and forgive me all my sins. Consider my enemies, for they are many, and they hate me with a cruel violence. Oh! keep my soul and deliver me. Let me not be ashamed, for I put my trust in thee. SOURCE: The United Irishmen, their lives and times. Newly ed. (Catholic Publication Society of America, 1916) Richard Robert Madden, [A reissue of the 1857-1860 version]

In a recent New York Times interview, Charan Ranganath, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of California, Davis, and the author of Why We Remember has some pertinent insights which can season aspects of our quest for the truth of the life of Rev. William.

We don’t replay the past as it happened; we do it through a lens of interpretation and imagination. … So it creates all these weird biases and infiltrates our decision making. It affects our sense of who we are. … a major purpose of memory, which is to give us an illusion of stability in a world that is always changing. Because if we look for memories, we’ll reshape them into our beliefs of what’s happening right now. We’ll be biased in terms of how we sample the past. We have these illusions of stability, but we are always changing. And depending on what memories we draw upon, those life narratives can change.

Is seeking to understand the life of Rev. William through the lens of his own words, any more valid than the lenses which were chosen by Peter Stuart (1795 in the Oracle), or by Richard Robert Madden (1857 in The United Irishmen, their lives and times) or by Lucyle Werkmeister (1961 in Notes for a Revised Life of William Jackson)? As I continue to revise my own sense of what seems truthful, I cannot ignore that: those life narratives can change. For now, I leave the reader to judge.

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