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New Hibernia Review 8.2 (2004) 85-105



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"Journey After My Own Heart":

Lord Edward FitzGerald in America, 1788-90

University of Evansville

Lord Edward FitzGerald was born into privilege. His father, James FitzGerald, the first duke of Leinster, was Ireland's most important aristocrat and his mother, Emily Lennox, was the sister of one of England's most powerful lords, the duke of Richmond.1 In spite of these origins, Lord Edward is known to Irish history as a republican and a revolutionary who became one of the most influential members of the Society of United Irishmen; he expected to be commander-in-chief of the revolutionary army which that organization brought into the field in May of 1798 with the intention of overthrowing the British-controlled Irish government and founding an independent republic in its place.2 Police agents in Dublin captured him on May 19, four days before the anticipated revolution broke out, and he died in prison on June 4, succumbing to a wound he received while being arrested.3 The following day, the rebels he had once hoped to lead suffered a decisive defeat at the Battle of New Ross in County Wexford.4 In spite of this inglorious end, however, he has become a toweringly romantic figure in Irish history and takes his place indisputably in the hagiography of Irish nationalism and republicanism.5

FitzGerald's life has inspired several biographies, including one by Thomas Moore that appeared in the early nineteenth century and a more recent study by Stella Tillyard that is among the most influential recent works on the general subject of 1798 and the United Irishmen.6 The rebel aristocrat is of special [End Page 85] interest as an important elite figure in the United Irish movement but also because, to a greater degree than perhaps any other 1798 leader, he represents the movement's transnational and, especially, its pan-Atlantic character.7 As a child, he had many homes, including Carton, the family seat fifteen miles west of Dublin, and Frescati, a seaside retreat to the south of the city.8 In addition, the family spent considerable time in the Lennox seat in Surrey and in family houses in London, Paris, and at Aubigny, in the Loire valley.9 In all of them the young lord, as well as his siblings, were brought up on a steady diet of Rousseau, transmitted to them by their mother and by their tutor and eventual step-father James Ogilvie.10 Lord Edward took up a military career in 1779, at the age of sixteen11 and this led to further European travels, including a trek with a muleteer from Gibraltar to southern France in the summer of 1787.12

Of all his travels, however, it is Lord Edward FitzGerald's two visits to North America, the first in 1780-81 and the second in 1788-89, that have especially intrigued his biographers. On the first journey, he was a young officer in the American war and was stationed at Charleston, South Carolina. His unit saw action in the interior and at the Battle of Eutaw Springs, on September 8, 1781, he suffered a wound that almost ended his life;13 he gained the lifelong friendship of an escaped slave, Tony Small, who rescued him on that occasion and subsequently became his manservant.14

In contrast to this first sojourn in America, which entailed military service only and which did not allow him to see a great deal of the continent, his second visit provided him the opportunity to undertake a journey through regions that differed starkly from what he had seen a decade earlier. On this occasion he landed in Nova Scotia—on June 21, ten years to the day before the Battle of Vinegar Hill—and made his way overland, around the Bay of Fundy, to join his regiment, the 54th, at St. Johns, New Brunswick.15 After three weeks at St. Johns, [End Page 86] the regiment moved upriver to Fredericton, where Lord Edward had command...

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