Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Laurence Butler- Ch. 6: Family & Life in Wexford in 1798

Laurence Butler’s Wexford family

Previous to the uprising, Laurence and his wife were living a peaceful life in the small village of Ferns, which was surrounded by lush farming lands in the northern area of County Wexford.

It is unknown whether Laurence left behind a family, although, it is known that he had a wife named Catherine back in Wexford, Ireland. She is mentioned in four letters written home to Ireland by another Irish rebel convict, Michael Hayes, who remained a friend of Laurence’s until his death. (Hayes witnessed Laurence’s Will)

In the letters Michael wrote:

“Inform Catherine Butler that her husband is perfectly well. He is employed under Government. His trade is very good but where sobriety is attached.” (written to sister Mary, dated  2 Nov 1802, shortly after Laurence’s arrival in October- this reference to Laurence is a postscript on the end of the letter and was probably written well after the date on the letterhead, for Hayes to have made such a comment.)

“Inform Laurence Butler’s wife that I made an application to him to forward some money. His reply was he could not now, but at another time he would send her £20 or more. He has five men employed but is badly paid. He is not yet free. Remember me to her.” (written 25 Nov 1812, to brother Richard)

“Inform them that L. Butler is well; he has a family. I done all in my power to make him send support to his wife in Wexford. He might if he was well disposed.”   (written 20 May 1814, to brother Patrick)

In 1817, Laurence’s application for a marriage licence stated that he was a "widower", so it is possible he received word that Catherine had died, just before he married Ann Roberts. Michael Hayes had written home in April 1817 and mentioned Catherine again, so they didn’t know of her death then.

“Laurie Butler I frequently urged to send Ten or twenty pounds to his wife. he ___ off by excuses. He is certainly encumbered with debts. He has three children by his housekeeper.”(written 4 April 1817, to his mother)  [i]
 (Laurence married his ‘housekeeper’ Ann Roberts three months later.)

As it would appear from the letters that Michael Hayes’s family knew Catherine Butler and had contact with her, it would seem that Catherine no longer resided in Ferns. She may have moved to Wexford Town, or they may have had a townhouse in Wexford town. As she would have been aged in her fifties or sixties, she probably resided with one of their children until her death in 1816/17.  Any freehold property Laurence may have had in Ferns would have been confiscated following his conviction.

In 1810, there was a notice in the “Gazette” for Laurence to collect a letter from the Post Master (Isaac Nichols). This may have been from his family. The letter was one of a number of letters for Wexford rebels (John Brenan and William Davis), carried on the ‘Canada’. [ii]

The County of Wexford

County Wexford in Province of Leinster- SE corner
The county of Wexford is very small, measuring 24 miles in breadth and 38 miles in length, comprising 397,525 English statute acres. The population of the two most populated baronies, Forth and Bargy in the south, including Wexford Town (5,992) was estimated at 24,462 in 1803.[iii]  The remaining baronies of Ballaghkeen, Shelmaliere, Bantry, Scarawalsh, Shilbyrne and Gorey were morely sparcely populated and would have had much lower populations.  In 1841 the total population was 202,000; in 1851 it had fallen to 180,000; in 1891, following extensive emigration, the population was 112,000.[iv]

Traditionally, County Wexford was the territory ruled by the Irish clans of the McMurroughs, Kavanaghs and Kinsellas, Kings of Leinster. The Norse Vikings founded the town of Wexford (Waesfjord) as a trading settlement before the 10th century, but were driven out of Wexford Town by the Normans when they invaded the country in 1169, and settled in the area around Rosslare, assimilating into the local population. The Normans arrived at the invitation of Dermot MacMurrough, King of Leinster, who was thrown out of Ireland by the High King of Ireland Rory O’Connor, an ally of the King of Breifne, Tiernan O’Rourke, whose wife was abducted by Dermot MacMurrough, following a long period of bitter rivalry over the middle kingdom of Meath. Dermot fled to Wales, and having been granted permission by Henry II  to recruit forces to regain his kingship, engaged the services of Norman mercenaries led by Richard de Clare Earl of Pembroke, known as “Strongbow”, who, despite inferior numbers of soldiers, overcame the numerically superior forces of O’Connor. In return, Dermot had promised Strongbow grants of land in Leinster and his daughter’s hand in marriage. Despite this, Dermot died under mysterious and suspicious circumstances in 1171, shortly after he regained his kingdom. His successor, his brother Murrough, was also quickly dispatched by the Normans. Dermot’s illegitimate son, Donal Mor Kavanagh succeeded, and the Leinster monarchy stayed in the Kavanagh family for the next 500 years. Donal had been sent by King Dermot to meet the Normans on their arrival at Bannow. Donal was the first of the line of Kavanaghs. He was named Donal Caomhánach on account of having been fostered by the successor of St Caomhán at Kilcavan.
Many of the Anglo-Norman mercenaries stayed and settled in the county. Many of  their descendants continue to live there today as evidenced by the family names of Sinnott, Esmond, Devereux, Wadding, Stafford, Browne (le Brun), Hayes, Codd, Frayne, Butler, Hore, Furlong, Rossiter, Sutton, Cheevers, Keating, Roche and Whitty. Meyler and Fitzhenry came from the Welsh mercenaries who accompanied the Normans. Common family names of Irish origin that continue in the county are Kavanagh, Kinsella, Murphy, Bolger, Brien, Byrne, Leary, Redmond,  etc.

County Wexford is completely surrounded by sea or mountains, with only three land exits, through mountain terrain to the neighbouring counties. These exits are at Scullogue Gap in the Blackstairs Mountains, the Slaney River Valley at Bunclody/Newtownbarry and the Arklow Gap into County Wicklow. To gain an idea of what life was like in County Wexford in the late eighteenth century, we refer to descriptions of this beautiful part of Ireland. This topography meant that County Wexford was quite isolated from the rest of Ireland, before the arrival of the railway.

Richard Roche noted: “The unique permanence of the old Cambric-Norman families, especially in Forth and Bargy, who despite confiscation, transplantation and oppression, remained rooted in their ancestral areas- many indeed holding lands today in the same exact locations where their distant progenitors first settled in the 12th and 13th centuries.[v]

Ferns is a small and ancient village, about 5 miles north of Enniscorthy, composed of one street.
St Edan (Aidan) came to Ferns c 600 AD, and founded a monastery there. He died in 632AD and his remains are buried beneath the Church. He was also called St Mogue. In 930 AD the monks were robbed by Viking raiders and the monastery burned.
In 1158 Dermot MacMurrough King of Leinster, founded an abbey in Ferns. The deposed King Dermot MacMurrough (d.1171), who invited the Normans to Ireland in 1169 to help him reclaim his lands, is buried close by the adjoining graveyard and adjacent to the ruins of St. Mary’s Augustinian Abbey. The abbey is thought to be located within the original enclosure of St. Aidan.
The original medieval cathedral was built by Bishop St. John in the 1230’s. It was burned in 1575 and rebuilt in 1577, and there were many additions to it since then. St Mary’s Abbey was suppressed in 1539 and the property reverted to the King of England.

Ferns pre 1900
(Philip Hore's, History of the town and county of Wexford, 1900)

Ferns Castle is a 12th century Norman building and is erected on the site of an ancient fortress of the Kings of Leinster. It is situated on a hill. The castle was destroyed by Cromwell in 1649. In the mid 1500’s, Queen Elizabeth appointed Richard Butler 1st Viscount Mountgarrett, the second son of the 8th Earl of Ormond, as Governor of Wexford, based at Ferns Castle, to counter the powerful Irish clans under the Kavanaghs, who ruled the Barony of Scarawalsh and were constantly harassing the English settlers in Wexford. (Mountgarrett’s mother was the daughter and sister of MacMurrough Kavanagh, King of Leinster.) He was replaced by an English adventurer from Cheshire, Thomas Masterson, who was appointed as Governor/Constable of Ferns Castle and then Seneschal of Wexford. Masterson was granted Ferns Castle and the abbey lands and manor, by letters patent dated 26 January 1583, by Queen Elizabeth.  His son, Sir Richard Masterson succeeded his father as Seneschal and Constable of Ferns Castle. Richard Masterson’s daughter and co-heiress, Catherine, married Edward Butler of Kayer (near Enniscorthy), grandson of 1st Viscount Mountgarrett, and were the likely ancestors of Laurence Butler. In the resettlement of Scarawalsh in the early 1600’s, Richard Masterson was not regranted Ferns Castle and Abbey, however, he was allotted 1500 acres of land around Ferns, and further acquired large tracts of lands surrounding Ferns. The Mastersons, and Edward’s son Pierce Butler who owned about 10,000 acres near Enniscorthy (in the 1641 Civil Survey), would have their lands confiscated by Cromwell in 1656. Edward and Catherine’s grandson Walter Butler, who would play a prominent role in County Wexford up until his death in 1717, settled on an estate named Munphin (Mountfin), near Ballycarney, only about three miles west of Ferns. His only son and heir, Walter Butler Junior, was under attainder for treason following the Battle of the Boyne defeat (of James II), and served in the Irish Brigade in the service of France before switching to the Imperial Army under Prince Eugene. He returned to Wexford in 1708. However, what remained of his father’s substantial estate which had suffered under the repressive Penal Acts and Forfeitures Acts, was finally disposed off following the death of Walter Senior, the son and his large family reduced to living on a small estate near Munphin. Walter Junior’s children were born at Munphin between 1707 and 1718 and further children may have been born before his death in 1725- his eldest son was also named Walter, the name given to Laurence’s first Australian born son. Laurence’s association with Ferns may be explained by his descent from these two families- the Butlers and Mastersons. There were very few Catholic Butler families living in County Wexford at the time of the Rebellion, and only one branch that has been recorded in the northern area of Scarawalsh.

By 1798, although the Catholic population numbered about 90% of the Ferns district, they were tenants of the Protestant minority who possessed most of the property. The lands of Scarawalsh, around Ferns and towards the Blackstairs Mountains were some of the most fertile and productive in the whole county.

Herbert Hore wrote the history of Ferns some time in the 1800’s, which his son Philip published in the sixth volume. The following description is given:
“Whatever, the importance this town held in the past, it is now only an insignificant village, consisting chiefly of one irregular street. It is situated in the Barony of Scarawalsh, on the small River Bann, which falls into the Slaney at Enniscorthy. In the past, this place was repeatedly plundered and burned, first by the Danes, and subsequently by the Kavanaghs, but it always rose, phoenix like, from its ashes. The town owes its origin in all probability to the first monkish settlement under St. Aidan. Thomas Furlong, in his “Doom of Derenzie”, written in 1829, states: Ferns is now an inconsiderable village, situated 5 miles north of Enniscorthy. It consists of a single street, and is remarkable only for its venerable ruins and the association of its name with the most interesting part of Irish history. Previous to the 12th century, it was honoured by the residence of the Leinster Monarchs (the MacMurrough Kavanaghs); and a diligent Antiquary might even now trace the remains of an extensive, if not an opulent city. It was once encompassed by a stone wall, fragments of which are to be found at a considerable distance from the village.
The waters of the Slaney, distant about 3 miles, were brought hither by an artificial canal, and the remains of a paved causeway show that the Leinster Monarchs were not inattentive to the comforts of the citizens. The churchyard of Ferns is one of the largest cemeteries in Ireland.”

John Bernard Trotter who wrote a book entitled “Walks through Ireland in 1812-17” says of Ferns:
“A small village, a venerable castle, and some beautiful ruins of an abbey, alone remain of a city once great and populous.” Hore continues: There is no place in the County of Wexford which appeals more to the emotions of the patriot, the archaeologist, and the historian, than the venerable ruins of this ecclesiastical settlement, crowned with the fast-decaying remnants of its once majestic Castle. The Romanesque and Gothic architecture of the ecclesiastical ruins, the Celtic crosses, the holy well of its first Bishop, the carved and lichened stone of the ruined abbey, and the noble remnant of the Anglo-Norman Castle, all point to the important position which Ferns occupied in the past, and remind us that this ancient site was for many centuries the abode when living, and the resting place when dead, for the ecclesiastic and the soldier.”[vi]

The Topographical Dictionary of Ireland written in 1837 by Samuel Lewis, gives a description of Ferns, including:
 “The town if romantically situated on the  river Bann, in an open and healthy district, and is sheltered on the north and west by a range of mountains. It consists chiefly of one irregular street and consists of 106 houses, indifferently built, retaining no trace of its ancient importance. The gentlemen’s seats are Ballymore, the residence of R. Donovan Esq, proprietor of the town and the largest estate in the parish, and Clobemon, that of T. Derinzey Esq. A total of 571 live in the town.[vii]

The forest of Killoughram in Scarawalsh north of Enniscorthy was known for its rich timber reserves in particularly oak, an advantage for someone manufacturing furniture. There were also woods near Ferns- Tombrack Wood 121 acres, Forty-Acre Wood (adjacent) 50 acres, Dilk’s Coppice 23 acres, and Lodge Wood 117 acres, all SW of Ferns, were owned by Richard Donovan Esq of Ballymore in 1779 [viii]. A plantation forest was a couple of miles north of Ferns at Coolroe and Coolpuck, owned by the Butler O’Briens. Donovan, a Protestant, also owned considerable lands in the Town of Ferns, Upper and Lower Ferns and south of Ferns. Donovan inherited from his father in 1773 and is stated to have converted the beautiful stone-groined chapel of the Castle into an Orange lodge, where orgies were held.[ix] It would be interesting to know what Laurence, a moral man, thought of those events. He cannot have been unaware of their activities. These lands, at the time of the 1641 Civil Survey were in the hands of Edward Masterson, Bartholomew Bryan and The Bishop of Ferns, and were subsequently confiscated by Cromwell.

In 1812, John Bernard Trotter made a walking tour through Co. Wexford and wrote a diary about his experiences: [x]
15 June 1812, At Ferns we found a tolerable, small inn, but were treated with some contempt, and little civility. Pedestrians, I now plainly perceive, are not well received at inns in Ireland.. We were happy to learn that great harmony prevailed between all parties at Ferns. Accident introduced me to the Rev. Mr (Edward) Redmond, priest of the place, who related to e a curious little anecdote. (relates Bonaparte story recounted above). Thus in the hands of a poor Irish priest, hung, for a moment, much of the future destinies of Europe. I asked, ‘Had the general ever recollected this service, and sent him any mark of his gratitude?’ Mr Redmond said ‘No’, and added, ‘I assure you sir, I do not admire his principles.’
The next morning we left Ferns. I paid a farewell visit to the Rev. Mr Redmond, who was extremely sick and in ill-health. I shall probably never behold this good man again.
We had a charming walk to Newtown Barry, a few miles distant from Ferns. The country looked poor, but tolerably cultivated. We soon arrived at the Slaney, a very beautiful river,,, The waters of the Slaney were of the purest blue.
The Irish language is spoken almost generally in the county of Wexford; we heard it everywhere in the Newtown Barry fair.
Leaving Bunclody, Trotter took the road south to New Ross.  We saw on our way, with much pleasure, great improvement in agriculture. The land was, however, poor, but let at from a guinea to 30s the acre. Schools at all the chapels. The youths of Ireland are not to be deemed ignorant, but… he cannot get English books to read, and too often forgets how to do so, if he had them. Books in Irish are not to be had.

In 1764, Amyas Griffith sent a piece to the Dublin Magazine (49):
“It (Wexford Town) before Cromwell’s time was well enclosed, part of the walls are yet standing, with four gates, one at each quarter of the town. The Main Street from the Westgate to the Barrack gate is about three-quarters of a mile in length. Outside of the West-gate is a fine Spa, reckoned by skilful physicians an infallible cure for many disorders…. Beyond the South (or Barrack) gate stands the barrack, a large, low building forming a square. I have heard it can contain four Companies completely. From this barrack runs a very broad street upwards of a mile in length named the Faythe, commonly styled Faith. The cabins, which compose this suburb or outlet are very snug and commodious, and the dwellings are a set of the most industrious people on the earth. Their employments are mostly weaving nets or spinning hemp.
To return to the town. In the midst or heart of the Main Street is the bull-ring, where the Court House, with an excellent clock etc,. stands…. About 50 yards from the Court-house, southwards, is the new Church, which, when finished, in miniature will come nigh in beautiful structure, workmanship, materials etc., to any in Dublin. Between the Church and the Barracks, a little above the Jews (sic) Bridge, lies the gaol, it is but ordinary, yet built exceeding strong, with a court-yard etc. In John Street, north west of the town, is the Chapel; it is one of the prettiest I have ever seen, with a friary, garden etc., belonging to it. The Chapel yard is esteemed the best walk about the town. We have a prodigious number of other streets, lanes and quays, as the Flesh Market, Corn Market, Back Street, Shambles, Keizars Lane, Ferry-boat Quay, Medow’s quay, Bennett’s quay, the Common quay, Gibson’s Lane, the Custom house quay, which is the chief or principal of all the other quays, half of which I have not mentioned. The Custom-house quay is small, vastly pretty, with seats all round, a good warm watch-house, and an excellent Custom-house, with convenient stores etc.
I procured the number of houses in the town and suburbs… 1300, and in the confines of the walls 650 good slated houses.
For ale and oysters Wexford is noted as having the best on earth. The chief exports are corn, which annually exceeds upwards of 2.000.000 barrels (sic), herrings, beer, beef, hides, tallow, butter etc, and they trade to all parts of the globe, but in particular to Liverpool, Barbados, Dublin, Norway, and Bordeaux’. In another part he says Wexford imports are brandy, rums, sugars, wines, dyestuffs, porter, fruit of all foreign kinds, alt, timber and hops. He concludes these remarkable notes by stating that:- ‘Wexford is as celebrated for its fine women as for its beer and oysters’.”[xi]

 “Wexford toward the last quarter of the 18th century had become a fashionable town with all modern conveniences and ease of transport. It became a place where all the town houses of the landlord classes packed a few of the town’s most important streets, George’s Street, Selskar Street, and Main Street. The Winter season became a riot of social occasions, balls, private parties, musical evenings. The Colcoughs of Tintern Abbey surpassed their peers. The upper story of their George’s Street town house was turned into a small theatre where visiting players entertained their friends. Harveys, Letts, Hughes, Esmondes, Derinzys, Nunns, the Marquis of Ely, Tottenhams, Boltons, Rowes, Kyans, Herrons are but a few names from the catalogue of bigger landowners who spent the season in the town.

In the 1770’s Wexford port and county generally were enjoying commercial prosperity. The high quality malting barley, which was grown with facility, supplied no less than 242 small malt houses throughout Wexford. These malt houses were able to maintain up to 100 vessels shipping malt from Wexford port to Dublin distilleries, and that is apart from the mainland Europe trade.” [xii]

Furlong gives the following description of the town of Enniscorthy:
 “The town of Enniscorthy’s origins are found on the early Christian place of worship at Templeshannon. The missionary Senan, said to have been a scholar under St David of Wales and an associate of St Aidan of Ferns, founded his missionary strongpoint above the River Slaney’s tidal limit, around 540 AD.”
 “Enniscorthy had gradually expanded to become a busy market town with the individual characteristics enjoyed today on both sides of the River Slaney. The impressive stone bridge was built in 1690 and stimulated the town’s expansion. The citizen’s houses of the time were thatched like the vast majority of houses on the county. Because of the fire hazard in thatch a fire brigade or fire service was organised, one of the first in Irish urban municipalities. Their services were urgently needed in 1731 when 42 houses were lost to fire. They had to contend with four major conflagrations in the 18th century in 1707, 1731, 1752 and again in the two battles for Enniscorthy in 1798.

An estate map for the earl of Portsmouth in 1729 gives a portrait of a growing Enniscorthy, the Slaney banks of the town were poorly developed with only two small wharves, one at Templeshannon and one at the ironworks. This area was mostly occupied by the manor house, garden and orchard of the Wallops. Irish Street is shown as very well settled, with its Mass house discreetly tucked in at the end furthest away from the town. A series of lanes, Water Lane, Pie Lane, and Blind Lane are also shown. The church of the Established Church was unobtrusive. Templeshannon appears as a wide street, opening on the bridge with Templeshannon House as its most imposing feature. Based on the number of houses shown, Enniscorthy may have had a population of about 1500 at the time, indication a growth of 50% since 1660.

The 1785 Portsmouth rental is detailed, listing every house, cabin and open space in the town. The most striking feature is the way in which the town was responding to the expanding tillage economy. At Enniscorthy’s fairs, the rental tells us, ‘great quantities of cattle, sheep, hogs, malt, corn, leather and woollen goods were on display’. The rentals demonstrate the impact of the corn boom on Enniscorthy. It lists fifteen malt-houses, three drying kilns, distilleries and a brewery. Other industrial activities included tan-yards, a salt and lime works, a woollen manufactury, a bleach and a timber yard.

The landlord the earl of Portsmouth, was an absentee, content, as Whelan concludes, as long as the rents were paid on time. Therefore the real arbiters of the town’s growth were the substantial leaseholders. Men like Joseph Sparrow, George Beale, William Wheeler, Patrick Ponder, Patrick Sutton, John Devereux and Thomas Hinton were the real power brokers. By 1785 this mercantile group, although still mostly Protestant, had expanded to include rising Catholics and also incorporated a small but dynamic group of Quakers.” [xiii]

Life in County Wexford

Life in County Wexford at this time was prosperous and quiet. However, as the century progressed so did the rise of discontent amongst the Catholic population in the County of Wexford. The American Revolution in 1776 followed by the French Revolution in 1789 stirred up Revolutionary and Republican feelings. There was a growing willingness by middle class Catholics to become involved in politics- the Catholic Association was founded in 1757, followed by the United Irishmen Society in 1791. The arrival of newspapers spread new ideas and the reporting of events around the globe.
As Furlong puts it: “The state of misery bore down heavily on the families of the ‘old foreigners’, who had been powers in the land and who bore their contempt for the Cromwellian confiscators down to this very day. Their contempt was lubricated from snobbery that nobler blood flowed through the veins of the expelled (in the 1656 Land Confiscations) than through the Cromwellians’ who were aristocrats ‘neither by blood, station, birthright or breeding.”  [xiv]

Laurence was from one of those “Old English” families, long established in the County of Wexford, that suffered great losses under those land confiscations, since the time of Cromwell in the mid 1600’s, and the Williamite plantation after the defeat of Catholic King James II in 1691, and as a result, harboured deep resentment towards his Protestant neighbours.

The severe restrictions placed on Catholics in Ireland led to widespread discontent. Laurence, a skilled cabinet maker, was not able to ply his trade freely. To illustrate this: in 1793, a Petition was presented personally to the king on behalf of the Catholics of Ireland by Edward Hay, listing their grievances, one of which stated:
We are interdicted from all municipal stations and franchise of all guilds and corporations; our exclusion from the benefits, annexed to those situations, is not an evil terminating in itself; for, by giving an advantage over us to those in whom they are exclusively vested, they establish throughout the kingdom, a species of qualified monopoly, uniformly operating in our disfavour, contrary to the spirit, and highly detrimental to the freedom of trade.”  [xv]

Looking at the “Irish Provincial Directories of 1788” by Richard Lucas, for the county of Wexford, there is only one cabinetmaker listed- a Stephen Lett of Castle-hill, Enniscorthy. [xvi]

Stephen Lett of Enniscorthy built a home at Newcastle near Taghmon. Possibly, Laurence was associated with Stephen Lett.
Hilary Murphy in “Families of County Wexford” has the following information on the Lett family:
 “Most of the Letts were zealous Protestant loyalists at the time of the Insurrection of 1798. On the other hand we find Joshua Lett, who possessed extensive lands near Enniscorthy in 1798, was a personal friend of the rebel leader Thomas Cloney. After the surrender of Wexford and when Cloney was badly wounded as a result of a gun accident, Joshua Lett gave him the hospitality of his home, where he was arrested after a few days and taken to Enniscorthy. Subsequently at Cloney’s court-martial members of the Lett family came forward and gave evidence of the humanity shown by Cloney to the loyalists during the Insurrection. One of the family who joined the rebel side was James Moore-Lett, second son of Stephen Lett of Newcastle, and the grandson of Joshua Lett. He was then only thirteen years old and became known as ‘the boy hero of ‘98”. His mother, nee Mary Moore, was a niece of Baganel Harvey, Commander-in-Chief of the Insurgent Army. She is said to have sympathized with her uncle, and her children all came under his influence. Her four beautiful daughters became known as the ‘rebel angels’, on account of having embroidered banners for the insurgents.”  Following the rebellion, Jamie was arrested, tried and initially sentenced to transportation (ref Irish Transportation Database). Due to his age and small stature, this was overturned and he was “sent home to his mother.”[xvii]

Hore’s “History of the Town and County of Wexford” Vol. 6, has Joshua and Stephen Lett made Freemen of the Borough of Enniscorthy in 1760; and Stephen Lett was a signatory on a petition, as an “Inhabitant of the Borough of Enniscorthy” in 1792.[xviii]

In Sir Richard Musgraves “Memoirs” the following deposition states:
“Catherine Heydon
deposeth that said town of Enniscorthy was taken by the rebels on Monday 28 May last; and that on the said day the kings troops and yeomanry, with most of the protestants there were obliged to retreat to the town of Wexford to avoid the merciless rage of the said rebels; by which examinant and her said husband were left unprotected and obliged to fly from one house to another for protection as most of the houses there were on the same day pulled down or burned by the rebels. This examinant saith that she and her said husband retreated at last to the house of Stephen Lett, a cabinet maker, and that two parties of the rebels came into said house and assured (my husband) they would not injure him… stones were thrown up at the windows; on which said Lett declared, that his house would be destroyed, if he gave examinant and said Heydon protection any longer. Etc.” [xix]

Stephen’s sister-in-law, Barbara Lett, wife of Newton Lett, also wrote her account of the Rebellion, in which the editor gave the following information: “Stephen Lett of Newcastle, Tillikin, a Protestant, and a United Irishman, cabinet maker of Enniscorthy, son of Joshua Lett.” [xx]
Hilary Murphy in his “Families of County Wexford” states, however, that “Young “Jemmy” (Jamie Moore Lett) Lett’s father, Stephen Lett, died in 1786” and left a will. Barbara Lett’s account also states, that “she met Mrs Lett and her daughters. She was the widow of my husband’s eldest brother, Stephen Lett of Newcastle, and that she was near allied to Bagenal Harvey.”[xxi]
So, there appears to be some confusion on whether Stephen Lett Senior was alive during the Rebellion, however, it would seem from depositions that he was very much alive. A second deposition during the court martial of a Patrick Beaghan, accused and found guilty of the murder of Rev. Samuel Heydon, also mentioned Stephen Lett:
Witness, the Rev John Sutton, described how he saved the life of “Mr Stephen Lett of Enniscorthy”, who was a prisoner of a party of rebels armed with pikes. He described how the rebels aimed some strokes at Lett’s head with the handles, which hit both of them, causing Lett to “stagger very much”. With the help of Rev Sutton, they managed to get into Lett’s house, whereupon the rebels turned their rage on Rev Heydon, killing him. Sutton also stated “Mr Lett is above 60 years of age.” [xxii]:

It is possible that Laurence was closely associated with Stephen Lett and his cabinet making business at some stage, particularly if Stephen had United Irish sympathies. As Catholics were severely restricted under the “Penal Laws” in regards to their education, ownership of property, membership of guilds etc., it is likely that Laurence would have learned his trade from a Protestant cabinet maker in the area in which he lived, ie. Enniscorthy, which was the second largest town in County Wexford. The town of Ferns is five miles/eight kilometres north of Enniscorthy, and the area between them is ‘the Ferns area’.

At the trial of rebel Edward Hay, Stephen Lett Junior gave a deposition in which he was described as an “upholder and auctioneer of Enniscorthy” who was called upon to value the furniture belonging to Edward Hay. Lett also stated that he retreated from Enniscorthy to Wexford, along with the army on the 28th May, and that Hay would save him from the rebels. [xxiii] This was probably Stephen Lett’s eldest son, who interestingly was not described as a ‘cabinet maker’, although he was called upon to value furniture.
Notably a William Lett, a yeoman, from the Parish of Killincooley near Enniscorthy was also transported on the ‘Atlas 2’, as a rebel. It is unknown if or how he was related to this family.
Stephen Lett (b.c.1740) and Laurence Butler (b.1750) were of a similar age, so they both must have been apprenticed to some other cabinet- maker in County Wexford.

Sir Richard Musgrave’s “Memoirs” has a deposition naming a number of protestants killed 27 May 1798 at the Vinegar Hill camp, of which Fr John Murphy was named ‘commander-in-chief’. One of those killed was a Jacob Minchin of Enniscorthy, cabinet-maker.[xxiv]
It would appear he was the son of William Minchin of Enniscorthy listed in Goodall’s “Freemen of Wexford 1776”. [xxv] .In 1788 William Minchin appears as carpenter and builder, of Church St Enniscorthy (Lucas Directory) and “the son of old Minchin the carpenter” was allegedly one of the five persons dragged out of the Windmill on Vinegar Hill to be murdered during the 1798 rebellion. This son was probably the Jacob Minchin, wounded at Enniscorthy on 28 May 1798 and afterwards murdered on Vinegar Hill (see Musgrave). Nothing else is known of Jacob’s cabinet-making.

The “Freemen of Wexford- 1776” has listed a Richard Bennett of Wexford, cabinet maker, who obtained a 909 year lease from the corporation of Wexford dated 1754 of ‘part of the Quay and Strand.’ [xxvi]In Feb 1757 he appears among the signatories to an agreement by the corn dealers of Wexford to take certain precautions against famine. [xxvii] Bennett  is not listed in the Irish Provincial Directory of 1788, so he was probably deceased.

It is possible that Laurence served his apprenticeship under one of these men, and may have been associated with them in business.

© B.A. Butler

Contact email address:  butler1802   @hotmail.com  (NB. no spaces)

Links to all the chapters in this blog:

The 1798 rebellion
Laurence Butler's trial for his role in the Rebellion
Analysis of Butler's trial
Laurence Butler at the Battle of Tubberneering
Laurence Butler's imprisonment
Butler's life and family in Wexford
Laurence Butler's transportation to Sydney in 1802 on the Atlas 2
Conditions on Convict Ships
Life as a convict in Sydney
Laurence Butler's property investments in Pitt Street Sydney
Sydney Town in 1800-1810
Laurence Butler's petitions to the Governor
Laurence Butler's 100 acre land grant in District of Petersham
Butler's membership of the Commercial Society of Sydney
Laurence Butler's court cases
Laurence Butler's business interests in Sydney
Laurence Butler's cabinet making business
Laurence Butler's property investments in Sydney
Laurence Butler's colonial family
Laurence Butler's death in 1820
Laurence Butler's issue- Walter, Lawrence Junior and Mary Ann
The Catholic Community of Sydney up until 1820
Genealogy- Butler's possible ancestry and possible descendants in Ireland, and BDM records
Butler's fellow Irish rebels transported to Sydney
Conclusion about the life of Laurence Butler

[i] Michael Hayes, Letters 1799-1833, NLA MS 246 (copies in State Library of NSW and National Library of Australia, originals in Franciscan Archives, Dun mhuire, Killiney, Dublin.) Thirteen letters written between 1799 and 1825 by Michael Hayes to his mother, sister and two brothers, plus three letters written by F. Girard, Sydney (son-in-law) to Patrick Hayes in Ireland written in 1831-33.
[ii]  Sydney Gazette, Mon 3 Sept 1810
[iii] Robert Fraser Esq., Statistical Survey of the County of Wexford, Dublin 1807 (Google books- details of agriculture in the County)
[iv] James G. Ryan, Irish Records, 1997 p.571
[v] Hilary Murphy, Families of County Wexford, Printshop, Wexford 1986, page viii Introduction by Richard Roche
[vi]  Phillip Hore (Ed), History of the town and county of Wexford, (6 volumes and manuscripts collected by his father Herbert Hore, pub 1900-1910), Volume 6, page 153
[vii] Samuel Lewis, A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, Volume 1, Pub London 1837, Ferns,
[viii]  Phillip Hore, Ed, A History of the Town and County of Wexford, op.cit., V6, p125
[ix] Ibid, V6, p124
[x] John Bernard Trotter, A Walk through Co. Wexford in 1812, in The Past: The Organ of the Ui Cinsealaigh Historical Society, No 10 (1973/74), pp48-54, www.jstor.org/stable/25519925, accessed 11/10/2010
[xi]  Kevin Whelan (Ed), Wexford History and Society, Geography Publications Dublin 1987, (Ch 6 Life in Wexford Port 1600-1800 by Nicholas Furlong), p.165
[xii] Ibid, p168
[xiii]  Nicholas Furlong, A History of the Town and County of Wexford,  Gill & Macmillan Ltd, Dublin, 2003, p44, p87
[xiv]  Kevin Whelan (Ed), Wexford History and Society, (Ch 6 Life in Wexford Port 1600-1800 by Nicholas Furlong), op.cit, p160-161
[xv] Thomas D’Arcy McGee, A History of the Attempts to Establish the Protestant Reformation in Ireland: and the Successful Resistance of that People (Time: 1540-1830) , Pub Patrick Donahoe, Boston, 1853 (Google Books -original from New York Public Library)
[xvi]  Irish Genealogist, Vol 3, Issue 10 1965, Irish Provincial Directories of 1788: County Wexford, CD, Official Organ of the Irish Genealogical Research Society
[xvii] Hilary Murphy, Families of County Wexford, The Printshop, Wexford, 1986, p160-161
[xviii]  Phillip Hore, op.cit, Volume 6, p537, 546
[xix] Sir Richard Musgrave, Memoirs of the Irish Rebellion in 1798, 3rd  Edition , Dublin 1802, p.725-726
[xx]  John D. Beatty (ed), Protestant Women’s Narratives of the Irish Rebellion of 1798, Four Courts Press 2001, (Ch 5 Barbara Lett), p119
[xxi]  Hilary Murphy, Families of Co. Wexford, Wexford, 1986, p.161
[xxii]  Rebellion Papers- Court Martial of Patrick Beaghan- National Archives of Ireland website 1979- facsimile document 16
[xxiii] Edward Hay, History of the Irish Insurrection of 1798, James Duffy & Co new edition 1898- orig pub 1802, p.341-342
[xxiv] Sir Richard Musgrave, op.cit, Appendix No xix,2, p722
[xxv] The Irish Genealogist, Vol. 5 Issue 3 1976, official organ of the Irish Genealogical research Society
[xxvi] Irish Genealogist, CD, Vol 5, Issue 1, 1974, (Freemen of Wexford- 1776 by David Goodall), op.cit
[xxvii] Phillip Hore, op.cit, Vol 5, p399, 403