The Palmer Family and the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy
by Patricia Anne (McGuinness) DuLong
The Dexter McGuinnesses are related to the Palmer family because James Hubert McGuinness married Emma Palmer around 1879 in Jackson, Jackson County, Michigan. She was the daughter of Thomas William Palmer and Margaret O'Toole. One wonders if James understood that Emma was descended from an Anglo-Irish family with ties to the British military and Anglican church.
In the course of researching the McGuinnesses, I learned that our cousin, Emma Jane (Conklin) Nelson, M.D., had a treasure she was kind enough to share with me. She had a pile of letters written mostly to Thomas Palmer in the mid 1800s from Ireland. The letters had passed from Caroline Hoskyns in New York, the daughter of Margaret O'Toole by her first marriage to Edwin Bennett Hoskyns, to Marguerite McGuinness, the daughter of James Hubert McGuinness and Emma Palmer. Caroline gave the letters to Marguerite before the latter left on her trip to Ireland in 1939 to see her ancestral lands. Aunt Marguerite gave the letters to Emma Jane, her niece. Thus you can see the letters have remained in the hands of family members for over a hundred years.
Emma Jane let me photocopy all these letters and the transcriptions Aunt Marguerite had done of most of the letters. I finished transcribing the other letters as well as made modification to her work. It is very difficult to read some of these letters because of the way they had been written. The difficult ones were written horizontally across the page and then turned sideways and then written vertically over the first part of the letter. This was done to conserve paper and postage, but it makes it extremely difficult for the modern reader to interpret the script. On this web page and others at this site I will refer to this collection of letters as the Palmer Letters 1841-1883. The letters contained a lot of interesting information about the family in Ireland, their beliefs, relationships, and tragedies. My husband, John, and I are still analyzing these letters and looking for additional clues to pursue in our genealogical research. So far we have used these letters to find out some interesting facts and we are confident that they can yield much more as we learn more about nineteenth century Ireland.
The Palmers were a typical example of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy, that is, they were Protestants of English ancestry living in Ireland as a social group ascendant over the Gaelic-Irish Catholics. To put it plainly, they were the conquerors of the Irish nation. The Palmers, as part of the Anglo-Irish Ascendancy, were either involved in the Church of Ireland or the British army for centuries. Although they were not nobles and members of the social elite, they were on the cusp between the upper and middle classes with pretensions to move up. Unfortunately, for every two steps up the ladder they took one down. Nevertheless, while our Thomas experienced downward mobility, his brother Henry Wellington would be able to climb up a few rungs.
The most important letter in the Palmer collection is a letter of introduction written by Major James Palmer in 1841 to his friend James Buchanon, Esq., British Consul in New York City, regarding his son Thomas W. Palmer. Here is the letter:
As you can see this letter provides us with some excellent details about Thomas and his immigration to the United States. It is interesting to note that Thomas settled in Michigan and not in Canada as his father preferred. James of course would prefer that his son settle in part of the British Empire.
Thomas never turned this letter over to Mr. Buchanon. In fact, his father would write to more letters to his friend Buchanon that his son would also fail to deliver. Here is the text of the second letter of introduction:
Again there is mention of a mysterious lady James introduced to Mr. Buchanan who the latter helped. It will be interesting to find out who she is and what her relationship was to the Major.
You will note that in this final letter of introduction the Major dwells on spiritual themes. This is so in some of the other letters he write to Thomas. Later John and I hope to write more on the information we are collection about the religious affiliation of the Major and his family with Dr. Kelly's congregation (a break away church from the Anglicans).
One of the research questions I hope to eventually answer is what exactly was the relationship between Major James Palmer and James Buchanan, Esq.? Were they friends from school, from the army, from Dublin society?
Other letters tell us that Thomas had a brother, Henry Wellington Palmer, nicknamed "Hal," a sister Pricilla "Prissy" and another brother (more likely a step-brother) named James. Eventually, we hope to add all the letters to this web site. Including some letters mentioning the hard times in Ireland (the result of the potato famine no doubt) and how the Major is in debt to several people, but hopes he will be able to pay them off soon and put some money aside for each of his children.
His brother, Henry Wellington Palmer, served in the 74th Highland Light Infantry and retired in 1878 as a Major General from the 90th Perthshire Light Infantry (both Scottish regiments). He was a Companion of the Most Honorable Order of the Bath. He had a career his father would have been proud of in the British military.
Henry Wellington and Thomas seemed to have been very close to their sister, Prissy. She married Robert Taaffe, a lawyer in Dublin. She became very ill and Robert writes to let Thomas know and then she died on 30 January 1857. This letter is a pathetic and sad one to read.
As indicated in the first letter of recommendation, Thomas had a short career, probably as an officer, on an "Indiaman." This was a specially designed large ship used in the trade with India. He may have been an employee of the Honorable East India Company. I home to research his short maritime career in the future.
Thomas seemed to have adjusted well to life in America. He owned several pieces of land. By examining the tax rolls and land records of Dexter, Washtenaw County, Michigan, we find that Thomas paid taxes on the four properties in 1842 totaling 210 acres in Dexter Township, Washtenaw County, valued at $490.00 plus $50.00 for personal value and paid taxes of $3.85. The total value of all his land in 1843 was $855.00 plus $92.00 personal value making taxes of $6.91. In 1844, he purchased an additional 160 acres in Dexter Township. All of this land is close to where his friend Edwin Hoskyns had purchased land near North Lake, also in Dexter Township. This was probably far more land than his father ever owned back in Ireland. I am still shifting through the land records for both Washtenaw and Livingston counties and I hope to eventually add a web page that clearly identifies all the properties Thomas held.
Edwin Hoskyns, Thomas's friend and relative, died on 24 August 1848 in Dexter. Thomas would have known his friends widow since at least 1841 when he arrived in Michigan. She was Margaret O'Toole, the daughter of Lawrence O'Toole and Margaret O'Laughlin of Wicklow, County Wicklow, Ireland. Hoskyns appears to have married her first in Ireland in 1834 and a second time in Dexter, Michigan on 16 December 1835 (Deputy Keeper of the Public Records 1899, 517; Hoskyns 2000). The first time was probably in a Protestant ceremony and the second time in the Catholic church. Together, Edwin and Margaret had Caroline born 1836, John born June 1838, Chandos born 4 April 1838, Lucy born 21 October 1841, and Edwin Bennett born 1847. Thomas married Margaret around 1848. They would have Pricilla born 1849, Thomas William born 3 January 1853, Emma born 16 January 1854, Matilda Eleanor "Nellie" born 10 April 1856 and Mary "Mollie" born Oct 1859.
On 17 Mar 1849, Thomas sells 180 acres in Washtenaw County, possibly the land Margaret held from her first marriage, and soon thereafter moved to Putnam Township, near Pinckney, Livingston County, Michigan. For sure he was residing in Livingston County by 1852 when his second child William is born in Pinckney. In 1859, he becomes Justice of the Peace for Putnam Township.
Thomas died on 25 August 1865 at Pinckney. He must have been sick for some time before his death. According to Great Aunt Mary (McGuinness) Conklin, Thomas had been a great supporter of Abraham Lincoln. When the President was assassinated on 14 April 1865, his family purposefully kept the news from Thomas least it upset him and rush his death.
This is just a summary introduction to our Palmer ancestry in America. Back in Ireland there is more information about the family to be analyzed and found. For instance, in Dublin Castle, John and I found the Palmer coat-of-arms confirmed to Henry Wellington Tuthill Palmer, the son of Henry Wellington Palmer in 1908 (Wilkinson 1908). In this grant of arms, it states that Henry Wellington is the only son of James Palmer. On one hand I am suspicious that perhaps Thomas was forgotten because he married an Irish-Catholic. On the other hand, it might just have been that Thomas had been dead for over fifty years and was forgotten by his nephew. The Major certainly had strong Protestant convictions and would not have been pleased that his son Thomas married unequally to a Catholic, a fear he implied in his letters. We do not know how the Major reacted to the news that Thomas had married a Catholic, or if he was ever told her faith. It is unlikely that Thomas was disinherited. Moreover, Henry and Prissys husband, Robert, continued to write to Thomas until his death in 1865. The Major left a will in Ireland, but it was apparently destroyed in the 1922 Irish Civil War when the Public Records Office in the Four Courts building was destroyed. I am searching to see if another copy of this will exists. It might give us a better idea of how the Major viewed the actions of his son.
In the grant of Arms, it states that Major James Palmer was the eldest son of the venerable Henry Palmer, Clerk in Holy Orders, Master of Arts of the University of Dublin and Archdeacon of Ossory. His wife, Ellen, was the daughter and co-heir of Edward Smyth of Callowhill in County Fermanagh, Esquire, High Sheriff of the said county in the year 1747. His wife was Eleanor, daughter and heir of John Ralphson, only son of William of the city of Dublin. Using this information, I was able to trace some of the Palmer maternal ancestors back to Elizabethan England. But that is for another page.
For more information about the military careers of the Palmer men you can go to the web page John has for them. Eventually, he hopes to write a web page on the Church of Ireland careers of the Palmer ancestors and the other Anglo-Irish families related to the Palmers, namely, the Nash, Smyth, and Vesey families.
I am still in the process of clarifying and cleaning up the citations for the Palmers. When I complete this process I will fix and update the following citations.
Charboneau, Milton. N.d. Early Land Owners & Settlers of Livingston County, Michigan, 1828 to 1870's. N.p.
Conklin, Mary (McGuinness). 1985. Interviewed by Patricia A. DuLong on tape (8 March).
Deputy Keeper of the Public Records. 1899. Appendix to the Thirtieth Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records and Keeper of the State Papers in Ireland: An Index to the Act or Grant Books and Original Wills of the Diocese of Dublin from 1800 to 1858. Dublin: Alexander Thom & Co., Ltd.
Hoskyns, Wesley F. 2000. Edwin Bennet Hoskyns Family Group Record (AFN:PF4J-1D). Available at http://www.familysearch.org (9 July).
Jackson County, Michigan. 1901-1918. Death Record of John O'Toole, rec. no. 379, Family History Library, reel no. 941629.
Livingston County, Michigan, various land, tax, and vital records to be documented more fully later.
Palmer Letters. 1841-1883. Letters between various members of the Palmer, O'Toole, and Taaffe families of Ireland, India, and Michigan. Originals in the possession of Emma Jane (Conklin) Nelson, M.D., Troy, Michigan. Photocopies in the possession of Patricia Anne (McGuinness) DuLong.
Washtenaw County, Michigan, various land, tax, and vital records to be documented more fully later.
Wilkinson, Nevile Rodwell, Ulster King of Arms and Principal Herald of All Ireland. 1908. "Confirmation of Palmer." In Ulster's Office: Grants and Confirmations, J, 111, 235-236. Genealogical Office [G. O.] Ms. 111 (4 December).
Wiskemann, Geneva K., comp. and Jack Thompson, ed.  1979. Reproduction of Topographical Map of the Counties of Ingham & Livingston, Michigan. Reprint ed. Lansing, MI: Historical Society of Greater Lansing and Livingston County Historical Society.
This page, and all contents, are Copyright © 1999 by Patricia A. (McGuinness) DuLong, Berkley, MI. Created 1 July 2000. Last modified 30 July 2000. This web site is best viewed with your display set to 800 by 600 pixels, at least 256 colors, and using Netscape 4.x or better. Some of the graphics on this page are copyright © 1998, 1999 by Amanda Fisher and are used here in compliance with her terms.