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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:

                                               {seal}                Dublin Castle
                                                                        9th April 1841

My Dr [Dear] Friend,

You were on a former letter of mine more than kind to a Lady I introduced to yr acquaintance at New York.  Such kindness generally brings the person who gives it into more demands on his capital—However I trust the present request will not give you more trouble than your advice & protection for a few days in New York—to the Bearer my eldest son, who is proceeding to upper Canada to Locate himself amongst the many settlers from father Land—He is 19—He first went to sea in an Indiaman, was at Australia, Calcutta, China, & had returned Disliking the Sea—& now chooses this life—such changes are not generally wise, & Impart want of decision & perseverance—not as I think in this case—His character is steadiness & prudence—& no wildness whatever: He is well disposed and harmless, a thinking lad, & no bad habits except those of our common nature, & I hope he fears & loves His Master—tho he has shown no decision on this all important subject.  He was much regarded by His Captain at Sea—& is respected by his companions & neighbors now.— 

He is proceeding to Michigan near the boundary to visit a young Englishman a Wm Hoskyns also a relative settled there, to obtain his experienced advice, & aid in choosing a Location—

What I wish you to do is to give him sound advice for his conduct in a new Country—also as to where about he should settle, if you have turned your mind to that Subject—& perhaps you could give him a letter of Introduction to some friend or settler at or near Toronto, or Montreal—who could look after him occasionally—I do not like his going to the Back Woos—& wd. [would] prefer his Locating near Toronto or some good town with amiable neighbors: I propose to assist him by degrees with about 500  He takes with him 150—& can draw on me as he purchases & gets on—I wish him to purchase fm. [from] 1 to 200 acres with house & offices & 20 or 30 acres reclaimed [?]—to start at once, & begin, instead of being idle a year—Edwin Hoskyns in Michigan is son of our Dr. [Dear] friend [John] Hoskyns who is now a Doctor in Dublin—you will also have to conduct him by advice up the Hudson & how to get to Michigan.

I hope there is no fear of War wth. [with] America—The Temple of Janus shd. [should] be shut for ever now—We have had enough of such mischiefs—chiefly caused by false religion, Priest Craft,—& Tyranny;  We are in great anxiety [for] him abd [aboard] the Steam Ship President—We feared she is gone [?].

Should steam improve, & I be spared a year or two I shall probably visit America & you & I may meet again in this short and mountain [?] world—& in another I apprehend we shall meet on the one ground of happy & certain Hope—however we may differ (if we do) about non Essentials.—

Thos. is to draw on me as he may want, as even if otherwise prudent.  I would not get an order on any of the American or Canada Banks now, as the monetary affairs of  both Countrys [sic] are so unsettled & unstable.   Should you come across my Son now or in future assist him for the sake of

Yr [Your] Sincere & affc [affectionate] friend
James Palmer, Inspc [Inspector] General of Prisons, Ireland

P.S. a son of Doctor Hoskyns who was before in America goes wh [with] my son—


Js. [James] Buchanan Esq [Esquire]
British Consul
in US [?]
New York

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:

                                                                    92 Bagot St.
                                                                    14th August 1845

My Dr. [Dear] Buchanan—

It is so long since we communicated together that except for the Christian Bonds that unite us you would necessarily forget your numerous friends in Ireland; I cannot however forget yr [your] kind attention to a lady I gave an introduction to you some years ago and I am glad of an opportunity of again expressing my recollection of you, & informing you that I [am] still under my Lord's blessing hold fast the previous truth of ever-lasting life in His kingdom, though His Merits & Love to a lost sinner otherwise: I do trust my dr [dear] friend & brother you hold on also to this same Anchor, & that we shall meet in glory—To you & me the evening & sunset of our Pilgrimage is nearly over & I now at 65.—am only waiting my call.

I see but little of our old companions, some are fallen asleep—Wm. Kelly still alive & traveling some road—Dr [Dear or Doctor?] G. Carr alive, but some untied with worship of Intellect & consequently silenced, but all is for God's Glory—

I write this merely to Introduce to you my Eldest son Thos. [Thomas] Palmer, who has been settled on a purchase of Land in Michigan near Dexter, for some years—He came to see us last year, & returns via New York & the Hudson & rail Road to Dexter—7. miles from his farm—

Your acquaintance & countenance will be [unreadable word ending in "stable"] to him & I beg to introduce him—His stay in New York will only be a day or so should he pass your way again He will call upon you—You will find him I think sensible, steady, & prudent for his years, 23—He likes America, & your conversation & advice will do him good—I place great confidence in him, & am not without good hopes that He Loves the Lord & looks for His coming—

In this Land we have nothing but strife, Popery, & folly—Well for us there is another beyond the Flood—

Out Queen is gone on a visit to Germany for 3 or 4 weeks, Parliament just up—& Rail Roads & money is the present Idol in this Kingdom—

I am still working in my occupation as Insp: [Inspector] General of Prisons & we are improving.  I think you have gone too far in Seperate system & your confinements are too long:—If you have leisure write me a line any time directed as above.

I am most anxious to get the bearer a good wife, as I dread a young man in the back woods marrying unequally—I expect him home again in Spring for a month or two for this purpose—Tho I have not found an eligible one yet—nor has he which is the principle person to consult—

Finally my dr [dear] friend the Peace of God & our Lord Jesus be with you & remain wh [with] you.

                                                Always faithfully yrs [yours]
                                                Js. Palmer

J. Hoskyns is well—& head Doctor in Dublin Thos [Thomas] knows him & his—


J. [James] Buchanan Esq. [Esquire]
British Consul
*     *     *
New York

Js. [James] Palmer
IG Prs [Inspector General of Prisons?]

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.

                                                                 7th May 1847—

My Dr. [Dear] Buchanan—

This I think is the third letter I have written to you by my Son, who has failed, he tells me from various accidents of time & place, to ever hand you one of them— The first was in 1843 I think [no it was in 1841], when he was going to settle in America as a farmer—& I consider your advice & countenance  would have been of great use to him in deciding on his Location— He has twice come home to see me & his dr [dear] Mother who was joined with us in Christian fellowship with Mr Kelly's congregation— He is now returning again to New York in one of the Liners & will proceed to Michigan close to Dexter where he has been settled 4 or 5 years— & tho I know you have left yr. [your] situation in New York & I hear settled in Canada somewhere, I yet give him another line first because I wish him at his age (only 23) [no, he was more likely 25 or 26] to know you & obtain your acquaintance & advice, & secondly because I know you will be interested to hear of us all & something of the old Country—

I and my dr [dear] Partner are still permitted by our Master to be [a word that ends in "ness"] to the ground & am now only waiting for our dr [dear] Master's Call, to that holy Land where sin and sorrow cease, & joy & everlasting happiness await those who know the finished work of Jesus to be all sufficient to secure their reception in His Heavenly Kingdom without reform to this vileness & comonthings [sic] in this world— & who have been taught to Love & obey His will in some degree & to wait his approving—

Many of your old friends have gone before us & some remain still Lingering on the brink, well knowing that to him is Christ & to die gain— I may well now say this after 66 Summers— & finding all is vanity—

Dr Kelly still lives & has a few followers in some Church— & but few— Edward Cashe [?] is you knew him is still alive & useful— I believe you know that Hoskyns & several with him The Settons again joined Walkers & they have split agn [again] into two sects about some foolish difference I suspect—The Lord permits these differences for some purpose beyond our capacity to see—but I know The Lord's people should be together contending for the faith one delivered to His Saints & they will be set, when you & I are looking on wondering in [?] did not when here see how it should be—

Where I younger I would go to Canada & America & settle, for England & Ireland are growing worse & worse.  I applied [?] in every opposition to God & His Commands & His Gospel— Your friends in Waterford are still together— I saw some of them lately—

You know I became Inspector General of Prisons in 1822— & served till 1846— & last year retired on a Pension, worn out in the Service— & I am now seeking for a place to retire to—for my remaining few days & months— I think I will go to the Isle of man or to Scotland—but it little matters where; I only wish to get amongst those who Love the Lord, & end my days amongst them— My dear wife & I jog on together in the same faith & Hope; She is Paralitic, but otherwise healthy & only waits for her Lord's call— I know not if you remember her; but she does you & desires to be remembered to you affectionately in the Lord—we shall not meet again on earth doubtless, but we shall where sin & sorrow cease & all will be Joy and Praise.

Should my dr [dear] son Thos. deliver this I know you will well welcome him for my sake; & as he tells you of his plans & Prospects, you will aid him by counsel or in any way that occurs to you, but above all in showing Him that in all Lands there are those who Love & fear God & who depend solely on the finished work of Jesus for Wisdom, Righteousness, Sanctification, & Redemption.

Finally my dr [dear] friend—may The Lord be with you & me & ours to the last, supporting us in this struggle & Increasing our Faith—

Always affectionately & faithfully yrs [yours]
In the Lord

Js. Palmer


Forward [?] to Thos Palmer Esq. [Esquire]

Buchanon Esq [Esquire]
*    *    *
Late Consul of New York
   *     *    *

Js. Palmer

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 Prissy’s 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 (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.  [1859] 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.


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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.