Saturday 7 December 2019

Cork rebel first to name the 'United States of America'

Stephen Moylan first coined the famous phrase in newly published 1776 letter, writes Claire Mc Cormack

John Trumbull’s famous painting shows the five-man drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence presenting their proposed wording to Congress.
John Trumbull’s famous painting shows the five-man drafting committee of the Declaration of Independence presenting their proposed wording to Congress.

Sunday Independent

A LITTLE known revolutionary from Cork was the first man to name the 'United States of America', according to new evidence published by the New York Historical Society.

Stephen Moylan, an immigrant who became acting Secretary to George Washington - the first President of the United States - coined the phrase in a letter dated January 2, 1776.

In the letter, posted online for the first time last week, Mr Moylan writes to George Washington's personal assistant, Colonel Joseph Reed, seeking foreign assistance in the Revolutionary War against Britain.

"I should like vastly to go with full and ample powers from the United States of America to Spain," he wrote.

Until now, the earliest documented use of the phrase dates back to an anonymous newspaper article published in the Virginia Gazette, in April 1776.

Librarian Mariam Touba told the Swunday Independent the letter was buried in their collection for "at least a hundred years".

In an article on the New York Historical Society website, Ms Touba, writes: "Take a look. Dated January 2, 1776, many months earlier than once thought, this, quite likely, is the first time the name 'United States of America' was ever written, or possibly even expressed."

Although it was written seven months before the Declaration of Independence, the letter was only discovered last year by Byron DeLear, an author and former US congressional candidate.

Shortly afterwards, he brought it to the attention of the New York Historical Society.

According to online archive database Way Back Machine, Stephen Moylan was born in 1737 and was the son of wealthy merchants, "among the most prosperous Catholic families in Cork".

Although the Moylans were "well-to-do," they were not entitled to an education because they were Catholics under the draconian Penal Laws of the time.

Mr Moylan had to be smuggled out of Ireland to France to be educated. He later went to work for a family business in Lisbon before moving to Philadelphia in 1768 where he served in various capacities throughout the war.

According to the New York Historical Society, Mr Moylan wrote his 'United States of America' letter at the Continental Army's headquarters at Cambridge, Massachusetts. And although his letter is mentioned in "a slim 1909 biography", it was published "without anyone taking any particular note of it".

"Digital technology makes it likely that these phrases will be sought and found in more efficient ways in the future," added Ms Touba.

"Moylan is depicted as a true hothead for independence. The Irish Catholic did have appropriate European contacts for his proposed Spanish mission since he had established himself in Lisbon as a merchant before settling in Philadelphia."

The article also speculates that Mr Moylan "would not likely be throwing around the term 'United States of America'" without the approval of his boss, Commander-in-Chief George Washington.

Although the article credits the influence of George Washington, Ms Touba writes: "It may be appropriate to pause and give credit to Stephen Moylan of Cork, Lisbon, and Philadelphia, a mostly unknown figure for whom no portrait exists.

"For us now, he, like the vast majority of veterans, has remained unheralded and forgotten in the centuries-long efforts to secure and maintain American freedom."

Sunday Independent

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