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James Buchanan (1772 - 1851):
Magistrate and diplomat


James Buchanan, landed gentleman, entrepreneur, lawyer and diplomat had several strands to his long career, the first half of which he spent in his native Ulster, while the second took him to North America, where in his capacity as consular official he helped put a distinctively Ulster stamp on the territories which would eventually form modern-day Canada.

He was born at Strathroy, near Omagh, County Tyrone, into a prominent local family, though when he was two the family moved into Omagh itself, where he was educated. In 1787 he moved to Dublin to commence legal training. He later recounted how he travelled to Dublin on horseback, there being no other way except walking; he was indentured to a solicitor, Henry Gower, and formally qualified in 1792. He at this time lived with a family named Robinson, one of whom married his sister, Jane. James' own marital intentions that year came to nothing when his bride-to-be died on the eve of the wedding date in 1794.

During the 1798 Rebellion, the government asked him, as a leading citizen of that county, advice as to how to counteract "the effects of the disaffected" in Tyrone. Being on the side of the government rather than the rebels (his description), he made at one point a dangerous journey on horseback and at night from Drogheda to Omagh for which he disguised himself as what he called a "croppy rebel" (that is, rural republicans or rebels, almost certainly Catholic, whom he feared might not treat him well, a wealthy landowner loyal to the Crown, were they to encounter him - in fact he related how he escaped from two such people armed with pikes. Back in his home county he discovered that the government had disarmed many of the population who like him were "loyal". He convinced the government that this was counterproductive, persuaded them to rearm the local loyal population, and himself undertook to raise a local militia (he later claimed a figure of 5,000) which would free regular troops for service elsewhere. At the end of that seminal year in Ireland, he did marry, on 28th December.

We have a clear statement, though, of his stated views on the events of 1798. At an 1810 "County meeting of the gentry and freeholders of the County of Tyrone" Buchanan is recorded as having stated that he was "an Orangeman of 1798" who "rejoiced to have an opportunity of expressing his sentiments in favour of Catholic emancipation" (that is, full and equal civil and other rights for Catholics), that he was "intimately acquainted with many of the Catholic body" and though that the cause of many of the "dissensions" in the country were largely caused by Catholics being barred from certain rights. To grant Emancipation, Buchanan declared, would tend "more to the best interests of the British Empire and Ireland in particular." He thought this was particularly important as at that time the Pope was a prisoner of Napoleon who was the greatest enemy the Pope, and the Catholics of Tyrone, had ever had.

In 1799, he decided to switch career and in pursuance of a government plan to import coal from England for sale in Dublin, he proposed a plan which would have required the construction of a special dock in Dublin, but due to the Union, the plan was never realised. He then purchased Lisanelly House, near Omagh, from the a baronet named Sir John Stewart, for £4,500, developed and improved it, renamed it Farm House, and sold it back to the baronet for nearly twice that sum. He moved to a property, Woodbrook, near Baron's Court, the seat of the Duke of Abercorn in west Tyrone, and was appointed a magistrate for County Tyrone. Next, he published nearby linen manufactury, spent £3,000 on imporovements and, renaming it Common Green, launched himself in to the linen trade. But in 1815, he became tired of this and began to look for government service. He travelled to London armed with recommendations from eminent figures, secured his appointment, as reported in the London Gazette of February 10th, 1816, as Her Majesty's Consul at New York, for which he set sail in a ship called the Alexander Buchanan, and with a large family retinue including domestic servants, arriving after a 46-day voyage, in May 1816.

Buchanan was not the only one of the extended family then to proceed to build up business activities based on the Derry to North America shipping route. One observation, made in a modern publication, states: "The activities [of the Buchanans] brought imperial politics and loyalist motives to bear on the trade and helped to direct emigrants into the Canadian realm." East-west they transported emigrants, west-east they shipped timber and grain. The shipping firm of William Buchanan were the principle shippers, but a key figure was James Buchanan once he was established in New York. He clearly regarded his consular function as being a sort of Canadian immigration agent, promoting "loyal" immigrants northwards to the "loyal" territories in the extensive lands which belonged to the Crown. He made his own fortune through land dealing (he wrote much later that he tried investing in construction, but "seemed to suffer losses", a curious admission given his activities at home in Tyrone). He laid out two townships, which he called Cavan and Monaghan, these being the counties where most emigrants originated. His brother Alexander Carlisle Buchanan had established himself with a sawmill outside Montreal, and his knowledge, experience and connections resulted in him being appointed in 1827 to the Colonial Office of Quebec city. James Buchannan offered immigrants landing in New York (as many of them did) highly favourable terms if they would undertake to move to the Canadian territories as opposed to the United States (for example, extremely generous baggage allowances (60 pounds was normal, Buchanan permitted 200), highly favourable fares, and a grant of 177 acres of land. Of the many Ulster immigrants who availed of this, one was William McMaster, from Strabane, who would eventually become a dominant figure in Canadian mercantile activities, founding the Bank of Commerce and McMaster University.

Of the Buchanan family in its various branches, it has been said that "[N]o other family in the history of Canadian immigration played such a pivotal rôle as that of the Buchanans in their various positions as merchants and government agents in Ireland, the United States, and the St Lawrence Valley"(1)

President James Buchanan of the United States was related to James Buchanan of Omagh and New York. In 1868 the then ex-President, replying to an enquiry, wrote that his father had arrived in the United States in 1783 from "Ramelton or Rachmelton" in Donegal.

James Buchanan died at Elmwood, the residence of his son-in-law, near Montreal, aged nearly 80, and was buried in the tomb he had had constructed near Niagara Falls.


 



Born: 1 February 1772
Died: 10 October 1851
Richard Froggatt
References:

(1) CJ Houston & WJ Smyth: The Geography of the Irish Emigration to Canada, Belfast: Ulster Genealogical & Historical Guild, Familia Vol. 2 No. 4, 1988, 16

Acknowledgements:

Frank Collins, Ulster-American Folk Park, County Tyrone; Wesley McCann

Bibliography:

CJ Houston & WJ Smyth: Irish Emigration and Canadian Settlement; AWP Buchanan: Life of Alexander Buchanan QC of Montreal (published in Montreal in 1911, also known as The Buchanan Book); Haldane Mitchell (compiler): Images of Omagh and District, vol 10