On 13th April 1778 the American Revolution was brought to our shores. John Paul Jones, a Scots-American, sailed his privateer, the Ranger, into Belfast Lough. He attacked, and captured the British warship HMS Drake and made off with its cargo.
He described the scene: “The sun was now a little more than an hour from setting, it was therefore time to begin…The action was warm, close and obstinate; it lasted for an hour and five minutes when the enemy called for quarters.”
The British surrendered with 40 men dead, while only two Americans were killed. Fears for the safety of the town increased. If the Americans could do this, then so could the French. The merchants of Belfast looked to Dublin for assistance but were told the government could spare only 60 troops for the protection of Belfast. The sovereign of Belfast was meeting with the Belfast Charitable Society in Clifton House and it was said he witnessed the unfolding events from the windows of the Poor House.
Robert Joy, designer of the Poor House, inaugurated the 1st Belfast Volunteer Company as a band of citizens to protect Belfast and there began the Volunteer Movement which spread across Ireland.
The 1st Belfast Volunteers paraded in Belfast wearing Irish made uniforms to support home industries at the time. One of the early recruits was the eldest McCracken sibling, Francis, brother of Mary Ann and Henry Joy McCracken. The Volunteers billeted in the Poor House during excercises in Belfast and used our front lawns for drilling.
Want to know more about Belfast’s radical story? Join our Plots & Plotters 1798 Rebellion Tour of Clifton Street Cemetery on 23rd and 24th April ay 11am. You can also explore more about the lives and influence of both the Joy and McCracken families on our Mary Ann McCracken’s Belfast Walking Tour every Friday (bar Good Friday) at 2pm. Please click here to visit the tour section of our website for more information.