Professions and Trades

Nashville’s Scotch-Irish inhabitants made a major contribution to the early economic development of the city. In his book Irish immigrants in the land of Canaan the historian Kerby Miller makes the point that by 1810-20 almost a third of Nashville’s most successful businessmen were Irish-born, as well as many of the lesser traders. He adds that ‘most were merchant middlemen, with full title to the goods they transhipped and traded both wholesale and (in general stores) retail.’

The Nashville City and Business Directory of 1855 shows just how much people of Ulster origins dominated the city. Names appearing in the Directory more than ten times include Adams, Allen, Anderson, Campbell, Hamilton, Hughes, Scott, Stewart and Wilson. There is also a fair sprinkling of ‘Mc’ names including McAlister, McAvoy, McCall, McCann, McClanahan, McGuire, McKinney and McLaughlin, as well as an O’Brien.

Not every person bearing one of these names would have been either Ulster-born or descended from immigrants from the north of Ireland, but the majority of them probably were. At No. 17 Public Square was the Irish Linen Warehouse.

George Crockett

Among Nashville’s leading merchants of Irish background was George Crockett. Born in east Donegal in the 1780s, the son of William Crockett, George had settled in Nashville by 1811. He became a successful businessman and banker, establishing the Crockett Bank. By 1822 Crockett was employing David Fulton, a relative by marriage, as the treasurer of his bank.

David’s brother William came to Nashville to study law, there meeting Andrew Jackson. In 1818 he was Jackson’s private secretary and in 1835 Jackson appointed him territorial governor of Arkansas. Familial relationships were of vital importance in establishing trading networks in these frontier settlements. Not far away, in Gallatin, George’s Crockett cousins were also making a name for themselves in commerce.

Alexander Porter, merchant

Like Crockett, Porter was a native of County Donegal, growing up on the, family farm near Ballindrait. He had emigrated to America in 1793, initially settling in Wilmington, Delaware, before heading west to East Tennessee and finally Nashville. He married into the influential Massengill family in Tennessee. Porter named his house in Nashville 'Tammany Woods' after his home place in Donegal. Now known as Riverwood Mansion, the house has been described as ‘one of Nashville’s historical treasures’ (www.riverwoodmansion.com).

In the early nineteenth century Porter established a successful business as a linen merchant. He also worked as a commission agent and built up an extensive property base. He is credited with having helped to build much of downtown Nashville. He died at Dresden in the Western District of Tennessee in April 1833. He had been travelling on the steamboat Tobacco Plant, but had left it in a forlorn attempt to escape the cholera epidemic that was sweeping the state.

Other Irish-born residents

Others of Irish background in Nashville were engaged in trades of various descriptions. William Keys, a native of Ireland, moved to Nashville in the early 1800s and worked as a saddler. When he died of consumption in 1834 aged 37 he was described in the Nashville Whig as having ‘always sustained the character of an honest and amiable man, a quiet and unpretending citizen and an excellent neighbor’. There were also a few professionals.

A Dr Walsh from Dublin briefly practised as a surgeon in Nashville. He met his end in the summer of 1838 when he drowned in the Cumberland River, having been thrown from his horse. It would appear that he had ridden his horse into the river with the intention of swimming across it. He was described in the Nashville Whig of 2 July of that year as ‘altogether an eccentric character and though a practicing physician, but little known to our citizens.’

Awareness of roots

It is evident that there was a strong consciousness of the links between Nashville and Ireland on the part of the citizens of Tennessee’s capital. For example, a memoir of the life of Robert M. Porter, MD, published in 1857 noted that his father Alexander was ‘of that sturdy race of people, the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians, which has furnished to our South-western cities and towns so large a number of prudent, sagacious, enterprising and honorable citizens.’

Similarly, at an event in 1914 to mark the 100th anniversary of the opening of First Presbyterian Church in Nashville, the Rev. Carey E. Morgan, minister of the Disciples of Christ congregation in the city, said, ‘We have the blood of Covenanters in our veins. I myself like to remember that the roots of my own faith, through my ancestry, were nourished in Scotch-fertilized North of Ireland soil.’

Nashville had its own Hibernian Benevolent Society. This provided an important source of fellowship and support for those of Irish background in the city. For example, on 1 May 1839 the Society met at Mr Gowdey’s premises, with H. Kirkman Esq. acting as chairman and Richard Connell Esq. as secretary. The purpose of this meeting was to show respect for two recently deceased members, Alexander King and William Livingston.

King had only just died and his obituary in the Nashville Whig noted that he was a native of Ireland and a ‘zealous member’ of the Hibernian Benevolent Society. Members of the Society attended his funeral wearing ‘the appropriate mourning badge’. In the spring of 1847 the citizens of Nashville met to raise money for those starving in Ireland due to the horrendous famine conditions prevailing there. A total in excess of $3,600 was contributed.

Scotch-Irish Society

Many people from Nashville with Ulster roots joined the Scotch-Irish Society of the United States after it was established in 1888. The Society’s founder, Col. Thomas T. Wright, was a resident of Nashville (though he was living in Florida when he first came up with the idea). Wright had been born in Ballymoney, County Antrim. His ancestry was English on his father’s side and Scottish on his mother’s.

In addition to his work with the Scotch-Irish Society, Wright was the founder of the Southern States Forestry movement and the originator of the plan to bring the National Arsenal to Columbia, Tennessee. A man of considerable energy, he was the creator of various others local and national enterprises.

The Tennessee branch of the Scotch-Irish Society was dominated by people from Nashville. Among the membership from the city was John Campbell, born in Ramelton in County Donegal, who was the secretary and treasurer of the Nashville Cotton Seed Oil Company. Another Nashville member was John Hill Eakin, grandson of John Eakin from County Londonderry, who was a cashier at the Union Bank and Trust Co., as well as president of both the Bon Air Coal, Land and Lumber Co. and the Mammoth Cave Railroad Co.

Among the Society’s lady members from Nashville was Mrs Elizabeth Dake. She was the daughter of Dr William Church, a native of Coleraine. She married Dr Jabez P. Dake and moved to Nashville with her family in 1869 where she became the manager of the Protestant Orphan Asylum and of the Woman’s Mission Home. All five of her sons became doctors and in fact the family was well known for its contribution to homeopathic medicine.