Samuel Neilson


Life
1761-1803, born Ballyroney, Co. Down; founder-editor of the Northern Star (1792), the United Irishman’s paper, making a contribution of 650 in return for thirteen shares; salaried as editor at 100 p.a.; suggested forming the United Irishmen to Henry Joy McCracken, 1791; formed society with McCracken, Wolfe Tone, and others, 1792; arrested for seditious libel, 1796;
 
imprisoned Newgate and Kilmainham; released on promises in 1798; wounded and rearrested in May 1798 while reconnoitring the escape of Lord Edward Fitzgerald; supplied ‘honourable information’, with others; imprisoned Fort George, Scotland, 1799-1802, and deported to Netherlands; revisited Ireland in 1802, and died in America shortly after his arrivel there in Dec 1802;
 
planned evening newspaper at Poughkeepsie, New York, where he died of apoplexy, 29 Aug. 1803; R. R. Madden’s devoted the second volume of his United Irishmen largely to exonerating Neilson from the charge of betraying Lord Edward’s hiding-place; he is ‘a faithful adherent of Lord Edward’s’ in J. W. Whitbread’s Wolfe Tone [1894]; there is a portrait by an unknown hand in the Ulster Museum. ODNB [DIW] DIB

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Criticism
Rev. W. T. Latimer, ‘Samuel Neilson’, in Belfast Magazine [Glenravel Local History Project], 57 (Feb. 2007), pp.3337.

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Commentary
R. R. Madden, Memoirs of Samuel Neilson, Literary Remains of the United Irishmen [2nd ser.] (1843): ‘As with Neilson originated the idea of forming the Club of the United Irishmen, so likewise with him the establishment of Northern Star, the organ of its opinions, had its origin.’ (q.p.) Further: ‘The Northern Star published 14 June 1792, in Belfast; the agreed parties subscribing to its publication being Samuel Neilson, William Magee, Henry Haslett, William M’Cleery; Robert Caldwell, William Tennent, Gilbert M’Iveer Jr., John Rabb, William Simms, John Boyle, and Robert Simms. The Northern Star was attacked, ransacked and destroyed in 1797, following suppression in 1796 (Sept 16th). Its literary ability was certainly inferior to The Press [Dublin].’ Madden gives an account of the growing nervousness of the original undertakers at the Northern Star.

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Cheryl Herr, For the Land They Loved (Syracuse UP 1991), writes: ‘Besides identifying the Sham Squire as a spy-master, Fitz-Patrick established from the records of Castle disbursements that Magan revealed the whereabouts of Lord Edward leading to his arrest, and endorsed Madden’s view that [Samuel] Neilson was no traitor’ (p.49; see also under Higgins). Neilson is also a character in J. W. Whitbread’s Wolfe Tone [1894], and therein described as ‘a faithful adherent of Lord Edward’s’ [see cast, op. cit., in Cheryl Herr, ed., The Land They Loved, 1991, p.83).

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Notes
Portrait: Sam. Neilson, unknown oil, Ulster Museum [died of yellow fever, USA]; see Irish Portraits Exhibition, ed. Anne Crookshank (Ulster Mus. 1965).

Belfast Linen Hall cuttings include ‘Ulster Biographies’, and Cathal O’Byrne, As I Roved Out, which makes reference to his notes on Irish harp music in Belfast.

John Heron Lepper, who wrote a work on Famous Secret Societies and several Ulster novels, was a grand-nephew.

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