Three words: “Emmet’s Speech framed.”
These three words didn’t mean much to me as I read through the inventory of John Strong Adams‘ Charleston, South Carolina, house. I was more intrigued by some of the other pictures listed, portraits of Bonaparte and Mary, Queen of Scots, curious about their significance. But the significance of Emmet’s Speech, after a little research, became clear and ties John back to his homeland.
Robert Emmet was a significant member of the United Irishmen and became a symbol for Irish independence. Robert was born in Dublin in 1778. His father supported the cause of American independence and the family regularly associated with those that would be among the founding members of the United Irishmen. At Trinity College, Robert was expelled for being the secretary of a secret college committee that supported the United Irishmen. While he didn’t participate in the failed rebellion of 1798, he played a significant role in the event leading up to the disastrous 1803 rebellion. Robert was tried for treason and convicted on 19 September 1803. He did not defend himself nor call any witnesses, but he did give a speech, which concluded with
I am here ready to die. I am not allowed to vindicate my character; no man shall dare to vindicate my character; and when I am prevented from vindicating myself, let no man dare to calumniate me. Let my character and my motives repose in obscurity and peace, till other times and other men can do them justice. Then shall my character be vindicated; then may my epitaph be written.
Robert influenced later generations of republicans. His brother, Thomas, immigrated to the United States soon after Robert’s death and later became the attorney general for New York State. His descendants helped “advance [Robert’s] standing among the Irish diaspora.” He was also became a symbol for the Uprising of 1916.
Clearly, John Strong Adams was, at the very least, sympathetic to the United Irishmen and may have considered himself an Irish Republican. It isn’t known when John came to America but he was naturalized in 1804, so the latest he could have come is 1799, at the age of 24. Based on this date, he may have attended United Irishmen meetings in Randalstown, his hometown.
His relatives certainly were involved with the United Irishmen movement. His uncle, William Adams, who is one of three “friends” he leaves personal items to in his will, took subscriptions in his Randalstown shop for The Northern Star, an United Irishmen newspaper and his cousin-in-law, James Bones, who sold linen at the Randalstown Market, participated in the 1798 rebellion.
“Emmet’s Speech framed.” These three words show that participation in the United Irishmen wasn’t limited to the Bones family. Members of the Adams family also had ties and sympathy to the movement.