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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Goodbye to St. Paddy’s Day

According to Whaley family lore my great-great-grandfather Noah Whaley came to this country with his brother from Ireland in the late 1840s during the time of the great Irish potato famine. He originally went to Virginia, but eventually moved to southern Indiana, supposedly leading a horse carrying his pregnant wife while walking the whole distance himself. He established a farm there and eventually went off to fight in the Civil War when the trumpets sounded and Abe asked for volunteers. It is also been passed down that he took his nine year old son Irvin with him on the ride to Evansville, about 30 miles away, and then tied the boy to the horse. With the slightest bit of guidance from the rider the horse knew the way home, so Noah slapped the horse on the rump and sent Irvin back home while he went off to fight with the Union Army. Frankly that sounds like child endangerment to me, but I’m glad it worked out well since Irvin is my great-grandfather, and lived to be a very old man. When my grandfather (John Whaley) died, his brother Emerson (a big man, a farmer, with a great laugh and many a good story) and I got to talking about the family history. I asked him if he remembered Noah Whaley, and he said, “Of course, I do! He was my grandfather! Small redheaded guy with an Irish accent so thick it was hard to understand him!”

So I was Irish on Dad’s side (my maternal ancestors were all pure German), and annually I threw myself into St. Patrick’s Day celebrations with enthusiasm: teaching while wearing an offensively bright green tie, saying “Erin Go Braugh” (“Ireland forever”) loudly to passersby, sporting “Kiss Me I’m Irish” buttons, etc.

Thus it was a shock when my sister Mary Beth became interested in genealogy and found out the truth. “Yes,” she said to me on the phone from Las Vegas where she lives, “I’ve heard the story about Noah and his brother coming from Ireland and all that, but it isn’t true. Noah really did fight in the Civil War, but he was born in southern Indiana in 1820, and his father, William, was born in Georgia in 1780, and his father was Nathaniel Whaley, born in Maryland in 1760. As far as I can tell they were all English, with not a drop of Irish blood in the lot.”

Well, you know, it was a blow. I felt like such a fraud—saying I was Irish when it wasn’t true, and, indeed, I had gone over to the Irish’s ancient enemy, the English! On the other hand, it was interesting to contemplate that the Whaleys had been on this continent before the United States of American even came into existence, and all those Whaleys could have voted for every President elected, starting with George Washington.

It also meant that the family history was not only wrong, but that Uncle Emerson—the rogue—had lied to me about the redhaired, Irish brogue-speaking Noah Whaley! How dare he mislead trusting youngsters like that!

But Noah Whaley had been a soldier in the Civil War, and Mary Beth also had details on that. He joined the Indiana 49th Volunteer Infantry on November 21, 1861, until mustered out November 29, 1864, fighting with Grant at the siege of Vicksburg, Mississippi, in 1863 (with that battle being won within a day that the Union Army triumphed over Lee in Pennsylvania at Gettysburg). The idea of me, Douglas Whaley, going off to join the infantry to fight in the Civil War seems preposterous beyond belief (particularly in light of all the histories I have read about the horrors of those times), but my great-great-grandfather did just that. He was 41 at the time the war broke out, so he was older than most of the volunteers and consequently was made a corporal. The Indiana 49th has a website [http://www.kiva.net/~bjohnson/49th.html] and, in addition to a history and diaries of the soldiers, it includes a roster of the regiment’s personnel. The regiment was divided into companies, and, since I didn’t know what company Noah was in, I clicked on the alphabetical possibilities until I found him in Company I, listed as a corporal (most of the men were privates).

It was spooky looking at that roster, knowing it wasn’t fiction.

So, in a desire not to perpetuate the fraud any longer, I sadly bid goodbye to my accidental Irishness, and now leave St. Patrick’s Day to those who can legitimately claim it.

But I certainly wish them well. Erin Go Braugh! [And Rule Britannia too.]
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Related Posts:
“My Competitive Parents,” January 20, 2010
“Bob Whaley, Boy Lawyer,” March 28, 2010
"My Mother's Sense of Humor," April 4, 2010
“The Sayings of Robert Whaley,” May 13, 2010
“Bob Whaley and the Best Evidence Rule,” June 26, 2010
“Bob and Kink Get Married,” June 2, 2010
“Dad and the Cop Killer,” July 19, 2010
“No Pennies In My Pocket,” July 30, 2010
“Doug, Please Get My Clubs From the Trunk,” August 20, 2010
“The Death of Robert Whaley,” September 7, 2010
"My Missing Grandmother," December 26, 2010
"Bob Whaley Trapped in Panama," January 21, 2011
"The Death of My Mother," March 31, 2011
“A Guide to the Best of My Blog,” April 29, 2013

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