The Lisbon Maru
As anyone will know who has read these pages recently, I have been helping a Documentary Film Company to research the descendants of the Lisbon Maru, a Japanese armed Merchantman being used to transport captured Commonwealth personnel in WW2, that was sunk by US Submarine Grouper without knowledge of its cargo of prisoners. As part of this research I have also been tracing the descendants of members of the Grouper’s crew in the USA.
Doing such detective work always brings up some interesting finds, and reinforces the overwhelming part that chance plays in historical events, ranging from an ancestor taking a ship going one way rather than another, or macro-events in world history having an influence on micro-decisions in Family History, that generations later put various players into contact with each other on the world stage or the field of battle.
One such story was with the tracing of the descendants (still ongoing) of the Skipper of the Grouper, Rob Roy McGregor. Rob Roy McGregor was a brave, highly skilled and intrepid submarine Commander, winning three Silver Stars for sinking and damaging more than 36,000 tons of enemy shipping in the Pacific during WW2.
He eventually retired as a Rear Admiral, and acted as Military advisor on the film Run Silent, Run Deep, starring Clark Gable and Burt Lancaster.
However the quirks of history that put him in that submarine on the fateful day go right back into his Scottish Ancestry and make for interesting reading, including three wars but NOT, alas, his namesake Rob Roy McGregor the Highland Outlaw!
NOT Rob Roy McGregor The Outlaw!
One of the sad things about family history from a professional point of view is that people seem obsessed with finding someone famous in their Family Tree, to the point of fantasy. Ignoring both evidence, and lack of evidence, connections are made on the back of wishful thinking and a need to feel a connection to someone “important”. This was brought to the fore in the McGregor Family research where everyone seems to want to be descended from the Outlaw Rob Roy McGregor.
Having looked into the Family Tree, I can honestly say that there is no evidence at all for a direct descent from the Outlaw Rob Roy McGregor to the Submarine Commander Rob Roy McGregor. The family of the Submarine Commander first come into the historical as Lowland Scots living in Govan from the 1600s, as McGreggars, a different etymology, a different area of Scotland – way further south than the Outlaw, and at best only a tenuous link to the Clan name to connect them, which by definition, is not the same as a name that has a genetic relationship with the surname (anyone could take a Clan Name, it was an act of social or political allegiance to a particular leader, not necessarily a sign of a genetic relationship).
17th & 18th McGreggars
Govan where these McGreggars came from, was on the Southbank of the Clyde and would in future generations become part of Glasgow. During the 17th and 18th centuries it was a Lowland Coal and Iron Mining area, families not engaged in mining worked as Weavers making cloth for women to turn into clothes for the menfolk working in the mines, and for selling on to more densely populated areas such as Barony on the North of the Clyde (later to become the core of Glasgow) and to Edinburgh.
We know our McGreggars plied their trade as Weavers in this area for many generations, becoming skilled hand loom weavers, mainly supplying the local demand, alternating with Salmon Fishing in the Clyde when times were hard in the Weaving Industry. During the 18th Century Weaving was mainly a limited home based activity, and Scotland would lag slightly behind England in Industrialising.
Not so “Bonnie” Prince Charlie
In 1745 parts of the Highlands rose in rebellion against the Hanoverian Crown of Great Britain, but contrary to popular myth, this rising was not universally followed by Scots. It was especially unpopular with three main groups, the mainly Presbyterian Protestant Working Classes of Lowland Scotland, the City dwelling Middle Class Commercial interests who feared disruption to trade, and the Lowland Political Upper Classes who held their positions subject to the British Crown. Glasgow in particular was very unsupportive of Bonnie Prince Charlie and what they considered his uncivilised and ragged arsed Highlanders. It can be safely surmised that the McGreggars would have been hostile to the uprising being both Lowlanders and Protestants.
After having a request rebuffed by the Burghers of Glasgow for substantial sums of money to support his cause, Bonnie Prince Charlie blew through Glasgow, coming in like a warm wind, trying to win the Gentry over with Balls and Socialising, but left like a cold breeze, having failed to win new friends. Frustrated that he couldn’t raise substantial sums of money from the Town, he demanded that the Town provided his men with new cloth outfits to replace the weather worn cloths they had arrived in, effectively raising a tax paid in cloth and garments against the local people, which would have hit the McGreggars as weavers and providers of cloth. This wasn’t forgotten in Glasgow, and the Town subsequently provided a Militia that fought for the British/Hanoverian Crown against the Jacobites in a number of engagements.
As the 1700s progressed, rebellion was put down, and Georgian Great Britain became pre-eminent. The main problems faced by the McGreggars was ensuring their living standards were kept up, as by the late 1700s a Master Weaver could earn up to £100 per year (over £170,000 in today’s money), these profits were driven by demand for good cloth in the North American Colonies . Journeymen weavers like the McGregors could earn a good wage, but in the 1780s Master Weavers operated a cartel, and began to suppress the wages they paid to the journeymen weavers they employed.
This came to a head in 1787 when the Journeymen Weavers rioted in Calton, breaking their Masters’ machines and burning the contents of cloth warehouses. Unsuccessful attempts by Glasgow Council to suppress the riots with local law officers made the panicked Council call in Regular Troops, the 39th Regiment of Foot, who although called The East Middlesex Regiment, had an elderly Colonel from a Scots family and was mainly comprised of Irishmen. Given that Great Britain had lost her thirteen Colonies in America a few years before, and riots had caused havoc in London a few years before, riots were always severely reacted to, so a Magistrate “Read The Riot Act” and when the Weavers still refused to disperse, the troops opened fire killing three rioters and wounding many others. The small number of casualties is an indication that the Troops didn’t exactly have their hearts in it, being mainly Irish with a Scots Colonel, and had little appetite for shooting unarmed civilians, other than to make sure that the civilians in question didn’t look to exercise violence in their direction. Various other outbreaks of riots were subsequently dispersed by the troops with no fatalities.
Early 19th Century Weavers and Industrialisation
The coming of the 19th Century brought more intensive weaving practices to Govan with a Silk Mill being erected in 1824, and Steam Power coming in to the Mills to enhance production. The days of the Hand Loom weavers working from home were numbered as more and more skilled workers were drawn to the Mills. The downside was the loss of independence, a gradual depression of wages, and once Steam power was introduced to drive the weaving looms, a greater element of industrial danger.
Glasgow in the early 1800s showed a pattern of gradual deterioration for the Weavers, more Riots flared against low wages and automation pitching small scale weavers against the factories and their workers, but all such risings were quelled by the military, to the advantage of the Factory owners. The situation became bad enough for the Government to give paid assistance in 1820 and 1821 for Glaswegian Weavers to emigrate to Canada. The McGreggars changed their name to fit the more common form of McGregor, and held on in Glasgow. The Calton Weavers developed a reputation for violent disorder.
By the 1840s the situation became particularly bad for the Weavers, with low wages, and job pressure during the Irish Potato Famine in the late 1840s, when the Factory owners were able to take in many Irish Immigrants on low wages. To make matters worse, some factory owners made a point of mainly employing women and children as they could pay them less than men. Despite this the McGregors still managed to get by, but were feeling the pinch. In addition sectarian rivalries began to grow as Irish Catholic Immigrants vied with Scots Protestants for jobs and living space.
The McGregors were by the 1850s and into the 1860s spread across, Calton, Barony, and Gorbals whole families of McGregors working in the factories with parents working as Hand and Power Loom Weavers, and Cotton Yarn Dressers, and older children working as “Twisters”. Even before compulsory education was introduced, the McGregors adhered to their Presbyterian Roots, unlike many Weavers they ensured that their younger children all received an education. However the McGregors must have felt increasingly alienated and marginalised in the strange new Glasgow they now lived in. The Population had quadrupled in 50 years, and living conditions became overcrowded and intolerable.
The Impact of the American Civil War
When the Confederacy fired on Fort Sumter on April 12th 1861, it not only raised the curtain on hostilities between the states that would last until 1865, but as a by-product of the North’s blockade of the South, the war collapsed the cotton weaving trade across Great Britain, almost to the point where Great Britain considered entering the War on the Confederate side to break the blockade (it was only the issue of slavery that prevented this).
In Glasgow the Cotton Weaving Trade had already been hit by a world financial crisis in the late 1850s, to be followed by a 90% drop in raw Cotton imports in the 1860s. This wiped out the small scale hand loom weavers, and forced the big factories to lay off hundreds of workers. To make matters worse, the authorities in Scotland took a different view to the English when it came to granting temporary relief to the able bodied unemployed, in England it was usually the case that the unemployed could receive some food and shelter for them and their families via the workhouse, or even temporary “outdoor” relief which didn’t require being in the Workhouse, and as bad as the reputation of the Workhouses were, they did temporarily ward off starvation. By contrast in Scotland many authorities by a strict and penny pinching view of the rules, refused to give any relief to unemployed able bodied men or their families. This caused a crisis, and lead to a partial relaxing of the rules, especially as many philanthropists donating directly to help the poor, throwing opprobrium on the inaction of the Scots’ Civic Authorities.
Such a collapse for the McGregors, meant at best hardship, and at worst destitution and starvation. Any working members of the family could support those not working for short periods, but unemployment going on for years was something the family couldn’t survive. By the end of the American Civil War, the Cotton factories in England had found other sources for Cotton, notably from Egypt, and the Northern US Cotton Mills had survived by temporarily switching to Wool and turning out Military Uniforms for the Northern Armed Forces. Unfortunately the Cotton Factories in Glasgow made little use of the first source, and couldn’t adapt to the second, and so never fully recovered from the collapse in the Market.
Leaving for America
The McGregors were left with few options if they wanted a reasonable standard of living. Perhaps the most adventurous and most risky was emigration to America. It was this option that a number of the Family members went for.
Archibald arrived in 1854, and found work in Lawrence Massachusetts as an Operative in a Weaving Mill. He would be listed on the Union Military draft of 1863.
Helen McGregor married Currie Anderson in Glasgow, Currie followed his Brother-in-Law Archibald, arriving in the States in 1859 as a Gas Fitter, before joining the 4th Battalion Massachusetts Infantry in 1862. Before returning and working as an operative in a Lawrence Mill.
By 1860 Moses McGregor was a Weaver in Andover Massachusetts.
James was in Portsmouth Massachusetts in the 1860s, he married Ann Craig in Lawrence Massachusetts in 1867 and worked as a Mill Operative.
All of these McGregors raised families in Massachusetts. So the American Civil War, unlike the Jacobite risings, had a direct impact on the trajectory of the McGregors, both in affecting their job opportunities in Scotland, and their settlement in the USA, as well as pitching some of the family into actual fighting.
It is no accident that the McGregors made for Massachusetts, and Lawrence in particular, as the settlement along the Merrimac River had been built as a commercial enterprise with trade in mind. By the eve of the US Civil War, Lawrence was a bustling manufacturing hub, with Factories lining the riverside.
In Part 2 we will see how our line of the Family progressed from James McGregor and Agnes Craig.