Rob Roy McGregor, Three Wars, and the Sinking of The Lisbon Maru (part2)

As we saw in Part 1 The McGregor Family I’ve been tracing isn’t that of the Scottish Outlaw Rob Roy McGregor, rather they were Presbyterian Weavers from Glasgow, Godfearing Govan weavers and Fishers, then agitating street rioting anti-exploitation Calton Weavers as the Industrial Revolution crept in and changed their world forever.

The Glasgow Weavers were Protestant Loyalists to the British Crown, whilst fiercely fighting for their rights, this can be seen in their flag of association pictured below.


Their Trade Association had been established since 1756, before the birth of America as an Independent Nation.  Their motto is that of the Town of Govan “Nihil Sine Labor” and translates as “Nothing Without Labour” and the slogan on their flags reads “For God, King, and Covenant” a strong message for a Labour Society.

The changes that forced the Family to reassess their future in Scotland was amplified by the economic collapse of Scottish Banks, followed by the American Civil War, from which the Weaving Industry in Glasgow would never recover.  Many of the family fled to Massachusetts and served with the Union against the South, returning to life in the Mills as hard as that they’d left in Scotland.


Erosion in pay an conditions over time lead to increased Union organisation and activity in the areas of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania that the weaving McGregors had settled in.   Between 1881 and 1925 there were over 7,000 strikes involving nearly 3,000,000 workers in Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, many of these strikes were in Heavy Industries like Mining and Iron Working, but textile factories soon came under union pressure.

The conditions of Weavers and other Textile Workers culminated in the Bread and Roses strike of 1912, in Lawrence Massachusetts, the epicentre of early McGregor settlement in the States.

“As we come marching, marching, we battle too for men,

For they are Womens’ children, and we mother them again.

Our lives shall not be sweated from birth until life closes;

Hearts starve as well as bodies; give us bread, but give us Roses!”


This strike made National headlines, when, after a statutory reduction in working hours for Mill Workers, the Mill owners reduced their wages, and strikes followed.  The Authorities brought in Militia and turned fire hoses on strikers in the freezing streets, strikers fought back by braking Mill windows.   A confrontation between Police and Strikers lead to a Policeman being stabbed and Anna LoPizzo a female Striker being shot dead by a bullet to the chest, despite eye witness testimony, the local authorities tried unsuccessfully to frame three Union officials for the killing, and after a short period of incarceration they were freed when evidence showed that they were not involved in the riot.


On a grander scale there was a conspiracy by a Mill Owner and various other parties to have dynamite planted on Union premises, this failed when a building contractor who had witnessed the discussion of the plan, came forward to testify to what he had seen, however he never took the stand before a Grand Jury, as he died, conveniently, by “suicide” shortly after receiving the summons.

Eventually troops were called out on the streets, and there were standoffs and violence between strikers and fully armed soldiers.


The situation finally got taken into Federal Courts when parents of strikers attempting to send their children to safety by train with friends and relatives in Philadelphia and New York, were brutally attacked by the Police had their children dragged off of the train to be forced to stay, in many cases, without food at their parents’ homes in Lawrence.


This was the last straw, and federal intervention, and Union steadfastness, alongside the exposure of the various illegal attempts to set-up the Unions for crimes they did not commit, swung public opinion in the strikers favour, and improved conditions were won.

For the McGregors in these uncertain times, the family were affected in different ways.  The family had lived through, and undoubtedly took part in the Calton Riots in earlier generations in Glasgow, and there was no doubt a fine tradition of dissent, and Unionised fighting for rights going right back to the 1700s, so there is little doubt in my mind that at least some of them were active in the various strike activities they encountered in the USA.  The core of the Family stayed in weaving, but some moved to other areas where conditions were better, some continued in specialist tasks like Tapestry Weaving, but mechanisation and a massive influx of cheap labour from Italy and other parts of Europe and even Syria, deskilled Weaving jobs and depressed wages.


McGregors On The Move

Some of the McGregors wound up in Philadelphia, and it looks as if James McGregor may have been active in the strikes, as we find him living under a false name (he had adopted his Mother’s Maiden name of Craig) in Rhode Island for sometime, before eventually returning to Philadelphia many years later.  He took this as far as marrying and raising a family under the false family name of Craig, so it is likely that he may have been in fear of persecution by the authorities as well as the risk of finding himself blacklisted.


A game of International Chess by US vested interests

These uncertainties in the Weaving Community forced some members of the McGregor Family to seek more peaceful occupations, and in the case of the Submarine Commander Rob Roy McGregor’s Father, Francis “Frank” Alexander McGregor this meant joining the US Navy on 29th June 1891, at Fall River Massachusetts.  Frank was 5ft 4ins, with Blue Eyes, Reddish Hair, and a Freckled Complexion, he just about made it in having slight knocked knees, and was skinny being four pounds under the official minimum weight for his height, although this was waived when he was signed up. He was sent to Recruiting Station St Louis for training.

Frank would join at the perfect time to see some foreign travel, in his case to Cavite in the Spanish Colony of the Philippines in 1898, accompanied by a tattoo of the US Flag on his Right Arm.  Frank’s trip was a result of the blowing up of the American Warship Maine in Havana Harbour, the spark that ignited the Spanish American War.

Spain had been losing power on the world scene since the Peninsular War in the early 1800s when The leader of the British forces in the Spanish Peninsular, The Duke of Wellington, assisted by Portuguese and Spanish Guerrillas, had thoroughly defeated Napoleon’s forces in Spain. Years of civil strife followed, fuelled by the Anarchist movement in Europe. Late in the 1800s Spain gained some stability, but the previous weakness at the centre of Spanish politics and the successful overthrow of Spanish rule in Mainland South and Central America had encouraged liberation movements in far flung colonies, notably Cuba, The Philippines, and Guam. Most of these places had been under Spanish rule for 400 years, and Cuba in particular was thought of as a Province of Spain by the Spanish rather than a colony (a parallel to the British attitude towards Ireland).


At the same time there was a movement to expand America’s interests on the World Stage by a number of powerful men in American public life, the US had already mounted an illegal invasion of Hawaii in 1893, that came about because of civil unrest instigated by a fifth column of US Sugar Planters and Missionaries living on the Island agitating over a period of decades. The US invasion, unsanctioned by the US Congress, and therefore to all intents and purposes illegal, was hastened by the fact that the Hawaiians had leaned towards Great Britain for protection in the past, to the point where the British Government had provided troops and ships in 1843 to protect the Islands from the French, honourably pulling out after a few months when the danger had past, in stark contrast to the US approach in the following decades. The legacy of this Hawaiian-British relationship is defiantly proclaimed in the Union Jack flag still flying in the corner of the Hawaiian state flag!


After the invasion the Monarchy of Hawaii was replaced with a puppet Republic largely controlled by US Commercial (Sugar) interests, but this was too precarious for the expansionist forces in the USA, and in 1897, shortly before the outbreak of the Spanish-American War, an attempt to officially annexe the Hawaiian Islands was put before congress and defeated, the defeat in part driven by pressure from the signatures of 21,000 native Hawaiians protesting at the attempt to rob them of what little sovereignty they had left, but a year later, given the likelihood of war with Spain, the US desire for a naval base in the North Pacific was too tempting a prize to be left un-stolen, as the USA would badly need a stopover point for resupply en-route to the Spanish possessions in the Philippines if they were to consider an invasion. So all pretence of protecting the independence of Hawaii was dropped, and an annexation bill was passed, effectively robbing Hawaii of any chance of independence and self determination.

A confrontation with Spain was guaranteed when ships from the newly developed and highly powerful US fleet were dispatch to various Spanish areas of interest, culminating with the sinking of the Battleship Maine in Havana harbour killing over 260 of her crew. At the time the blame was firmly placed on a Spanish mine by the US authorities, but later investigations point towards an explosion caused by the poor quality coal used on the ship which gave off a high flammable gas in in the area of the ship’s ammunition magazine. Whatever the cause, the sinking of the Maine ensured that War would be the likely outcome with the Americans adopting the slogan “Remember The Maine, to Hell with Spain!”

Explosion Aboard the Battleship Maine, Havana Harbour

Frank McGregor turned up as a Gunner on the USS Culgoa in 1898.  Now the Culgoa was an interesting ship, built in Sunderland on the North East Coast of England, she was sold to the US in 1898, and Frank was part of the first American Naval Crew.  The Culgoa was the epitome of Anglo-American friendship.  Although Great Britain was technically neutral in the Spanish American War, it sold the Culgoa to the American Navy as a modern refrigerated merchant ship rather than a commissioned Naval Vessel, which meant that she could buy meat from ports of the British Empire and without technically breaking British Neutrality, she was also capable of producing and transporting Ice.


All this despite the fact that she had a US Navy Crew (pictured below) and Guns, including Gunner Frank McGregor.  Frank steamed aboard Culgoa whilst she plied her trade between Cavite and Manila supplying the American troops with meat and ice.


The War  took very little time and few casualties on the American side. The main Spanish garrison in Manilla had little stomach for the fight after seeing their slightly antiquated fleet sent to the bottom of Manila Bay by the vastly superior US Fleet, and offered to put up a token resistance just to save face, as long as the US forces didn’t allow their Filipino insurgent allies take control of the town or molest the surrendering Spaniards. There was some confusion, and some units of US soldiers were involved in heavy fire, but overall the “attack” went as planned.


If anything it went too well, as, now in possession of the Capital, the US Government decided that rather than handing the Philippines back to the Filipinos, they would replace the Spanish themselves and rule the country as a colony. It was no surprise that the Filipinos didn’t take to this idea, and immediately opened a guerrilla war against American forces as they had for many years against the Spanish. The war was barbaric on both sides, fought in the jungles and villages of the Philippine Islands, and was a foretaste of conditions in Vietnam 60 years later. However, the US forces were so well armed and provisioned that it was a forgone conclusion that they would eventually overrun Filipino resistance.

Culgoa was officially commissioned into the US Navy during this period of the American-Filipino War.  She was refitted in the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong, and made a number of trips to Brisbane Australia, also part of the British Empire, to purchase meat and other supplies for the American troops in the Philippines. It looks likely that Frank was a member of the crew during this period.  Culgoa sailed back to the States, to New York via the Anglo-French controlled Suez Canal in 1901, and was temporarily decommissioned, this ties in with Frank’s known movements, we find him back in the states getting married in Washington in 1902, to Lydia Schmidt, a local girl, the daughter of German settler immigrants.  By 1904 the couple are in Rhode Island where their first two sons are born.  By October 1906 Frank has retired from the Navy and by 1910 is living with wife and kids in Seattle on his Navy retirement pension, which must have been hard.  In 1907 their third son Rob Roy McGregor, the Submarine Commander, who would sink the Lisbon Maru was born in Seattle.


The First World War.

Come the outbreak of the Great War in 1914, the USA increased Naval recruitment in response to events in Europe.  This gave Frank the opportunity as an experienced Naval Gunner to find employment back in the Navy in Seattle.  He would stay in the Navy throughout the War, reaching the rank of Chief Gunner in 1918.  At the end of the War and through the 1920s, Frank continued working in the Naval Office of the Line based in New York. He died in 1934.

By 1917 John William McGregor, Frank’s youngest brother, followed Frank’s example, joined the Navy in 1917 and moved to Charleston South Carolina in service as Naval Quartermaster.  He spent most of his wartime career in convoys between the US, Ireland, England, and France, transporting supplies to American troops in Continental Europe.  he left wartime service in 1919, but was still working as a Chief Accountant in the Navy in the 1920s.  He would die in 1924.

The Vagaries of Chance and Choices that affect History.

So Rob Roy McGregor was brought up in what had become a Naval family, despite having no previous Naval connections, coming from a staunch Protestant Unionised Family of Lowland Scots Weavers.  The course of the American Civil War and its affect on the transatlantic Cotton trade, had lead the surly and riotous Calton Weavers to leave Glasgow and travel to Massachusetts and then Pennsylvania, fighting for their rights against a system that was stacked against them in the New World, before seeing a better option in the US Navy where their careers blossomed, and the family thrived to the present day.

It was a series of world events, and choices of economic necessity that would all lead to Rob Roy McGregor finding himself looking through a submarine periscope at a Japanese military convoy, and giving the order to fire his torpedoes that would sink an armed Japanese Transport Ship the Lisbon Maru, and set off a series of event that would culminate in my search for the families of both survivors and of the crew of his submarine USS Grouper.



….and in a happy coincidence I can report that just prior to publication of this update, our efforts to track down the McGregor Family have been successful.  I hope that my humble contribution to their family story will be appreciated, enjoy.



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