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.



Rob Roy McGregor, Three Wars, and The Sinking of the Lisbon Maru (Part 1)

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.USS_Grouper;0821405

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.  RunSilentRunDeep

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

185_a_18[1]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.

annan thomas old B20090 12[1]

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.

Still Pictures ID: 64-M-191 Rediscovery number: 06989 06989_2008_001

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.






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