Saturday, February 22, 2014

Vances of the Past: Ezekiel Vance (Part 1)

Ezekiel Vance and the Battle of Antrim, 1798


Every now and then I like to highlight the story of a past Vance who became famous (or notorious!), even though we may not know for certain whose ancestors they might be.  One example of this is a man named Ezekiel Vance, whose exploits were published in the Ulster Journal of Archeology in 1895 (Vol 1, pp 134-135).  

Vinegar Hill, Battle of Ballynahinch, Irish Rebellion of 1798
detail of painting by Thomas Robinson

The scene is Ireland in 1798, in the midst of the rebellion sparked by the United Irishmen against the British.  Like many conflicts in Ireland, Irishmen fought on both sides, especially in Ulster where many sided with the British.   

Ezekiel Vance was apparently born of a Quaker family and fought in the Battle of Antrim on the side of the Loyalists against the rebels.   Years later his daughter told his story to the Ulster Journal of Archaeology:
A name that is mentioned in connection with several striking incidents which occurred in connection with the Battle of Antrim is that of Ezekiel Vance… 
It was necessarily a trying time.  The streets were filled with smoke; bullets were flying in all directions; while men, whose faces were perfectly black through having to bite off the ends of their cartridges, rushed wildly hither and thither… Finding the Insurgents [rebels] were persistently pressing forward notwithstanding the determined efforts of the Yeomen [Loyalists] and dragoons to check their onward progress, and believing that the Military outside the town were under an impression that the Loyalists had been overpowered, an idea occurred to Vance as to the feasibility of making some sign from the top of the Castle that might be taken as an indication that an energetic movement on the part of the Military might yet succeed.  He left the wall, therefore, and hurried in the direction of the Castle, seizing as he went the cloak of a young woman named Abigail O’Neill, with the intention of carrying it to the roof and waving it to and fro there.
But Abigail did not relish the unceremonious interference with her garment, and so warmly remonstrated [argued]; when Ezekiel Vance bade her hold her tongue, for she would be in eternity in ten minutes – a remark that seemed probable of realization when made, and which reconciled the young woman to her loss.
He then rushed into the hall of the Castle, where he saw a man named Clarke lying wounded and writhing in agony, pleading for help.  Vance could, however, only bind up the injured part with a pocket-handkerchief, and then made his way to the roof, where, with the aid of a pike or longstaff, he waved the red cloak as a signal to the Military.
The incident appeared to be understood, and so he rushed from the Castle roof, noticed as he passed that the wounded man in the hall was dead, crossed the river, the water being low from drought, ran, still bearing aloft the cloak, met the Military, and conducted them into the town. 
It has been maintained by many that but for this feat, and the consequent arrival of the Military, the Insurgents would have secured possession of the town and would have held it for a time at least.  But after the arrival of Military aid the Insurgent ranks soon began to waver, then to break and fly – many being killed as they went – in all directions; through backyards and gardens and across the river; but not until upwards of 300 men lay dead or dying on the streets of Antrim.
Martial law still remaining in force after the battle, Ezekiel Vance had to take his turn with others at parade duty at the various entrances to the town, and also at the Castle, during which time the large room of the Market House served as guard-room, sleeping-room, and store-room combined (Authority – Mrs. Graham Shannon, of Antrim, daughter of Ezekiel Vance)

To hear his daughter tell it, Ezekiel was quite the brave soldier.  Another story of Ezekiel Vance in my next post!


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