This Month in Celtic History
by Stephen Paul DeVillo

February 2002


10 February 1768:   George Mealmaker, United Scotsman, born.

While the doomed uprising of the United Irishmen in 1798 resonates to the present day, less well known are the United Scotsmen and their abortive democratic republican movement in Scotland.

One of the most prominent of the United Scotsmen was George Mealmaker, born in Dundee on 10 February 1768. His native city wasn’t yet renowned as the home of “jute, jam, and journalism,” so instead the young George was trained in the traditional Scottish craft of the handloom weaver. The mechanization of the weaving industry still lay in the future, and the ranks of the independent and ill-paid weavers produced more than their share of revolutionaries as the 1700s drew to a close.

Like many of his fellow weavers, Mealmaker was electrified by news of the French Revolution in 1789 and its proclamation of the ideals of “liberty, equality, and fraternity” — radical concepts for their day, especially in class-bound Britain. Enthused by the possibility of putting these principles into effect in Scotland, in 1791 Mealmaker joined the Dundee chapter of the Friends of Liberty, one of a galaxy of pro-democratic and pro-French Republican organizations that were springing up around Britain.

The outspoken Mealmaker never tried to conceal his radical opinions, but somehow he was overlooked by the successive crackdowns wrought by a London government increasingly worried by republican “sedition.” Despite going public with a bluntly-written pamphlet opposing England’s war against revolutionary France, Mealmaker continued to avoid the political roundups in 1793 and 1794.

In 1796 he was inspired by the new organization called the United Irishmen that was being organized in Belfast and Dublin. Mealmaker soon organized the United Scotsmen on similiar ideals, even writing the organization’s constitution. But despite the similarity of their names, the stated aims of the United Scotsmen had more to do with promoting parlimentary reform in Britain than in supporting the nationalist goals of their Irish namesakes, or with promoting the idea of Scottish independence outright. Nevertheless, the founding of the United Scotsmen now brought Mealmaker’s name to the government’s attention as a potentially dangerous revolutionary. When in 1797 he published a pamphlet demanding universal manhood suffrage and annually elected parliaments, the long arm of the government reached out to grab him at last. In early 1798 he was convicted of sedition and packed off to the penal colony of Australia on a fourteen-year sentance of “transportation.”

Back home further repression followed Mealmaker’s conviction. The London parliament acted to completely suppress the United Irishmen, and for good measure they included the United Scotsmen, along with its kindred organizations the United Britons and United Englishmen.

Hailed as one of the “Scottish Martyrs” of the republican movement, Mealmaker adjusted to his circumstances as best he could, and ended his days as a factory manager in Australia, where he died on 30 March 1808.

The stories in This Month in Celtic History are drawn from over 1000 anniversaries of people and events from the histories of the six Celtic nations of Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Brittany, Cornwall, and the Isle of Mann in the 2002 Celtic Calendar, available from the Celtic League American Branch.

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