March 17th, 2020


The first (known) Indian to settle in Ireland was forced out of his home by rebels

The wars of the 1640s, which are taught in England as the Engish Civil War, began in Ireland in 1641, when a co-ordinated rebellion by Catholic aristocrats and peasants established control over a large part of the island. Many of the Protestants from England and elsewhere who had settled in Ireland over the previous decades were forced from their homes and property, often by their own neighbours. Trinity College Dublin hosts an archive of first-person accounts from about 8000 of them, an incredible set of first-person accounts from a seventeenth-century conflict. One of them is particularly interesting, the story told by one John Fortune, who lost his proiperty at Ballinakill (just inside County Offaly on the border with Kilkenny. Here is his account:
John Fortune, for 20 years a servant to Captain Richard Steele, and by birth an Indian Pethagorian, but now a Christian and Late an Inhabitant of Ballinakill in the Queens County, sworn and examined deposeth:

That since the begining of the present Rebellion, viz. about 2 months since, he, when the town and Castle [of Ballinakill surrendered, he] was deprived, robbed, dispoiled of, or otherwise lost his cattle, sheep, cloth, household goods & other goodes & chattels of the value of thirtie Pounds, by the means of besiegers & assailants of the said town & Castle which are all Rebels, viz. General Preston, the Earl of Castlehaven, the Lord Mountgarret, & their followers and divers other Rebellious soldiers whose names he cannot express.

Signed [mark] by the aforesaid John Fortune
21 June 1643
Some researchers have assumed that he was an American Indian, taking Pethagorian to mean Patagonian. This is wrong. His account is pretty clear that he had for twenty years been a servant to Captain Richard Steele, who was one of the early representatives of the British East India Company, and indeed left a description of his journey from the Moghul Emperor's court to Baghdad in 1615-16. Although he does not name any of his servants, it is notable that he still uses "we" after he parts company with the other Englishman in his party, so he was not travelling alone. (His wife Frances came with him on later journeys.)

I reckon that John Fortune was recruited by Steele at some point in the journey. Most likely he was a Pathan (not so far phonetically from 'Pethagorian', though perhaps that's meant to be "Pythagorean"/"Zoroastrian" given that it's cited in a religious context), probably recruited in Lahore where Steele appears to have hired extra staff during his trip (though the text is not clear), and sticking with him through war in Germany and rebellion in Ireland. That fits the dates rather well; if he had worked for Steele from 1616 to 1636 or so, and had followed him to Ireland, he then had seven years to build up £30 in capital before it was wiped out by the rebellion. I'm sorry to say that there seems to be no other documentary evidence about John Fortune or his fate.

So there you have it; the links between India and Ireland go back quite a long way, and don't always point in the direction you expect.

Lá fhéile Pádraig sona dhuit!

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