Music from Ireland in Colonial America
Expanded information from the Rogues' Consort CD Booklet

Matthew Lyon, Wickow

Printer, Industrialist, Green Mountan Boy, Congressman
Combatant in the First Duel in the US House of Representatives, Inspiring Many Songs

Matthew Lyon (1749-1822)  was born in Wicklow near Dublin, and educated in Dublin. His father was executed as an alleged “White Boy” (a political protest movement) in the Wicklow  Hills. He learned the printing trade in Dublin from Charles Lucas, publisher of the Freeman’s Journal. Lyon met and idolized Benjamin Franklin, who was there arguing the case against the Stamp Act. Lyon later apprenticed his own son James to Franklin as a printer. He immigrated to America in 1765, and was sold at auction for 12 pounds, for a period of three years,  to pay his passage here, to Jabez Bacon of Woodbury CT, known as “the first American millionaire.”  Lyon was able to buy the remainder of his indenture early, and he moved to the Hampshire grants in what became Vermont. In the French and Indian War, he fought with Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys, and was with them in capturing Fort Ticonderoga. Lyons married a niece of Ethan Allen and had four children. His second wife was a daughter of Vermont’s first governor, Gov. Thomas Chittenden, and by her he had 8 children.

Lyon built a sawmill, and founded Fair Haven VT when he was 33. He built a brick kiln, iron foundry, hollow ironware furnace, nail factory, corn and gristmill, marble quarry, pulp paper mill, tannery and leather factory. As a pioneer industrialist, he discovered a method to make paper from bass trees, and made his own wood pulp paper for his printing establishment. In 1789 he built one of the best printing presses then in the U.S. He published the Farmers' Library, which became the Fair Haven Gazette.

In 1799,Lyon bought a large Kentucky land tract, and led a group of settlers there. He laid out the town of Eddyville, named after Thomas Eddy, builder of the Erie Canal, and built a home there before his second wife came out to Kentucky with the children. He brought his press, sailing down the Ohio to Cumberland. He built a shipyard, in which some of the best boats on the Cumberland, Tennessee and Ohio rivers were built. Robert Fulton, who built the first steamboats there, visited him.

Lyon had always been suspicious of Aaron Burr, and his motives. He successfully persuaded his friends Henry Clay and Andrew Jackson, who were involved with Burr, to withdraw from him, which saved their honor from the later Burr Conspiracy.

Lyon was fascinated by the Louisiana Purchase, and in the summer of 1811, he quit Congress and moved to Missouri.   During the War of 1812, he returned to Eddyville and began building gunboats for the government, though a fierce storm took out a merchant ship and the gunboats before they could be completed.

Lyon went to Little Rock Arkansas in 1820 when Pres. Monroe appointed him US factor to the Cherokees. There, he unsuccessfully ran against the incumbent from Arkansas. He died in Arkansas in 1822, was buried there, but later reinterred in Eddyville Cemetery, in what is now Lyon County KY. His son was congressman from KY and a great grandson was congressman from Iowa.

Despite his many accomplishments, Lyon is now best remembered for his duel in Congress with Rep. Roger Griswold of Connecticut. Lyon, an Irish immigrant and a Democratic Republican, and Griswold, a well-to-do Federalist, were irreconcilable political enemies. On February 15, 1798, Griswold approached the seated Lyon from behind and began beating him with his walking stick. Lyon attempted to seize Griswold's cane, failed, then struggled to the House fireplace in an attempt to grab the firetongs for defense. Griswold tripped Lyon and began beating him on the face while Lyon was on the floor.

Other Congressmen separated them, but round two soon began with Lyon using the firetongs and Griswold his hickory stick. Federalist newspapers condemned Lyon: "Mr. Lyon was not born in America, but in Ireland!!!" Many satirical songs were written about the duel, most set to "Yankee Doodle", which was used for lyrics of all sorts, and at least one set to "The Night Before Larry Was Stretched".