A House Rich in History - Ardtara Country House
Ardtara Country House Hotel in Derry is a charming and substantial 19th century house, located in the little village of Upperlands in South Londonderry. Ardtara was built as a family home by Harry Jackson Clark during the reign of Queen Victoria and now accommodates visitors in the comfort and style of a bygone era - with all the modern conveniences.
In 1888, at the age of 18, Harry ran away, determined to seek his fortune in America or the colonies. But his father caught up with him in Liverpool and made a deal - he could go to America, but as a salesman for Upperlands linen. His trip was a brilliant success. Apart from booking hundreds of orders, he visited an Indian chief and went bear-hunting in Quebec, collected a bad debt in Chicago and inveigled his way into a White House reception where he shook hands with President Cleveland. Throughout his life, he retained a fierce affection for God's country, as he called the United States. His older brother Alexander, meanwhile, became a formidable expert on the Irish and English trade and the technical side of the beetling process. Harry, by contrast, was fascinated by water power and steam power - which he persuaded his cautious family to harness. He was one of two brothers responsible for keeping the family fortunes afloat in the face of competition from cotton and other cheaper materials. Evidence of some of the objects collected on his travels can still be seen on the entrance hall with the two busts and a dinner gong brought back from the New World. William Clark & Sons is still operating in Upperlands.
As well as the Clarks, there was one other local family which made a modest living during the early 1700s by finishing and bleaching linen: the Thomsons. One of them, Charles Thomson, became one of America's Founding Fathers, a Philadelphia revolutionary who penned the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. He spent the first nine years at Gorteade Cottage close to Ardtara.
Charles Thomson was born in Gorteade townland, Maghera parish, County Londonderry, Ireland, to Scots Irish parents. After the death of his mother in 1739, his father emigrated to the British colonies in America with Charles and two or three brothers. The father died at sea, and the penniless boys were separated in America. Charles was cared for by a blacksmith in New Castle, Delaware, and was educated in New London, Pennsylvania. In 1750 he became a tutor in Latin at the Philadelphia Academy. He was a founder of the group that became the American Philosophical Society.
During the French and Indian War, Thomson was an opponent of the Pennsylvania proprietors' American Indian policies. He served as secretary at the Treaty of Easton (1758), and wrote An Enquiry into the Causes of the Alienation of the Delaware and Shawanese Indians from the British Interest (1759), which blamed the war on the proprietors. He was allied with Benjamin Franklin, the leader of the anti-proprietary party, but the two men parted politically during the Stamp Act crisis in 1765. Thomson became a leader of Philadelphia's Sons of Liberty.
Thomson was a leader in the revolutionary crisis of the early 1770s. John Adams called him the "Samuel Adams of Philadelphia". Thomson served as the secretary of the Continental Congress through its entirety. Through those 15 years, the Congress saw many delegates come and go, but Thomson's dedication to recording the debates and decisions provided continuity. Along with John Hancock, president of the Congress, Thomson's name (as secretary) appeared on the first published version of the Declaration of Independence in July 1776.
Thomson was not merely a secretary in Congress. According to biographer Boyd Schlenther, Thomson "took a direct role in the conduct of foreign affairs." Fred S. Rolater has suggested that Charles Thomson was essentially the "Prime Minister of the United States" (The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 101, 1977). Thomson is also noted for designing, with William Barton, the Great Seal of the United States.