Select Butler Miscellany

Here are some Butler stories and accounts over the years:

Early Butler Lines

The first and largest (in terms of numbers) Butlers had their origins in Cheshire and Lancashire and took in the Butlers of Ireland.  But the surname spread as well around England.  

Other early recorded Butler families were:  
  • the Butlers of Yatton and Wyche in Herefordshire and Worcestershire (from Ralph Butler in the 12th century)  
  • the Butler of Oversley in Warwickshire (in the 12th century) which led to the Botillers of Wern in Shropshire   
  • the Botelers of Biddenham in Bedfordshire (in the early 14th century) and Sir William Boteler, Lord Mayor of London in 1515.   
  • the Botelers of Sandwich in Kent (in the early 14th century) which led to the Botelers of Eastry in Kent.  
  • the Butlers of Sawbridgeworth in Hertfordshire (in the early 16th century) which led to the Butlers of Amberley castle in Sussex.  
  • the Butlers of Orwell in Cambridgeshire (in the 16th century) which led to the Butlers of Barnwell in Cambridgeshire. 
  • and the Botelers of Fryerning in Essex (in the late 16th century) which led to the Butlers of Ingatestone in Essex.

Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle had been built in Kilkenny in 1195 by William Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, as a symbol of the new Norman occupation.   James Butler, the 3rd Earl of Ormond, bought the castle in 1391 and established himself as ruler of the area.  

By the 18th century, the castle had become run down, reflecting the failing fortunes of the Butler family. However, some restoration was carried out by Anne Wandesford of Castlecomer who brought wealth back into the family upon marrying the 17th Earl.  In the 19th century the Butlers attempted to restore it to its original medieval appearance, as well as rebuilding the north wing and extending the south curtain wall. 

The Butlers lived there until 1935 and they later sold the castle to the local Castle Restoration Committee for £50.  Shortly afterward it was handed over to the State and it has since been refurbished and opened to visitors.

The Butler-FitzGerald Dispute

A dispute between the two leading dynastic families of medieval Ireland, the Butlers (Earls of Ormond) and the Fitzgeralds (Earls of Kildare) was resolved in 1492 by a brave act and a magnanimous response. 

Black James, nephew of the Earl of Ormond, was fleeing from FitzGerald's Geraldine soldiers and took sanctuary in the chapter house of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.  

Though he had the upper hand, with his soldiers surrounding Black James and his men, Gearoid Mor FitzGerald, Ireland's premier earl, wished to end the bloody feud between both families. He pleaded with Black James through the chapter house's oak door to meet him to negotiate a peace. Black James rebuffed all requests.  

FitzGerald then ordered his soldiers to cut a hole in the center of the door.  Having explained how he wished to see peace between the families, the Earl thrust his hand and arm through the hole to shake hands with Black James. It was a risky venture.  Any of Black James's heavily armed men could have hacked the Earl's arm off.  However, James shook his hand and ended the dispute

Butlers on Kent Island

Thomas Butler had been born in Essex a Boteler, but became a Butler after he and his brother John had come to America and Chesapeake Bay.  Thomas had become a merchant in London and joined the Merchant Adventurers in partnership with his brother Captain John Boteler, and their brother-in-law, Colonel William Claiborne.  

One story says they traveled to the New World on the George, possessing a 1637 Kent Island charter to establish a trading post with the Indians, which they were successful in doing.  But then Lord Calvert challenged the Botelers and Colonel Claiborne for possession, resulting in the first "at sea" conflict in America.  During the conflict Captain John Boteler died.  He left his shares to his brother Thomas, who moved his family to Kent Island but apparently died there in 1646. 

Under pressure from the Calverts, Joan Boteler, widow of Thomas, escaped to West Moreland county, Virginia with her five young sons.  In Virginia the Boteler name became Butler and the five young sons of Thomas grew up in Washington parish in Westmoreland county, Virginia.

John Butler of Butler's Rangers

Sir Guy Carleton described him as "very modest and shy."American historians saw another side to this Loyalist leader whom they labelled as "diabolically wicked and cruel."  

He and his son Walter were so feared it was said there was more rejoicing among the Yankee rebels of the Mohawk valley at the death of Butler's son Walter than at the surrender of British General Lord Cornwallis at Yorktown. The object of this bitter and understandably biased hatred was John Butler, the renowned leader of Butler's Rangers and the scourge of the rebels.  

By 1778 Butler's Rangers had a complement of 300 men and had begun to carry guerilla-type raids along the valleys of New York and Pennsylvania. The Rangers' mission was simpler: "Seek out and destroy.Their hit-and-run raids wreaked havoc and great hardship to the American cause.  

Walter Butler was killed at West Canada Creek in New York in 1781.  Following the surrender at Yorktown, Butler's Rangers were mustered for the last time and disbanded in 1784.  John Butler and his Rangers then retreated to the Niagara region in Canada where they were well-established by the time Loyalists started arriving there.

Major Pierce Butler and the Rev. Weedon Butler

Paddy Dunboyne’s book When the States Were Young, released in 2006, is a compilation of letters exchanged over the period 1784 to 1799 between Major Pierce Butler, slave-owner and signatory to the American Constitution, and the un-related Rev. Weedon Butler in London, an ancestor of the politician Rab Butler.  

Their opinions offer intriguing insights into history in general, the American Constitution and slavery in particular. The letters, which have been preserved in the British Library, have been transcribed in full and have been annotated and presented with a scholarly introduction and a sequel of events.  

Major Pierce’s grandson, also named Pierce, put all his slaves up for auction in Savannah in 1859.  The book contains a harrowing eye-witness account of the auction by Mortimer Neal Thomson of the New York Daily Tribune.

The Butlers of Oak Brook

In 1898 Frank Butler, the Butler paper company magnate, acquired what was to become the Butler family seat, Oak Brook Farm, some 17 miles west of Chicago near Hinsdale.

By the early 1920s, as the sport of polo was gaining popularity in the United States, Frank and his son Paul developed such a passion for the game that they founded the Oak Brook Polo Club.  Frank also took his passion West, establishing a polo pony-breeding ranch near Hot Springs in South Dakota and becoming a charter member of the Hot Springs Polo Club.

His son Paul was more the businessman, although he did turn his back on the company’s old paper mills.  He turned his attention instead on incorporating Oak Brook in 1958 as a community where field sport and corporate boardrooms could share equal billing.  It turned out to be a very successful venture.

Paul’s son Michael was the millionaire playboy-turned-hippie daring enough to take a musical proclaiming the Age of Aquarius out of a dingy back-street theater in the late 1960’s and turn it into the $80 million Broadway hit Hair.

However, things for Michael ended unhappily.  For years he had battled his brother and sister in court as to how to divide their father's fortune, estimated at one time to be as much as $100 million. This legal turmoil severely strained family relationships.  Michael himself declared bankruptcy in 1990 and three years later he had been forced out of Oak Brook.

In October 1993 Michael had his “Leaving Oak Brook” garage sale, in which sweatshirts, books and various other personal items were lumped on tables in the backyard of the bungalow in which he had been living.  Michael Butler was leaving the family’s historic home forever

Return to Top of Page
Return to Butler Main Page