Ever wonder where the term “boycott” came from? I guess I just assumed it was a word that came out of protesting or some kind of free speech thing. Well, I found out today, where the word came from. It happens to be the name of an Englishman who, after serving in the military, moved to Ireland and became a landowner there. Being an Englishman in Ireland wasn’t easy and I’ll get to that later, but today, I also wish to honor another man whose birthday is today.
My son-in-law, Tom, is of Irish descent. The fact that he was born so close to St. Patrick’s Day, might make him a saint, but I wouldn’t go that far. He’s a wonderful addition to our family. He and our daughter have been married for sixteen years and have given us a lovely granddaughter who we cherish. Tom is a hard worker, with a really smart mind. He’s inventive, creative and funny. He makes me laugh every time I’m with him. He is a blessing to our family and we love him as a son.
Now how’s that for a segue into my biography for today? The Englishman, Charles Cunningham Boycott, born on this day in in 1832 to Reverend William Boycott and his wife Georgiana. He grew up in the family home at Norfolk, England. The family residence had been occupied for almost 150 years. Charles was educated in Blackheath, London and became interested in the military. He entered the Royal Military Academy in 1848.
His regiment transferred to Belfast and six months later he would be marching to Dublin. In 1852 he married Anne Dunne. He became ill between August 1851 and February 1852, so he sold his commission the following year, deciding to stay in Ireland. He became a landlord on a small scale. After retiring from the army he became an agent for John Crichton, 3rd Earl of Erne, who owned 40,386 acres in Ireland, 2,184 of them in County Mayo. Boycott was offered his agency along with the lease on a farm, a house, stables, a ruined castle, two islands, a boathouse and sporting rights. Boycott’s job was to farm the land and collect the rent from 35 tenant farmers who lived there.
In 1879, there was an economic disaster causing a crisis in the farming community and famine added to the downturn. The Irish peasants made demands for reduced rents with the help of the Irish Land League. They came to Charles Boycott, demanding a 25% reduction in rent. Boycott refused, but he didn’t expect this decision would lead to his ruin. The peasants refused to work the land and would have nothing to do with Boycott. He was shunned in church and community. They wouldn’t work for him and thus his crop was ruined. Eventually he had to leave the island in disgrace. His name became synonymous with ostracizing someone in order to bring about change.
He and his family was escorted out of town, but no one wanted to drive him to the railway station. They were finally driven away in an ambulance. The family took a short voyage to the United States where he created quite a stir. The New York Tribune said that, “The arrival of Captain Boycott, who has involuntarily added a new word to the language, is an event of something like international interest.”
In 1886, Boycott became a land agent for Hugh Adair’s Flixton estate in Suffolk, England. According to Joyce Marlow, he left Ireland without bitterness. He died at his home at the age of 65.
It must be tough to have a name that stirs everyone up so much.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO CHARLES BOYCOTT AND MY SON IN LAW, TOM!