Sunday, 16 May 2010

Thomas M Sinclair - Ulster-Scots entrepreneur

This morning I attended a service in Sinclair Seamen's Presbyterian Church for the Northern Ireland Disabled Ex-Service Men's Association and the Royal Naval Association.  It is an annual service and each year Belfast and Newtownabbey councillors receive an invitation to it.  The preacher was Rev Dr David McGaughey, minister emeritus of Mourne Presbyterian Church and a former moderator of the Presbyterian Church.

The church was built by the Sinclair family as a memorial to John Sinclair of The Grove in North Belfast, who died in 1853, and his nephew Thomas Sinclair was the treasurer of the congregation for forty years.  On the wall beside the pew where I was sitting there was a memorial to two members of the Sinclair family, both of whom died in America while they were still under forty.  At the bottom was the text 'Be ye also ready Matt 24:44' and the fact is that both young men were indeed ready to meet the Lord.  The following is a short account of one of them.

Thomas McElderry Sinclair (1842-1881) was the son of John Sinclair of The Grove and after completing his education he entered the family business of J & T Sinclair.  The company was based nearby in Tomb Street and produced cured hams and bacon. 

It had an international reputation for its products and in 1862 Thomas M Sinclair went to America to develop the business in that country.  He landed in New York and established a packing house for the curing of bacon and hams during the winter season.  Later he decided to withdraw from the old business and establish an independent business in New York.  This was a great success but a fire in 1866 destroyed the plant.

Eventually Sinclair decided to move his business nearer the source of supply and in 1871 he moved with his wife and child to Grand Rapids in Iowa.   There he built a packing house and developed a business which became one of the most important industries in the United States.

At that time Cedar Rapids had a population of just 5,000 people and Sinclair did much to develop the town.  For example he organised the provision of a fresh water supply.  He was also an elder in the Presbyterian Church and held a Sunday afternoon Bible class for men in his home, as well as a Friday night prayer meeting in his factory.  When the Coe Collegiate Institute got into difficulty he paid off its debts and arranged for it to come under the auspices of the Synod of Iowa.

Thomas M Sinclair died in Grand Rapids on 24 March 1881 as a result of an accident in his factory.  A Sinclair Memorial Presbyterian Church was built in 1903 and there is a T M Sinclair Memorial Chapel in Coe College.  Today Cedar Rapids is the second largest city in Iowa and both the city and Coe College owe much to the young Ulster-Scot who arrived there back in 1871.

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