Page 26. " Sam knew Jim Buchanan a little from Washington "

 James Buchanan (1791-1868) was the 15th President of the USA (1857–1861). Before his presidency he was the Minister for the United Kingdom (the US ambassador) during the presidency of Franklin Pierce. He is ranked by historians as one of the worst Presidents of the USA for his inability to calm the escalating tensions between the North and South in the run up to the Civil War.

Page 27. " Franklin Pierce, the new president "

 Franklin Pierce (1804-1869) was the 14th American President, serving from 1853 to 1857. Pierce's three children all died in childhood; his youngest died at the age of 11, killed in a train wreck shortly before his father's inauguration.

Pierce, a Democrat, is also now viewed as one of the worst presidents in America's history: his leadership set the country on a course towards civil war, during which time he supported the southern Confederacy. Pierce's private life was extremely unhappy: his wife never recovered from the death of their children, and he was an alcoholic, eventually dying of cirrhosis in 1869.

Page 28. " Lord John Russell, scourge of the Catholics, was no longer Prime Minister, but Leader of the House, whatever that meant "

 Lord John Russell (1792-1878) was twice Prime Minister of Britain, once from 1846 to 1851, when he was notoriously unresponsive to the Great Irish Famine, and again briefly from 1865 to 1866. Between these premierships he served as Leader of the House and as Foreign Secretary; both of his terms as Prime Minister were brought to an end by disunity within his own party, the Whigs.

The position of Leader of the House of Commons is often held in conjunction to that of Prime Minister, although in Russell's case he performed both roles separately. Whereas the British Prime Minister is the de facto leader of the country, the Leader of the House of Commons is an administrative role responsible for the organisation of govermental business in the House.

Lord John Russell was the grandfather of the philosopher Bertrand Russell.

Page 37. " Lord Commissioner of the Treasury, Whitehall "

The title 'Lord Commissioner of the Treasury' refers to one of the junior Lords of the Treasury in the British Government. The Lords of the Treasury are responsible for making financial decisions for the government of Great Britain. The First Lord of the Treasury is the Prime Minister; the Second is the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the others are more junior figures in the government.

Page 41. " This was a moment for their mistress and namesake - the maiden Molly Maguire "

 

The Molly Maguires (Mollies) were a secret Irish organisation, the exact origin of which is disputed. The Mollies appear to have come into existence in rural Ireland as a means of violently redressing injustices by land owners and unfair legal practices. It is difficult to say whether there was an actual Molly Maguire, or whether she is simply a representative of the suffering of 'mother Ireland', making the practice of her followers cross-dressing as 'Molly' a form of symbolic disguise.

After the Great Irish Famine of 1845-1852, and the mass emigration that followed, Molly Maguire gangs began to appear in areas to which the Irish had spread, including Pennsylvania in the United States, where they were responsible for a series of crimes and kidnappings motivated by unfair working conditions in the coalfields. The Pennsylvania Molly Maguires became the subject of a 1970 film by Martin Ritt, starring Sean Connery.

Page 41. " everything else they'd lost in the Hunger "

 The Great Irish Famine (1845-1852) was caused by a massive failure of Ireland's staple crop, potatoes, following the accidental importation of potato blight from America. From a population of eight million before the famine, one million lost their lives and a further million emigrated; the population of Ireland and Northern Ireland has yet to recover, currently standing at just over six million.

Although the response of the British government was initially good it soon tailed off, especially under Prime Minister Lord John Russell who halted relief efforts, leaving thousands without food or employment. Incredibly, even during the worst year of the famine, the British continued to export food from Ireland and to prevent other countries from sending aid.

Page 42. " He'd begun portering at Covent Garden "

 

Modern Covent Garden
Creative Commons Attribution Share AlikeModern Covent Garden - Credit: Diliff

 

For most of its history, Covent Garden in London was the site of a large flower, fruit and vegetable market; Martin's job as a porter would have been with the market traders. The market was active from the sixteenth century until 1974, when it was moved south of the river. The area is now a popular tourist and shopping destination, and the home of the Royal Opera House.

Page 45. " Thomas Cubitt, the man who was building up Pimlico "
Cubitt's Eaton Square
Creative Commons AttributionCubitt's Eaton Square - Credit: Gauis Caecilius

 Thomas Cubitt (1788-1855) was a leading builder who worked largely in London. His building company constructed houses in Camden Town, Islington and Bloomsbury, before he was commissioned to work on the area in Belgravia and Pimlico with which he is most associated. He also built the east front of Buckingham Palace.

Cubitt was keen to promote Pimlico as a refined residential area, and was therefore quick to suppress any appearance of manufacturing, such as the Colt factory sign, and to clear the area's slums.

Page 47. " Did I ever tell you how he broke the back of Eli Whitney? "

Eli Whitney Blake (1820-1894), nephew of the famous inventor Eli Whitney, took over the armaments factory established by his uncle at Whitneyville in 1841. He worked with Sam Colt in the late 1840s to manufacture Walker-Colt revolvers for the Texas Rangers, one of Colt's first large-scale contracts. There is said to have been tension between Colt and Whitney during this collaboration due to Colt's slack attitude to both record-keeping and adherence to contracts. When their arrangement ended Whitney quickly became one of Colt's major competitors for the custom of the US Government.

Ben Quill here refers to a contentious episode in the history of Colt. In 1849 the Massachusetts Arms Company, another prominent competitor, started to manufacture revolvers. Colt came to suspect that a number of patents for revolver design that he held were being infringed upon -- and that Eli Whitney was backing the venture, using knowledge he'd acquired whilst working with Sam on the Walker-Colts. He waited until the factory was in production and then moved in with injunction proceedings, demanding that royalties be paid. Litigation lasted a month, with Edward Dickerson representing Colt and Rufus Choate the Massachusetts Arms Company. Choate tried to prove that the revolver was an old idea dating back to time of Henry VIII, and thus not subject to patent, but the court found in Colt's favour. The Massachusetts Arms Company (and by extension Eli Whitney) was forced to stop making revolvers, leaving Colt in a very strong commercial position. He immediately set about expanding his Hartford pistol works and reduced his prices from $28 a weapon to $25 on orders of a thousand or more, a move designed to attract government custom.