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Stephen Moylan – Irishman who coined the term ‘United Sates of America’

Stephen Moylan was an Irish American revolutionary who held a number of high ranking positions in the American Revolutionary War.

He is also the man who many credit with coining the term ‘United States of America’

Moylan was born in 1737 in to a prominent family in Cork. Catholics weren’t allowed education in Ireland so he studied in Paris before working for his family shipping business.

Stephen Moylan - Irish American revolutionary

In 1768, Moylan emigrated to America and set up a shipping firm in Philadelphia. He also became president of the Friendly Sons of St Patrick, which was an Irish American social organisation.

He joined the American Continental Army in 1775. He was a firm believer that there would be no resolution with Britain and full independence was the right step forward for America.

He was appointed Muster-Master General on August 11, 1775. However, due to his experience in the shipping industry, he helped fit the ships of the Continental Navy.

He went on to fill several important roles in the Continental Army such as colonel and Quartermaster General, and he was a key member of General George Washington’s staff.

By 1777, Moylan was in command of the 4th Continental Light Dragoons, also known as Moylan’s Horse.

He and his men took part in a number of key battles in the Philadelphia campaign of the war during the following two years.

In 1779, Moylan’s dragoon were stationed in New York and were involved in battles over the following two years.

In 1781, he had to return to Philadelphia due to poor health. However, his heart remained in the revolution and he continued to stress the importance of the Continental Dragoon Regiments to Continental Congress.

In 1783, Moylan was made to brigadier general as reward for his services.

In 1776, he wrote a letter to George Washington’s secretary, Joseph Reed. In the letter, Moylan told Reed that he intended to go to Spain to seek help in the fight against the British. He said he would promise Spain they would be fighting alongside the ‘full and ample powers from the United States of America’.

It was the first known use of the phrase ‘United States of America’ and at the time a very bold and brave move to put it to paper.

It would be considered treacherous by the British and would have severe consequences. However, Moylan was determined for America to achieve its independence and was prepared to put the idea in writing.

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It is possible that Washington, Reed and Moylan would speak about a ‘United States of America’ so we may never know who actually coined the phrase, but Moylan’s letter is the earliest known use of the phrase.

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