GEORGE WOLFE (fl. 1643–1651)
George Wolfe was born in Limerick City, County Limerick, Ireland, the son of James Wolfe and a mother whose identity is unknown. His surname is sometimes spelled Woulfe or Wolf. He had four, possibly five brothers: Patrick (the eldest), James, Andrew, Stephen, and Francis, the latter's relationship remaining unconfirmed.
Wolfe's father was a Catholic merchant who owned about 1,500 acres of land. At one point, George Wolfe was set to inherit the estate, but his father rewrote his will several times before finally awarding the land to his son Patrick.
In 1643, George Wolfe appears in the historical record as a magistrate. Three years later he is described as a merchant in support of the Irish Catholic Confederation making peace with its Angl0-Irish, royalist foes, led by James Butler, marquess of Ormonde. Wolfe's brother James, a Dominican friar, was one of the loudest voices against such a treaty, negotiated first in 1646 and then again in 1649. The purpose of the alliance was to oppose Oliver Cromwell's New Model Army, which invaded Ireland in 1649.
In October 1650, Cromwell’s son-in-law, Henry Ireton, mounted a siege of Limerick only to abandon it by winter. In June 1651, however, he returned with 8,000 men, 28 siege artillery pieces, and 4 mortars. By this time, Wolfe had joined the city's defense with the rank of captain.
Soon after the city surrendered to Ireton on October 27, 1561, the English commander arrested and hanged Fathers James and Francis Wolfe. The same fate was ordered for George Wolfe, and some histories claim he was, indeed, hanged. Others tell a different story. John Ferrar, in The History of Limerick: Ecclesiastical, Civil and Military, published in 1787, writes that, under the threat of death, Wolfe
fled to the North of England, where he settled, and his grandson general Edward Woulfe, was appointed colonel of the 8th regiment of foot, in the year 1745. He transmitted his virtues with additional lustre, to his son major general James Woulfe, whose memory will be ever dear to his country, and whose name will be immortalized in history.
James Wolfe captured Quebec for the English in 1759 during the Seven Years' War (1756–1763).
The military historian E. M. Lloyd concurs in volume 62 of the Dictionary of National Biography, published in 1900, as does the historian Beckles Wilson, in a biography of James Wolfe published in 1909. Wilson suggests that Captain George Wolfe's family had originally been English, and that "before they emigrated to Ireland, were of respectable stock." Referring to the siege of Limerick, he accuses Wolfe and his brothers of having "urged the populace to protracted resistance." After being sentenced to death, Wolfe escaped to Yorkshire, "married, and adopted the Reformed faith. Thereafter the superfluous 'u' is erased from his name."
The Catholic historian Myles O'Reilly, writing in 1869, finds the connection between Captain George and General James Wolfe lamentable, particularly considering the fate of George's brother James.
It is a strange fact, and one that we must regret, that England should owe the final conquest of Canada to one who should have honored this martyr of his family, but who was really intensely English, and rivalled Ireton by his bloody march up the St. Lawrence, butchering priests at their own church doors with as little compunction as Ireton felt for Father James Wolf.
There is no definitive evidence in favor of or against this theory regarding a family connection between George and James Wolfe.
image: "Old Thomond Bridge, King John's Castle, and St. Mary's Castle," from Limerick; Its History and Antiquities, Ecclesiastical Civil and Military by Maurice Lenihan (1866)