The Linen Stamp of Isaiah Breakey


In July of 1979 I received a letter from Bert I. F. Breakey that included a copy of correspondence nearly 35 years old (J. L. M. Stewart, Asst. Secretary, Presbyterian Historical Society of Ireland, to B.I.F. Breakey, 12 December 1945).  It was of particular interest to me as it depicted the impression of the linen stamp of Isaiah Breakey of Monaghan (Figure 8.). For nearly three years I considered that linen mark and conjectured about its origin.

  Figure 8.  Impression of Linen Stamp

    While utilizing Dr. Ottfried Neubecker’s volume as a reference source for this manuscript, I happened upon a section entitled “Badges.”  There, in the center of the page was a colored picture almost identical in size and shape to the impression left by the linen stamp.  It was the crowned harp of Ireland represented as a badge.  From this point the research progressed rapidly.


Isaiah Breakey of Greenvale Mills

    Although little of Isaiah Breakey’s life is recorded in the memoirs of Thomas C. Breakey (n.d., Book I), we know he resided Aghnamullen, County Monaghan, near the church, in a house built by his father.  Both Isaiah and his brother, Obadiah, were in the linen bleaching trade, Isaiah having built all of the Greenvale Mills in which linen was bleached for nearby manufacture.  Obadiah eventually sold out his interest to Isaiah and went to live in Queens County.

    Describing ‘The Linen Families’ of Ballybay environs, Murnane & Murnane (1999, p.274) report:

    “However, it was Isaiah Breakey who was chiefly concerned with bleaching in Aughnamullen.  He lived in Millmore House…He built the bleach mill at Lisnagalliagh on property leased from the Ker (Aughnamullen) estate…Isaiah Breakey constructed a very expensive mill race from the lough and developed the land for a bleach green.”

    Murnane & Murnane (p. 275) continue: 

    “Whether as linen drapers or bleachers, the family supported the linen market in Ballybay for all the years of their involvement in linen processing.  Their names do not appear on the memorials to the Linen board or in its correspondence after 1806.  They had sold the mill before that date.”

    As cited on Broderbund CD # 271 (Ferguson, C., 13 November 1999. RE: The Flax Growers Bounty List, 1796. Personal electronic message) numerous Breakeys of County Monaghan are listed including one Isiah (sic) Breakey:

Breakey, Andrew     Parish:   Aghnamullen

Breakey, Isiah (sic)  Parish:   Aghnamullen

Breakey, James        Parish:   Tullycorbet

Breakey, John          Parish:   Aghnamullen

Breakey, Widow ?   Parish:   Aghabog

Breakey, William     Parish:   Aghnamullen

Breakey, William     Parish:   Currin

Breakey, William     Parish:   Tullycorbet


    We also know Breakeys settled in County Cavan, Ireland, and were involved in the linen industry in that county.  The following supporting documents will show that in all likelihood the linen stamp of Isaiah Breakey of Monaghan was representative of linen from other counties, not only Monaghan.

    In the undated letter of 1897,  previously cited, from Dr. John Breakey, London, to John Breakey, Esq., Quebec, Canada (Breakey, E. P. 1971), Dr. Breakey states: 


The family legend is: We were Huguenots – driven from France to Holland in the time of the fierce persecution.  Two of our forefathers followed William of Orange to England and fought under him through the Irish Campaign, taking part in the Battle of the Boyne near Drogheda, when peace was proclaimed.  William encouraged his officers to settle in the country and gave them large grants of land in different parts of the country.  Our forefathers settled in Counties Cavan & Monaghan and had much property.


I have told you that William rewarded our forefathers with large grants of land in Cavan and Monaghan.  My Grandfather held the Royal Charter for this signed by the King.  At his death, his old secretaire was plundered and this among other papers taken.  This precious Charter was never recovered.”


Family tradition relates that James Breakey of County Cavan, and later of Sullivan County, New York, was born in 1768 to Isaiah Breakey, a linen bleacher.  Although County Monaghan was listed as James’ residence when his son, Isaiah, was born, James was residing in the Townland of Darkley, County Cavan, in 1807. He immigrated to the United States in the early 1800s.

    John Breakey, Esq., in his letter of 25 August 1897 to Dr. John Breakey states:


In 1837 my Grandfather Andrew Breakey & family, accompanied I understand by his (2) brothers  William and James and one sister arrived in Quebec. Shortly after their arrival, I am told, my Grandmother and Granduncle William died in Quebec.  My Granduncle James went to New York State, Sullivan County, in the United States, and lived at Breakey Lodge.  The other sister of Andrew Breakey remained in Ireland having married the father of Isaiah Gibson  of “Drumlunn House”, Bailyborough, County Cavan. Isaiah Gibson was a full cousin of my late Father and they were warm friends until his death…….”


    The granddaughter (Frances, also known as Mary Frances, 1854-1935) of James Breakey of County Cavan at one time made notes that lend credence to the above entry although there are some observable discrepancies (Graves, J. personal communication, n.d.):

From Notes of Frances Breakey

"In the early half of the 17th century our forefathers (the Breakeys) who were Protestants, were forced by the uprisings and persecutions of the Roman Catholics to flee from Flanders, then in the Empire of France.  The family was aristocratic and Huguenots.  They left most of their property and settled in southern England (according to a letter written by Uncle Tom to Harry) but because of the damp climate went between 1650 and 1700 to Northern Ireland, near Castle Bleiney (sic) [Blayney], Co. Monahan.  They went into business as linen drapers and bleachers, owning three bleacheries in the different counties.

James Breakey (Isaiah’s [1798-1871] father) was educated for a Presbyterian minister but after graduating from Oxford he married and went into business with his father.

 A fire that occurred in 1813 or 14 destroyed their house called Bog or Bog Hill and also the largest bleachery which contained a large amount of linnen (sic). In 1815 the process of bleaching the linnen after it was woven and by chemicals-not by sun, damp, and green grass- was discovered and he with his family came to America in 1818 or 19.  Grandmother Breakey was Lady Mary Fleming, eldest daughter of Sir William Fleming, a descendant of James 3d of England. Her brother married grandfather’s (James’) sister Harriet."


According to Guiness and Ryan (1971, pp. 43-44), the linen trade prospered in County Cavan as noted in Faulkner’s Dublin Journal of September 1760:

“On 1st September, at Cootehill, Co. Cavan, about 500 of the linen weavers of that place, together with the linen drapers, led by Charles Coote, Esq., their landlord, and several other gentlemen of the county who accompanied him, walked in procession, with a machine carried, on which a boy was weaving and a girl spinning,  dressed in linen, and white gloves, ornamented with orange and blue ribbons, after which Mr. Coote gave a grand dinner in his own house to the gentlemen who accompanied him, and to the linen drapers, and had six houses opened in the town for the entertainment of the linen weavers, which he had prepared for that purpose, when they drank many loyal, public, and private toasts, in particular the Kin, the Prince of Wales, the Royal Family, and success to the linen manufacturers.  At night Mr. Coote gave a grand ball and supper to the ladies at the new Assembly-Rooms in said town, and, in short, everything was conducted in the most decent and yet elegant manner, and vastly to the satisfaction of 3000 spectators.”

         Perhaps Isaiah Breakey[1],[2] of Monaghan was a guest---or a spectator!

 The Linen Stamp as a Trademark  

    Until the introduction of cotton, linen was the fabric of choice for clothes, such as undergarments, that required frequent washing, as well as certain household items such as bed linens.[3]  As commerce developed one can imagine a merchant, just as today, competing for the sales market.  The high quality of a product could well mean financial security.  And, by affixing some distinctive mark or sign to his product, the merchant could be assured his merchandise would be distinguished in distant markets.  These marks of identification were known as merchant-marks, hallmarks, and even then, trademarks.

    In depicting his trademark, Isaiah Breakey of Greenvale Mills utilized the emblem of Ireland, ‘a harp or, stringed argent’ (a harp of gold with silver strings). However, he went one step further by depicting his trademark similar to the Irish assay mark for silver, ‘a harp crowned’.[4] 

    In embellishing his trademark even further, Isaiah chose not an initial or abbreviation, but his name and county of business and/or residence.  Perhaps this was more indicative of his French ancestry for in France, “…relating to a single person only, the pictorial badges (corps de devise)[5] are usually accompanied by a descriptive motto (the ame de devise)[6] which often reflects attributions of the badge” ( Neubecker, p. 210).  Was Isaiah Breakey’s linen trademark an indication of his French ancestry and Irish freedom?

    In order to sketch the trademark,  it was with considerable difficulty that the author tried to visualize Isaiah’s trademark from the rather small silhouette Utilizing Dr. Neubecker’s book, one particular illustration was similar, but not identical: the post of the harp was plain; the crown was not at all the same.  Yet another emblem of Ireland was shown on the Standard of Queen Mary of Great Britain: the harp was a rather fanciful image being an extension of a winged woman on the post of the harp.  After some persistence, another illustration caught my attention.  It was the emblem of Ireland as it appears on a stitched “tabard from the reign of the Stuart Queen Anne” (Neubecker, p. 22), and this I felt was identical to the harp in Isaiah’s trademark.  A bit later, in a small ‘how to’ book, I found the answer (Thompson,  p. 181):

     “A classic example is the harp for Ireland that is blazoned simply ‘a harp or, stringed argent.”  Modern examples of the Royal Arms of England usually show the harp with a perfectly plain post, or with only some simple molding. Earlier versions of the arms, however, show the top of the post decorated with a lion’s head or three shamrocks, as well as the more familiar winged woman.  None of these is more correct than any other. Any golden harp with silver strings is the emblem of Ireland.  Variations in the decoration reflect the taste of the time or even of the individual.” 

One problem remained: to identify the crown atop the trademark.  I propose it to be St. Edward’s Crown,  readily recognizable by its shape (Holmes, 1969 ed., p. 258):

“As the 17th century went on, however, the fashion changed again. The restoration of Charles II to the throne of England called for the provision of a new set of regalia, including a coronation crown to replace the relic of St. Edward that had been broken up.  The new crown (in the Tower of London) still bears the name “St. Edward’s Crown,’ and there is good reason to believe that it incorporates the actual metal of the shattered relic.  A deliberate attempt was made to reproduce the characteristics of the crowns of the Middle Ages, and this was successfully achieved in the bold, simple outline of the circlet and the ornament upon it, but the arches give the crown a completely different form.  Rising not from the rim but from the tops of the crosses, they continue the outward inclination of the latter and then describe a complete semi-circle, which causes them to incline downward, so that their meeting point is a depression in the center of the crown.”


Having attempted to make a discerning study of the trademark, and having accomplished this to my satisfaction, I present, along with a pen and ink rendition of the trademark, a photograph of an oil painting rendered by the author in which the impression of the linen stamp is represented ‘in colour’.

Figure 9.   Pen & ink sketch of linen trademark


Figure 10.  Linen trademark in color



Although Isaiah’s trademark is not a coat of arms, I feel it is appropriate to introduce and include it in this volume for it certainly is one more mark of honour with which the Breakey family can identify.


[1] As cited in personal correspondence dated 9 February 1943 from J.C. Breakey, Sheffield, England, to Mr. ? Breakey, one Obediah Breakey, a Select Vestryman at the time, was residing in Cootehill, County Cavan, as early as 1806.

[2] In 1846 John Breaky (sic) of Cootehill, Cavan, Ireland, was married to Eliza Cunningham (International Genealogical Index/British Isles).

[3] “Linen,” 1969 ed., p. 544.

[4] Hall Marks are “…symbols placed on gold and silver plate for the purpose of showing its degree of purity, the place of manufacture…” (Hall Marks, 1969 ed., p. 644), and in Ireland there are five in number, one of which is the assay mark.

[5] Body of the Motto.

[6] Soul of the  Motto.