Finley: 300 years later, a proud American

Nolan Finley
The Detroit News

The most consequential event on my life occurred 300 years ago today, when the first in my line of Finleys stepped off the ship Eagle Wing at Newcastle, Delaware, and became Americans.

It was a journey that started more than a century before, when the clan fled to Ireland from Scotland to escape religious persecution. Not finding the freedom they sought, brothers James, Samuel and John Finley, their wives and 18 children sailed away from Dublin for America and never looked back.

They quickly wove themselves into the fabric of the emerging nation. An early descendant, John Finley, was among the first persons of European descent to explore Kentucky, and led Daniel Boone’s party of settlers through the Cumberland Gap. 

Over three centuries, they’ve fought in every war, spread to every state, endured crushing hardship and heartbreak, enjoyed tremendous happiness and success.

It’s a common American story, written in different languages, with plot twists that range from tragic to triumphant. Some of the narratives start as my family’s did, in a quest for freedom. Others came looking to make their fortunes. Many had no choice in their passage to America.

But we’re all here now together, in the greatest country in the world. 

I’m an unabashed patriot. The idea of America thrills me, as does its potential.

This country has been an overwhelming force for good in the world. Its people have an inherent decency and sense of justice and have stood time and again against evil. They also have a passionate curiosity that has pushed the frontiers of science, technology and medicine.  

No other nation in history has advanced mankind so far, in such a short amount of time. 

As I write this, I know readers are rushing to email me reminders of our nation’s flaws and failures. 

I’m not oblivious or insensitive to those shortcomings, some of which have produced unspeakable acts of cruelty and oppression that challenge the validity of our claim to be a nation resting on a foundation of liberty and justice for all.

The difference between America and other nations is that we recognize those failings, and they torment us. We may try to sugarcoat them for a while, and it often takes longer than it should to build a consensus for righting a wrong.

But we are always striving to live up to our promise. Our redemption is that the American people know when they are falling short, and are constantly agitating to do better. 

Finley often walks by the federal courthouse in downtown Detroit, where new citizens are periodically sworn in. He always pauses to shake their hands, to welcome them and thank them for affirming the good in America.

Our offices sit next to the federal courthouse downtown, and often I’m passing by on days when new citizens are being sworn in. I always pause to shake their hands and to say welcome. And to thank them.

Thank them for affirming America is still a beacon of hope, and for the future generations of their families that will keep building this great nation.

And by extension, to thank those Finleys who on May 22, 1720, stepped ashore in a new land and bestowed on me the most precious birthright: the honor of calling myself an American.

Twitter: @NolanFinleyDN

Sign up for the Nolan Out Loud morning report at

Watch Finley on DPTV’s “One Detroit” at 7:30 p.m. Thursdays.