Reynolds, James (c.1765–1808), physician and United Irishman, was born probably in the mid 1760s and was, according to ‘a McReynolds family historian’, one of at least two sons of James McReynolds, a miller at Cloghog in the parish of Clonoe, Co. Tyrone (Mayes & Dilworth, ‘Reynolds’). His mother may have been Margaret, daughter of Dr Gabriel Cornwall (1708?–79) of Stewartstown. It is certain that he attended classes at Edinburgh University (from 1784) and graduated in medicine (1787), having submitted a thesis, ‘De calculo urinario et lithon-tripticis’. He left Edinburgh in 1791 or 1792 and probably practised at first at Stewartstown. He first came to public notice as a freemason nearby at Cookstown, where he was master of lodge no. 768.
Though a rule of freemasonry was non-involvement in politics, Reynolds presided over delegates from lodges in Co. Tyrone which adopted a series of political resolutions ending with ‘let every lodge in the land become a company of citizen-soldiers’ (7 January 1793). It would appear that his purpose was that delegates should attend the Ulster convention of Volunteers to be held at Dungannon (15–16 February). Reynolds himself was one of 26 Volunteers elected on 24 January 1793 to represent Tyrone. At Dungannon he objected to a resolution (later withdrawn) disapproving of ‘republican forms of government’. For reasons that are unclear Reynolds was summoned to give evidence before a committee of the Irish house of lords inquiring into ‘disorders and disturbances’. On refusing to do so he was imprisoned at Kilmainham (25 March–16 Aug. 1793). His homecoming to Cookstown was marked by illuminations and bonfires. The Dublin Society of United Irishmen gave him moral and practical support and after his release he became active in the society, presiding over a meeting (29 November), proposing (albeit unsuccessfully) for inclusion in the society's plan for parliamentary reform that electors vote by secret ballot (10 January 1794), and being elected chairman for three months (7 February). After his release from prison he stayed at the Dublin house of Archibald Hamilton Rowan (qv). It seems to have been about this time also that he was involved, with John Daly Burk (qv), in two radical clubs, the Strugglers’ and the Telegraph. When the French spy William Jackson (qv) arrived in Dublin (1 April 1794) to inquire if Ireland was ready for revolution, Reynolds was most willing to co-operate with him and to go to France; but on Jackson's arrest (28 April) he fled, allegedly staying at the house of John Keogh (qv) (2 May), and a warrant was issued for his arrest for treason.
A short time later (probably 10 May) he left Belfast for America on board the Swift. He settled in Philadelphia, then the American capital. In time he attached himself, with other radical exiles, to John Beckley, clerk to the House of Representatives and a strong supporter of Thomas Jefferson, and contributed regularly to Aurora, a newspaper edited by the radical Benjamin Franklin Bache. He associated again with Burk, also in exile, and helped collect material for Burk's pamphlet, A history of the late war in Ireland (1799). Reynolds's behaviour was often imprudent. In an article in Aurora of 5 March 1797, he denounced Washington, who had just retired as president, for what Beckley's circle regarded as Anglophilia; in 1798 he was threatened with legal action for a false accusation against the secretary of state, Timothy Pickering; in January 1799 he challenged a newspaper editor to a duel; in the following month he harangued worshippers outside St Mary's catholic church and in the ensuing affray drew a gun, for which he was charged with attempted murder but acquitted; and in 1800 he led a group of Irish radicals who physically attacked another newspaper editor. After Jefferson's election to the presidency (1801), Reynolds and other militant exiles sought a return to the Painite, democratic Pennsylvania constitution of 1776.
Reynolds wrote a utopian novel, Equality, first published with the subtitle ‘a political romance’ as a serial in the weekly Temple of Reason (1802), and posthumously republished with the subtitle ‘a history of Lithconia’ (1837 and 1947). When Theobald Wolfe Tone (qv) was in America (August–December 1795) he took Reynolds into his confidence; before leaving for France he gave him ‘an unlimited power of attorney’; from Paris he corresponded with him on political and private business. And when Tone's wife, Matilda, was about to leave America for France (October 1796) she entrusted Reynolds with Tone's money, books and papers; but when she and her son William Tone (qv) returned to Philadelphia in 1807 to retrieve them, they were missing and Tone's journals for the period 1793–5 were lost. Reynolds practised medicine in America, took risks during a yellow fever epidemic (1800) and was on the staff of the Philadelphia General Hospital (1804–7). He had seven different addresses between 1796 and 1808 and ‘company, losses and disappointments drove him to drink’ (Rush). James Reynolds died 25 May 1808. After his death Mathew Carey (qv) stated: ‘everything in which the doctor was concerned eventuated unprosperously’ (Durey, 207). Whether Reynolds married has not been ascertained.