The Brief Life of Hannah Roane – An Irish Mill Girl

This month is the 150th anniversary of the death of my Irish immigrant aunt, Hannah Roane (February 6, 1866), a Lowell mill girl. Never having married or had children of her own, the last vestige of Hannah’s existence disappeared 50 years later, in 1919, when her sister-in-law, Mary died. Mary was my ancestor, and the last person who might have recalled Hannah’s face, her voice, or a quirk that made her unique.  While the essence of long dead relatives (with rare exception) remain mysterious, it is often possible to learn much about the lives they led, as is the case with aunt Hannah.

Born around the year 1828 in County Galway, Ireland, Hannah was a few years older than her two brothers, John and Patrick, who also came to the world-famous, textile manufacturing city. Their family suffered the nightmare of the “Great Hunger” (1845-1849), the years of nationwide starvation and disease that took a million lives, and sent another million Irish out into the world in a desperate longing for a better life.

At this time in rural Ireland’s history, one son would take over his parents’ land and cottage. The anointed one (and his wife and children) would work the land and care for the elders. Perhaps, one lucky daughter would have a dowry enough to make a decent marriage (to another family’s heir). All the other sons and daughters of typically large, Roman Catholic families were out of luck. If they didn’t opt to become a priest or a nun, they faced a monotonous, solitary, laboring life.

Perhaps, it’s not so surprising then, that young, unmarried, Irish women came in such great numbers to America. In contrast with women of southern European cultures, Irish women were traditionally independent, capable and the money managers of the family. Many women made the voyage to America alone, and earned passage money for family members left in Ireland. Earning that money was no piece of cake.

Hannah Roane was on the vanguard of the Irish immigrants who replaced the Yankee female textile workers (the first American women to work outside the home), whose numbers peaked in the 1870s. For fourteen hours a day, six days a week, men, women and children labored amid the intense, ceaseless noise of machinery and inhaling air-filled with cotton or wool fibers. [Woman at Loom – American Textile Institute]Girl at factory loom, 19th century.

There were strikes in the 1830s over terrible working conditions, and, in 1845, workers agitated for a 10-hour work day, – a fight they lost. After that factory work became much less popular with native-born women. Then (as now), immigrants arrived to take the difficult, low-status, and low-paying jobs abandoned by those who had other options.

Mill Girls, 1870s

Mill Girls, 1870s

There were ten large mill complexes in Lowell, among them, the Massachusetts, Merrimack, Appleton, Hamilton and Boott mills; I don’t know which one employed my aunt. In a state census for 1855, Hannah was a resident in a boarding house with 30 other women, most of whom were New England born. As an Irish immigrant, Hannah would have begun her career working the least desirable, lower-paying jobs in the carding and spinning rooms. There is evidence that Hannah advanced in her career, however; in 1858, she opened an account with the Lowell Institution for Savings and listed her occupation as weaver, which was a skilled and better paying position.

I like to think that Hannah was among the Irish “mill girls” who spent some of their hard-earned on themselves and were considered good dressers compared to their Yankee counterparts.

Ten years after I first found Hannah in Lowell, her single working life-style had altered. The 1865 census lists 35-year-old Hannah in the household of her brother, John Roane, who ran a grocery business to support his wife, two sons and an infant girl. Hannah was enumerated as an operative (mill worker), but her death, just months after this census, makes it likely that she was, in fact, too sick to work. She died of tuberculosis.

For all her independence, courage, and endurance required to toil in the mills, the only blessing Hannah may have had in her brief sojourn on Earth, was to have been cared for, and to have died among family.

It is good to know Hannah had loved ones near in the end, and I would love to salute her memory and leave it at that, but for one sneaking suspicion, – I think that Hannah was “patient zero” for the contagion that nearly wiped out the family in Lowell.

Three years after Hannah’s passing, John Roane succumbed to an illness evidence suggests, almost certainly, was tuberculosis. Of John’s three children who lived into adulthood, two died of tuberculosis. What’s more, a few years after John died, the widow Mary, remarried and gave birth to two more sons, who both died of tuberculosis. 

Hannah certainly left lasting memories of love and laughter in the hearts of her brother’s family, but she may also have left them a tragic legacy.

 

Notes | Sources | Resources

Images: University of Massachusetts Lowell; http://library.uml.edu/clh/All/mgi06.htm; http://library.uml.edu/clh/All/mgi01.htm

Erin’s Daughters in America; Hasia R. Diner, 1983.

Mill Girls of Lowell; Jeff Levinson, Editor, 2007.

Living on the Boott – Historical Archaeology at the Boott Mills Boardinghouses, Lowell, Massachusetts; Stephen A. Mrozowski, Grace H. Ziesing, and Mary C. Beaudry, 1996.

Women at Work – The Transformation of Work and Community in Lowell, Massachusetts, 1826-1860. Thomas Dutton, 1979.

Living in the Shadow of Death – Tuberculosis and the Social Experience of Illness in American History; Sheila M. Rothman, 1994.

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What’s in a Name? Religions, Celebrities and Oddities

Three of my four grandparents were Irish Catholics. In that tradition, given names for children generally come from a pool of approved saint names. The number of variations offer a sense of choice, but whether you choose Kathleen, Cathleen, Katheryn, Kathryn, Katharyn, Katherin, Catharine, Cathryn, Katheryne, Katharine, Katharina, Katrin, Kare, Karina, Kathrin, even Caitlin, – it’s the same, blessed Saint Catherine. While all girls’ names are lovely and all boys’ names are distinguished, Catholic names, generation after generation, after generation – become monotonous.

For novelty, I turn to my Nana, who was Edna Mae Keirstead (1898-1988). Her Protestant pedigree stretches back to New Amsterdam (modern New York City), and delightfully different names begins with her father, Levi Springer Keirstead (1858-1921). Exotic appellations of his forebears include – Abiathar, Adoniram, Amenzie, Elias, Hezekiah, Isaiah, Ebenezer, Elnathan, Jedidiah, Obadiah, Zachariah and Zebulon. Isn’t it fun to wrap your tongue around those multisyllabic gems?

Word Cloud-male names

Names of Keirsteads and related lines

The Old Testament was a strong influence because properly devout Protestants read the Bible. Even hardscrabble, rural families (such as most of my folks) usually included at least one adult who was literate (and who taught the youngsters). If a poor household possessed a single volume, it was the Good Book. In addition to spiritual guidance, the Bible supplied history, genealogy, and thrilling stories with vivid characters. The Bible was a thwacking good read for long dark winters in the boonies.

Another naming convention, made trendy by Puritans, was the choosing of a virtue, a child could aspire to on the way to adulthood. Both boys and girls among New England folks were called – Constant, Content, Charity, Deliverance, Experience, Patience, Prudence, Remember, Waitstill, Hopestill and Love. Of these, Charity and Hope (from Hopestill) and others like Faith are still used today.

Remembering Mama

In an earlier blog post, I mentioned my gratitude for the tradition of giving the mother’s family name as the child’s middle name, a practice predominant among Protestant lines. An example from my tree is James Ganong Keirstead (1835-1926), the son of William and Elizabeth (Ganong) Keirstead, but there are so many, I’ve been able to tie a great number of married daughters back to their parents.

Sometimes, the mother’s maiden name becomes her child’s first name. For example, among my Freetown, Massachusetts relatives, Samuel Hathaway and Mary Evans, named a first son Samuel (b. 1781), for the proud papa, and a second son was Evans Hathaway (b. 1783), for the proud mama. Crocker Babbitt (1788-1861) of Dighton, Massachusetts is another example – with a twist. Crocker was not the mother’s birth name, but the maiden name of the grandmother, Bathsheba (Crocker) Tobey.

In contrast, wives’ and mothers’ origins for my poor Irish Catholic lines get lost one step past the immigrants. Though, not my family, it’s worth noting here there’s a prominent exception to this disappearing woman rule in US history . Our nation’s 35th president was John Fitzgerald Kennedy, son of Joseph P. and Rose (Fitzgerald) Kennedy..

Admiring Men

Among my Canada-born great-grandfather’s brothers, is a Wellington. That name clearly inspired by the hero who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo and later became a statesman. While Wellington is legendary, how many know that he was born, Arthur Wellesley (1769-1852)? His title was the 1st Duke of Wellington.

My ignorance of Canadian history blinded me to the origin of other names in genealogies north of the border. A 4th great-great uncle, Thomas Carleton Ganong (1785-1856), was named for Thomas Carleton, Lieutenant-Governor of New Brunswick, or maybe, just Carleton for Tom’s brother, Sir Guy Carleton, Governor General of British North America.  Maybe, it was for them both.

Chipman is attached to a number of individuals with different surnames. Since Ward Chipman (1754-1824) was instrumental in establishing the province of New Brunswick, their birthplace, he may have been the inspiration. Then, there were other Chipmans in public life.

My southeastern Massachusetts patriot families, like many of that period, named children for founding fathers. I’ve found a George Washington Chase (b. 1808), son of Benjamin & Lydia (Shove) Chase, and Benjamin Franklin Babbitt (b. 1805), son of Benjamin & Serena (Burt) Babbitt. As a science enthusiast, I was also pleased to discover an Isaac Newton Babbitt (1830-1901).

Less famous namesakes easily escape notice. I offer a case in point from Victoria County, New Brunswick where, in 1905, George Ward and Esther Jane (Brown) Goucher named their son, Basil Earle Goucher. Why Earle? I found no Earle among kinfolk and no Earle was particularly celebrated at the time. The answer was waiting for me on Basil Goucher’s late birth registration. A line on the form for ‘physician attending the birth,’ read, “Dr. R. W. L. Earle.”

I was lucky to find a smoking gun for Basil. In more cases, the rationale for any past person’s action remains frustratingly unfathomable.

Raising eyebrows

How does Malbone strike you? That given name comes from my endlessly interesting Hathaways of Freetown (MA). When I first picked up Malbone, the old school Latin kicked in; mal- means bad or evil, so this old man was, literally, bad to the bone.

To my deep disappointment, I must report that I found no evidence that Malbone Hathaway (1774-1861) was ever even grumpy in the morning. Rather, Malbone was hometown boy who took a wife, raised a passel of kids, worked the land, and was laid to rest at the ripe old age of 87. His name mustn’t have troubled him, either, for he gave the world a Malbone junior, who also lived his life as a regular guy.

Perhaps, Malbone’s brother, Wanton Hathaway (1776-1855), had a worse name. Merriam-Webster gives as synonyms for the word wanton (as an adverb), – lewd, bawdy, merciless, inhumane, malicious and extravagant; a wanton (as a noun) is –  one given to self-indulgent flirtation or trifling or a pampered person or animal. You get the idea that being called wanton is not a compliment. Wanton, the man, however, seems not to have been at all wicked. The best I can do with Wanton is to unfairly judge his life by modern standards, which makes him only – wicked boring.

The parents who named Wanton and Malbone also had interesting names. Their mother was Dorcas Wrightington (1743-1814), Dorcas being a Christian woman of New Testament times who made clothing for the poor. Their father was Clothier Hathaway (1739-1789), a clothier being a person or business that makes or sells clothing. — Surely, that was a match made in heaven.

Readers, please  feel free to share your own tales of interesting family names and namesakes in the “Comments” section.

—Notes & Sources—

Cousins and others with questions about featured individuals or families in my tree, can email genealogy@christineroane.com & I’ll be happy to provide my source material.

Wikipedia is handy for a quick look-up of nearly any unfamiliar person, place or thing. I referenced wiki articles for John F. Kennedy, Wellington, Thomas and Guy Carleton.

The Canadian Encyclopedia is gives a solid brief on Ward Chipman

Baby names will make future family historians scratch their heads, too. Why? Click over to Cool Name Lists for today’s expectant parents for suggestions that reference Shakespeare, US Presidents, Hunger Games and Dr. Who.

 

Why did O’Flaherty plant boiled potatoes?

I was excited when I acquired a copy of the Ayer’s American Almanac. Not only was it published in Lowell, Massachusetts, the ancestral city of my Roane clan, it’s the 1859 edition, – the year my Irish immigrant couple, John P. and Mary (Hurney) Roane were married. I liked to imagined the little booklet sitting on a shelf in their home on the comer of Gorham of Summer streets.

The purpose of the magazine, “For the health of All Nations,” was trumpeted by an angel on the cover.  Its enterprising publisher,  “Dr. James C. Ayer, Practical and Analytical Chemist,” had equal interest in promoting his financial health. Lengthy  articles describe the powers of Ayer’s Compound Concentrated Extract of Sarsaparilla, Ayer’s Cathartic Pills, and Ayer’s Cherry Pectoral, to ease everyday complaints, and to cure virtually everything from deafness, partial blindness, fits, paralysis and tumors –  to gout and syphilis.

Cover of Ayer's American Almanac 1859

The booklet measures 4 5/8 by 7 inches.

Despite the relentless advertising, the almanac had practical utility. The annual calendar incorporated the Christian observances of Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Trinity and Advent. It listed anniversaries of national significance,  such as “Franklin born, 1706” and “Battle of Tippecanoe, 1811.” And it wouldn’t be an almanac without the weather. Predictions of wind, rain, snow and temperature would have interested city dwellers and rural folk, just as we check the daily forecast. The almanac also offered amusement. Each calendar page had extra space at the bottom. Some months filled it with run-over text. Other months featured aphorisms, witticisms, doggerel – and jokes.

In my mind’s eye, I’d  picture John in the parlor reading aloud to Mary (who was illiterate), or to a small group of Sunday visitors enjoying a break in the work week.  I’d imagine hearing their laughter and cups clinking (whether filled with tea or something stronger, I can’t say).

Then after I read the booklet through, I wondered if I was wrong about the laughter. What would any native of Ireland think and feel about the following?

            “How much did yees ask for thim buttons?” inquired an Irish customer.

            “Fifteen cents.” 

            “I’ll give ye thirty-siven.”

            “I didn’t say fifty ─ I said fifteen,” replied the honest dealer.

            “Bedad, an’ I’ll give you tin cints, thin.”

 

            “Why in the world do you plant boiled potatoes, Mr. O”Flaherty?”

            “Shure, yer honor, I’m goin’ to thry the ixpirimint of raising them already biled for my own aiting.”

 

            “Did yoar fall hurt you?” said Pat to his friend who fell with his hed from a high ladder.

             “No, Patrick, shure, it was hitting the ground that hurthed me.”

 

            The Irishman’s plan for casting cannon was, ─First take a hole, and then pour the iron around it. 

Today, this seems benign humor,  some gentle ribbing, – and no harm done. Certainly no reason to be upset, right? Now consider these other bits of fun from 1859:

            “Say, Pomp, you nigger, where you get dat new hat?”

            “Why at de shop, ob course.”

            “What is de price of such an article as dat?”

            “I don’t know, nigger, I don’t know; de shopkeeper wasn’t dar!”

 

            Sambo says, “Why am my belubed Dinah like de cloth dey make in Lowell? Cos she’s an unbleached she─ting.”

In both the Irish and the Black ‘jokes,’ ethnic speech patterns signal the low intelligence and low character of the subjects. Instantly recognized stereotypes provide the readers of the dominant culture with a good laugh. If the source of the humor is the same, – why is it only the last  two retain shock value?

In part, the ethnic slurs pop; but the rest of it is recognition that African Americans still do not enjoy the full-fledged membership privileges that Irish Americans have in modern society.

After the Civil War, things began to turn around for the Irish in America. They fought for the Union with distinction, and earned the gratitude of the nation. Gradually,  “real” Americans (white natives) became more accepting, and government jobs, – fire, police, public works, and other essential services were opened up to the Irish.

In 1888, John and Mary’s son joined the US Post Office and carried letters for 40 years. This modest post, paid John F. Roane enough to purchase a house and to raise a large, family. The Lowell newspapers over decades, reported the exploits of Roane grandsons – in  sports, the arts, the military, politics, and respectable Lowell society.

Yet  barely 20 years before his son got that post office job, John P. Roane died – and Lowell newspapers didn’t carry a word of his passing. Though a Lowell resident for 18 years,  an American citizen,  property owner and businessman,  the Irish native’s life went unremarked.

So we come back to Ayer’s American Almanac.  What do  its “jokes’ reveal about that period  – and about our own times?

I still wonder whether John Roane was angered by the characterization of the Irish in America or if being raised under English oppressors had inured him to insult.

I wonder, too, whether he felt sympathy for that other marginalized people – or whether he  laughed.

Notes:

1. The Old Farmers Almanac is still around and on the web – http://www.farmersalmanac.com

2.  There is a little bit about J. C. Ayer at Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Cook_Ayer

Mr. Murphy’s Beer

Image

Moving into an old house is a bit like marrying into a family where instead of mingling blood, we mingle ink on property records. We redecorate; we inhabit kitchens, living spaces and bedrooms; we rarely think about the others who washed dishes, entertained guests, and slept within the same walls. However, every now and then we do, as I was reminded that my house used to be the Murphy’s place.

Pre-1962 Ballantine XXX Ale Can

Ballantine XXX Ale; matches the can I found.

Most original parts of this 1915 working-class bungalow have been replaced. The latest was the front porch. Over the years, I kept an eye on mortar crumbling and bricks sliding off piers through a basement window placed oddly (for the view), but fortunately (for monitoring) underneath the porch. Besides deteriorating structural elements, I saw only dead leaves, a green plastic flower pot and a couple of brown bottles, happily hidden from street view by lattice.

CCarling Black Label flat top can pre-1962.

Carling Black Label flat top can.

When the contractor crew finished digging for the new footers, they said they’d set aside some glass they thought was interesting. After they left, under cold, damp and darkening skies, I gazed upon the “interesting” heap of naked beer bottles and rusted cans. Ugh. I’d rather read about archaeology than do it, but this was my house history, even if it wasn’t news that folks enjoy drinking beer on the front stoop, – and sometimes opt for the most expedient disposal method. I got myself an empty recycle bin and began the filthy work.

Every bottle was dirt-smeared gray. Big clots of wet soil and decomposing stuff clung to some. Whitish bits… ghosts of product labels stuck to some bottles. Then a brown bottle with something green on the neck caught my eye. Though the paper was eroded at the edges, it showed a clear image of a harp behind lettering that read, Imported Guinness Stout.

Lower down on the face of the bottle, about two thirds of an off-white, oval label remained. There was the harp, in finer detail, but just half of it with “Trade Mark” barely legible. Around the edges in bold…

GUINNESS FOR… STOUT  ST JAMES’S GAT…DUBLIN

…and inside that…

Bottled by

Guinness Exports, Ltd

Liverpool, Eng.

So among the American beers before pop-top cans (after 1962) was an Irish import, Guinness Foreign Extra Stout, also known as FES, and described by the company,

“Foreign Extra Stout is a beer like no other. The most full-flavoured of all. Singular and striking. Uniquely satisfying. Brewed with extra hops and roasted barley for a natural bite. Bitter and sweet. Refreshingly crisp.”

Good advertising-speak for a bitter and high alcohol (8%) brew. Though all the other labels had worn away, enough bottles matched for me to know that Dennis Murphy (1895-1977), the former owner, identified strongly with his Irish roots, – and liked a drink with a kick.
Guinness.FES.RoundLabel-1950s.2

Dennis Maurice Murphy was born in County Kerry, came to the US in 1915, fought in World War I and became a US citizen. He worked to support his parents before he married Anna, another Irish immigrant, in 1920. He made tires before he landed a job with the city fire department. On his pay, the Murphys were able to buy a house and raise three daughters. Dennis topped off his career as District Fire Chief, and well deserved to savor his special brew on occasion.

I tried to attach dates to Mr. Murphy’s Guinness FES. I studied label images never finding an exact match (though the image above is close), and what I read on history of Foreign Extra Stout in the United States was inconsistent. Some say the product was not popular when it returned here as Prohibition ended and  World War II stopped its import again until 1956 and it was withdrawn shortly afterwards. Perhaps liquor purveyors in this Irish “Hungry Hill” neighborhood, purchased extra stock to keep on hand for good customers  – like Mr. Murphy.

Guinness Trademark

Sources:
Guinness Foreign Extra Stout http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guinness_Foreign_Extra_Stout#cite_note-FAQ-3

Guinness in America https://sites.google.com/site/jesskidden/guinnessinamerica

Beer Cans http://www.rustycans.com/HISTORY/history.html

Guinness Collectors Club http://www.guinntiques.com/brandidentity.aspx

Guinness Company Site http://www.guinness.com/en-gb/thebeer-fes.html

A Bottle of Guinness Please; by David Hughes http://books.google.com/books?id=_tOZqDtYv9QC&pg=PT132&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false

 

Of Cofflins and Rohans

A few years ago I got an email from cousin John O’Connor who had recently cleared out his elderly mother’s Florida beach house. In the process, he came across an index card that most folks would have tossed away without a thought, and, fortunately, John  thought about it. He scrutinized his mother’s  faded and cryptic notations and realized he had 3X5 inch version of 19th-century Iowa family history.

ROHAN-J.OConnor.mom

Image of faded original doctored to make it easier to read.

When he emailed me to see what I could make of it, I was intrigued to learn about the Galway trio of Larry Cofflin, Pete and Rohan! But I was frustrated, too.  This information failed to resonate with anything I knew about our shared ancestry.  John’s forbear was Patrick Roane, the brother of  my John P. Roane. Both men married in Lowell, Massachusetts, but while John stayed, Patrick struck out to obtain newly available government land  in Iowa.

Since my initial confusion, I’m happy to relay, I’ve learned a lot.  I discovered more descendants of the Midwest families, and resources that enabled me, at last, to interpret the notes made by John’s mother, Joanne Rowan O’Connor (1931-2013).

In 1950, a book came out that was written by Leo Ward,  a Monroe County, Iowa native and priest, titled, Concerning Mary Ann. It is a fictionalized account  of the life of his grandmother, Mary Ann (Coughlin) Murray (1859-1957),  and the Irish Catholic settlement known as Staceyville. Ward wielded elements of history, language and character to evoke a unique time and place, – and tells a good tale with authenticity.

However, the first name on the card about Rowan history, is “Larry Cofflin,”  who was Mary Ann’s father. Then, though I’ve found documents using Roane, Roan, and Rowan variant spellings, the only place I’ve found “Rohan,” is in Leo Ward’s book. I believe the excerpts below show that the first lines came straight from Concerning Mary Ann.

            “ON a lovely Autumn day in 1857, the sun hazy in the sky, Larry Cofflin…was en route from Boston to Iowa… as his train of an engine and two coaches steamed and puffed its way out of Chicago and across the top of Illinois and went with the sun toward the Mississippi…

“In his native County Galway, the Potato Famines had hit hard. No fooling about it, no escaping it. The Famines hit people in the stomach. All over Ireland, when it was averaged up, half the people died during and following the Famines of 1846-48

“He had good companions, too, …two sandy-haired, neat-set-up men of his own age were Pete and Ed Rohan. …they were from the same townland with him in Ireland, townies of his…so alike were they in the firm square shoulders, the loose-built bodies, the florid round faces, alike even to the snore. “Brother and brother, twins for it,” thought Larry… With Larry Cofflin they were of one mind, headed west with him to take up land in golden Iowa.”

I believe that well researched fiction can inform us about lives and times of our ancestors. However, even if we know real people inspired characters in a book, it is a mistake to accept those accounts as fact, without careful examination. We are lucky today to have online records easily available that help sort truth from fiction.

Ward’s book describes bachelors traveling together in 1857, but we have documented that Patrick Roane married in 1853 and came to Iowa with his wife and daughter.  But we have strong evidence that Lawrence Coughlin, Patrick Roane and Edward Roane were in league together for on June 3, 1856, each received patents on parcels of abutting land from the Chariton Land office. Census records from 1870 until 1900 show Lawrence Coughlin and Patrick Roan families occupied neighboring farms, but Edward Roane is absent.

However, it is not surprising that Mary Ann Coughlin remembered the names, “Pete and Ed Rohan.” They belonged to her generation of immigrants’ children. The book describes times she shared with the same-age friend, Rose Anne Roan. She was Patrick’s daughter and had brothers, Peter (1863-1942) and Edward (1868-1928). There was also, a set of twin boys, Edward and Lawrence, born to the younger Edward in 1905. These fellows just happen to be brothers of Pierce “Pete” Rowan, whom Joanne O’Connor identifies as her father.

The index card is decoded as part truth and part literary legend, with some mysteries yet to plumb (Were the two Roanes were really twin brothers? What happened to the elder Edward Roane?). And thus did Joanne Rowan O’Connor succeed in passing on a priceless bit of tradition for her children and grandchildren.

The Hero Without a Face

Last October, I was a little bit startled to see a message from the Austin, Texas Police Department sitting in my email queue. Once I’d confirmed that none of my kin had gotten themselves into trouble, I realized the inquiry belonged to the opposite end of human behaviors, – it was the search for a hero.  A senior patrol officer wrote,

“Our very first officer to die while serving, was a Cornelius Fahey on March 3rd, 1875.  The only information we really have on him was that he immigrated to the states from Cork Ireland. …He would have been 35 years old at the time of his death.

“I was hoping you knew of the Faheys in Cork and might be able to help. We would love to be able to dig up a picture of Officer Fahey in order to commemorate his service for our city.”

Monument placed at the grave site of Cornelius Fahey in 1997.

This image was contributed by lcommando67 at BillionGraves.com.

Right out of the gate, I knew my Cornelius Fahey was no match. My same-named ancestor was born half a century before 1840, and his only known child in America was from County Galway, not County Cork.  However, like any of the tribe called to genealogy, my pulse quickened and my keyboard fingers itched to discover something that might help the resourceful investigating officer.

It took seconds to pull up a Find-a-Grave record for Officer Fahey. Buried in Oakwood Cemetery, he had a wife and family, and name of the contributor was “C. Fahey,” – possibly a living descendant!  What gave me pause was learning that Cornelius met his untimely end at the hands of a “whiskey-crazed” man named Mark Tine. Transcribed at the website is a lengthy account of the incident from the March 9, 1875 Austin Daily Statesman. Here’s an excerpt:

“On last Sunday night between 12 and 1 o’clock another of those events which come under the head of desperadoism, and which so long have been the curse of this State, occurred in this city. The repose of our own citizens was disturbed by what appeared to be a regular pitched battle, and the sharp peals of six-shooters, and the flashes of fire, smoke and deadly missiles they belched forth, the clattering of horses, feet upon the hard street as the demon incarnate was borne away, all tended to frighten and excite women and children and men as they rushed from their beds to the windows, doors and streets.

” Strange thoughts and forebodings were uppermost in the minds of all, and the general inquiry was- what is the matter? The question was soon answered, for there upon the sidewalk was policeman Fahey shot through the abdomen, and other policemen were following after the assassin who, on horseback, was taking flight up the Avenue shooting at every one who would dare to hail him.”

Holy moley. Contemporary relations of my Cornelius Fahey lived lives less colorful (think soot gray), and much less violent in Lowell, Massachusetts, a city built, literally, to industrial order. Its mills signaled the day’s beginning, the mid-day meal, and quitting time. Lowell’s police department formed in 1830, but no officer was lost to gunfire until 1957. Cornelius Fahey of Austin, Texas lived in a different world, yet his immigrant experience fits a pattern.

As the most despised newcomer group of the 19th century, many Irish men won respect and citizenship through military service during the Civil War (1861-1865). In later years, they began to fill public service jobs, until the Irish cop with the lilting brogue became an American icon.

Records show in March  1866, Cornelius Fahey signed on with Company D of the US 6th Regiment of Cavalry for a three-year hitch, – interestingly, at Boston, Massachusetts. The regiment established its headquarters in Austin and became part of Fifth Military District of Texas. Its mission was to supervise civil authorities in applying federal law, which included pursuing Native Americans and outlaws. These bits from official reports show Private Fahey in the thick of it.

  • February 7th 1867. Austin—Corporal Thomas Casey—Co M 6th US Cavalry—gunshot wound of the abdomen; admitted from camp to regimental field hospital; died February 8, 1867.
  • February 9th 1867. Austin—Pvt Michael O’Callaghan—Co D 6th US Cavalry—shot by a citizen—admitted to hospital February 10; died February 11, 1867.
  • October 1867. … with troops of 6th Cavalry 45 men and 22 Indians. Encounter with Comanche; 3 Indians killed, 1 captured. 19 horses/1 mule/2 revolvers recovered. Remains of 5 citizens killed by Indians buried. 
  • November 8th to 12th 1867. 6th Cavalry from Buffalo Springs, Texas. Troops from the 6th Cavalry 1 officer/25 men and 1 citizen. Passed through Montague and Clay Counties; traveled 120 miles to operate against Comanche.
  • March 7th to 10th 1868. Troops from 6th Cavalry {Co D} 13 men and 7 citizens. Passed through Collins, Hunt, and Grayson Counties. Traveled against Lee’s band of thieves & outlaws in Read Creek Swamp, Collins County. “Indians killed, 2; prisoners, 5 (men)”.
  • April 1 1868. Austin─Private William Burke, Co. B, 6th Calvary, aged 21 years, received a wound to the abdomen from a conoidal bullet. Admitted to hospital and died same day.

Horrific traumas, rendered in spare language, convey a lack of humanity sadly not unique to by-gone times. However, cold and steely-eyed men might still be moved to tenderness.  On April 2, 1868, Cornelius Fahey’s name appeared on a district official statement distributed to the Austin Republican, to Flake’s Bulletin (Galveston), the Army and Navy Journal, and  Richmond, Virginia’s New Nation. Titled a “resolution,” it is clearly an expression of deeply felt grief.

“…our friend and companion William Burk (sic)…most foully murdered in cold blood and without any apparent provocation… we most deeply deplore his untimely end. As a firm friend and companion…and by his uniform kindness and genial disposition has caused his memory to be respected by all who knew him…”

Cornelius re-enlisted at Austin on April 9, 1869 and was discharged, for reasons unknown, on November 30, 1870 at San Antonio. I found him next in the Galveston Tri-Weekly News of Monday, June 19, 1871  among appointments made by Chief of Police, Colonel Hobbs, to the police force.

 Was it during this six months break between soldiering and policing that Cornelius Fahey married?

Had he come to love the harsh terrain of Texas as well as the green island of his birth?

 Did he envision a future Austin where he and a family might prosper?

Signs were there. In 1871, Austin became the westernmost link of the Houston and Texas Central Railroad. Trade and construction boomed. Gas street lamps appeared in 1874 and the first streetcar line began operating in 1875. But it was March that very year, a bullet fired by a drunken desperado killed Cornelius Fahey at the age of 35. Thus, his name entered into history.

What touches me most deeply about this tale, is the brotherhood of police officers whose enduring respect launched an effort to put a face to the names of all its fallen comrades. I am sad that I could not help.

We cannot know whether Officer Fahey ever had a photograph made in his lifetime. If he had, time and the elements may have taken their toll. If an image survived, who could identify it with certainty? I hope that descendants, or a local historian may yet be able to help.

In the absence of an image, we might sketch Cornelius Fahey in the mind’s eye. Army enlistment records put his height at 5 feet and 9 1/2 inches. He had brown eyes and dark hair. Odd for an Irishman, his complexion was noted as dark. — I imagine the Cork native’s fair skin burnished by the Texan sun.

Please visit the Austin Police Department Officers’ Memorial website where you can read modest and moving salutes to all of Austin’s brave officers lost from 1875 to 2012.