The Ballad of Martin Hurney

There is no song called, “The Ballad of Martin Hurney,” but there should be. if anyone had a life as woeful as that of “Oh my darling Clementine,” (who drowned in her gold digging father’s mine shaft). He came to mind as I read the MassMoments topic for January 21, Sixth Massachusetts Volunteer Regiment Organized.

It’s not that Martin was a member of the 6th Massachusetts, he wasn’t. He had the luck to miss out on being attacked by a crowd in Baltimore, Maryland where a fellow Lowell, Massachusetts man was killed, but it wasn’t long before he himself enlisted (25 May 1861) with the 2nd Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry for a three-year term.

At five-foot eight and one-half inches tall, with blue eyes and brown hair, Martin likely cut a fine figure in his uniform. The 21-year-old Irishman might have been itching to march off to glory, and away from an unexciting shoe and boot making trade. Money played into the decision as well.

In 1860, the first Shoe Makers Strike occurred in Lynn, Massachusetts, not far from Lowell. Industrialists were not paying a living wage to skilled workers. Martin’s pay as a Union private would be a steady $13 a month for his three-year hitch. He couldn’t know, then, the true cost of his decision.

In July 1861, The 2nd Massachusetts Company G left Camp Andrew in West Roxbury for Maryland. For the remainder of the summer and the fall, Martin  guarded supply trains at Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, not too bad. The next order from command, however, was to pursue the rebel general “Stonewall” Jackson down the Shenandoah Valley.

The men were driven hard. They endured hunger, lack of sleep, cold and rain. They slogged through miles upon miles of mud and slept on wet ground. In the battle of Winchester, Virginia in May 1862, Martin Hurney suffered a gunshot would to the hand.

On 29 August 1862, he was admitted to Post Hospital Convalescent Camp in Alexandria, Virginia and remained there five months. He received a surgeon’s discharge for disability on 5 February 1863 with a doctor’s note: “Vertigo and Syncope from cardiac disturbance.” In other words, Martin suffered from dizziness and fainting due to heart irregularities.

Martin’s gunshot hand must have healed, but that underlying heart problem should’ve been concerning. Yet, he apparently felt well enough, four months later, to join the navy. Did he mention his medical condition to the recruiting officer? And, would he have cared at that point in the war? Having served on  the gunboats, Ohio and Savannah, he helped maintain the blockade on southern ports until he was discharged on 6 August 1864.

Days later, on 11 August 1864, Martin Hurney joined the Massachusetts Cavalry at Dorchester. In 1885, long after his death, his wife Mary tells us in a letter to the Secretary of Interior, that Martin thought handling horses would easier than his navy duties, but his health soon deteriorated. He fell from his horse “from which he received injuries to the Bowels sent him to Hospital for two months or more at the close of the war. “

Mary also explains why Martin despite serious health conditions, kept enlisting in the service: “Martin Hurney being a poor man and unable to work at his trade and large Bounties being offered as an inducement and unfitted for service in the Infantry and still anxious to serve his country to the end of the Rebellion…”

It was part patriotism and part economic survival, which is pretty much the same reason folks join the military today.

So yes, Martin survived the war. In 1866, he married in Detroit, Michigan, Mary Monahan and the couple had several children. Martin’s health got worse. He often could not work at all. The young family lived in dire poverty.  Martin Hurney died on 4 May 1874, not of a heart condition, but of tuberculosis. He was 34 years old.

There was great suffering and a heap of woe in Martin Hurney’s life. He was a striver, he loved his country, and he should have a ballad. But, you know what? I think his wife, his widow, Mary (Monahan) Hurney deserves to celebrated in song as well.

Mary was not yet 30 years old when Martin left her with three little boys, and no money. She, somehow worked to keep them going for six years. In 1880, she finally applied for a widow’s pension. The government ignored her and put her off for 13 years. In 1893, nearly 20 years after war veteran Martin Hurney’s death, the government conceded the debt owed, and specified monthly payment rates for Mary and the surviving children (to age 16), – but the documents in the pension file do make clear that the widow and sons ever received money.

Sources:

Oh my Darling Clementine, Traditional; Genius.com; https://genius.com/Traditional-oh-my-darling-clementine-lyrics

Mass Moments; https://www.massmoments.org/moment-details/sixth-massachusetts-volunteer-regiment-organized.html

Ancestry.com; American Civil War Soldiers; Historical Data Systems.

The Great New England Shoemakers Strike of 1860; New England Historical Society; https://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/great-new-england-shoemakers-strike-1860/

Soldier’s Pay In The American Civil War; “The Civil War Dictionary” by Mark M. Boatner; Civil War Home; civilwarhome.com/Pay.htm

National Archives and Records Administration (NARA); US Civil War Pension Files; Martin Hurney.

Undone by a Hat: The Drowning of Frank J. Donahoe

On the night of June 4, 1895, a message arrived in Lowell, Massachusetts for 75-year-old Peter Fitzpatrick, informing him his 30-year-old son, Philip H. Fitzpatrick, was dead in Savannah, Georgia. Peter instructed authorities to send his son’s body home to Lowell, however, Savannah replied, no way.

In a haze of grief, the elderly Fitzpatrick began packing a bag for the thousand-mile trip south. The dreadful news spread across the familial network of Fitzpatricks, Rileys and Donahoes, and, perhaps, his sister Bridget Donahoe, realized Peter should not undertake the journey alone. Frank J. Donahoe stepped up to accompany his uncle. From the downtown depot, the men took the train to Boston. They may have gone on to New York by rail, in order to board the first steamship bound south.

On arrival in Savannah, Peter and Frank had their grief compounded, as they learned Philip Fitzpatrick’s remains had already been buried in the interest of public health, and exhuming the body was forbidden.  the men were certainly shown to Savannah’s Catholic cemetery on Wheaton Street. There, they said their goodbyes and offered prayers over a mound of freshly-turned earth. Their mission a failure, the bereaved father and cousin left for home.

Their ship had covered hundreds of watery miles northward when a squall hit off New York City. The Lowell Daily News of Thursday, June 13, 1895 reported what happened:

THE DROWNING OF FRANK J. DONAHOE.

A GREAT WAVE SWEPT HIM OFF THE STEAMER’S DECK.

There was a High Wind and a Heavy Sea–his Hat blew off, and he Reached for it Just as the Big Wave swept over the steamer.
—-
Last night a dispatch was received from the agent of the steamer on which Frank J. Donahoe and his uncle, Peter Fitzpatrick, sailed from Savannah for New York. It stated that a man named Frank Donahoe was lost overboard from the steamer.

Peter Fitzpatrick arrived in Lowell on the nine o’clock train this morning and full particulars of the sad affair were made known. Mr. Fitzpatrick is looking well after his rough voyage, but he is terribly agitated at the sudden taking of his nephew. The steamer is supposed to be the Algonqula of the Clyde line, Capt. Pratt in command, but Mr. Fitzpatrick is not sure of this. The steamer had a very rough voyage, the passage being unusually severe, the captain informed Mr. Fitzpatrick and his nephew [who] were standing on deck. The sea was very rough. A gale of wind blew Frank Donahoe’s hat from his head at about 11 o’clock. He attempted to catch it before it fell overboard. It was a fatal attempt. A great wave swept across the deck and he was carried into the ocean. No help could be given him.

For the heartbroken Peter Fitzpatrick, there were two deaths, two bodies he could not bring home, yet the resilient old man lived 85 years. What of his nephew whose fate decreed he’d get just half that time on Earth?

Francis “Frank” J. Donahoe – Lowell businessman and politician

H.A. Thomas & Wylie. (ca. 1896) Man Wearing Tuxedo, Holding Bowler Hat. , ca. 1896. [N.Y.: H.A. Thomas & Wylie Litho. Co] [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress

Man holding a bowler hat, circa 1896, Library of Congress [9]

Frank was born in 1852, an older brother of my great-grandmother (Mary J. (Donahoe) Roane), the fourth of ten children of Patrick and Bridget (Fitzpatrick) Donahoe. [1] As a young man, he started working in a woolen mill, but he had higher aspirations and, for at least eight years (1881-1889), he was a grocer on Lowell’s Kinsman Street. [2, 3]

Civic minded, Frank got involved in Ward Three politics. He just missed being an elected representative in city government in 1879. [4] He was a recognized democratic leader in 1893 as he planned to stand for a city council seat. It was reported he had “presided at caucuses and other political gatherings.” [5] In May 1894, he was voted chairman of the Ward Three Committee. [6]

Having focused on his grocery business and democratic politics, Frank didn’t marry until 1889, when he was 37 and well enough established to support a family. His bride was [3] 22-year-old, Mary A. Donahoe (likely, a distant cousin).

As befitted a man rising in the world, Frank would have carefully maintained his appearance. Susie Hopkins, in History of Men’s Hats, explains:

…the nineteenth century heralded a new age for men’s hats in the Western world, which reached its zenith at the turn of the twentieth century, when no gentleman would ever step out of his house without wearing a hat. Men’s clothing was dictated by sobriety and egalitarianism and hats fulfilled an important role in subtly marking differentials, personal and professional ones, as well as social class distinction. Top hats, bowlers, derbies, boaters, fedoras, panamas, and cloth caps were all created during this century and lasted well into the twentieth century. [7]

I can’t know for sure, but I’m willing to bet Frank wore a bowler, also called a derby. It was the most popular hat worn by men in America in the 19th century, including Billy the Kid and Butch Cassidy. Lowell had at least one store dedicated to male fashion in the 1890s, “Wm. P. Brazer & Co. Hatters & Mens Outfitters,” at Central & Market streets, advertised in the city directory.

In his personal life, the the family he hoped for never happened. The reason may have been Mary’s health. She died of tuberculosis in April 1894, leaving Frank alone.[8] Two months after Mary died, Frank’s younger brother Patrick followed her to the grave.

How Frank handled these tragedies is unclear. He left the grocery business at some point after 1889. The Lowell directory for 1895 lists Frank living on Keene Street with his widowed mother. His occupation was – janitor.

Frank wouldn’t have been the first man to fall apart on losing his life’s partner. Maybe he fell apart before the end. “Consumption” (tuberculosis) is a cruel wasting disease, and we don’t know how long Mary was sick and Frank surely suffered along with her. If he tended her during a protracted illness, he may have been unable to keep up with the demands of a grocery store. He may have sold out or lost the business. It’s possible Frank took to drink to ease the pain.

When the news of Philip’s death arrived in Lowell, it had been a year since his wife Mary and his brother Patrick died. Having so long felt powerless to help the people he loved, Frank rallied. Proven articulate and persuasive in city politics, he could assist his uncle with officials in Savannah. He could be of use to his loved ones.

Frank may have dressed hurriedly to make the train, but he took care to make a good appearance, from the shine on his shoes, to the finely made hat on his head.

 

Sources: 

  1. “Massachusetts Births, 1841-1915”, database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:FXC4-NTL : 1 March 2016), Francis Donahue, 1852.
  2. Lowell, Massachusetts, City Directory, 1881. (Images online at Ancestry.com)
  3. Town and City Clerks of Massachusetts. Massachusetts Vital and Town Records. Provo, UT: Holbrook Research Institute (Jay and Delene Holbrook). Lowell, MA, 1889. (Images online at Ancestry.com)
  4. The New Democratic City Committee Indulge in a Midnight Session – Recount of Ward Three Votes; More Lowell Daily Citizen and News Saturday, Sep 13, 1879 Lowell, MA Vol: XXIX Issue: 7247 Page: 2. (Images online at GenealogyBank.com)
  5. Lowell Daily Sun, The (Lowell, Massachusetts), 1893 October 25; Page 1, Col. 3. (Images online at GenealogyBank.com)
  6. Lowell Daily Sun, The (Lowell, Massachusetts); 1894 May 1; Column 2: Caucuses. (Images online at GenealogyBank.com)
  7. History of Men’s Hats, Susie Hopkins; LoveToKnow: Beauty and Fashion; https://fashion-history.lovetoknow.com/fashion-accessories/history-mens-hats
  8. Massachusetts Vital Records, 1840-1911. New England Historic Genealogical Society, Boston, Massachusetts. Lowell Deaths, 1894. (Images online at Ancestry.com)
  9. H.A. Thomas & Wylie. Man Wearing Tuxedo, Holding Bowler Hat. , ca. 1896. [N.Y.: H.A. Thomas & Wylie Litho. Co] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2014636873/.

Resources: 

 

 

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.

The Boy Tenor of New England

I wrote the following profile of my grandfather, James P. H. Roane (1895-1960), as a contributor to WikiTree and, I decided to share it (slightly edited) in honor of the 120th anniversary of his birth.

James PH Roane circa 1911James Patrick Henry Roane was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, on August 8, 1895, the fifth child, and fourth son of John F. & Mary J. (Donahue) Roane. His mother died as the year 1900 ended, and his father never remarried, leaving James and five siblings to grow up motherless.

His sister Mollie, the firstborn and only girl at 10 years, raised her brothers and kept house for her father. At least one year, 1902,  when school let out, James and his brothers were sent to Baker Farm in Tyngsboro, apparently, a summer camp where boys could experience the natural world, fresh air and clean water (not found in the factory city of Lowell).

Young James played school sports and made his mark as quarterback for the Lowell High football team, following in the footsteps of his older brothers, who were also noted athletes. The amusing nickname, “Roundy Roane” was applied to various brothers, including James, and probably was descriptive of the short, muscular frame which ran in the family.

All the Roane men had excellent voices; their names turn up regularly in newspaper accounts of church choirs, and featured singers at public entertainments and private events. James, however, was the only one to have gone professional. As a teenager, he was a member of a touring company (perhaps, on a vaudeville circuit) and billed as, “the Boy Tenor of New England.” (The photo below may have been taken for publicity purposes.)James PH Roane circa 1907

James also performed close to home, as The Lowell Sun noted on May, 2, 1912:

…riding the crest of a popular wave, scored a tremendous hit in minstrelsy at Associate Hall. Patrons thought the program was the best ever presented by this talented group. Interlocutor was Charlie McKenzie, with Tom Salmon, Ed [?]andley, Joe Clarke and James Roane as end men.

In the 1920s and 1930s, James lent his voice to local broadcasts, which included vocal performances, according to his son. James, Sr. He was also an announcer for sporting events, however, cryptic newspaper comments suggest his style wasn’t popular with all listeners.

James had enlisted in the US Army by 1915 and served until 1919. Returning to civilian life, he was employed as a stock clerk at a machine shop and grew close to another Lowell High alum, Edna Mae Keirstead, a bookkeeper at Union National Bank.

Edna’s parents were Canadian immigrants, and she wasn’t Irish or Catholic, but the young couple shared a common vision. They married in the family’s parish at St. Margaret’s church on May 31, 1921, and left promptly for Lakewood, Ohio (a suburb of Cleveland). James had arranged a sales job with the May Company, and Edna got position with the Union Trust Company. The newlyweds’ initial plan didn’t last long, as they returned to Lowell that same year, likely precipitated by the death of Edna’s father in August.

After settling back in Lowell, James thought about becoming an attorney, and earned a degree from Suffolk Law School in 1923, – the year his first child was born, a daughter, Edna Mary Roane. Whether the outlook for earnings from a law practice looked poor, or whether he decided law didn’t suit him, James studied medicine at Harvard University, and in 1924, the year his son and namesake was born, his credentials won him a teaching position in Lowell public schools. His passion for physical education and sports sustained him in a 30-year career, from phys ed instructor at Charles Morey School, to Athletic Director for the Lowell Public Schools at his retirement in 1952.

In the family sphere, James shared his delight in travel, culminating in an episode his daughter described by his daughter more than 60 years later, as their “famous trip” to Texas by automobile.

James also took the wife and kids, every summer for a week or two (some years longer) to New Hampshire at Lake Winnipesaukee, where they swam, fished, played, and socialized, with the scent of pine wafting through the air. Lake.Winnipesauke.c1928 His daughter never forgot those lovely, happy summers.(Above c. 1929: James, Sr. Edna, James Jr., and Edna Mary Roane at Lake Winnipesaukee, NH )

Back home in Lowell, James was member of fraternal organizations that included the Elks. He led or worked on committees that supported a variety of organizational and community undertakings, through which he built life-long friendships.

To his grandchildren lucky enough to have been born before his passing at age 64, in the spring of 1960, James Roane, Sr, was “Baba.”  He left us with memories of his warmth, his sense of fun, and his love.

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

One Band of Brothers

November is the appropriate month to let you see the full image of this blog’s current header  featuring my great grandfather and four of his five sons in uniform in 1918.

Five men in uniforms stand in front of  a large tent at Camp Devens, Massachusetts in 1918.

Click for full size

They are at Camp Devens, Massachusetts, better known as Fort Devens, but originally a temporary spot for quick training military troops from New England. The likely scenario is that the boys were awaiting, or had received orders to ship out to their respective duty stations.

Their widowed father, John F. Roane, Sr., made the journey from Lowell to say goodbye and every man looking toward the camera was acutely aware that war meant this might be the last photograph they would ever take together.

I read warmth and pride on the face of my great-grandfather, who is dressed in his US Post Office uniform. The three army enlistees look appropriately serious, but, under the seaman’s cap, John Francis Roane, Jr. looks kind of excited to me.

When John registered in the 1917 draft, he was a single man employed as an ice cream tester, which sounds like a dream job to me, but John may have wanted work with a bit more weight. He certainly found it, as he served on a submarine chaser out of Newport, Rhode Island.

John’s twin brother, Francis Roane, (on the other side of John, Sr.) had more reason to look serious look. His year-old son died of meningitits in 1916, and he was  supporting a wife and infant daughter as a machinist in the US Cartridge factory at draft time. The army sent him overseas.

In 1921, Frank went back to Europe with a group of American Legionnaires who were feted by the king of Belgium. Frank famously struck up a conversation with the monarch himself (Albert I),  who remarked he liked Frank very much. The incident became legend of “the Peach,” as he became known in Lowell. There is plenty of evidence that Frank Roane shook off his early tragedy and knew how to have a good time.

Paul Roane is the short fellow on the end in the cloth cap and was the eldest of this generation of Roane men. When he registered for the draft, he was unmarried, and a secretary at the offices of the Harvard Brewery.  I know little about his service, but that he was proud of it, as he had been elected commander of American Legion Post 87.

James P.H. Roane, Sr . is the tall man on the left in this shot and my grandfather. I have not delved into his service record yet. He was  single and out on the road as a representative of the Loyal Order of Moose, and in registered for the draft in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Though, like his older brothers, he was  a member of the American Legion, I suspect his military experience wasn’t  satisfying.

I recall my dad, James P.H. Roane, Jr., telling me that his father advised him to enlist in 1942, the year he graduated high school, rather than wait to be drafted, because he would have  no power to choose the job he’s do. Consequently, my  father enlisted in the US Army Air Corps, the forerunner of the Air Force, and was a flight instructor stateside for the duration.

We must not forget the service of women. My dad’s sister was a WAVE, which stood for Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service, but the branch was officially, the US Naval Reserve (Women’s Reserve), and I’m delighted to report she recently celebrated her 90th birthday.

An Orphans’ Story Gets a Happy Ending

I knew my  Granduncle Paul and his wife Lena (Dawson) Roane had an adopted daughter from the tree my “Uncle’ Paul’ sent me with all he knew of Roane family history. As it turns out, Paul and Lena Roane  made a home for two girls, who were hardly  strangers, – they were Lena’s nieces.

In 1919, Lena’s sister, Loretta, married Frank L. Vesey, a veteran of the Great War (WWI), lately returned from France.[1] -Frank moved in with the in-laws[2] on Claire Street, and 10 months after the wedding, they added a daughter, Mary Dorothy, to  the Dawson household. Little Loretta came along in 16 months and, not quite 18 months later, there was Francis Leo, Junior. Seven days after the boy’s birth, the mother of three was dead.[3] The Lowell Sun of April 30, 1923 reported:

Mrs. Loretta (Dawson) Vesey died yesterday at her home, 39 Claire street, following a short illness after the birth of a baby boy. Her age was 25 years. She was born in this city, the daughter of John and Mary J. (Deignan) Dawson, and was a most estimable young woman. She was an attendant of St. Patrick’s church, and a member of the Married Ladies sodality connected with the church. She leaves her husband, Frank L. Vesey; three children, Dorothy, Loretta and Francis Vesey; her parents, two brothers Thomas and Joseph, and one sister, Lena.

The  father, Frank Vesey, probably thought he had overcome the worst things life would throw at him. He’d known the loss of infant siblings, and his own mother’s death[4] when he was eight.  He’d only stuck out four years of grade school and may have suffered from dyslexia.[5]and then he experienced the horrors of a world war. When Loretta was taken from him, he was not yet 30, and completely unprepared to raise three little ones, that included a week-old baby.

Aunt Lena, no doubt, had a hand in caring for her nieces  from their infancy, and surely loved them as her own, but Lena was a 25-year-old working woman, an operator with the telephone company, whose income would have contributed to the support of the extended family.  Her father, John Dawson was 65, a laborer with the sewer department, who’d had health problems.[6] Lena’s mother, Mary, died the next year, – literally, of a broken heart.[7]

but what happened in that house after Loretta’s death?

Did the grief-stricken Frank immediately pack off the children to the orphanage? Was the family forced to make the decision  after grandmother Mary Dawson’s died? Was the parish priest involved in the process? At any rate, two of the Vesey children were inmates of St. Peter’s Orphanage on Stevens Street in 1930, while their big sister, Mary D. Vesey, was living in the Dawson house on Clare street with  Lena and Paul Roane.

By 1935, Paul and Lena were in a house on Washington Parkway they owned, according  to the 1940 census.  The couple  had created  a home for  now-grown nieces, Dorothy, 19, and 18-year-old Loretta who had taken the Roane name. While I was delighted to discover the sisters reunited, the image of the 1930 census sheet  filled in by Sister Mary Winifred’s neat hand haunted me. What had become of that little boy, Francis L. Vesey? Last weekend, I found out.

This excerpt from the 1930 US census shows the Vesey children, Loretta, 8 years, and Francis, 6 years, inmates of St. Peter's Orphanage.

A descendant of Frank’s brother, James Vesey, discovered my online tree and was surprised to learn Frank had two older daughters, Mary Dorothy and Loretta. But what she knew that I didn’t, was Frank Vesey married again, the widow, Alice Kane. In 1940, Frank and Alice are right there in Lowell with the three children they had together, Joseph, Pauline and William, the children from Alice’s first marriage, Robert, Helen and Dorothy Kane, and 16-year-old Francis Vesey, the son Frank lost for a time. I was greatly relieved to see  the motherless boy, at last, in the bosom of family.


[1]  Francis Leo Vesey, Sr. was awarded a Purple Heart; he served as army private in a machine gun battalion.

[2] The 1920 US census shows the parents, John and Mary Dawson, Lena (AKA Elizabeth M. Dawson), Loretta V. and Frank L. Vesey enumerated at the family home on Claire Street.

[3]  The cause of death for Loretta Veronica (Dawson) Vesey  was “Septic Pneumonia (Puerperal Septicemia),” common after anesthesia due to lesions in the trachea, which suggests she may have delivered in a hospital, though she died at  her parents’ home.  [See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Puerperal_sepsis%5D

[4]  Catherine Vesey gave birth 13 times in 17 years of marriage, she died of eclampsia, the last child stillborn and buried with her. (Downton Abbey character, Lady Sybil Branson, died from eclampsia, though her baby survived.)

[5]  Frank Vesey’s WWI and WWII registration cards show he had terrible handwriting and in 1942 he reversed the last two digits of his birth year, writing “1849,” rather than 1894.

[6] The Lowell Sun reported that John Dawson had a “slight operation” at Lowell Hospital in 1915.

[7]  Mary (Deignan) Dawson died on October 1, 1924 of “Mitral insufficiency,” a heart valve malfunction that modern medicine calls Mitral regurgitation (MR).