Michael Nolan, Part I: Future Commander

I wrote a bit about the Montgomery Guards here. But, let’s talk more about their Civil War commander, Michael Nolan.

Son of a Tithe Defaulter

The Montgomery Guards elected their captain sometime in 1861. He was named Michael Nolan. Michael Nolan was born in County Tipperary about 1819. He was born in Goldengrove townland, Co. Tipperary.  Goldengrove was a small townland. In the 1823 Tithe Applotment books, there were eight families in Goldengrove. Each family farmed no more than five or ten acres. There is no Nolan family listed for Goldengrove in 1823. Yet, we know from brother Thomas Nolan’s death record, that Thomas was likely born in 1832. Thomas’ obituary describes him as a native of Goldengrove. Perhaps the Nolan family was sharing land with another family. Or perhaps, they moved around a bit. In any event, the leaseholds in Goldengrove were quite small. None of the individual leaseholds included more than five acres.

A review of Catholic births in 1819 or 1820 reveals just one Michael Nolan/Nowlan in the Thurles Roman Catholic parish. That was Michael Nowlan, born on 19 December 1820, with no townland identified. The other three Michael Nowlan/Nolan birth records include townlands other than Goldengrove. The Michael Nowlan born in 1820 to Patt Nowlan and Mary Maher Nowlan may reflect the birth of Michal Nolan, future citizen of New Orleans. The spelling of names in 1820’s Ireland was always problematic. The old country in the 1820’s still largely spoke Irish. The spelling of names in English was far from standardized.

Michael’s brother, Thomas, was born in 1832, according to his obituary. He was described as a native of Goldengrove. But, no such baptismal record appears among the parish registers. No parish register lists a Thomas Nolan born in Goldengrove in the early 1830’s.  But, there was a Thomas Nolan born on 20 Nov 1831 to Pat Nolan and Margaret Tuohy. That birth record omits the townland. But, the civil parish was in western County Tipperary. Those are the only sets of parents who mention a common father, Pat. It is possible Pat farmed in Goldengrove, but moved to a new townland by 1831. There were various quarries located in the Killaloe Roman Catholic parish area in the 1830’s.

In 1831, a Patrick Nowlan was recorded as farming in a townland identified as “Quarries.” He defaulted on his tithe payment. He was a tithe defaulter. This was part of a movement refusing to pay the tithe. In 1830 Ireland, farmers were asked to pay one-tenth of their income to support the Church of Ireland. This payment was bitterly resented by the Roman Catholic parishioners who also supported their own church. In 1831, a movement to refuse to pay the tithe commenced. It appears Patrick Nowlan was one such tithe defaulter. There is no townland recorded today for County Tipperary named “Quarries.” But, there were a couple of quarries in the Thurles area at the time.

Leaving Home

Mike Nolan left County Tipperary and lived in Dublin for a “few years.” He took the voyage to New Orleans in 1839.  The passage to New Orleans cost about the same as a fare to Boston or New York.  The Crescent City appealed to Irish immigrants, because it was generally a Catholic city. In an age and country where sectarian divisions were very pronounced, the Irish viewed a Catholic city as more welcoming and safer.

In 1840, the population of New Orleans was 101,193. By 1850, the population increased to 116,375. In 1860, it shot up to 168,675. The period 1840-1860 may have been the greatest period of growth in the City’s history. The port of New Orleans in the antebellum years was the fourth largest in the world and second in the U.S. By 1850, about 20% of the population was Irish.  New Orleans was a boom town and the Irish, including Michael Nolan, were riding that boom.

Death of His Family

Anna, wife of Mike Nolan, died in New Orleans on May 19, 1847. He also lost a child about this time. Anna was described as a native of County Tipperary. No cause of death is mentioned. Michael may have lost his family to yellow fever, a frequent scourge of the city throughout the nineteenth century. It was said that Michael tended the victims of the “yellow jack” by the hundreds. He provided the rites of sepulture to many victims of the yellow fever, or the rite of placing their bodies in the grave. The Dublin newspaper does not explain how or why he came to help bury so many Irish. But, certainly, 1847 saw one of the worst yellow fever epidemics in the city. Over 2,000 New Orleanians, mostly Irish and German immigrants succumbed that year to the yellow jack.

In these days before government assistance, there were a very few organizations, such as the Howard Association. In fact, the Howard Association may have been the first of its kind in the country. The Howard Association would assign volunteers to certain neighborhoods to provide aid during the regular, recurring yellow fever epidemics. Perhaps, Michael was one of those volunteers. Mike Nolan’s family may have been among the victims.

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