Fr. Mullon, the Bravest Man

Fr. James Ignatius Mullon was one of those extraordinary priests in an extraordinary time. He was pastor at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in New Orleans from 1834 to 1866. Fr. Mullon was born in 1793 in Derry, Ireland. He came to the U.S. with his parents when very young. His first parish was in Cincinnati, before coming to New Orleans.

At St. Patrick’s in New Orleans, he conducted 53 baptisms in 1835. That number increased to 163 in 1840 and then to 337 in 1845. The Irish population was booming and the new Father was ready for it. The church itself was a mess. Construction of St. Patrick’s started in 1835, but the tower started leaning in the soft soil. The parties agreed to take the dispute to arbitration. The construction company balked. James Gallier, an Irish architect, was called in. He succeeded in getting the church completed.

See a picture of St. Patrick’s Church here.

Raising Funds

Paying for the brick church became difficult. The parish tried to take out a mortgage. The church tried selling pews, but that did not raise enough money. The trustees took out bonds secured by the mortgage.

This was a time of significant strife for the Catholic faith. It would have been very  embarrassing if the newest church – and the only church serving Irish immigrants – failed.

By 1834, the debt load on the church had risen to $56,000. By one estimate, that would amount to $620,000 in 2019 dollars. Fr. Mullon was excluded from these financial decisions by the trustees of a corporation responsible for the financing. The church could not pay the interest on the bonds. One of the bond holders sued and won. The sheriff sold the pews for non-payment of the interest. Other bondholders and note holders began to press for payment.

In 1842, Fr. Mullon formed the Church Debt Paying association. Its members paid 25 cents each week. Fr. Mullon’s “two bits a week” association paid for the improvements to the interior of the church. But, the overwhelming notes and bonds remained outstanding.

In 1845, the sheriff seized the church for sale. Later, that year the bishop, Antoine Blanc assumed the debt for $40,000. The Bishop saved the church.

Jews and Protestants

Fr. Mullon was a friend of Jews and Protestants, at a time when such friendships were rare. He also owned two slaves. It is easy to judge the Father now. But, we do not know the circumstances of his slave ownership. It was not unheard of for persons of good-will to purchase slaves for positive reasons, such as keeping slave families together or close by. Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson purchased two slaves for those very reasons. Starting in 1837, Fr. Mullon let the German Catholic immigrants use the church. He was a friend to theater people. The father was a forceful, eloquent speaker. He generally had standing room only when he said Mass. Many non-Catholics attended his Mass.

St. Patrick’s Day Parades

Fr. Mullon did not support St. Patrick’s Day parades. He believed those parades only caused censure and criticism. The Irish were handy targets for the nativists. Fr. Mullon would say Mass and then urge his flock to go home and eat a good dinner with family on St. Patrick’s Day. 

In 1837, the bishop invited Fr. Mullon to deliver the homily at St. Louis Cathedral to mark the anniversary of the Battle of New Orleans. The solemn Pontifical Mass was attended by legislators, judges, and civic officials. Fr. Mullon took the opportunity to lambast the nativist sentiment then growing. He criticized the “anti-American principles” of the Nativists. This drew the attention of the Nativists. In 1839, Fr. Mullon looked in on a meeting of the Native American Association at the elegant St. Charles hotel. He was surprised to see a friend there. He asked his friend what drew him there. When he heard the response, Fr. Mullon told him that if he joined the Native American party, their friendship would end.

Fr. Mullon was a very athletic man when he was young. Sometime in the late 1830’s, he found himself in a dispute over rent at a tenement. The short, Jewish proprietor struck the father. But, he did not respond. J.C. Prendergast, editor of the Daily Orleanian and a fellow Irishman, taunted the Father for not responding. Fr. Mullon asked Prendergast what would he have Fr. Mullon do, he being a man of the cloth? I could tear him to pieces, said the priest, but a minister of the meek Savior must remain a non-combatant.

The Know-Nothings

Fr. Mullon stood up to the Know Nothings. The American party members were known as Know Nothings. It was a nativist party which opposed immigration, especially Irish Catholic immigration. In 1854, there were riots, mob brawls and beatings between the Know Nothings and the Irish. The Irish were generally on the losing end of these fights. These Nativist sentiments likely kindled for Fr. Mullon memories of the severe sectarian strife in Ireland. In 1854, a large group of Irish left the St. Mary’s market, the center of the Irish neighborhood, marched down the street toward St. Patrick’s. On the way they met a mob of Know Nothings. A large brawl broke out. Fr. Mullon deplored the violence erupting across the city. But, St. Patrick’s church was never harmed.

When the Civil war broke out, the father blessed many banners and flags as the Irish troops marched off to war.

The Yankees

Fr. Mullon did not care for the Yankee occupation. The Union authorities ordered that prayers for the Confederates in churches cease. The churches, instead, must substitute prayers for the Union forces. Fr. Mullon exploded in the pulpit, excoriating this attack on religion and conscience. Gen. Butler summoned Fr. Mullon. Fr. Mullon eventually substituted silent prayer.

Another time, Gen. Butler summoned the priest. He accused him of refusing to bury a Union soldier. Fr. Mullon replied that he would be happy to bury the entire Union army, including Gen. Butler, whenever the opportunity would arise.

The Bravest Man He Ever Knew

Many of the Federal troops on duty in New Orleans were Irish Catholics. And, back in Massachusetts, Gen. Butler had been a politician who relied on support from Irish voters. So, the Federals generally left Fr. Mullon alone.

Fr. Mullon passed away in 1866. It was the end of an era. His body lay in state for two days in the church. He was laid to rest in the church in a tomb which he himself had built.

Sources:

Charles Dufour, ed., St. Patrick’s of New Orleans, 1833-1958 (New Orleans: A.P. Laborde & Sons 1958), p. 63-75.

Chester G. Hearn, When the Devil Came Down to Dixie (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1997), p. 174.

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, March 8, 1850, p. 2, col. 2

Michael Nolan, Part II: Young Irelander

I wrote about Michael Nolan’s background as a young man here. Now, let’s talk about his older years.

In 1848, Michael Nolan heard news of the rebellion in Ireland. The rebellion in 1848 was somewhat accidental and almost unplanned. But, Michael knew something. He left his business – probably a grocery store – took his rifle and boarded a ship bound for County Tipperary, Ireland.  The New Orleans newspaper says Michael was arrested upon his arrival. But, in reality, some time passed before he was arrested. He arrived in August, 1848 in County Tipperary. This was the same county in which occurred the well-known fire fight at the Widow McCormack’s house. This rebellion was almost accidental. Its leaders agonized over strategy. The rebels were quickly put down after the brief fight at the McCormack house on July 29, 1848.  The young Michael Nolan arrived in Tipperary just days later. Michael came to the town of Thurles, which was just 25 kilometers from the Widow McCormack’s house. Thurles was the large cross roads town near where Michael grew up.

Arrested

Michael was arrested in Thurles, a major cross-roads village in County Tipperary. He came under the observation of the British authorities and was watched. He arrived wearing a “large pair of whiskers.” He soon lost the whiskers. He was arrested during the evening of Aug. 8. He told the constable he had returned to Tipperary to visit family and friends. There were indeed many Nolans in County Tipperary. On his person was found a letter of introduction identifying Michael as a “real gentleman.”

Another “stranger” was arrested that same night. It is not clear if the second stranger had some connection to Nolan. The second person identified himself as Patrick Vincent Fitzpatrick. He was a “good looking young man.”  He said he formerly worked for the Dublin firm of Tierney, McGrath and Co. at 3 Christchurch place, Dublin. There was indeed a drug company known as Tierney Brothers for many years at that address. The company was indeed known as Tierney, McGrath and Co. in 1848. But, whatever his real name, the second stranger must have had a sense of humor. Patrick Vincent Fitzpatrick was a person known in political circles as a dedicated supporter of Daniel O’Connell since 1828. By 1848, the real Patrick V. Fitzpatrick would have been 56 years old, not a young man. It is not apparent from the news report whether the British authorities actually believed the “good looking young man” was truly Patrick Vincent Fitzgerald. Vincent was not a common name in 1840’s Ireland. The British must have known the name Patrick Vincent Fitzpatrick.

Gun-running

Michael Nolan was charged with buying guns and distributing them in the Roscrea and Birr districts, apparently meaning the civil parish of Roscrea, which includes the Goldengrove townland.  The erstwhile rebel was released after three months in the Thurles jail, based on his promise to leave the country and return to New Orleans. In 1863, Michael will be killed at the Battle of Gettysburg. The Dublin nationalist newspaper,  Irishman, will publish a touching tribute to Michael. He was clearly well-known to the Young Irelanders in Dublin.

Michael returned to New Orleans and re-married in October, 1850. He married Ellen Hackett, a native of King’s County, now known as County Offaly. Michael signed his own name, as did his surety and friend, Patrick McDonald.  It does not appear that Michael and Ellen had any children.

Insulted

On April 8, 1856, in New Orleans, about 11:30 a.m., Michael Nolan encountered a reporter for the Daily Delta. He ran into one David L. Crowley crossing Canal Street with a man named D.C. Jenkins, one of the editors of the Daily Delta. Nolan demanded an apology for an article Crowley had written about Nolan’s contract to provide supplies to the Marine Hospital. The Daily Delta article had described Nolan as “heartless” and questioned the quality of the goods he sold to the hospital.  Newspaper accounts differ. One says Crowley drew his pistol first, while others say Nolan attacked Crowley with his cane first. In any event, Nolan struck Crowley with his cane several times. Crowley fell to the banquette (sidewalk), and shot at Nolan several times while laying on the banquette. Michael wrenched the pistol from Crowley’s grasp and tossed it away.

Meanwhile, Michael’s brother, Thomas, came on the scene. He pulled out his own revolver and fired a few shots into the air, to keep bystanders away. Jenkins drew his pistol, but was arrested by a nearby citizen.  Jenkins was taken to jail and charged with carrying a concealed weapon. A passing policeman, who knew Thomas Nolan, rushed up to take away Thomas’ pistol. In so doing, Thomas accidentally shot the policeman, named Gustave Laferranderie. All the persons involved were arrested and then released on bail.

The U.S. Marine Hospitals were a system of hospitals set up to provide care to the merchant marine seamen. Eventually, that system evolved into the U.S. Public Health Service. The Daily True Delta article described Michael as a “well known resident of the seventh precinct,” meaning the Seventh Ward.

A couple of weeks later, a hearing was held regarding the charges against Michael Nolan,  Thomas Nolan and David L. Crowley. The Recorder (a criminal court judge) found Michael and Thomas should be committed to jail or pay a bail of $100 each. The two brothers paid the bail and were released. David Crowley was discharged. From then, Michael disappears from public record until April, 1862. In April, Michael is the elected captain of the Montgomery Guards, the most prestigious Irish militia in New Orleans. That year, he and the Guards go to war.

Sources:

Cork Examiner, Aug. 9, 1848, p. 3, col. 1

New Orleans Daily Picayune, July 30, 1879, p. 4, col. 5

Dublin  Irishman, Oct. 24, 1863, p. 4, col. 1

Laura Kelley, The Irish in New Orleans (Lafayette, La.: Univ. of La. at Lafayette Press 2014), p. 48, 51, 55.

New Orleans Daily Picayune, May 20, 1847, p. 2, col. 6

Dublin  Irishman, Oct. 24, 1863, p. 4, col. 1

Jo Anne Corrigan, “Yellow Fever in New Orleans, 1853, Abstraction and Realities,” Journal of Southern History, Vol. 25, No. 3 (Aug, 1959), p. 342

New Orleans Daily Crescent, p. 1, col. 3

Brendan O’Cathaoir, “The Rising of 1848,” History Ireland, Issue 3 (Autumn 1998), Vol. 6

King’s County Chronicle, Aug. 9, 1848, p. 2, col. 2

Tipperary Vindicator, Sept. 6, 1848, p. 2, col. 4

Louisiana Marriages, 1816-1906, Orleans Parish, Oct. 17, 1850; La. Death Records, vol. 168, p. 777

New Orleans Daily Crescent, April 9, 1856, p. 1, col. 3

Plaquemines Southern Sentinel, April 12, 1856, p. 1, col. 2

New Orleans Daily True Delta, April 9, 1856, p. 3, col. 1

Baton Rouge Daily Advocate, April 10, 1856, p. 2, col. 3

New Orleans Daily True Delta, April 9, 1856, p. 3, col. 1

New Orleans Daily Picayune, April 24, 1856, p. 1, col. 7

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.

The Tenants of Lord Clifden

J.C. Prendergast, editor of the Daily Orleanian, first encountered the former tenants of Viscount Clifden in February, 1849. He was appalled at the condition of some 250 passengers – men, women and children – from the ship Challenger. They shivered on the New Orleans levee from Saturday afternoon through Sunday night. They were the tenants of the Viscount Clifden, of County Kilkenny. This would have been the 3rd Viscount, Henry Agar-Ellis (1825-1866). Lord Clifden held an Irish peerage, as well as a British rank. He also held the title of Baron Dover in the British peerage. He resided primarily in England.

Viscount Clifden paid for the tenants’ passage to New Orleans. He told them food would be provided on the voyage. So, the passengers spent their meager funds on clothing, not on food. They starved during the two month voyage. Steerage passengers were supposed to provide their own food. The Lord was very wrong about the food.

New Orleans Generosity

But for some humane New Orleanians, the passengers would have continued to starve upon their arrival in the new world. Edward White provided them with seven dollars worth of bread, which they consumed ravenously. “Notorious” women from the ball rooms came to aid the young women of the Challenger early Sunday morning. Other Irish residents of New Orleans, not opulent Prendergast tells us, contributed to their cause. Mr. Lebeau of the Cotton Press donated the use of his tenements in which they could vie until they left town. They left for the upriver states where jobs were available. A cotton press was a business that compressed the cotton bales for shipment.

The 250 or so tenants left County Kilkenny in December, 1848. Travelers always avoided Winter travel. But, as the Norfolk News noted in 1848, the Irish tenants were so desperate to leave Ireland that in December, 1848, there were four ships already booked, even though those four ships still had yet to reach Galway harbor. It was a shipper’s market.

One Pound

The Lord Clifden had promised the tenants one pound each. He told them he would forward the money to a bank in New Orleans. But, upon arrival in the city, the money was not there. It did not arrive. The travelers reported that the Lord told them himself. But, Agar-Ellis generally lived in England. He was an absentee landlord. Perhaps it was his agent who made the promise? It was one of his agents, a Mr. Ryan, who went to Liverpool to arrange their passage to New Orleans. Ryan was known for having quit a prior landlord, who was oppressing his tenants. He was not believed to be an oppressive sort of agent. In any event, someone told Clifden’s tenants to expect a pound each upon arrival. But, upon arrival in the Crescent City, they received nothing.

The Viscount Clifden was generally considered a kindly landlord. He reduced the rent during the famine, both prospectively and retrospectively. But, he was also a spendthrift. He spent a “princely sum” on race horses. He saw some early success, winning major races in 1848 and 1850. But, in time, his fortune would be lost. Indeed, he may have picked New Orleans, because it was cheaper. Passage to New Orleans cost almost one-half of the fare to New York, Boston or Philadelphia.  

Prendergast believed it was better for the poor emigrants to remain in Ireland than suffer this sort of experience. The tenants arrived in the Crescent City with literally nothing. They arrived when cholera was then spreading throughout the city. Only due to donations by the citizens of New Orleans were they able to book passage upriver. They then traveled upriver to St. Louis. But, cholera appeared again on the steam boat. Many were tossed overboard, apparently after dying. Some were buried along the river in the hills. Prendergast tells the tale to persuade folks not to emigrate. He lambasts the Irish landlords for “exterminating” their tenants. But, says Prendergast, only one in 20 will find work and that work will entail working 16 hours a day in the sun. Prendergast exaggerated the difficulty in finding work, but his point remained.

Sources:

Norfolk News, Dec. 2, 1848, p. 4, col. 2

Drogheda Argus and Leinster Journal, Jan. 6, 1849, p. 2, col. 2

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Feb. 26, 1849, p. 2, col. 1

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, March 4, 1850, p. 2, col. 3

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, March 22, 1850, p. 2, col. 2

London Era, Feb. 25, 1866, p. 3, col. 3

Madeline

It was one of those incidents that must have occurred numerous times in a slave society. At a “slave mart” on Conti Street in New Orleans, there appeared a little girl, apparently very much white. Imagine the horror in such a stratified slave society like New Orleans. She was said to be the “property” of one Bievenute Duran, a Spaniard. He had lived in the First Municipality (roughly comparable to the area known today as the French Quarter), and had fallen on hard times. Mr. Duran then moved to the working class Third Municipality, a working class area. Duran ran a small grocery store. At his death, his only asset were his slaves, including one little girl named Madeline, perhaps nine years old. She was crying as she was paraded with the other Duran slaves.

J.C. Prendergast, the Irish editor of the Daily Orleanian, noted that it was poor practice to exhibit slaves on the open street. Prendergast found it “unsightly.” But, his larger concern was the apparent white girl being sold as a slave. Such an incident tended to upend their social mores regarding the institution of slavery. A citizen known for his benevolence, Mr. Charles Lovenskiold, took in the little girl. Free men of color (meaning free African-Americans) raised almost $200 to purchase the young girl’s freedom. The sale was stopped when it was made known that the little girl likely came from deceased white parents. Charles Lovenskiold lived in the 7th Ward. The New Orleans City Directory does not provide his occupation.  But, a Charles Lovenskiold appears in the 1860 census in Nueces County, Texas working as a lawyer. This Lovenskiold was born in Denmark and had two daughters and one son. Madeline does not appear in that 1860 Nueces County census record.

In 1849, after the rescue of the girl, Prendergast met with Charles Lovenskiold and Madeline. Madeline was apparently nine years old. She had come to Duran with an older Negro woman who died soon after. Madeline had blue gray eyes and very fair skin, said Prendergast.  

Lovenskiold believed the girl had been sold when she was six months old with her purported mother, “a very black old negro.” Prendergast believed Madeline was “Celtic,” meaning Irish. He theorized that her parents had likely died and left her with the old black woman. Slaves at the time had substantial freedom in the city. The older enslaved woman was probably friends or neighbors with Madeline’s parents. Prendergast noted that during the bad cholera epidemic of 1839, he had seen many such instances of parents dying and leaving their child with a friend or neighbor. The black woman, postulated Prendergast, likely ministered to the girl’s parents in their last hours.

Certainly, the ante bellum Southerners generally believed in the efficacy of slavery. They genuinely believed slavery was the only way black Americans could live. But, looking back, we have to wonder how at times like this, an almost-sale of a little white girl, they did not appreciate these inherent problems of a slave society. J.C. Prendergast himself, always ready to point out societal hypocrisies, did not reflect on the system that could lead to such a result.

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Dec. 10, 1849, p. 2, col. 2

The Passengers of the Ship, Challenger

Some unspecified number of passengers – men, women and children – from the ship Challenger shivered on the New Orleans levee from Saturday afternoon through Sunday night when J.C. Prendergast happened upon them. They were the tenants of the Viscount Clifden, of County Kilkenny. He paid for their passage to New Orleans. He told them food would be proved on the voyage. So, the passengers spent their meager funds on clothing, not on food. They starved during the two month voyage. Steerage passengers are supposed to provide their own food. The good Lord – Lord Clifden was one of the better landlords – was wrong about the food.

But for some humane New Orleanians, they would have continued to starve upon their arrival in the new world. Edward White provided them with seven dollars worth of bread, which they consumed ravenously. “Notorious” women from the ball rooms came to aid the young women of the Challenger early Sunday morning. Such was the arrival of more Irish immigrants. Most tried to arrive before winter. These immigrants did not.

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Feb. 26, 1849, p. 2, col. 1

A More Wretched Set of Human Beings

J.C. Prendergast, an native, of County Waterford, Ireland, published and edited the Daily Orleanian in New Orleans during the ante-bellum years. He was a complicated person. He was a Whig, yet favored immigration. He criticized the famine Irish immigrants, yet, he sympathized with them immensely. The paper loudly proclaimed in the first page of every issue that it was the “official journal of the Third Municipality.” Prendergast was proud of the “old Third,” a working class area teeming with German, Irish immigrants and other nationalities. But, it was always Ireland and her concerns that pulled at him.

The Mushroom Aristocracy

He often criticized the “mushroom aristocracy,” his term for the Irish immigrants who had come to the new world, had found success, but did not help the more recent arrivals. The famine immigrants started arriving by the thousands in 1849. To the prior Irish immigrants, the new, famine arrivals were a pitiable lot. They arrived with few possessions. They knew no one upon arrival. They wore clothing long out-dated, even by rural Ireland standards.

Prendergast would talk to these recent arrivals. One such encounter occurred on Feb. 18, 1849. That was a late arrival. Usually, they arrived by October. A more wretched set of human beings he had not seen for years. These were the recent passengers of the British ship, John Garrow. They arrived with no one to greet them, carrying all their possessions in boxes, laid across the levee. In those days, the New Orleans wharves were simple extensions from the levee. The levee was a rise of land, some 3-4 feet high along the edge of the Mississippi River. The passengers, he noted were still gathered the next day there on the levee with nowhere to go. It was a frosty day, said the editor. New Orleans generally has a temperate climate, but February will still see temperatures in the 40’s and 50’s (Farenheit).

A Cadaverous Countenance

Prendergast asked one man, of a “cadaverous countenance,” if they were going up river? Many immigrants would seek work upriver at the busy Mississippi river ports. Work was there, if they could just reach those upriver points.

“Oh no sur, God help us, we had barely what paid our passage to this country. To escape starvation in our own, and ye see, there is seven of us in family here. Only for some gentleman, God bless him, who I never saw before, we would have been dead, for he let us into this little house, without asking a ha’ penny for it” – which if he did, we hadn’t it to pay.” Prendergast explained the “little house” was a small shed on the ferry wharf. In it now resided the man, a wife, a mother and three children and their “miserable looking beds.” Another nearby ferry house was full of the recent female arrivals.

If they were crammed into those two little what sheds, they were much better than the remaining passengers, huddling on the batture, the space between the levee and the river’s edge, with nothing but their boxes to cut the icy wind.

The condition of these recent arrivals troubled Prendergast all the next day. He described them as “gaunt, half-naked, half-famishing wretches.” At evening time, he wound his way back to the levee. He found all the women and children had been taken to some kind person’s house. The men remained huddled around tiny fires, trying to star warm, there on the batture under the night sky. So, for one night at least, some had shelter.

Prendergast then let loose, criticizing the various Irish-American groups, the Emmet Club, the Shamrock Society, the Hibernian Society, and others who pledged thousands for Ireland’s freedom. But, Prendergast expected too much. There was just too many coming, who needed so much, for ad hoc fund-raising. Private philanthropy was just not enough. The city of New Orleans actually did much to help he impoverished arrivals. Individual Irish-American groups did raise funds for the destitute arrivals. In 1851, the Emmet Guards, an Irish militia, raised $481.50 for upriver passage for recent arrivals. That was enough to send 219 recent arrivals upriver to jobs and security. But, it was not enough for the tens of thousands who came, with nothing.

Sources:

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Feb. 19, 1849, p. 1, col. 1

New Orleans Daily Picayune, April 20, 1851, p. 2, col. 1

Earl Neihaus, The Irish in New Orleans (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1965), p. 27

Catherine Hayes, the Irish Diva

J.C. Prendergast, an Irish native, published and edited the Daily Orleanian in New Orleans. He always supported the Irish cause. So, he was thrilled when Catherine Hayes came to the Crescent City. Catherine Hayes was the singing sensation known as the “Swan of Erin.” She was born in Limerick in 1818. Born into poverty, her father, a bandmaster for the local militia, abandoned the family. Her mother worked in the household of the Earl of Limerick.

She studied singing in Paris, and later in Milan. She sang opera at La Scala in Milan, and appeared in operas in Marseilles and London. She was invited by Queen Victoria to sing at Buckingham Palace. It is said that when she concluded her presentation for the Queen, she asked the singer for an encore. It is said that with a slight grin, Ms. Hayes responded with the Irish patriotic song, “Kathleen Mavourneen.”

Kathleen Mavourneen

And, in February and March, 1852, she came to New Orleans as part of her American tour. Prendergast described the first of her concerts as a “triumph.” He believed the other newspapers in the city offered only tentative praise. Prendergast, always sensitive to bias against the Irish, likely felt some reluctance on the part of the French and Anglo newspapers to fully acknowledge her extraordinary talent. Prendergast did note the editor of the Bee had some background in music. Prendergast appreciated his review:

“We thought we had heard the “Last Rose of Summer” twenty times, but feel confident that it has never been executed with the touching and tearful pathos which the fair vocalist infused in every line of that plaintive melody. . . .  Let it suffice that Catherine Hayes is all that her admirers have declared her – not Jenny Lind – not a Grisi – but though differing widely from both – a consummate artist, and one of the most delightful songstresses that has ever visited America.”

Ms. Hayes sang the Irish ballad, “Savourneen Deelish Eileen Oge,” “The Harp that through Tara’s Hall,” and “Kathleen Mavourneen.” She also performed traditional operatic numbers, such as “Come Per Me Sereno” from “La Sonnambula” and “Ah, Mons Fils,” from “La Prophete.” “Kathleen Mavourneen” became the singer’s signature song. Partly due to her American tour, the song became very popular in the U.S. Mavourneen is the anglicized version of the Irish phrase, mo mhuirnín which means “my beloved.”

The Daily Orleanian liked to refer to referred to Kate Hayes as the “Irish Sky Lark.”

Serenaded

Ms. Hayes was herself serenaded while in the city. One evening, a group of men from the Irish Benevolent societies sang to her beneath her window at the St. Louis Hotel. Another evening, men from the Irish militias serenaded the Swan of Erin. Lt. Castell, probably W.J. Castell, a well-known notary and Irishman in the City, organized one such serenade on behalf of the Irish militias. The men, after meeting with Ms. Hayes and her mother in her hotel room, described the singer, using an observation made by the author Thackeray about Irish women, “the most delightfully fascinating creature on God’s earth, is a highly accomplished Irish lady.”

Prendergast and the Daily Orleanian effused in their praise of her concerts, proclaiming the Armory Hall was full. But, the Daily Crescent mentioned that the cheaper seats were sometimes not all sold. Ms. Hayes charged $3, $2, and $1. The Crescent claimed that the cheaper seats were not all sold, because some patrons preferred not to attend if they could not sit in the better seats. The editor noted that the French Opera House, which generally sold all its seats throughout the winter season, charged only $1.50 per seat.

Ms. Hayes performed six concerts and brought a sweet taste of the old country to thousands of Irish immigrants. See Dictionary of Irish Biography for more information about Catherine Hayes here.

Sources:

Dictionary of Irish Biography

Sierra College article, https://www.sierracollege.edu/ejournals/jsnhb/v1n3/hayes.html, accessed June 20, 2021

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Feb. 18, 20, 24, 1852, p. 1, col. 1

New Orleans Daily Crescent, Feb. 26, 1852, p. 4, col. 4

New Orleans Daily Crescent, March 1, 1852, p. 2, col. 2

A View of the Constitution

Today, we take it for granted that secession is in some way unlawful or beyond the pale. Which is a good thing. Imagine the stock market if secession was bandied about whenever there was fussing over the national budget, or whenever there was a pandemic. But, it was not always assumed that secession or adjustment of the “united” states was beyond the pale. In William Rawle’s A View of the Constitution, (1829 2d Ed.), the author prescribed how to effect a secession in a lawful, binding way. Mr. Rawle, a well-trained lawyer for his day, lays out the requirements for a stable, effective secession:

… the secession must in such case be distinctly and peremptorily declared to take place on that event, and in such case — as in the case of unconditional secession — the previous ligament with the Union, would be legitimately and fairly destroyed. But, in either case [of a conditional or unconditional secession] the people is [sic] the only moving power

A View, p. 303

Mr. Rawle explains that by making clear the conditions for a secession, a state may secede and break that “ligament.” His book on the Constitution remained the pre-eminent text on the U.S. Constitution through the 1850’s. It remains today a primary source of information in court cases concerning the right to bear arms and the Constitutional role of militias. His views have been cited numerous times in various court cases concerning the Second Amendment, a President’s recess appointments and other Constitutional questions. Mr. Rawle was a prominent lawyer who had been a member of the Pennsylvania Assembly that ratified the Bill of Rights. See, e.g.District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570, 128 S.Ct. 2783, at 2805 (2008). You can read his book here.

Those crazy Southerners who viewed human chattel so important, were apparently not so crazy, after all.

The Montgomery Guards Go to War

The city of New Orleans had militia units, mandatory and volunteer since its founding in 1718. Several militia units helped defend the city against the British in 1815. The Irish immigrants formed their own militia units. The oldest Irish militia and the most prestigious was the Montgomery Guards. I previously spoke about the Montgomery Guards and Emmet Guards here. As the drum beats of war sounded in early 1861, the Montgomery Guards ramped up their activity, as did the other New Orleans militias. They elected as their commander, Michael Nolan, a grocer with a shop on Common street. This was the heart of the third and fourth wards, the working class areas of the Crescent City.

The Fenian

And, who was Mike Nolan? Unlike most of the newly arrived Irish, Mike owned real estate./ He claimed $30,000 in real estate and $10,000 in personal estate in the 1860 census. Small groceries were used frequently by the Irish as a means to a white collar life. And, it worked well for Mike Nolan. He was married to Ellen. They had no children, but had three persons, probably employees, at their home.

Michael was born in County Tipperary about 1819. In 1848, Michael Nolan heard news of the rebellion in Ireland. He left his shop in New Orleans, bought a rifle, and sailed to his homeland. But, he was arrested as soon as he landed. He spent nine months in jail. He was released only after he agreed to leave the country. He was said to be a leader of the Fenian Brotherhood in ante-bellum New Orleans.

Fr. Hubert

Mike Nolan was also a close friend of the esteemed Father Darius Hubert. Fr. Hubert would become the chaplain of the First Louisiana Regiment and Mike Nolan would become their commander. But, before the war, Fr. Hubert was serving in Baton Rouge. So, it is not clear how the two met.

Lt.-Col. Nolan achieved some fame at the Battle of Manassas for his quick thinking. At  particularly bitter fighting at the Deep Cut, his men ran out of ammunition. Nolan quickly rallied his men to hurl stones and rocks at the Yankees, then literally just a stone’s throw away. The Mostly Irish Confederates did indeed hurl the works over a railroad embankment, holding their position until reinforcements arrived. Fr. Sheeran, another chaplain from New Orleans, would record in his diary that after the battle, many Union soldiers were found with broken skulls.

Lt.-Col. Nolan was badly wounded at the Battle of Sharpsburg (Antietam). He was evacuated to a Richmond hospital and from there, he was sent on recruiting duty to Mobile. Many refugees from New Orleans and Baton Rouge had evacuated to Mobile at the time. His wife, Ellen, joined him in Mobile. He rejoined the First Louisiana Infantry Regiment just before the Battle of Gettysburg in July, 1863. Bravely, he lead his men in an attack on Culp’s Hill. Almost immediately, he was cut down by a 12 pound artillery shell. He was killed within 24 hours of his return to his unit. What was left of his body was buried in a nearby orchard in a shallow grave. Soon afterward, through the kindness of a local Catholic woman, Isabella “Belle” Gubernator, and aided by the estimable Regimental chaplain, Fr. Hubert, Lt.-Col. Nolan was re-buried in consecrated ground at the nearby Conewago Chapel of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. LTC Nolan received the a Catholic, marked burial, rare for a Confederate soldier or officer.

It was said that the death of Lt.-Col. Nolan was a blow to the kindly priest, Fr. Hubert. Another chaplain remarked upon hearing of Nolan’s death, “it was a great loss for Fr. Hubert!”

Later, , after Gen. Lee’s surrender, Fr. Hubert remained in Virginia long enough to coordinate with Federal authorities the future removal of Lt.-Col. Nolan’s body to New Orleans. See here for a picture of Micheal Nolan, but notice the web site states erroneously that Nolan was buried in Richmond.

Re-Burial

After the war, Michael Nolan’s body was indeed returned to New Orleans for re-burial. The logistics of removing a body in 1866 were enormous. He was accorded a large funeral. The funeral cortege was said to be more than two miles long. Fr. Hubert and Fr. Sheeran presided.

After his death, his widow, Ellen apparently sank into poverty. In the 1870 census she was living with the William and Kate Behan family. Ellen claims no property and is listed as “Domestic Servant.” Michael and Ellen did not have any children. Ellen was among hundreds of others who were cited for failure to pay taxes in 1870, 1872, 1874, 1876, and 1878. She sold her property at a sheriff’s sale in 1879.

And so passed a patriotic Fenian and his family.

Sources:

Kathrine B. Jeffrey, First Chaplain of the Confederacy (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 2020), p. 50, 53, 73.

Gardner’s 1861 New Orleans City Directory

Michael Dan Jones, The Fighting First Louisiana Infantry Regiment (Michael Dan Jones 2016), p. 15.

New Orleans Daily Crescent, Aug. 20, 1866, p. 1