Celebrating St. Stephen’s Day

In Ireland, St. Stephen’s Day is a national holiday. It falls on Dec. 26, the day after Christmas. Officially, it celebrates the martyr St. Stephen. St. Stephen, says tradition, was stoned to death shortly after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. There is another legend that says Stephen was hiding in a bush as a wren gave away his presence. Still other stories in Ireland say some Irish soldiers were sneaking up on some Viking raiders when a wren betrayed their presence.

In any event, in Ireland, St. Stephen’s Day is also known as the day of the wren. On St. Stephen’s Day, a group of young men, dressed to look like birds, would parade around the town a dead wren on a stick. They approach various houses asking for a donation. When they accumulate enough money, they hold a party. This custom dates back hundreds of years, perhaps to pre-Christian times. See Irish Central website here for more information.

Another tradition was holding a fox hunt on the day after Christmas. [1]

The Irish in New Orleans celebrated St. Stephen’s Day the way the Crescent City celebrated most events, they held a fair at the Armory Hall to raise money for the Sisters of Charity Orphanage for young girls.[2] The Irish also held a fair for the building of St. Alphonsus on St. Stephen’s Day.[3] Mass was held on St. Stephen’s Day.[4]

Notes:

[1] New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Dec. 27, 1856, p. 1, col. 1

[2] New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Dec. 25, 1851, p. 2, col. 2; New Orleans Daily True Delta, Dec. 26, 1850, p. 2, col. 2.

[3] New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Dec. 25, 1856, p. 1, col. 1

[4] The Louisiana Democrat (Alexandria, Louisiana), Dec. 22, 1880, p. 3, col. 2

Fr. Mullon, the Bravest Man

Fr. James Ignatius Mullon was one of those extraordinary priests in an extraordinary time. He was born in 1793 in Derry (Londonmderry), Ireland. Fr. Mullon came to the U.S. as a boy with his family. They came to Maryland. The young James Ignatius served in the American navy during the War of 1812. He was ordained in Cincinnati and served there as a teacher until coming to New Orleans in 1834. He served as pastor at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in New Orleans from 1834 to 1866. [1]

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. [2]

See this website for a picture of St. Patrick’s Church here.

Selling the Church Pews

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 church 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. [3]

Friend of 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 celebrated Mass. Many non-Catholics attended his Mass. [4]

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. His sermon 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. [5]

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. [6]

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. Yet, every New Orleans church had dozens of parishioners fighting in the Confederate military. 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 Met

Gen. Butler had ordered that all church bells be sent up north to be melted down and turned into cannon balls. Fr. Mullon told the general to come and get the great bell – if he dared. Gen. Butler liked Fr. Mullon. He said the feisty priest was the bravest man he had ever met.

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. [7]

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.

Notes:

[1] Earl F. Niehaus, The Irish in New Orleans 1800-1860 (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1965), p. 99-100.

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

[3] St. Patrick’s of New Orleans, pp. 63-75

[4] St. Patrick’s of New Orleans, pp. 63-75

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

[6] St. Patrick’s of New Orleans, pp. 63-75

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

Joseph Brenan, Irish Rebel

The Young Ireland movement was started by young Irish revolutionaries who believed Daniel O’Connell was not doing enough. The Young Irelanders advocated the use of force if necessary, a step Daniel O’Connell long resisted. In 1846, the Young Irelanders seceded from O’Connell’s Repeal Association. Among those early rebels were William Smith O’Brien, Thomas Francis Meagher, future commander of the New York 69th Irish Brigade and John Mitchel, future Confederate States of America supporter. I previously wrote about Mitchel here.

Joseph Brenan, born in Cork city in 1828, also supported the Young Ireland movement. Brenan found inspiration in John Mitchel’s writings. The Young Irelanders organized a brief uprising in 1848. It was short-lived, but it scared the British authorities immeasurably. The firefight at Widow McCormack’s house occurred on July 29, 1848. Michael Nolan, an Irish native who had emigrated to New Orleans, then returned to his former home County Tipperary in August, 1848. 118 Young Irelanders were arrested in the days after the fight at McCormack’s house. Joseph Brenan was one of those arrested. Upon his release in 1849, he returned to his work for the Dublin Irishman, a militant nationalist newspaper. It was the Irishman that later published a lengthy obituary for Michael Nolan when he was killed at the Battle of Gettysburg. See my prior post on Michael Nolan here.

Cappoquin, County Waterford

In September, 1848, some of the Young Irelanders, including Brenan, made plans to launch an uprising in Cappoquin, County Waterford. Brenan and Michal Cavanaugh launched an attack with pikes and firearms on the Royal Irish Constabulary barracks. Even in 1848, pikes were a more than obsolete weapon. One of the rebels was killed and one of the constables was piked to death. The rebels were repulsed, after which they retreated. The band then proceeded to Dungarvan, where the constables were cooperative. The British responded by sending the 7th Fusiliers Battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers to Cappoquin. The rebels remained active for another two weeks, at which time they abandoned their efforts. The leaders were not arrested. The British only managed to arrest some of the participants. Brenan and Cavanaugh and others fled to America. [1]

An Exile’s Dream

Brenan first came to New York and worked for Horace Greeley on the Tribune. In October, 1851, now married, he moved to New Orleans to work on the New Orleans Daily/Weekly Delta, published by Denis Corcoran. He published one of his poems titled “An Exile’s Dream.” That poem ends with this stanza:

“I will seize my pilgrim staff and cheerily wander forth

            From the smiling face of the South to the black frown of the North;

            And in some hour of twilight, I will mount the tall Slievebloom,

            And weave me a picture-vision in the evening’s pleasant gloom;

            I will call up the buried leaders of the ancient Celtic race,

            And gaze with a filial fondness on each sternly noble face –

            The masters of the mind, and the chieftains of the steel,

            Young Carolan and Grattan, the McCaura and O’Neill;

            I will learn from their voices, with a student’s love and pride,

            To live as they lived, and to die as they died.

            Oh, I’ll sail from the West, and never more will part

            From the ancient home of my people – the land of the loving heart.

The Slieve bloom mountains are located in central Ireland. The references to “the O’Neill” and “the McCaura” refer to the ancient chiefs of those clans. The name Carolan likely refers to Turlough O’Carolan, said to be the last great harpist of the Gaelic order. Turlough O’Carolan died in 1738. The name Grattan surely refers to Henry Grattan, an Irish politician who supported freedom for the Irish Parliament during the late 1700’s. [2]

Escape from Van Diemen’s Land

Brenan became one of the leading Irishmen in New Orleans. He was President of a Committee that organized a welcome reception for John Mitchel after he escaped the penal colony in Australia, known as Van Diemen’s Land. Mitchel came to New Orleans in 1853. Brenan helped organize a similar reception for Thomas Francis Meagher when he also escaped the same penal colony. Meagher came to New Orleans in 1852. Meagher was received by the leading persons in New Orleans at the time: W.C.C. Claiborne, Barnard Marigny, Judah Benjamin, and by the leading Irishmen of the day: Maunsel White, J.C. Prendergast, and others. Brenan delivered a speech welcoming Meagher at the reception.  How things would change in just a few years between Meagher, Mitchel, and Brenan, if he had lived. [3]

An Ardent Secessionist

In 1853, Brenan contracted the yellow fever in one of the worst epidemics to hit the Crescent City. The treatment for the illness left him partially blind. Brenan loved the South. In March, 1857, he started a new newspaper, to be known as the Daily Times. The journal would focus on Southern interests, literature, and criticisms. Walter Hopkins, another former editor for the Delta assisted him. Brenan by this time had become an ardent secessionist. [4]

Brenan published a poem titled “A Ballad for the Young South.” The first stanzas went as follows:

“Men of the South! Our foes are up

In fierce and grim array;

Their sable banner laps the air

An insult to the day!

“The saints of Cromwell rise again,

In sanctimonious hordes,

Hiding behind the garb of peace

A million ruthless swords [5]

In early May, 1857, Brenan became ill. The treating physician reported that he would not recover. On May 28, 1857, the eloquent Irish patriot died of “consumption.” Joseph Brenan was described as an “esteemed friend” by the redoubtable J.C. Prendergast, Irish editor of the Daily Orleanian. Prendergast remarked that those best loved by God often die young. Prendergast lamented the loss of one so intelligent and so skilled with words. The young Brenan was buried in the old cemetery known as St. Louis. [6]

Brenan appears to have had some connection to the Crescent Dramatic Association. That amateur theater group put on a performance to raise money for Brenan’s widow and four children. The performance was held in a large venue, the Gaiety Theater. [7]

See Brenan’s entry in the Dictionary of Irish Biography here.

Notes:

[1] Anthony M. Breen, “Cappoquin and the 1849 Movement, History Ireland Issue 2 (Summer, 1999), vol. 7

[2] New Orleans Weekly Delta, Dec. 28, 1851, p. 6, col. 4; Dictionary of Irish Biography, entry regarding Joseph Brenan

[3] New Orleans Daily Picayune, Dec. 11, 1853, p. 4, col. 3; New Orleans Weekly Delta, July 4, 1852, p. 7, col. 1; Daily Orleanian, June 27 1852, p. 1, col. 2

[4] Baton Rouge Daily Advocate, March 19, 1857, p. 2, col. 3

[5] Bryan McGovern, “Young Ireland and Southern Nationalism” Irish Studies Issue 2, Article 5 (Celtic Studies, Kennesaw State Univ. 2016)

[6] Baton Rouge Daily Advocate, May 11, 1857, p. 2, col. 3; New Orleans Daily True Delta, May 29, 1957, p. 1, col. 2; New Orleans Daily Orleanian, May 29, 1857, p. 1, col. 1

[7] New Orleans Sunday Delta, June 14, 1857, p. 4, col. 1

The Men Lost the War

The Civil War was unique in American history in one respect. It was the first and so far, the only war in which U.S. citizens (or former U.S. citizens) lost. That point comes home when we consider the experience of New Orleans. The city was lost with very little fight in 1862. New Orleans was not necessarily a hotbed of fire-eaters – the Southerners who sought or encouraged secession. But, the city had its share of patriots. When the Union forces occupied the Crescent City, however, the men could say or do nothing. The women, however, could and did. Some women were very critical of Southern men and their inability to defend the city. Once the outlying forts, Ft. Jackson and Ft. St. Phillip fell, there was no more fight. There was no last stand.

The Women of New Orleans

It was the women who refused to countenance the presence of federal troops in the City. As Pat Conroy said in his preface to a later edition of Gone With the Wind, the women did not lose the war. Gone with the Wind itself is a story told by women who believed the wrong side surrendered. [1]

In New Orleans, they would cross the street before having to pass Union officers on the sidewalk. That was no small sacrifice in a time when filth and animal dung proliferated on city streets. Some more genteel women simply stayed home rather than encounter federal troops. The women would deliberately turn their backs to federal officers. Gen. Benjamin Butler would quip that these women “know which end of them looks best.” Within weeks of federal occupation, the war became verbal and emotional. Thus, Gen. Butler issued his infamous General order No. 28, which provided that if a female was rude to a federal soldier, the authorities could assume she was a prostitute and treat her as such. That meant the Federals could approach women they did not know. That was no small thing in a time when decent men did not approach a woman on the street at all unless he already knew her.

Some women, such as Clara Solomon, had day dreams about throwing a rope around “Beast” Butler and all the women of the City dragging him through the streets. Or, having him eat salty food and placing water in front of him just out of reach. This was a silent, but effective war waged largely by women.

Hand-Sewn Flags

The Federal occupiers then arrested several women for offenses ranging from flying secession flags to possession of a federal musket to threatening a federal officer. Gen. Butler took delight in confiscating the flags hand-sewn by the Southern women. The remarkable thing is that in that time, women were not allowed to have political opinions. But, now in occupied New Orleans, they could express their views.

Eugenia Levy Phillips

These incidents reached a climax of sorts with Eugenia Phillips, Jewish wife of a former Alabama Congressman. She had evacuated to New Orleans. When a funeral procession passed by her house, she loudly and ostentatiously laughed as the cortege passed by. On June 30, 1862, Gen. Butler said she was trying to incite a riot and ordered her arrest. During an interview with Mr. and Mrs. Phillips, her husband could only weakly protest against invectives aimed at his wife. Mrs. Phillips denied her laugh was directed toward the funeral. She was after all holding a party for her children at the time. But, she was arrested and sent to Ship Island.

On Ship Island, she lived in an abandoned railroad car, plagued by mosquitoes, bad water and musty food. And, of course, in July, the temperatures would have been high and the humidity heavy. She managed to send a few letters describing her austere conditions. She became a martyr to Southern patriotism. Hers became a cause celebre in New Orleans. Gen. Butler came to regret his impulse. He ordered her release after two and one-half months. He had been out-maneuvered by this one woman, this time. See more about Eugenia here.

One woman requested a pass to visit her ill daughter in another parish. The general refused, saying he had been fooled by prior requests. He added that he could never subdue the rebellious women of the city, but could manage the cowardly men. Gen. Butler likely enjoyed his cutting remarks, but it only deepened the wound for the New Orleanians.

The Hndkerchief War

Washington eventually removed Benjamin Butler from his post in December, 1862. He had caused too many headaches for Washington. His replacement, Nathaniel Banks, was a better diplomat. Even so, when a group of Confederate officers were moved to be shipped out, several thousand residents jammed the levee docks to see the heroes off. Women carried flowers, waved handkerchiefs and hurrahed for Jeff Davis. The Federals called for troops with bayonets to drive the crowd back. As the crowd backed up two blocks, the women waved their handkerchiefs and parasols at the bayoneted rifles. During the scuffle, some women were injured. The Federals again looked silly. [2]

The handkerchief war led to this ditty:

Charge! Rang the cry, and on we dashed

            Upon our female foes,

            As seas in stormy fury lashed,

            When o’er the tempest blows,

            Like chaff their parasols went down, as our gallants rushed [3]

And, all that helps explain a story a friend told me many years ago in New Orleans. John, a scion of a prominent Jewish family, related how some of his ancestors were approached by a few Union soldiers on horseback at their home in New Orleans. The soldiers asked for a glass of water. The heat in New Orleans can be unbearable. Yes, said the mistress of the home. As each soldier handed her back the empty glass, the refined lady dashed each glass against the ground, indicating she would never use that glass again. The Confederate men could not make war, but the women could. That the family would maintain that story until it was shared with me in the early 1980’s reflects the anger of the time.

This reality that in the view of some persons, the Southern men did not serve as valiantly as they could have may help explain the universal movement to erect memorials and statues to the Confederate soldier after the war. Among the many motives for those memorials across the South, we must also consider that some women simply wanted to tell their men they believed in them.

Notes:

[1] Margaret Mitchell, Gone With the Wind (New York: Scribner, 2011), p. 11.

[2] Catherine Clinton and Nina Silber, ed., Divided Houses: Gender and the Civil War (New York: Oxford Univ. Press 1992), pp. 139-144.

[3] Marion Southwood, “Beauty and Booty” (New York: M. Doolady, 1867), p. 268

The Ships, “Blanche” and Otilla,” Part 3

By June 13, 1851, the captains and owners of the Blanche and Otilla had faced American justice.  Federal authorities in New Orleans had prosecuted the captains of the two ships for exceeding the passenger limits.  Together, the two owners of the ships had been fined $9,000, which would amount to about $300,000 today.  The Daily Crescent, a Second Municipality newspaper, approved of this result.  The Second Municipality was largely Anglo-American.  It was the more prosperous area of New Orleans. Both ships were British registered. [1]

Seizure

J.H. Maddox, the editor of the Daily Crescent, argued that seizure of the two ships was not necessary.  Because the passengers on board both ships exceeded the maximum allowed by a very large number, the federal government could have seized both ships.  The Blanche under U.S. law exceeded its maximum capacity by 120 passengers.  The Otilla exceeded its capacity by 70 passengers.  Seizure was allowed if the number of passengers exceeded the limit by 20 passengers.  Maddox claimed the owner of the Otilla was owned by a ship captain who had invested his life savings in the ship.  The owner of the Blanche was a ship carpenter in New Brunswick.  Seizure would ruin the two men, claimed Maddox.  Mr. Maddox does not explain how he would know the financial circumstances of the two owners.  In any event, Maddox claimed the owners knew nothing of the over-capacity.  Maddox claims the Otilla exceeded British law regarding maximum numbers of passengers only becaue4 there were twelve stowaways. [2]

But, the two owners were responsible for hiring two captains who were willing to violate U.S. law and risk the lives of helpless passengers.  Someone helped the Blanche with a perjured certificate regarding its actual measurements.  But, Maddox reveals his bias.  He insists the Irish passengers on the Blanche caused themselves to sicken and die.  He says they “refused” to obey the captain’s orders to not lie in “their filth.”  He apparently meant the passengers did not keep clean their “tween decks” berth.  Human waste would indeed accumulate if the passengers did not use the few available privies or if they did not clean their mess. [3]

Cleanliness

But, this was 1851, the sixth year of the worst famine in centuries.  Hundreds of thousands of Irish had already emigrated.  Even uneducated Irish laborers knew to clean their waste.  They certainly appreciated the need to maintain a clean environment on long voyages. Illness on those trans-Atlantic voyages was a known risk.  The mortality rate for the Blanche was over 10 percent.  This occurred at a time when most voyages for both European travelers and Irish famine refugees saw mortality rates of about 1.5 percent. [4]

John Maginnis was still very angry about the Otilla.  Writing in the Daily True Delta, he complained that the incarceration of the Otilla captain, James Irwin, and the seizure of the ship had been remitted by Pres. Millard Fillmore.  In the case of the captain, his imprisonment had been remitted even before his conviction.  Maginnis reminded his readers that when the Otilla passengers emerged from the ship, the men “glided along ghastly, wild and idiotic.”  The women, married and unmarried girls, “reeled like drunken creatures, half naked, filthy, gaunt, spectral looking, . . .  with eyes sunk deep in their bloodless sockets, expression disordered, language strange and incoherent.”  Maginnis considered it to be an “outrage” that the captain avoided jail time and that the ship was not seized. [5]

It was reported many times by various visitors to Ireland during the Great Famine that many persons were half-naked.  That some of the worst emigrant arrived in America with little or ragged clothing speaks to the condition they escaped.

Feculent Matter

Perhaps the more immediate cause for the Blanche horror was the fact that the captain and most of the crew also contracted “ship fever.”  Ship fever could be many ailments, typhus, cholera were most common.  The port health officer for New Orleans, Dr. Frederick Hart, reported that there was no leadership on the vessel, because so much of the crew was ill.  He said the main deck was completely strewn with filth and “feculent matter.”  The ‘tween deck, where the steerage passengers resided, was the same.  Dr. Hart said two passengers committed suicide during the trip.  There was at last one corpse on the vessel when it arrived.  Dr. Hart’s letter was and still is part of the national archives for the Colonial Office.  So, we can presume the appropriate British authorities saw his report. [6]

Later in 1851, Lt.-Gov. Edmund Head of the colony at New Brunswick complained about the Blanche and another ship, the Virginia.  The British Colonial Land and Emigration Office replied to the Lt.-Governor that the size of the Blanche satisfied British law.  She could not, therefore, be legally rejected by the emigration officer in New Brunswick. [7]

The term “coffin ship” emerged in the 1880’s.  Maginnis and Prendergast described the Blanche and Otilla as plague ships or as pestilence ships.  Whichever term was used, they were dangerous ships for a population long weakened by the Great Irish Famine.  As Dr. McMahon explains, the ships were not inherently dangerous, with some major exceptions.  Generally, the mortality rate for the Irish famine boats was no different than other ships of the time period.  But, if illness broke out, the Irish famine refugees were exceedingly vulnerable to disease. [8]

Notes:

[1] New Orleans Daily Crescent, June 13, 1851, p. 2, col. 2

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Cian T. McMahon, The Coffin Ship (New York: NYU Press 2021), p. 151-152.

[5] New Orleans Daily True Delta, June 13, 1851, p. 2, col. 2

[6] The Coffin Ship, p. 167

[7] Accounts and Papers, House of Lords, vol. 14, 1852, p. 58 (Responding to Lt.-Gov. Head’s Aug. 25, 1851 dispatch).

[8] The Coffin Ship, pp. 146-152.

The Ships, “Blanche” and “Otilla,” Part 2

On a Saturday afternoon, Margaret Naughton, newly arrived at the port of New Orleans, found herself in front of Recorder (i.e., a judge and mayor) Genois’ office. She laid down on the flag stones under the portico of the building and died.  She could have laid down anywhere. Perhaps, that was the cleanest spot. Or, perhaps her meager strength simply gave out.

Margaret was from Limerick.  She was one of the passengers of the Blanche, a ship that arrived with over 100 passengers needing care at Charity Hospital. This latest version of Charity Hospital was established in 1834 by the Sisters of Charity.  It served the poor.  When the great Irish famine stated in 1845, Charity Hospital treated many Irish immigrants. [1]

Margaret was not one of those dis-embarking passengers who sought treatment at the hospital. She was one of the survivors, until she wasn’t. The ship arrived on Tuesday, March 25, 1851. Margaret wandered the streets of New Orleans until Friday.  On that day, she and some seven other passengers were stopped by a police officer who sent them to an empty building. There, on Saturday, they received food and passage money to St. Louis, where some relatives lived.  Later that day, about 3:00 p.m.  Margaret, a young woman, felt ill.  She fell down among the flag stones and died. [2}

Margaret’s body was taken to the police office and examined. By 5:00 p.m., Margaret was buried. [3]

The Blanche started with some 550 passengers.  But, ship fever broke out within days of leaving Liverpool.  Men, women and children died during the voyage.  Near the end of the voyage, many passengers were forced to remain on the upper deck to avoid the sick below decks.  These were the poorest of the poor.  They lived amongst filth and dirt below decks. [4]

Fifty More

By April 12, some 50 more Blanche passengers were admitted to Charity Hospital.  Being famine refugees and then having to endure a pestilent voyage, this number is not surprising. That means some 190 passengers required hospitalization within days of arrival. [5]

The owners of the Blanche and Otilla faced legal liability for having too many passengers.  The U.S. law and the British law on how to calculate maximum passengers differed. But, New Orleans was American, not British.  U.S. law applied at the port of New Orleans.  Under U.S. law, if a ship exceeded its maximum passenger load by 20 or more, then the ship would be forfeited to the government.  When even a relatively Anglo-oriented newspaper like the Daily Crescent advocated that the Blanche be seized, then the Captain knew he was in trouble.  So, Capt. Duckitt traveled to what was then known as Washington City to plead his case. [6]

The Blanche and Otilla were in a special class of horror in a time of many such smaller horrors.  Within days of arrival, almost 200 of the 500 Blanche passengers had to seek treatment at Charity Hospital.  Many of the rest were still ill, but not sick enough for the hospital.  New Orleans had seen many such arrivals, although on a lesser scale.  This time, it was just too much. Those Irish problems had found their way to the doorstep of New Orleans.

Notes:

[1] New Orleans Daily Crescent, March 31, 1851, p. 3, col. 1

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] New Orleans Daily Crescent, April 12, 1851, p. 2, col. 1

[6] New Orleans Daily Crescent, March 31, 1851, p. 2, col. 1

The Ships “Blanche” and “Otilla,” Part 1

Within days of one another arrived the Otilla and the Blanche from Liverpool. Both ships arrived in New Orleans in late March, 1851. Both ships carried Irish immigrants. Some 40 passengers on the Otilla suffered from “ship fever,” probably typhus and had to enter Charity Hospital. The Otilla buried at sea two adults and three children. Upon arriving in New Orleans, there were one dead child and two or three adults aboard.[1]

The Blanche was even worse. Upon arrival, 126 passengers were taken to Charity Hospital, said Prendergast in his initial report. Just a day later, the New Orleans Daily True Delta, also edited by an Irishman, John Maginnis, reported that the Blanche arrived not with 497 persons, but with more than 525. Maginnis was angry that the ship’s captain, Capt. Duckitt, did not sign the list showing 497. His crew said Duckitt was too ill from ship fever to sign the list.[2]

Charity Hospital

Upon arrival of the Blanche, the Daily True Delta reported that the Otillia sent 63 passengers to Charity Hospital with ship fever, while the Blanche sent 134 to the hospital for the poor. Charity Hospital served everyone, but mostly it served the Irish. Maginnis blamed the British government. He flat accused the British landlords and government of murder. Maginnis insisted the captain and owners of the Blanche and Otilla violated U.S. law because they did not properly care for their passengers. Maginnis allowed that many English were fine and decent. But, some Englishmen must be punished. He commended Rev. Charles W. Whiteall, Pastor of St. Peter’s Episcopal church on Esplanade in New Orleans for coming immediately to the aid of these devastated Catholic passengers.[3]

But, a day later, Maginnis was furious that Capt. Dukitt did not sign the final passenger list showing 497 persons arrived in New Orleans. He was angry because Nicholas Sinnot, the New Orleans Collector for the passenger tax, acquired the Liverpool broker’s list, which was the Captain’s private list of passengers. That second list showed over 525 passengers when the ship embarked from Liverpool. Maginnis was also angry because the Captain, supposedly too ill to sign the 497 passenger list, was alert enough to make public his annoyance at the accusations being leveled against him. That means some 28 passengers died enroute. [4]

It was likely no accident that Nicholas Sinnot, the younger, located the Liverpool broker’s list. Mr. Sinnot was Irish himself and was the son of Nicholas Sinnot, Sr, a former rebel of 1798. The elder Sinnot was well respected among the Irish community in New Orleans.

Centuries of Irish Anger

Centuries of Irish anger boiled up in Maginnis and Prendergast in their respective newspapers on April 5 and 6. Maginnis described Capt. Duckitt as a “stolid” Englishman with all the “presumption, self-sufficiency and vulgarity of [his] class.” Maginnis meant Duckitt was pompous and arrogant. Duckitt explained apparently in some New Orleans newspaper that he lost only 25 passengers and not one Englishman. He even suggested the previous “debility and previous habits” of the 25 Irish passengers may have caused their death on the voyage. Today, we would describe Duckitt’s comments as complete bigotry. Maginnis thundered: “Only twenty-five deaths, says this Englishman, ‘certainly not an excessive mortality under the lamentable circumstances – and it ought to be remarked that not one English passenger died” (Maginnis quoting Duckitt). The next day, Prendergast supported Maginnis completely. [5]

Maginnis called for the District Attorney and the Port Collector to devote their attention to Capt. Duckitt and the Blanche. Maginnis reported that the Blanche was 1000 feet short of the measurements her papers claimed. Maginnis believed this was a fraud perpetrated by the owners of the Blanche with the help of corrupt officials in Liverpool. Being smaller than her claimed size, she should not have been carrying as many passengers.

Notes:

[1] New Orleans Daily True Delta, April 4, 1851, p. 2, col. 2

[2] New Orleans Daily True Delta, April 4, 1851, p. 2, col. 2

[3] New Orleans Daily True Delta, April 4, 1851, p. 2, col. 2

[4] New Orleans Daily True Delta, April 5, 1851, p. 2, col. 2

[5] New Orleans Daily Orleanian, April 6, 1851, p. 2, col. 2; New Orleans Daily True Delta, April 5, 1851, p. 2, col. 2

The Anti-Irish Riots of 1854

Henry Wise, governor of Virginia, minister to Brazil and Brig.-Gen. in the Confederate army ran against a Know Nothing candidate for governor in 1855. Gov. Wise would say about the Know Nothing movement years later that it was “the most impious and unprincipled affiliation by bad means for bad ends.”  He compared the struggle of Irish Catholics in Ireland against the Protestant landlords to the struggle in America against Know Nothingism. The Know Nothing party, formally known as the American party, succeeded to the Whig party. Many Whigs transitioned to the American party when the Whigs disintegrated in the early 1850’s. But, some Whigs did not. [1]

One Whig who would not join the Know Nothing party was J.C. Prendergast, publisher and editor of the New Orleans Daily Orleanian. Prendergast, an Irish immigrant himself, widely sympathized with the Irish immigrants and with immigrants in general.  Prendergast suggested it was best if the “foreigners” refrained from voting for a time until the bonds of friendship might increase.  But, as long as some Irish would insist on casting their vote, the Know Nothings would not be satisfied. [2]

The Know Nothings believed the New Orleans police were rounding up Irish voters to proceed to the polls and cast their votes.  Whether true or not, they believed it. Even Prendergast, the erstwhile Whig, believed the Irish were being manipulated by the Democratic party in some way. [3]

March, 1854

During the March, 1854 elections, two New Orleans papers whipped up anti-Irish feeling. The Daily Crescent and the Delta accused the Irish immigrants of all the evils afflicting the city, “forever kicking up rows and breaking heads.”  Their societies were divisive and prevented assimilation.  At other times, the Crescent simply argued the Irish voters were the dupes of others, apparently meaning Democratic politicians. What the Crescent and even Prendergast seemed not to appreciate was that the Democratic party, unlike any other party, welcomed all immigrants, even the Irish. [4]

There were elections set for early October. Regardless of the cause, the Know Nothings resorted to violence. Ten days of riots broke out starting Saturday night, Sept. 10, 1854. A large riot broke out on Sunday night, around the St. Mary’s Street Market, a predominantly Irish neighborhood. It was said that a Mr. Grinnell of Leeds and Co., a large ship-building firm, John Mitchell, a foreman of Leeds, and a Mr. Green, a relative of Grinnell, were walking near coffee houses (which actually served anything but coffee) in the St. Mary’s neighborhood. The three men were challenged by customers within the coffee houses. The three man party insisted on their right to walk where they please. Violence soon erupted, resulting in injury to all three men. The Crescent suggested the Irish customers in the drinking establishments started the fracas. But, the Crescent was generally sympathetic with Know Nothingism. [5]

Prendergast reported that he understood Grinnell to be opposed to foreigners and was one of the leaders of an attack on Murphy’s coffee house a few nights earlier. [6]

St. Patrick’s Church

On the night of Sept. 11, Monday, rumors flew that the Americans, as they were known at the time, planned to sack St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, the church for the Irish. [7]

Dr. J.J. Meighen, a druggist, gathered with the crowd which was intent on protecting St. Patrick’s. The Americans came into the area and a general fight broke out. Two men were killed. Meighen was arrested, as was John Cavanaugh, Captain of the Louisiana Grays, a predominantly Irish militia. Cavanaugh denied he was involved in the defense of St. Patrick’s Church.  He said he was working late that night at the Crescent Steam Marble Yard on St. Joseph street.  He and his men worked until about 10 p.m.  They left work and proceeded to a coffee house on Tchoupitoulas street for refreshment.  So, it looked like he was leading a group of armed men, but not so.

At the coffee house, Cavanaugh saw Gen. Lewis, the commander of the New Orleans militia.  He went out to talk to the commander.  Lewis asked him to persuade the men to disperse.  Cavanaugh tried to send them home, but some refused.  They wanted protection for their lives and property.  Capt. Cavanaugh then went home himself.  He emerged from his home later that night when he briefly thought the marble yard was on fire.  Dr. Meighen told Gen. Lewis he was a naturalized citizen, but that he would “un-naturalize” and protect himself. In the end, the only persons arrested were Capt. John Cavanaugh, captain of the Irish militia, the Louisiana Grays, Stephen O’Leary, and Dr. J.J. Meighen

A witness would testify in court a few days later that the crowd did not appear to be organized and there appeared to be no leader.  The charge against Cavanaugh was later dismissed for lack of evidence. [8]

That night on the 11th, Dr. Meighan strode up and down the streets with a sword in his hand, which was inscribed “Liberty or Death.”  Later that night, Meighan claimed to have been wounded, even though he sustained no visible wound.  One witness described the druggist as a “damned fool.”  No record appears regarding any trial for Dr. Meighan. Perhaps, the court took into account his odd behavior that night. [9]

Duffy’s Coffee House

On the night of Sept. 12, the coffee house of Tom Duffy, located at No. 58 New Levee Street, was attacked. Duffy and the customers initially resisted the intrusion.  But, the attackers persisted, gained entry and destroyed the place.  They found a man named John Kane, who had recently arrived from Louisville.  The mob of some 20-30 men dragged him outside,. They demanded he answer their question, “Are you American or Irish?”  Scared for his life, he answered “American.”  Kane then ran off, but was chased and shot down. Another man named Boylan was shot in the leg.  A man named James Porter, a clerk at a lumber yard on Tchoupitoulas street, was shot in the head. According to the Daily Picayune, the mob of 20-30 men attacked Porter quietly and stealthily and then disappeared.  Porter was a Dublin native. [10]

Also on the night of Sept. 12, it was rumored that the Americans planned to attack two coffee houses owned by Irishmen – Murphy and Falvey – at the corner of Julia and Tchoupitoulas, an Irish neighborhood.  They also planned to attack the nearby marble yard of the stone mason, John Cavanaugh – Cavanaugh, the captain of the Louisiana Grays. Prendergast believes this was one of many false rumors, but it reflects the great fear then reverberating through the Irish community. [11]

Special Police

By Sept. 16, Mayor Lewis called for special police from citizens willing to patrol the streets. Dozens so volunteered.  They were organized by Capt. Forno, one of the militia unit captains.  Forno was not Irish. But, the militia commanders generally carried a good deal of informal authority, even though they were not actual employees of any government. Prendergast lamented that several able-bodied citizens intended to serve as a special policemen, but withdrew their names when they saw that many of the volunteers were Irish. [12]

The nightly patrols stopped the attacks, because they stopped the intrusions into Irish areas by the Americans.  But, the Know Nothings were just getting started. They would terrorize the city for the next several years.  They did succeed in suppressing the Irish vote in the next round of elections in 1856.

For more about the Know Nothings, see Smithsonian site here. The Know Nothings opposed immigration by all groups. The two principle groups of immigrants in the 1850’s were the Irish and the Germans. But, the Know Nothings reserved the full force of their thuggery for the Irish.

Notes:

[1] David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South, 1815-1877 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of North Carolina Press 1995), p. 110-112.

[2] New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Aug. 22, 1854, p. 1, col. 2

[3] Earl F. Niehaus, The Irish in New Orleans (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1965), p. 86, citing Daily Orleanian, Sept. 11, 1854

[4] Irish in New Orleans, p. 88

[5] N.O. Daily Crescent, Sept. 12, 1854, p. 3, col. 2

[6] Daily Orleanian, Sept. 13, 1854, p. 1, col. 2

[7] Daily Orleanian, Sept. 13, 1854, p. 1, col. 2

[8] Irish in New Orleans, p. 90; Daily Picayune, Sept. 27, 1854, p. 2, col. 5; Daily Picayune, Sept. 16., 1854, p. 2, col. 5, 6

[9] Daily Picayune, Sept. 16., 1854, p. 2, col. 5; Daily Crescent, Sept. 16, 1854, p. 4, col. 1

[10] Daily Orleanian, Sept. 14, 1854, p. 1, col. 1

[11] Daily Orleanian, Sept. 14, 1854, p. 1, col. 1

[12] Daily Orleanian, Sept. 17, 1854, p. 1, col. 1

PVT Snuffy and Confederate Memorials

I talked previously about the San Antonio Confederate memorial here. The San Antonio Confederate Memorial, when it still stood, commemorated the service of the common Confederate soldier. In the Army, we refer to the average soldier as “Pvt Snuffy.” The San Antonio memorial did not commemorate a steely-eyed general or some plotting politician. It recalled the average soldier, usually 18-19 years old. In the statute, he grew a mustache, probably to make himself seem older. But, who exactly did our San Antonio Confederate soldier represent?

The folks who raised the funds and designed the statue are long gone. But, we gain some insight when we look at the women behind the statute.

The statue was designed by Virginia Montgomery in 1899. We know from newspaper articles of the time that Virginia was the daughter of Julia Montgomery, a former member of the Daughters of the Confederacy here in San Antonio. Virginia Montgomery – or Jenny as she was sometimes known – was an artist living in New Orleans.

How did Julia end up in San Antonio? Mrs. Julia Montgomery was simply trying to make ends meet. Her husband was John Alfonso Montgomery, a captain in the Confederate army. He enlisted in April, 1862. He enlisted a year after the big rush to join. The more patriotic Southerners generally joined in April-May, 1861, when the war first started. Joining in May, 1862 suggests Capt. Montgomery was not a fervent Southerner. Two years later, he was dropped from the rolls of active soldiers in June, 1864, indicating he was probably wounded and could no longer perform his duty.

Capt. John Montgomery

Capt. Montgomery was a Quartermaster for the 32nd Alabama Infantry regiment. Prior to the war, he was a “cotton merchant” in Mobile, Alabama. “Cotton merchant” is a generic term that probably means he was a cotton broker. Cotton brokers accepted crops of cotton from a planter or farmer and then took the risk of selling it to overseas or New York markets. Cotton brokers earned a good living. They were solidly middle class. It was an occupation, for example, that was generally not open to the Irish and German immigrants of the time. John Montgomery was doing well. That was good, because he and his wife, Julia, had seven children. The youngest child was Blocker Montgomery, born 1861-62. Blocker was Julia’s maiden name.

But, after the war, things turned. John came back from the war “broken in body and fortune.” He returned to Mobile after the war. The family suffered. John was listed with no occupation in the 1870 census. Six years after returning from the war, he was not working. In the 1871 Mobile City Directory, his occupation is simply listed as “merchant.” A description that means nothing for that time period. It is equivalent to describing someone in 2017 as a “businessman.”

A year later, John is a policeman. A year later, he has no occupation. The next year, he is listed as a “cigar dealer.” The next year, he is a clerk. At the age of 50 years old, he is employed as a clerk. The next year, he is not listed in the Mobile City Directory, at all. Like many returning veterans, he could not hold a job. Even worse, every year, the address for the family of nine persons changed. Capt. Montgomery could not even hold onto the family home.

Scattered to the Four Winds

In 1873, Mrs. Julia Montgomery appears in the New Orleans City Directory. That appearance suggests she left Mobile looking for work as a teacher.

The next year, 1877, John, the former captain does not appear. Instead, his son, John A. Montgomery, Jr. is listed. That likely means John, Sr. probably died. And, now surprisingly, his son, 25 years old, is the head of the household. Normally, the widow would be listed as the head of the home and she would be described as the widow. But, Julia does not appear in the 1877 Mobile City Directory. We can only surmise that she was living in New Orleans trying to earn a few dollars.

San Antonio, Texas

Julia was in San Antonio by 1899. She is described in San Antonio papers as a member of the Daughters of the Confederacy here in San Antonio. She is described as someone who has lived in San Antonio for many years. That sort of movement suggests she was moving for work. Year later, she will be described as an educator for some 50 years. It is likely that she moved first to New Orleans and then to San Antonio, looking for work.

Virginia Montgomery

And, where was Virginia during this time? Virginia appears in the 1880 census living with her sister Faith. Faith Montgomery married a farmer, David Dunlap, in upstate Alabama. They were not wealthy. They listed a net worth of $350 in 1880, which was normal for a working class family.

By 1878, John A. Montgomery, the son, disappears from Mobile records. Apparently, he too passed away. The whole family was scattering to the four winds. By 1887, Virginia is living in New Orleans on her own. That was not a common path for young, single women of the time. Single women were not supposed to seek careers. We know she was alone, because other family members who were working would have been listed in the City Directory for the same address. But, no other Montgomery’s appear.

Virginia was listed as an artist. This was a time when female artists were extremely unusual. When she designed the Travis Park monument in 1899, she was described as the first woman to ever design a monument. That could very well be true. In 1899, Virginia designed the Confederate monument for free. So, she was still in touch with her mother in San Antonio.

A New Orleans Suffragette

Julia attained some local fame of her own. She died in 1922. Her lengthy obituary explained she was very active in clubs, the Daughters of the American Revolution, the Daughters of the Confederacy, the Woman’s Club and others. She was one of the leaders of the suffragette movement in New Orleans. She voted for the first time in her life just two years before – in the 1920 presidential election. She was said to be the oldest voting woman in New Orleans for the 1920 election. When she passed away, her age was given as 99. The 1870 census indicates she was born in 1830.  Regardless, her age was advanced, but he was still very active up to her death.

Bachelor Girl

Virginia acquired some local fame as an artist. In 1930, she wrote a lengthy article for the New Orleans Times Picayune about “Bachelor Girl, A World Leader.” In the article, she explains that a single woman is not “unnatural” and that she can be a “world leader.” Virginia never married. But, she led a full life. In one year, she is mentioned teaching Bible Study to students in Lower Algiers, a working class neighborhood across the river from New Orleans. In another lengthy Times Picayune article, her artistic approach is described. She favors, she said, three watercolors about “Negroes” in their daily lives. Doubtless, Virginia shocked readers again by suggesting African-Americans were appropriate subjects for serious art.

Julia passed away while living with Virginia. The home was and still is located at 7924 South Claiborne. It is a modest home. Nearby is a small park known as Palmer Park. The DAR planted a tree there in honor of Julia.

It is said in a 1911 San Antonio Light article that Julia came up with the concept for the Travis Park monument. That likely means she suggested that it represent a common soldier, not a general. The two women lost a father and husband before his time. For us, the Confederate memorial represented a common soldier. But, for those two women, it likely represented someone whose memory they treasured. Julia and Jenny had their own PVT Snuffy.

Boarding Houses and the Price Sisters

Prior to the U.S. Civil War, how did Irish immigrants, arriving with little or nothing, earn a living? Many, as we know, turned to manual labor. But, what about the women? The Irish immigrants were unique in that many Irish immigrants were female and arrived on their own.

In one family, the women turned to boarding homes. The Price sisters, daughters of George and Mary Price, ran their own boarding homes after their men died. The family patriarch was George Price, said to be a leader of the failed 1798 Irish rebellion. Each of the Price sisters were born in Ireland. They likely arrived in the United States sometime between 1825 and 1835.

The Price family in 1836 looked like this:

George – Mary Price:

                        James Price – Sarah Anderson

                        Edward Price

                        Ellen Price – Clement Kennedy

                        Anastasia Price – Martin Creane/Crane

                        Theresa Price – William Agar

                        Katherine Price – Edward M. Rice

                        George Price

The family alternated between Louisville, Kentucky and New Orleans. The patriarch, George, and Mary lived in Louisville in 1836. While some of the children resided in New Orleans. Martin, married to Anastasia, lived in New Orleans, but spent much of his time in Louisville.

By 1849, Martin had died in Kentucky. The patriarch, George Price, who had some money, died in 1836 in Louisville, Kentucky. James Price also died in 1836 in Louisville. Edward Price died in New Orleans in 1836. Clement Kennedy disappeared from public records by 1840. So, within just a few years, five of the male bread-winners were gone. What would recent female immigrants do, even if they did have access to some money? Women in the 1840’s had very few options. Well, one option was boarding homes. And, in the 1840’s and later, before the days of moderate priced hotels, boarding homes were essential to travelers and immigrants. And, that is exactly what the Price women did. Boarding homes in the ante-bellum days did not yet carry a negative stereotype.

Mrs. Rice’s

In 1839-1840, one Edward M. Rice is running a boarding house in Cincinnati. Katherine Price married Edward M. Rice in 1841 in Louisville. Later, Edward initially appears in the Cincinnati City Directories as a grocer, but still later, he has no occupation. By 1848, various persons are listed as boarding at “Mrs. Rice’s” boarding house in Cincinnati. By 1848, Katherine alone is listed at the Cincinnati boarding house. While, Edward appears in the New Orleans City Directory as a sugar broker. So, it appears Katherine was running the boarding home in Cincinnati, while Edward went to New Orleans to explore his prospects. [1]

Canal Street Boarding House

In 1841, Anastasia Price Creane/Crane was running a boarding home on Canal Street in New Orleans. She advertised her home as “commodious and pleasantly situated.” Her ads targeted a white collar clientele. Boarding homes required substantial investment. But, boarding homes could be rented. The home need not be owned. So, the investment in a boarding home was large, but not impossible.

Anastasia’s location was very close to the river front, the hub of economic activity in that major port. Her husband, Martin was still alive in 1840, but he was often in Louisville. Anastasia may have been trying to supplement the family income. Or, she may have simply wanted some measure of independence. In 1840, Anastasia had six boarders. Her operation was not a large one. And, in 1841, Mrs. Mary Price was also running a boarding house in Louisville. Mary’s husband had died just five years earlier. Mary may have had sufficient funds that she did not have to work. But, even so, she was operating a boarding house on what was then the western frontier. [2]

Katherine’s and Ellen’s Boarding House

In 1850, Edward Rice is listed in the census as the keeper of a New Orleans boarding house, where Katherine and their children live. But, Edward was also listed in the City Directory as a sugar broker. That suggests Katherine ran the boarding home, while Edward was listed as the proprietor – to “keep up appearances.” In the 1850 census, Ellen Walsh, formerly married to Clement Kennedy, but now married to William Walsh, was listed as keeping a boarding home. Katherine had 15 boarders. Most of the boarders had Irish surnames, but not all. The Ellen Walsh home had 12 boarders, many of whom had Irish surnames. At the same time, William Walsh was listed as a cooper in the City Directory. That suggests that again, the wife, Ellen, was actually running the boarding home. While at the same time, Mary Price, was now living in New Orleans. Mary was listed in the City Directory as keeping a boarding house. Yet, she does not appear in the census. Mary likely had just moved to New Orleans. She may have been over-seeing the work of her two daughters in operating two different boarding homes. [3]

By 1849, Anastasia had re-married and no longer operated a boarding home.

In 1856, George Price, brother to the Price sisters, Edward M. Rice, husband to Katherine Price, and William Agar, future husband to Theresa Price, were all living at Katherine’s boarding home. That location was not only close to the Mississippi river front. It was also the heart of the Irish immigrant section of the city. Katherine Price Rice is running her boarding house located at the corner of Julia and Magazine streets. Her husband, Edward, was working as a sugar broker. As a sugar broker, Edward would have been earning a decent wage, perhaps better than decent. So, it seems Kathrine was running a boarding home because she wanted to, not because she had to. [4]

Retirement from the Boarding House Business

By 1859, Katherine is no longer listed as a resident at the Julia and Magazine boarding house. Katherine Price Rice disappears from the public record as a keeper of boarding homes. And, Edward, her husband, disappears from all public records by 1863. He probably died in the early 1860’s. So, in 1874, Katherine returns to the boarding home business. She is again running a boarding house. Yet, she was then living with her sister, Anastasia and her family. Katherine probably did not need a source of income. She may have simply been seeking some degree of independence. The Prices always had the boarding home business on which to fall back when times turned tough.[5]

Keeping a boarding house was hard work. Landladies worker hard. The servants worked harder. Anastasia owned a slave for some period of time during her boarding house days. But, after she married, she never again employed an African-American as a domestic. The other two sisters relied on Irish domestic help. Furnishing a boarding home represented a large investment, especially for those landladies who sought a better paying customer. It is likely that the Price family had some funds to finance a better class of boarding home. The Price women did not fear hard work. But, they also likely sought some independence and simply wanted the challenge of running one’s own business. [6]

Notes:

[1] 1839-1851 Cincinnati City Directories

[2] 1841 New Orleans City Directory; 1841 Louisville City Directory

[3] 1850 U.S. census; 1850 New Orleans City Directory

[4] 1856 New Orleans City Directory

[5]  1874 New Orleans City Directory

[6] Wendy Gamber, The Boarding House in Nineteenth Century America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press 2007), p. 43-44.