When James Nicholas Keenan’s life was ended by a confederate musket ball in 1864, it left his wife Annie a widow with eight children, ranging from the oldest, Mary, age 11, to the infant Elizabeth, born just 10 days before her father’s death. To say that the family was devastated by the loss hardly describes what it must have been like for them.
As we have seen, most of James’ younger siblings had dispersed after the dissolution of their own family in 1856. His kinsmen, Patrick and Owen, were close by and could have helped out Ann, but they had children of their own also with growing families.
We know little about Ann Conell’s family. In her letter to James of October, 1863, she referred to opening a letter to “my Matt” that James had written, presumably about the difficulties her husband was encountering in obtaining his commission. She reminded James that, “I told you in my last about Matt being drafted and he been gone away. So I had to open his letter.”
That Annie distinguished “my Matt’ from James’ brother Matthew TJ suggests that she had too had a brother, or relative, named Matt. If she received the letter, then she had either picked it up at the post office, or it had been delivered to her residence. Either way it suggests Matt had been living with, or at least near, the Keenans before being drafted. Yet we can find no citation in the Draft Registration Rolls of a Matthew Connell, and only one record of a soldier from New York named Matthew Connell, but he had volunteered.
In any case that was the last trace we have of Matthew Connell. So we don’t know if Annie received a helping hand from any relatives – Keenan or Connell. But what Ann Keenan did have for support was a Civil War widow’s pension from the the State of New York.
On March 4 of 1864, after learning of her husband’s death, she went before the City Court of Brooklyn to apply for the pension. She was accompanied by Walter Griffith (Attorney) and two witnesses to identify her – Ann McCoy and Patrick Sheridan ( the witnesses at her wedding). Later in the year, on Nov 3 of 1864 Ann received a payment of $273.90 from the US Treasury for back pay owed to James Nicholas Keenan from Nov.8, 1863 thru his death in February of ’64 (approximately $120 per month as a 2nd Lieutenant). On Feb. 27 of 1865, after James’s death had been officially documented by the Army, the Widow’s Pension application was finally approved. Ann was to receive $15.00 per month dating back to February of 1864.
But before she started receiving a pension Ann had to find some other means of income. The 1866 Street Directory listed her as a Laundress – taking in other peoples wash, something she could do at home while caring for her children. In 1865 Annie gave up the house on Pacific and Grand where she and James had lived, and moved to a frame house on the (northeast) corner of Classon Ave. and Butler St. We can pinpoint its location so precisely because we have the original receipt for Fire Insurance that Annie purchased for $3.50 in 1865. (This was often a stipulation of renting a house).
The 1870 Census located Ann still at the Classon Ave address and listed her occupation as “Washing”. In addition James (17 years) was working as a carpenter’s apprentice, and John (13 yrs.) as an office boy. (We also have a June 1872 document from the Insurance Clerk’s Mutual Benefit Association, in John’s name, assigning Annie Keenan as the beneficiary of his Life Insurance policy.) Their wages, though undoubtedly meager, would have helped to supplement the family income. All the rest of the children were in school except Mary, who was by then 19 years old.
The following year (1871) Mary married Thomas P. Smith , a machinist by trade. Although his family was Irish (father – Thomas , mother nee Ann Dorsey) Thomas P. was actually born in England in 1847. By 1852, however, the Smiths had come to the U.S. Thomas’s family had been living in the neighborhood of the Keenan’s (Franklin and Warren –three blocks away) since the early 1860’s.
Ann Keenan had to move her family again around 1873, and when she did she relocated to 1002 1/2 Atlantic Avenue, about eight blocks north, and just around the corner from her old home at the corner of Pacific and Grand. It’s quite possible that this move was spurred by plans to build a new Catholic church on the site where the Keenans had been living.
The parish of St. Teresa of Avila was established by Bishop Loughlin who sent the Rev. Joseph McNamee to organize a new parish in the vicinity of Classon Avenue and Butler Street in the Prospect Heights area of Brooklyn. On May 4, 1874, Father McNamee celebrated the first Mass for 150 souls who met in Mr. D. Gallagher’s parlor at 685 Butler Street. The new pastor worked quickly and on August 2, 1874, the cornerstone was laid for the new church. The basement church was dedicated by Bishop Loughlin in January 1875, but the completed church was not dedicated until 1887. While the church was being built, a parochial school measuring 50 feet by 90 feet and taught by 13 Sisters of St. Joseph was opened in September 1883. Three months later, a convent for the sisters was built. As originally designed, the church was to have two lofty towers in its facade, but it was not until 1905 that the 157-foot towers were completed.
The Keenans remained at the Atlantic Ave. address from 1873 until 1878. In 1873 Annie applied for an increase in pension, brought about by a new law that had been passed by the New York Legislature in July of 1866. It provided an additional $2.00 per month for each child living with a war widow, until they reached the age of 16 years old. Ann was required to provide baptismal records for all of her children as proof of their ages. For some reason she had not been aware of the change in the law until seven years after it had been instituted. Fortunately the stipends were retroactive, and when they were finally approved in 1874, it must have been a happy day indeed in the Keenan household. (We have all the original documentation for her Pension application)
In the 1875 New York State Census we find nearly all of the Keenan children gainfully employed. James, the eldest son (21 yrs.) was working as a clerk. Matthew (19 yrs) had gone into the flower business, and John (18 yrs) was working in a clothing store. Joseph (16 yrs) had started making brooms and even Annie, at 14 years, was making dresses.
In the 1875 Census we find that Mary was once again living with the Keenans, along with her two sons – James who was 3 ½ years old and John, who was only two. What were the circumstances that could have brought this about?
Thomas Smith, Mary’s husband was working as a machinist, and was listed in the 1875 Directory with a place of business on Gold St. at the corner of Beekman in New York City. His residence however was listed as 1233 Prospect Place in Brooklyn in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn over a dozen long blocks from where the Keenans were on Atlantic Ave. Why had Mary moved back in with her family?
The 1875 Census of the Keenan clan was conducted on June 9. Then we find in the New York Death records that Mary’s firstborn, James Smith, died two days later on June 11th. Mary had apparently moved in with her mother to get support and assistance with her ailing child – unfortunately to no avail. James Smith was buried in Holy Cross Cemetery in the plot of his great-grandfather, Matthew Keenan.
On Jan. 31 of 1878 James purchased a liquor store from Michael Mulligan located at 977 Pacific Ave on the northeast corner of Grand Ave., just around the corner from the Atlantic Ave residence. We have the original Bill of Sale for $125.00, which included:
“All my good will and interest in the stock and fixtures in the store and adjoining rooms…to witt – 1 Bar and Counter, one large Refrigerater, four Beer Pumps, Pipes, Cocks, Blk Walnut stand (necessities?), two tables, seven chairs, one stove, seven lamps, fixtures, & one tereen (msp.), one hundred and fifty fancy labeled bottles, fifty wine bottles, forty-eight scotch ale bottles, & six Demijohns.”
However, shortly thereafter Ann Keenan once again moved her family, this time to 820 Bergen St., between Grand and Classon, just a few blocks from the 58 Underhill Ave. house (now owned by the McDermotts). In the 1878-79 and the 1879-80 Directories both Joseph and John are listed as broom makers, so apparently John threw his lot in with his younger brother who had already been in the trade for three years. Meanwhile Joseph met and married Cora Letitia Gallager around 1878. They had a son, named James Nicholas, born on August 6, 1879, while still living in the Keenan household. But the next year they moved out to their own place at 809 Dean St. (one street north) and Joseph found a more reliable job as a clerk.
It appears that James’s liquor store enterprise had not been successful – he was listed as a carpenter in the 1879-80 Directory. However, Matthew T. had opened a florist shop at 541 Vanderbuilt St , between Dean and Pacific, on the block that contained St Joseph’s Church and School – a prudent location , especially given that the Keenans had been parishioners there since its inception.
The 1880 Census finds the Keenan daughters were all now working – Ann (19 yrs) and Catherine (17 yrs) were cited as dressmakers, and even Elizabeth (16 yrs,) worked at a hat factory. While Matthew had his florist shop, both James and John were listed as working for the railroad.