Comings and Goings

     In 1850 Matthew and his family were newly ensconced in their house on Underhill Ave. They had six children, including their latest, Margaret, who was just a year old. James Nicholas, who was turning 18, was actively working as a carpenter. And as a successful local businessman Matthew was also running for the position of  Assessor for the 9th Ward

     Matthew had apparently become involved in local politics even before he built his house on Underhill Ave. In October of 1845 Matthew had been appointed a “teller” for the 9th Ward Democratic Republican party. Later in 1852 he and Hugh Harley, to whom he had sold his original lot on Bergen St., were elected as delegates to the party convention.

     Meanwhile Elizabeth (Keenan) and John Farrell were still living on Tillary St.  They too had six children, having lost two in the early years of their marriage.

   Owen and Mary Keenan, living now on Tillary St. near Raymond,  had just had another set of twins – having now eight surviving children.

     Patrick and Ann, living on Bergen St., had three sons, John, Michael and  Edward, who was only a year old. They too had lost their second son, Thomas, at some point after his birth in 1844. I believe that Thomas was named after  Ann’s father. Her brother, also named Thomas, had been a witness at their wedding in 1840. And the 1850 Census showed a Thomas and Margaret Moran living on Bergen St. near Grand Ave., just a few doors down from Patrick and Ann.

   The Ninth Ward around the Keenans was bustling in 1850. The streets were filling in with houses, many of them rented by absentee landlords to the workers who inhabited them.  Most of the houses held two to four families. When you peruse the census rolls you find a  substantial number of the Heads of Households in the area listing  their occupations as “oil cloth” or “oil cloth painters”. This was because of the establishment of the E. Harvey Oil Cloth Company on Vanderbuilt Ave. between Dean and Wyckoff  around this time.

     “Oilcloth became popular in the 18th century during which it was used as an inexpensive floor and roof covering. The fabric was produced by stretching a linen cloth with a four-sided vertical frame. In order to keep the cloth from becoming brittle and breaking the fabric was coated with a sizing solution and rubbed smooth with a pumice block. Finally the cloth was coated with a mixture of linseed oil and paint pigment.

     Although the production of floorcloths originated in England, American artisans soon began manufacturing their own. Homeowners or professional itinerant sign-painters applied the designs…with a ruler and a compass or with a stencil…these practical, easily refurbished floor coverings increased in popularity in their own rights throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It evolved into oilcloth.”

    Because of the volatile ingredients used in the manufacture of oil cloth, it always presented a potential fire hazard, as exemplified in these notices found in the Brooklyn Eagle newspaper. –

      A related article from a  California paper reported :

     ” Harvey’s Oil Cloth factory, at Brooklyn, New York, was burned May 20. Twelve of the workman were discharged May 19th.

  My guess is that the ingredients were not the only volatile elements at the factory.

    1850 began with the arrival in New York, on January 14th, of the ship AZ from Liverpool, England. It was only one of hundreds of vessels that had been transporting Irish immigrants fleeing the devastation brought upon their country by the successive failures of the potato crops that the populace had traditionally subsisted on. In this case it also carried two members of the Brooklyn Keenan clan – Sarah Keenan, and her son Michael. It is through this event that we are able to confirm the original home of the Keenans in Ireland. The ship’s manifest lists them as coming from Longford, Ireland.   

      Sarah moved in with Matthew’s family on Underhill Ave., and Michael was put up at Patrick’s house on nearby Bergen St. The question of their ages at this time is a thorny one. Both the AZ Ships Manifest and the 1850 Census (taken on July 24 of that year) list Michael as being 33 years old (born in 1817). Sarah’s age on the ship is listed as 60, born in 1790, but in the following 1850 Census as 80 years, born in 1770. Michael and Sarah were both illiterate and probably had no accurate idea of their ages. Perhaps Michael provided their information on the ship (after all, his own age matches), while someone at Matthew’s residence  gave  more of a “guesstimate” of Sarah’s age when subsequently visited by the census taker.

    The next opportunity to determining their ages arises with the 1855 Census, and there we find them listed as Michael 30 years (born 1825) and Sarah at 100 years old (born 1755). One  can only explain this discrepancy by assuming the information was tendered by a neighbor, who did not really know them well. (If the 1855 information were accurate Sarah would have given birth to Michael when she was 70 years old – unlikely to say the least.) Sarah’s death certificate in 1858 cited her age as 92 years (born 1766), but again this information would have been provided by a relative – most likely  Michael. Michael’s age in the 1860 Census was listed at 47 years (born 1813), so we have a range of 1813-1825 for his birth. Our best guess is that Sarah was born around 1780-85, and Michael around 1817.

     It is equally problematical to determine  what the exact nature of the relationship was between the Brooklyn Keenans and these new arrivals. We know Sarah was Michael’s mother. But was she also the mother of the others?

     There is compelling evidence that Sarah was Matthew and Elizabeth’s mother as well, based on traditional Irish naming patterns. The Irish, as well as others, had a strong tradition of naming their children after the previous generation. The strictest delineation of this tradition would be laid out as follows:

  • First born son was named after his father’s father
  • Second born son was named after his mother’s father
  • Third born son was named after his father
  • Fourth born son was named after his father’s oldest brother
  • Fifth born son was named after his father’s 2nd oldest brother – or his mother’s oldest brother
  • First born daughter was named after her mother’s mother
  • Second born daughter was named after her father’s mother
  • Third born daughter was named after her mother
  • Fourth born daughter was named after her mother’s oldest sister
  • Fifth born daughter was named after her mother’s 2nd oldest sister -or her father’s oldest sister

     Perhaps the closest  example of adherence to this naming pattern from within our family is that of James McDermott’s family. We know James’ parents were named Patrick and Bridget, while Ann’s parents were Thomas and Nancy. The McDermott children, in order of birth , were named :

  • Thomas –      named after his mother’s father
  • Mary –          
  • Patrick  –      named after his father’s father
  • Ann –           named after her mother’s mother and her mother – (Ann is a derivative of Nancy)
  • Michael –     named after his mother’s oldest brother
  • Catherine  –
  • James  –        named after his father
  • Elizabeth  –
  • Bridget –       named after her father’s mother.

The Family of James McDermott
(click to enlarge Image)


      This same traditional naming pattern, as Barbara Peters has pointed out, would dictate that both Matthew Keenan and Elizabeth Farrell would name their daughters Sarah,  which indeed they both did. This is a strong argument for Sarah Keenan being Matthew and Elizabeth’s mother as well as Michael’s, especially since Sarah was a relatively rare name among the Irish at the time.

     Owen Keenan, however, had three daughters, none of whom were named Sarah.  Patrick Keenan produced only one daughter, named Ann, presumably after her mother (Ann Moran) or her mother’s mother. Catherine Harden had three daughters , none of whom were named Sarah either. This would  suggest that Owen, Patrick and Catherine were cousins of Matthew, rather than siblings.  

        All of this, of course, is speculative. In the end we have no Irish baptismal documentation to clarify  how any of the Brooklyn Keenans were related. We can say only  that they were most definitely related. But regardless of their exact relationship, the two new Keenan arrivals in 1850 were welcomed to Brooklyn, albeit to necessarily cramped quarters, by family members who hadn’t seen them in over twenty years.

     The following year, in August of 1851, Patrick sold his house on Bergen Street and purchased one on Pacific Ave., just a few blocks away (this would  later be  numbered #765).  He sold his Bergen St. property to Danial Crowley, a furniture maker, for $505. He paid $385 for the house on Pacific Ave. which he bought from William Dugan, but also assumed  Dugan’s mortgage of $210.75  – for a total cost of $595.75.

     By this point Michael had no doubt found work as a carpenter or laborer and could afford to pay rent. When Patrick sold his house on Bergen Street Michael apparently moved next door to Hugh Harley’s place (You might recall Matthew had sold Hugh Harley his original lot in 1847). Apparently Hugh (whose house was valued at $700) had constructed an additional small domicile on the back of the lot (valued at $400) and it was there that Michael was found living with his mother Sarah in 1855. The 1854-55 Smith’s Directory cited a Michael Keenan living at “h r (house in rear) Bergen between Grand and Washington”.

     On November 9, 1851 James Nicholas Keenan , age 18 years, married Ann Connell at St. Charles of Borromeo Church in Brooklyn. The Parish of St. Charles Borromeo was founded in 1850 by the Rev. Charles Constantine Pise, D.D. , who married the young couple .  The original church building first belonged to the Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church of Emmanuel.  Located on the east side of Sidney Place, south of Livingston Street, it was purchased by Archbishop John Hughes of New York in 1849. This Church was slightly closer to Underhill Ave. than was St. James Cathedral. St. Joseph’s Parish, which was located just a block away from the Keenans in the 9th Ward had been founded in 1850, but it was still being organized when James was married in 1851.

St Charles Borromeo

     We don’t know much about Ann Connell. She was born in Ireland between 1830-35 and had emigrated by 1850.  She is found in the 1850 Brooklyn Census working as a domestic in the household of Emanual  Francois, a wine merchant, who lived on State Street , about five blocks from St. Charles of Borromeo church. Her death certificate listed her parents as James O’Connell and Mary, however I have found no Irish parish records of Ann’s baptism.

Apparently we must live with the mystery of Ann’s family of origin. However we do know much of what was to become of  her life as the wife of  James Nicholas Keenan.