James Nicholas Keenan was the principal person in our Keenan lineage to be engaged in the Civil War, and his premature death was to profoundly effect the generations that followed. Because of his letters that were preserved and passed down, many of his descendants, even those not directly bearing the consequences of his fate, have been deeply moved by the sentiments that he expressed – the tenacious struggle to better his lot in life, the bright intellect, curious and engaged in what he saw about him, and the profound love he expressed for his wife and children and for the home he left behind in Brooklyn.
Here is a letter written by James F. Cook, the grandson of Mary T. (Keenan) Smith, James Nicholas’s first born, to his great-uncle John F. Keenan. It is dated February 21, 1933, sixty-nine years , almost to the day, of the death of James Nicholas Keenan.
Dear Uncle John,
When you read those letters the other day, you opened a new vista of history to me. A new and beautiful family history, not of deeds but of thoughts. I know that letters are personal – very personal and were originally written to source one particular party. So were John Keats letters but their beauty was too sublime to remain buried.
The few letters that you read to me are great, are big and above all are beautiful. I don’t know how to express myself but can only repeat Oliver Twists’s request, “I want more”.
I originally wanted a brief sketch of our family. I originally wanted to dig for silver – I found gold. I discovered a great man in your father. One who I can appreciate.
I suppose I too will live and die- prosaic, but the mere thought of having a predecessor, who felt the same as I do, is encouraging. Thomas Gray’s famous lines are now more than ever true, “Full many a flower hath been born to blush unseen and waste its fragrance upon desert air.”
I envy you your treasures.
I would like if possible to have your permission to copy some of those beautiful letters, hoping that someday they may be the structure of a novel, based on our family.
James F. Cook
But James Keenan was not the only participant in the War Between the States. His younger brother, Matthew T.J., had enlisted in the New York Thirteenth Regiment, Coast Artillery, on May 28th 1861. The regiment had been sent to Washington D.C. in April, mustered in the service of the United States for three months. It spent time in Annapolis, Maryland and Baltimore before being mustered out August 6 , just before James Nicholas enlisted. In May of the following year it was called again to Washington and ended up in Suffolk, Va, chiefly on picket duty. It was then mustered out in Brooklyn, on Sept. 28, 1862.
There was another member of the family, though, that was very much effected by the Civil War as well. As you will recall Sarah Ann, James Nicholas’s sister, had moved to Boston to live with her grandfather, James McDermott, shortly after her father’s death. There she had become pregnant and married George B. Trumbull, a laborer, seven years her senior, on September 6 of 1859. Their first child, Emma Lizzie, was born March 24, 1860. By then George was working as a clerk, and they were living in Charlestown, Ma. Thereafter the 1862 Boston Street Directory showed them living with George’s mother at 8 Fruit St. in Boston. Emma Lizzie died on August 27 of 1862 when she was only 2 ½ years old. Her death record lists the cause as “excema with abcess”. At the time Sarah Ann was already several months pregnant with another child – Elmer Augustus, born the following March 19 of 1863.
In spite of the tremendous sorrow and stress Sarah must have been experiencing with the death of her daughter, or maybe because of it, George enlisted two weeks later, on October 15th 1862 in the Massachusetts 5th Battery Light Artillery and was gone for nearly three years.
George didn’t arrive in the field at Rappahonnock Station,Virginia until Feb. 16th of 1863. Then he apparently participated in the Battle at Chancerlorsville and at Gettysburg, where he was wounded, though probably not seriously. He returned to the Battery in January of 1864.
During 1863 Sarah had moved to Piedmont St. near the Boston Commons, but in 1864 she relocated with her son to 269 Second St. in South Boston, most likely to be near to her McDermott relatives. At that time her aunt, Ann Story, was living at 273 Second St. and her uncle James McDermott (Jr) was living nearby on E St . In the Street Directory she was listed as Miss Sarah A. Trumble.
In the May, 1865 Massachusetts Census Sarah and her uncle James McDermott Jr. were found living at the same address, along with George who had returned from the field, apparently before his Regiment was mustered out on June 12. He may have returned as early January 30th. His occupation in the census was given as Clerk.
The following year (1866) Matthew T.J., Sarah’s brother, moved to Boston to work as a glass cutter. He might have been encouraged to enter the glass industry by his grandfather James McDermott during the latter’s time in Brooklyn. And let us not forget that Matthew’s uncle John Cuddy had a successful glass cutting business in downtown Boston. So it is quite possible that Matthew T.J. got his professional start working for his aunt Bridget’s husband.
The 1866 Boston Directory showed Matthew living at 84 A Street in South Boston. That was the very same house that James Mcdermott had owned and sold to his son-in-law John O’Neal in 1858. However the 1866 Directory shows that John O’Neal was living at 30 Second St., so apparently John was renting out the A St. house to his nephew. I believe it is also likely that Sarah Ann and George Trumball were sharing that house with Matthew T.J. Meanwhile uncle James had moved on to Dove St. near Dorchester St. in 1866. This was closer to the Mount Washington Glass House where he was employed. We know this because his name was included on list of employees who were receiving a 15% wage increase in November of 1865, a list reprinted in the Summer 2003 issue of “Glass Club Bulletin of the National American Glass Club” It showed that James McDermott, Blower, was to go from $9.00 to $10.35 per week .
What happened next is somewhat open to conjecture. We know that Sarah Ann and Matthew moved back to Brooklyn and were living with their cousin William Farrell in a building at 5 Prince St. in downtown Brooklyn. Whether George Trumbull accompanied Sarah is not known, but I suspect that all was not well between them, and Sarah was taking refuge with her family in Brooklyn with Matthew’s assistance. However, it could also be that Sarah had returned simply because of health problems. On July 3, 1867, we find that she succumbed to consumption (pulmonary tuberculosis) at 26 years of age. Her death certificate listed her as Sarah A Keenan. She was buried at Holy Cross cemetery in Brooklyn. The records do not give a specific plot, but it is likely he she was interred beside her father Matthew.
George Trumbull remarried 6 months after Sarah Ann’s death. On January 4, 1868, he wed Mary Donovan, age 23, in Boston. Two weeks later their son, George Francis Trumbull was born. If one does the math it could certainly explain exactly why Sarah Ann had returned to Brooklyn. The next year, on September 8 of 1869, Sarah’s son Augustus (Elmer), age 6, died of Scrofulus (tuberculosis of the lymphatic system). It is possible he had contracted tuberculosis from his mother, or vice versa. He was buried (alongside his sister) in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge , in the Trumbull family plot.
In 1870 George Trumbull was listed in the Boston Directory as working as a barkeeper and living at 1 Harvard St. Apparently his second marriage wasn’t working out either because in 1875 he moved to the Old Soldiers Home in Chelsea, Maine at the age of 42. He worked as a cook, and remained there until his death thirteen years later on Sept. 9, 1892.
But every cloud has a silver lining, as they say. When Matthew T.J. returned to 5 Prince St. with his sister Sarah he met a young women living in the same building, named Julia Furlong. Julia was the only child of John and Ellen (Lynn) Furlong. It turns out that shortly after Sarah Ann died, Julia’s father died as well, because in the 1869 -70 Directory Julia’s mother Ellen is listed as a widow, living at 5 Prince St. Perhaps the common loss of a loved one helped to draw these two together.
Matthew and Julia were wed on January 6, 1869 in St. James Cathedral in Brooklyn, and then relocated back to Boston that year, where they remained until Matthew’s death in July of 1909. Matthew continued for 30 years as a glass cutter until around 1900, when he opened a florist shop in Jamaica Plains. He and Julia had three children.