In 1822, when James McDermott was arriving in South Boston, Brooklyn’s streets were just beginning to be lit by gas. It was only a year after the death of Napoleon, and James Monroe was our president. The total population of Brooklyn was fewer than 12,000 people.
That year a man named Peter Turner organized a group of about 70 Catholics to petition for a parish church in Brooklyn. In the circular that they sent out, in which they gave their reasons for organizing the first parish on Long Island, it was stated: “In fact, we want a church, a pastor, and a place for interment.” Previous to this the dead had to be taken back to New York, to old St. Patrick’s, for interment. If not, they had to be buried in some of Brooklyn’s non-Catholic graveyards.
The original purchase of ground for St. James’ consisted of eight lots, and, according to the village custom of that time, after a church was built the ground about it was used as a graveyard. The original church stood about thirty feet from Jay Street, and subsequent additions brought the old building nearer the street line, until it reached the site covered by the present structure.
Once the original grounds around the church were filled, more property was procured until the cemetery extended in a tongue back to about 100 feet from Bridge Street. Some 7,000 adults and children are said to have been interred in the graveyard between 1823 and June 1, 1849, when burials there were prohibited by law.
In 1853, when the Diocese of Brooklyn was established, and Bishop John Loughlin was appointed as its first bishop, St. James served as the seat of the Bishop of Brooklyn and it remains so today.
The original parish church of Saint James, which was severely damaged by a series of fires, was replaced in 1903 by the existing church building under the direction of the second Bishop of Brooklyn, Charles McDonnell.
The first record we have of our ancestor Matthew Keenan is to be found in the earliest existing marriage and baptismal registries from St. James Cathedral. Although this source is not generally open to the public, through a great deal of persistence Barbara Peters was able to gain access to the book and quickly copy down the entries she found there.
St James Marriage records – Oct. 23, 1829 – Aug. 13, 1837
Page 2 – John Farrell and Eliza Keenan; February 6, 1830
Page 15 – Mathew Keenan – Mary McDermott, December 29, 1831, Witnesses: Thos O’Conner, John Keenan and Bridget Geligan.
These two notations established a possible link between three Keenans – Matthew, Elizabeth and John. This link was confirmed in the subsequent entries found in the Baptismal records of the same church.
Baptism Register, Book 1 of St. James Cathedral, Brooklyn, New York
Sept. 20, 1829 – August 13, 1837
Bridget born 15 inst [of the current month- Ed.] in wedlock of John Farrell and
Betty Keenan bapt. on 21 Nov. 1830. Sponsors: John Keenan, Margaret Keenan,
Jan.6, 1832 – Sarah Ann Farrell child of John Farrell and Eliza Keenan.
Sponsors: Matthew Keenan and Mary McDermott
These entries are corroborative of the familial connections between the Keenans, as well as revealing the name of a new Keenan – Margaret – probably another sister. Presumably the Keenans – Matthew, Elizabeth, John and Margaret – emigrated to America around the same time and arrived in Brooklyn with enough time to settle, find work, and then to court and marry their spouses by the 1830s. This leads me to believe they emigrated sometime before 1828. Early immigration records, chiefly ship manifests, are largely non-existent for this time period, so that date remains purely speculative.
Of particular interest is one sponsor at Matthew and Mary’s wedding – Bridget Gelligan (Gilligan). As you might recall Bridget was also a sponsor, together with John McDermott, at the Boston baptism of Mary McDermott’s younger sister Catherine in 1827. She must have been a close friend of Mary’s who perhaps came down from Boston for the wedding.
We know that James McDermott moved his family to Brooklyn sometime after the birth of his daughter Elizabeth in February of 1831. And by December of that year Mary had met Matthew Keenan and they had decided to marry. According to census records Mary was born either in 1809 (the 1850 Census) or 1817 (the 1855 Census). Recorded ages were of rather unreliable accuracy (for all the reasons I have laid out in my introduction), but the 1817 date appears most likely, because it dovetails with the 1830 Boston Census designation for Mary (10-15 years old). In addition, her mother Anne McDermott was born around 1797, making her too young to have had Mary by 1809. An 1817 birth date would have made Mary around 14 years old when she married Matthew.
The only records we have of Matthew put his birth year in either 1805 or 1811. The 1811 date would have made Matthew 20 years old at the time of his marriage.
Elizabeth Keenan was born either in 1808 or 1810 making her Matthew’s older sister. John Farrell, her husband, was born between 1800 and 1810. So John was about 25 and Elizabeth 22 when they married in 1830. John Farrell, as it turned out, was another Longford emigre. He had a relative ( probably a cousin) named Catherine, whose obituary cited her birthplace as Ardagh Parish, Longford.
And what of Matthew and Elizabeth’s parents? Were they living? Were they left behind in Ireland or did they perhaps accompany their children to the new world? We don’t know for sure, but there are a several records that suggest conflicting answers to those questions.
There is an essay printed by The United States Catholic Historical Society in Volume VII of Historical Records and Studies (published in June 1914) entitled “A Village Churchyard” by Thomas Meehan. It describes the history of the graveyard which had been first established in the churchyard surrounding St. James after it was built in 1822 and the subsequent changes it had undergone with the rebuilding and expansion of the church in 1903.
In his essay Meehan stated that he had visited St. James graveyard in October of 1900, before the reconstruction began, and found “more than two hundred tombstones standing in a more or less fair state of preservation.” In February of 1914, while writing his essay, Meehan revisited St. James and reported that there were then not more than 135 markers left. Relying on the notes he had taken on that first visit, as well as his more recent observations, Meehan detailed many of the names and inscriptions that he had found on the gravestones.
Curiously, a number of the inscriptions contained dates after June 1, 1849, when burials there had supposedly been prohibited. For instance in the family burial plot of Hugh McLaughlin, the famous Brooklyn politician, the following are found:
“ Sacred to the memory of Susan McLaughlin, who departed this life, October 1, 1850, age 42 years”
“Sacred to the memory of Luke Mclaughlin, who departed his life, June 19, 1849, age 32 years”
Perhaps exceptions to the 1849 burial prohibition were made for plots already purchased, or for prominent families. Or perhaps some names were simply memorialized by adding them to already existing gravestones. But Meehan continued:
“Around and near this plot are buried: Patrick, Thomas, and Michael Mulligan, Co. Westmeath, 1829-1854. Ann, wife of John Langstaff, 1856. Patrick Dougherty, Co. Donegal, 1854. Thom. Barry, Co. Longford, 1844. The children of John Fitzsimmons, who was an uncle of the late Vicar-General William Keegan. Patrick Farrell, Ardagh, Co. Louth, 1845. Mary, mother of Matthew Keenan, Co. Longford, 1851. Mary Shortell, 1856. Elizabeth Murray, Co. Kildare, 1842. Mary Boyle, 1846. John McNamee, Co. Longford, 1855, and his children.”
All interments in St. James graveyard had been prohibited since 1849. What are we to make of this apparently blatant violation of the law? Could Meehan have mistakenly read the numeral “3” as a numeral “5”? Maybe once or twice, but it seems unlikely that he would have done so multiple times. On the other hand there is good reason to believe that Thomas Meehan was not that meticulous in either his notes or observations.
On December 9, 1888 – over twenty-five years earlier than Meehan’s essay, The Brooklyn Eagle had published an article entitled “The Cathedral Ground – A View of the Old Burial Place on Jay St.”. In that article the author listed alphabetically the names he found on the existing gravestones, along with any information about them that he could glean from old records, directories or newspaper articles. He describes one tombstone as follows:
“Passing around to the south side of the church, a large white slab seen at the foot of the railing on Jay St. reads:
Sacred to the memory of Patrick Dougherty, a native of Ireland, County of Donegal, Parish of Movill, died March 4, 1844, age 72 years.”
If we compare Thomas Meehan’s description of the same grave, circa 1900-1914, we find : “Patrick Dougherty, Co. Donegal, 1854” – a glaring error, and one that certainly throws into doubt Meehan’s other transcriptions detailing burials in the 1850’s.
This of course might also pertain to the one gravestone that interests us the most : “Mary, mother of Matthew Keenan, Co. Longford, 1851”. This would seem to refer to our relative Matthew Keenan that was married in St. James, whose children were baptized there, and who was a member of that parish at least until 1853.
The key to resolving this riddle may lie in locating the Interment records of the St. James graveyard. Meehan stated that,
“There is an old folio volume of 153 folio pages kept in the parish archives in which the record of the interments is preserved. It was begun by Sexton John Murray, who started the list with the following memorandum as a preface:
“An alphabetical list of those persons who purchased lots in the cemetery of St. James’ Church, in the village of Brooklyn, with the number and section enclosed to their name.”
Meehan stated that the first entry in this book was dated April 12, 1825 and read: “name not known; buried in poor ground” followed by, and on the same date, “ Edward Brennan’s child, New York”. Paradoxically, Meehan stated elsewhere in his essay: “ The first interment in St. James’ yard was that of Joseph D. Grady, on April 29, 1823; and the last those of Susannha Duffy and James McKenna, on May 21, 1849”. Again this obvious disparity can be resolved by noting that the latter statement was lifted verbatim from the earlier Brooklyn Eagle article of December, 1888 .
Unfortunately the location of this Interment Registry for St. James, if it still exists, is unknown. Neither the Parish priest, nor the Dioseces Archivist have ever seen it. Unless it is found we have no way of confirming exactly when Mary Keenan died or if indeed her son was our relative Matthew Keenan. There is, however, the possibility that the citation on the gravestone simply refers to another Matthew Keenan entirely. In the 1848-49 Spooner Street Directory there were two Matthew Keenans listed – our relative, living on Dean St., and another at 28 State St. in downtown Brooklyn.
The 1888 Brooklyn Eagle article, however, possibly sheds further light on our family history. One of the graves that the author listed was inscribed with the name John Keenan. As we have seen, the records in St. James listed a John Keenan as a sponsor to the baptism of Elizabeth (Keenan) Farrell’s first daughter Bridget, in November of 1830, as well as a witness to Matthew Keenan’s marriage in December of 1831. John would have had to have been a close relative, most likely a brother. There was a John Keenan listed in the 1840 Brooklyn Census, living in the second Ward (on Pearl St. near Plymouth), with his wife and two young boys. If that was indeed the same John Keenan that was buried in the St. James graveyard then he would have had to have died between 1840 and 1849.
There was another John Keenan , born around 1800, that had emigrated to Brooklyn in 1827. He married Catherine Brown around 1830, and their son John was baptized in St. James Cathedral in May of 1832. They went on to have two other children – Catherine in 1834 and Thomas in 1836. However by 1850 John was a widow and he probably died in Brooklyn around 1863. There is, however, no definitive evidence that he was the John Keenan that was related to our Matthew and Elizabeth.
Margaret Keenan, the other sponsor at Bridget Farrell’s baptism in 1830, also made no further appearance in any documentation that we have of our Keenans. This too could be due to death, or just as likely to a last name change bought about through marriage. The protocols for sacramental records were always to list females by their maiden names, but most civil records did not do so – the one typical exception being the death certificate of a child, which would often list its mother’s maiden name.
There was a Margaret Keenan who married a Patrick Sheilds around 1840 in Brooklyn. Patrick, born around 1810, had come over to the U.S. around 1836. He was a shoemaker. They had four children – Peter (b.1842), James (b. 1844), Ann (b. 1848) and Elizabeth (b.1851). It is likely Margaret died after having Elizabeth, since the baby did not survive infancy, and Patrick was listed as widowed in the 1855 Census. None of the baptismal sponsors for Margaret Keenan’s children ( at St. Paul’s, Brooklyn) were our relatives, however, so there is nothing that would point to her as the sister of Matthew and Elizabeth.
There was one other Keenan that also appeared in the baptismal records of John and Elizabeth Farrell’s children. Catherine Keenan, together with Patrick Keenan, were sponsors at the baptism of William Farrell in July of 1840. Church records at the time show there were at least seven Catherine Keenans living in Brooklyn. I have traced as many as possible, but can find no substantive link to Matthew and his sister.
Absent any other evidence we can only speculate that John, Margaret and Catherine Keenan were siblings of Matthew and Elizabeth.
What the baptismal records in St. James do reveal, however, is that Matthew and Elizabeth Keenan wasted no time in establishing their own families.
March 1, 1833 – James Keenan child of Matthew Keenan and Mary McDermott
Sponsers: Thomas McDermott and Mary Anne Byrne – Baptised March 3
October 14, 1833 – Catharine Farrell child of John Farrell and Elizabeth Keenan
Sponsors: Edward Farrell and Catharine Farrell
Nov. 3 , 1835 – Eliza Farrell child of John Farrell and Eliza Keenan
Sponsors: Patrick Farrell and Honora Farrell
July 23, 1837 – William Farrell child of John Farrell and Elizabeth Keenan
Sponsors: Hugh Brady and Bridget McCormack
[ Note: Hugh Brady would later marry Catherine Farrell]
It wasn’t only the Keenans that were looking to get married and start families, however. The older males in James McDermott’s family followed their sister’s lead and took advantage of the young and growing Brooklyn community to find matches for themselves.
As we saw above, the sponsors at the baptism of James Nicholas Keenan (Mary’s first child) were Mary’s brother Thomas McDermott and Mary Anne Byrnes. The records show that those two were then married three months later at St. James, on June 6 of 1833 (their marriage was witnessed by James McDermott). Likewise at the baptism of Mary’s second son, Matthew T., in 1842, the sponsors were her brother Patrick McDermott and Bridget Hayden (his wife).
James McDermott in Brooklyn
When James McDermott brought his family to Brooklyn in 1831 I have assumed it was to find work at the Brooklyn Flint Glass works of John Gilliland. Gilliland, an Irish immigrant and a former employee of the New England Glass Co., had left Cambridge in 1820 to set up a factory on the West side of Manhattan. Then in 1823 Gilliland paid $7000 for a plot of land in downtown Brooklyn, bounded by Atlantic Ave. and State St., Hicks St. and the East River. On May 1, 1823, he laid the cornerstone for the Brooklyn Flint Glass Works amid a grand public celebration that included the firing of artillery.
Gilliland ran the business for almost thirty years, making blanks for local glass cutters and globes for gas lanterns. By 1850 he was employing about a hundred workers, whose skill and quality products were recognized across the Atlantic. But Gilliland faced a series of financial difficulties in the early 1850’s and the Brooklyn Flint Glass Works failed before going through a series of short term proprietorships.
James McDermott presumably had come to Brooklyn seeking better employment and a more reliable income. But it turns out he had also left some financial troubles behind in Boston. In the spring of 1833 a suit had been filed in the Suffolk County Court of Common Pleas seeking a writ (a court order) against James.
372. John D. Williams and Moses Williams both of said Boston, Merchants and Copartners under the firm of J.D. & M Williams Plaintiffs vs. James McDermott of Brooklyn in the State of New York Laborer Defendant in a plea of the case for that the said Defendant at said Boston on the day of the purchase of the writ (viz. the twenty sixth day of Sept. last) being indebted to the Plaintiffs in the sum of sixty-eight dollars and sixty-five cents according to the account annexed to the writ in consideration thereof, then and there promised the Plaintiffs to pay them that sum on demand Yet though requested the said Defendant has never paid the sum, but neglects and refuses to do so. To the damage of the Plaintiffs (as they say) the sum of one hundred dollars. This action was commenced at the last term of this court when and where the Plaintiffs appeared and it being suggested to the Court there that the Defendant was out of the Commonwealth at the time the writ was served, the same was continued unto this present term. And now the Plaintiffs appear, but the Defendant, although solemnly called to come into Court, does not appear, but makes default. It is therefore considered by the Court that the said John D. Williams and Moses Williams recover against the said James McDermott the sum of seventy-one dollars and three cents damages and cost of suit (taxed?) at thirteen dollars and fifteen cents.
Executed 13th May 1833
John and Moses Williams (father and son) were successful Boston businessmen and wine merchants who apparently also loaned out money at fixed interest rates to individuals. We know that in 1827 the superintendent of Cain’s Glass house in South Boston, Nathanial Stanniford, who also held a mortgage on Glass-cutter Henry Smith’s lot on the corner of A and Third St (directly across from James’ lot), conveyed that mortgage to the Williams. In fact it could well have been this connection that led James McDermott to approach the Williams’ firm for a loan.
I have tried to find out the details of the nature of the loan, but they are not contained in the extant court records in the Massachusetts State Archives. It is possible that James needed the money to meet the purchase payments for the house on A Street. Alex Clarke made the final payments on the parcel and received Title to the Deed on Feb 9, 1831, but James left for Brooklyn shortly thereafter. On Sept. 22, 1832 James, now presumably gainfully employed in Brooklyn, paid Alex Clark $250.14 and gained full title to his half of the original purchase. As we have seen above, it was immediately after this (on Sept. 26) that the Williams filed suit for the money that James owed them. Now that he had clear title they could put a lien on his property, and they proceeded to do just that, after having obtained the the writ executed by the court.
Williams et al vs. McDermott
The Commonwealth of Massachusetts to the Sherriff of our County of Suffolk or his Deputy –
Greetings – Whereas John D. Williams and Moses Williams of Boston, within our county of Suffolk Merchants, by consideration of our Justices of our Court of Common Pleas, holden at Boston, for and within our County of Suffolk aforesaid, on the first Tuesday of April last recovered judgement against James McDermott of Brooklyn in the State of New York, Mason, for the sum of Seventy-one Dollars and three cents, Damage, and thirteen Dollars and fifteen cents cost of suit, as to as appears of record, whereof Execution remains to be done.We command you, therefor, that of the goods, chattels or lands of the said Mcdermott within your precinct, you cause to be paid and satisfied unto the said Williams & Williams, at the value therof in money, the aforesaid sums being 84 Dollars and 18 cents in the whole, with twenty-five cents more for this writ and thereof also to satisfy yourself for your own fees: and, for want of goods, chattels, or lands of the said Mcdermott to be by him shown unto you, or found within your precinct, to the acceptance of the said Williams & Williams, to satisfy the sums aforesaid we command you to take the bodie of the said McDermott and him commit unto our Gaol in Boston in our County of Suffolk aforesaid, and detain in your custody within our said Gaol, until he pay the full sums above mentioned, with you fees, or that he be discharged by the said Williams & Williams, the Creditors, or otherwise by order of Law. Hereof fail not and make return of this writ with your doings therein, into our said Court of Common Pleas, to be holden at Boston, within our County of Suffolk aforesaid, upon the first Tuesday of July next . Witness Artemas Ward Esquire at Boston the thirteenth of May in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and thirty three.
Chas A Parker Clerk
Suffolk Co. Boston, 18th of May 1833
By virtue of this writ of execution ( JD Williams et al vs J McDermott) and within thirty days from the rendition of Judgement, I have caused three impartial, disinterested and discreet persons, all Freeholders within the said County of Suffolk, to be sworn as above viz. William Minol chosen by the Judgement Creditor, James C. Merrill chosen by myself and Horatio M. Willis also chosen by myself for and in behalf of the said J Mcdermott, the judgement Debtor (Whom I duly notified in writing to attend and choose an appraiser but who on his part neglected to appoint any to represent him) the said Vinian C. Belton being a Justice of the Peace for and within the said County of Suffolk ; and a certain piece or parcel of real estate situate in that part of the City of Boston called South Boston mentioned, bounded and described by them the said appraisers in their above return of their appraisement thereof (to which return for a particular description of said premises reference is by me in this my return made, and which return of said appraisers is to be taken of part of this my return) having been by Wm. B Dorr Esquire the judgement Creditors attorney of record shown to me and them the said appraisers as the property of the said James McDermott the Judgement Debtor in said execution, they the said Appraisers after entering into and upon the said Real Estate and viewing the same and having appraised the same at the sum of ninety-six dollars and fifty-eight cents . I have thereupon levied and extended this execution on said real estate (being the same premises attached by me on the original writ) and set out the same by the meets and bounds mentioned and described in said appraisers return of their appraisment thereof to them the Judgement Creditors the within named John D. Williams and Moses Williams in full satisfaction of said execution and all fees . To Have and to Hold the same to them the said John D and Moses their heirs and assigns to their use and behoof forever, of which said piece or parcel of land or real estate appraised and set out as aforesaid I have given seizen and possesion to them said John D. and Moses in full satisfaction of this execution fully satisfied
H.H. Huggerford Deputy Sherriff
Boston 18th May 1833
Fees . Bondage 3.34 I hereby acknowledge to have this day received
Travel .68 seizen and possession of the above mentioned real
Appraisers 2 days estate from H.H. Huggerford Deputy Sheriff as
@ $1 per day each 6 described in the appraisers certificate of apprsisement
Reending 1.50 above specified in full satisfaction of this execution
Magistrate 20 J D & M Williams by their Attorney
Carriage hire 1 William B Dorr
$12.15 June 7, 1833
James’ original debt of $68, together with interest, fees, and court costs had now skyrocketed to nearly a hundred dollars. It took him till March of 1836 to finally pay off his debt to the Williams and regain the title to his parcel of land on A St. in South Boston.
James McDermott first showed up in the Bigelow’s Brooklyn Directory in 1832-33. He was listed as living on Dean St. near Red Hook Lane, about five blocks from the glassworks. In Lewis-Nichol’s Directory of 1836-37 he was listed on Red Hook Lane near Livingston. The 1840 Federal Census for Brooklyn shows that James and his family had moved by then over to the Fifth Ward (Red Hook Lane was on the edge of the Sixth). He had only one son living at home at the time (James Jr. – age 10) together with his wife and four daughters. (James and Ann had another daughter, Bridget, born in Brooklyn in 1833) Presumably the older boys moved out of the household soon after getting married.
Thomas McDermott was found living at Atlantic Ave near Hicks in the 1835 through 1837 Directories. This was directly across from the Brooklyn Flint Glass factory, but his occupation was listed as a grocer – a trade he was to pursue again later in Cambridge, Ma.
The Next Wave of Keenans
In the mid 1830s another contingent of our Keenan family arrived in Brooklyn. Owen Keenan, immigrated in 1833. His name was found on the manifest for the ship “Sylvanus Jenkins” that docked in New York City on Sept. 21 of that year. According to that manifest Owen was born in 1812. A few years later, around 1836, another Keenan, Patrick, arrived ( possibly on the ship “Star” in May of 1836). According to later census information Patrick was born in Ireland between 1817 and 1822. (most likely around 1818) making him 7 or 8 years younger than Matthew.
We don’t know where these two Keenans ended up living in those early years, although there was a Patrick Keenan listed residing on Pacific Ave. near Smith St. in 1837 through 1839. That location was in the 6th Ward , a section of Brooklyn south of the downtown area that was expanding rapidly.
By 1837 Owen Keenan had met and married Mary Farrell. Whether Mary Farrell was a sister to John Farrell, Elizabeth Keenan’s husband, we have not been able to determine, but it certainly would not be surprising. In March of 1839 Owen and Mary had their first child whom they named Edward. The baptismal sponsors were Matthew Keenan and Mary McDermott. A year later, on May 18, 1840, Owen and Mary had a second birth – this time a set of twin boys whom they named John and Michael. The sponsors for John were John Farrell and Catherine Farrell. (This certainly lends more credibility to the idea that Mary might have been their sister.)
Two weeks after the birth of Owen’s twins, Patrick Keenan was wedded to Ann Moran in St. James Cathedral. The witnesses to the ceremony were Thomas Moran, Ann’s brother, and Dominick Mulvihill. Ann was around Patrick’s age and had arrived in Brooklyn from Ireland around 1835.
Elizabeth Farrell was also pregnant at the time and on July 3, 1840 she gave birth to her first son, who they named William. Not to be outdone, Matthew’s wife Mary (McDermott) gave birth to their daughter Sarah Ann a couple of months later on Sept 21. That made four Keenan babies and a Keenan marriage in the space of four months!
The sponsors at the baptism of John and Elizabeth Farrell’s son in July were listed as Patrick Keenan and Catherine Keenan. Patrick we are well acquainted with– he had just married Anne Moran – but who was Catherine? As we mentioned earlier she could have been yet another sibling of John, Margaret, Elizabeth and Matthew, or more likely a cousin.
For all these rapidly expanding young families finding some stable and secure housing must surely have been a growing concern. Renting a place to live could often be disruptive to family life. Moving Day was a tradition in New York dating back to colonial times and lasted even until after World War II. On February 1, sometimes known as “Rent Day”, landlords would give notice to their tenants what the new rent would be after the end of the quarter. Tenants would then begin spending their fair-weather days in the early spring searching for the best deals on new housing. Then on the first of May all the leases in the city expired simultaneously at 9:00 am, causing thousands of people to change their residences, all at the same time. Moving Day soon become “pandemonium”, with the streets gridlocked with wagons carting around household goods.
According to the City Directories, from about 1835 onward John Farrell had been renting a place on Prince St. near Tillary. But On July the 19th of 1839 he and Elizabeth Farrell purchased a house on Tillary St., (on the block between Prince and Carll) from one Adam Tredwell for $1200. A house costing that much in 1840 would have been a substantial one, probably three stories high divided into two apartments on each floor. Later this house was numbered #168 -170 Tillary St. and it remained the Farrell family homestead for quite a while.
Matthew Keenan’s first appearance in a Brooklyn street directory was in the 1841-42 Leslie-Chichester Directory and it listed his residence as “Tillary n. Carll” – the same designation given to both the Farrell’s and Owen Keenan’s residence the previous year. Patrick Keenan also showed up living on Tillary near Carll in 1840-41 and thereafter on the corner of Tillary and Prince. It is therefore quite likely that Matthew and Mary and their family were living together with one or more of their siblings, but most certainly on the same block. However the following year, 1842-43, Matthew Keenan apparently moved out to the 9th Ward. There he was listed as living in Parmentier Gardens, and his occupation was given as “Cooper” – a person trained to make wooden casks, barrels, vats, etc.
Parmentier Gardens was Brooklyn’s first botanic garden, and was located at the junction of the Jamaica and Flatbush Turnpikes, in what is now the Fort Greene/Prospect Heights area. The garden was created by Andre Parmentier in 1825 and consisted of twenty-four acres, featuring fruit trees and bushes, flowers, and other plants.
In 1830, Parmentier died, and the garden was closed. Although the New York Horticultural Society attempted to purchase the garden’s lease, they were unsuccessful and the property was then divided into lots and sold at auction in 1833. Apparently by 1843 there were houses constructed on the lots and Matthew Keenan was occupying one.
The following is an overlay of where the original Parmentier Gardens was in relation to the streets as they were developed later in the 1840’s. It was only about two blocks from where we find Matthew Keenan and his family living in the 1848-49 Directory – on Dean St. near Underhill Ave.
The 1840 Census
The 1840 US Census is the first time we have an opportunity to check in on our family members – although, as previously noted, the Census was very incomplete and contained only the name of the Head of Household and a rough enumeration of the other household members. Nevertheless, we do find a few pretty accurate correlations.
The 1840 Census for Brooklyn shows a John Farrell living in the Fifth Ward. The tally reveals:
- 1 Male 20-30 yrs. – Although the 1850 Census has John age 30 in 1840, I believe
- him to be a bit older. This should have been Male 30-40
- 2 Males under 5 yrs. John (born 1838) and William (born 1840),
- 2 Females 5-10 Elizabeth (born 1836) and Catherine (born 1833)
- (Note :Bridget and Sarah Anne (born in 1830 and 1832) had died in the interim)
- 1 Female 20-30 yrs. Elizabeth (Keenan) Farrell – 30 yrs.
- 1 Female 70-80 yrs. Possibly John’s mother
Owen Keenan , living close to John Farrell in the FifthWard was also documented in 1840
- 1 Male 30-40 yrs. – unknown border or relative
- 1 Male 20-30 yrs – Owen (born 1812– 28 yrs)
- 3 Males under 5 yrs. Edward (born 1839)
- John (born 1840)
- Michael (born 1840
- 1 female 20-30 yrs. Wife Mary (born 1817 – 23 yrs.)
Another 1840 tabulation in the Fifth Ward depicts the family of James McDermott.
- 1 Male 40-50 yrs.- James (born 1792) 48 years.
- 1 Male 10- 15 yrs. – James (Jr.) born 1830, 10 yrs.
- 1 Female 5-10 yrs. – Bridgett (born 1833) 7 yrs.
- or Elizabeth (born 1831) 9 years
- 1 Female 10-15 yrs. – Catherine (born 1827) 13 yrs.
- 1 Female 15-20 yrs. – Ann– (born 1821) 19 years
- 1 Female 40-50 years – wife Ann (Maliff) (born 1798) 42 yrs.
By 1840 James’ eldest son, Thomas, had returned to Massachusetts, finding work as a glassblower with the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company in Sandwich on Cape Cod. His first son, William Thomas, was born there on September 8. Patrick, his younger brother, apparently stayed on in Brooklyn. He and his wife Bridget Hayden were baptismal sponsors to Matthew and Mary Keenan’s son, Matthew T, in May of 1842. Patrick McDermott (glassblower) was listed as living at Columbia St. near Pacific St. ( again essentially across the street from the Gilliland glassworks) in both the 1845 and 1846 Directories.
At some point after 1840, however, James decided to move his family back to the Boston area. We know of this from Street Directories as well as the documentation of a $200 mortgage he took out on his A St. property in May of 1843. In that loan, from one John Farrell of East Cambridge, James was allowed to continue living in the house as long as he paid the 6 % interest on the loan, and maintained fire insurance on the dwelling in the amount of at least $200.
When the McDermott family had initially located themselves around the Brooklyn Flint Glass Works it also encouraged their attendance at a new Catholic church that was being built, which was much closer to their neighborhood than was St. James Cathedral .
On April 8, 1834, Brooklyn had been incorportated as a City. But with its ever increasing population overflowing into the southern portion of the territory, farms and hills were rapidly being converted into suburbs, which in turn were soon changed into closely packed residential (tenement) areas. In 1836 a new Catholic church was proposed for the people living on the southwest side of Fulton Street. The new edifice would be called St. Paul’s and was to rise on a large field at the corner of present-day Congress and Court Streets. The land for the church was donated in September 1836 by Cornelius Heeney, a generous Catholic merchant and philanthropist who had taken up residence in Brooklyn after the disastrous New York City fire of 1835. Dedication of the completed church building took place on January 21, 1838 presided over by the Bishop of the Diocese of New York, the Most Reverend John DuBois.
St. Paul’s soon became the focal point of many Irish immigrants coming into the City of Brooklyn during the Great Irish Famine years of 1845-1851. Since the City of Brooklyn did not require residents to report births and marriages until 1866, St. Paul’s sacramental registers often served during that era as the principle documentation of these events for the many new arrivals. Some immigrants believed that baptism fulfilled both their religious and civil obligations and as a consequence many births and marriages went unrecorded even after 1866.
When we check the baptismal records for St. Paul’s Church we find the following:
Jan 20, 1845 – Catherine McDermott, child of Patrick McDermott and Bridget
Haden Sponsers: Matthew Keenan and Eliza Farrell
Sept. 19, 1847 – Ann McDermott, child of Patrick McDermott and Bridget Headen
Sponsers: Joseph Craven and Frances Hearney
However by 1849 Patrick McDermott and his young family had also made the decision to leave Brooklyn, and he joined his brother Thomas in Sandwich, Ma., securing a job there as a glassblower. All the McDermotts had now returned to their family home base in Massachusetts, leaving only Mary behind, to cast her lot in with the Keenans.
By the early 1840s our family had become part of a rapidly growing Irish community, interlinked through birth and marriage, of young couples in their 20’s and 30’s, usually with at least a couple of kids. Matthew and Mary had three children by 1842 and Elizabeth had already had six at that point –although her first two, Bridget and Sarah Ann, (born 1830 and 1832) had died, possibly in the cholera epidemic that swept the area in 1832. It had started in June of that year, and by July there were 90 cases, resulting in 35 deaths. Tillary St. unfortunately was one of the areas where it struck the hardest.
In the early 1800’s medical care was primitive at best, and public health efforts were virtually non-existent. Here’s how one author put it:
“Going back 100, 150 years, American cities were disgusting — and New York City was notorious as the filthiest and stinkiest. We were a laughingstock. The rumor goes that sailors could smell the city six miles out to sea. And all of this filth exacerbated a public health crisis — people were dying of diseases like typhus, cholera, yellow fever, things that spread more easily in neighborhoods where the streets were dirtier. A cholera epidemic in the 1830’s killed 3,515 people, which was roughly 12 percent of the population at the time.”
Despite this, in a scant ten years Brooklyn’s population had doubled, from 15,232 in 1830 to 36,223 in 1840. In 1834 Brooklyn had been incorporated as a City and divided into Nine Wards. By 1840 there were thirty-five miles of paved and lighted streets, a large police and fire department, twenty-three churches and three banks whose combined capital was over a million dollars.
Meanwhile industrial manufacturing continued to expand.
“By the 1820s, the Fulton Ferry area contained the first iron foundry and white lead company in the state. As the century progressed, industries such as spice and coffee works, metal stamping, engine works, paint and varnish manufacturing, and sugar refining became established in the area east of Fulton Street. Many of today’s nationally known companies began in this area, including Durkee and Benjamin Moore. Additional ferries to Manhattan began operating on the waterfront at Main Street and Bridge Street, mirroring the eastward advance of industry.”
There were opportunities aplenty for young Irishmen, fresh off the boat, to find work and to establish families. Although typically illiterate and unschooled and probably unfamiliar with anything beyond a rural way of life, they had youth and ambition in their favor. Many had to start out as laborers until they could establish a trade or profession to improve their economic situation. We don’t know how our family made their livings in the earliest years, but by the 1840’s it was clear that the bulk of the Keenans had hit upon what might be considered a family business – that of the Cartman.