The McDermotts in Boston

     When James McDermott moved his family back to Boston, probably sometime in 1841, he moved back to his house on A Street in South Boston. In 1836 he had paid off the lien on his property that had been obtained by John and Moses Williams, so his house was free and clear. At this point James and Ann had their four daughters and their  youngest son, James, living with them. From the Street Directories we learn that this was his primary residence for the next twenty years, until he returned to Brooklyn in 1860.

     We can assume that James continued working in the South Boston glass industry, probably at Cain’s Glass House (also known as the Phoenix Glass Works) or at the newly established Russell’s Glass House. This new glassworks was located on First Street between F Street and Dorchester St., in an area of South Boston known as Mount Washington, named after a nearby hill.

    Russell’s Glass House was established around 1840 by Deming Jarves, the founder (in 1825) of the Boston and Sandwich Glass Co. and an investor in other glass manufactories located in East Cambridge. Luther Russell, originally from Bath, Maine, was hired as superintendent of the glassworks, and he and his sons oversaw its expansion and growth until 1862. In the 1850’s this manufactory was rechristened the Mount Washington Glass Works. But financial difficulties put the firm into receivership in 1863, although it continued production under new management until 1869.


 There is no doubt that James McDermott’s employment in the glass industry shaped his life and that of almost all of his his children. It became a family trade, just as that of the cartman had  been to the Keenans, and as such it dictated where they lived and often who they married. We have seen how the older boys, Thomas and Patrick, had begun their glassmaking careers in Brooklyn. Eventually they carried this occupation back with them to Massachusetts when they moved.  


Thomas had relocated to Sandwich , Ma. In 1839  (his first son, William Thomas, was born there in September of that year). Except for a brief stint in Sommerville around  1855, Thomas lived out his life in Sandwich, working principally for the Boston and Sandwich Glass Co.

     Deming Jarves, the principal founder and manager of the Boston & Sandwich Glass Company, did not choose Sandwich as a site for the glass factory because of the readily available beach sand as one might imagine.  Beach sand is too impure to make glass, which requires pure quartz silica.  The Company shipped in pure silica supplies first from New Jersey and New York and later from the Berkshire Hills in western Massachusetts. Jarves  choose Sandwich because of its proximity to a shallow harbor and the possibility of a canal being built through Cape Cod that would allow for the easy shipment of goods to ports south.  The local availability of timber also could be used to fuel the glass furnaces.  Even the salt marsh hay and grasses could be used for packing material.

     When he founded the company in 1825 Jarves brought master glassblowers with him from the New England Glass Company, his former company.  He also recruited workers from England and Ireland.  English and Irish glassmakers were considered the foremost craftsmen during the early 19th century.  They were very skilled in making blown glassware with high lead content, the most desirable of the period.  The glass company also produced mold-blown wares. Many of these designs mimicked English and Irish cut glass patterns, but the mold-blown pieces were more easily crafted and required less skilled labor.

        The Boston & Sandwich Glass Company was very prosperous and focused on producing quality pieces of glass.  The company continued to grow and expand, creating an entire community around the factory, both fueling and depending on the factory’s business.  The community incorporated all of the factory buildings, the workers’ houses, the mercantile buildings and other support buildings such as the train roundhouse. In the 1840’s and 1850’s, the company perfected the glass pressing processes further to eliminate surface imperfections.  They mass-produced a stunning spectrum of colored tableware, including lamps, spoonholders, perfume bottles, candlesticks and celery vases.


Deming Jarves was the main principal of the company until 1858, when he resigned over a dispute with its Board of Directors. The following illustration depicts the Boston and Sandwich Glass Co. glassworks and surrounding company village in 1884, four years before it closed its doors for good.

James McDermott’s second son, Patrick had remained in Brooklyn till 1848, after which he joined his brother Thomas in Sandwich.  Patrick and Bridget’s fourth child, Mary, was born there in July of 1849. But it wasn’t long before  Patrick moved his family to Boston. The birth of his fifth child, Thomas P., was recorded there in March of 1851. Shortly after that Patrick moved over to Cambridge and settled in there to raise the rest of his  family. He and Bridget eventually had seven children in all. He no doubt found work in one of the glass houses of East Cambridge and Sommerville  The glass industry was Cambridge’s top employer in 1845 and again in 1855, when two companies, New England Glass and Bay State, each employed more than 500 people.

James McDermott’s second daughter, Ann, the one born in Halifax, Nova Scotia lived with him in South Boston until about 1845, at which time she met and married William Story, a glass blower, originally from Machias, Maine. The Storys rented in South Boston , usually in the vicinity of the Mount Washington Glass Works, until they moved to Saugus around 1880.  They had a total of eight children .

The Family of James McDertmott and Ann Maliff
(click to enlarge image)


     Skipping over Catherine for the time being, we assume that James’ son, James (Jr.) (born 1828)  continued living with his parents in South Boston. But in the 1850 Census he was found living near Thomas McDermott, his older brother, in Sandwich, Ma., employed as a Glassworker. This was probably his first foray out on his own. And like his father and brothers, making glass was to become his occupation for the remainder of his life. According to factory records James Jr. worked for the Boston and Sandwich Glass Company only in 1850. We don’t know precisely where he lived when he returned to South Boston. He never married, and so records are few and far between, but we still catch glimpses of him from time to time.

     Elizabeth McDermott, the fourth daughter of James and Ann, was the only child to marry out of the social confines of the glass industry. She married Patrick Driscoll (son of Florence and Ann) on Feb. 8, 1850. Patrick had emigrated from New Brunswick , possibly in 1848. The 1850 Census shows Elizabeth and Patrick living with the McDermotts in South Boston, and his occupation is listed as being a Sawyer.

     James’ younger sister Bridget, in keeping with the family tradition, choose a husband heavily involved in the glass industry. John Cuddy, born in Ireland in 1825, first appeared in the Boston Directory in 1848, living on 1st St. near Dorchester St. He and Bridget married on July 10, 1852, though it appears John already had a son, born in 1848, named John Jr. with his first wife Mary Coyle.

     John Cuddy was one of nine glass cutters working at the Mt. Washington Glass Works (also called Russell’s Glass House) under the management of Luther Russell. In July of 1850 Russell reduced the wages of the glasscutters by twenty percent, fomenting a walkout, which erupted into a public dispute covered by the South Boston Gazette. The company claimed they could not compete with New York prices for cut glass goods and asked that the cutters use simpler patterns and at reduced piece rates. 

    The cutters called this new policy “grinding the face of the poor”. James Russell (son of Luther) took exception to that expression in a letter to the Gazette, calling it “very popular among a certain class of people,viz., those that are not willing to work, or working, spend more than they earn in dress and amusement.”  Four of the cutters, Thomas Brannigan, James W. Fish , John Cuddy and John Reilly replied to Russell’s letter with one of their own, pointing out that he was a fellow employee and not management.

       “We have no recollection of his name being used in connection with the matter, and we cannot conceive why he, a laborer in the employ of the Company, should take the responsibility of answering such communication.. However, we do not expect wool from a hog’s back, neither do we expect that they will keep a dog and bark themselves… If  he is anxious for notoriety, we are ready to compare notes with him, and leave others to judge who is spendthrift and prodigal. We are mechanics, but we are not fools; and we believe we can see as far through a ladder with only one slat as some others who don’t work as hard.”

     Apparently the rift created in this controversy did not abate. In 1852 Thomas Brannigan and James Cuddy severed their ties with Mt. Washington and began to operate an independent cutting shop on the corner of 2nd and A streets. Then in 1854 they moved the business to Harvard Place in Boston, across from the Old South Church.

     The Census of 1855 showed Bridget and John with their three children living in Cambridge, Ma. on Elm Street. Interestingly the same census revealed that  James and Ann McDermott were living two doors down, with their grandaughter Sarah Keenan. And next to them was Patrick McDermott and his family. Remarkably, in that same year we find that Thomas McDermott, the eldest of James’ sons, had also relocated from Sandwich to Sommerville, and was working as a grocer. What could have caused this extraordinary move by the bulk of the  McDermott family to a new and unfamiliar place? Perhaps the Cuddys , having made the break from South Boston, encouraged the others to strike out from their old haunts into an unknown but potentially more hospitable environment.

   While the Cuddys and Patrick remained in place, the 1856 Directory listed a Thomas McDermott, ropemaker, boarding at Medford near Windsor. The next year  the 1857 Directory  showed a James McDermott, glassmaker, at the identical address, Medford near Windsor,  as well as a Thomas McDermott, laborer, nearby at  Fourth and Winter.     

     While the Cuddys and the Patrick McDermotts were to remain in the Cambridge-Sommerville area from that time forward, Thomas soon returned to Sandwich, and the fate of the patriarch, James McDermott, was to take an entirely different trajectory.

     I have left out talking about one McDermott daughter.  The third daughter, Catherine, had been born in 1831 just before the McDermotts parted for Brooklyn. Catherine  had married Patrick Clark on June 4, 1846 in South Boston. Patrick was the son of Alexander Clark, the long-time friend and real-estate partner of James McDermott’s. Catherine and Patrick had one child, Mary Ann, born in 1847 and were renting at that time on 2nd St. between C and D, just a few blocks away from James. Tragically Patrick died in November of that year of “Brain fever”.

The Family of Alexander Clark

      From the records that we have of James McDermott’s early life in South Boston we know that he was closely connected with Alexander Clark, and it’s quite possible that  we might learn something from a taking closer look at this compatriot of James’s.

     There are very few historical record sources for Irish immigrants in the 1820’s. Alexander Clark first showed up in the 1820 Census for the 12th Ward of Boston. He had a wife and two female children under the age of ten. There were some Street Directory listings and a few baptismal records from Holy Name church. But there is one other very valuable source that enables us to piece together  a more comprehensive view of his life.

     The Catholic Archdiocese of Boston Archives holds partial records of St. Augustine’s Graveyard in South Boston including lot sales (between 1840-1859), burials (1850-1859), and typed copies of gravestones inscriptions (1819-1850). Alex Clark had purchased a family plot at St. Augustine’s in 1827, and his gravestones were among those that were notated. 

     Alexander was born around 1795, so he was younger than James (born around 1792). His wife Honour Fox was born in 1799 a few years after Nancy Maliff (James’ wife) – so these couples were essentially of the same generation. We know that the Clarks, like the McDermotts, were married in Ireland since an 1855 Census revealed that their first daughter, Catherine, was born there in 1818. However they had arrived in Boston by 1820 before their son Patrick was born. We also have learned that James and his family arrived shortly after in September of 1822 after spending some time in Halifax following their daughter Ann’s birth on August 15th of 1821. One certainly wonders if they might have known each other other in Ireland .

As noted earlier, at the birth of the Clarks’ next son William, in 1824, Ann McDermott was asked to be a sponsor. Two years later Alex Clark and James McDermott went in together on the purchase of the property on the corner of A St. and 3rd. Apparently this property had an existing two family house on it. The deed describes only the location of the 72’x 40’ lot “together with all the privileges and appurtenences thereto belonging”. Appurtenences can refer both to anything physically attached to the land, as well as abstract rights passed along with it. But the two men had payed over a thousand dollars for the property, and in 1826 that would have been an exorbitant sum for a tiny lot with no house .

     In 1827 the Street Directories began listing residents of South Boston. James McDermott was cited as living on A St. from 1827 through 1830 , after which he departed for Brooklyn. Alexander was listed in 1827 only as living in South Boston. In 1828, however his address was given as “rear of Broadway, South Boston” (Broadway was parallel to 3rd St, one block south). Alex paid off the mortgage on the property in February of 1831, just before the McDermotts left for Brooklyn. And when James finally reimbursed Alex for his share, in September of 1832, Alex was described in that document as an “Inn holder”. Perhaps Alex had been renting out his portion of the A St. property while managing an Inn elsewhere, or perhaps he was now renting out James’s portion on a short term basis. We cannot be sure. The next time Alex Clark appeared in the Directories (1834) he was listed at the “ Corner of A Street and 3rd”, and that remained his address until he died.

     In December of 1826 the Clarks had another daughter, whom they named Mary, a joyous occasion no doubt, but one that was blunted when their son Michael, who had just turned six, died in August of 1827. The cause was listed as “Sunstroke”. It was probably at this point that Alex purchased the burial plot at St Augustines. The Clarks went on to have two other children – Alexander in 1829 and Margaret in 1831. By 1836 Alex was no longer working in the glass factories. Instead he was a “wagoner” (aka Teamster), hauling goods for whatever commercial enterprise needed his services.

     It was also about this time that Alex’s younger brother William started appearing in the Directories, living nearby, usually on 3rd or 4th Street. William was born in 1805, a good decade after Alex. It is unclear exactly when he arrived in Boston. There was a William Clark in the 1830 Census (Male 20-30 yrs) living in South Boston with what would appear to be his wife (Female 20-30 years). From later records we know that William’s wife’s name was Ann.

     On June 24, 1839 Alexander’s wife Honour died. She was interred with her son Michael at St Augustine’s. Amazingly that monument is still standing and in excellent shape.

Michael Clark (1821-1827) and Honour Clark (1799-1839)


      Three years later William’s wife Ann died of dropsy. According to St. Augustine’s death records Ann was born in 1807. I can find no evidence that the couple had any children. After the death of his wife, William moved in with his brother Alex, who was by then also a widower. The 1842 Directory lists him as “mason, house A St. and corner of 3rd”. Unfortunately by 1844 William had contracted consumption and subsequently passed away. He was buried with his wife at St. Augustine’s. Although his gravestone apparently is no longer standing,  a transcript of the inscription was preserved. It stated :

        In memory of William Clark, a native of Ballymahon, Co. Longford, Ireland, who died March 24, 1844 aged 40 yrs. Also his wife Ann. Erected by her sister Mary Plunkett.

     If my supposition is correct that Alex Clark and the McDermotts had been acquainted in Ireland, this gives us our first clue as to where in Longford James McDermott and his wife Ann might have come from. Ballymahon is found in the southeast corner of Longford, close to the border of West Meath.

     We know that James McDermott had returned to Boston by 1841 and was living next to Alex Clark. The renewal of their friendship was not to last too much longer however. In June of 1845 Alex died, apparently of “convultions” and was buried in St. Augustine’s. In the Probate that followed his death, we get a little more insight into the man. Alex had made out his Last Will and Testament two years earlier in April of 1843.

          In the Name of God, Amen. I Alexander Clark of Boston,in the County of Suffolk and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Teamster, do make and publish this my last will and testament , as follows, it is my will and I hereby order and direct that all my just debts and funeral charges be paid out of my estate by my executors hereafter named – and as to my estate real and personal I give devise and dispose of the same in manner following, to wit, I give devise and bequeath  to the Rev. Bishop Fenwick of Boston the sum of twenty dollars – I give and bequeath to Terrence Fitzsimmons of Boston, Clergyman, twenty dollars – I give and bequeath to Thomas Lynch of said Boston, Clergyman, ten dollars – I give and bequeath  to Patrick Burnes of Charlestown in the Commonwealth aforesaid, Clergyman, ten dollars, I give and bequeath Thomas J. O’ Flaherty of Salem in said Commonwealth, ten dollars the above mentioned bequests are made by me that masses may be said for me and my wife, I also give and bequeath to said Terrence Fitzsimmons ten dollars for masses for my father my mother and my brothers, I give to the Rev. Mr. Fitzpatrick of Cambridge ten dollars for masses to be said for me and my wife, I give and bequeath to Catherine Clark my daughter one hundred dollars, I give and bequeath to my son Patrick Clark five dollars, I give and bequeath to my son William Clark one hundred dollars, I give and bequeath to my daughter Mary Clark one hundred dollars, I give and bequeath to my brother William Clark one hundred dollars, and my silver watch – all the rest, residue and remainder of my estate of every sort and description I give and bequeath in equal shares to my son Alexander Clark and my daughter Margaret Clark, and it is my will, and I hereby order and direct my executor herein after named as soon after my decease as may be convenient shall sell all my estate, both real and personal at public or private sale and convert the same into money and after paying all my just debts and funeral charges shall pay the above mentioned legacies – and make distribution of said property and estate as is above directed and I do nominate and appoint my said brother William Clark to be the executor of this my last will and testament. In witness whereof I the said Alexander Clark have hereunto subscribed my name and afixed my seal this twenty-second day of April, in the year of our Lord, one thousand eight hundred and forty three,

                                        Alexander Clark and a seal

Signed , sealed, and declared by the said Alexander Clark to be his last seal and testament in the presence of us who at his request and in his presence, and in the presence of each other , have subscribed our names as witnesses hereto “four words interlined” – Hugh Montgomery, Michael Flood, John Kane.

Submitted for Probate August 18, 1845

  It appears that Alex, at least at the time, was expressing obvious disapproval of his son Patrick, if we are to judge his sentiments by his bequeathals. It is ironic that with the death of his brother William, it was Patrick, as eldest son, that then became the Administrator of Alex’s will. The sale of the property was advertised in The Boston Courier newspaper the following December 8 and the property was sold and distributed.

     The following June Patrick married Catherine McDermott. Their daughter Mary was born in 1847. And as I stated before Patrick Clark then passed away that November of  “Brain fever”.  

The Family of Alexander Clark
(Click on Image to Enlarge)


    By 1850, however,  Catherine had met another man, and they decided to marry on Dec. 30 of that year. John O’Neal (O’Neill) was a “molder” in the glass factory – the person that made the molds that a glass blower would blow into. This molding technique, introduced in the 1820’s, rapidly accelerated the production of bottles, taking far less time and expertise than free-blown ware. John and Catherine took up residence at #31 A St. (James McDermott’s was #84 A St.). In 1853 they had a son, Benjamin there. But in 1855 they relocated, and shared a dwelling with  William and Ann (McDermott) Story on Dove St. near Dorchester St. There are no census records for the O’Neals  after that date, but we know they had moved to Sommerville by 1858, perhaps seeking work at the Union Glass Company.

     The Union Glass Company was established by wealthy businessman Amory Houghton, Sr.(1812–1882) who had  in 1851 invested in a fledgling glass works named the Bay State Glass Company. In January 1854, Houghton liquidated his holdings in Bay State Glass to start his own flint glass factory in Somerville, which he named the Union Glass Company. The new factory’s design was fairly typical of the time, with several buildings for mixing, melting, blowing, grinding, and storage, on a wide street with immediate railway access. It housed two nine-pot furnaces, with each clay pot holding over three thousand pounds of molten glass. The crown furnaces were coal-fired. It employed 100 men and acted primarily as a wholesaler.

      However, during the winter of 1857–58, the company suffered severely amid a nationwide financial crisis, and in 1860–61 it fell into insolvency.  Perhaps this is the reason that John and Catherine moved back to South Boston in 1860. There was, it turns out, another good reason to do so as well.

      In May of 1858 James McDermott had mortgaged his A St. property to his son-in-law, John O’Neal, for $750, retaining the right to continue living on the premises, while paying off the loan over a three year period, at six percent interest.  Using his real property as a source for needed cash was nothing new to James. He had mortgaged it before – once in 1843 to John Farrell of East Cambridge for $200 (Not fully paid off till July 14 of 1854) and again in May of 1856 for $350 from one Thomas Grimes, a Trader from Boston. You will recall that it was in May of 1856 that James had bailed out the orphaned children of his daughter Mary Keenan by buying the Underhill Ave property in Brooklyn for $1200. It is no small wonder that he needed to mortgage his own property in Boston to help finance that transaction.

     James paid off Grimes in May of 1858, probably with part of the loan he received from John O’Neal. A year later, on June 10 of 1859,  James decided to sell the A St. property to John and Catherine for $1000 while taking back a $400 mortgage against the property. The $750 plus interest that James owed John was paid off on the same date, but it is unclear whether that was part of the consideration of the sale price.

     The 1860 and 1862 Directories list John O’Neal as living on A St. near Athens (the other end of the block from Third St.) To his credit he was able to finish paying off  his father-in-law by October of 1861.

    Meanwhile  James McDermott was once again debt free, but bereft of any Boston residence. And so we find  in the 1860 Census that he and Ann had moved back to Brooklyn and were  living at #58 Underhill Ave., the former Matthew Keenan homestead.

     James was by then nearly seventy years old. He had worked hard all of his life, and had overseen the raising of a large family. It was just he and Ann living together, though he did rent out part of the Underhill Ave. house to tenants.  We don’t know if the move to Brooklyn was out of financial necessity, or just to facilitate the management of his property. But it appears that the McDermotts were not long contented in their new surroundings. Perhaps James’ thoughts drifted back to the rural Ireland of his youth. In any case we find that by  October of 1861 he had moved to Saugus, Ma. on the North shore above Boston. There he purchased a small farmstead of about four acres, “together with a dwelling house and barn”. Having just received the final payment on his A St. house from John O’Neal, James paid Charles A. Sweetser, a fairly wealthy local landowner, $550 for the property but mortgaged it back to Sweetser for $300 of the purchase price.

     Having at last escaped the toxic industrial environment of the glass factories where he  spent most of his working life, it is unfortunate that James did not have much time to savor his new surroundings. On November 6 of 1863 James McDermott succumbed to Pleurisy (lung infection) while in Cambridge, Ma, (perhaps while at the home of one of his children.)