The Move to Jersey City

     When Michael Fay moved to Jersey City in 1869  his weight as the eldest brother  and the original trailblazer would eventually pull most of his siblings along in his wake – with the exception of Patrick, who had already moved to Manhattan, and Lawrence, who was to remain in Brooklyn.  Although Jersey City was just a few miles away across the Hudson River, it was like moving to a different country, but it was there that the Fays of Rathcogue eventually settled in and spread out. That my father’s line ended up back in Brooklyn was in large part due to Lawrence Fay, as we shall see.

          Like its counterpart on Long Island, the west bank of the Hudson had begun to attract the attention of developers at the turn of the century. A group of investors, led by three New Yorkers, purchased land along the waterfront and started laying out a new town which they were to call Jersey.  Robert Fulton, the investor and entrepreneur, soon bought land in Jersey for a dry dock and in 1812 began to run his steamboats to and from Manhattan.  Linking up with the stagecoaches to Newark and Philadelphia, the Fulton ferries were the harbinger of Jersey City’s future as a major transportation terminus, and the mainland connection for people and freight headed to and from New York.

     By the mid-1830’s, with the simultaneous arrival of both the railroad and the Morris Canal, Jersey City’s role in the regional economy was assured. Good transportation and access to fuel from the coal mines of Pennsylvania attracted industry which, in turn, drew a growing population. By 1838, the young town was sufficiently robust to separate from Bergen as the new and independent municipality of Jersey City. Expansion of the railroads along the waterfront, the growing industrialization and a steady supply of workers to man the factories and run the trains continued through the Civil War.

     By 1870 Jersey City’s population and economy had so outpaced its neighbors that the inhabitants  voted to merge into one larger city. Thus, Jersey City acquired its own mother town, Bergen, along with Hudson City,  which had become independent in 1855. Three years later, Greenville joined the merger, giving Jersey City its current boundaries.

    The great Irish immigrant wave, which began two decades earlier with the onset of the Great Hunger, had by the 1860’s become a flood, first overspreading the dank tenement neighborhoods near the ferry to New York City in old Jersey City, then seeping steadily north and south as its numbers increased.  For the native-born Protestants — English mostly, with some German and Dutch burghers as allies — the newcomers were a mixed blessing. They were certainly a source of cheap, unskilled labor for the factories, foundries and railroad yards springing up along the Hudson River waterfront, but they also engendered a certain fear and loathing. Their illiteracy and occasional intemperance, their teeming tenement culture and, most distressingly their alien religion, made the Irish a threat to the quiet lifestyle that the middle-class shopkeeper, artisan, or business owner had become used to since the early days of the 19th century. By 1870, Jersey City was an immigrant working class city with, as one author described,  “a sizable population that knew only black, smoky machine shops, tumble-down houses, foundries, dirty streets, mud, filth and marsh, swarms of unwashed children, (and) crowds of whooping carters.”

     From the 1870’s through to the end of the century, Irish and German immigrants, fleeing famine and revolution in their homelands, swelled the population of  the city.  Jersey City became the terminus for a number of major railroads – the Erie, the Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley and the Jersey Central—and a home for the endless barges, lighters and ferries which crossed the river and New York Bay carrying coal, food, manufactured goods and passengers throughout the Greater New York  area.

          The 1870 U.S. Census revealed that Michael Fay was living  in Jersey City  (Hudson County) with his wife Rose and their two children. They were renting a flat on Union St. near Jackson Ave. and Michael was working as a laborer. Also living with him at the time was his brother, Thomas Fay. On July 21 of 1872  Rose delivered another son, whom they named Michael, after both his father and great-grandfather. Their eldest child, Willie, was at that point nine years old  and their daughter Rosie but three. However Rosie was to die three years later at the age of  “ 6 years and 7 months and 21 days”, as it was entered in the Fay Family Bible, each day of her life counted as a precious one.

     In 1873 Michael moved to Kearney Ave. several blocks away. There he opened up a liquor store, much like his younger  brother Lawrence had done in Red Hook. He maintained this trade for another three years, but apparently it was not entirely successful. By 1877 he was again listed as a “laborer” in the Directories.

    Thomas, meanwhile, had met and married Annie Ledwith and had remained residing on Union St. (see map below). By 1877 Thomas and Ann had already had four children.

     Peter Fay, the youngest of the sons of William Fay of  Rathcogue was born in 1852 and was only 2 years old when Michael left for America. However he decided to follow the footsteps of his brothers once he turned eighteen. He arrived in New York City on July 3 of 1871 on the ship “City of Brussels”, a sail-assisted steamship, which had set the speed record in 1869 for an Atlantic crossing, reaching Queenstown (Cork) Ireland from New York City in seven days, 20 hours, and 33 minutes.

The SS City of Brussels

     It is likely that Peter stayed with his uncle Lawrence Lyons or one of his siblings in Redhook when he first arrived. His whereabouts is a bit difficult to trace. There were two  Peter Fays that consistently showed up in the Brooklyn Directories at the time, but one was married and the other was a mason, a trade which Peter never practiced later in his career. That mason was also probably in Brooklyn before 1871, so it appears that our Peter Fay must have just kept a low profile.  We do know he was in Brooklyn initially, however, through his Naturalization papers.

    In the 1880 Federal Census Peter, like his brother before him, was found living with Michael in Jersey City at 602 Bergen Point Plank Rd. ( now known as Grand St.)  In October of 1879 Michael had accompanied his younger brother to the Hudson Court of Common Pleas to file a Naturalization Petition.  Michael, as the Witness, stipulated that Peter had been living in the U.S. for at least five years and New Jersey for at least one year, meaning that Peter must have moved to Jersey City by 1878 at the latest. Filed with those papers was a Declaration of Intention (to become a citizen) that Peter had previously submitted to the Kings County Court in Brooklyn on October 19th of 1876. And so, with Peter, the third Fay brother had made his way from Brooklyn to the Jersey shores.

     Margaret, the only sister to make the Atlantic crossing, as you will recall, was still living in Redhook. It appears she might have moved north to the Boerum Hill area in the late 1860’s and early 1870’s, but our last record has her living back on Elizabeth St., near Lawrence Fay’s saloon, in 1877. Her livelihood was listed as “sewing”. However by 1881 Margaret had married Chris Headavan and they were found living on Oak Street in Jersey City,  not far from her siblings.   

      The following map charts the various residences of the Fays of Rathcogue from 1870 -1900 in Jersey City

The Fays in Jersey City