Monday, May 12, 2014

From Ireland to Minnesota

Mary Comerfoot Madden and her daughter Alice Louise Madden Duffy Brown were both born in May. Their story begins in Ireland and is the story of a family leaving its homeland to make a new life in America, as did many others.


According to her death certificate, Mary was born on 12 May 1814 in Ireland to Edward Comerfoot and his wife Mary Lanigan. There she married Walter Madden, and had her first child, Richard. As far as we can tell, Mary was about five years older than her husband, Walter. We don’t know where in Ireland they lived; but we do know that they came to America on the Junius, which left from Liverpool and docked in New York. Passenger lists tell us that Walter was 30 years old, Mary was 25, and Richard was five years old. Alice Louise, their daughter, made a statement regarding her birth and said that she was “born on the high seas en route from Ireland.” According to her notarized statement, she was born on 19 May 1843. Since the ship record date is 1 June 1846, and Alice is listed as an “infant” on the rosters, there is a bit of a discrepancy between what Alice stated and the original records. But we can still safely say that she was just a baby at the time.

If they were typical Irish immigrants, they were like the millions of others who left Ireland due to the potato famine that decimated that country between 1845 and 1850. They were fortunate to leave before things got worse in Ireland, and were thus spared some of the suffering that occurred. Many left Ireland starving and penniless. Their steerage tickets would have been considerable for a small family such as theirs; but even so, they were together and able to make the trip. Conditions for many Irish immigrants arriving in U. S. at the time weren’t much better than what they had in Ireland. They endured crowded shanty towns and discrimination. Employers often used “No Irish Need Apply” signs. Women could work as domestics, stereotyped as “Biddies,” short for Bridget. Men could work as servants or unskilled laborers. Harper’s Weekly, the most popular magazine of the day, ran cartoons lampooning the Irish, and conveying how just unwelcome the Irish were. They were blamed for crime and immorality.


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It does not appear that the Maddens endured many of these difficulties themselves. After arriving in America, the family moved around a bit. If they spent time in New York City(A), they didn’t stay there long. They were fortunate to have the means to move away from the crowded conditions and limited work opportunities immigrants faced in a large city. Ellen and Mary were born in Connecticut. Then the family settled in Blackstone, Worcester, Massachusetts (B), incorporated in 1845, where they were listed on the 1850 census. It is located approximately 40 miles southwest of Boston, just north of the Rhode Island border and situated in the Blackstone River Valley. The town became an important transportation center with the 1828 opening of the Blackstone Canal, and later served as an important railroad hub connecting Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Current residents describe it as “quaint, friendly and historical.” Walter found work as a gigger. Bridget and James were born during their time in Massachusetts.


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By 1861, the family had moved again; this time to Minnesota, where Elisy, Thomas, and William were born. On the 1870 census, they could be found in what would be their permanent home in Glendale, Scott, Minnesota where Walter was a farmer. Glendale, now a part of Savage (A), is located on the south bank of the Minnesota River, and is about 15 miles S-SE of downtown Minneapolis. Once again the family chose to avoid a large city environment in favor of a smaller, more rural community. It says something about them and their success in their new country that they were able to travel to a more comfortable, rural environment. This particular area was a gathering place for Irish immigrants, and it was where they chose to own land and make a life for themselves. They would have found friendship and people like themselves there.

Soon after their move to Minnesota, Alice married John S. Duffy on 17 March 1862, at Lakeville, Dakota, Minnesota(C). He listed his place of residence as being Rosemount (named after a village in Ireland)(D), and she listed hers as Burnsville (an Irish farming community)(B). They were married by James Peet, a Minister of the Gospel. Since John was not twenty-one, his father, Peter Duffy, gave verbal permission for him to marry. The map provides a good look at how close these little towns were to each other. Lakeville, Burnsville, and Rosemount are all about ten miles apart. The distance between Savage and Hastings is about 40 miles.

John was a soldier with the Minnesota Calvary during the Civil War. He enlisted on 2 November 1863 and was discharged on 29 December 1865. He held the rank of sergeant. Alice and John had three children--Mittie Alice, their first child and our grandmother, was born during their time at Ft. Snelling, Hennepin, Minnesota. Her birthdate was 19 February 1864. Their second child was Horace J., was born in 1868. Gertrude Susan was the last child born to this family on 12 November 1870 at Hastings, Dakota, Minnesota (E).

Unfortunately, John was killed while operating a Northern Pacific train between Hastings and St. Paul, Minnesota on 24 January 1873. This was a terrible tragedy for the little family, and Alice only 29 years old. The Farmington Press reported it as follows,

HORRIBLE ACCIDENT--The Gazette says that J. S. Duffy, of Hastings, who has been for some time employed as a brakeman on the Lake Superior R. R., fell from the train near St. Paul on Thursday and was cut to pieces in the most horrible manner, the remains being strewed along the track for nearly half a mile. He was a steady, industrious man, about thirty years of age, and leaves a wife and three children in needy circumstances.

Alice remarried quickly, to Thomas G. Brown on 12 June 1873 in Faribault, Rice, Minnesota. They were married by a Catholic priest. He brought two sons to the marriage, John and Thomas. They had one daughter together, Mary A., who was born 17 April 1874 at Northfield, Rice, Minnesota. On the 1880 census, the family was living in Minneapolis where Mr. Brown was a carpenter and builder. A year later, Alice’s father, Walter Madden, died; leaving Alice’s mother Mary, a widow. She remained in Glendale, living with a son and later, his widow. Mary died on 12 Jul 1905 in Glendale. She and Walter were buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery in Credit River, Scott, Minnesota. On the 1900 census Alice and her family were living in St. Louis Park in Hennepin County, so she was still within traveling distance of the family home in Glendale.

In their old age, Alice and her husband lived with her daughter, Gertie and her husband Henry Scheyer in Puyallup, Pierce, Washington. He died on 7 January 1918, leaving Alice a widow for the second time. She lived until 3 February 1924. They were buried in the Sumner Cemetery in Sumner, Pierce, Washington.

1 comment:

Honor said...

that's a horrible newspaper entry ... I can't believe they would write that the pieces of his body were strewn down the tracks ... sad.

interesting story. thanks.