George Haggerty (1822-1900) & Catherine Gallagher (1826-1908)

George Haggerty was born in about 1822 in Ireland. According to family oral history, he was born in County Donegal. His parents are unknown.

Catherine Gallagher was born in 1826 in Ireland. Her death certificate lists her date of birth as 12 August 1826. Her parents are unknown, as is the county of her birth. Considering the name Gallagher is common in only two counties, Mayo on the west coast, and George’s home county of Donegal in the northwest, it’s a reasonable assumption that Catherine was from Donegal as well, and that the two were introduced via mutual acquaintances from Donegal.

Immigrating to America

We don’t know anything about George’s or Catherine’s lives in Ireland, and with such common surnames, their immigration records can only be a best guess. The first concrete, irrefutable evidence we have of George and Catherine is their marriage on 26 September 1847 at St. Patrick’s church in Philadelphia.

But with that date in hand, we can begin to speculate about their arrival.

The strongest evidence I have for George is that George left County Donegal at the age of 24 on the Provincialist sailing from Londonderry and arriving in Philadelphia on 13 April 1847.

Catherine probably immigrated to Philadelphia on 25 July 1846 on the Jane Augusta sailing from Londonderry, Ireland.

Both of these sailings are speculation—immigration records include little more than name, age and occupation—but the records appear to be the most probable. This also fits well with the hypothesis of her birth place, as Londonderry is very close to County Donegal.

If those sailings and dates are correct, then George and Catherine were almost certain fleeing the Great Famine, which lasted from 1845 to 1852. They were some of the first in the great mass exodus of young Irish to Boston, New York and Philadelphia that lasted for half a century. And with those dates and probably places of birth, we can speculate on their experience.

The Great Famine of 1845-1852

1845 was looking to be a brilliant year for the Irish potato crop, and on 25 July 1845, The Times wrote that “an early and productive harvest was everywhere expected” in all four of Ireland’s provinces.

In early August, British Prime Minister Robert Peel received a letter about a potato disease that had wiped out the potato crop on the Isle of Wight, presaging a continental disaster that had only recently devastated the potato crop in North America. Throughout the month, more reports came in from England and the continent. For example, on 23 August 1845, Dr. John Lindley—a botanist at the University of London—wrote:

A fearful malady has broken out among the potato crop. On all sides we hear of the destruction. In Belgium the fields are said to be completely desolated. There is a hardly a sound sample in Covent Garden market… As for cure for this distemper, there is none… We are visited by great calamity which we must bear.

The potato is just one crop, however, and the loss of one staple of a modern diet would bring little calamity in a developed economy today. But the previous fifty years had seen potatoes expanding to serve a larger proportion of the diet of normal people throughout the United Kingdom—from shipping shortages during the Napoleonic War, to a recession after that war, the English laborer had begun replacing bread with the potato. The Times wrote in September of 1845 that the two main meals of an English laborer’s day were comprised entirely of potatoes.

Ireland and the potato

England was one thing. British politician William Ewart Gladstone wrote that summer to his wife of his country’s greatest fear with the blight: “Ireland, Ireland, that cloud in the West, that coming storm.” The island remained free of the blight when Gladstone wrote, but Ireland’s dependence on the potato was almost universal.

Cecil Woodham-Smith wrote:

The potato, provided it did not fail, enabled great quantities of food to be produced at a trifling cost from a small plot of ground… an acre and a half would provide a family of five or six with food for twelve months, while to grow the equivalent grain required acreage four to six times as large and some knowledge of tillage as well. Only a spade was needed for the primitive method of potato culture usually practiced in Ireland. Trenches were dug and beds–called ‘lazy beds’–made; the potato sets were laid on the ground and earthed up again. This method, regarded by the English with contempt, was in fact admirably suited to the moist soil of Ireland. The trenches provided drainage, and crops could be grown on mountain sides, where no plough could be used. As the population expanded, potatoes in lazy beds were pushed out into the bog and up the mountain, where no other cultivation would have been possible.

The potato was, moreover, the most universally useful of foods. Pigs, cattle and fowls could be reared on it, using the tubers which were too small for everyday use; it was simple to cook; it produced fine children; as a diet it did not pall.

Yet it was the most dangerous of crops. It did not keep, nor could it be stored from one season to another. Thus every year the nearly two and a half million labourers who had no regular employment more or less starved in the summer, when the old potatoes were finished and the new had not come in…

More serious still, if the potato did fail, neither meal nor anything else could replace it. There could be no question of resorting to an equally cheap food, no such food existed.

Jay P. Dolan wrote in The Irish Americans: A History that before the famine:

The average adult male consumed twelve to fourteen pounds of potatoes a day, with women and older children consuming as much as eleven pounds, with children under ten around five pounds. Even though they had a monotonous diet, the potato-fed Irish were better nourished than the poor in other European countries, enjoying a respectable life expectancy at that time of thirty-eight years.

Irish reliance on the potato wasn’t just because it was easy to grow. The legal regime in Ireland, coupled with explosive population growth, made it the only edible crop, even for moderately prosperous farmers who grew barley, wheat and rye, and bred cattle, sheep and pigs.
You can pick just about any year starting with 1155 when Pope Adrian “gave” Ireland to Henry II as the beginning of Ireland’s problematic legal and real estate regime, but Cecil Woodham-Smith picked the Penal Laws of 1695—enacted five years after the Protestant Dutch noble and future English king William of Orange defeated the dethroned Catholic, Stuart King James II and his Irish Catholic supporters at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. William and the Protestant Parliament wanted to crush the Irish Catholic establishment, and Edmund Burke described the result as “a machine as well fitted for the oppression, impoverishment and degradation of a people, and the debasement in them of human nature itself, as ever proceeded from the perverted ingenuity of man.” In the words of a contemporary (whom Woodham-Smith does not name) the idea was to turn the Irish into “insignificant slaves, fit for nothing but to hew wood and draw water.”

The Penal Laws barred Catholics from just about every civic activity, from serving in the armed forces to practicing law to voting to purchasing land. Education was also prohibited, whether it was running a school or attending one whether in Ireland, England or abroad. The Penal Laws also included a novel inheritance regime designed to break up Catholic landholdings: all the sons of a deceased Catholic landholder would inherit an equal portion of his father’s land, effectively abolishing Ireland’s Catholic gentry within a few generations. That is, unless one of the sons converted from Catholicism to the Church of Ireland (the Irish equivalent of the Anglican Church), whereupon he would have right to all of his father’s lands, dispossessing his brothers in the process.

The inheritance regime is a critical factor which exacerbated the Famine a century and a half later. Instead of having an agrarian economy where larger farms had sufficient revenues to hire seasonal or year-round laborers, most farms were purely subsistence based.

Of course, most Irish didn’t own land before 1695, and their English landlords—few of whom even visited their Irish holdings more than a few times in their lives, let alone lived there—developed similar mechanisms to manage their lands profitably. In the 1700s, for example, a middleman system became commonplace, where landlords let out huge tracts of land for thirty-year terms, with the lessee in turn dividing and sub-letting the land to Irish farmers. Similar to tax farming, the middleman had to pay a fixed rent those thirty years, so he had to find a way to collect rents above that fixed fee to earn a profit. The easiest way: rent out lots of small parcels at higher rates per acre than could be obtained by larger farms.

Irish tenants also had very few rights. Any improvements made to the land—construction of homes or farm buildings, livestock pens, even fences—became the property of the landlord without the just compensation that was required in England. Leases were also completely at will: the tenant could be turned out at any time. Finally, landlords almost had to provide a tenant a full season before collecting any rent, as tenants rarely had any capital to pay rent up front on unimproved land. And whatever protections customary practice and real estate law provided to tenants, they didn’t apply if you were in arrears on rent.

However oppressive this system was to the Irish, there at least was equilibrium. But then between 1780 and 1841, Ireland’s population exploded—Woodham-Smith cites an increase of 172%, from about 4.8 million to 8.2 million. Smith posits two explanations. First was the tendency to marry young and have large families. The second was the extraordinarily abundant and cheap potato which, with the addition of milk or buttermilk, provided a bland but nutritionally adequate diet. In fact, the potato enabled those early marriages—one didn’t need savings or a profession to support a family. All it took was some land, a spade and some seed.

With that population explosion, however, land was an even scarcer resource. Prospective and existing tenants began to bid up their rents because losing land meant starvation. Parents began to subdivide their rented land, giving children a small (often too small) portion of land to farm, rather than turn them out to starve.

A new sublease system called conacre sprouted up where landlords would contract out a portion of land to grow just one crop (potatoes) without establishing a landlord-tenant relationship. Landlords would also let out land to multiple individuals in a system called rundale, where the lessees formed a collective with each lessee obtaining equal portions of fertile, mediocre and poor land which was rarely contiguous.

The end result were stratospheric rents, exceeding those in England and Wales by 80% to 100%. For moderately well-off farmers with good-sized plots of land, the crops grown were far more diverse than just the potato. The problem was that rents were so high, the cash crops were sold to make the rent, leaving only potatoes to eat. Woodham-Smith paraphrased a letter British Army Commissariat Sir Randolph Routh wrote on 1 January 1846 to Assistant Treasury Secretary Charles Edward Trevelyan that:

The Irish people did not regard wheat, oats and barley as food—they were grown to pay the rent and to pay the rent was the first necessity of life in Ireland. It would be a desperate man who ate up his rent, with the certainty before him of eviction and ‘death by slow torture.’

For those with smaller farms, the question was simply whether you could grow enough potatoes to stay alive—or better, stay alive and keep a cow for milk, or perhaps raise a pig for sale.

The potato was so central to Ireland’s diet that the poorest of Irish only knew how to cook one thing: boiled potatoes.

Father Theobald Mathew, an Irish Capuchin friar who became famous for his temperance campaign before the Famine, wrote that “the potato deluge during the past twenty years has swept away all other food from our cottagers and sunk into oblivion their knowledge of cookery.”
Trevelyan wrote that “There is scarcely a woman of the peasant class in the West of Ireland whose culinary art exceeds the boiling of a potato. Bread is scarcely even seen, and an oven is unknown.”

Putting aside the necessity of selling produce to pay the rent, alternate food sources were either completely undeveloped, or lacked the necessary infrastructure for production anyway.

For example, when the British government purchased corn in America to keep food prices from skyrocketing in Ireland, they didn’t realize that Ireland had so few grain mills that the massive quantities of rock-hard, dry maize kernels couldn’t be ground into meal fast enough to keep people fed.

Just like grain mills, commercial food enterprises didn’t really exist in Ireland at the time, as few had money with which to buy food.
Ireland’s rich fisheries off the western coast were almost completely undeveloped as well. The rocky coast and rough surf made it difficult to build ports, and even those areas that did have established fishing industries lacked consistent supplies of salt to preserve fish for sale in other markets, or to preserve it from season to season. Fishing was really just about subsistence, and for most fishermen, their catch simply diversified a diet that was dominated by potatoes.

The 1845 harvest and Catherine Gallagher’s departure for Philadelphia

So when the Irish began to pull new potatoes out of the ground in September and October of 1845, it’s important to remember the roughly half of the population subsisted almost entirely on potatoes. Unlike the more developed counties around Dublin and Belfast, the western and southern counties—including George Haggerty’s home county of Donegal, and Catherine Gallagher’s potential birth counties of Donegal or Mayo—had almost no commercial agriculture at all, just subsistence potato farming. These poor, rural areas had also experienced some of the highest rates of both population growth and subdivision of land.

The bad news quickly began to mount. In some cases, potatoes came out of the ground healthy and hale, only to disintegrate and rot a few days later at market. In others, the tubers were a rotted mess in the ground. By mid-October, English scientists were estimating that half of Ireland’s potato crop had been lost.

Still, while the condition of the potatoes was new, Ireland had suffered similarly devastating crop failures—caused by frost, leaf curl or other problems—in 1728, 1739, 1770, 1800, 1807, 1836, 1837 and 1839. Partial failures had hit the west of Ireland in 1821, 1822, 1830, 1831, 1832, 1833, 1834, 1836, 1841 and 1844, including in Donegal.

From these experiences, the British government knew they would have time to act. In previous potato crop failures, the Irish had some leftover food which—when combined with forage from the wilderness—could tide them for five or six months, into the next planting season. But come March, April or May, the starvation would begin without the new potatoes.

And spring of 1846 was when twenty-year-old Catherine Gallagher left her home and made her way—probably by foot—to Londonderry to purchase passage to Philadelphia. Her choice of destination suggests that Catherine probably wasn’t destitute. Passage to the United States was much more expensive than to Canada.

For instance, in 1842, passage for a family of six from Belfast to Quebec cost £6, but £21 to reach New York. This was partly due to the regulations imposed on U.S.-bound ships: fewer passengers could travel on a ship to the U.S. than on a ship to Canada. Additionally, U.S. ships were required to provide larger rations of water and food to their passengers. The U.S. also required every immigrant pay $2 “head money” on landing, ostensibly as an insurance policy should that person become a burden on their new home. The high costs incented captains to land immigrants illegally outside of the major ports.

The British took the contrary view: they wanted to encourage settlement of Canada and in addition to working to keep fares low (in exchange for fewer provisions and more cramped quarters), immigrants who promised to settle in Canada received free transport from the port of St. John down the St. Lawrence River to Quebec City, where they would be more readily able to find land to settle in sparsely populated eastern Quebec, or even move further to Ontario (then called Upper Canada). Of course, they could just as easily walk south into New York, and many did.

That also meant that while Catherine may have been hungry, she wasn’t starving—if she or her family had the money to send her to the United States, they surely had funds to keep her fed. On the other hand, she probably wasn’t among the most well-to-do Irish: they left in 1848 after the second complete crop failure made Ireland seem like an impending death sentence for everyone.

And while she didn’t travel with her parents, she probably didn’t make the overland journey to Londonderry alone: Woodham-Smith cites first-hand reports that the streets of Co. Mayo were “thronged” in April and May by “comfortable farmers, not the destitute,” often with a cart bringing their movable possessions. Similar sights were repeated in Cos. Clare and Dublin. Whether it was neighbors or extended family, Catherine almost certainly made the overland journey with friends or family. Perhaps hidden amongst the McMenamins and Doughertys and Sweeneys on the Jane Augusta were aunts and uncles and married sisters—the passenger manifest even lists as passengers a 23-year-old Sarah Gallagher (a sister?), a 26-year-old Catherine Gallagher (a cousin?), and a 13-year-old Mary Haggerty (perhaps George’s younger sister?).
Catherine may even have purchased her ticket before leaving home—while only a token percentage of Irish emigrated to Canada or the United States annually before 1846, the emigration industry was established enough that agents often traveled to market towns throughout Ireland to sell passage.

Of course, all of this is speculation: to avoid paying head money, many ships landed their passengers on isolated shorelines, meaning no record of our Catherine Gallagher would have been kept upon arrival. And while the record of the Jane Augusta is the only likely match assuming a record was kept, her name is also incredibly common in Ireland.

<H3>The 1846 harvest and George Haggerty’s departure for Philadelphia</h3>

The English government had a standard script for famines: private (sometimes all but mandatory) subscriptions to fund poorhouses and similar types of relief; temporary expenditures for public works to employ the seasonally unemployed; increases in poor law taxation to support local workhouses; and most important, staying out of the natural operation of private enterprise which was expected to meet the increased demand food.

England’s Prime Minister, Sir Robert Peel, had decided to take an additional, extraordinary step, somewhat breaking from the widespread adherence to laissez faire economics: Without approval from Parliament, he authorized the purchase of £100,000 of American maize to aid the Irish. His intent was to have the government enter Ireland’s commercial food markets, but not compete with existing enterprises. Selling maize meant he focused on “a trade which did not exist… on an article of which no stock was to be found in the home market.” The government would only sell this new staple when prices for other staples rose too high. No one considered a scenario wherein the government’s corn would be the only commodity sold on the market. This was, in fact, the case in many counties, including Donegal and Mayo, where grain and other staples were only traded for shipment to England, like nearly all Irish produce. Maize was also a product that the Irish didn’t know how to eat or prepare, and the infrastructure needed to make it consumable—mills to grind the corn into meal—didn’t exist outside of a few urban areas that didn’t rely so heavily on the potato.

Eventually, the government gave away portions of corn meal—Donegal was one of the few areas where the government established depots to give away food. That intervention, combined with wages paid for the few public works projects, managed to stave off widespread starvation through the 1846 growing season.

All depended on the 1846 harvest.

Captain Mann, a Coastguard office employed in relief service, wrote “I shall never forget the change in one week in August. One the first occasion, on an official visit of inspection, I had passed over thirty-two miles thickly studded with potato fields in full bloom. The next time, the face of the whole country was changed, the stalk remained bright green, but the leaves were all scorched black. It was the work of a night.”

Father Theobald Matthew wrote in a letter to a treasury official overseeing relief: “On the 27th of [July], I passed from Cork to Dublin and this plant bloomed in all the luxuriance of an abundant harvest. Returning on the third [of August] I beheld with sorrow one wide waste of putrefying vegetation. In many places the wretched people were seated on the fences of their decaying gardens, wringing their hands and wailing bitterly the destruction that had left them foodless.”

Sir James Dobrain, writing of an 800-mile tour of Ireland in that first week of August described an “intolerable” stench of rotting potatoes “perceptible as you travel along the road.”

1845 was bad, but the blight was spotty, and some healthy potatoes were harvested. The 1846 crop was a complete failure, with the entire crop rotting in the ground two months before it could be harvested. And after the failure of 1845, Ireland had already exhausted what little other sources of sustenance were available.

It’s beyond the scope of this history to dig deeply into the well-intentioned but deeply naïve and completely ineffectual efforts of the English government over the months before George Haggerty left Ireland. It’s simply safe to say that George almost certainly went hungry over those months, perhaps staying alive with public works employment and creative foraging. His family was probably well-off enough that they could afford to keep some of their produce for themselves, or perhaps had the rare landlord that understood that a season of missed rent was worth keeping a productive and profitable tenant alive and healthy for better years. Perhaps they were wealthy enough that they could even purchase food from neighbors. But 1846 was a bad harvest across all of Europe for every major staple–only the very wealthy wouldn’t have been stretched those years.

Those who couldn’t scrape together the funds for a cheap fare to Canada–and they were willing to sail well past the normal season, at times when winter storms could easily wreck a ship–protested and even rioted.

By October, everything edible had been eaten. The Commissariat officer from Burtonport, Co. Donegal wrote “the distress of the wretched people is heart-rending. Something ought to be done for them… there is nothing in the place for food.” Children began to die in poorhouses, and adults—weakened through lack of food—began to die of minor ailments such as diarrhea. In November, Ireland’s mild climate changed, and snow began to fall. Woodham-Smith quoted newspapers and journals describing the winter of 1846-1847 as “the most severe in living memory” with “perfect hurricanes of snow, hail and sleet” bringing commerce and transport to a complete standstill.

“[A] turf fire burned in the Irish cabin night and day, and in normal times did not go out for perhaps a century. Since potatoes do not require cultivation during the winter the Irish peasant was not forced to go out in bad weather; he spent the cold, wet days indoors, and though he was dressed in rags and his children were naked, except for a single garment, they endured little hardship.”

But with the only source of food the massive public works projects the government had started since August, over half a million starving laborers had to spend day after day in December and January drenched and frozen, wearing little more than rags to earn a wage that wasn’t sufficient to feed his family. That is, if they didn’t die of exposure, a scenario which increased rapidly over the winter.

By the spring of 1847, starvation had reduced the population at Templecrone, Co. Donegal to “walking skeletons” and disease began to spread. Typhus, bloody flux, and relapsing fever swept across Ireland, finishing off the poor who had somehow managed to feed themselves enough to hold off the dietary ailments scurvy and hunger oedema. Woodham-Smith estimates that disease killed ten times as many Irish than starvation.
With hunger and illness driving them, those Irish that could began to flee en masse. A Co. Cavan Board of Works’ Inspector wrote that “only the utterly destitute are left behind.” Jonathan Pim, a Quaker engaged in providing relief added that “there was nothing but joy at their escape, as from a doomed land.”

Twenty-four year-old George Haggerty was one of them.

In 1844, an estimated 68,000 Irish emigrated to North America from Liverpool, Cork, Londonderry, Dublin and other British ports. In 1847, 85,000 sailed from Irish ports alone. Anything that could float, no matter how aged or unfit for an Atlantic crossing, was brought into service. And with sailings from any potential port, regulation was impossible. Ships sailed with too many passengers and insufficient food and water supplies. Even worse, many took on passengers already ill with typhus or other diseases, and the packed confines meant that many more would be infected and die over the long voyage. Of the 100,000 Irish who sailed on “coffin ships” to Canada in 1847, an estimated 60,000 died en route or shortly after landing.

It is unlikely George had that experience. The Provincialist carried 305 passengers to Philadelphia that spring: none were marked as deceased on arrival, and the ship landed similar numbers in the years after the famine. The number of passengers also didn’t vary much from sailings years later after the famine had passed.

The Provincialist was a new ship, built in 1839 by Edward Wilson in Chamcook, New Brunswick specifically for carrying passengers across the Atlantic. At 880 tons, it was the largest of the dozen or so ships owned and managed by the McCorkell Line, and remained the largest in their fleet until 1860.

As George probably boarded the Provincialist in mid-March 1847, he almost certainly experienced difficulty upon arriving. In late February and early March, the United States government passed two severe modifications to the Passenger Acts which lowered the number of passengers per ton that could be brought into the country by a third, forcing shippers to increase fares proportionally to take a profit. The change was intended to make it harder for poor Irish famine refugees to afford the trip to the United States, channeling them to Canada (where it was just as easy to walk across the border into New York, or travel further on to the Midwest). The two acts took effect immediately, but the news would’ve taken a month or more to reach the McCorkelll line offices in Londonderry, well after George had purchased his fare and set sail. The British Foreign Minister, Lord Palmerston, had to intervene personally on behalf of those ships—likely including the Provincialist—which had sailed before the news arrived and were not allowed to disembark their passengers because they were in violation of the new Passenger Acts. Of course, the ship’s master, David Williams, might also have unloaded some passengers illegally along the New Jersey or Delaware banks of the Delaware River to get around the new regulations.

Reading the entire passenger list revealed a number of interesting details. At 24, George was actually older than average of 21.6—even excluding the sixteen families travelling with children (23% of all passengers), the average age just inched forward to 22.2 years. Slightly more than half the passengers traveled with people who shared their surname, but most were likely siblings or cousins of around the same age (22%) rather than newly married couples (about 5%, or eight couples, seven of whom were in their late teens and early twenties).

Among the passengers was a seven-year-old, Edward Morris, apparently travelling alone. Quite a number of twentyish adult travelers were joined by a sibling (or someone sharing their surname) no more than a decade younger. In one, a thirteen-year-old girl was traveling with her eight-year-old sister and five-year-old brother. There were also several Galahers (an alternate spelling of Gallagher) on board, who perhaps were relatives of Catherine Gallagher, and introduced the two after arrival.

While they arrived less than a year apart, the Ireland George left was very different than the one Catherine departed. We can’t know what George experienced, but death by starvation and disease had become widespread since Catherine immigrated. One passage in Woodham-Smith’s history describes the horror George may have witnessed.

Sidney Godolphin Osborne, later one of Florence Nightingale’s helpers in the Crimea, wrote that, in distressed persons, “attenuation seems to have absorbed all appearance of flesh or muscle.” The bones of the frame were covered with something which was like skin but had a peculiar appearance, rough and dry like parchment, and hung in folds; eyes had sunk back into the head, the shoulder-bones were so high that the neck seemed to have sunk into the chest; face and neck were so wasted as to look like a skull; hair was thin, and there was an extraordinary pallor such as he had never seen before. The worst suffers were the children; starving children were skeletons, many too far gone to be able to walk. The skin over the chest-bones and upper part of the stomach was stretched so tight that every curve of the breast-bone and ribs stood out in relief. “No words,” wrote Osborne, “can describe the appearance of the arms, from below the elbow the two bones seem to be stripped of every atom of flesh. If you take hold of the loose skin within the elbow joint, and lift the arm by it, it comes away in a long, thin fold as if you had lifted one side of a long narrow bag in which some bones had been placed.” Starvation had affected the children’s bones; the jaw-bone was so fragile and thin that a very slight pressure would force the tongue into the roof of the mouth. In Skibbereen, Elihu Burritt met children with jaws so distended that they could not speak; in Mayo, starving children had lost their voices. Many were in the stupor characteristic of death by starvation. Osborne visited workhouses, infirmaries and hospitals and never heard a single child utter a cry or moan of pain—“in the very act of death still not a tear nor a cry. I have scarcely ever seen one try to change his or her position… two, three or four in a bed, there they lie and die, if suffering still ever silent, unmoved…” By April of 1847, children were looking like little old men and women of eighty years of age, wrinkled and bent—every trace of childish gaiety had disappeared, and even the babies were “aged.”

A curious phenomenon was the growth of hair on starving children’s faces. The hair on the head fell out and hair grew on the face. Children in County Clare had hair on their heads only in patches, but over their foreheads and temples “a thick sort of downy hair grows.”

1847 to 1851: News from home

An estimated 1.1 million Irish died in the Great Famine, and another 1.5 million fled the country to North America or England. George was one of 230k to leave in 1847, but the peak wasn’t until 1851, when 250k Irish abandoned Ireland. Historian Cormac O Grada described it thus: “In the hierarchy of suffering the poorest of the poor emigrated to the next world; those who emigrated to the New World had the resources to escape.”

In 1847, the blight didn’t make much of an appearance in Ireland, but so much of the seed crop had been consumed over the winter just to stay alive, there wasn’t enough left to plant. The government invested heavily to support planting for the 1848 harvest, but it turned out to be a repeat of 1846—a catastrophic and complete loss. 1849 had similar results, and the blight only came under control in 1850, with a health crop harvested in the fall of 1851.

Catherine had escaped nearly the entire famine, while George only saw the beginning of the deaths. But they likely kept abreast of the latest news, whether from newspapers or by word of mouth from more recent migrants. Both surely had family left alive in Ireland whom they tried to convince to join them, or supported with remittances—perhaps some distant Irish relative even has a copy of an “Amerikay” letter one of them wrote trying to convince them to come to Philadelphia. Some of their family assuredly died, while others are probably hidden in the passenger manifests of 1846 to 1851 and beyond.


However George Haggerty and Catherine Gallagher met, they didn’t waste any time: less than six months after George arrived, he and Catherine were married by the Rev. G. O’Hara at St. Patrick’s church in Philadelphia on 26 September 1846. David Graham, Robert Rowlson and Catherine Graham were listed as witnesses. George was 25 and Catherine 21.

Together, the couple had ten children who lived to adulthood.

  • Patrick Joseph (1848-1895), who married Ellen Humphreys and had two children.
  • Catherine (b. 1850), who married Edward Tuohy and four children.
  • Jane Mary (1852-1880), who married John Hunsinger and had three children, all of whom died before reaching the age of three.
  • Charles Henry (1855-1920), who married Mary Love and had five children.
  • George Jr. (b. 1856), who may have married a woman named Jennie and had one child.
  • John Edward (1858-1885), who was briefly married before dying.
  • Anna Roseanna G. (1860-1941), who did not marry.
  • Sara Margaret (b. 1862), who did not marry, and probably died in the 1910s.
  • Thomas Francis (1864-1923), who did not marry.
  • Ellen Helena (b. 1865), who married a man named George Welsh.

George and Catherine started their married lives in Philadelphia in the same parish where they were married—both Patrick and Catherine were baptized at St. Patrick’s.

After Catherine was born on 7 February 1850, the couple moved just outside Philadelphia to the rural town of Kingsessing that was subsequently incorporated into Philadelphia in 1854. On 3 August 1850, the couple appear on the 1850 census living in Kingsessing, where George worked as a manual laborer, probably on one of the neighboring farms. Of course, they might have moved to Kingsessing—now known as the borough of West Philadelphia—earlier, but St. Patrick’s parish is a bit of trek by foot from Philadelphia’s most southwesterly neighborhood.

Sometime in the next year, George and Catherine moved their family to Wilmington, Delaware, where their third child, Johanna Maria (a.k.a. Jane), was born on 4 July 1852, and baptized twelve days later in St. Peter’s parish.

They didn’t stay in Delaware long, however: by October of 1855, when Charles Henry was born, the couple were living in New Jersey (later census records consistently list Charles’ birth state as New Jersey). Thomas Howard Jamison Jr.–one of Charles’ great-grandchildren and a third cousin of all of Patrick and Mary Ellen O’Neill’s grandchildren–puts Charles’ exact birthplace as Galloway Township, Atlantic County on the southern edge of New Jersey’s Pine Barrens.

George Jr. was also born in New Jersey according to several census records, but his baptismal records suggest a close, continuing relationship of the Haggerty family with Philadelphia: born on 16 August 1856, he was baptized a month and a half later on 2 October 1856 at St. John the Evangelist in Philadelphia. George Jr. is particularly challenging to track, as there are at least four other George Haggertys born in New Jersey between 1855 and 1857, including one born to George and Charlotte Haggerty in Shamong Township just across the Burlington-Atlantic county line.

While the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saint’s genealogy site,, states it has 100% of all New Jersey birth records, neither Charles nor George Jr. appear in the collection.

The births of four of the next five children are all well-documented. John and Margaret’s births were recorded by the Our Lady of Perpetual Help Parish in Egg City Harbor, and Thomas and Roseanna’s birth records can be found at
The youngest child, Ellen Helena, doesn’t appear in New Jersey birth records, but an 1880 census records support her place of birth. George was 43 when Ellen was born; Catherine was 39.

Paddy on the railway

Contemporary railroad map of southern New Jersey. The Camden & Atlantic is the red line running due southeast from Philadelphia

Contemporary railroad map of southern New Jersey.
The Camden & Atlantic is the red line running due southeast from Philadelphia to Atlantic City

In both the 1860 and 1880 U.S. Censuses, George was listed as a railroad worker, and it was the railroad that probably prompted the family’s move out of Philadelphia in the early 1850s.

Galloway and Egg Harbor City lie on a rail line that runs between Camden (across the Delaware from Philadelphia) and Atlantic City. That railroad was built between 1853—when the Camden & Atlantic Railroad Company was founded—and 1 July 1854—when the first passenger train, the “Atison,” took passengers from Camden to Absecon Island, then a largely rural, eight-mile long barrier island. Today, Abescon Island is home to Atlantic City. Of course, it’s purely speculation that George worked for the C&A Railroad Company, but the circumstantial evidence is compelling, including Johanna Maria’s birth in Delaware in 1852 and Charles’ birth in New Jersey in 1855.

George retired from the railroad sometime after 1870, around when he turned 50. By 1872, he and his family were back living Philadelphia. This time, they owned a home at 2213 Lombard St., just a few blocks from Rittenhouse Square, which is now the center of Philadelphia’s financial and commercial district.
George and Catherine’s eldest son, Patrick, may have started the family’s return to Philadelphia—he appears living at that address in an 1871 Philadelphia city directory, suggesting he may have been living there the year prior when the directory was being compiled. Patrick doesn’t appear in any 1870 census record. Catherine and Jane aren’t living with their parents in the 1870 census either, and there are no records of them marrying in New Jersey ( claims to have 100% of available marriage records indexed for search). Prior to 1885, Philadelphia only registered marriages if a church didn’t publish banns prior to the marriage, so there is no easily searchable index of marriage records for Catherine or Jane.

Between May 1879 and March 1880, George and Catherine had a horrible year. In May, their three-year-old grandson, George Hunsinger—who was living in their home at 2213 Lombard—died of pneumonia. Then on the first day of 1880, George’s mother Jane Hagerty Hunsinger, died of abdominal distress. In February, they lost a daughter-in-law, Ellen Humphrey Haggerty, to tuberculosis. And in March, Jane Hunsinger’s last surviving child, 11-month-old Lena Hunsinger, was taken by pneumonia. It was, perhaps, this string of deaths that prompted George to purchase the burial plot in the Old Cathedral Cemetery where he and Catherine were eventually buried, along with four of their children, seven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

In the 1880 census, George and Catherine are living at 2213 Lombard with six of their children as well as two grandchildren.
In 1885, son John Edward—who had recently married—lost his life to tuberculosis.

Patrick, the eldest, died a decade later in 1895 of nephritis, leaving his two nearly adult children dependent on their grandparents.
In August of 1899, George, now 77 years old and suffering from an enlarged prostate, made out his will. In it, he named his wife Catharine as Executrix, and left her all of his possessions.

On Friday, 23 February 1900 at 4:30 pm, George Sr. died in his home at 2213 Lombard Street of an enlarged prostate at the age of 78. Two of his grandsons, Joseph Haggerty (Patrick’s son) and Charles Tuohy died shortly there after. Joseph died on 25 February 1900 of a lung tumor just two days after his grandfather. Charles Tuohy died on 18 March 1900 of complications from tuberculosis.

George was buried on 26 February 1900 in the Old Cathedral Cemetery.

On 27 March 1900, Catherine, her daughter Anna, and a family friend, John McCary went to Register of Wills office of Philadelphia’s Orphans’ Court to petition for transfer of George’s property to Catherine. The petition notes that George possessed $1,600 (~$43,000 in 2013 dollars) in personal property, and real estate valued at $4,400 (~$120,000 in 2013 dollars). In addition to 2213 Lombard Street, George also owned a building at 518 So. 22nd Street just a few blocks west: the 1900 census shows a Chinese immigrant named Wah Gee who worked as a laundryman renting the property.

In the 1900 census, Catherine is still living at 2213 Lombard Street with three of her younger children—Sarah Margaret, Thomas Francis and Anna G (or Rosanna)—as well as her granddaughter, Mary Ellen. She must have sold that house a few years after George died, however, and moved with Thomas, Anna and Sara to 20 S. 59th Street, at the western edge of Philadelphia near Upper Darby. Thomas supported his mother and two unmarried sisters working as a postal clerk.

Catherine died on 16 August 1908. The cause of death on her death certificate is barely legible, but it looks to be a form of pneumonia. She is buried in the Old Cathedral Cemetery with her husband and several other descendants.