Millions of Irish immigrants came to America in the nineteenth century seeking reprieve from centuries of economic and political turmoil in their homeland. These immigrants grew their families and businesses while contributing and assimilating to a changing American industrial economy that was not always welcoming. Irish immigrants were amongst the first to come to America working as domestic servants, seeking financial success in factories, and building local businesses; many following the same settlement patterns that the Yankee settlers before them had taken. By 1840 there were more than seventy-eight thousand Irish immigrants in America and by 1850 this number rose to be more than ninety thousand.
Connecticut’s first Irish-supported newspaper the Catholic Press began production in 1829. It is here that we learn about one of Southington’s earliest Irish American residents:
Peter Dayle died August 7, 1829; the Catholic Press was used at the time to communicate deaths, arrivals, and post missing person descriptions to reunite families separated during their travels. Letting readers know that he passed was the best chance for someone to know how and where he passed away. In the archives of Connecticut’s church records, Peter’s death is noted as drowning, and next to his name he is referred to as a “foreigner”. While it is unclear how or why Peter found himself in Southington in 1829 – it is likely Peter and his family were fleeing persecution from the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Irish Catholics were persecuted during this time and young Peter would have only been thirteen years old.
Southington’s Irish American community is tied to The Barnes Museum in several ways. Living on the Amon Bradley homestead in the 1860 Census was an Irish woman named Hannah Deady (1827-1888), then age 35, and working as a servant in the household. In 1860 Amon Bradley was 48 and employed as a merchant with a personal estate value of $30,000. Also listed living on the homestead in 1860 were Amon’s wife Sylvia age 42, and their children Franklin age 17, Alice age 10, Emma age 2, and cousin Henry R. Bradley, a local attorney practicing in the town of Southington. Eldest daughter Alice writes in her diaries about Hannah and some of the duties she carried out during her time working on the homestead; these included preparing cider or jam with the family, cleaning rooms, and occasionally going to clean houses owned and rented out by Amon Bradley.
The article pictured names brothers William and John Deady as bearers at her funeral. A twenty-year-old William Deady arrived in America on May 27, 1850, on the ship Atlas at New York harbor. Traveling with him was his younger nineteen-year-old brother John Deady their older sister Hannah, then age twenty-three. William and John worked, lived, and raised their families in Southington throughout the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s. John Deady was for a time highly respected as “baggage master at the Southington Depot”. William worked for Peck, Stow & Wilcox not too far from his home on Bristol Street where he and his wife Mary McCall raised their six children, their youngest son named John after his uncle John.
Pictured is the Irish-American Donahue family of Southington. Photo is from the collection of the Connecticut Historical Society.
Irish families throughout the country and in Southington formed tight-knit communities. The Bristol Street area alone where William Deady’s family lived according to the 1880 Census listed countless Irish surnames. This makes much sense as the first Irish Catholic church in Southington was St. Thomas located still today on Bristol Street. As early as 1852 Irish Catholic services were being provided for Southington residents out of Meriden. Seeking to establish a church in Southington as an extension of St. Rose’s Church in Meriden, Bishop Francis P. MacFarland purchased the tract of land on Bristol Street in 1859. On July 4, 1860, the cornerstone of St. Thomas was laid with some 500 local Irish Catholic residents ready to attend services. When Hannah Deady died on March 9, 1892, she was interred in St. Thomas cemetery.
Alice Bradley’s diaries reveal that throughout the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s the family’s hiring preference for house labor assistance were Irish American women. Though the 1870 census does not list any servants as working in the household Alice’s diary mentions a girl named Maggie Daly coming to work with the family in 1871. On the 1880 Census, the Amon Bradley homestead (future home to The Barnes Museum) lists Sarah Deegan then age 17, as living and working for the household as a servant. Sarah Deegan was the daughter of Edward and Sarah Deegan, Irish natives that migrated to America in 1855 at the ages of 17 and 18 respectively. On the 1860 Census, the growing Deegan family is living in Southington with Edward working as a machinist. Ten years later in 1870, Edward and Sarah list five children living in the household and attending local schools. Edward’s occupation on the 1870 Census is molder, likely molding cutlery at the nearby Southington Cutlery Company. Unfortunately, this budding Irish American household was devastated in 1878 when Edward Deegan died leaving his widow and their five children to find work and thrive in their new homeland on their own.
This is why Edward’s youngest daughter Sarah is working at the Amon Bradley household in 1880 at the age of 17. Her mother also assisted with the Bradley house chores. In May of 1879, Alice wrote in her diary that “Mrs. Deegan cleaned my room today quite well”. Nearly all the Deegan children were employed and working in a Southington factory in 1880. Sarah’s older sister Catherine then age 22 lists her occupation as “packs hardware”; Mary age 19 lists her occupation as the same. Eldest son Thomas Deegan lists his occupation as “iron molder” and their two youngest boys James age 10 and William age 5 are thankfully unemployed and attending school. Alice Bradley noted that on January 7, 1880 “young Sarah Deegan came last night to live with us”. Alice appears to have been fond of Sarah and mentions here a few times throughout 1880 noting moments making cupcakes together and on Christmas, she wrote that she gave “Sarah Deegan a silk handkerchief.”
Throughout the mid to late 1800s many Irish American women in America performed domestic labor and housework to support themselves and raise their families in their new homeland. Especially during the first wave of migration following the 1840s this labor was often all that was available to “foreigners” as noted on Peter Dayle’s church record. Eventually by the turn of the century Irish American laborers were in high demand at local factories with records indicating a strong Irish American workforce at Peck, Stow & Wilcox, Southington Cutlery Company, and Atwater Manufacturing Company. As the Bradley family grew to eventually become the Bradley Barnes household that remains as The Barnes Museum today, Bradley Barnes did not hold his grandfather’s favoritism in hiring Irish American women as servants. Often the Census indicates these positions were held by German or Lithuanian American women. However, the impact that Hannah Deady and Sarah Deegan had during their time here remains in the records of the household that we continue to preserve today, and we celebrate them, their labor, and their strength on this St. Patrick’s Day.