Migration (immigration) has been a natural occurrence in the human race since the development of Man in Africa some 200,000 years ago. Were it not for Man’s inherent desires to move-on when faced with climatic, political, economic, religious and other pressures mankind like the zebra, would still be isolated in Africa. Instead, Man migrated out of Africa, first to the Near East some 60,000 years ago, then Asia and Australia 50,000 years ago, followed by Europe and Central Asia 35,000 years ago, and finally, the Americas some 10,000 years ago. Man’s instinctive behavior to migrate when faced with adversarial pressures is as strong today as it was 60,000 years ago. It is unlikely for example, that a 700 mile wall on the Mexico / US border will deter illegal Mexican immigration into the United States. Man’s instinctive behavior to improve his conditions through migration is simply too strong to be deterred by a wall. If a border wall is constructed, we might speculate that two hundred years from now the Mexico / US border wall will be as famous as other walls built to prevent human migration, namely the Great Wall of China, Hadrian’s Wall, and the Berlin Wall. In the end however, since migration is virtually impossible to stop, it is best simply to make the migration process controlled and orderly. Time will tell if this occurs.
The history of our family is a history of the early immigration into North America. It began first in 1619 with the landing of Edward Spaulding in Jamestown, Virginia followed a few years later in 1623 with the arrival of Francis Sprague in Plymouth, Massachusetts. In the two decades following, thousands of English settlers migrated to New England including dozens of our family’s ancestors. Despite the fact that they faced a dangerous sea voyage crossing the Atlantic and at best primitive conditions in the New World, the pressure to migrate was so strong that they overcome their fears. In 1625, the first of our Dutch ancestors landed in New York. They too were seeking better living conditions than they faced in the Old World. In the late 1600s, the religious persecution of the Protestant Huguenots in France forced thousands of Huguenots to immigrate to the Americas. Many of these Huguenot immigrants including some of our ancestors, eventually settled in 1712 in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. In these examples and countless others, the pressure of human migration was and is of epoch importance to the history of our country for other than the forced migration of the slaves, the unfettered free migration of our early American settlers was a powerful factor in the development of the social order of our population and of our government.
Other than my mother’s father’ side of the family, the Pattersons, who entered the United State from Scotland via Canada in the early 1900s, the migration of our ancestors on the Baker side of the family was pretty well over by the early 1700s. On the other hand, the migration of Kathleen Mahar’s ancestors did not begin until the mid-1800s. Kathleen and I were married on May 9, 1969. This chapter is the story of her family’s history.
Human settlement in Ireland began around 8000 BC when the island’s first inhabitants emigrated from Britain. St. Patrick and other Christian missionaries arrived in the mid-fifth century and by 600 AD Christianity had pretty well replaced the indigenous pagan religions. Since this beginning, Christianity has played a major role in Ireland’s history and culture. The majority of the Irish population is Catholic. In 1536, King Henry VIII broke with the Catholic Church in Rome and established the Anglican Church of England. While the English, the Welsh, and the Scots accepted this new Protestantism, most of the Irish remained Catholic. This fact determined the Irish relationship with the British state for the next 400 years and for almost that entire period of time until the Irish Free State was established in 1922, the Irish people were excluded from power in their own country. To compound the problem, after the failed Irish rebellion against the English in 1641, the English as punishment confiscated almost all of the land of the Irish Catholics and gave the land to British settlers. Subsequently, the native Irish inhabitants were relegated to the position of being renters on their own land, a condition that resulted in severe Irish antagonism towards England.
To make matters worse yet, the climate in Ireland was inconsistent which resulted in periodic crop failures. Two very cold winters in 1740 and 1741 led directly to the first Great Irish Famine which killed almost 400,000 people. The only food that they had to eat was food grown on their rented farms. As rents rose and crops failed as they frequently did, the Irish had no way to pay off the rent and many tenants ended up being evicted from their farms. They had no other skills other than farming which meant no work, little food, and constant fighting and killing of Irish against Irish. The population in Ireland had grown to eight million by 1845 and too many people were poor and starving. The land simply could not support the size of the population. Understandably, these conditions that started in the early 1800s precipitated migration out of Ireland. However, the worst was yet to come.
In 1845, one of the greatest tragedies of the 19th century began. A cold wet summer in Ireland caused almost the entire crop of potatoes to rot. Since the potato was almost the sole subsistence of millions of Irish peasants, this disaster pushed the population over the edge of starvation. Poor houses were overwhelmed and soup kitchens could not feed all of the hungry. Hundreds of thousands died, orphans wandered motherless, and then cholera and typhus pulled many of the half-living into mass graves. Almost one million people died of starvation and disease within the next five years during which the crop harvests remained undependable. As expected the great potato famine touched off a mass migration out of Ireland. Altogether, almost 3.5 million Irishmen entered the United States between 1820 and 1880 including most of Kathleen’s Irish-American ancestors.
In 1848, Kathleen’s paternal great grandfather Patrick Burke (1838-1911), at the age of only ten years old boarded a sailing ship in Liverpool, England bound for the United States. We assume that Patrick’s father, Michael Burke (1797-1894), and maybe some of his brothers and sisters accompanied Patrick. There is no record however, of his mother and we note that his father is buried alone without Patrick’s mother in St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Barker, New York. She may have already died before the ship left for New York. Patrick Burke was one of the lucky ones.[The US Census records show that Michael Burke was living with his wife Catherine in both 1860 as well as in 1870. Catherine died in 1875 and in the 1880 US Census we find Michael living with his son Patrick and Patrick's family. We want to thank Judith Pettit for pointing out that Michael's wife and Patrick's mother did indeed immigrate with her family from Ireland]. Not only was he able to leave Ireland during the worst of the Potato Famine, he was also fortunate not to have been trapped in the Irish slums of New York City in the mid-1850s as were so may of his countrymen. His father and his family may have had the necessary money that allowed them to travel from New York City to Western New York State most likely traveling by barge through the Erie Barge Canal. They may also have known friends or had family members that preceded them to the farming community near Lockport, New York.
Around 1865, Patrick married Anna Degnan. Patrick was 27 and Anna was only 16. Anna was born in the United States to Irish-born parents who most likely immigrated to the United States in the mid-1840s (sometime before Anna’s 1849 birth). It is probable that they like the Burkes were escaping the horrible conditions in Ireland. Together Anna and Patrick had seven children including Rose Anne Burke, Kathleen’s paternal grandmother, who was born in August of 1882, the youngest of the children. Patrick Burke died at the age of 73. His wife Anna died three years later at the age of 65. They are buried together in St. Patrick’s Cemetery not far from the farm in Niagara County where they raised their children and spent most of their adult lives.
Kathleen’s other paternal great grandfather, Thomas C. Mahar was born in Ireland in 1842 and at the young age of eight he boarded a ship bound for America. We have no clear evidence that he traveled with his parents or other relatives, although it is seems unlikely that at the age of eight he traveled alone on a ship in the year 1850. In these years the sailing ships leaving England for the United States were over crowded with Irish packed together in steerage areas of the ship that had previously been reserved for cargo. These quarters were only five feet high and they were lined with two tiers of bunks. These were not cruise ships. The passengers were required to bring on board and cook their own food for the 4 to 10 week trip across the Atlanta. Sanitary facilities on board were almost non-existent. A rough voyage which was not uncommon in the North Atlanta, added to their unbearable conditions. It is estimated that upwards of 10 to 15% of the passengers died during the voyage as the close quarters and unsanitary conditions were perfect breeding grounds for diseases. It is understandable that the media started referring to these ships as “coffin ships”. It must have been quite a sight watching the ragged and filthy immigrants disembark the ships in the American ports. These are the conditions that the young Thomas surely faced during his 1850 passage.
In St. Patrick’s Cemetery in Barker, New York where Thomas C. Mahar and his wife are buried there are more than 50 gravestones bearing the family name of “Mahar”. Two of these individuals, Thomas Mahar (1809-1904) and his wife Ann Carroll Mahar (1823-1907) are both of an age that suggest that they are the parents of Thomas C. although if Ann Carroll is Thomas C’s mother, she was only 15 years old when he was born. Furthermore, the proximity of their graves to Thomas C’s grave would further support this assumption that these are his parents. In any case, it seems doubtful that an eight year old boy would be sent out on a crowded ship alone despite the fact that a survey of a typical ship’s manifest in the mid-1800s shows that the predominate passengers were young males, teenagers through their early 30s. I believe that the evidence suggests that Thomas and Ann Carroll Mahar were Kathleen’s great-great grandparents. [Again thanks to Judith Pettit we have learned that Thomas C. Mahar's parents were Daniel Mahar (1821-1893) and Elizabeth Carroll (1821-1895). Judith obtained a copy of Thomas C Mahar's death certificate wherein Daniel was listed as his father. We then noted that Thomas and Bridget named their oldest son Daniel and their oldest daughter Elizabeth both of whom were undoubtedly named for their grandparents.]
In 1869, Thomas C. Mahar married Bridget Halvey. He was 27; she was 21. We know very little about Bridget other than she listed herself in the 1900s US Census as having been born in Ireland. There are no other Halveys buried in the St. Patrick’s Cemetery therefore we have no information as to when and with whom she may have traveled in her voyage to the United States. Obviously she came to this county sometime after 1848, the year of her Irish birth and before she was 21, her age at her marriage. Together Bridget and Thomas C. had nine children including their second youngest child and Kathleen’s grandfather, Thomas Patrick Mahar, who was born in 1888. Thomas C Mahar spent his adult life working his farm on Checkered Tavern Road in Hartland, NewYork. He died at the age of 75 in 1917. His wife died at the age of 82 in 1930.
Kathleen’s grandparents on her father’s side were Thomas Patrick Mahar (1888-1964), son of Thomas C. and Bridget, and Rose Anne Burke (1882-1952), daughter of Patrick Burke and Anna Degnan. They were married around 1909 when Thomas P. was 21 and Rose Ann was 27. Together they had three sons including Kathleen’s father, Charles Henry Mahar, their second oldest son who was born on September 1, 1912 at the farm home on Checkered Tavern Road in Hartland, NY. Thomas Patrick worked on the farm with his father and later with his oldest son, Emmet, until he was in his 40s. For the remaining 15 years of his working career he was employed as a salesman for a farm feed and supply business located near their home in Olcott, New York. Rose Anne died in 1952 at the age of 70. Thomas Patrick died in 1964 at the age of 76. They are buried together in St. Patrick’s Cemetery.
Kathleen’s father, Charles Henry Mahar was born in 1912, the second oldest of the three sons of Thomas Patrick and Rose Anne. Until he was around 25 years old, he helped out around the family farm at which time following the outbreak of World War II he joined the U.S. Army and served for a short term of duty as a Private First Class. He left the military in 1942 and returned to his parent’s home in Olcott, NY. He then went to work as a house painter eventually joining the Painter’s Union in Niagara Falls in mid-1943. In June of 1943 he met Kathleen’s mother, Mary Agnes Stephen and in October of that same year they married. They had two daughters while living in Olcott, Rosemary, born in 1947, and Kathleen, born in 1948. They later relocated to Niagara Falls. Charles Henry worked as a union painter and later as a union electrician for most of his working career. In the late 1960s, Charles and Mary Agnes were divorced after having been separated for a number of years. Charles moved in the 1960s to Cattarugas County, NY. In the early 1970s, he suffered a massive heart attack. While he eventually physically recovered from the effects of the heart attack, he never completely recovered from the emotional impact. Undoubtedly the stress was too much for him for in 1974, Charles committed suicide near his Machias, NY home. He was buried next to his parents in St. Patrick’s Cemetery.
Kathleen’s maternal great grandfather, William Stephen (adjacent photograph), was born in Aberdeen, Scotland on October 23, 1864. He married Mary Anne Wilson in the mid-1880s and together they had eight children all of whom were born in Scotland including Kathleen’s grandfather William Stephen who was born on May 10, 1889. [In June 2007, I discovered what I believe to be the names of William's parents and Kathleen's great-great grandparents, Arthur Stephen and Margaret Anderson. Arthur was born around 1818 in Rayne, Aberdeenshire, Scotland (per the 1871 Scotland Census) and Margaret was born in 1820. The young son William is listed along with five other children. The reason that I concluded that Arthur and Margaret are William's parents other than the concurrance of the ages is that William named one of his children Arthur and another, Margaret. Arthur Stephen was a farm overseer at the Culter estate near Peterculter, Aberdeenshire for many years and also had an auctioneering business in the north of Scotland. One other observation worth noting. The family tradition is that the Stephens are related to Sir George Stephen (1829-1921) the noted Canadian railroad tycoon. I have never found any evidence to support this tradition, however family traditions carry a lot of weight and it is entirely possible that Sir George Stephen may have been an uncle or cousin of our Stephen family] The photograph of William Stephen (Sr) was taken in the late 1870s when he was around twelve years old. The fact that his family could afford to have a photograph taken of their son who is well dressed in the photo, tells us that the family were probably not poor farmers. When they finally emigrated to America in 1906, their reasons for leaving Scotland were far different than the reasons that the Burkes and the Mahars left Ireland in 1848 and 1850 respectively. Furthermore, the entire family traveled together, the eight children and the two parents, which would have cost substantially more than paid by the Irish on the sailing ships in the mid-1880s. [In November of 2008 I received an e-mail from Charlene, a descendant of Alexander Stephen (1810-1874), a brother of Arthur Stephen (1818-1900). She confirmed that Arthur Stephen and Margaret Anderson are the parents of William Stephen and Kathleen's great, great grandparents. She also indicated that some of William and Margaret Stephen's children arrived at Ellis Island in 1912 and not as a family together in 1906 as I originally assumed. Subsequent research on my part determined the following: William Stephen arrived on the ship Parthenia in Quebec on October 16, 1907. He may have been traveling with his son William Jr. Both of their names appear in a border crossing between Canada and the USA at Buffalo in March of 1910. William's wife, Mary Ann, arrived from Scotland and disembarked at Ellis Island on June 10, 1912. Their son James disembarked at Ellis Island on January 2, 1912, and their son Arthur arrived on September 28, 1912. Sons William, James, and Arthur all listed themselves as gardeners. For whatever reason, probably money, the family did not travel together on the same ship. William Stephen (Sr.) listed himself as living in Port Colborne, Ontario in 1910. I was also provided the names of Arthur Stephen's parents who were George Stephen (baptized on Sept 17, 1776 at Bonnyton, Rayne Parish, Aberdeenshire) and Margaret Jaffery. The Stephen family had been tenant farmers at Bonnyton for quite a few generations.] We believe that William Stephen (Sr) was probably a landscaper in Scotland as was his son, and he relocated to Canada to improve his employment opportunities. William Stephen (Sr) died in 1930 at the age of 68. His wife Mary Anne died in 1943 at the age of 80. They are buried together in Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada.
Kathleen’s maternal grandfather, William Stephen (Jr) was living in Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada probably with his parents, when he met and married a young Irish girl, Mary Agnes Walsh from Sligo, Ireland sometime around 1914.[A Border Crossing record dated 3 April 1918 shows that William Stephen with his wife and three children crossed from Buffalo, New York to Fort Erie, Ontario, Canada apparently with the intent of permanently moving to Canada. The records shows them to be "Settlers" and they paid a fee of $350. We have no idea why they moved although it may have been for employment purposes. He was listed as a "Gardener." We know that sometime after Agnes Walsh Stephen died in childbirth in Fort Erie in 1920, William and his three children returned to New York State.] He was 25 when they were married. She was 24. We know very little about Mary Agnes Walsh’s parents other than they were both born in Ireland, her father’s name was John James Walsh, and her mother’s maiden name was McCarthy and they probably emigrated from Ireland with their daughter, Mary Agnes Walsh, sometime around 1900. They had three other children after the birth of Mary Agnes.
The first child of William Stephen and Mary Agnes Walsh was Mary Agnes Stephen, Kathleen’s mother, (photograph to right) and she was born in 1915 in Buffalo, New York. She was followed by the birth of two other children, Florence and John, who were also born in Buffalo. In February 1920, Mary Agnes the mother, then only 29 years old died while giving birth to twin boys. She was buried in St Joseph’s Cemetery in Fort Erie, Ontario. [In 2009 I located information on the death of Agnes Stephen that contradicts some of what I wrote above. First her parents are listed as John Walsh and Anna Butts both born in Ireland. Secondly, only one baby was born (not twins) and the baby died at birth on February 16th, 1920. His mother Agnes died a day later on February 17th. Agnes and William Stephen were listed as living in Port Erie, Ontario at the time of her death.] Her oldest daughter, Kathleen’s mother, was only 4-1/2 years old when her mother died. After the death of his wife, William moved to Olean, New York where he continued his employment as a landscaper. He later remarried and had three more children. Two years before his death on May 4, 1948, also Kathleen’s birth date, he became an American citizen. He was only 59 when he died.
When Mary Agnes died, William believed that he was not in a position to take care of his three young children all under the age of five, and he sent them off to live with relatives. Kathleen’s mother, Mary Agnes, was sent to live with her grandparents William and Mary Anne, in Fort Erie. She lived with them until she was six and then moved to live with her Aunt Anne, her father’s sister, in Hamburg, New York. Aunt Anne divorced when Mary Agnes was ten, and Mary Agnes moved once again, this time back to her father’s home in Weston Mill’s, New York. At this point her father had remarried. When Mary Agnes was still a young 16 years old she moved out of her father’s home and went to work in Olean, New York. She later moved to Niagara Falls where at the age of 28 she met and married Charles Henry Mahar. At this time (2006), Kathleen’s mother is 91 and lives in Atlanta, Georgia near her daughter and Kathleen’s older sister, Rosemary. She is still in good health.
That said, we end the chapter of Kathleen’s family as we know it. The family represents the best of the immigrants that immigrated to the Americas in the later part of the 19th Century and the early part of the 20th Century. They were honest hardworking people and they accepted the risk of leaving their country and their family behind to start a new life in a new country. For their bravery we shall be forever grateful.