to His Father"
An Imagined Correspondence
These letters are fictional. However,
they draw on the historical record to illuminate
some of the experiences of immigrants to Cleveland.
16 December, 1859
I have not sent letters to you very often since leaving Ireland due to the fact that I can read but not write and finding a scribe in the neighborhood is difficult. A recently arrived neighbor women, Mary Brogan, has agreed to transcribe for me, for I have much to tell you. I know that you have not fully recovered from the drowning of your son and my younger brother last spring when he disappeared from the Cross & Perry's Coal Yard here in Cleveland. I am sorry to tell you of another tragedy that has befallen our family. My wife, Rosy, has been the victim of a brutal beating and doctors do not think she will live.
Before I tell you the circumstances surrounding Rosy's tragedy, I would like to fill in some details about Irishtown and our life here. In many ways, circumstances are not that different from Ireland. We have a Yankee Protestant ruling class that is afraid of our Roman Catholic culture, our hard drinking ways, and our poverty. To keep us more or less separated from them, marshy land was ceded to the Irish squatters along the Cuyahoga River which is an open sewer of industrial and human waste. We live in tarpaper shanties clinging desperately to the hillside above the river and the industrial center of town. Diseases such as cholera, diphtheria, scarlet fever, and diarrhea run rampant. Irishtown goes by many names: Limerick, Ireland under the hill, and the Angle and encompasses Whiskey Island and the area east of West 25th street and north of Detroit Street.
Rosy and I met on the ship and landed in Cleveland after the Federal Census in 1850. We were married late that year at the only Roman Catholic parish in the city, St. Mary's on the Flats. Unfortunately, I never took out a formal county marriage license. As with most of the Irish men, I came to this country with a love of the drink. Since there were not many social institutions for the incoming hordes of Irish immigrants, we replicated what we knew in Ireland: stopping by one of the many saloons on the way home from work as a day laborer to discuss our dreams and our despair. Rosy never lost her faith in me as "she labored with me and did her utmost" to make me reform. In 1851, Father Matthew, an Irish born temperance crusader preached a mission at the new Cathedral urging thousands in attendance to take the pledge. With Rosy's support, I did so. As a result of that pledge, I work regularly as a day laborer in the neighborhood. The most important result was the birth of my beloved daughter Celia in 1852. Unfortunately, my success has proven to be Rosy's downfall for she has developed a taste for the "creature".
Rosy was assaulted at the Kelley's shanty yesterday after one o'clock. When I arrived home between 2 and 3 o'clock there was a crowd of women at the Kelley's with poor Rosy laying on the floor in a pool of blood. Mrs. Connor was washing her face and the watchman was taking Mrs. Kelley out by the back door. William Kelley tried to run but was captured by Officers Rogers and Eastman on the Cleveland and Mahoning Railroad Coal Dock after a desperate struggle. The county coroner, Dr. Charles Hartmann had arrived with his staff, Drs. Messenger, and Strong. There are frightful gashes to the left side of her head, her ear is torn near off, and she is bruised and battered. They pronounced her condition as hopeless. There will be an inquest as soon as Rosy's fate is known.
We moved Rosy from the Kelley's shanty, which faces both River Street and Detroit Street near the Cuyahoga Steam Furnace Company, and bought her to my shanty near the Columbus Street bridge. Celia and I sit with Rosy, holding her hand. She is speaking frequently. The neighbors have been very kind, stopping by to pay their respects and look after us. I never heard of any quarrel between Rosy and the Kelley's but I did help the watch arrest Kelley about a year ago. I did not know he harbored a grudge against me and my family. The Kelley's have been described as a miserable couple. They are noisy and most of the neighbors don't like to associate with them very much. Kelley is abusive when he is drunk which is most of the time. He is known to beat his wife. I have tried to find out as much about them as I can. William Kelley arrived here in Cleveland on June 10, 1850 and lived in ward 3 just across the river with his mother and brother. He was naturalized on October 9, 1852. Margaret Lyons arrived in July 1855 and they were married on February 26, 1857. William Kelley is listed in the 1859 -1860 city directory as a laborer on West River. I think it is interesting that he sought the outward evidence of respectability with his marriage license, directory listing, and naturalization, while living a life of violence and drunkenness. I, on the other hand, have shunned the trappings of permanence in this place and focused more on the survival of my family. Obviously, I failed to save Rosy from tragedy by incurring a revengeful act as a result of my good citizenship. I wish we had heeded your call to return to Ireland, but Rosy was so opposed to returning to the land of such heartache. At least, here we are free to make our own mistakes.
Your loving son,
19 December, 1859
Rosy still lives. There has been much newspaper coverage about this tragedy with varying accounts of what happened. One version is that the Rosa and Mrs. Kelley were arguing about cabbages until William Kelley interceded forcefully, beating Rosy. The other version is that Mrs. Kelley walked in on Rosy in bed with Kelley, flew into a jealous rage, and hit Rosy with a billet of wood. I suspect the truth will come out at the inquest. Both Kelley's are in the City Prison. One newspaper account describes Kelley as a "brutal looking customer" considerably "under the influence of alcohol. The Kelley's each blame the other for the assault. On Friday, I asked Rosy during that day, as soon as I thought she got strength enough to answer, "Rosy, what was it that William Kelley did strike you with? Was it the ax? "No" she said, "with the shovel". She did not know if Margaret Kelley struck her. She did not speak of them again except to say the first blow came to her forehead. The Plain Dealer erroneously reported that Rosy died Saturday, December 18, while the Cleveland Leader reported that she raved and tossed considerably Saturday night. The last time she spoke was on Sunday. Celia and I continue our watch.
Pray for us,
21 December, 1859
I am sorry to tell you that Rosy passed away today. The newspapers again have reported varying accounts of her death. The Plain Dealer and the evening Herald had announced her funeral for today. Rosy's autopsy is today. The funeral will actually be tomorrow and she will be buried in Saints John's and Joseph's Catholic Cemetery.
Many of us have been summoned to Dr. Messenger's office on Detroit Street to give statements of evidence which will be considered by the jury at the inquest. I will write again with an abbreviated account of what I think really happened.
Your loving son,Frank
23 December, 1859
I have just finished reading the witnesses accounts of Rosy's assault and I will try to summarize what happened. A little before the one o'clock furnace bell rang, a cabbage cart came, attracting many of the neighborhood women. Rosy was standing next to Mrs. Kelley and seemed on amiable terms with her. Unbeknownst to me, Rosy had been to the Kelley's twice before; once about 8 weeks ago for a bit of the bottle and about a month ago to take back the washtub Mrs. Kelley had borrowed from her. Rosa was a washerwoman and could not afford to be without her tub for too long. William Kelley had not been home either time Rosa had been to the shanty. At the cabbage cart, Rosa picked out some cabbages and placed them in Mrs. Kelley's apron. They both left and walked towards Kelley's. It appeared that Mrs. Kelley invited Rosy in. She hesitated for a moment and then followed Mrs. Kelley into her shanty. William Kelley was there and offered both of the women whiskey which they drank. Bill Kelley sent his son away on an errand so that he would not witness what Kelley intended to do. Kelley continued to pour the women whiskey, drinking himself as he played the host. I think Rosa had been drinking before she arrived at the Kelley's and after about 45 minutes of indulging was "beastly drunk" and fell down on the bed. At this point Kelley decided to take out his revenge on Rosa instead of me and raped her. I think Margaret Kelley ran out at this point to Welsh's shanty saying "Come out and see the fun." She also called out to the milk woman and the watch that Mrs. O'Malia was in bed with Bill Kelley. She then went back in the shanty and barred the door. Kelley then said he would prevent Rosy telling about it and began to hit her with the shovel. I believe Margaret Kelley became enraged with jealousy and went after Rosy with the ax.
The jury has just handed down the indictments for both William and Margaret Kelley. They are both charged with the murder of my wife using different weapons.
Your loving son,
27 December, 1859
The Kelley's are to be examined in Police Court Thursday. They continue to charge each other with the crime. According to the Plain Dealer, they are a queer couple, and yesterday after a lengthy and angry dispute, commenced kicking each other." I have been told their trial will be early next year and they will be held in jail until that time.
12 March , 1860
I have just finished attending the trials of William and Margaret Kelley. William Kelley was arraigned on February 22, 1860. The jury was impaneled on the 29th. Kelley's court appointed counsel entered a plea of not guilty. On March 2, 1860, the jury returned the verdict of guilty of murder in the second degree. Kelley's attorney tried twice for a new trial and then requested that the court arrest judgement. All requests were overruled.
Mrs. Kelley's trial was going on at the same time as her husband's. On March 3, 1860, the jury handed down a guilty verdict for second degree murder. Her court appointed counsel, R.G. Hunt, tried for a new trial on the basis of new evidence but this motion was overruled on March 10.
On that same day, Judge Bolton sentenced William Kelley to life at hard labor at the Penitentiary, court costs of $221.30, and no solitary confinement. Margaret Lyons Kelley also received life at hard labor, court costs of $102.92, and no solitary confinement. When asked if he has anything to say, Kelley made a half hour speech charging the court with perjury, bribery, etc. and walked excitedly, gesticulating furiously. Mrs. Kelley also spoke and charged the jury with misconduct. Mr. Kelley then charged Margaret with the crime. She in turn charged him. After this the Court considered the case "sufficiently argued on both sides and disposed of them. Good riddance.
This has been very hard on Celia. I have considered returning to Ireland with her but Cleveland offers her a very important advantage. In 1850, Bishop Rappe began a convent school for girls which is run by the Ursuline nuns. Celia attends this school and can read and write. I cannot leave until she has finished her education and I can see her safely settled. I will then give her the choice to leave or stay because I will most assuredly come home to you.
15 May, 1870
I am coming home. Celia, at 19 years of age, has finished school and has a job as a domestic servant. I have just moved her into a boarding house. She does not want to come back to Ireland with me as she has been courted by Thomas McLaughlin, a laborer. I will miss her terribly.
There will be another census in June. I plan to be gone from here before then and will send word of my travel arrangements as soon as I can.