LAST WEEK we had a look at Carlow-born Pierce Butler’s contribution to the founding of the United States of America. As mentioned, there were two Irish-born men among the 40 who signed the American constitution; this week, we deal with the second, plus a further four senators. Many of those involved would take a full article on their own, a couple are straightforward, and I have decided on giving the newsworthy portions only.
William Paterson was born on 24 December 1745 in CountyAntrim. His parents Richard and Mary emigrated to New Jersey via Delaware in 1747, taking William with them. Within three years, his father, who sold household goods, had purchased a general store in the town of Princeton.
William was schooled at New JerseyCollege, now PrincetonUniversity. Following graduation, he studied law in the office of Richard Stockton; he was admitted to the New Jersey bar in 1768 and set up his own law company. This was the first part of a successful career that would see him become an associate Supreme Court justice. Paterson also wrote the laws for his state, which replaced the British laws.
In 1779, he married wealthy landowner John Bell’s daughter, Cornelia. His first child, a daughter named after her mother, was born a year later. With another daughter, Frances, born in 1782, Paterson liked nothing better than being with his family. However, tragedy struck when Frances took ill and died in June 1783. Cornelia, who was expecting their third child, also took ill. On 9 November 1783, their son William Bell Paterson was born; sadly, four days later, weakened further by childbirth, Cornelia passed away. In 1785, Paterson married Euphemia White, who had been a friend of his late wife. He was now involved in many political and judicial positions, which took up most of his time.
He served in the Senate from 4 March 1789 to November 1780, when he resigned to become New Jersey state governor, a position he held until resigning in 1793 to take up his post in the Supreme Court. This was a position he held up to his death at the home of his daughter Cornelia Renesselaer in Albany, New York on 9 September 1806, aged 61. Initially interred in the Manor House vault, he was reinterred in the Renesselaer family lot in AlbanyRuralCemetery after the Manor House was destroyed by fire in 1900.
Alexander Porter was born on 24 June 1786, but there is some confusion as to where: some records suggest Donegal, but there is part of the family tree which would suggest Armagh. I may make this slightly more confusing, due to the movements of Alexander’s father James and mother Anne (Knox) whose history is a little easier to follow. His grandparents lived in Conleigh parish and were members of the Presbyterian community of Ballindrait, all in CountyDonegal. James was born here and became a minister to his religion, having left home following a dispute with his grandfather. James Porter had eight children – two sons, Alexander and James, and six daughters, Rebecca, Matilda, Ellen Ann, Isobella Sophia and Eliza, who died as a child.
James Senior, then a minister at Greyabbey, CountyDown, was hanged for his support of the 1798 rebellion at Greyabbey on 2 July 1798, aged 45. He is interred in the Abbey cemetery, as is his wife and daughter Eliza, who died young. This movement is what causes confusion as to Alexander’s birthplace, as James and Anna spent the early years of their marriage at Anne’s father’s home at Eden Hill, CountyDown. James then spent time in Drogheda and studied in Glasgow, then preached in Bangor, before taking up the Greyabbey post on 31 July 1787. This is as far as I can pin the family movements, but in James Junior’s memoirs he puts Alexander’s birth place as Armagh.
Alexander, then 14, and James Junior, who was a year younger, left for the USA with their uncle, also named Alexander, and settled in Nashville, Tennessee. Their sister Rebecca would follow later. Alexander studied law and was admitted to the bar in 1807. It was on the advice of General Jackson that he moved to Louisiana, practising law from St Martinsville. He served in the House of Representatives in 1816-1818, became an associate judge of the Supreme Court from 1821-1833, setting up his sugar plantation called Oaklawn as he progressed, amassing 3,000 acres and 407 slaves by 1840. Porter served in the Senate from 1833-1837, was re-elected in 1843, serving (when bad health allowed) until his death.
Alexander Porter died on 13 January 1844, aged 58, and is buried with his wife Evalina Baker, who died (aged 22) while giving birth to their second daughter, as did his first daughter, also Evalina, both in 1819. All are interred in the family plot in the old city cemetery in Nashville, where a worthy monument marks the grave.
John Conness was a Democrat who represented California in the Senate. Conness was born in Abbey, CountyGalway on 22 September 1821. His father Walter was a highly-respected intellectual, while his mother Mary (née Williams) was a person who had a reputation for kindness and generosity. There were 14 children in the Conness family.
John emigrated to New York aged 15 in 1836, holding a number of jobs before moving to California in 1849 on hearing of the gold discovery in that state. Having worked MormonIsland and the middle fork of the AmericanRiver, he set up a business in Georgetown selling supplies. He became involved in politics with the Democratic Party and was selected by the legislature to fill a Senate seat for the term 3 March 1863 to 4 March 1869, during which time he switched to the Republicans. Conness was one of the pallbearers at Lincoln’s funeral on 19 April 1965. At the end of his Senate term, he relocated to Boston, where he lived out his life. He died on 10 January 1909 aged 87 at Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts and is buried in CedarGroveCemetery, Dorchester, Boston.
Eugene Casserly, born in Mullingar on 13 November 1820, was another Irish-born Democratic senator who represented California from 4 March 1869 to 29 November 1873, taking the place of the aforementioned John Conness. Patrick Casserly was Eugene’s father and emigrated with his family to New York in 1822.
Eugene attended GeorgetownUniversity and, on graduation, worked in journalism, becoming editor of the ***Freeman’s Journal***, while also studying law. He was called to the bar in 1844.
He moved to San Francisco in 1850 and concentrated on politics and law. He married Teresa Doyle and they had three children, Augustine (1861-1893), Eugene (1869-1925) and Frances (1856-1858). He died on 14 June 1883 and was first interred in CalvaryCemetery, before being reinterred in HolyCrossCemetery, Colma in 1904. On her death in 1911, Teresa was interred alongside her husband.
Charles William Jones, who spent two terms as a US senator from 3 March 1875 to 3 March 1887, was a popular and admired politician but he is unfortunately remembered more for his romance or, should I say, one-sided romance or unrequited love as for his political achievements.
Born in Balbriggan, CountyDublin on Christmas Eve 1834, his father, a British army dental surgeon, died when Jones was a child and his mother decided to leave for the United States, arriving in New York in 1844. There, he attended public schools before moving to Louisiana in 1848. He moved again, spending a short time in Mississippi before moving on to Santa Rosa County, Florida. Here, he worked as a carpenter while attending school at night, studying law. The 23-year-old was called to the bar in 1857, practising from Pensacola. It was at this time he began his political career, which led to the Senate.
Jones married Mary Ada Quigley from Mobile, Alabama in 1861. The couple had four children, Charles, John, William and Mary Ada, prior to his wife’s untimely death in 1880, aged 37. Jones was instrumental in Grover Cleveland’s election as president in 1884, visiting Ireland to request Irish people to encourage those living in the USA to support Cleveland. Jones was predicted for high office, but a behavioural change in 1885 when on a trip to Detroit would change all this and finish both his political life and his whole future.
By now, Jones had quietly developed a strange obsession with women, where if he became attracted to one he would follow up vigorously, most times to the distress of the woman involved. Such was the case in Detroit, where he met a lady called Clothilde Palms, variously described as a 24-year-old elegant lady to what I find is the correct description of a 35-year-old plain-looking woman. At first, when he called to Miss Palms’s home, he was pleasantly received, but as this became a daily occurrence the mood changed, and although (as one paper reported) her father Francis put an end to the calls, this is doubtful as he had had a paralytic stroke a number of years before.
Jones requested priests to intervene, but they refused, one sending him a letter in which he called him a love-mad man. Jones refused contact with his fellow senators with the excuse that he needed rest. It was now obvious that he was having mental difficulties.
The absence of Jones from the Senate saw all his committee appointments removed and eventually when his time ran out in March 1887 so too did his salary. His standard of living hit rock bottom; he became unrecognisable, dirty, unshaven and wearing rags, now depending on charity. In May 1890, a probate court in Detroit agreed with a petition by Jones’s son John to restrain him and, shortly after, he was taken to St Joseph Retreat, Dearborn, a Catholic institution for the insane, where he remained for seven years up to his death on 11 October 1897. His only daughter, Mary Ada, accompanied his body back to Pensacola, where he was interred with his wife in St Michael’s Cemetery.
What caused a man who had worked hard to reach the heights he did to end like this? Some say it was as a result of all the approaches for favours when a Democrat won the presidency, that he could not take the pressure and had to get out of WashingtonDC, while the other question still remains: was he love-mad?
There we leave this part of our story. Next week we will conclude with the remaining four, including Carlow-born Thomas MacDonald Patterson.