As stated before it appears from maps and from the location
of the only Catholic Church in the Township that most of the early Irish
Catholics lived in the Landenberg-Kaolin-New Garden Village areas: Civil wars
flared frequently in Ireland between English Protestants and Irish Catholics for
reasons too numerous to cover here. Protestants were treated little better than
Catholics and were the chief rebels in the early 1700s when agrarian revolt was
greater in northern Ireland than in the south. The Protestant Irish Parliament
was more limited, and more corrupt, than the British Parliament. Literary and
scientific activity was conducted in English and was a part of English cu1ture
with nothing distinctively Irish about it. The Catholic religion and the Irish
language were outcast, persecuted things.
Ireland became a land of rent-paying peasants as landlords
moved to England and spent rents and invested there, and steadily drained the
wealth of Ireland. Dublin became depleted; Ireland was bled white. Cultivation
degenerated more and more into potato growing and pig feeding as Irish morale
decreased. It has been written that except for the consumption of whiskey when
it could be got, and a little fighting, family life was the only amusement. The
Irish married and bred. The population of the country was 2,845,932 in 1785,
jumped to 5,536,594 by 1802, and by 1845 reached 8,295,061, at which point the
potato gave way and there was the frightful famine. Many died; many emigrated
elsewhere, especially to the United States.
During the Winter of 1846-47, the distress caused by the
crop failure awakened the sympathies of people all over the world, and reached
even into Chester County. Public interest in the plight of the Irish was high
and on February 5, 1847, a public meeting at the Court House in West Chester led to the appointment of committees, including one in each Township, to speak
to and solicit subscriptions from the people of the County to aid their cause. West Chester headed the list by early March with pledges that totaled $534.92. Shortly thereafter,
New Garden's committee reported it had collected $300.00. They had, also,
purchased from millers of the Township fifty barrels of flour which was sent to
Philadelphia for immediate shipment to Ireland. Additional bounty - corn meal,
wheat flour, rye flour, barrels of pork and beef, and bushels of peas - collected
throughout the County went to Cork, one of the most depressed areas. Receipt
was acknowledged with the statement, "Never did a gift come more opportunely;
our own funds are all but spent, and our government has ordered all relief
works to be suspended. In a few days more our district would have been
subjected to the horrors that are now, and have been for months, sweeping away
thousands upon thousands of the Irish population..."
Irish writers and those who visited Ireland to appraise the
situation of the peasants even before the potato famine struck reported them
even then sunk to "the very extreme of human wretchedness," and one who had
studied first-hand the plight of the American Negro in slavery described
conditions of Irish peasants as far worse than anything he had observed in
America. The many descriptions written after the famine were heartbreaking.
They wrote of nearly naked people grubbing frozen roots from frozen fields;
parties of tall, brawny men stalking by with fierce, vacant scowls as if
realizing that this oughtn't to be, but knowing not who to blame; and little
children sitting in the weak winter sunlight, for they could not stand, with
bloated yet wrinkled faces and fleshless limbs, who would never grow up to be
men and women. Of the thousands who left Ireland, hundreds never reached the
Promised Lands. The ships were called, appropriately enough, "Coffin Ships,"
and from twenty to over fifty percent of the passengers died on the various
voyages. Many who survived were not permitted ashore because of pestilence, but
were herded onto coastal islands where more died and were buried in trenches.
Those who reached America and found employment and established homes helped
other family members as well as friends do the same thing.
The 1851 tax records of New Garden Township list a few names
that are identifiable as early Irish Catholic families - Peter Connel, Charles
Callahan, Dennis Gleeson, Thomas McCallough, George Crawford, Patrick Donhue,
Michael McLaughlin, Timothy Nolan, and Farrigan Dugan. Several were added in
the next six years - Joseph Kelly, James Galligar, Michael Giddy, Patrick
Meloney, Matthew Shay, Michael Grady, Dennis Mahoney, James Gown. Each year
thereafter found additional names and by 1870 the names that are most familiar
to us today had appeared - McMahon, Moynihan, Kalaher, Desmond, Shehan, Mealey,
Lafferty, Galway, Diller, Duffie, Fahy, Twomey, Sheridan, O'Neal, Leary, Quill
and Sullivan. Added still later were Slavin, Farkasch, Lyons, and O'Brien. The
spelling is as it appears on the Township records. In many cases the immigrants
did not read or write well, and spelling was made by the writer as he heard the
name pronounced. In most cases the "O" or the "Mac" or "Mc" that preceded a
name was dropped and never added again. While some of the names do not appear
on the tax records until the late 1800s, the families lived here earlier but
owned little that was taxable.
Many came to work with the railroad. Some helped build the
line through Toughkenamon and continued working for that company when
construction was completed, while others worked later on the Wilmington and
Western Railroad to Landenberg, both in its construction and in its operation
and maintenance. Others were drawn by employment at the clay works of Kaolin. A
great many worked as farm laborers. Some women and children may have sought
employment at the mills in Landenberg, but generally they did domestic work.
Much help was given these families by Friends of the area who extended the
relief that had begun in Ireland, itself. It is said that they accepted the
same responsibility for the Irish Catholics as they did for other Quakers, and
helped them prosper. They lent money on mortgages at the going rate of
interest, but were patient when times were hard; lent horses when one was lame;
helped tend sick animals; planted and harvested if a neighbor became ill. There
seemed to be no self-consciousness about religious differences, but it is said
that the Irish Catholic sometimes had an occasional laugh at the Quakers for "observing
punctiliously the requirements of their religion without letting it interfere
with their worldly practicality."
The work on their farms was often done by the numerous
children in the family if father went elsewhere to a daily job. The only
holidays for many were Sundays and Christmas and an occasional pattern (picnic)
in the Summertime. But, weddings and christenings and, of course, the wake
provided an opportunity to meet for the great Irish arts of story-telling and
singing, and a little tippling to brighten the occasion. Children were not
raised on nursery rhymes, but on stories of the "wee folk" - fairies and
leprechauns - and ghosts and the devil and the banshee, told first-hand by those
who had witnessed their doings, or in whose presence the banshee had announced
forthcoming doom. Parents often resorted to speaking in Gaelic for discussing
those things children shouldn't hear. When father took produce "to town" (Wilmington) on market days, he often started just after midnight to be there for the first early customers. If the weather was bad or "dark of the moon" he left on
the afternoon before and slept through the night under horse blankets. A candy
stick or a few ginger cakes, or an orange or banana if in season, were brought
home for the children.
One family that came early and stayed long is the Sheehan
family. Timothy Sheehan came to America on a sailing vessel that docked in Philadelphia in 1851 accompanied by a brother, William, and a friend, Dennis Lynch. They
walked to Kaolin where another brother, Thomas, was working for he had arrived
a year earlier. Timothy went to work for a farmer at Toughkenamon and spent the
rest of his life in New Garden Township. He met and married Joanna O'Brien in
1857 and they became the parents of six children. Their son, Daniel, later
recounted many stories they had told of their voyage from Ballyvourney, County Cork, and nearby Bantry, to the United States. In spite of hardship and terrible storms,
etc. the trip took only six or seven weeks. Two of their children died in
childhood and a son, John, went to California while still a young man. A
daughter, Mary, married Francis Hyde and son, Daniel, grew up to become a
farmer. He married Margaret Kelleher.
Daniel Sheehan was an ardent Democrat who, promoted temperance
and education. He was always interested in community affairs. In 1900 he moved
to the general store in Kaolin and became Postmaster of the Village until the
office was closed. His daughter, Anne (Wood) taught at Landenberg School for many years while sons, Daniel F., Jr. and T. Joseph, operated the feed and supply
business there. Joseph's wife, Helen Kelly Sheehan is well remembered as
Postmistress in Landenberg for she spent many devoted years there.
Margaret Kelleher Sheehan was the daughter of Michael
Kelleher and Alice Callahan. They married in 1861 and settled first near
Hockessin, and later near Landenberg. Four of their eleven children died when a
scarlet fever epidemic swept the area. The Kelleher name is extensive
throughout our Township but many of the families are unrelated while others
have only distant family connections. Two brothers who came early and stayed
were James and Jeremiah Kelleher of County Cork. They were distantly related to
James Kelleher came first to the Kennett Square area and met
and married Elizabeth Kelleher about 1903. Elizabeth had arrived shortly "after
the big snow" the first time, returned to Ireland for awhile, and once again
came to the United States. After their marriage, they lived at Broad Run until
purchasing their Starr Road farm in 1910. His early work on farms brought him
$12.50 weekly, while his wife recalled that domestic work paid $1.50 per week
plus board. Their daughter, Johanna, now lives at the Starr Road farm along
with her niece and her husband, Mr. and Mrs. Charles Blevins, and their four
children - three generations yet living in the house of her parents. James
Kelleher was a lover of auctions and conversation who bought and sold cattle
extensively. Elizabeth Kelleher was a cousin of Daniel Kelleher who had settled
earlier on Sharp Road.
Jeremiah Kelleher married Ellen Connell when he settled in New Garden Township where he remained until his death. His son, J. James, married Frances
Folger who bore him two sons, W. Thomas and R. Jerry, who yet live here with
their families. James Kelleher spent most of his working life farming, but did
other work, too. Several years were spent working for the Township, and his
son, Thomas, has served as Township Secretary since 1962. D. John Kelleher, the
other son of Jeremiah, married Agnes Kelly and moved from the family farm to
West Grove. He had always hauled milk for the dairy and is well known to the
many farmers of the area.
Jeremiah's wife, Ellen, was the daughter of John Connell and
Hannah Twomey. John Connell credited Daniel Kelleher with aiding him to get to America. He and Hannah had several other children, among them John "Tibbie" Connell whose
colorful presence is known to many in West Grove and surrounding areas. "Tibbie's"
present wife, M. Elizabeth Lamborn Connell, is the granddaughter of Peter
Connell, one of the early taxpayers in our Township. After leaving Dublin, Peter Connell went to England and later came to the United States from there. When
he lived in New Garden Township, it was near the railroad for his children
walked "the long trestle" to go to Lizzie Sharpless School on London Tract Road.
Hannah Twomey Connell's parents, Michael and Mary, the
parents of five children, were indirectly related through marriage to William
Sheehan and came here at the urging of that family. They moved here from Massachusetts to the little house close by the Friend's Cemetery.
Mark Hughes Sullivan, father of William W. Sullivan who
operated the feed and supply business in Landenberg before it was owned by
Sheehan Brothers, hailed from near the village of Banleer, County Cork, in the early 1840s. He met Julia Gleason of Ballyvourney, also, and after their
marriage settled in nearby London Grove Township. His tenth and youngest child,
Mark, was a noted writer who penned among many things a very descriptive story
of his early childhood there.
Many of these and the families which follow are related,
either directly or through marriage. Information on some is sketchy and has
been pieced together with difficulty by children and grandchildren who sought
Martin Dillon arrived in the United States between 1850 and
1860 from County Wexford and made his way to New Garden Township where he
worked on the railroad. His son, Edward, was the father of seven children
including another named Martin who in turn fathered four - Martin, Jr. who
operates the Avondale Diner and whose son, Martin (Pat), represents the fifth
generation of that name within the Township; a twin brother to Martin, Jr.,
James, who lives in Florida; and two sisters, Mary (O'Connell) and Margaret
(Markel) who live in West Grove. A daughter of the first Martin, Anna, married
Frank Lafferty. Edward Dillon and his young son supplied the bark of willow
trees that was necessary in the production of gunpowder to the DuPont
Eleutherian Mills in Wilmington.
Michael Lafferty's arrival here was delayed to permit his
wife to come first. Mary Magdalene Kelly Lafferty and Michael of County Mayo
were at the docks when she found her papers were missing. Michael gave her his,
for she felt it would have been impossible to face her son and parents, again,
for goodbyes. Their son, Peter, was forced to remain in Ireland since no one under fifteen years of age was permitted on the voyage. Mary Lafferty was cared
for by four young women of Philadelphia on board ship during the six weeks
journey. They helped her find employment when they landed. Mary was joined by
her husband and they came to Kaolin to be with his brothers, James, Peter,
John, and Frank. James Lafferty had been the first to arrive in the area.
Michael worked on various farms and at the Spencer Kaolin Works with his
brothers. The family lived in "Dutch Row" until that house became too small for
the parents and ten children born at Kaolin. They then moved to "the little
brown house" on the Spencer estate, and later to their big farm nearby. When
Graham Spencer died, Michael Lafferty purchased the property from his widow.
Their son, Louis, moved into, the mansion house while two other sons, Hugh and
Frank, moved to other houses on the property. The oldest son, Peter, was
brought to America by Mary's brother, Hugh Kelly, when he reached age fifteen.
Many of the Lafferty children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren live in
and around Kaolin today. A daughter, Margaret, who married Christopher
Vandegrift, built her home on the foundation of "the little brown house" that
had burned and has lived there for 51 years. Her sister, Agnes, widow of the
aforementioned Raymond O'Neal, has lived in her same house for fifty years.
Clay has given way to mushrooms and several family members have entered that
business. Frank was the first to do so, followed by Louis and others, and now
by their sons and grandsons.
John and Cornelius Moynihan each owned a farm off Sawmill Road in Landenberg by 1873 and may have been brothers. Little has been found of
Cornelius who may have moved to West Grove shortly thereafter. John Moynihan
was a Section Foreman on the railroad whose crew maintained the area from
Avondale to Landenberg. He married Julia Haley and had a son, Daniel, who went
on to practice medicine in Chester; and a daughter, Josephine, who taught at Avondale School for many years. John's brother, Andrew, also farmed near Landenberg. He was
interested in astronomy and had a stargazing room atop his home.
The McMahon family was here prior to 1870. William, of County Claire, married Mary McGrath and farmed for many years on Sawmill Road. His oldest
of seven children, Robert, who married Cathleen Connell was a Foreman on the
Railroad. Another son, Thomas, was a cattle dealer in Landenberg in partnership
with William Turner and, also, the first rural mail carrier from Landenberg
Post Office. He said he took the job "because nobody else wanted it." Land for
St. Francis Xavier Church was donated by the McMahon family.
George Reardon moved to his farm, "Oakdale," near the Lyceum
House after he married Hannah Lynch. His parents had settled in Hockessin when
they arrived from County Cork. At one time he was a local Tax Collector whose
horse, it was jokingly said, stopped at each house along the way of any trip he
made in the Township. He moved near Toughkenamon later and served as Township
Supervisor, then as a Director of Kennett Bank when he retired.
Cornelius Quill farmed in Landenberg. He lived in Philadelphia after leaving Ireland and came to Laurel Heights Road from there. His son,
Timothy, worked on the railroad and moved elsewhere, while other sons, Cornelius
and Dennis, farmed the old New Garden Inn property after purchasing it. They
were known as very good men with the soil who planted and cultivated "by the
Michael O'Neill lived near New Garden Meeting House in 1858.
During a certain portion of each week he sold dry goods and other items from
his wagon throughout the neighborhood and was "at home" on Saturdays to wait on
customers. Nothing further is found of him which is unfortunate, for the Irish
peddler has become such a tradition that his story would probably be an
The family lists could go on endlessly, for there are so
many more who added so much with their sturdy farms, their political
involvement, the color and contrast of their lives with such fun-loving ways
and family devotion. These few selected are only representative of many.