“Mouldering to Dust…”
Reviving the History of a Forgotten Irish Family
The story of this “Forgotten Irish Family” follows the Kelly’s from County Cork, Ireland to what was then one of the western frontier towns of the United State of America-Quincy, Illinois. The earliest records found are from the ship “John Cumming” where the Kelly’s are listed as passengers, embarking from Liverpool, England and landing in New York City on May 11th, 1837. Little is known of their time spent in Ireland or from exactly where within County Cork they came from. The only clues thus far are from the ships passenger list showing their origin as County Cork and the headstone of Patrick and Honora Kelly, buried in St. Bridgid’s Catholic Cemetery in Liberty, Illinois where “County Cork” is prevalent on the stone. Unless you have the townland or parish from where they came, Ireland can be and is known as a “Blackhole” of sorts to genealogists and historians alike. This work continues on.
Between May of 1837 and 1838 Timothy and Patrick Sr. and family made their way west from New York, eventually coming to Quincy, Illinois with the promise of work on the Northern Cross Railroad. Timothy was the contractor of this project and brought with him not only his brother Patrick and family but also dozens of other Irish immigrants eager to be working. Grading of the land began at Front Street and extended up the bluffs and crevices heading east and eventually became what is now known today as Broadway Street in downtown Quincy. None of the grading the workers performed ended up being used for the railroad.
At some point early after the arrival in Quincy, Timothy, and some years later, his nephews; Michael and Maurice, became involved in the politics of the day affiliating themselves with the Democratic party…or “Locofocos” as their opponents in the Whig party would call them. The Democrats saw early on that Timothy Kelly and his “Band of Irishmen” could be a force to be reckoned with at the polls and courted them heavily, especially around election time! A Whig article from 1844 furiously vents 1 on the Locofocos and “Capt. Kelly and his men…marching in formation up the steps of the courthouse and casting their votes as one body….”.
The history goes on to describe more on the life, and the death, of “Captain” Timothy Kelly, including his raising of a company of local militiamen known as the “Irish Grays”, later known as the Montgomery Guards. His close loss to John Wood in the Quincy Mayoral election of 1846 caused quite a stir and his tragic death at the Battle of Buena Vista in the Mexican War on Feb 22nd, 1847 was the talk of Adams County. The eventual return of his body escorted by Peter Lott via the Steamship “Ocean” five months later interrupted a picnic and a speech about to be given by the great orator Orville Hickman Browning in honor of the returning “Quincy Heroes” of the Mexican War. He was buried at the old St. Peter’s Cemetery on 18th and Maine in Quincy. The cemetery was later converted to residential with the bodies being exhumed and presumably interred at another cemetery. A mystery has now arisen as to where exactly the remains of the “Capt. Kelly” are buried in Quincy. The title of this story, “…Mouldering to Dust” comes from a Letter to the Editor of the The Quincy Whig Republican in 1860 describing Timothy Kelly’s grave; “…for a number of years the tombstone originally intended to cover the grave of this honored hero has laid on the roadway outside the fence of the burial ground, mouldering to dust…”
Years later his nephews, Michael and Maurice (Morris) Kelly began to climb the political ladder in Quincy and Adams County. The younger brother, Michael, unfortunately died suddenly of “Dropsy” in 1877 before his political aspirations may have been realized. Morris eventually became a Parade Marshall for Stephen Douglas at the legendary Lincoln-Douglas debate in 1858, served as Sheriff of Adams County, State Representative, State Senator and eventually being appointed by President Cleveland as “Revenue Collector” for the western part of the state of Illinois and finally serving on the Board of Supervisors for Adams County before retiring as a successful politician and gentleman farmer. He died of a heart attack in Liberty, IL on October 5th, 1911 at Campbell’s General Store at the age of 82.
The early Kelly family overcame many obstacles…as did many immigrant families of the day…to rise to not only an overall comfortable financial and social level but to also take an active part in the betterment of their community, state, and country. They were well known in their day with many people considering them their friends, and not just a few that considered them otherwise. Their stories are now coming to light after many years in the dark. I hope to uncover and discover much more in the weeks, months and years to come.
Thank you Scott Reed.