History Hoydens


Historical Romance Writers Dishing the Dirt on Research

17 March 2010

A Nod to My Irish Ancestor on St. Patrick's Day

Thanks to my uncle Bruce Carroll, the unofficial keeper of the family genealogy, I've learned more about one of our ancestors, Capt. William Haggarty (who until this morning I had believed spelled his name "Haggerty" (Isn't that a song?)

When I was a little girl, his portrait hung in my grandparents' Upper East Side apartment. It was a huge treat for me to stay overnight with them; but I slept on the sofa in the living room, and in truth was terrified to fall asleep, because I was dead certain that Grandpa Haggarty's eyes -- oh, those black Irish eyes! -- were following me wherever I moved.

Grandpa Haggarty's portrait was painted most likely in the 1830s during a time when the middle and merchant classes displayed their wealth and taste by having themselves painted. When you look more closely at the image, you can see that the face, rich in detail and character, was painted by the studio master; but after that, things tend to go south. The hands are not well delineated and appear like soft, mushy appendages -- hardly those of a captain of industry. And Haggerty's garments fade to black fairly quickly as well. The lack of detail in his hands and garments leads me to conclude that the balance of his portrait was completed by the painter's assistants or apprentices.

Here's the family history from my uncle:

Capt. William Haggarty* told the census taker in 1850 that he was born in 1798 "on the ocean" Given the family sense of humor I'm not sure if he was making a joke about his life as a packet boat captain...or if he was really born on the ship coming from Ireland. In 1850 he lived in New Jersey and was a neighbor of Commodore Vanderbilt. Family legend has it that Haggarty was asked by Vanderbilt if he wanted to invest in this great new iron horse technology (eventually the NY Central RR) but Capt. Haggarty felt folks would rather take a boat than a risky thing like a railroad which at the time basically followed the river and Erie canal routes and even had to pay the Erie canal for lost revenue.

Haggarty had one daughter Leonora aka Leah who was born in 2/28/1830 died 12/26/1906. Her mother died in childbirth (name unknown) the painting was done in 1835. Capt. Haggarty died in 1877. Leah Haggarty married [Jewish] German immigrant Jacob Strauss (who became a US citizen in NY March 27, 1855 and married Leah Sept. 1, 1857. They had three children Caroline (aka Carrie) 10/24/1858 - 10/4/1900.
[My maternal grandfather] Carroll [Carroll] was named after her.
Leonora Strauss 7/14/1860 (known to [my mother] Leda and [her brother] Bruce as Aunt Nonie) died 10/19/1942 She had married Edward Harzfeld on Jan 9, 1883.
And [my maternal great-grandmother, Carroll's mother] Bertha 2/21/1864 - 7/6/1959 Married Lucius Weinschenk 9/10/1895 had Carroll 4/11/1902. Lucius died May 30, 1912 in Buffalo NY where he was running the Neal Institute which appears to have found the cure for every disease known to man.

* (Haggarty appears to be the spelling from the family bible...this might be an example of the times and what George Washington, who was alive when Haggarty was born, is alleged to have said: "I have no respect for a man who can spell a word but one way.")

So, here's to the Irish today! May the winds be always at your back and your eyes never lose their smile. And may you continue to be wonderful storytellers!

Anyone else out there with Irish heritage who would like to share something about their ancestors today?


Anonymous Tinky said...

Well--I'm only arguably Irish since my great gran was Scots-Irish. Here's what I wrote about her last year:
I'm wearing green this year. Life is short....

6:24 AM  
Blogger Diane Whiteside said...

Congrats on your Irish ancestor, Leslie! My Irish great-great grandparents, Thomas and Julia Graham, came over from Waterford in 1867 to help build the Transcontinental Railroad. Thanks to their spectacular five year bonus from the railroad as a couple, they were able to buy a former cotton plantation in Birmingham, AL and found a dynasty.

I've woven snippets from their history into my Donovan books.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Then said...

The luck o' the Irish to you, Leslie! Your uncle's diligence in keeping hold of family history inspires me to do the same.

My Irish ancestors sailed on over to the US generations back. When my sisters visited Ireland a few years ago, they looked up the old home town. It's naught but a train station stop in the middle o' nowhere now!

11:36 AM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Tinky, thanks for the link! I'm wearing green today, too. With my red Irish hair streaming down my back.

Diane, your Irish ancestors sound a lot wiser than Grandpa Haggarty. If he'd listened to Commodore Vanderbilt's advice, I might be a rich woman, now. My ancestors have Mark Twain's knack for investments. Actually, that's not true: Twain invested unwisely and often. My antecedents routinely passed up chances to invest in the Next Big Technology (and consequently blew the opportunity to become millionaires). Grandpa Haggarty could have been a railroad titan. My grandfather Carroll Carroll (Capt. Haggarty's descendant) was given the chance to get in on the ground floor of Ampex tape (reel to reel), or so the legend goes.

Oh -- and I learned something else from my uncle about the portrait of William Haggarty in my post: in the 1940s, the painting was cleaned by Francis Taylor (art restorer and father of Elizabeth Taylor -- my mother's family lived in Beverly Hills) and lo and behold, Grandpa Haggarty's suit was revealed to be dark green! How fitting on St. Patrick's Day, not to mention period-accurate!

Katharine, thank you for sharing your family history here! It's wonderful that they visited the "old sod," no matter what they discovered. I'm not sure which city, village, or town Capt. Haggarty hailed from, but we know he was Northern Irish, and Protestant.

11:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Leslie, I was once on an old plantation home tour, and we were shown various family portraits. I remember the docent saying that how portraits were frequently done is that the artist - and they were frequently itinerant - would simply whip up a bunch of headless body paintings to have on hand, then customize the head to a relatively appropriate body. Maybe that's what happened to your ancestor!!!

Speaking of Mark Twain, wasn't it he who made the comment about not respecting someone who couldn't spell something two ways? I could be wrong.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!

2:26 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

Christine, I'm not surprised to hear about the stock portraits just waiting for a patron's head. Sort of like standing behind those cutouts of pirates or saloon girls!

You could be right about Twain. It was my uncle Bruce who attributed the quote to George Washington. I always thought the quote was attributable to a different George: George Bernard Shaw, who after all, insisted that spelling was a fungible thing and famously demonstrating how (phonetically) G-H-O-T-I spelled "fish."

3:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My Father’s family came over during the Irish famine some time between 1848 and 1852 (my great, great,? grandfather was born in Ireland in 1848 and the next child was born in Quebec in 1852.) My grandfather was born in 1891, in Upstate NY, the only one of the 8 children not born in Canada. Canada was very welcoming to the Irish being forced (starved) out by the English. The area of New York along the NE border was primarily french and irish.

10:04 PM  
Blogger Tracy Grant said...

What a wonderful post, Leslie! You should do a book about William Haggarty. I don't have any Irish ancestors that I know of (the ones I know of are Scottish, English, Welsh, German, Czech, and Ukrainian Jewish), but I wore green today. It's also a good friend's birthday on March 17th, so I spent St. Patrick's Day evening in an Italian restaurant (which somehow seems appropriate to the immigrant nature of our country).

Your story about being afraid of the portrait is similar to something that happened to me. My great-uncle was a painter, and there's a wonderful portrait he did of a Portuguese man that hangs along my staircase Two of my friends' young daughters were spending the night at my house, and they were afraid of the portrait (which I think looks like lovely, gentle man), so I had to take it down and turn it to the wall while they were were.

11:32 PM  
Blogger Leslie Carroll said...

LibraryPat, thanks for stopping by! What a frightening (and bold) trek it must have been to flee the potato famine and sail to North America. The passage would be a story in itself. Do you know what your Irish ancestor's trade was?

Thanks for your comment, Tracy! I'm also a geographical genealogical "mutt" (and proud of it) too! I've mentioned on our blog in the past that Felix Mendelssohn is an ancestor, and I've got ancestors from Russia, Hungary, Germany, France, and England(that I know of).

A portraitist might be able to shed some light on this, but I believe there's a technique that will render a subject's eyes in such a way that they do appear to follow the viewer about the room. It's deliberate, too, I think.

4:43 AM  

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