Saturday, September 25, 2021

Family Stories: Theophilis Eaton in the New World

Theophilis Eaton probably is the family’s most famous ancestor although he is 14 generations back,  among 8,192 progenitors.  Because of his prominence in American colonial history, however,  we know a great deal about him and his life.  Shown here, Eaton was born about 1890 in Stony Stratford, England,  the son of Rev. Richard Eaton, a Puritan clergyman who originated in Coventry.    Theophilis became a successful merchant and once, ironically,  served as a commercial agent for King  Charles I at Copenhagen.   One genealogy records that he married Grace Miller in 1622.    After her death in 1826,  the very next year he married Ann Yale, a widow with three children from an earlier marriage, and the daughter of Bishop George Lloyd of Chester, England.

The Eaton name is forever linked with that of Rev. John Davenport, shown here, vicar
of a important London church, a charismatic preacher and a Puritan leader.   Eaton’s father had baptized Davenport and the two  Puritan worthies were close friends.   Davenport’s church was the center of a prosperous and strongly Nonconformist community.  The pastor himself several times was called before Church of England authorities to account for his views.    Eventually forced to flee to Holland, Davenport soon returned to England and in concert with Eaton organized a scheme of emigration to the New World.    With relatives and fellow Puritans drawn from several parts of England,  the emigrants embarked in late April, 1636,  aboard the Hector, a boat of some 250 tons.  They arrived in Boston harbor two months later, on June 26.   With them was Eaton’s wife, Ann, and her children.

Although the original idea of the company was to settle in Massachusetts and they received a warm welcome from earlier settlers, the company quickly determined that the place was not suitable.   Davenport was concerned about theological issues being debated in Boston that he found difficult.   Eaton could not find a suitable harbor along the Massachusetts coast that was not already occupied by earlier settlers.  But new opportunities beckoned.  The Pequot Indian War which began in April of 1837 with the massacre of nine white settlers,  including three women, had ended with an Indian defeat at the Battle of Great Swamp.   New areas of Connecticut now were open for colonization.   Eaton’s company settled on Quinnipiac,  the site of an abandoned Indian settlement on a spacious harbor looking south toward Long Island Sound.  A illustration captures their arrival.  That was in March 1638.   The settlers called the place “New Haven.”   They intended their community to be a Puritan theocracy in which, by its original covenant: “The word of God shall be the only rule to be attended to in ordering the affayres of government.”

A Tiffany stained glass window in Center Church in New Haven depicts the first
Christian service conducted in the settlement on Sunday,  April 1638.  The window contains 2,320 individual pieces of glass and cost $10,000 when installed in 1893.   John Davenport appears in the center of the scene, right hand pointing heavenward,  a Bible clutched in his left hand.   To his left is Theophilis Eaton,  bearing a white beard and full head of hair,  richly costumed and stately of bearing.  He holds the rounded black hat of the Puritan and what appears to be a rifle.    There they stand,  Davenport and Eaton,  Church and State united as one.  Anne may be the woman in the foreground.

Developing the New Haven Colony

These Puritan forefathers then got very busy.  From April 1638 until October 1639 the colonists lived in cave-like shelters along a creek while their town was being planned and built.  Under the direction of Eaton the town was designed around nine squares -- the first example of town planning in New England.  It included a central market and a commons known as New Haven Green that exists to this day.  Although the settlers had among them a surveyor,  historians give credit to Theophilis for the far-sighted layout.   As one has noted:  “It is impossible to conceive of any action of importance taking place during the first two decades of New Haven history without the advantages of Eatonian guidance.”  

Some of Eaton’s settlers,  probably at his urging,  moved out to establish other  Connecticut towns --  Milford,  Guilford and Stamford.  In 1640 the New Haven company purchased a tract of land across the Sound on Long Island and founded a settlement at Southold.   Other sites followed on Long Island and in Delaware as part of Governor Eaton’s grand plan to develop a network of Puritan-controlled coastal trading centers stretching from New England to the Chesapeake Bay.

In the initial years of the colony Theophilis held the title of Chief Magistrate.   With official consolidation of all Puritan holdings under the title of the New Haven Colony in 1643 he became the first governor,  a post he held until his death in 1858.   Historical accounts of his leadership are generally favorable.   Believing with his Puritan brothers that he was among the Elect and that God’s hand was guiding him and his fellows much as God had guided the Israelites in the desert,  Eaton had enormous confidence that his actions were divinely ordained.

With power came wealth.   Eaton built a mansion at a spot that is now the north corner of Elm and Orange Streets in New Haven.   Shown below, it was a common form of manor houses of England at the time.  Contemporaries characterized it as “large and lofty”  with two full stories and a large attic.   It is said to have had 21 fireplaces,  although later authors have disputed that total.  Although Rev. Davenport and one or two other Puritan worthies had large houses,  Theophilis’ was the most impressive in New Haven.   No records exist of its destruction but it was gone by 1730.  

 In Eaton,  as with many Puritans,  there was a strong mix of the secular and the sacred.  The famous American preacher Cotton Mather mentions with approval the tradition in the Eaton household wherein the “pater familias" would call together the children every Sunday evening to see how well they had paid attention to the sermon of the day,  pointing out “in an obliging manner”  difficult theological points and applying the doctrines to the children’s lives.  With that attitude it is no wonder that in 1656 Eaton drafted a strict code of laws for the New Haven Colony.   Drawn on Biblical injunctions and aimed at dictating personal conduct,  this screed subsequently became the basis of many New England “blue laws.”

Trouble in Paradise

Wealthy, living in a large home of 10 rooms with five chimneys and multiple
fireplaces,  an unquestioned leaders apparently thoroughly in charge of his situation,  Theophilis should have been a satisfied man.   But the cankerworm of religious dissent,  so much a part of the Puritan rebellion,  was now gnawing at the vital center of his own family.     Our ancestor  Ann Yale Eaton had been converted to Anabaptism,  the forerunner of the Baptist denomination, after she had accepted the teachings of Lady Deborah Moody, shown here, described by one author as a “wise and anciently religious woman.”  This conversion was no small matter.  Ann’s descent into heresy was not only a religious offense but a serious civil crime.

Why did Ann take such a scandalous step to rebel against the beliefs of her distinguished husband and his colleagues?    One account has her overburdened by a household of some 30 people,  relatives of her own and of her husband.  Anne’s inlaws, including Theophilis’ mother and a daughter from his first marriage, are portrayed as strongly antagonistic to her.   Theophilis is reputed often to have sided with his “flesh and blood” against Ann,  largely ignoring her companionship and confiding entirely in his friend,  Rev.  Davenport.  Presumably looking for a way to express her frustration, Ann stopped coming to communion services.  Then word got around that she had converted to heretical Anabaptism .  There ensued,  according to one story,  a confrontation with Rev.  Davenport who subsequently brought her before the church court on 17 charges, including the unspeakable crime of criticizing a minister.

The power of the Puritan clergy had reached a height reminiscent of prelates in fundamentalist Moslem countries of our own day.    Each of the towns in the New Haven colony was governed by seven clergymen magistrates known as “Pillars of the Church.”  None but church members were their electors, thereby disenfranchising at least half the settlers.   These magistrates also served as judges.   Trial by jury,  an established English tradition,  had been dispensed with by the Puritans since no authority could be found for it in the laws of Moses.    Consider then the pain and embarrassment that Theophilis must have felt when his wife, the mother of his children, was called up before this tribunal.   If Ann had been a lesser light in the community,  the Puritan magistrates might have had her publicly whipped and banished her from the colony.  As the wife of the governor she simply was convicted of lying (her religious dissent being the real charge)  and excommunicated from the Puritan church.

In his book “The First Frontier” author Roy Coleman portrays a scene in which John Davenport is presiding in the New Haven Green meeting house and before him sits the Right Worshipful Governor Eaton and a group of other New Haven worthies.   But the wife of the governor has no assigned seat.   She is no longer a member of the church, having been excommunicated.  Ann Yale Eaton sits among the non-members.  “Gossip said that she was asking the Governor for a separate room,”  says Coleman.   After the death of Theophilis she soon returned to England where she died in 1659.  With her on the trip back was Elihu Yale, 11,  a grandson out of her first marriage.   He  eventually would finance the founding of Yale College, now Yale University.  The univerrsity is literally a stone’s throw from the scene of his grandmother’s trial.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Charles Dickens in the Round

During recent years I have sold or given away the bulk of a collection of vintage whiskey containers but have never been able to part with set of china mini-jugs issued about the mid-1980s by the Pick Kwik Wine & Spirits Co. of Derby, England.  In marvelously realized underglaze transfers they dramatize scenes from novels by Charles Dickens to advertise Pickwick Scotch Whiskey.  The base identifies the maker as the John Humphrey Pottery of Stafford, England.

Although virtually all of Dicken’s novels contained line illustrations, over time they represented the work of a number of artists whose styles while differing slightly are similar.  Rendered in black, blue and brown, the images viewed here “in the round” are generally faithful to the original drawings.  With each jug holding at most two or three swallows of whiskey, they are a unique advertising issue.

Appropriately, three of the mini-jugs display scenes from Dicken’s first novel, “The Pickwick Papers,” a runaway success that almost overnight made him a super-star of English literature.  The story follows the adventures of Samuel Pickwick, a genial and wealthy old gentleman, sometimes guilty of over-imbibing, who is the founder and president of the Pickwick Club.  A jug shows him addressing the small gathering suggesting that he and three other "Pickwickians" should make journeys to locales away from London and report on their findings to the other members of the club.  The travels of Pickwick and his friends throughout the English countryside by coach provide the chief subject matter of the novel.

Another jug is entitled “The first appearance of Mr. Samuel Weller.”  Sam does not appear until Chapter 10 when Pickwick meets him working at a tavern and takes him on as a personal servant and companion on his travels.  While Pickwick is a character having an almost childlike simplicity, Weller, a Cockney, is ‘street-wise’. Weller is the more experienced of the two despite his youth and the most intelligent character in the novel.  Sam becomes deeply attached  to the elderly gentleman and helps him in a variety of difficulties.

The most dire of these is Pickwick’s entanglement with a widow, Mrs. Bardell. As his landlady: “She waited on him, attended to his comforts, cooked his meals, looked out his linen for the washer-woman when it went abroad, darned, aired, and prepared it for his wear when it came home, and, in short, enjoyed his fullest trust and confidence.”  Then she misconstrued some of his remarks as a proposal of marriage and swooned in his arms.  Her suit for breach of promise later bankrupted both, sending them to debtor’s prison.

Four jugs commemorate another famous Dickens novel, “Oliver Twist.”  One is entitled “Mr. Bumble is degraded in the eyes of the Paupers.”   Bumble is the cruel and self-important official who oversees the parish workhouse and orphanage of Mudfog, a country town more than 75 miles from London where the orphaned Oliver Twist is brought up.  After marrying the widowed matron of the workhouse, Bumble finds out that his new wife is a sharp-tongued and tyrannical woman who nags and browbeats him in front of workhouse residents.

The other three jugs commemorate Oliver’s sojourn with the master thief, Fagin, and his band of street boys who pickpocket and commit other street crimes.  Shown here, Oliver is being introduced to Fagin and the gang.  Fagin is portrayed as a criminal mastermind who kidnaps orphaned children and trains them to be thieves in return for sheltering and feeding them.  He keeps the money for himself.  Next to him is his chief lieutenant, known as “The Artful Dodger.”  Dodger, characterized as a child who acts like an adult, wearing adult clothes that are too large for him. 

Another of the gang is Charles Bates, shown here talking to Oliver about the fine points of professional thievery.  He is the only member of Fagin's gang to reform. In the final chapter Dickens states that Charley left London to work as a farm hand, later becoming a shepherd.  Dicken wrote: ”Master Charles Bates…fell into a train of reflection whether an honest life was not, after all, the best. Arriving at the conclusion that it certainly was, he turned his back upon the scenes of the past, resolved to amend it in some new sphere of action.

The last Oliver Twist jug depicts one of the most chilling scenes in all of English literature:  the murder of Nancy,  who has been deeply protective of Oliver, by the brutal Bill Sikes, an adult criminal associated with Fagin who believes Nancy has betrayed the gang.   Nancy is portrayed as highly sympathetic and readers have been known to weep at reading Dickens wrenching description of her demise.  

The last jug is a reference to Dicken’s 1850 novel,
 David Copperfield, but has nothing to do with the story.  On the left is Wilkins Micawber, one of the author’s most delightful characters.  Often down on his luck financially, Mr. Micawber is known for his optimism, identified with the belief that "something will turn up." In this depiction he is telling Copperfield, far left, “David, this whiskey is superb.”

Note:  This is the second article on this blog to feature Samuel Pickwick and whiskey.  A post on August 14, 2015, describes his general association with strong drink through the years.  It is entitled:  “Mr. Pickwick — ‘The Old Gentleman’ Advertising Alcohol.”  

Saturday, August 28, 2021

A Disaster Unfolding: That Day in Cambodia


Foreword:  As the chaotic U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan plays out, I am cast back in memory to the final days of the United States in Cambodia.  It has been 46 years since the United States with allies evacuated Phnom Penh (above) as a hostile force advanced, an event I remember vividly. The story is one I have never before put to paper.  Now seems the time.

In December 1971 the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, where I was a staff assistant, asked me and a French-speaking colleague to do fact-finding on the conflict there by going to Cambodia.  The experience clearly indicated the follies of U.S. intervention.  Our critical report, to my chagrin, was quashed by the Nixon Administration and never officially published.  From then on, however, I continued to be involved with Cambodia, including a mission there in 1974 and frequent contact with its embassy.

In 1975 the situation declined swiftly.  An indigenous radical Communist force, known as “The Khmer Rouge” had taken over virtually all of Cambodia, leaving only the capital Phnom Penh in the hands of the U.S.-installed government.  The population of the city was being reached with food and other supplies only by daily airlifts from Saigon.  Nixon recently had resigned and Gerald Ford was President.

At home one evening in February 1975, I received a telephone call from a colleague telling me that as a last-ditch effort, the White House was recruiting a delegation of Senate and House members to go to Indochina and had requested that I be among the small staff accompanying them.  My wife was furious, demanding:  “What are you, some kind of lap dog of Gerry Ford?”  Nonetheless, with a partner, Jack Brady, I went.

Our group flew into Phnom Penh in a small Air America (CIA) passenger plane that was obliged to “corkscrew” its landing because of fear of taking fire from the periphery of the airport.  The U.S. Ambassador, John Gunther Dean, shown herein a suit, was there to meet us.  As I emerged from the plane he lowered his coat and said:  “Stab me again, Sullivan.”  His reference was immediately clear. In a report to Congress a year earlier I had documented that the embassy was evading a Congressional restriction on the numbers of American officials who could be in country by sending personnel to Saigon every night and returning them in the morning. It caused a ruckus on Capitol Hill.

Ours was a one-day investigation, it being considered too dangerous for the delegation to stay overnight.   After an Embassy briefing I accompanied some of the members to the airport warehouses and defense perimeter.  Pallets of food stretched for yards, defended by adolescent boys with antiquated rifles. “Look at these soldiers,” enthused a South Carolina Republican, “I’ll bet they can put up a fierce fight!”  Astounded I replied:  “Congressmen, these are children!”

From there Brady and I went off for a private briefing by the CIA station chief and his staff. It was sobering. They described the killings and other brutality that the Khmer Rouge was inflicting on the people they controlled, even among groups allied with them.  Their victory, our briefers predicted, would be followed by a bloodbath.  We believed them and meeting the delegation for an official lunch passed on the information.  Congresswoman Bella Abzug responded:  “Why am I hearing these unacceptable things from guys I like.”  Her similar intransigence during the meal caused the Cambodian Army Chief of Staff to weep.

The post-lunch discussion broke up suddenly as the warning came of an incoming rocket.  Taking cover, we heard one explode not far from where we were gathered.  Brady and I then left the delegation for a useless U.S. military briefing.  We split and I met solo with a group of U.S. NGO representatives about their plans for getting their people out of the country.  Late in the afternoon I headed alone back to the airport in a car and armed escort provided by the Cambodian army.  As we drove, suddenly the sound of continuous rifle shots had me ducking to the floor.  It was “friendly” fire.  My escorts were discharging their weapons in the air to clear the two-lane road of a multitude of people, some with luggage, apparently hoping to leave the country.  

I was the first to arrive at the landing area where the Air America plane would pick us up.  As I stood waiting, a Cambodian soldier who spoke English approached and said:  “Sir, please get under that truck,” pointing out a military vehicle standing nearby.  “We have incoming rockets.”   By stooping low, I complied and upon looking up saw the Foreign Minister, Long Boret, crouched beside me. He had come to see us off. We exchanged greetings.  Luckily, no rockets appeared.  Soon the delegation, my partner, and the airplane arrived.  Hot, tired and tense we boarded without conversation, corkscrewed our way into the air, and headed back to Saigon.


Upon returning to Washington it fell to me to draft legislation desired by the Administration to salvage something out of this impending debacle.  The delegation and other members assembled to provide input.  When no consensus emerged, the final draft was rendered nothing but an accumulation of meaningless phrases.  No member could be found to introduce it. 

Within a few days Ambassador Dean with his staff, a few high-ranking Khmer officials and others were flown out of Phnom Penh by Marine helicopters.  The Khmer Rouge entered the city and began their reign of terror during which an estimated 1,000,000 Cambodians died, either murdered or from starvation.

I often look at an elaborately decorated silver box displayed on a table in our living room.  It was gift from Prince Sirik Matak, then Prime Minister of Cambodia, when I met with him during my 1974 mission.  Inside is a slip of paper with an excerpt from a letter that he wrote Ambassador Dean near the end:  ”I never believed for a moment that you have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. I have only committed this mistake of believing in you the Americans.”   Refusing to be evacuated, Sirik Matak was executed by the Khmer Rouge on April 21, 1975. 

A former U.S. military adviser in Cambodia has said it well: "The downfall of the Khmer Republic not only resulted in the deaths of countless Cambodians, it has also crept into our souls.”

Note:  Because of the nature of the trip I took few photos.  Those of our arrival and departure are mine.  The others are stock photos.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Family Stories: Jeremiah Sullivan — America (Part. 2)

After arriving by ship in America at New York,  Jeremiah is known to have left there for work in Chester and Lancaster Counties,  Pennsylvania.  One account says that “He spent five years there in the management of a public highway and in assisting farmers during the harvesting of their crops.”   A skeptical interpretation of those occupations might be that Jeremiah was toiling as a road construction worker and a farm hand.  We can assume that he had very little if any education.  On a 1837 legal document he signed his name with an “X” indicating that he was illiterate.  But he was saving his money.

About 1830 Jeremiah,  who even on legal papers gave his name as “Jerry,” moved west to Sandusky County, Ohio.  He bought 219 acres of government land in Ballville Township,  near present day Fremont, Ohio.  The selling price was $1.25 an acre.   By the time he arrived,  Ohio had been a state for 27 years. The opening of the Great Lakes to the markets of the East by the completion of the Erie Canal was sparking  economic development. Farm products now could be shipped from Ohio to the East Coast and even overseas. 

Nonetheless,  the countryside at the time of Jeremiah’s arrival was still largely a wilderness. His acreage was covered in trees.  The Irish immigrant worked for months to clear the forest, felling the trees by ax and removing the stumps by shovel and horse-power.  The heavy tasks discouraged many of his compatriots and they returned to Ireland.   A true pioneer, Jeremiah persevered and eventually cleared his land for farming, keeping a smaller plot for his log house.

Jeremiah’s obituary in the Fremont Journal of October 8, 1875, accounts him as “a
 noble, good hearted-fellow, and by all who knew him was respected....”  This picture fits family legend of his character.  One story reveals his strong Catholicism.   Because there was no priest in the settlement at Fremont, the town closest to his farm, Jeremiah was obliged to go to Tiffin,  15 miles away to hear Mass.  As the story goes,  there was no real road at the time and he had to make the trip on foot through the untracked forest.  As a result he could attend Mass only very occasionally.  But on Christmas, Easter and several Sundays through the year,  Jeremiah would make the trip.  He would set out at midnight with a pine torch and a hatchet,  marking his way through the woods on trees that served as guideposts for his return.   He would arrive in Tiffin in the morning in time for Mass,  socialize with fellow parishioners into the afternoon,  and then begin the long trek home, arriving after dark.

Another Jeremiah story is set some years later.    A man sentenced to be hanged as a horse thief the next day in Fremont asked for a priest to hear his confession.   The nearest priest was in Tiffin and it did not seem possible to meet the doomed man’s request.   But -- according to family legend -- Jeremiah undertook the journey on horseback,  leading a second horse over the trail he had helped blaze to Tiffin.   He woke the priest in the middle of the night and together they returned to Fremont in time for the prisoner to receive the sacraments. 

Jeremiah worked as a bachelor farmer on his homestead for almost a decade before marrying.   Somewhere along the line he acquired the nickname, “Irish Jerry.”  Family legend says that he was approached one day by his friend Edward King who suggested that he bring to America for the purpose of matrimony, Johanna, King’s sister in Ireland.  Jeremiah is said to have retorted that Johanna was just a little girl.   King reminded him that it had been 15 years since he had seen her and that Johanna had done some growing in the meantime.  That not withstanding, however, there still was a substantial difference in their ages  -- perhaps as much as 20 years.

Johanna’s Story

We cannot know the feelings experienced by our Great-great Grandmother Johanna King upon being told that she was to leave her family to travel to America and marry a much older man she could hardly remember.   Of her background we know only a little.   She was born in County Kerry in 1817 but apparently her parents relocated in the Parish of Iveleary when she was a child.   Was she a early version of the beautiful Inchigeela lass?   Upon her death years later a flowery obituary “one of Erin’s dark eyed daughters.”  

Johanna was in her early twenties when she emigrated, possibly accompanied by one or two other family members.   We can assume she disembarked from her ocean voyage at the port of New York.   She then proceeded west via the Erie Canal and then to Lake Erie.  She was met at the dock at Sandusky, Ohio, by her brother Edward King and her future husband who had come there by horse and wagon.   Loading her effects into the wagon,  they headed back to King’s homestead.  There Johanna stayed until, not long after, she and Jeremiah were married in the Catholic Church in Tiffin.  Then she joined her new husband on his farm.

Despite the arranged nature of their marriage and a considerable difference in age, their union appears to have been a loving one,  attested to by her bearing 13 children,  of whom several died in infancy.  One of those who survived was grandfather,  Florence Sullivan, born in 1845. 

Jeremiah died in 1875.  As noted, his exact age was in some doubt. Johanna would live 12 years beyond his passing to be 78 years old and accounted upon her death in 1897 as one of the oldest residents of Sandusky County.  The headline on her obituary read:  “Was a Pioneer Woman.” “That section of the country was at the time a vast wilderness,”  said the Fremont News, “and Mrs. Sullivan experienced all the hardships, trials and tribulations of early pioneer life.”  [End of Part 2]

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Family Stories: Jeremiah Sullivan (Part 1: Ireland)


While Irish immigration frequently is identified with the millions who came to the U.S. as a result of the Great Famine,  the reality is that many Irish made the trip across the Atlantic well in advance of that tragedy.  Among them were our Sullivan ancestors.  These folks were established in the U.S. before the famine and well in time for the American Civil War.   

We must be in awe of these Irish ancestors who pulled up stakes in their native land,  bid goodbye to relatives they would never see again, and headed deep into the wilderness untamed in a country unknown. In understanding what motivated these forbearers and their exodus from Ireland, we begin with the patriarch of our branch of Sullivans.

The Origins of “Irish Jerry”

Jeremiah “Jerry” Sullivan,  our great-great grandfather, was born in Ireland in the 1790s.   His precise birth year is in question.   In the 1870 census,  he is listed as having been born in 1798 but in a 1896 biography it is given as 1791 - a substantial difference.   Trying to validate one or the other dates through internal evidence only compounds the confusion.  It is possible that even his children were uncertain of his age.   When he died in 1875, for example, a newspaper obituary vaguely pegged him as “at the advanced age from eighty to ninety years.”  


Jeremiah’s birthplace was in County Cork in the south of Ireland, a region known asLabels:  Jeremiah Sullivan, Ivleary, Inchigeela, Whiteboys Rebels, Rocktites, Immigration from Ireland Iveleary, literally the Valley of the Learys.   Iveleary was the Roman Catholic parish designation.   The civil locality was called Inchigeela after the central municipality of the area.  Parishes were the original unit of administration in Ireland and were used right up to the end of the 19th Century.    Thus,  Jeremiah’s tombstone gives his birthplace as “Iveleary.”

The name Sullivan is the third most common in Ireland, ranking behind only Kelly and Murphy.   A 1978 booklet estimated that there were then 41,500 bearers of the name -- including variants like O’Sullivan -- resident in Ireland.  It is the most common name in County Cork.  The booklet suggests that there were perhaps 10 times that number of Sullivans living throughout the world.   My father often boasted that there were more Sullivans in the Boston telephone directory than Smiths.  A check made of that claim a few years ago showed he was right.  Sullivan today is said to be the 41st most common name in the U.S.    In the original Gaelic the name is “Suilleabhain,”  whose meaning variously is given as hawk-eyed, black-eyed or one-eyed.  Of the latter interpretation,  the story is of a clan king who was so generous that he gave away one of his own eyes to a blind man.  He obviously was a man far ahead of his time in surgical procedures.

According to heraldic books,  the Sullivans/O’Sullivans were members of one of the principal families of the race of Eogan (Owen) of Munster who held power in Cork,  Kerry and most of Tipperary.   The three lines of the family and their territories were O’Sullivan Beara (Bantry and the Beare Peninsula),  O’Sullivan Mor (Dunkerron and Kenmare),  and O’Sullivan Cnoc Raffan (Tipperary).   It is impossible to know which of these three strains were in Jeremiah’s blood.  The motto of the Sullivans in Gaelic reads: “Lamb foistenach abu.”   That translates to “The steady hand to victory.”

Of Jeremiah’s immediate family we know almost nothing, not even the names of his parents or siblings.  Family legend has it that the Sullivans were farmers of some substance -- the information coming from a former “hand” on their farm.   My father was always skeptical of such claims,  noting that Ireland was so poor in those days that even ownership of a cow might be deemed wealth.

Trouble in the Valley of the Learys

The countryside around Inchigeela is some of Ireland’s most beautiful.  Nearby is Gougane Barra, a 1,000-acre wooded park surrounded on three sides with mountains and the fourth open to allow the headwaters of the River Lee rise and flow from a stunning blue lake of springs.   St. Finbarr’s Oratory is located there, a round one-story structure open at the center to a cross with beehive like cells for the individual monks.  Gougane Barra also is known for a holy well (curative waters)  and a beautiful stone chapel dedicated to St. Finbarr, a companion of St. Patrick and patron saint of Cork. 

Inchigeela, meaning “Inch of the Hostage”  is in a region of Ireland with a reputation for violence. It is shown above in the 19th Century.  Secret societies of Catholic Irish agricultural workers, usually youths in their 20s and even teenagers,  known generically as “Whiteboys,”  were on the rise there during Jeremiah’s boyhood.  They robbed and burned and sometimes even killed, reputedly as a protest against injustices to Catholics.  Poverty and famine, occasioned by a Cork crop failure in 1822,  may have been the proximate cause of their violent outbreaks, but required tithing to the established Protestant Church and confiscatory rents for land were perennial irritants.  The Whiteboys also may have been encouraged by a widely-believed contemporary prophecy that Catholics would overthrow Protestants in Ireland by the end of 1824.   Because of continuing unrest,  County Cork was under English martial law for most of the 1820s.

In early January of 1822,  when Jeremiah was a youth, skirmishes were fought at the Pass of Keimaneigh (the Deer’s Pass) that marks the boundary between Counties Cork and Kerry.  The fight was between a group of Cork Whiteboys known as Rockites and a force of gentry yeoman led by Lord Bantry.  Combatants were killed and wounded on both sides.  A famous poem in Irish commemorates the fight and the spirit of the untrained locals who challenged the King’s militia.  On January 25 three more incidents occurred,  one close to Inchigeela when  Rockites attacked and torched the home of one of Lord Bantry’s officers who had fought them at Keimaneigh.  By February, however,  the British had reinforced their troops in the county and had implemented an Insurrection Act enforcing the martial law.  Rockite prisoners were sentenced to death and hanged in public executions in several Cork towns.

Although County Cork and Inchigeela were generally calm for a time after the quashing of the Rockite Rebellion,  the region remained a recruiting ground for rebels.  In the next century,  a Fenian member called Harold Delaney would escape British capture in the Inchigeela church by dressing as a woman.  He later memorialized the event in a well-known Irish poem.  One stanza captures the spirit of the place:

“Like all the boys along the Lee I joined a rebel band,

         “And pledged myself to freedom’s cause for dear old motherland,

“An outlaw, I was chased from Cork to Keimaneigh’s famed Pass,

         “And forced to fee from Erin’s Lee and my Inchigeela Lass.”


While it is impossible to know what impelled young Jeremiah Sullivan to leave Ireland, it is possible to speculate that his departure somehow was the result of a disturbance that occurred around 1824.  When tax collectors for the British occupiers rode into the area on horseback from Cork City,  they were met by an outraged populace who hurled rocks at them.  The tax collectors retreated but returned in several weeks,  this time accompanied by soldiers.  In a short time the uprising was quelled and three men were tried and sent to the gallows.   Two of them were named Sullivan.  (Interestingly,  the name of the hanging magistrate also was Sullivan).

We can speculate that the hanged Sullivans may have been relatives of Jeremiah’s family.  It also possible that he himself played a role in the uprising.  Or there may also have been pressures on him as a young Catholic laborer to join a Whiteboys society. There is no way to be sure of his motives for emigrating.  But we do know that not long after after the rebellion had been put down, Jeremiah was on a ship bound for New York City.  Unfortunately,  research has not revealed anything about the name of the ship or the events of his passage.   He may have been accompanied by Edward King,  his friend and future brother-in-law.  Jeremiah never returned to Ireland. 

                                                             [End of Part One.]

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Remembering Favorite Motion Pictures


Foreword:  In the past I have used this blog to record memories of my favorite things over these many years of life, including soda pop (Aug. 14, 2014), candy and gum (June 6, 2015), comic books (Aug. 29, 2015), hotels (March 26, 2016), eateries (Jan. 13, 2017), and radio programs (Nov. 11, 2017).   It occurs to me that a list of favorite movies is in order in a similar march down memory lane.  I have chosen to concentrate on just five, based partially on the criteria that I have seen them multiple times and would do so again.  I have added a “second tier” with short comments.

Casablanca (1942):  Let me join the millions of fans of this movie who consider it the best ever made.  The story, the acting, and particularly the memorable lines keep running through my mind.  In 1942 when it first was released, I was only seven years old and it was much too “adult” to be taken to see it.  In ensuing years, however, I have viewed it at least a dozen times and see new things to like each time.  For instance the symbolism of Rick hiding the “letters of transit” (truly mystery documents) in the piano.

The scene I can watch over and over is the final one when Rick (Humphrey Bogart) shoots the Nazi colonel just as Moroccan Police Chief Renault (Claude Raines) arrives on the scene knowing the killer but phoning his headquarters to “round up the usual suspects.”  Up to that time Renault’s sympathies have been ambiguous but he signals his anti-German feeling in one brief shot where he picks up a bottle labeled “Vichy water,” Vichy being the name of the Nazi puppet government established in Southern France.  Without a word he disdainfully drops the bottle into a waste basket, letting us know he is one of the good guys.

The Crosby-Hope “Road” Movies:  Not just one movie but seven made between 1940 and 1962.  One could argue that since each proceeded on the same formula, expected by the audience, they meld into one.  These make the list as a holdover from my childhood when these films were considered family fare.  Where ever the road was going, from Singapore or Morocco or the Yukon, Bing Crosby was the wise guy, who sang a song to two, and always seemed to get the girl.  Bob Hope was the ignorant foil for his buddy, always in trouble.  The pair were teamed with Dorothy Lamour (born Mary Leta Slaton) who sang in each movie and whose acting skills were not her best asset.

These motion pictures opened up the silver screen to new techniques.  For example, beginning with “Road to Singapore” the films also included in-joke references to other Hollywood actors and jabs at Paramount Pictures, the studio that released the films. There are also frequent instances in which Bob Hope breaks the so-called “fourth wall” to address the audience directly, such as in “Road to Bali,” in which he says, "[Crosby]'s gonna sing, folks. Now's the time to go out and get the popcorn.”  They paved the way for actor/directors like Woody Allen in “Annie Hall.”  One of my favorite bits was a paddy-cake routine between the two when they were about to escape capture by slugging their assailants.

High Society (1956).  With a lifelong “soft spot” for movie musicals, this one takes top spot in the many times I have watched it.  There are a number of treasured scenes from the opening number with “Satchmo” Armstrong singing on a bus with his band, to Grace Kelly’s greeting of two unwanted journalists, and the iconic moments on the sailing yacht as Bing Crosby and Kelly sing “True Love.” 

My favorite scene occurs, however, in the library of Kelly’s palatial home.

There, having escaped a boring society party, Frank Sinatra, a reporter, and Crosby, a wealthy jazz enthusiast, find each other in escape.  They sing a duet called “Did You Ever?” that ends each verse with “what a swell party this is.”

The interplay of these two major singing stars might have been difficult to pull off but these two do it seamlessly.  There is even a bow to the “out of box” moments of  the Road pictures when Crosby remarks on Sinatra’s “newer” way of crooning.  When the the men finally emerge arm in arm from the library to the party it is a moment of sheer triumph over boredom. 

Young Frankenstein (1974):  Of all the Mel Brooks-made movies, his best to my mind is this riff on the old Mary Shelley story, shot in black-and-white as were all the old movies based around the mad doctor and his monster.  Brooks “deconstructs” the original story and rebuilds it around a doctor who is an American descendant of the original Frankenstein.  Gene Wilder pays the lead role with a comedic intensity that displays true genius.  The surrounding cast is superb and Brook’s writing and directing mean non-stop laughter.

My favorite scene is the interplay of Wilder as young Frankenstein and Cloris Leachman who is eerily brilliant as “Frau Blucher,” the keeper of Frankenstein’s castle.  We are introduced to her before she is seen by the frantic neighing and stomping of horses each time her name is mentioned.  Frau Blucher gradually tempts the skeptical Wilder into the dark secrets of his ancestor.  My favorite scene between them is Leachman playing a violin and leading Young F. to Dr. Frankenstein’s attic laboratory while intoning: “He vas my boyfriend.”

Tootsie (1982):  Of a spate of comedies in which men play the part of women (“Some Like It Hot,” “Mrs. Doubtfire) my favorite is “Tootsie.”  It is the story of a down and out actor who succeeds in getting a starring role in a daytime serial dressed as a woman.  The part is played by Dustin Hoffman, one of the master actors of the last fifty years.  The supporting cast is excellent.  I fell in love with Jessica Lange at first sight.  Teri Garr stars in this movie as she did in “Young Frankenstein.”

My favorite moment in this picture is the denouement when Tootsie/Hoffman descends a staircase as the live screened show is rolling to disclose that he is not “Emily” but Edward, Emily's twin brother who took her place to avenge her.

Watching the man who became a woman become a man again before a startled cast and  assumed viewing public is delicious.  Hoffman does his striptease with infinite skill, worth watching again and again.

As part of a “second tier,” I will mention three movies briefly.  “Beat the Devil” (1953)is a spoof of spy films directed by John Huston with an all-star cast that includes Bogart, Jennifer Jones, Gina Lollobrigida, Robert Morley, and Peter Lorre (also in Casablanca).  Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” (1959) is memorable to me not for the iconic scenes of Cary Grant chased by an airplane or scrambling over Mt. Rushmore, but for the stunning beauty of Eva Marie Saint in a scene where he meets her in a dining car. (She is living, 97 years old.) Last, the Coen Brothers “O  Brother Where Art Thou?”(2001), a film chronicling the misadventures of George Clooney and two other convicts on the lam amid an avalanche of hilllbilly music.