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Friday, October 13, 2006

John and Joseph Calhoun

Joseph Charles Calhoun is my great-grandfather, and the father of James Leo (the first).  Joseph was born in St John, New Brunswick, Canada in January of 1848.  His parents were John Calhoun and Catherine Dooley, both born in Ireland.  This is all according to Joseph's death certificate from 1903.

Unfortunately this is the only solid information I have about John Calhoun.  There was a huge fire in St John in 1877, and almost all vital records up to that date were burned.  There is other information that is useful, but only if I make certain assumptions, which, of course, could be wrong.  There's a lot more research that could be done in New Brunswick.

A John Calhoon received a grant of land from the Province of New Brunswick in 1856.  He received 100 acres in Petersville Parish, Queens County, which was 40 miles north and inland from St John.  Ten years later, an 84 acre tract was transferred to Joseph Colhoun from John.  Both John and Joseph were listed in the Hutchinson Directories of 1865 and 1867 as living in Clones Settlement, a part of Summer Hill in Queens County.  John is listed in the McAlpine's Directory of 1870.

The entire family shows up in the dominion census of 1871 for Petersville Parish.  The family name is listed as Calchoon.*  There's John, a farmer and a widow, 75 years old, and Joseph, apparently his son, 22 years old, and Catherine, apparently a daughter, 26.  All are listed as being born in Ireland, and are listed as Catholic.  So what can we assume here?  Joseph is the right age to be our Joseph, his father is named John, and he has a sister named Catherine who could have been named for her mother.  The family is Irish, and as far as I can tell, our family has always been Catholic.  Joseph (and probably Catherine) would have been born in New Brunswick, not Ireland, but census takers often made assumptions of their own.  I think the odds are good that this is our family.  I have found no more records or listings of this family after this date, which agrees with the fact that Joseph had left New Brunswick not long after 1871 (He was married in Portland, Maine, in 1875).

What else can we assume?  According to the census, Petersville Parish was full of farmers from Ireland who were Protestant.  This would indicate immigrants from Northern Ireland, probably Scots-Irish, and I have read that many of these farmers had come from Tyrone County.  There is only one place in Ireland where people with the name Calhoun or Colhoun are from:  the border region between Tyrone and Donegal Counties.  This makes sense, since large estates owned by Colhouns were located there.

Let's assume John's daughter Catherine was born in New Brunswick.  That would mean that John arrived in New Brunswick sometime before 1844, which would be right in the middle of the potato famine.  Was John already married to Catherine when he arrived in St John?  I think not - Dooleys came from a few places in Ireland, but northern Ireland was not one of them.  It is quite likely that John was originally Protestant, like all his neighbors in Petersville Parish.  Catherine was probably Catholic, and maybe John converted as part of the marriage arrangement.  This was more likely to have happened in St John.  And John was 53 years older than Joseph, so I'm willing to bet that Catherine was also much younger than John.  An unconventional, perhaps "convenience" marriage would have been more likely in the highly unstable environment of 1840's St John.  Sick and poor immigrants were pouring in to St John from Ireland, and the city was not prepared to handle the influx.  Irish immigrants were kept in refugee/quarantine camps, or confined to city ghettos, where disease and hunger were rampant.  Conventions are easily abandoned in exchange for survival.

I have found no further records about Joseph's sister Catherine.  Joseph went on to marry Mary Ryan in Portland, where they had their first child, Mary (Aunt Mazie) in 1878.  By 1880, Joseph and his family were in South Boston, living near Mary Ryan's relatives.  He worked as a machinist, and died of tuberculosis at the age of 55.


*This gives a clue to pronunciation.  The "ch" would have been hard, like the "ch" in "loch."  The Irish in Ireland often spelled it similarly.  Compare with the Scottish "Cahoon."  Even in this case the "h" would have had a hint of the "ch" sound.  By the way, the "a" would be pronounced like "ah" or even like an "o," hence the official Ulster spelling, "Colhoun."

Related websites:
The Provincial Archives of New Brunswick
History of the Petersville Parish region (which is now a military base)
The 1877 Fire at St John
The Irish in St John

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