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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Mary Starr

Mary J Starr was the wife of James Ryan, and the grandmother of James Leo Calhoun (the first).  She was most likely born in Pennsylvania, in about 1827, and seems to have died between 1890 and 1900.  She married James Ryan in Pennsylvania around 1844, and by 1850 she and James were living in Providence PA, which was soon to become part of Scranton.  By 1870, Mary and her children were living in Boston.  She was a widow, James having died just after the Civil War.  In 1890, Mary apparently moved back to Pennsylvania.

There are a couple of interesting family myths about Mary and James.  James is said to have been not Irish, but Spanish, and to have changed his name to Ryan to be able to get work.  Mary is said to have been German (Pennsylvania Dutch) and/or Quaker.

Any record I have found of James indicates that he was born in Ireland, but of course he may have been providing false information.  Certain kinds of labor were certainly made available to Irish immigrants, though usually it was undesirable work.  Still, it is not far-fetched to think that James could have changed his name, and there would be no way to know.  His supposed name, D'Orion (or something like that), seems more Italian than Spanish, and there were Italian immigrants in Pennsylvania at the time.  I have more to say on this below.

It is unlikely, though possible, that Mary was both Quaker and German.  Her name is no clue; there were both English Quaker and German Starrs.  One hint is contained in her daughter's death certificate.  The name is printed as Stair, which could be a misspelling, but is probably how it was pronounced.  That would mean that she was German:  the German Starrs pronounced it Stair, and sometimes spelled it that way, and also Stehr and Stohr.  The original German would have been Stoehr or Stöhr.

The Pennsylvania Dutch were German Protestants from the Rhine region of Germany, bordering France, an area called the Palatinate.  In the 17th century and beyond they were persecuted by Catholics, overwhelmed by French invaders, and decimated by famine.  Families fled to Switzerland and elsewhere in Europe.  In 1709 the English Queen Anne offered refuge for German Protestants, not knowing that thousands would come to England.  The English placed many of the families in the American colonies, and Pennsylvania, with its religious freedom, was particularly welcoming.  For decades Germans poured into Pennsylvania, and settled in the farmland in the south of the colony.  Among these immigrants were Stöhrs who had moved from the Rhineland to Alsace, and then to the New World.

When Mary and James settled near Scranton before 1850, it was a small town just beginning to grow.  It had been called Slocum Hollow, and was home to a single iron manufactory and a handful of buildings.  In 1840, the Scranton brothers from New Jersey decided to take a gamble, and they bought the town, with its iron deposits.  They completely rebuilt the iron mill, and began using coal instead of charcoal to smelt the iron.  It became a hugely successful venture, and the word went out that workers were needed.  It's quite possible that agents were sent to the port of Philadelphia to round up willing Irish immigrants and bring them to Scranton.  James worked in such an iron mill; he was a puddler, which is someone who scoops the impurities off the surface of molten iron.

So how did a German farm girl meet an Irish immigrant and wind up in the middle of nowhere?  As the Pennsylvania Dutch population grew, it also spread.  Some of the "Dutch" moved north until they hit the Susquehanna River.  By the early 1800's, Stairs were living in towns just downstream of Wilkes-Barre.  One village was named Stairville, in fact.  At the same time, Irish immigrants had been slowly moving northwest of Philadelphia and beyond, and some Irish families had also settled near Wilkes-Barre.  The success of the Scrantons would have been big news in the nearby city of Wilkes-Barre, and labor would have been sought initially from the local populace.  A newly-married couple might have sensed their opportunity.

The couple may have needed some breathing room, too, for theirs was a mixed marriage:  Irish Catholic and German Protestant.  Unless, and this brings me to an interesting theory of my own, James Ryan did in fact change his name, not from the Spanish but from the German.  There were plenty of German names that began with the name of the river in the old homeland, the Rhine.  Some of the names had already been reduced to just Rhine or even Rine.  How big of a stretch is it from Rine to Ryan?

James apparently volunteered for service in the Civil War.  I have not found his records, but Mary is recorded as the widow of a veteran.  Family lore says that James died in Boston after the war, but he may have died in Pennsylvania, and Mary may have moved the family to Boston after that, perhaps to be near one of her married children.  It was her daughter Mary Cecilia who married Joseph Calhoun in 1875.


Related websites:
History of the Palatinate
Pennsylvania Dutch history
Stoehr history
Scranton history

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