Saturday, March 18, 2017

A tale of two great-great grandfathers

James E. Maguire was born in Ireland in 1833.

William H. Young was born in Philadelphia in 1840.

Young volunteered for the Union army in 1864, and Maguire also joined the Union army but I don't have the date he joined. According to my cousin Lorraine he received a medical discharge due to heart problems.

Meanwhile, William Young had a drinking problem. It's unclear exactly how he earned a living after he got out of the army, but he was such a bad husband and father that in 1874,  according to his wife, Cecelia McAleer Young:
When my said son was about six months old my husband had become so dissipated that I had to have him arrested for non-support and he was sent to Moyamensing Prison where he remained a month and then his mother begged me to let him out so I did.
After that they became so estranged that Cecelia was not certain which year he died:
William H. Young, was killed somewhere up country by falling out of a Wagon, as I understood. I do not remember what year that occurred but I think it was sometime in 1879 or 1880...
...I knew nothing about him for three or four years before his death. He was a very dissipated man during the last years of his life.
My great-great grandmother, in her successful bid to get her late husband's army pension revealed all this information about herself to US government officials. And it's clear she had always had a hard-scrabble life. Her one hopeful moment was meeting John Pfingstag, but luckily he committed bigamy to marry Cecelia and it was the evidence of that bigamy that allowed her to obtain the pension.

Meanwhile after the war James Maguire got a job in "woolen manufacturing" and by 1871 had his own wholesale liquor business that was so successful he was able to become a partner by 1893 in a whiskey distillery.

This recent knowledge of James' career helps clear up the mystery of how his son ended up marrying Mary Wolfington of the Wolfington carriage/car company: they were members of the same socio-economic class.

So how did the granddaughter of William Young and the grandson of James Maguire end up together?

Well things started to go downhill for the Maguires. First, James died in his 60s of his heart condition in 1900. Then his son Thomas died in the 1918 influenza pandemic (along with his oldest son). I'm not sure where that left the James Maguire Co. and its holdings - the company seems to have closed in 1915, but since it was based entirely on alcohol, that would have all been wiped out by Prohibition in 1920.

So my grandfather Martin Maguire, instead of being the heir to the Maguire liquor empire became a driver for the liquor industry, eventually becoming President of Brewery Drivers Local 830, Teamsters Union (AFL). Which he quit in 1948 just in time to die of lung cancer and leave my grandmother with staggering debts, which she eventually paid off through her work as a secretary. So the Maguires went from wealthy to working poor in two generations.

But also there is the mystery of my grandmother's father, George Smith. Because although the Maguire family fortune was on the ropes they still had assets, which was why my grandfather Martin was given a house to move into on his marriage to my grandmother - who was pregnant before the marriage. But my grandmother's mother came from the union of Cecelia McAleer and William Young and she, Mary Young was the only one of their children to make it past early adulthood alive and without a disabling injury.

So was George Smith able to support his family and raise his two children, a son named George and my grandmother Marie Smith well enough to give them a stable family life?

Well just before Cecelia McAleer got her pension in 1904 she wrote:
I had four children by Mr. Young, two of whom are yet living, to wit: Mary C. Smith, wife of Geo B. Smith who live in the same house with me now. 
But it's unclear whether they were living with her, or if she was living with them. My mother, who was born after George Smith died, knows nothing about him. Her grandmother Mary she remembers as being devoutly religious and constantly cooking and cleaning.

In any case, according to family lore, Marie Smith aged 17 met Martin Maguire, aged 16, a lifeguard in Atlantic City and had enough in common to get together and stay together until Martin's death. 

Hearing about Cecelia's life does make Prohibition more understandable - millions of families were in the same predicament: their sole bread-winner, in a time when women were discouraged from having independent incomes, becoming chronic drunks like my great-great grandfather. And even John Pfingstag, a better man than William Young, would occasionally, as Cecelia said "go on sprees."

My mother is a teetotaler and was traumatized by memories of her father coming home drunk and how upsetting that was for her mother, who, assuming George Smith was not an alcoholic, at least heard horror stories about her grandfather's "dissipation." And maybe I just haven't met the right whiskey but I've never been able to get past its turpentine-like smell and harsh taste. I guess I'll stick with pinot noir.

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