Settlers II: The Ghosts of Sullivan County

It was the summer of 1922. Two little girls walked through the steamy fields with their grandfather Martin Sweeney. The girls, Josephine and Dolores Sweeney, were eight and six years old, the children of Peter Francis Sweeney and Agnes Elizabeth Kelly of Towanda. Perhaps they had come down on the Lehigh Valley train and Martin had come to collect them for the long walk back to Ringdale. Perhaps he was simply "babysitting" his grandchildren from "town". But, as they walked along, Dolores cried out. A bee had stung her on the cheek. Josephine could not resist a giggle at the "dancing" Dolores.

"Laugh you devil", called out Martin with a glare that froze the laughter in place. Then, bending to scoop a patty of fresh mud from the roadway, he slapped it on the offended cheek. And so, preserved for us are the only directly known words of Martin Sweeney and a country cure for bee sting as well.

As I write these lines, I gaze over my left shoulder to the framed photograph of Martin and his wife Julia, taken about 1920 before their house in Ringdale. I try to imagine and pierce the gap in time to this gaunt figure with long white hair and a flowing white beard. What kind of man was he who lived for 83 years on the same patch of land his parents came to in the 1840's?

It is now the Fall of 1749. The good ship Jacob, outbound from Amsterdam by way of England, stands into the port of Philadelphia. On board are 250 emigrant German settlers. They are fleeing the oppression of their Alsatian homeland in the Rhine Valley for the promise of land and religious freedom. Those promises, made by William Penn, will bring Johann Georg Huntzinger across the "Blue Mountains" to the wilderness of Schuykill County. But first he, and all the other emigrants must sign an Oath of Allegiance to the King!! Remember, this is before the Revolution and Pennsylvania is a colony of the Crown of England. Does he pause before signing his name in clearly legible script to the oath page? We do not know, but perhaps he did. Does a ghost have premonitions of things to come?

The wild and untamed mountains of Pennsylvania!. The years spent by his sons and their families in the "malarial swamps" of the Genessee country along the Finger Lakes of New York, where a land rush occurred about 1810! The purchase of land in Overton in 1819 and the beginning of the Hunsinger family there! Could he envision one day that his far distant descendant Linda (Karge) McDonald, would come looking for him in the pages of time? We can see his signature today in the German Pioneer Family Signature Facsimile volume, but we can only guess as to his state of mind when he stepped from the long voyage onto the shore at Philadelphia. But listen. Another voice is calling.

It is 1910 and Margaret Sweeney, the cheerful daughter of Owen Sweeney (Martin's older brother) is marrying Michael Frawley of Overton. Born in 1868, Margaret is a nurse and Michael a blacksmith. They are now in their forties. A child is still not out of the question.


Margaret Sweeney (1868-1911)
Picture Taken as an Infant on Porch of Family Home
Cherry Mills, PA

Here are also pictures of Margaret and her sisters Catherine ("Kate") Daily, Mary Casey, and Elizabeth ("Lizzie") Frawley (with husband Thomas Frawley). These were all taken in conjunction with her forthcoming wedding to Michael, younger brother of Thomas Frawley. You can compare these pictures of the Sweeney sisters to those provided for Settlers I, "The Sweeneys of Ringer Hill", on this Web site. In fact, the pictures themsevles have a curious history. In May, 2000, Henry Farley, President of the Bradford County Historical Society in Towanda, PA, sent me these four pictures made from negatives he had found in the trunk of his great aunt about 1990. This woman, Mary Maloney (1859-1930), was married to yet another of the Frawley brothers, Timothy, and lived on Sugar Ridge near Overton after her marriage. This is the only known picture of Mary Sweeney from this era, since both she and Kate had relocated to Philadelphia as domestics to help support their siblings and then married and raised families there.


Margaret Sweeney Frawley (1868-1911)
Picture Taken About 1910
At Time of Her Wedding


Mary Sweeney Casey (1866-1951)
Picture Taken About 1910


Thomas Frawley and Wife Elizabeth "Lizzie" Sweeney Frawley
Picture Taken About 1910


Catherine "Kate" Sweeney Daily (1864-1941)
Picture Taken About 1910

Just for the historical record, here is a "later in life" picture of Kate Sweeney in 1940 with two of her children and a grand-daughter.


Catherine "Kate" Sweeney Daily (1864-1941)
Son Lawrence Daily and Daughter Mary Jane Daily
Grand-Daughter Mary Daily
July 7, 1940 in Philadelphia, PA
Photo from the Collected Materials of Alvin and Valeria Bahl Frawley, thanks to Viola Thomas Frawley

Now turn the crimson page of history to October 1911 and Margaret is giving birth at her father's home in Cherry Mill. But all is not well. The infant boy dies a few minutes after birth. Margaret is "expected to live" according to the story in the Sullivan Review, but the Angel of Death has no mercy. Four hours later, she passes away, perhaps from internal bleeding. Can we imagine the despair to settle upon this household where, so says the history of Sullivan County, Owen and his wife (Margaret (Jordan) have created a home of love and joy? The obituary tells us that Margaret was loved by all and a source of joy to all around her and will be sorely missed. I cannot quite make out this ghost. I know only that death in childbirth was a real risk in those days. Her husband disappears into the shadows of time. We know only that he died in 1925 and is buried in the cemetery at Sugar Ridge, among the Frawleys going back to the mid-1800's.

Is it not strange that pictures of Margaret and her sisters from an old unopened trunk come to light just as we hear and tell the story of her unfortunate death? Unseen for perhaps 70 years, what whisper from the past brings them to light now?

Let's meet another specter from the past. Who was "Grandma Margaret", as one and all knew her? Born in 1839, emigrated to Liverpool at the age of five, she came with her father, mother, maternal grandparents and brothers and sisters to New York in 1850. Then, on to the forests and hills of Sullivan County. Two entwined pictures of this ghost tangle in my mental imagery. One is of the twenty-year old sprightly princess marrying Owen Sweeney in October 1861 at St. Basil's, the Catholic Church and cultural center of Catholicism in Sullivan County. The other is the petite, gray-haired grandmother described by her grandchild Clare Carey as "always pleasant, but a tyrant in her own kitchen. Only SHE could wash her own dishes. She had three bowls-two soapy, one clear. The first two were to clean, the second to rinse. Stay out of her kitchen!." This tale comes from the end of Margaret's life when she lived with her daughter Annie Sweeney, widow of Michael McDonald. And Annie's children and grandchildren.

Michael McDonald is another ghost reaching out to me from the past. Born in 1862, he died young in 1910 from diabetes, a disease that would plague other Sweeney and McDonald families then and later. We read in the Sullivan Review that a man of substance and a leader of the community has passed away. The death must have been tragic for the many surviving children and their busy mother Annie. What a strange year of mixed emotions was 1910-the death of Michael McDonald, the marriage of Margaret Sweeney (Annie's sister) and Michael Frawley, and in May the passage of the earth through the luminous tale of Halley's comet!! Last summer (1998), I drove up Jacks Road in Dushore with Ray and Linda McDonald. We passed the house where Margaret died and Annie lived for so many years. We stopped and exchanged introductions with the current residents, Tom McDonald and his wife and children and mother Aunt Stella (Lech). It seemed to me the house itself was a ghost with stories to be told and mysteries to be uncovered. This feeling was only enhanced when we drove a little further and came to a small plot along the road. This plot held a few wooden timbers and the remains of a stone foundation. This was the last remnants of the original home of Peter McDonald and his wife Catherine (Waters) , a few pieces of human artifacts in an empty field along a forest road. Where are the ghosts of the McDonalds now? Do they still walk the forest at night?

"Laugh you devil", called out Martin with a glare that froze the laughter in place.


Martin and his wife Julia

"The infant boy dies a few minutes after birth. Margaret is 'expected to live' according to the story in the Sullivan Review, but the Angel of Death has no mercy."

"The most directly painful tragedy to me was the death of my grandfather Peter Francis Sweeney in the Sayre shops in 1934."

A neighbor once told the dirt-poor Peter that he was a "rich man" in many ways. Slipping into the Irish brogue, Pete replied "Indayd, I yam!"

My mental history tour now turns to the booming mining and lumber town of Reynoldsville, west of Dushore in Jefferson County. What impulses brought the farmer's children of Dushore and Cherry to the boomtown to the West? We see Patrick O'Donnell and Annie McDonald. Yes, there they are! It is 4 a.m. on May 25, 1898. They are hitching up the horse and carriage for the drive to Dubois. At 6 a.m. they will marry in St. Catherine's Church and establish the long and bountiful line that leads to my cousin Mary Scott in Ohio. It's a funny world. Perhaps the wood in the carriage is carved or sawn by another Ghost of Sullivan County ....

Patrick Sweeney.... Born in 1846 when Sullivan County was still part of Lycoming County, Patrick left home to become a sawyer in the lumber industry of Jefferson County. The pages of eternity only say a little about Patrick, the youngest brother of Owen and Martin. He married Waleberga Krieg, the daughter of German immigrants and lived in Elk County and McKean County in Pennsylvania, and then in Salamanca, Cattaraugus County, New York until his death in 1928.

We do know that Patrick and Annie O'Donnell lived happily until the mid-twentieth century right in Reynoldsville. Mary tells me that Annie was a warm, cheerful and loving grandmother. It reminds me of my own grandmother Agnes Kelly; she died in 1960 while dressing for Mass in Towanda. But I can still taste her apple pies, and still hear her voice as she called my name, "Robert, how about some spaghetti for supper?" As I mentioned, Patrick Sweeney was the youngest brother of Owen and Martin.

"I have told the story elsewhere of their adventures enroute to Cherry and Sullivan County."

The father and patriarch of the Sweeney clan in this country was Michael Francis Sweeney, born in 1802 in Sligo. A veteran "canawler" or canal-builder, he married another Sweeney named Catherine (no relation, of course) and immigrated to Montreal in 1830. Catherine was ten years his younger. I have told the story elsewhere of their adventures enroute to Cherry and Sullivan County. But I recently learned another interesting aspect of Irish lore from Kathy (Farrell) Osgood. Kathy is probably the world's leading expert on those named Farrell originating in Sullivan and Bradford counties. Anyhow, one of the two or three Farrell families (we aren't exactly sure yet how many) who sprouted in Sullivan County was founded by James Farrell and Catherine (O") Farrrell, again no relation. Apparently, according to Kathy's history, when two people of the same name married, it was called "cured" and was believed to be good luck. Others would try to eat their meals, obtain pieces of their clothing or generally be in the presence of the cured couple. Isn't it fascinating that two of the ghostly couples we have to look back on. Michael and Catherine Sweeney and James and Catherine Farrell, were harbingers of good luck??
There are tragic ghosts aplenty in the historical attic of the Sweeney, McDonald and Farrell families. We hear the plaintiff voice of the widow of John Farrell in 1849 petitioning the court to appoint a guardian for her three minor children because her husband has died penniless. This was no small matter in the mid-1800's. A child without a guardian or parent would more often than not end up in the poor house, an incubator for neglect and deadly illness. The name of the court itself, The Orphans Court, says much about the major function of the court. It handled wills, many disputes, child custody and other family disputes in 19th century Dushore. If we put this in the context of frequent and unpredictable epidemics (cholera in 1863, smallpox in 1854, diphtheria and typhoid at other times), small wonder that a young mother might worry about the fortunes of her children should the father perish.


Martin Sweeney, born at Hemlock Run (1837-1926)
Julia Wright Sweeney, born Carne, County Mayo, Ire (1839-1922)
Beside their home at Ringdale, Laporte Township, PA
About 1920

In 1854, Patrick Sweeney, youngest brother of Michael Francis Sweeney (the 'cured" one) and uncle to the Patrick who later moved to Reynoldsville, died unexpectedly. We don't know why. But his ghost keeps whispering to me that the smallpox epidemic got him and his infant daughter Bridget. Or, perhaps he died in one of the common accidents that afflicted our ancestors in this environment--logging, drowning, using dynamite to clear land, a fall! The widow, young Catherine (Donahoo), would eventually remarry. To protect the other surviving children, Patrick and Nancy Sweeney, from the poor house, Catherine's father Martin Donahoo adopted the children as his own and raised them in the Donahoo household, although they continued to go by Sweeney. You can see it right in the 1860 Federal census report! What these ghosts tell us is about the resourcefulness of the Irish in the face of tragedy and threat to the family.

Tragedy could strike in the form of accidents as well. Two different James McDonalds drowned, one in 1867 and the other in 1896.


Elizabeth and Martin Patrick Sweeney
Cousins
Taken Before May 1918
Lizzie was the Daughter of Patrick and Elizabeth (Kinsley) Sweeney
Martin was the Son of Owen and Margaret (Jordan) Sweeney
Owen and Patrick were First Cousins and Therefore Lizzie and Martin Were Second Cousins
Photo courtesy of Veronica Kleintob
Granddaughter of Martin P. Sweeney

Martin P. Sweeney, one of the younger sons of Owen and Margaret, was killed by the coal train arriving at the train station in Bernice one night in 1918. In fact, family rumor says he may have been murdered after an argument in a local pub. He left four small children and a wife, Anna Waldron. This was the same Sweeney family that had suffered the loss of a daughter< Margaret, in childbirth in 1910-how much can one family bear? Young Martin's Uncle Patrick (the very orphan who had been raised by the Donahoos) was critically injured in a mining accident in the Bernice mines in late 1921 and died in early 1922 at age 70! He left a wife, Elizabeth, and three daughters. Two of these tragic "ghost" stories strike me as particularly painful. In 1895, my great aunt Ellen ("Nellie") Sweeney (1868-1956) married Stephen Cummings (1870-1898) of Towanda. They soon had two young children, Eugene and Rachael Marie. In the spring of 1898, they moved to Niagara Falls so Steve could work on building the bridge across the Niagara River to Canada. Two weeks after he arrived, Steve lost his balance and fell to the rocks below the bridge on the Canadian side. He seemed to be okay. However, soon he got worse and died four hours later in the hospital, most likely of internal bleeding. What a devastating blow to this young family. Nellie never remarried. We do know that she returned to live on her parents' farm in Ringdale, although later on in life she would move to Sayre to live next door to her sister Blanche and family. I can imagine why Nellie would have wanted such a comforting environment, especially after her parents died, Julia in 1922 and Martin in 1926. Here are photos of Steve and Nellie (Sweeney) Cummings and their descendants, courtesy of Tara Finlay, their great granddaughter.


Stephen Joseph and Ellen "Nell" (Sweeney) Cummings
Wedding Photo 1895
Fisher Studio, Towanda, PA
Source: Tara Finlay, Ithaca NY
Their great granddaughter


Ellen "Nell" (Sweeney) Cummings
With Children: Eugene and Rachael
Ott & Hay Studio, Towanda, PA
About 1905
Source: Tara Finlay, Ithaca NY
Granddaughter of Rachael Cummings


Ellen "Nell" (Sweeney) Cummings
With Grandchildren: Margaret "Peggy" Cummings and Mary Rae Maroney
Likely Taken in Sayre, PA
About 1940
Source: Tara Finlay, Ithaca NY
Granddaughter of Rachael and Daughter of Mary Elizabeth

Tara tells a touching story about her own mother and grandmother:

My mother's story is interesting. She went to the Robert Packer School of Nursing in Sayre, PA, and graduated in 1952 or '53. She then moved to Chicago to work as a nurse midwife, delivering babies in the slums, as she called them. It is unclear why she left Chicago, but she came back home to Sayre and lived on Olive Street again with her parents, Rachael (Cummings) and Ed Maroney. At some point prior to her meeting my father, James Manning, and marrying him, in 196...8? She and her mother were driving on Rt. 17c on Dec. 27, 1962, and got into a terrible car accident. Another car T-boned them, killing Rachael instantly. My mother was unable to attend her mother's funeral due to being in surgery to repair her broken pelvis. My mother suffered terrible guilt the remainder of her life, and never spoke of her family to me.

You can see Rachael listed among the Graduates of St. Basils High School in Dushore in the Class of 1914. Here, courtesy of Tara once again, are photos of her 1914 Graduation Ceremony Program:

Program Cover
Page One
Page Two
Back Page

The most directly painful tragedy to me was the death of my grandfather Peter Francis Sweeney in the Sayre shops in 1934. I have pictures of Pete, a gallant prepping for his wedding pictures at the old Hays and Ochs studio in Towanda in 1904. He and his younger sister Blanche look just like turn-of-the-century dandies. A picture taken the summer before he died with his youngest child, my Aunt Rose Marie, shows a silvery-haired man with a mustache. They are out back of the house that Peter and Agnes bought on Pratt Avenue, Towanda, in 1911 [house deed transcribed below]. My cousin Betty Beirne told me a story where a neighbor once told the dirt-poor Peter that he was a "rich man" in many ways. Slipping into the Irish brogue, Pete replied "Indayd, I yam!" he had ten children, all of whom survived to adulthood made something of their lives. Here are some pictures of Peter and his children, and their spouses, and a final picture showing the very spot in the Lehigh Valley Railroad Yards at Sayre, PA, where Peter was killed so long ago.

 


Peter Francis Sweeney (1878-1934) with his youngest daughter Rose Marie Sweeney (1929-) in the backyard of their home at 27 Pratt Avenue, Towanda.  Summer 1933
Photo courtesy of Rose Marie Sweeney


Pauline (1912-1979) and Gertrude (1910-1967) Sweeney
Daughters of Peter Francis Sweeney
and Agnes Elizabeth Kelly
About 1914
Photo courtesy of Angie Wallace, granddaughter of Gertrude (Sweeney) Osmond


William Alexander "Wild Bill" Osmond III
Husband of Gertrude Sweeney
With Teresa Alva (Hughes) Sweeney
Wife of Robert Gerard Sweeney
Bill is Holding Teresa's Son Robert Emmett Sweeney
The Little Girls is Julie Osmond
Daughter of Bill and Gertrude (Sweeney) Osmond
Taken in Towanda Area About 1947
Gertude and Robert Gerard Sweeney were children of Peter Francis and Agnes Elizabeth (Kelly) Sweeney
Photo courtesy of Teresa Alva (Hughes) Sweeney


Gertrude (Sweeney) Osmond (1910-1967)
Daughter of Peter Francis Sweeney
and Agnes Elizabeth Kelly
Photo courtesy of Angie Wallace, granddaughter of Gertrude (Sweeney) Osmond


Peter Francis Sweeney and his bride Agnes Elizabeth Kelly (1885 - 1960) at the time of their marriage in 1904
Photo courtesy of Teresa Alva (Hughes) Sweeney


Peter Francis Sweeney Was Fatally Injured Inside a Boxcar Repair Facility on March 7, 1934 at Sayre, PA.
In this picture, his descendants are standing approximately where the accident happened. A companion worker escaped the falling boxcar by diving into an escape hole, but Peter took the full brunt of the collapse. He died at the nearby Robert Packer Hospital a few hours later, just before his widow Agnes arrived from Towanda, some twenty miles away. Shown here are Bob Sweeney and his wife, Lynn Franklin, the two adults. Bob is a grandson of Peter. The children are Maria Odock, Richard Gillette and Becca Sweeney, three great-grandchildren of Peter.
Photo courtesy of Teresa Alva (Hughes) Sweeney, Bob's Mother

Here is a transcription of the house deed for the property at 27 Pratt Avenue, Towanda, PA, purchased by Peter and Agnes (Kelly) Sweeney for $800 in 1911:

First Methodist Episcopal Church of Towanda, Pennsylvania
To
Peter F. Sweeney
Agnes E. Sweeney

This Indenture made the twenty-ninth day of July a. D. one thousand nine hundred and eleven.

Between the Corporation by the Name, style and title of the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Towanda, Pennsylvania, of the first part, and Peter F. Sweeney and Agnes E. Sweeney his wife of the Borough of Sayre, County of Bradford and State of Pennsylvania, of the second part.

Witnesseth, that the said The First Methodist Episcopal church of Towanda, Pennsylvania, for and in consideration of the sum of
Eight Hundred Dollars
lawful money of the United States, to it in hand paid by the said Peter F. Sweeney and Agnes E. Sweeney his wife, at the time of the execution hereof, the receipt whereof is hereby acknowledged, has granted, bargained and sold, aliened, enfeoffed, released and confirmed, and their presents does grant, bargain and sell, alien, enfeoff, release and confirm unto the said Peter F. Sweeney and Agnes E. Sweeney his wife, their heirs and assigns,

All that certain lot, piece or parcel of land lying and being in the
Borough of Towanda
County of Bradford and State of Pennsylvania, and described as follows, viz: Being Lot No. 1 (one) [_?]i Block No. 13 (thirteen) of Sayre, Cox, Mercur and Co's. addition to Towanda as laid out by Sayre and Company and appended to Morgan's Map of Towanda Borough, and being the same lot of land devised by Catherine A. Pratt to the said The First Methodist Episcopal Church of Towanda, Pennsylvania, in her last will and testament, dated September 28th 1906, and duly admitted to probate in the Register's office of Bradford County in Docket No. 16, Page 351 etc. this deed is executed and delivered in pursuance of a resolution authorizing sale of the above described lot to the said Peter F. Sweeney and Agnes E. Sweeney his wife, duly passed by the Trustees of the said The First Methodist Episcopal Church of Towanda, Pennsylvania, at a meeting regularly called and held on July 29, 1911, as fully appears in the minutes of the said Board of Trustees.

Together with all and singular the buildings, privileges, hereditaments and appurtenances whatsoever thereto belonging or in anywise appertaining and the reversions, remainders, rents, issues and profits thereof; and all the estate, right, title, interest, property, claim and demand whatsoever of it, the said The First Methodist Episcopal Church of Towanda, Pennsylvania, either in law or in equity, of, in and to the same.

To have and to hold the said messuage [sic] or tenement and lot or piece of ground above described, hereditaments and premises hereby granted, bargained, and sold, or mentioned or intended so to be, with the appurtenances, unto the said Peter F. Sweeney and Agnes E. Sweeney his wife, their heirs and assigns, to and for the only proper use and behoof of them the said Peter F. Sweeney and Agnes E. Sweeney, his wife, their heirs and assigns forever.

And the said The First Methodist Episcopal church of Towanda, Pennsylvania, for itself and its successors, does hereby covenant and agree to and with the said Peter F. Sweeney and Agnes E. Sweeney his wife, their heirs and assigns, that the said The First Methodist Episcopal Church of Towanda, Pennsylvania and is successors, all and singular, the said hereby granted premises with the appurtenances unto the said Peter F. Sweeney and Agnes E. Sweeney his wife, their heirs and assigns, against it, the said The First Methodist Episcopal Church of Towanda, Pennsylvania, and its successors, and against all and every other person and persons whomsoever lawfully claiming or to claim, by, from or under them or any of them, shall and will warrant and forever defend by their presents.

The First Methodist Episcopal Church of Towanda, Pennsylvania, doth hereby constitute and appoint A. C. Blackwell to be its attorney for it, and in its name and as and for its corporate act and deed to acknowledge this Deed before any person having authority by the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, to take such acknowledgment, to the extent that the same may be duly recorded.

In Testimony Whereof, the said The First Methodist Episcopal Church of Towanda, Pennsylvania have hereunto affixed the common seal of their said Corporation at Towanda, Pennsylvania, the day and year first before written.

Signed, sealed and delivered First Methodist Episcopal Church
In the presence of us of Towanda, Pennsylvania
L. M. Osborne N.[?] H. Smith
President
Attent. A. D. Dye
Secretary
Corporate seal-

Received the day of the date of the above written indenture of the above named Peter F. Sweeney and Agnes E. Sweeney, his wife, the sum of Eight Hundred Dollars being the full consideration money above mentioned.

For the First Methodist Episcopal Church of Towanda, Pa.
George Ridgeway-Treasurer
[?] D.

State of Pennsylvania
County of Bradford
I hereby certify that on this twenty-ninth day of July A. D. 1911, before me, the subscriber, a Notary Public in and for said county and state, personally appeared A. C. Blackwell, the attorney named in the foregoing Deed, and by virtue and pursuance of the authority therein conferred upon him, acknowledged the said Deed to be the act of the said The First Methodist Episcopal Church of Towanda, Pennsylvania.

Witness my hand and notarial seal the day year aforesaid.

L. M. Osborne
Notary Public
Official seal- My commission expires
January 19, 1915

Recorded July 29, 1911
William Foyle - Recorder-

There are other stories to tell about the Ghosts of Sullivan county! There is much I have left out. It is my desire and objective to eventually tell the whole story. I invite you to send me stories, pictures and information of your own and I will weave it into the tale. The information and the records I have are for any and all to see and know. That is the legacy of the Ghosts of Sullivan County that I wish to preserve.

Contributed by Robert E "Bob" Sweeney bobs@chall.com

Back to the Settlers Page