Tag Archives: Keeley

Week 7 (Valentine) – Catherine Keeley Evans

wedding-ringsThe theme this week is Valentine, and I chose to write about Catherine Keeley Evans because she is my ancestor with the longest marriage. On December 26, 1822 Catherine Keeley married Amos Evans.1 She was 20 and he was 19. The marriage ended on March 7, 1884, upon the death of Amos.2 They were married an incredible 61 years,  2 months and 10 days!

Here’s a little more information about Catherine. She was born on December 15, 1802 to Jacob Keeley and Mary Shimer.3 [Note: I have written about her mother Mary Shimer Keeley earlier this year. That blog post can be found here.] Catherine was the youngest of their nine known children. It was a family of six girls and three boys. They were Hannah, Sebastian, Elizabeth, Jacob, George, Mary, Esther, Sarah and Catherine.

Catherine likely spent the first several years of her life in Limerick township, Montgomery County, PA where her family was enumerated in the 1800 census.4 Upon the death of her paternal grandmother Elizabeth Frey Keeley in 1808, her parents purchased the family homestead. It was located across the Schuylkill River in East Vincent Township, Chester County, PA, near Sheeder’s Mill.5 Life would have been a little different for the family as they now ran an inn and owned a grist mill.6 Unfortunately, this life would not last long. In April of 1814, Jacob and Mary both died within one day of each other. Jacob died of typhoid fever and it is probable that Mary did as well.7,8

Catherine was 11 years old when she was orphaned. Her sisters Sarah and Esther were also minors, aged 13 and 16 respectively. The other siblings were grown and most were married. We do not know for sure what happened to Catherine, Sarah and Esther after the death of their parents. The court appointed Capt. John Adam Miller as Catherine’s fiduciary guardian. Sarah and Esther, being over age 14 by the time of probate chose their own. Sarah chose John Hause and Esther chose John Titlow.9 These guardians were responsible for managing the girls’ inheritance until they came of age. so it is quite possible that they actually lived with one of their older siblings.

As noted before, Catherine married Amos Evans in 1822 when she was 20 years old. Amos was from the Evans family whose ancestors settled in Limerick Township, (then Philadelphia, now Montgomery County), Pennsylvania in the early 1700s. After their marriage, Catherine and Amos lived in Limerick Township on the Evan’s land, where Amos followed the occupation of farmer.10, 11, 12, 13 The couple raised a large family of 12 children. They were Edward, Mary Ann, Elizabeth, Catherine, Amos K., William, Daniel, Matilda Ann, Sarah Ann, John P., Harriet and Lewis. Thanks to a cousin marriage a couple of generations later, I actually descend from two of these children. Mary Ann was my 3x great-grandmother and John P. was my 2x great-grandfather.

Amos and Catherine suffered their share of trials and tribulations during their marriage. Of their twelve children, only six were still living when Amos died.14 My ancestor, Mary Ann, was one of those who pre-deceased her parents. She died in 1862 at the age of 37.15 I have not uncovered her cause of death. My other ancestor, John, was one of the surviving children. He died in 1906 at the age of 66.16 Another child that died early was Daniel. His story was particularly tragic in that he drowned in 1866 at the age of 32 when he accidentally fell from his canal boat while passing through a lock. He left a wife and two young children.17

In their later years Amos and Catherine moved from their farm in Limerick Township to a house in the borough of Pottstown. Amos was still working at the age of 77 and was employed at the roller mills.18 He died four years later (March 7, 1884) at the age of 81.19 After Amos’ death Catherine continued to be an active part of the lives of her children and grandchildren. In October of 1884, Grandmother Evans (as she was known) attended the surprise 64th birthday party of her former son-in-law, George K. Miller.20 (George had been the husband of my ancestor Mary Ann Evans who died in 1862.)

evans-amos-catherine-copyCatherine died on January 16, 1886 at the age of 83. She was survived by 5 of her 12 children. (Daughter Sarah Ann, wife of Augustus Scheffey, had died the year before.21) She was also survived by 32 grandchildren and 42 great-grandchildren!22 She was buried along side her husband at the churchyard in Limerick Township. It seems appropriate that when I was there to photograph tombstones in 2005 Catherine’s broken stone was propped against that of her husband Amos.23

Sources/Footnotes

  1. GenealogyBank, “Historical Newspaper Archive, 1690-2010,” database, Genealogy Bank (genealogybank.com: accessed ), Marriage of Amos Evans and Catharina Keely, citing records of Reading Adler, 7 January 1823.
  2. Pennsylvania. Pottstown.,   Montgomery Ledger, “Obituary of Amos Evans,” March 11, 1884.
  3. Falkner Swamp Reformed Church (New Hanover Township, Montgomery, Pennsylvania), “Records of Falkner Swamp Reformed Church,”, birth/baptism of Catharine Keely.
  4. 1800 U. S. Federal Census population schedules (National Archives and Records Administration), Series: M32 Roll: 41 Page: 761. Household of Jacob Keely
  5. Chester County Archives and Records, “Deed Book Index, 1681-1820,” database, Jacob Keely purchased land in Vincent Township, 1808.
  6. Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, Wills and Probate Records, 1683-1993 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Will of Sebastian Keeley – includes description of real property
  7. Zion Lutheran Church (East Pikeland Township, Chester, Pennsylvania), “Records of Zion Lutheran Church.” death record for Jacob Keely.
  8. Tombstone Photographs – digital images (privately held by Janis Tomko), Brownback’s UCC Cemetery, photographed 6/25/2005. Tombstone for Mary Shimer Keeley
  9. Orphan’s Court File – Decedent Jacob Keely Vincent township, 1814, Chester County Archives and Records, West Chester, Pennsylvania. Guardianship petitions for Catherine, Sarah and Esther.
  10. 1830 U.S. census, Ancestry.com, Digital images (National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), Census Place: Limerick, Montgomery, Pennsylvania; Series: M19; Roll: 154; Page: 262. Household of Amos Evans.
  11. 1840 U.S. census, Ancestry.com, Digital images (National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), Census Place: Limerick, Montgomery, Pennsylvania; Roll: 478; Page: 166. Household of Amos Evans.
  12. 1850 U.S. census, Ancestry.com, Digital images (National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), Census Place: Limerick, Montgomery, Pennsylvania; Roll: M432_799; Page: 81B; Image: 163. Household of Amos Evans
  13. 1860 U.S. census, Ancestry.com, Digital images (National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), Census Place: Limerick, Montgomery, Pennsylvania; Roll: M653_1145; Page: 150. Household of Amous[sic] Evans.
  14. “Obituary of Amos Evans”
  15. Pennsylvania. Pottstown.,   Montgomery Ledger, “Death Notice of Mary Ann Miller,” 20 Jan 1863.
  16. Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, Death Certificates, 1906-1966 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. death cert of John P. Evans
  17. Pennsylvania. Pottstown.,   Montgomery Ledger, “Drowning Case,” November 20, 1866.
  18. 1880 U.S. census, Ancestry.com, Digital images (National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), T9, roll 1158, Lower Pottsgrove, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, enumeration district (ED) 24, p. 13. Household of Amos Evans
  19. “Obituary of Amos Evans”
  20. Pennsylvania. Pottstown.,   Montgomery Ledger, October 17, 1884. Birthday celebration for George K. Miller.
  21. Pennsylvania. Pottstown.,   Montgomery Ledger, “Obituary of Sallie Scheffey,” May 12, 1885.
  22. Pennsylvania. Pottstown.,   Montgomery Ledger, “Obituary of Catherine Evans,” January 19, 1886.
  23. Tombstone Photographs – digital images (privately held by Janis Tomko), Limerick Church Burial Ground, Limerick, Montgomery, Pennsylvania, photographed October 2, 2005.
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Week 1 (Start) – Anna Maria Shimer Keeley

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Cemetery at Brownbacks – Burial site of Anna Maria (nee Shimer) Keeley and her husband Jacob

The prompt for this week is “Start.” I chose my 4th great-grandmother Anna Maria (nee Shimer) Keeley to write about because she is the earliest documented ancestor in my matrilineal line. She represents a starting point of sorts since she is the ancestor that I can reliably point to as the one from whom I inherited my mtDNA (mitochrondial DNA).  [Here’s the link to my mtDNA post.]

Anna Maria Shimer was born about 1760, probably in Pennsylvania. Her father was Michael Shimer. 1 It’s possible that her mother was Catherine Ash (or Esch), daughter of Adam Esch, and that she had a brother and two sisters, but more research is needed to verify her mother and siblings.  2,3

The Shimer family lived in Vincent Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania. 4 Their property was supposed to have been along the Schuylkill River and thus was likely near present-day Spring City.2

On March 7, 1782 the Lutheran minister Rev. Henry Melchior Muhlenberg performed a ceremony uniting in marriage Anna Maria and Jacob Keeley. 5 Jacob also grew up in Vincent Township and was the son of Sebastian Keeley and Elizabeth Fry. His father was a prominent citizen who, at the time of his death in 1777, owned a plantation, mill and tavern in Vincent Township as well as a plantation in across the river in Limerick township (then Philadelphia, now Montgomery County, PA).

Both the Shimers and Keeleys were of German descent. Many German Protestants immigrated to Pennsylvania in the early to mid 1700s in large part to escape religious persecution. The Shimers and Keeleys were likely part of this group.

Jacob and Anna Maria Keeley spent the early part of their married life in Limerick Township, Montgomery County, PA – quite possibly living on the Limerick plantation originally owned by his father. They were enumerated there in 1790 and 1800. Upon the death of his mother in 1807, Jacob purchased his parents’ property in Vincent township from his brothers and sisters and presumably relocated his family to that land.

Jacob and Anna Maria had a family of nine children – 3 sons and 6 daughters. Their children were Hannah, Sebastian, Elizabeth, Jacob, George, Mary, Esther, Sarah and Catherine. 6 My ancestor was Catherine, the baby of the family, who was born in 1802.

Tragically, Anna Maria died on April 14, 1814, just one day before her husband Jacob. The church records say that Jacob died of typhoid fever. It is quite possible that Anna Maria died of the same disease. They are buried side by side at Brownback’s United Church of Christ Cemetery in East Coventry, Chester, Pennsylvania. 1 Note that Brownbacks was founded in 1743 and was formerly known as the First Reformed Church of Coventry, it being one of the earliest German Reformed Churches in Pennsylvania.7

Sources/Footnotes:

  1. Tombstone Photographs – digital images (privately held by Janis Tomko), Brownback’s UCC Cemetery, photographed 6/25/2005. Her tombstone inscription states that she was 54 years of age when she died in 1814 and that she was the daughter of Michael Shimer and wife of Jacob Keeley.
  2. Shimer Allen R., History and Genealogy of the Shimer Family in America,(Allentown, PA: Press of Berkemeyer, Keck & Co., 1908), Vol 1, pg 52 and Vol 2, pg 221-222; digital images, The Internet Archive, archive.org. Information on immigrant Michael Shimer and family.
  3. Pennsylvania, City of Philadelphia, administration files; Author: Philadelphia (Pennsylvania). Register of Wills; Probate Place: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Ancestry.com. Pennsylvania, Wills and Probate Records, 1683-1993 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2015. Probate file of Michael Shimer of Vincent Township, Chester, PA (widow was Catherine)
  4. Pennsylvania Archives, 3rd Series, Proprietary Tax Lists, Chester County Rates – 1771; Volume Number: Vol 11; Page Number: 772; Family Number: 1
  5. Tappert, Theodore G. and John W. Doberstein, “The Journals of Henry Melchior Muhlenberg,” Volume 3, The Evangelical Lutheran Nimisterium of Pennsylvania & Adjacent States, page 474; Marriage of Jacob Keely and Anna Maria Scheumer
  6. “Pennsylvania Probate Records, 1683-1994,” images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-899T-J93C-4?cc=1999196&wc=9PMZ-2NP%3A268496301%2C280267001 : 3 July 2014), Chester > Orphans’ Court records 1809-1822 vol 12-13 > image 233 of 570; county courthouses, Pennsylvania. Petition of the heirs of Jacob Keeley, late of Vincent Township.
  7. Brownback UCC Church History. (https://www.brownbackschurch.org/church-history)

Is Mary (Keeley) Lapp a Descendant of Valentine Keely of Skippack??

One of my research projects involves the identification of the descendants of Valentine Kiehle/Keely/Keeley who immigrated in 1728 and settled in the area of what is now Skippack, Montgomery County, PA. (He is my 6x’s great-grandfather.) So a couple of years ago when Mary (nee Keeley) Lapp showed up in the then new Pennsylvania and New Jersey Church and Town Records on Ancestry.com, I immediately looked for her in my database. The Ancestry record provided the information that she was born September 12, 1838, died Oct 7, 1919 and was the daughter of Henry and Mary (Poole) Keeley. Unfortunately, not only was Mary missing from my Keely/Keeley database, but I had no Henry Keeley-Mary Poole couple either. Nor could I find her in the census under either her maiden name or married name. Vexing. So Mary went onto a back burner for a while.

Fast-forward to a couple of weeks ago. As many of you may know the early years of Pennsylvania death certificates (currently 1906-1944) are available online at Ancestry. (Note to researchers: This collection is available as part of  the US subscription but is also free to Pennsylvania residents when accessed through the PA portal.) While mining this collection for Keely/Keeley records I once again came upon Mary (nee Keeley) Lapp. Some key information gained from the death certificate was that Mary and her father Henry were born in Pennsylvania and her mother Mary Poole was born in Massachusetts. The death certificate further stated that prior to being admitted to the hospital in Norristown (where she died) she lived in Graterford, Montgomery County, PA.

Armed with the information that she supposedly was born, died and had a residence in Pennsylvania prior to her death, I once again I looked for her in the US Federal Censuses. And although I tried all sorts of spelling and misspelling variations of Keeley and Lapp, I was still unable to find Mary. Not in 1910, 1900, 1880, 1870, 1860 or 1850. Rejecting the possibilities that she avoided being enumerated in the census because she spent the bulk of her life abroad or that she and her family were somehow skipped over each and every decade, I went back to the death certificate to look for more clues.

The informant on the death certificate was Mrs. Samuel Koons of Graterford, PA, and she was identified as a daughter. Hoping to find more about Mary by finding out more about her daughter, my first goal was to determine Mrs. Koons’ first name by locating her in the 1920 census. I was really hoping that since she lived in Graterford in October of 1919 that she would still be there (and be enumerated) when the 1920 census was taken. The closest match was Samuel Koons, aged 68, and his wife Mary C., aged 60, of Perkiomen. They were also in Perkiomen in 1930 with Samuel aged 76 and Mary C. aged 71. But in 1910, Samuel, aged 56, is enumerated with wife Lizzie C., aged 54. And here I hit a snag — not only is the first name of the wife different, but the age is inconsistent.

Taking a step back, the 1930 census indicated that Mary C. was first married at age 19, which would have been about 1878 and that Samuel was first married at age 38, which would have been about 1896. Thus Mary C. was married to someone else prior to marrying Samuel. Based on the 1910 census Samuel had a prior marriage as well. This, of course, leaves a window of between 1910 and 1920 for the marriage of Samuel and Mary C. In searching further the Philadelphia marriage index shows a 1915 marriage between Samuel Koons and Mary C. Mishler.

A census search for Mary C. Mishler yielded a 1900 census for a widowed Mary C. Mishler, aged 41, living in Philadelphia with a son Herbert, aged 20. Going back, the 1880 census had a Silas Tucker, aged 40, with son-in-law Thomas Mishler, aged 25, Mary Mishler, aged 21, and Herbert, aged 1 in Lancaster, PA. In 1870, Silas Tucker, aged 36, Mary A., aged 30, Mary C., aged 11, and William H., aged 9, are enumerated in Lancaster.  And in 1860 Silas Tucker, aged 24, Mary A., aged 21, and May [sic], aged 1, are once again in Lancaster, PA. So presumably, Mary (nee Keeley) Lapp has been now been found in 1860 and 1870 living in Lancaster with her first husband, Silas Tucker. A little more digging shows her living in Philadelphia in 1880 with second husband Samuel Pearson and son William Tucker, aged 19. She is also in Philadelphia in 1900 as a 59 year-old widow and in 1910 as a 71 year-old widow. (Yes, the ages are a little off, but I am fairly certain it is her.)  In addition, the Philadelphia Marriage index shows a 1911 marriage between Mary Pearson and George W. Lapp.

So to recap Mary’s timeline:

  • 12 Sep 1838 – born in PA to Henry and Mary (Poole) Keeley
  • est 1857 – married Silas Tucker
  • 1860 – in Lancaster with Silas Tucker and daughter
  • 1870 – in Lancaster with Silas Tucker and children
  • bet 1870 and 1880 – divorced Silas Tucker, married Samuel Pearson
  • 1880 – in Philadelphia with Samuel Pearson
  • 6 Aug 1897 – death of husband Samuel Pearson in Philadelphia
  • 1900 – in Philadelphia, widowed
  • 1910 – in Philadelphia, widowed
  • 1911 – married George W. Lapp in Philadelphia
  • by 1914 – living in Graterford, Montgomery, PA
  • 7 Oct 1919 – died in Norristown, PA

So although part of the mystery of Mary (nee Keeley) Tucker Pearson Lapp is solved, questions still remain. Where was she in 1850? Where in Pennsylvania was she born? Is she a descendant of Valentine of Skippack? If you have any further information on Mary, I would love to hear from you. In the meantime, I’ll keep looking and hopefully I will soon be able to get a handle on her parents and ancestry.

Tuesday’s Tip – Consider ALL the Possibilities!

So you just got your hot little hands on a copy of great-great-granddad’s will and he names “his brother-in-law Joe Blow” as one of his co-executors. Do you now throw your arms up in the air and do the genealogy happy dance because you have uncovered the long sought after maiden name your great-great grandmother? It’s tempting! But maybe it’s not quite time to break out the champagne. Here’s a true story from my family files.

Sebastian Keeley (sometimes spelled Keely) was my 5X’s great grandfather. At the time of his death he lived on a “plantation” in Vincent Township, Chester County, Pennsylvania. Records show he also operated a tavern. He died on November 8, 1777 at the age of 48. In his will he names as co-executors his wife Elizabeth, his son Matthias and his brother-in-law George Christman. It is my belief that this is where William Henry Egle, the Pennsylvania State Librarian who wrote a series of genealogy-related articles for the Harrisburg PA Daily Telegraph newspaper in the late 1800s, got his information. His Egle’s “Notes and Queries” is a multiple volume compilation of about 5000 pages containing historical and biographical information on families from eastern and central Pennsylvania. It is an important and widely available genealogical resource in Pennsylvania. And it says my 5x’s great grandmother was Elizabeth Christman.

So this is my starting point. Elizabeth Christman is my 5x’s great-grandmother. Now what? Well naturally I want to find her parents – my 6x’s great-grandparents. And this is where everything starts to fall apart.

The Keely family, headed by Sebastian’s father Valentine, arrived in American around 1728. Valentine settled in what would be become western Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. Two of his children, Matthias and Sebastian settled across the river in Chester County when they became of age.

Daniel, patriarch of the Christman family, came to America 1730. He purchased land near Valentine Keely’s property in 1738. According to Christman genealogists, Daniel’s children were born between 1731 and 1744. Some of his children also wound up settling across the river in Chester County.

This area (i.e. northern Chester County and western Montgomery County, Pennsylvania) was not a huge population center. Despite pockets of housing developments, even in 2011 most people would characterize this area as relatively rural — particularly on the Chester County side of the river. So back in the late 1700s the population was downright sparse. This is good because there are a limited number of Keelys as well as a limited number of Christmans living in the area for us to analyze.

Now, as you’ll recall, Sebastian was born 1729. Logically, his spouse would be in the generation of Daniel’s children. There’s also a small chance Elizabeth could be a granddaughter of Daniel – particularly if he was widowed and she was a second wife. So let’s look at George Christman – Sebastian’s brother-in-law. In a deed dated 1801, the executors of the estate of Sebastian Keely sold land in Limerick township, Montgomery County to Jacob Keely (one of Sebastian’s sons). In that deed George Christman is described as a yeoman of Pikeland township. Now I have been told (correct me if I’m wrong) that in this case, the term of yeoman refers to a farmer who owned land. Through a combination of civil and church records, it can be proved that the George Christman who lived and owned land in Pikeland township, and who was of age to be an executor in 1777, was the son of Daniel Christman, the immigrant mentioned above. And George had a sister named Elizabeth!

So far so good, right? Well, let’s keep going with this. Daniel Christman died in 1760. In his will he describes his daughter Elizabeth as a spinster. So Elizabeth Christman was unmarried when her father wrote his will. So if Sebastian and Elizabeth married after Daniel’s death in 1760, all of their (legitimate) children would have been born after that and would have been under the age of 17 when Sebastian died in 1777. But baptism and other records show that Sebastian had at least 4 children born between 1754 and 1760, as well as four more between about 1762 and 1772. Egle apparently knew this. He implied that Elizabeth was the second wife of Sebastian. What he apparently did not realize, however, was that church records show that Elizabeth Christman, daughter of Daniel, married Johannes Haas/Hause on March 12, 1861. Burial records for Vincent Mennonite Cemetery (aka Rhoades Burial Ground) show that Elizabeth Hause, wife of Johannes, died in 1777.

As if that isn’t bad enough, when Elizabeth Keeley died in 1807, her son Jacob petitioned the orphan’s court to partition or sell land. Jacob was born in 1758. Jacob’s petition lists the names of his then living brothers and sisters as well as the surviving children of his deceased brother Sebastian. From the way this document is written, it would appear that Elizabeth was the mother of all of Sebastian’s known children. To top it off, the birth date of Elizabeth Christman, daughter of Daniel, as recorded in her baptism record, is inconsistent with the birth date inscribed on Elizabeth Keeley’s tombstone. It is, however, consistent with the birth date on the tombstone of Elizabeth Haas/Hause.

So where did we go wrong? Perhaps we found the wrong set of George/Elizabeth Christman siblings. But given the facts we have about George the executor, the only George Christman who possibly fits the bill is unequivocally also the son of Daniel. In the end, our entire premise for Elizabeth Keeley having the maiden name of Christman is the fact that Sebastian called George Christman his brother-in-law.

So who are your brother-in-laws? Strictly speaking your brother-in-law is the brother of your wife or the spouse of your sister. In the interest of space, in this case, George’s wife is not Sebastian’s sister. Nor did George have a deceased wife who was Sebastian’s sister. Nor did George have a deceased sister who was Sebastian’s first wife. That pretty much covers all the brother-in-law bases. Except one. My husband has three sisters. They are my sister-in-laws. Strictly speaking their husbands are not my brother-in-laws – but I’ve called them brother-in-laws. Don’t most people?

What if Sebastian’s wife and George’s wife were sisters. Would Sebastian call George his brother-in-law? Well, I think so and I think that’s exactly what happened in this case. George’s wife was Sophia Frey or Fry. I am slowly finding more information on the Frys in the area. So far, it’s all starting to fit together. There aren’t the glaring inconsistencies as there are with Daniel Christman’s daughter. But it’s still a little premature to start doing the happy dance.  Of course, there’s also the bit about Elizabeth Christman. She was declared to be Sebastian’s wife by a very well-known, respected source over 100 years ago. It’s been an uphill battle trying to convince other Keeley/Keely researchers that that may not be the case!

So getting back to the Tuesday’s Tip — check all the possibilities. Particularly when it comes to relationships. Sometimes siblings are really half-siblings (or even step-siblings). Sometimes brothers are brothers-in-laws. (I also have a will where this is the case.) Sometimes adopted or step children are not explicitly identified as such. And sometimes a brother-in-law is, in the strictest sense of the word, not a brother-in-law but rather the spouse of your sister-in-law!

Thriller Thursday – Disaster on the Rails

Here’s another one for the Thriller Thursday series at Geneabloggers.

It was a cold, dark Friday evening in January. Snow blanketed the ground. The Atlantic Express train had departed Albany about 2:40 in the afternoon and was en route to New York City. The train was packed with passengers including quite a few politicians and prominent businessmen. Extra parlor-style passenger cars, as well as a second engine, had been added to the train to accommodate the all the travelers. The train was nearing the end of the 150-mile trip when an overheated axle forced it to stop. By now it was after 7 o’clock and the train was near the Spuyten Duyvil Junction.

Spuyten Duyvil. It was an area in the Southern Bronx named for the adjacent Spuyten Duyvil Creek – a body of water separating the Bronx from Manhattan. It is a Dutch phrase meaning Devil’s Whirlpool and is descriptive of the turbulence of the creek, particularly during high tide. And so to those of us predisposed to superstition, what could be more prophetic than to have disaster strike on the evening of Friday the Thirteenth near the Devil’s Whirpool?

The year was 1882, and the passengers, though inconvenienced by the unexpected stop, were keeping warm and comfortable with the stoves and lamps in the parlor cars. When it first became necessary to stop the train to let the overheated axle cool, the brakeman was supposed to walk back the track far enough so that he could use lanterns to signal any approaching train in enough time for it to stop. And in fact, this very night, just 13 minutes or so behind the Atlantic Express was the Tarrytown Special. It was pulling only three passenger cars and reportedly moving at speeds up to 25 miles per hour.

Now this particular section of the train track was said to mirror the curvature of the creek. It was described as curving like the letter S, with very few areas of straight line track. As it happened, the brakeman for the Atlantic Express walked back several lengths along the track with his latern. He was positioned near a curve in the track. Unfortunately, the Tarrytown Special conductor never saw the brakeman’s signal until he rounded the curve. At that point, he not only saw the signal lantern, but also the glowing lights of the Idlewild, the last car of the Atlantic Express.

The Tarrytown conductor may have signaled for the brakes to be applied, but the train had not slowly significantly before barreling into the Idlewild and ramming it into the next to the last car, the Empire. Both the Idlewild and the Empire were what was known as parlor-style palace cars. They were luxury cars that would have had individual chairs rather than bench seating. There was thought to be about 10 to 12 people in the Idlewild and as many as 18 or 19  in the Empire. However, since the train had stopped, some of the travelers had been wandering through the train. Upon impact, people in both the Idlewild and the Empire were thrown to the floor. The chairs, lanterns and stoves were toppled over. Some people were pinned under the debris. Fires were started when the stoves and lanterns were knocked over igniting the woodwork and upholstry. The Idlewild suffered the severest damage, followed closely by the Empire.

According to eye witness reports, most of the passengers probably survived the initial impact. Unfortunately, those in the Idlewild were pinned by debris and unable to escape the burning car on their own. Their cries and moans could be heard, but rescue efforts were hindered by the lack of axes to break through the crushed train cars and the debris. Also, there was little or no water readily available to douse the flames. In the absence of water, some would be rescuers threw snow on the fire. Most of those in Idlewild either burned to death or were overcome by the smoke before they could be freed.

Initial reports were that nine people, possibly more, died. Amazingly, after all the dust settled and some heretofore unaccounted for people were located, the number was revised to seven dead and several dozen injured. Those who were killed were NY State Senator Webster Wagner; Oliver B. Keeley, a stove manufacturer from Spring City Pennsylvania; newly married Parker Valentine, aged 22 and his bride, 19 year-old Louise Gaylord; Rev. Father Marechal; Mrs. Maud Brown; and Mr. D. L. Ransom. Only one passenger on the ill-fated Idlewild car survived, that being Miss Mary E. Daniels. She was badly burned, but apparently recovered from her injuries. Mr. Valentine Sr., the father of the groom who perished, was also on the train. He had happened to step out onto the back platform of the Idlewild just as the Tarrytown Express was bearing down on it. He managed to jump off the platform and escape to safety in the nick of time.

The story of the train wreck at Spuyten Duyvil, New York was reported throughout the nation. While the coroner’s inquest found fault with nearly all the personnel of both trains as well as the railroad officials for failing to put forth proper procedures to ensure the safety of passengers, the ultimate blame seemed to rest on the brakeman of the Atlantic Express. He was put on trial for manslaughter that November. Surprisingly, he was found not guilty.

My connection to this tragic story is Oliver B. Keeley. He was the son of Joseph Keeley and Anna Markle and he was my 3rd cousin, 4 times removed. He was only 36 years old when he died. He left a wife, Mary (nee Stauffer) and a young daughter named Clara.