Family of Valentine Ryan and Bridget Tobin of County Kilkenny, Ireland, and Grant County, Arkansas: New Information

A Quick Summary of Information I’ve Previously Posted about This Family

As the series of postings linked above states, Valentine Ryan married Bridget Tobin on 21 September 1836 in Kilmacow Catholic parish, and the couple then lived with their family in Buckstown, part of Mullinavat in County Kilkenny, until Valentine emigrated to America in 1852, arriving in the port of New Orleans on Christmas day that year. In what was a chain migration, Bridget and the couple’s children Margaret, Patrick, and Catherine followed Valentine in the next year or two, and the family then moved to Clarke County, Mississippi, for several years before buying farmland in Jefferson County in south-central Arkansas in 1860. In 1870, their land fell into Grant County at that county’s formation, and this is where the Ryan family lived thereafter, and where Valentine and Bridget and their children are all buried.

As my previous postings about the family indicate, lists of ships arriving in New Orleans on Christmas day 1852 have not survived. I know the date and place of Valentine’s arrival in America from the declaration of intent to become an American citizen that he filed on 10 October 1854 in Clarke County, Mississippi. As the posting I’ve just linked and another posting in the previous series also both indicate, I had also not found a record of the ship that brought Bridget and her children to America in 1853-1854 when I wrote that series of postings — nor have I found information about Bridget’s parents or other family members, since the Kilmacow Catholic parish baptismal register does not reach back in time to her year of birth, 1818, as indicated by her tombstone. I am assuming that Bridget’s family lived in Kilmacow parish, since that’s where she and Valentine Ryan married in 1836, and marriages usually took place in the parish of the bride. The Catholic parish of Mullinavat, where the Ryans lived following Val and Biddy’s marriage, was part of Kilmacow parish until the latter part of the 1830s.

New Information I Now Have to Share

So now I’m adding to the previous postings, parts of which I have just summarized, because I have an update: I’m now fairly confident that I have, in fact, discovered a record of the arrival of Bridget Tobin Ryan and her children in the port of New Orleans. On the list of passengers aboard the James Nesmith, which arrived in New Orleans from Liverpool on 21 March 1854, I spot a Bridget Ryan, 35, with children Mary, 13, Patrick, 6, and Catherine, 4.[2] This configuration of names and ages is more or less a clear, if not absolutely perfect, match to what I know of my Bridget Ryan, when she and her children came to Ireland, and their ages in 1854. 

As the postings linked above state, I know that Bridget came to New Orleans with the family’s three children in 1853 or 1854 because I was told this repeatedly by reliable sources when I was a child. My grandmother Hattie Batchelor Simpson, daughter of Valentine and Bridget’s daughter Catherine, and her three brothers living when I was growing up, Pat, Monroe, and Ed, often told me the story as they had heard it from their mother and as Pat, who was old enough to know his uncle and namesake Patrick Ryan, remembered it from his uncle Pat’s telling of the story. The story they told was that the rest of the family followed Valentine Ryan to New Orleans a year or so after his arrival there — which would place the family’s arrival in New Orleans in 1853 or 1854. Ed’s wife Flora Wallin Batchelor, a teacher in Sheridan, Arkansas, before they married, wrote the story down as her mother-in-law Catherine Ryan Batchelor told it to her, and a granddaughter of Flora shared that account with me: it agrees with everything I heard about these events when I was growing up.

Catherine, who was a little girl of four or five at the time, remembered that a mother lost a baby as the ship crossed the Atlantic, and hid its body in a trunk, hoping it could be buried in consecrated ground in America. But sharks began to knock against the bottom of the ship and the captain suspected that a body was hidden aboard, causing the shark activity, so that he ordered a search of the ship, and when the baby’s body was found, it was tied to a board and buried in the sea. 

So how have I come to conclude that the Ryan family I find on the list of passengers aboard the James Nesmith when it arrived in New Orleans from Liverpool on 21 March 1854 is my Ryan family — Bridget Tobin Ryan and her children Margaret, Patrick, and Catherine? I’ve done so because the year of arrival and port of arrival match what I’ve “always known” about Bridget’s and her children’s immigration to America. And most — though not all — of the information provided in the passenger list about this family group matches what I know about Bridget and her children: 

Ryan family on passenger list of James Nesmith arriving in New Orleans from Liverpool, 21 March 1854, from NARA, Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New Orleans, 1820-1945; Index to Passenger Lists of Vessels rriving in New Orleans, 1853-1952: 18 January 1854 – 29 April 1854, series M259, roll 39; online at Family Search

Information from the Passenger List of the James Nesmith, New Orleans, 21 March 1854

1. The James Nesmith passenger list states that Bgt. Ryan was 35 years old in March 1854. This would place her birth in 1819. The tombstone of Bridget Tobin Ryan in Orion cemetery, Grant County, Arkansas, states the following: 

May her soul rest in pais
Bridget Ryne
Died November 19, 1873.
Aged 55 years. Eracted by V. Ryne

If Bridget was 55 at the time of her death in November 1873, then she was born in 1818.

2. The Bridget Ryan, aged 35, arriving aboard the James Nesmith in New Orleans on 21 March 1854 had with her children Mary, 13, Patrick, 6, and Catherine, 4. With the exception of Margaret’s name appearing in this list as Mary, these names match the names of the three children I know Bridget Tobin Ryan brought from Ireland to New Orleans in 1853-4, and their ages roughly match the ages of Valentine and Bridget’s children.

3. The James Nesmith list implies a birth year of 1841 for Mary Ryan, who is listed with the occupation of seamstress on the ship’s list. The baptism record of Margaret Ryan, daughter of Valentine Ryan and Bridget Tobin, in Kilmacow and Mullinavat (Kilbeacon) Catholic parishes, County Kilkenny, states that Margaret was baptized 3 August 1838.[3]

The tombstone of Margaret, daughter of Valentine Ryan and Bridget Tobin, in Orion cemetery, Grant County, Arkansas, states the following:

Marget Ryne
Diad Aug. 9th, 1862
Age 27 Years
And 7 days.
By V. Ryne. 
May her soul rest in peis.

Note that this gives Margaret a birth year of 1835, and a birthdate of 2 August. The baptism record would obviously have the more accurate year of birth.

Though she’s buried with her maiden surname, Margaret had married Robert Allen Sumrall on 22 October 1856.[4] Robert and Margaret moved with her parents to Arkansas in the late 1850s, and following Margaret’s death in 1862, Robert returned to Mississippi with their daughter Mary Margaret Elizabeth Sumrall, then went to Texas where he remarried and died. Margaret and Robert A. Sumrall’s marriage record in Clarke County, Mississippi, does not state their ages when they married. I have also not been able to locate Margaret and her husband on the 1860 federal census, so that I cannot cite information from that document about Margaret’s age as provided by a census taker.

4. The James Nesmith passenger list implies a birth year of 1848 for Biddy Ryan’s son Patrick. The baptism register of Mullinavat Catholic parish, County Kilkenny, states that Patrick, son of Val and Biddy Tobin Ryan, was baptized 14 April 1856. Pat’s tombstone in Orion cemetery, Grant County, Arkansas, reads,

Patrick Ryan
Born 1846
Died 18 Oct. 1893
In Paradise thou / sharest bliss, /  Ne’er to be found in / a world like this.

5. The James Nesmith passenger list implies a birth year of 1850 for Biddy Ryan’s daughter Catherine. Catherine’s baptismal record in Mullinavat Catholic parish, County Kilkenny, states that Catherine, daughter of Val and Biddy Ryan, was baptized 19 August 1849. Catherine’s tombstone in Orion cemetery, Grant County, Arkansas, states, 

Catherine
Wife of George R. Batchelor
Born in Kilkenny, Ire.
Aug. 19, 1849
Died Nov. 13, 1910
Mother, thou has from us flown / To the regions far above We to thee erect this stone / Consecrated by our love.

So, to sum up: the passenger list of the ship James Nesmith shows us a Ryan family with mother Bridget and children Mary, Patrick, and Catherine arriving in New Orleans together in 1854 — right place and right date; right family configuration; right names for the three children Bridget Tobin Ryan brought to America if we recognize that Margaret’s name may have morphed to Mary here, or perhaps Margaret had the name Mary Margaret; roughly the right years of birth for the three children, who are in the right order to be Val and Biddy’s three children. Mutatis mutandis, things seem to fit. Though none of the names here are uncommon in Irish families of the period, either the Ryan surname nor the given names Bridget, Margaret, Patrick, and Catherine, it’s noteworthy that, in this record, the names are in a configuration that more or less fits the Ryan family from which I descend, and the family is arriving in the right place and the right time to be my family.

I ask myself what are the odds of such a configuration, too, of so many right or nearly right pieces of information corroborating what I know about the family of Valentine Ryan and Bridget Tobin and when and where they arrived in America? I really do suspect this passenger list captures the arrival of Bridget Tobin Ryan and her children Margaret, Patrick, and Catherine.

One thing in the ship’s register does not fit, however: Bridget has a husband James Ryan on the passenger list. I am not quite sure how to account for him. I’m inclined to wonder if Bridget came with her children to New Orleans under the auspices of a relative of hers or Valentine’s who registered himself for this voyage as her husband, in order to afford protection to her and the children. I have scoured the 1860 federal census to see if I can find a James Ryan with wife Bridget and the three children from the James Nesmith passenger list in the household, and I can find no such family anywhere in America — and that makes me all the more inclined to think this is a record of the arrival of Valentine Ryan’s wife Bridget and their three children in New Orleans in 1854. Though I cannot explain who James Ryan is or why he’s listed with this family on this passenger list ….

Things are seldom quite as simple as one would like in genealogical research, are they? — in part, because any single record can be misleading, can contain mistakes, so that record needs to be checked against record to get to the truth of things. And we often end up with an inconclusive but still compelling picture about which we have to make the best judgments possible, in the absence of clenching proof and absolutely certainty.

Photo of the James Nesmith from “Emigrating to America” at the Morgan Family Pioneer Heritage website; the photo is probably from two books cited on this wepgage — see infra, n. 5, for information about this

Information about the James Nesmith

Some information about the James Nesmith: it was a three-masted barque built at Thomaston, Maine, in 1850, which plied especially between Liverpool and New Orleans.[5] A watercolor painting of the James Nesmith by artist Duncan McFarlane (1818-1865) is currently online at the invaluable website, from an auction held by Bourgeault-Horan Antiquarians in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in August 2008 (see the top of this posting). A photo of the painting at this webpage is accompanied by historical information about the James Nesmith.

Ad for James Nesmith‘s voyage from Liverpool to New Orleans, Liverpool Mercury (10 January 1854), p. 4, col. 2

An ad in the Liverpool newspaper The Mercury, dated 10 January 1854, tells us when the ship left Liverpool for New Orleans in January 1854: the ad states that the James Nesmith would sail from Liverpool on 19 January.[6] To board the James Nesmith with her children in January 1854, Bridget would have had to take the children from their home in Mullinavat, County Kilkenny, sometime prior to that date and travel to Liverpool. Mullinavat is less than 10 miles north of Waterford. The family would undoubtedly have left Ireland from that port. Stories Catherine Ryan Batchelor told her children about the family’s leave-taking stated that a little girl — perhaps a relative of the family — ran up and down the shore as Bridget and her children left Ireland, screaming for them not to leave her.

In searching the entire list of passengers of the James Nesmith when it arrived in New Orleans on 24 March 1854, I find no mention of deaths that occurred on the voyage. It’s entirely possible the captain, whose name is given as Harvey Mills at the start of the list, did not record such information. I do see written next to the name of one young woman on the passenger list the word BIRTH, which I take to mean she gave birth to a child while aboard ship. No name is given for the child, and I wonder if it might be the baby Catherine Ryan Batchelor remembered dying aboard ship, with its body hidden by its mother in a trunk.

In Conclusion: A Story about Synchronicity in Genealogical Research

The possibility that Valentine and Bridget’s older daughter Margaret was a seamstress, if she’s the Mary listed with mother Bridget on the James Nesmith passenger list, makes me remember a trip I made to the burial place of Margaret’s daughter Mary Margaret Sumrall in 1997, which ended up with my receiving a photograph of Margaret. One of the most interesting experiences of synchronicity I’ve had in doing genealogical work over the years occurred on that trip, on 16 March 1997.

It was on that date that I went to the Lebanon Cemetery in Laurel, Mississippi, in which Margaret’s daughter Mary Margaret Sumrall is buried along with her husband John Thomas Harper and most of their children. As I toured the cemetery looking for Mary Margaret’s grave, someone passing by asked what family I was researching, and after I shared with her my interest in the Harper family and its ties to my Ryan family, told me I might profit from talking to a Mrs. Mollie English who lived in a house across the road from the cemetery.

I knocked on Mrs. English’s door and she kindly invited me in. She asked me about my interest in the cemetery and relatives I had buried there, and I told her what I knew of Mary Margaret Sumrall — that my great-grandmother Catherine Ryan had a sister Margaret, who married Robert Allen Sumrall in Clarke County, Mississippi, in 1856. I told her that when Margaret died in 1862, her father took their daughter back to Mississippi and placed her with a Harper family, one of whose sons she eventually married. He then went to Texas and married again and had a family there, dying there in 1900.

Photo of Margaret Ryan Sumrall, daughter of Valentine Ryan and Bridget Tobin, owned by descendants in Laurel, Mississippi

Mrs. English listened attentively, and when I’d finished talking, she told me, “Yes, I know that story well. I’m a daughter of the same John Thomas Harper who married Mary Margaret Elizabeth Sumrall. After she died, he married my mother Martha Jane Jones, and I’m the daughter he had by her.” Then she told me that some of Mary Margaret’s descendants in Laurel had a picture of her, and eventually one of those relatives sent me the picture of Margaret above, which shows her looking very much like her sister Catherine, my great-grandmother. 

It’s interesting that I had this experience of synchronicity on the eve of St. Patrick’s day, and it just so happened that I found the ship’s list for the James Nesmith that I think captures my family’s arrival in New Orleans on 21 March 2019 — the same day on which Bridget and her children arrived in New Orleans aboard the James Nesmith from Liverpool. 

In a subsequent posting piggybacking on this one, I’ll tell you some things I have now discovered about Tobins in Kilmacow and Mullinavat Catholic parishes in County Kilkenny who are, I suspect, relatives of Bridget Tobin Ryan.


[1] On Logriach, the “gray hollow” on the Pill River, see Owen O’Kelly, The Place-Names of County Kilkenny (Kilkenny: Kilkenny Archaeological Society, 1985), p. 158; online at the website of Kilkenny Archaeological Society.

[2] NARA, Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New Orleans, 1820-1945; Index to Passenger Lists of Vessels rriving in New Orleans, 1853-1952: 18 January 1854 – 29 April 1854, series M259, roll 39; online at Family Search. New Orleans passenger list quarterly abstracts also lists these same passengers arriving from foreign ports in New Orleans in the second quarter of 1854 aboard the James Nesmith under Capt. Mills from Liverpool: see NARA, Quarterly Abstracts of Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New Orleans, Louisiana, 1820–1875, series M272.

[3] The records of Kilmacow and Mullinavat (Kilbeacon) parishes overlap for some years in the latter part of the 1830s, until Mullinavat began keeping records entirely separate from Kilmacow’s records.

[4] Clarke County, Mississippi, Marriage Bk. A, p. 188.

[5] See “Emigrating to America” at the Morgan Family Pioneer Heritage website, citing Conway B. Sonne, Ships, Saints, And Mariners: A Maritime Encyclopedia of Mormon Migration (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1987) and Saints On The Sea: A Maritime History of Mormon Migration (Salt Lake City: University of Utah Press, 1983). This article has a photo of the James Nesmith, evidently from one of these two cited sources.

[6] Liverpool Mercury (10 January 1854), p. 4, col. 2.

5 thoughts on “Family of Valentine Ryan and Bridget Tobin of County Kilkenny, Ireland, and Grant County, Arkansas: New Information

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