By the Bridge

The Swantons of County Cork,
Boston, MA and Brooklyn, NY


by Ginni Swanton


James Swanton
and
Ellen Ahern
James Swanton and Ellen Ahern Family Tree

James Swanton, the son of Michael and Elizabeth Bradfield Swanton, was baptized on June 15, 1862 in either the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Enniskeane, or in the church at Aghyohill. His baptismal sponsors were Thomas Bradfield and Catherine Neil.

James was confirmed at the age of 14 in the parish of Desertserges in 1876 by Father Daniel Coveney. The family was living at Boulteen Cross Roads at the time, where his father was a carpenter and ran the local pound.

James Swanton Confirmation
James Swanton's Confirmation
1876, Cork, Ireland

Four years later, in 1880, James and his parents, along with his younger brother, Robert, left Ireland. They arrived in Boston on August 15, 1880 on the S. S. Samaria. This must have been quite an adventure for a young boy who grew up in the quiet, rural farmlands of West Cork!

When they arrived in Boston, James and his family moved in with his Uncle John and Aunt Mary, and their five children. They lived at 306 West Second Street in South Boston, Massachusetts, a predominantly Irish community. In June of 1885, James was 23 years old, and lived at 274 W. Second St., South Boston. He worked as a porter at 123 Broad Street.

On August 18, 1885, just a month and a half after the death of his mother, James married Ellen Ahearn. They were married at St. Vincent de Paul Church in South Boston by the Reverend G. J. Corcoran. Their marriage witnesses were Cecilia Cusker and Patrick Carroll.

Ellen Ahernís parents were William and Alice Corbett Ahern, and they were from the parish of Kilbeheny in Limerick. Kilbeheny is about 4 miles southwest of Mitchelstown, County Cork. William and Alice Corbett Ahern were both tailors.

Alice and William Ahern

Jamesí father, Michael Swanton, returned to Ireland after his wife, Bessie Bradfield Swanton, died.. I donít know if he stayed in America long enough to attend the wedding of James and Ellen.

James and Ellen Ahearn Swanton continued to live at 274 W. Second Street until 1887, when they moved to 164 Silver Street in South Boston.

On February 4, 1888, their first son was born, and they named him Michael after Jamesí father. In January of 1890, their second son, William, was born. The family was now living at 185 Bowen Street. In 1891, they moved to 133 Silver Street.

In February of 1892, they welcomed twin sons, who they named James and Robert. The twins were baptized at St. Augustineís Church in South Boston on March 4, 1892. The baptismal sponsor for James was E. Wooley, and the baptismal sponsor for Robert was Anna Ahearn of Tudor Street. Anna was most likely Ellenís sister, Johanna Ahearn, who later married James McNamara.

Johanna Ahern McNamara
Johanna Ahern McNamara

James Swanton was working as a day laborer, and it couldnít have been an easy task for him to support his rapidly-growing family. Ellen had her hands full, too, taking care of four young children under the age of five. South Boston was very crowded then, and the family would probably have lived in just a couple of small rooms. Most likely, sanitary facilities were out-of-doors.

The summer heat in their small rooms must have been unbearable, and in the evenings, many people would sit outside to try and catch a passing breeze and gossip with their neighbors. With so many people living in such close quarters, I canít imagine that many secrets were successfully kept!

Epidemics spread like wildfire through this congested community, and child mortality was very high. There were no vaccinations available for most diseases. On August 1, 1892, during the hottest part of the summer, cholera struck.

Cholera is caused by a water-borne bacteria, and generally occurs during the summer months in areas where the sanitation is poor. The diarrhea and vomiting brought on by the infection quickly leave the body without enough fluid. The resulting dehydration and shock could kill a person within hours.

Little Robert Swanton was just five months old when he came down with cholera, and within four days, he was dead. Ellen and James must have been heartbroken to lose their baby son, but thankful that their three other children had been spared.

In November of 1895, Ellen and Jamesí first daughter was born, and they named her Elizabeth, after Jamesí mother. After four boys, I can imagine she was eagerly welcomed by the family.

Just 10 months later, their fifth son, George, was born in October of 1896. On April 18, 1898, the second twin, James, died of mitral insufficiency , from which he had suffered for eight months. The family was living at 95 Silver Street when he died. Three months after the death of young James, John Robert Swanton was born in July of 1898.

At the beginning of December 1900, Ellen Ahern Swanton was more than eight months pregnant with her eighth child. Winters in Boston were cold, and James Swanton would have gone out each day to try to find work as a day laborer. Christmas was just around the corner, but the family would have had no extra money for presents. Paying the rent, and clothing and feeding everyone would have taken up more money than James was bringing home. It was a tenuous, day-to-day existence, but James and Ellen had each other and the children.

On December 7,1900, little George and Elizabeth both woke up complaining of sore throats. Ellen may not have been able to afford the money for a doctor, even if there was one available, and she would have tried the home remedies of hot broth, and wrapping warm, aromatic flannels around their necks. In spite of her ministrations, both children became worse, developing fevers and swelling in their necks. Ellen recognized the symptoms, and her heart would have sunk as she realized that George and Elizabeth had diptheria.

Diptheria is an infection of the throat caused by a bacterium that produces a protein called diphtheria toxin. This protein causes the cells in the throat to die by stopping the production of protein. Diphtheria is highly contagious, and is passed from person to person by droplet transmission, and can be caught by breathing in the diphtheria bacteria after an infected person has coughed, sneezed or even laughed. The toxin can get into the bloodstream and cause heart damage, which is the most common cause of death in diphtheria patients.

It would have been difficult to isolate George and Elizabeth to try to prevent the disease from spreading, and Ellen may have sent the other children off to stay with a neighbor. George and Elizabeth were having trouble breathing, and Ellen would have sent for the priest to administer the last rites. George Swanton died on January 11,1900 at the age of four, and his sister, Elizabeth, died two days later, on January 13. She was five years old. George and Elizabeth were buried in the Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden.

Itís hard to imagine how a family could deal with such terrible loss. But the Irish Catholicsí faith was strong, and they believed that these things happened because they were Godís will, and it was His way of testing their faith. However, this must have been a very difficult time for the family to go through. It would have been no consolation for them to realize that the same thing was happening all around them to their neighbors and their children.

Twelve days later, Ellen and Jamesí eighth and last child was born. It was a boy, and they named him Patrick Francis Swanton.

By June 6, 1900, Ellen Ahern Swanton was only 39 years old. She had left her home in Ireland, immigrated to Boston, married, and in 12 years, had given birth to eight children, and lost four of them. There is no indication of where her children were buried.

Ellen Ahern Swanton
Ellen Ahern Swanton
Holy Cross Cemetary
Malden, Massachusetts

In June of 1900, the family was again living at 185 Bowen Street in South Boston, and James was still working as a day laborer. The family had not seen its end of troubles, though. On June 13, 1901, James Swanton contracted pleuro-pneumonia. He died eight days later at the age of 37 on June 21, 1901. On June 22, Ellen purchased a lot in Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden, and this is where James Swanton was buried. There is no marker for his grave.

Ellen was now a widow with four children to take care of. Her son Michael was 13, William was 11, John was 3, and Patrick was 1.

In 1905, Ellen and her children moved to 67 Baxter Street, South Boston. I donít know how Ellen supported herself and her children after her husband died. Perhaps she took in washing, or cleaned houses. She may have gotten some help from her family or in-laws, but they were all most likely trying to make ends meet themselves. But somehow she managed.

From 1910 to 1925, Ellen lived at 212 W. Ninth Street in South Boston. In 1930, she moved to 101 Old Harbor Street, where her son, John Swanton, lived.

On November 01,1908, Ellenís oldest son, Michael, married Mary A. McCauley. On October 11, 1917, her second son, William, married Elizabeth V. Gaffney. In 1923, her son, John, married Mildred K. Wildes, and on September 28, 1926, her youngest son, Patrick Francis, married Margaret Mary Mogan.

John Swanton and Mildred Wildes
John Swanton and Mildred Wildes

Ellen lived to be 69, and welcomed the arrival of fourteen grandchildren. Her young granddaughters must have reminded her of her own young daughter, Elizabeth, who she hadlost so soon.

Ellen Ahern and Grandchildren
Ellen Ahearn Swanton with her granddaughters
Katherine (baby), Peggy and Ellen Swanton
(Daughters of Patrick Swanton and Margaret Mary Mogan)

Ellen Ahern Swanton died on December 14, 1930 of carcinoma of the stomach and broncho pneumonia. When Ellen died, she was living at the home of her son, Patrick Swanton, at 1326 Columbia Road in South Boston. She is buried with her husband, James Swanton, in Holy Cross Cemetery in Malden, Massachusetts.

Next: Robert Swanton and Rosanna Hanlon

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