A number of people (okay, one or two), who have heard me describe this project or have been gracious enough to read some of this material, have asked, do you plan on giving your father’s ancestors a similar fictional treatment? The answer is no. The story of the Donahoes and Moores, the Cranes and Coughlins doesn’t have the same drama or sweep of history to fill a book, but there is one small story that touches my heart.
My Irish second great grandfather, 20-year-old John Donahoe, traveling unaccompanied, was one of 440 Irish passengers who stepped off the famine ship Eudocia in New York Harbor on Thursday, August 7, 1851, after more than a month’s passage.
John Donahoe was born in County Cavan in 1831. His parents, Patrick and Nancy, seeking better opportunities (even before the Great Hunger) emigrated to the Province of Lower Canada the following year, where their name was established as Donahue. John stayed behind with extended family because the chance an infant would survive an Atlantic Passage on a “coffin ship” was quite small.
In Lower Canada, Nancy Donahue gave birth to a son, Thomas in 1834. The family then crossed the border into the United States and lived in upstate New York for a time, adding two more children. By 1843, Patrick, the father, had secured a federal land grant and moved with his family to Iowa, where Nancy delivered seven more children.
John Donahoe, like many Irish famine immigrants, made his way south and east to the coal country of Eastern Pennsylvania. He was an engineer on the Delaware, Lackawanna and West, a coal-hauling rail line, He died at 30 years of age in Scranton, Pennsylvania, the result of an accident on the railroad. An attorney representing the railroad deeded railroad land to his Scottish-American wife Mary, and their son John Joseph Donahoe to establish the only line of my Donahoe family I knew about before I began this project.
John Donahoe from Pennsylvania never crossed paths with the rest of his Donahue family as they moved west into the American heartland.
John’s younger brother Thomas, unknown to him, left Iowa and headed for California with his family in the 1860s, settling initially in The Valley of the Heart’s Delight (now Silicon Valley). After two decades raising cattle, these second generation Irish-American Donahues decamped to Santa Barbara, where for 16 years Thomas and his family were the caretakers for the Franciscan Mission Santa Ines. It was at Santa Ines, where Thomas’s oldest son, James Patrick, met, fell in love and eloped with Mariana Cordero, whose family had been in Alta California since the 1700s and had secured the 9,000 acre Rancho Los Cruces Mexican land grant in the Santa Ynez Valley in 1837 (now the former site of Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch). I smile when I look at the names of James Patrick and Mariana’s children, my first cousins, three generations distant:
Thomas Enislaudo Donahue
James Mervin Donahue
Mary Frances Donahue
Evaristo Augustine Donahue
Those names speak to me of the, as yet, unfilled promise of America. Like the Dickinsons and Boals, the Deardorfs and Delaneys, the Donahoes and Donahues represent a quintessential American story, of which we all have at least one. I have shared mine. If you don’t already know yours, I encourage you to go out and find it.