Sunday, February 23, 2014

John McDermott and Family

by Jenna C. Smith

            John and Margaret (Rourke) McDermott left Ireland during the great potato famine. Beginning in 1845, a fungus ruined Ireland’s potato crop. A few days after the potatoes were harvested, they turned into a slimy, black rotten mass. Diseases caused by malnutrition spread throughout Ireland. Irish Catholics, including the McDermotts, were at a disadvantage because they were prohibited from purchasing land or having a profession. Many rented small, five-acre plots of land from absentee landlords.[1]  Within five years, the Irish population was reduced by twenty-five percent due to death and emigration. The McDermotts immigrated to Canada in 1847.[2]  The family included John, Margaret, and three sons, Patrick, John, and Michael, when they appeared in Catholic Church records in Quebec.[3]

John McDermott and Margaret Rourke
Patrick McDermott born 17 Mar 1842 in Ireland
John McDermott born 1845 in Ireland
Michael McDermott born 15 June 1846 in County Leitrim, Ireland
Francis (Frank) McDermott born 24 Mar 1849 near Melbourne, Quebec
Mary McDermott born 20 Apr 1851 near Leeds, Ontario, Canada
Annie McDermott born 21 June 1854 in Ontario, Canada

John McDermott and Mary Neagle
Bryan McDermott born 2 Mar 1856 near Stratford, Ontario
Thomas McDermott born 11 July 1857 near Waterloo, Ontario
Catherine “Kitty” McDermott born 15 Mar 1859 in Ontario Canada
Joseph McDermott born 11 Jul 1862 near Kinkora, Ontario
Margaret “Maggie” McDermott born 4 Mar 1864 near Kinkora, Ontario

The 1851 Canadian census shows John living in Melbourne, Sherbrooke County, Quebec with his wife, Margaret, and children Patrick, John, Michael, Francis, and baby Mary. The family reported their religion as Roman Catholic, and John is working as a laborer.[4]  The family moved from Quebec to Ontario between 1849 and 1851.  John and Margaret had one more child, Annie, in Ontario before Margaret died in Canada,[5] probably from disease or childbirth. She was only about thirty-five years old when she died, leaving John with six young children ranging in age from a baby to age thirteen.
John soon married Mary Neagle, who was also born in Ireland. They had five children Bryan, Thomas, Catherine (Kitty), Joseph, and Margaret. By 1862, John and Mary lived in a one-story log home in Perth, Ontario, Canada West with seven children.[6] Sometimes, large families would hire their children out to have fewer mouths to feed and to provide additional income to the family. By 1862, Michael and John Jr. were living away from home. Michael eventually became a blacksmith, so he was probably working somewhere as an apprentice. John Jr. was living with James Madden’s family in Perth.[7]  The Maddens, McDermotts, and Madoches would eventually be neighbors in Wisconsin, and Maggie McDermott married Jerry Madden.
John’s second wife, Mary, died and was buried in Port Huron, likely between spring 1865 and 1867 when the family moved to Wisconsin.[8] Mary Neagle McDermott was in her late forties when she died.
John never remarried but continued working as a farmer and raising the children with everyone working together. The McDermotts were enumerated in Forestville, Door County, in the 1870 and 1875 census years. In the 1870 census, John is listed as a farmer who is unable to read or write. Mary and her siblings attended school.[9]
John McDermott went through the process to become a United States citizen. He immigrated to the United States, arriving at Port Huron, Saint Clair County, Michigan in May 1864. Four years later, he made a declaration of intention at the circuit court of St. Clair County, Michigan on 30 Apr 1868. He applied for final citizenship in Door County circuit court on 17 Feb 1874 stating that he had lived in the state of Wisconsin for at least one year and the United States for five years.[10]
John McDermott purchased one hundred twenty acres in section 11 and section 14 of Forestville on 20 Nov 1875 under the 1862 Homestead Act.[11] The land was swampy and “poor” according to surveyors, with swamps, two streams, and hemlock, cedar, sugar, and birch trees. John owned land of his own, never to be taken from him or his heirs, and he made certain of the land staying in the family in his will when he wrote,
“It is one of the conditions of this will that said Bryan McDermott is not to or shall not during his lifetime sell, dispose of, or convey my said homestead, herein described, to any person except to some one of his brothers or sisters, or to some one of his half brothers or half sisters.”[12]

Mary Anne McDermott was born into poverty in Quebec, Canada and moved with her family to Ontario, Canada while still a toddler. Her mother died when she was about four years old. Her father remarried and had five more children. The blended family moved to the United States when Mary was about thirteen years old. Her stepmother died in the mid- to late-1870s while the family was still living in Port Huron, Michigan. Her father, John, next moved the family to Door County, Wisconsin where Mary spent the next ten years attending school and caring for her family.
In June 1880, John McDermott was living in the Forestville Township with six of his eleven children and listed as a farmer.[13] The census taker noted that John had consumption or tuberculosis. “Tuberculosis seemed to consume people from within with its symptoms of bloody cough, fever, pallor, and long relentless wasting.”[14] The disease was prevalent in Europe in the 1800s, causing one of every seven deaths. The disease needs dark, damp, and poorly ventilated facilities to be transmitted. At least ninety percent of people who were infected with the disease did not develop symptoms. The disease spread easily when an infected individual coughed, sneezed, or talked and could lie dormant for decades before flaring up and killing the victim.
John McDermott died in 1880 from tuberculosis. At least two of the youngest McDermott children died from tuberculosis. Kitty McDermott Schraw died in 1901. Joseph McDermott died in 1922. Perhaps, Mary Neagle died from the disease.
Because of the long, slow wasting nature of tuberculosis, John had time to leave a will and detailed life story for his obituary. John McDermott died at home about two months after the census on Sunday, August 15, 1880 at the age of about 65 years. He was buried in the Catholic cemetery in Algoma, Kewaunee County, Wisconsin.[15]
“On Sunday evening, 15 Aug 1880 John McDermott died at his home at about 65 years. He was born in County Leitrim, Ireland and immigrated to Canada in 1847 where he remained for several years. He immigrated to Port Huron, Michigan in the spring of 1865 and stayed there for two years. His second wife, Mary, was buried in Port Huron. He immigrated to Wisconsin in about 1868 and lived in Forestville until his death. Seven of his ten children were single when he died.”[16]

John McDermott’s last will and testament was written 17 June 1880 in Forestville, Door County, just a few days after the census taker visited. Bryan McDermott, the oldest son of John with Mary Neagle, submitted the last will and testament of John McDermott in court on 2 Nov 1880.[17] John arranged the payment of all of his debts and bequeathed his homestead to his son, Bryan McDermott. Additionally, Michael, Ann, Thomas, Catherine, Joseph, and Margaret McDermott were to each receive a sum of fifty dollars each, one child each year getting fifty dollars, starting with the oldest. A restriction was added that Bryan McDermott could not in his lifetime “encumber” the property for any amount more than one hundred dollars.[18] Plat maps from later years show that several of John’s children owned portions of the property.[19]

[1] Digital History, “The Irish Potato Famine,” : site updated 19 Oct 2013,

[2] “Deaths, McDermott,” Weekly Expositor Independent, 26 Oct 1888.
[3] Quebec, Vital and Church Records (Drouin Collection), 1621-1967. accessed 18 Oct 2013.
[4] 1851 Census of Canada East, Melbourne, Sherbrooke, Canada East; district 11, page 21 (printed), John McDermott family; digital images,, :accessed 8 May 2013.
[5] “Deaths, McDermott,” ibid.

[6] 1861 Census Canada. Ellice Township, Perth, Ontario; ED 3, 46, lines 38-46, John McDermott family; digital images, accessed 8 May 2013.

[7] Ibid, ED 3, 28, lines 29-31, James Madden family; digital images, :accessed 9 May 2013.
[8] “Deaths, McDermott,” ibid.
[9] 1870 US Census, Door County, Wisconsin, population schedule, p 20 (stamped), lines 1-8, digital images, : accessed 2 Sep 2013.

[10]“Wisconsin, Door County, Petitions for Naturalization 1893-1903,” vol. 1 p 85. accessed 5 Aug 2013.

[11] Wisconsin, General Land Office Records, Bureau of Land Management, US Department of the Interior. Entry for John McDermott. Volume 178, 380.

[12] McDermott, John. Last Will and Testament. Probate file in my possession from Registrar of Probate, Door County, Wisconsin.
[13] 1880 US Census, Door County, Wisconsin, population schedule, index and images, FamilySearch ( : accessed 05 Sep 2013), John McDermott 1880. Forestville, Door, Wisconsin.

[14]Rudy Schmidt, “Rudy's List of Archaic Medical Terms: Consumption,” Antiquus Morbus, :accessed 19 Oct 2013.
[15] “Local Jottings,” Algoma Record Herald, 26 Aug 1880.
[16] “Deaths, McDermott,” ibid.

[17] “Legal,” Door County Advocate, 14 Oct 1880, 3.
[18] Door County, Wisconsin Probate File, copies from Registrar in Probate. Eugene Madoche and John McDermott.

[19] Randall and Williams, Illustrated atlas of Door County, Wisconsin, Randall and Williams, 1899, Union and Clay Banks, : accessed 19 Oct 2013; Hixson, W. W. & Co. Plat Book of Door County, Wisconsin. (Wisconsin: W.W. Hixson & Co, 1923) : accessed 19 Oct 2013.

1 comment:

  1. I actually found this very interesting. Great job! : )