Sunday, January 22, 2012

O'Brien Family Comes to America

On my Dad's side of the family, our O'Brien line came to America from County Clare, Ireland. Our known records on the O’Brien family begin with John J. O’Brien, who was born in County Clare, on 25 December 1793. He died in Middlesworth, Shelby County, Illinois on 29 October 1901. 

My grandfather Keith D. Jones painted this picture of John J. O'Brien in 1960, as a copy of an original painting by Shelbyville, Illinois artist Robert Root (1864-1937). On the back of the painting is a note about John O'Brien's lifespan covering three centuries and that the information appeared in Ripley's Believe It or Not.

A copy of John's obituary from the Shelbyville Democrat on 7 November 1901 is below:

In Memoriam.

In the spring of 1793, about the time that George Washington and John Adams were inaugurated for their second term as president and vice president of the United States, there was born, in a hut on the banks of the Shannon river, in the county Clare, about 10 miles northwest of Limerick, Ireland, a bright faced, healthy Irish boy. Wednesday last at his home near Middlesworth that baby, now long since a centenarian, passed from earth to the great unknown world beyond.

Uncle Johnnie O'Brien, probably the oldest man in Illinois, and one of the oldest in America, was a remarkable character. After the death of his parents, when he was but eleven years of age, he ran away to sea. From 1804 until 1831 he drifted from pillar to post, his life being that of a common sailor on the old wooden sailing vessels that were then in vogue, and many and interesting were the tales he could tell of his experiences on the water. His memory was very retentive. His first experience in naval warfare, though at that time he was only a cabin boy twelve years old, was in the great battle of Trafalgar, where on October 21, 1805, Admiral Nelson in command of the English squadron whipped the combined fleets of France and Spain, and the impression made on his young mind was never effaced. He well remembered the British chagrin over Perry's victory in which the English fleet was destroyed on Lake Erie in September 1813; their consternation over the results of the battle of New Orleans in January 1815 and their great rejoicing over Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo in December of the same year.

In 1831, tired of the sea, he came to America to make his home and seek fortune among the pioneers of the middle west, settling near LaSalle [Illinois], where he was married and to this union four children were born, three of whom are still living, John O'Brien of this city and Mrs. Agnes Gillette and Miss Anna O'Brien of Chicago. These children were left motherless when quite young and just prior to the civil war Mr. O'Brien moved to Shelby county, later marrying Miss Margaret Fagan, sister of Andrew and Christopher Fagan of this city, who survives him.

In 1832 he exercised his right of suffrage casting his first vote for Andrew Jackson for president, and it was with great pride that Uncle Johnnie, only a few days before his death said: "I cast my first vote for Andy Jackson in '32 and I have never missed an election since and always voted the democratic ticket, and voted it straight."

A few weeks since he had the misfortune to fracture his hip and, although for a time he seemed to improve, the struggle was too unequal and on Wednesday the end came.

The funeral occurred from the Church of the Immaculate Conception on Washington street, of which Mr.O'Brien had been a long member. Friday morning at 10 o'clock Rev. Father Martin officiating, and was attended by a large concourse of friends to pay their last tribute of respect to this venerable citizen.

John appears in the 1840 US Census in LaSalle County, Illinois. He is also in the 1855 Illinois Census in LaSalle. By 1870, he and family had moved to Shelby County, Illinois. He is also in the 1900 US Census in Shelby County. More to be posted later.


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