Thursday, April 19, 2012

About The Captain

Captain James Flannigan
Holding out for the names and details on the thirteen children of James and Ellen Sullivan Flannigan may seem to be a long shot. However, let’s start out with what we know. Because Captain Flannigan was evidently well-known and respected in his circles in the Upper Peninsula, we can glean quite a bit from online narratives, despite not being able to locate him in the 1850 census.

Taking a peek at these resources will also unfold some details on the family that will help to connect the original source of our inquiry—Father Patrick M. Flannigan of St. Anne’s Church in Chicago—to the rest of this family.

According to the census records we have located, James Flannigan is listed as being sixty four years of age in the 1880 census. Before doing the math, however, let’s see how that matches with previous census records. Perhaps it was his wife Ellen—missing from the 1880 census as she died just short of that decennial report—who kept track of all those pesky details such as dates of birth, as we run into contrary numbers in the earlier records. The 1870 census shows James at age fifty six with his wife aged fifty one. Minus ten years for the 1860 census, and that is exactly what is showing: James at forty six, Ellen at forty one. Conclusion: James was born on or about 1814, Ellen around 1819.

Census records show the couple as both born in Ireland. Presumably, their marriage also occurred in the old country, as some of their oldest children show that same place of birth on the census records. As to how the family arrived in their new homeland, we’ve yet to discover. What is evident so far, though, is that they carried a heartfelt faith with them from the traditions of their Irish heritage when they crossed the ocean.

The Flannigan homestead in Greenland, Michigan
The first reference found, courtesy of “Iggy,” is a quaint mention of the Flannigan family in a 1906 history of the Catholic diocese of the Upper Peninsula. Mentioning the travels of their Bishop, Frederic Baraga, as he tours the missions and outposts of his responsibility, Rev. Antoine Ivan Rezek’s History of the Diocese of Sault Ste. Marie and Marquette confirms the hospitality of the Flannigan family as far back as the late 1850s.
From the Minnesota Mine Bishop [Frederic] Baraga walked to Maplegrove, or Greenland of now-a-days. The home of the Flannigans opened its hospitable door to him. It was only a small log cabin but the people who lived in it ennobled it far above residences of modern demand. James Flannigan and his wife, Ellen, together with their children, lived in the small log house blessed with true Christian happiness. Whenever the bent and withered form of the saintly Bishop appeared in their door his visit only increased their happiness. She, like a Martha of old, hastened to serve to the small and few wants of the exalted guest, while from under the heavy brows of the sturdy captain gleamed a kindlier light than usual. We regret not being able to give the good lady's photo, none having ever been taken.
On the lot adjoining Flannigan's home stood the church, the same as it stands there today. There Bishop Baraga preached in several languages and confirmed, Sunday, October 3rd, fifteen persons.
More was provided on James and Ellen from an excerpt of the lengthy 1911 book, A History of the Northern Peninsula of Michigan and its People. Written by Alvah L. Sawyer, it included—on page 631—a section on the professional accomplishments of their well-known son, Richard C. Flannigan, within which excerpt his parents were mentioned.
Born and reared in County Waterford, Ireland, Captain James Flannigan was for many years engaged in mining in the old country. Emigrating to the United States in the "forties," he located at Ontonagon, becoming one of the pioneers of the Upper Peninsula, and one of the very first to mine copper in this region. He was subsequently joined by his wife and their four children, who came over from Ireland in a sailing vessel. After a few years he was made captain of the Forest, now the Victoria Mine, and retained that position as long as he was able to work. On retiring from active pursuits, he removed with his family to Marquette, and there resided until his death, at the age of seventy-six years. He married Ellen Sullivan, who was born in County Waterford, Ireland, and died in Michigan at the age of sixty years. To them thirteen children were born, ten sons and three daughters.
Though we have yet to discover even the barest of facts about the lives of those thirteen children, we do know that many of them died prior to the passing of Father Patrick Flannigan in 1907. Of course, so did parents James and Ellen—James living until 1891, Ellen passing away in 1879.

Photograph, above left, from History of the Diocese of Saulte Ste. Marie and Marquette, page 183; below, right, from same publication, page 181. Published in 1906, now in the public domain.


  1. The Captain looks like a man who meant business and who had the say so first. It is always interesting to see how many children were born to family's back then. There are several in my tree that had thirteen children. I cant imagine did they afford them, its beyond me!
    great post!

  2. That is amazing! You found a picture of my great great great grandfather! How can I ever thank you!

    1. You are welcome, Connie...but if it weren't for Iggy's research, I would never have found the link that led me to the page with the picture. The book, by the way, though long, is so inspiring to read. We have life so easy nowadays!

  3. How they afforded them is an interesting question. We have to remember that most of the sons were employed as young as (or youger than) 14 years old. They had no electric, air conditioning, phone, cable, medical (they simply died for the most part), electronic toys, or car expenses. Their biggest expense up to 1850-ish was the cost of the boat ride from Ireland, food and whatever clothing that they had.

  4. Interesting History! One of my Great Grandfathers worked in the Copper Mines in the UP also.
    Big families were parents both came from families of 14 and 13..they were poor. Their biggest expense was sugar and flour..everything else they grew, raised or gathered...if everyone lived that way nowadaqys the grocery stores and Walmart would go broke:)


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