Whenever we attempt to examine the motivations behind why our ancestors made the choices they made, we need to expand our study to include the bigger picture drawn from the macro history of their time period and location. In the winter of 1849 in Ireland, we cannot help but notice the one great motivator behind the vast exodus of the island's desperate residents, but there were more types of desperation than mere hunger housed in those peasant hovels.
Reading the 1849 letter sent from Stephen Malloy in Liverpool to his wife Anna back home in County Limerick, one line among those scrawled in the barely legible hand stood out. I couldn't help it; the phrase led my imagination to run amok.
I took my scanned copy of the original letter, enlarged and darkened it to see if I could decipher it any better.
Stephen had, in this brief message, made it clear to his wife that he was leaving directly from Liverpool, the origin of the letter, to sail to Boston. He even provided the name of the vessel: the Anglo Americano. As to why he was making this sudden move, I wasn't yet sure—until I spotted this line: "...gave me warning on th- ... month to go to America...."
So, the trip to Boston wasn't entirely Stephen Malloy's idea? If not his, then whose idea was it? And why was it a "warning" and not a suggestion?
It didn't help my imagination that just preceding that line were two words, each one capitalized, as if the mention of a name. Smith? B----?
Nor was the date lost on me: February in 1849, not long after a particularly hot summer of 1848, back in Stephen Malloy's homeland. Granted, back in that era, it would have taken him longer to travel from his wife Anna's home, halfway up the main road from Cork to Limerick, all the way to Dublin, then across the Irish sea to Liverpool. Even today, that would require nearly three hours' drive to Dublin, let alone a ferry ride to Holyhead in England before driving the rest of the way to Liverpool—another seven to eight hours travel. Undoubtedly, the trip would have involved much more time than that, back in Stephen's day.
The question I've been considering: was Stephen Malloy involved in the political uprisings of his day? Could that have been what made him leave home, wife, and infant daughter so quickly?
This letter obviously had sentimental value for its recipient—after all, the only reason I have a copy is that Anna kept the letter close to her for the rest of her life, then passed it to her daughter as the only token she had of her father. But it might also have held a secondary message for us, if we can somehow read between the lines which have been spared from the wear and tear of five generations of family history.