An Account Of John Charles Keating

There are two letters written by children of John C. Keating that helped me start my research. Though written many years after the events described, and I’ve since found that some of the details (such as dates) are not precise, they provide an interesting view on the life of my immigrant ancestors.

The following was first transcribed from the original letter by Michael J. Keating on 06/29/1980. I later re-typed it on 08/13/1996. This letter mentions all three immigrant Keating brothers, John, Patrick, and Simon. The story of the shipwreck still captivates me to this day. I’ll follow up on this letter with some anecdotes regarding the contents.


John C Keating was born in the small city of Ballymore, Co. Kildare, Ireland, about 35 miles from Dublin. He was one of a large family of seven boys and two girls. They all grew up large, strong and healthy men and women. On account of the coercive laws of England they had no schools at that time, and as a result they had no education.

As a young man, he worked at carrying large sacks of grain up in a large building for storage purposes (there were not any elevators in those days). He was a large, strong man, 5’11-1/2 in his stocking feet, and 210 lbs.

He married early in life Julia Hyland, also from Ballymore, a very smart and capable young woman. The Keating family were poor, while the Hylands were well to do. The bride was very popular, and they had many valuable wedding presents. They packed all into four large trunks and started on their wedding trip to America, the land of freedom and of their dreams.

This was before steamboats came into use. They started on a sail boat. The trip generally took six weeks; this trip took eleven weeks. They were wrecked in mid-Atlantic Ocean at midnight. John C. Keating and a watchman were the only ones on deck when the storm struck. The first wave burst in the hatch on one side of the boat, and the water rushed down on the passengers and crew in their berths. They were frantic, and all rushed for the ladders. John C. Keating and the watchman stood at the top of the ladder and pulled them up. Each person had a hold of one ahead and would not let loose until their hold was broken. This made it hard work; they had to pull until someone’s hold broke; sometimes two would come, and sometimes three. It was daylight before they got them all up. Then in the meantime they got the pumps working and carpenters boarding up the side. John C. Keating was the hero on this occasion. The passengers presented him with a purse to show their appreciation.

This same ship was wrecked again when going through Long Island Sound. It ran on a sandbar. There was a life-saving station there, and they got a line to the boat, then a second line. They took the passengers off two at a time loaded in the little boat (women first). So Father and Mother were separated and landed at different parts of the shore. He wandered and searched all night, wet, cold, and hungry, for Mother. It was a cold winter night. He finally found her sitting on the steps of an old building looking out at sea nearly frozen with her wet clothing. They lost all their baggage. Of course, they still had some money and the purse the passengers gave him. They drifted down to a small town in Connecticut where he secured a job cutting ice during the winter.

This was in 1853; James Buchanan was president of the U.S.A., and the country was in an awful depression. The government opened poor houses to help feed the people. They rationed out corn meal and bacon twice a week.

They lived there during the winter, and while still there his brother Pat Keating came out from Ireland — left his wife and one young son behind. Pat got a job cutting wood with an axe and chopped his foot; he never used an axe before (They used a Bil Hook for choppingin Ireland). Then they all left for Mt. Savage, Md.

John C. Keating secured a job on the railroad, and Pat went to work as housman for a Mr. A.C. Greene, Supt. of the old Borden Mining Co.. This was in 1854.

The railroad had wooden rails with one-inch strap iron spiked on; the road bed was not solid. This caused much vibration, and the spikes on the ends worked loose and out, and caused the strap iron to cock up on the loose ends. If it got high enough, it would run over the top of the wheels and wreck the engine or train. So they pushed a flat car in front and had a man posted there as a lookout to watch ahead. This was his first job, and he was getting along all right.

Then they rented a house on a sixty acre farm two miles from Mt. Savage about 1/2 a mile east from the village Allegany, and this was the first effort to start the Keating clan in Western Maryland.

After about three months at his job, he missed seeing one of the loose joints sticking up, and he landed in a culvert on his head; he was out for ten hours; his neck and shoulder were badly bruised and skull fractured. Being a very strong man, he seemed to recover quickly and it did not bother him. He continued until he was getting up to about fifty years and it continued to get worse and evenutally caused his untimely death, he being only 58 when he passed away.

After he fully recovered, he went to work in a rolling mill in Mt. Savage, swinging a 95-lb hammer. There was two such hammers in use there; the other one was swung by his brother, Simon Keating. This was heavy work, and it took a very strong man to do it, and it paid extra. His brother Simon stood 6’2 in his stocking geet and weighed 220lbs.

After a couple of years, Pat Keating quit his job with Mr. Greene and left Frostburg for Fort Duquesne — now Pittsburgh, Pa. — over the old Braddock’s Road in a heavy old-time jolt wagon with his wife and child through the wilderness of the Allegheny Mountains. Pat was a man with vision and plenty of nerve. Coal was just coming into use, and he started the first coal yard in Pittsburgh and made a lot of money quickly. Then he quit the coal business and he and John C. Keating went into building new railroads all around the country. They spent about fifteen years at railroad building, made plenty of money, and spent and lost money. After that John C. Keating went to work at the New Hope Mine as coal inspector (or dock boss).

After building the house [183 McCulloh St. in Frostburg], the family moved from the little farm. Your father [John W. Keating, 1871 – 1941] was about fourteen years old when we moved. All of the family were born there except the oldest girl, Jerry Counihan’s mother.

John C. Keating was always on time for all his duties or appointments in life; he never missed one. He kept his word at all times; he was very quiet and reserved. He was not only a Catholic, but he lived his religion. He went regular to all his duties, and all his family had to join him at 9 P.M. each night to recite the holy rosary. He never bought anything on credit. He could look the whole world in the face for he envied not any man. I have pulled back the curtain that (illegible) his life and found no dark spots or skeleton in his closet. And he is surely gone to heaven.

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