Naughty

Before Jerry Springer, there was the newspaper . . .

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Last week you heard about Patrick Nolan’s (Mike’s great grandfather) death from falling into the Black River in Port Huron, Michigan. The initial article¹ had many other details, not necessarily connected to his death. Let’s back up a bit, first.

Patrick married Alice Needham 4 November 1879, in Kenockee, St. Clair, Michigan. When we saw his 1880 Agricultural Schedule (On the Farm), they were newlyweds. Twenty five years later, they are the parents of ten children (“ages 10 to 25” according to the article—though the youngest was actually only 4, and the oldest born 18 October 1880, so only 24), one already having died (William, age 2). Some time in the 1990s, while interviewing my mother-in-law and her sisters, they mentioned their mother (Elizabeth) said her mother (Alice) “was a saint” as far as what she put up with from her husband. They didn’t elaborate, and I don’t know if it was a case of them not knowing details, or being reluctant to share them with me.

In Where There’s a Will I briefly mentioned looking at Patrick’s probate record. Among the bills submitted to settle up the estate was one from a lawyer, for the paperwork for a divorce filing. Oops. There was trouble in paradise. Or at least Smiths Creek. Ancestry has a “Michigan, Divorce Records, 1897-1952” database, which has images from the county registers. I found an entry dated 17 August 1904 for the two of them, but lined out. Alice had filed, charging cruelty, but apparently changed her mind.

So, back to the article¹ about Patrick’s unfortunate untimely death. We discover that my in-laws probably weren’t exaggerating about him. The subtitle of the article was “Made Round of Saloons Sunday Night and Fell Into Black River While Drunk.” Oh, my! We are also told he’d been in the city for 2 or 3 days, and had been busy on Sunday:

  • he’d been at Dan Conway’s Atlantic house at Quay and Michigan for most of the day, leaving there Sunday night
  • he’s somewhere after that, finally ending up at Pat Cahill’s saloon at 405 Quay Street around 11 pm.
  • he leaves Cahill’s alone (time unspecified), intoxicated, looking for a man named Woods
  • the presumption is he “became muddled and walked off the dock.”¹

I love how the saloons get free advertising, with the address and all! The next paragraph adds other juicy details:

There had been trouble for some time between Nolan and his wife, and not long ago it culminated in their separation. Mrs. Nolan went to live with her mother and it was at that time she would ask the courts for a divorce. About a week ago their differences were patched up and the two started living together again. It is thought that this attempt at reconciliation was not successful, however, as Nolan has been spending most of his time in Port Huron.

That corroborates the probate packet and the register. We get a general description of him that becomes not very flattering:

The place [his farm] was run down, however, as Nolan, in his love for drink, neglected everything.

This whole thing is going from bad to worse! The former justice of the peace (Mr. Frink) was apparently interviewed and painted the following picture:

Nolan’s love for drink, which was his worst fault, and which caused his death, often resulted in his being brought before Mr. Frink. After every drunk Nolan would take a solemn oath not to touch a drop of liquor for six months. At the expiration of that time Nolan would become intoxicated again and then go through the same pledge procedure. Mr. Frink says that Nolan kept this up for several years, always steadfast in his oath, but unable, nevertheless, to break himself altogether of the habit.

I then found a newspaper article (“The Mean Man”²) printed when Alice filed for divorce, containing even more details:

Whenever she left home to purchase supplies, Mrs. Nolan alleges, she would be accused by her husband of having left for the purpose of meeting other men. His insane and jealous disposition, she avers, has deprived her of society and has required her to confine her visits to her mother and brother. Unable to put up with this alleged domestic torture Mrs. Nolan left home on August 7 last. She charges her husband with

  • having lighted a fire in the kitchen stove and removing the lids, causing the smoke therefrom to be carried to the room occupied by herself and children.
  • It is also claimed that he removed articles from the various room in the house and piled them in a heap on the floor.
  • He also removed eatables from the house,
  • dismantled the stove so it could not be used to procure meals,
  • and to cap the climax he overturned a churn she was working at, allowing its contents to spill all over the floor.

I don’t know about you, but I think I’d put attempted asphyxiation above the spilled churn! Hopefully the children went with her when she left—neither article mentions anything about that. While the 3 oldest were out of the house by the 1900 census, 6 were still home in 1904.

Nor do I know if the details above list all of her charges against him. But with the divorce suit withdrawn, would the original paperwork have been destroyed? Maybe I need to check on that. I’m also struggling to figure out why Alice decided to move back home.

Obviously I don’t know exactly what was going on with him or between him and Alice—or how long it had been a problem. Presumably they had good years together, too. It’s all rather sad, though.

Lest you think Patrick and Alice were particularly unusual, not so. I noticed other couples with similar laundry being aired in public. With no TV or social media, the newspaper was the best source of local gossip.

But yeah, based on the descriptions found in the newspaper, it seems Patrick qualifies as naughty.

#52Ancestors

__________________________________________

¹”Paddy Nolan was Drowned,” 14 November 1904, Last Edition, Newspapers.com: accessed 24 August 2018, record number: not given; citing original p. 1, col. 4-5, The Port Huron Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, online archive (http://www.newspapers.com).

²”The Mean Man,” 24 August 1904, Last Edition, Newspapers.com: accessed 24 August 2018, record number: not given; citing original p. 1, col. 4, The Port Huron Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, online archive (http://www.newspapers.com).

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