1865: The Dempsey twins are born

Second of three posts on my Dempsey ancestors in Civil War Baltimore.

During the final months of the U.S. Civil War, my Irish immigrant great, great grandparents William Patrick and Katherine Dempsey welcomed two additions to their large family in Baltimore, Maryland.

http://www.loc.gov/item/75694535/
Baltimore, Md. (1869). At the junction of Lanvale St. and Fremont Ave., shown above, my Irish great, great grandparents Katherine and William Patrick Dempsey, a blacksmith, lived at 2 Webster Alley in the wooded area to the right. Lafayette Square is shown at center. Image: Library of Congress.

On 28 Feb. 1865, Katherine gave birth to twin daughters — my great grandmother Elizabeth C. Dempsey and her sister Margaret M. “Maggie” Dempsey.

What was life like 150 years ago for my Irish ancestors in the city of more than 200,000?

The Dempsey family

According to Baltimore City Directories, from 1870 to 1886 William Dempsey, a blacksmith, lived at 2 Webster Alley — a typical location for working class housing behind the main-street buildings.

The list of Dempsey family members in the 1870 U.S. Census for Ward 8 of Baltimore City, Baltimore Co., Md., gives a rough idea of who might have lived in the household five years earlier — parents Katherine and William; sons Thomas, John and William; and a daughter Mary. The birth of the twins, Elizabeth and Maggie, would have brought that total to eight.

Unlike in the 1860 U.S. Census, when my great, great grandfather William declared a personal estate worth $40 (about $1,170 today), there is no dollar figure next to his name in 1870 — implying that the family was just making ends meet.

Oldest son Patrick, and younger sons James and Andrew — from the 1860 census — are not listed in the Dempsey household in 1870 . I can’t rule out a census-taking error. Yet their absence suggests an evolving family that may have weathered loss and heartbreak.

The wider community

When my Dempsey ancestors were first enumerated in the 1860 federal census, Maryland was a slave state. But there were many free African Americans residing in Baltimore — some of whom also lived and worked in the city’s alleys.

German and Irish immigrants swelled the city in the pre-war years — with the Irish-born population peaking in 1860 at more than 15,500.  The Catholic Church and the Hibernian Society — formed in 1803 to aid Irish immigrants — provided a social framework and support system that likely benefited my Dempsey ancestors.

Lafayette Square near the Dempsey home became Camp Hoffman, the 3rd Maryland Infantry’s barracks during the Civil War — a Union Army encampment where Northern troops recuperated from such hard-fought battles as Antietam and Gettysburg.

My ancestors probably grew accustomed to the sounds of Union soldiers marching and drilling, and the clomp of military horses along the pavement.

Which makes me wonder: As a blacksmith, did my great, great grandfather William do metal work for the Union Army? Or shoe their mules and horses?

More on my Dempsey ancestors in Civil War Baltimore in the next post.

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