By the Bridge

The Swantons of County Cork,
Boston, MA and Brooklyn, NY

by Ginni Swanton

John Swanton and Bridget Mahony

John Swanton was the son of James Swanton and Cate Carty (McCarthy).

John Swanton Baptism
John Swanton's Baptismal Record

On August 13, 1871, John Swanton was living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he married Bridget Mahony Hurley, a widow who had a year-old baby named William Hurley. Bridget’s first husband, who may also have been William Hurley, had been born in Ireland, but his son, William, had been born in Massachusetts. Bridget immigrated to the United States in 1868.

John and Bridget were married at the Sacred Heart Church in Cambridge by Father Shinnick, a Catholic priest. Their marriage witnesses were Patrick J. Mahoney and Hannah Swanton . Bridget Mahony Hurley was born in Ireland around 1842. Her parents were Jeremiah and Anne Mahony. At the time of their marriage, John Swanton was a laborer.

Bridget and John Swanton’s first child was born on October 13, 1872 in Cambridge, MA. It was a girl, and they named her Ellen. Ellen Swanton was baptized in the Sacred Heart Church in Cambridge, MA. Her baptismal sponsors were Patrick Mahoney and Ellen Swanton . When Ellen was born, John’s worked was as a grocer. Bridget and John’s second child was also a girl. She was born on October 7, 1874 in Cambridge, MA. When she was born, John was working as a laborer.

1876 was a very difficult year for this Swanton family. In April 1876, John Swanton developed cancer of the thigh. He suffered from this condition for four months, and died on July 26, 1876 at the age of 33 in the Cambridge Hospital. At the time of his death, he was working as a bartender.

Just two weeks after John’s death, on August 9, 1876, little Anna Swanton died of diphtheria at the age of one year and eight months. By 1886, Bridget had become a naturalized citizen of the United States.

After John died, his widow, Bridget Swanton, supported herself and her daughter, Ellen, by running a boarding house.

The following quote is from the book To the Golden Door: Irish Immigration by xyxyx:

"The Irish boarding house, such as Mrs. McAlpin's, welcomed the unmarried young and emigrant families without relatives or friends. In the larger settlements, boarding houses catered to emigrants according to their county origins, in the Irish tradition of county separatism. Thus, a Kerry emigrant sought out a boarding house maintained for Kerrymen, and a native of Cork looked for a Cork family.

Outside of the solace of mingling with people from the same county, the emigrant had practical reasons for his choice of boarding house. Resident lodgers held themselves under obligation by honored tradition to help the newcomer from their own county to find work and acquaint him with the ways of the new land. News of friends was more likely to be had, or messages left, with fellow countymen.

There he found that Dennis had gone to the Erie Canal, and if he followed he inquired at a county boarding house along the waterway of the whereabouts of Dennis. In time, as emigrants distributed themselves, an Irishman could travel from one end of the country to the other and in each city or town locate an Irish boarding house, or an Irish family happy to give him shelter. "

In 1900, Bridget lived at 409 Cambridge Street and had seven boarders, including her daughter, Ellen Swanton, and her son, William Hurley.

Ellen was 26 years old and worked as a hat maker. William was 29 years old and worked as a machinist. Bridget Swanton was now 55 years old. By 1900, Bridget Swanton had given birth to six children, but only three of them were still living. I only know of Ellen, Anna and William.

In 1900, the other boarders living at Bridget Swanton’s boarding house at 409 Cambridge Street were:

As the keeper of a boarding house, Bridget would have tended to the house, making sure that the rooms were clean and tidy, and cooked and served the meals. She may have also laundered her boarders’ clothing—for an additional charge, of course.

Modern conveniences such as vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, and washing machines had yet to be invented, and taking care of a home in 1900 was a tedious and time-consuming proposition. Bridget was probably also a surrogate mother to young Emma Ryan, John and Oscar Johnson, and a confidante and friend to Mary Gardener and Daniel Lorden.

In 1910, Bridget and Ellen Swanton lived at 119 Otis Street in Cambridge, MA. William Hurley no longer lived with them. Only two of Bridget’s children were still living by now, so perhaps William was dead. Ellen Swanton was 29, still single, and working as a seamstress, sewing linings for caskets.

In 1910, there were only two lodgers living with Bridget and Ellen. They were:

In 1920, Bridget and Ellen Swanton still rented their home at 119 Otis Street in Cambridge . Ellen was 37 and still single. She was now working as a dressmaker. Bridget was now 65, and she was no longer taking in lodgers.

Bridget Mahoney Hurley Swanton died in 1923 and was buried in Arlington, Massachusetts. Ellen Swanton died in 1956 in Cambridge, still single.

Next: George Swanton and Ellen Sweeney

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