It was a typical brisk morning in New England, Thursday, May 2, 1844. William Rice walked through the muddied streets of Lowell, Massachusetts towards St Peter’s Catholic Church on the corner of Gorham and Appleton. His friend Thomas Gibson was with him. William paused to clean his boots on the metal scraper outside the church before entering. Father James Conway, the pastor of St Peter’s was standing near the altar. Meanwhile, Bridget Connelly made her way to the church accompanied by Mary Hughs. Both William and Bridget emigrated from Ireland. William in 1835 and Bridget in 1843. They stood before the pastor in the church and exchanged marriage vows in Gaelic. The marriage license indicated that William’s parents are Patrick and Ann Rice, the only reference to them so far. Bridget’s parents are listed as John and Mary Connelly who will later immigrate to America.
William spent the past 9 years working as a laborer as part of Irish work crews that built the canals, factories, bridges, cobbled streets, churches, and businesses in Lowell. This was a time when Lowell was built into the first Industrial town in America. The textile mills were a major part of the industry. He likely lives in the Acre which is where the Irish lived in the Paddy Camps. The different clans from Ireland created tension in the Paddy Camps and it wasn’t uncommon for fights to break out. Perhaps William lived with or near his witness, Thomas Gibson who lived at 8 Middlesex Place which is located in The Acre. In the 1844 Lowell directory, this is listed as his address and in the 1850 census, Thomas had boarders living with him.
Bridget worked as a domestic which was the prevalent occupation for the Irish women at this time prior to the large influx of Irish immigrants in 1845 due to the potato famine. Irish women worked as servants in the Yankee households and some lived with the family. At that time, most of the work for women in the area were in the mills and those jobs went to the New England farmers daughters referred to as the Mill Girls.
In the summer of 1844, newlyweds William, age 31, and Bridget, age 25, traveled with all of their belongings to Buffalo, NY to board a steamship on Lake Erie. They were embarking on an adventure starting a new chapter in our family history.
Irish Wedding Blessing
May you always have blue skies
above your heads
Shamrocks beneath your feet
Laughter and joy aplenty
Kindness from all you meet
Good friends and kin to miss you
If you ever chance to roam
And a path cleared by the
To carry you safely home.
St Peter’s Church, Lowell City Directory 1858.
Bird’s eye view of Lowell, Mass. Author: Bailey, H. H. (Howard Heston) Publisher: Bailey, H. H. & J.C. Hazen Date: 1876 Location: Lowell (Mass.) Dimension 41.0 x 54.0 cm. Scale: Not drawn to scale Public Domain in Wikimedia Accessed May 1, 2016.
Massachusetts Marriages, 1841-1915,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:N4CH-ZNY : accessed 1 May 2016), William Rice and Bridget Connelly, 02 May 1844; citing , Lowell, Massachusetts, United States, State Archives, Boston; FHL microfilm 1,428,255.
St Peter’s Church, Lowell, ledger 1842-1862, page 9.
Mitchell, Brian Christopher. The Paddy Camps: The Irish of Lowell, 1821-61. Urbana: U of Illinois, 1988. Print.