He was born October 6th, 1812 in County Meath, Ireland and immigrated from Dublin to Trescott, Maine in 1836 at the age of 24. He was naturalized as a US citizen in 1843. He died February 8th, 1879. According to his obituary published in the Machias Union, James Keegan was a well-loved resident of Trescott for 43 years. My uncle Raymond told me when James arrived in Trescott, he built his home into the side of a hillock to keep warm, an Irish tradition.
My grandmother, Elizabeth Keegan Rier, was born at this homestead. James Keegan was her grandfather. Grammy told me her mother died when she was about four years old. I never knew her mother’s name. I don’t know the names of all of Grammy’s sisters and brothers. She talked about only two sisters, Mary and Theresa who both lived in Massachusetts. I have research to do on my father’s side of the family, the Keegans and the Riers.
Grammy said she lost her mother when she was small and didn’t think she would know how to be a mother. My Dad, James Eugene Rier, was born in Trescott. My grandparents Frank and Elizabeth Rier later moved to Lubec. Grammy overcame any fears of motherhood and had 11 children, 9 survived childhood.
The US naturalization card of James Keegan.
It is obvious that I have my share of Irish roots. My maternal ancestors, the Means family, originated in Scotland (the Menzies clan), immigrated to northern Ireland in the 1650s during the period of the “Wars of the Three Kingdoms.” They had been driven out from Argyll by persecution for their beliefs and stubborn refusal to yield to the English. In 1718, they departed to America to make a new life. They landed in Boston, then on to Falmouth (Portland, Maine), at the time a part of the colony of Massachusetts. My maternal ancestors are Scottish, Irish, and a bit of English along the way.
The Irish made up the largest mass migration of refugees the state of Maine has ever seen, escaping famine and oppression. James Keegan left Ireland in 1836. According to this resource, the conditions in Ireland at the time were in decline.
“By the 1840s, famine was no stranger to Ireland, as the post-feudal peasants had suffered hunger for decades as a result of oppressive land and food policies, overpopulation and over-reliance on the potato. It’s been estimated that a third of Ireland’s population depended on potatoes for nourishment, while wheat, barley, poultry, pork and beef were often sold to pay rent to the absentee landlords in England. As the population of Ireland doubled from 4 to 8 million between 1780 and 1845, the increased demand for land required families to subdivide plots into smaller and smaller parcels to accommodate new generations. The potato became the only crop that could produce a significant yield in such limited acreage. While the potato has been credited with helping Ireland’s population boom, it also led to the demise of about one million people who starved after the potato blight hit in 1845.“
Keegan decided to settle in the small seaside community of Trescott, Maine, with an economy based on farming, fishing, lumber, shipbuilding, and raising sheep. Harbors were at Bailey’s Mistake, Haycock Harbor, Moose Cove and the Bay at the South Branch of the Cobscook River (now called Whiting Bay). A man from Dublin, Ireland could feel at home there close to the sea. His obituary indicates that James was a respected member of the community and thus, he and his family did not face the prejudice he might have elsewhere in the state.
The documents in this post were given to my father in 1993 by Lyman Holmes of Machias, Maine. Many thanks to Lyman!
Related post: Searching for Grammy Rier’s Parents and Siblings