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Title: M'Kenna, Bernard to Conwell, Fr. Henry, 1811
CollectionIrish Immigrants in the Land of Canaan. Letters and memoirs from colonial and revolutionary America (1675-1815) [K.A. Miller et al.]
SenderM'Kenna, Bernard
Sender Gendermale
Sender Occupationschoolmaster
Sender Religionunknown
OriginNYC, USA
DestinationDugannon, Co. Tyrone, Ireland
RecipientConwell, Fr. Henry
Recipient Gendermale
Doc. No.
Partial Date
Doc. Type
Word Count3843
Genreaccount of passage, arrival at colonies
TranscriptBernard M’Kenna, New York City, to Fr. Henry Conwell, Dungannon, County Tyrone, 15 September 1811

Ever dear and much respected friend,
After a long absence of fourteen years, I have had the great satisfaction of receiving a letter from you, and not I am sure, without much astonishment on my first perceiving your signature; which has excited various thoughts of the many sociable and jovial hours we have reciprocally spent together: and now had almost terminated in a total oblivion. But I hope my long silence, has not occasioned your being offended at me, or any suspicion that I have disregarded you. If I was to offer at a reason in excuse of it; it would be an invented one, for it has never been known to my self. But I was contented to know that my heart was always possessed of much affection towards you. I believe I may candidly say that there was no bounds to it. It has been observed to me by a certain person at the time of an indulgence in Dungannon; that he perceived your regard for me was much declined, he said that he seen me salute you and that you took but very little notice of it: the time I perfectly recollect; but however I intended to pass it unnoticed, considering that you might have had a reason, wherefore I concluded that if you had a reason it must have been a very important one, knowing you to be a gentleman of too much good sense as to take notice of trifles. Now if there be any thing of this, I sincerely request that you may communicate it to me in your next, that I may have the satisfaction of knowing it. It never came within my recollection anything that I have said or done that would offend a single hair of your head: for as I have already observed to you, that I have born an unlimited affection for you. I could not forbear saying thus much to you on this head. Permit me here to trouble you with a sketch of some events which have occurred to me since the time of my emigration from home. On the 7th of May 1797, I set out from Aughnacloy, and on the 8th , I sorrowfully took my leave of you, and on the evening of that day, I arrived at a small village within about three miles of Derry almost exhausted with fatigue of travelling and want of subsistance. The yeoman made such a stir throug<h> the different villages, that I found it impracticable for me to make any delay without being detected: Therefore continuing my journey and was obliged to dispense with one drink of milk and a small glass of spirits, except water, which often proved very scant, and on my arrival in the village, had much difficulty in obtaining quarters, from the great commotion then of the times: and after regailing myself that night, next morning set out for the city, and after my arrival, I agreed for a passage, and moved down to Movill, where I impatiently lay, untill the7th day of June, when I took my departure for the United States of America, and after being some weeks out, we were boarded by a French Schooner after a two hours chace and several salutes from their guns, we were obliged to come to & after they had detained us for about the space of an hour, we were restored to liberty and on the 15th of August, we arrived at New-Castle, here we landed on the blissful shore of America; a land of peace and plenty, and at this day may be called the Garden spot of the world; a happy asylum for the banished children of oppression. Now after spending a revery of some days I concluded once more to revert to the Delaware river for New-York where I arrived on the 12th of September; having spent a few days here, but not finding it suitable to my purpose, I crossed the East River for Long Island, and after a journey of thirtytwo miles; I met with some encouragement to teach a school in a very respectable neighbourhood, (it being now the 24th of September,) and soon got my self ingratiated into the good graces of the people. But soon after my commencement in the school, I found it highly requisit that I should improve my education, particularly in the following branches, (which I have been entirely dificient in,) Viz. English Grammar, Book-keeping, Geograph<y>, Navigation, with several arithmetical authors, (containing several abstruse problems,) which I have been unaquainted with, Having then no other alternative than to have recourse to close studies, and supplied my self with varieties of authors on the subject, for the better attainment of this arduous task: however I began my studies and gave myself up intirely to a recluse life appropriating every hour, (when absent from school,) to the business. In the summer season I frequently retired to the woods: here I spent time in solitude & in close retirement, as long as the temperance of the weather permitted; in the winter I shut myself up in the school house where I have spent whole nights: still continuing myself disengaged from every thing that I thought might retard my progress in the attainment of these desirable accomplishsments, for about the space of two years: by this time I conjectured that I had acquired a cientifick knowledge of thos<e> branches; and now having received encouragement from a superior school, about the distance of fifteen miles from this, here I offered myself the first quarter as a probationar, but before the close of which, they built an elegant School house for the purpose of establishing an acadamy. I advertised my self at the instance of the superintendance, the school began to get established and my pupils augmenting to the number of seventy, regularly taught under my direction. I taught here for three years at three hundred Dollars per year, and found in everything but clothes, with every accomodation suitable to any gentleman, a horse, or horse an<d> chair, anytime at my command. I have been introduced by one of our neighbouring ladies to her sister, who was here upon a visit from New-York; and after several interviews, we seem<ed> to have a growing affection for each other, which moved my propensity to a change of life, and after soliciting the consent of her brother, we got married by the Revd Dr OBryan; subsequent to which and in private she made a recantation, she formerly belong<ing> to the Quaker society, left her a handsome fortune independent; her parents died when very young, and she was an amiable fine girl of most excellent accomplishments; and as to parentage she was of some of the first families on this Island. I shall now give you an account of some few occurances in my marriage state. I had purchased a farm about two miles from my last residence, upon which I built an elegant house, and after making some necessary arrangements on the place, I brought home my wife: here we spent some genial hours in the bonds of affection, and seemingly had gained the warm friendship of our neighbouring Quakers, who shewed upon all occasions a remarkable friendship and attachment to us, with frequent invitations to their meetings, which we always declined, so we continued for near the space of five years, when my wife fell into a consumpson, which terminated her existence. But now behold what succeeds, a scene of trouble most doleful. sometime before her decease, she requested that I should send for the priest. I wrote for Dr Byrn to New York, about thirty miles from us, who immediately attended, and after discharging his duty, he told me he never visited so great a christian: her brother previous to this, had sent her a letter of admonition, the D on seeing it wished very much that there should be an answer sent. However she answered the letter, much to the astonishment of the Dr who seen a copy of it afterwards, But the quakers on hearing of the D r being come, several of them came seemingly much dismayed, A few hours after the decease of my wife, I sat r viewing her corpse absorbed in profound grief, thinking of what might be my future destiny; my youngest child at this time was about fourteen months old, which I call after spending some time deploring Eleanor, and Mary Ann about three years old, my calamitous situation a blood vessel bursted, to the effusion of much blood. I immediately communicated the matter to the company, and orderd a Doctor to be sent for, who attended me all night: next morning, Mary Ann on perceiving my alarming situation screamed out and seized hold of me in the bed, I immediately ordered her to be taken away and sent to her aunts about a mile’s distance— here I took my last farewell of her, (as I thought then,) it being the general opinion of many that I could not survive it, at this time there were three Physicians attending me, who gave a more favourable opinion of my complaint. In about two days after the enterment of my wife, my servant girl left me, my sister in law took away her daughter, who had been for some time wa<i>ting on her aunt; here all fled and forsook me; the approach of night was a terror to me. But resigning myself with profound humility to the divine will of god, looking up to him for relief, whose goodness and mercies I have often experienced in the many vicissitudes of life; after spending some time in meditating and reflecting with myself, the of sleep was nearly approaching, so I repaired with my children to bed. But having not long been in bed, when a little boy, (who hearing of my melancholy situation,) wanted to get in to keep me company, but not being able to give any assistance for his reception, he was obliged to come in through a window. On the next day there came a woman to me, and offered her service for some time, untill I should be provided with a house keeper, to which I consented, and remained in this situation for some weeks, She then went off, but had not been long gone, when I received a positive information that she had taken away a great many articles with my wife’s name on them; her husband the night after her leaving me, made an attempt of robing me, his plan I detected from finding the boults and latches so out of order as to prevent the doors from shuting close, after securing the doors, the next night I wa<i>ted for his coming accordingly he attacked the house, but finding so unexpectedly his disappointment, he set up to the door outside a large stick of a great weight, that on my opening thereof, it might have the good fortune of ending my existance, but through the providence of god, I have escaped this as well <h>our as many other dangers in life. Now as soon as I gained some strength I went to look after the Stolen things, I got a constable and by virtue of a search warrant, I entered the house and found said articles. I made them both prisoners, and made the husband discover the whole plot, he had killed my dog the night before lest he should make any alarm. I am strongly of an opinion that he had an intention to murder me had he got in, never the less, I gave them their liberty. As soon as I found my self in a tolorable state of health, I began my school as usual, and after teaching a few days, a party of Quakers came and turned me out of the school, and at the same time had a teacher along with them, to whome they gave posession, my wife dying a catholick, here is Quaker revenge, From these succeeding troubles I found it impossible for me to live among such an uncultivated generation. I rented out the Farm and came to New-York: the Catholick Free School at this time was vacant, I was strongly advised by some, to give in my proposal, altho several proposals were given in at this time; notwithstanding I gave in mine, and carried, and after the expiration of one year, I resigned. I found it too fatigueing on account of the great number of Scholars I had to teach. Shortly after my arrival in the city, I had received the news that there was a gentle man from New-York had taken possession of my Land, and claiming it as his, from an Indian deed, which he could produce: and further, he cut down the valuable fruit trees of every kind for fuel, he continued in this manner for the space of a year. I watched my opportunity, and as soon as I found him in town, I put him under arrest for damages, he gave 2000 Dollars security for his appearance in court, on the first day of May last, I was obliged to take the disagreeable journey to the place for my rent, I took a Constable of that neighbourhood along with me, but he refused to let us in, he had his party insid<e> well fortified with unlawful weapons, notwithstanding we entered the house, and carried off every single article, and left them in care with the constable, and in nine days after, he sold them at public vendue, and sent me the rent, so after a tagious suit, I obtained an order of Court, and a few days ago I sent the Sheriff to turn him out. This person proves insolvent I am informed, if so I must bear the cost. Here I now remain enjoying my self in peace once more with my two little girls, (who is much admired by many,) and notwithstanding the many severe trials that I have experienced, the Lord has supported me and restored my health, and still have procured a handsome fortune for each of my children. Now after closing my disastrous detail, I shall proceed to give you a summary account of the ecclesiasticle order of our church, with the name of each ecclesiastick in succession from the year 1791 or there abouts, untill the present. Rev’d Father Whelen, Rev’d Father Newgent,*
*who was anathematized by the Bishop for his acting inimical to the good government of the church. He commenced a revolution, and had seduced a party for the purpose of enabling him to carry his egragious views into effect: But his project being detected, he was tried by the laws of his country, and found guilty; and after subjecting himself to the penalties enflicted by the court, he took his flight to France
Rev’d Father William OBryan, from Dublin, Rev’d Nicholas Burk, Rev’d Bartholomew McMaghen from Dublin, Rev’d Mathew OBryan from Cork, suspended, but I am informed that he is reinstated again, Rev’d D r Kelly from Ireland, suspended and returned home, Rev’d Michael Hurley from Philadelphia, Rev’d Father Sepore from France Rev’d Father Byrn from Dublin, dyed at Georgetown c<o>llege, This puts an end to the Irish succession and for so far, has put an end to strife shame and confusion, We have in the church now two most excellent divines, the Rev’d Anthony Kohlmann a German, Rev’d M Fanwick an American, both of which are subject to the order of the Jesuite<s>, Kohlman is Rector of the church, each have 500 Dollars per year, paid quarterly, and live together in one house contiguous to the church, the house they have rent free, Our church was began in building about the time of Father Whalen it is incorporated, it has gotten 158 Pews in it; the rent of those pews amounts to . 1200 Dollars yearly out of which is paid all church expensis.
There ar<e> nine Trustees elected every year, in whose power is vested the procuracy to transact all the temporal business peculiar to the church. Every member of the congragation must pay some thing yearly, that he may be entitled to a vote. They have purchased a place out of town, on which they have built a College which cost Dollars, for the reception of scholars of every denomination, and have met with good encouragement. There are 50 scholars, and each one pays Dollars per year for education and boarding, the professors have no salary, as the<y> intend to belong to the ecclesiastical order themselves. In the month of August last, they have made an other purchase about five miles out of town, which cost Dollars for the purpose of establishing a nunery: they are expecting nuns from Dublin.
In the next place I shall proceed to give you a description of the order of the church. There are three masses selebrated on every day of the week— the Clergeyman walks into church dressed, from the vestry which is appendant to the church, with his hands joined and erect, proceded by four boys, (at the time of High Masses six,) dressed in white shirts with ther hands in like position. On every festival and every first sunday of the month we have High Masses sung, with the greatest solemnity, and answered from the choire on the gallery, with a most elated voice, in concert with the organs, with incense and ten candles lit on the altar. Vespers every sunday in the after noon is sung, attended with incense. At the time of procession, the Priests walk round the church with their Hymn Books, preceded by boys, one of which offers the incense moving in a retrograde order; the Crucifix is carried round also, in an elevated position. Here follows the Fraternity with their Hymn Books and a lit candle, the whole resounding with an united voice exhibiting a most festive appearance. Our altar is ornamented beyond my description, the Bishop’s canopy on the one side and the pulpit on the other, with the picture of our Saviour on the cross above the alter, the picture of the Virgin Mary, and that of St Peter, on the one side and St. Joseph, and the Virgin Mary carrying the cross on the other with several other pictures. For every High Mass the priest gets from 15 Dolrs to 20 for every mass for the dead he has one Dollar for his attendance at funerals nine shillings, marriages and baptisms are optional. This is what is called his perquisites. We are building a new church which is dedicated to St Patrick, called St Peter’s. The foundation of our new church was laid and measures in its dimension on the foundation feet by the on but very slow. Agreeable to your request I have made every necessary inquiry our present church is years ago last spring, work is going about the Rev’d M Fitzsimons, but cannot find any account of him. You are to forward your letter under this address. Rev’d M Fitzsimons Quebec care of the Catholick Bishop; or otherwise to the seminary in Montreal. enquiring about Dr O Neil, but cannot find any intelligence about him either person I have been also or property. I have written to my brother, (who lives in Pennsylvania State,) about this business and have kept my letter open for a considerable time, for the reception of his intimation, but have not received his answer: But had you confined me to narrower limits I could have with a greater degree of certainty found the property. In your next please to specify the name of the township and county that this property is situate in as the State alone is too great an extent for my enquiry: the information I suppose may be found in the demise, through which, and my brother’s exertion, I think I cannot fail in finding the property, which no doubt will go the behoof of the legatee. Please to inform my brother’s family (who formerly lived in Carrick Castle) if you can that I have had a visit from him last October, the first sight I have seen of him since I took my leave of him in Wilmington a few days after our arrival, but had several letters from him. I understand by him that he has realized a pretty good fortune, but for whome I cannot tell. I have strictly reprimande<d> him for his long absence from his family, charging him with ingratitude which I have done frequently in my letters to him; he says he has sent to them, but did not say what, or how much. I should be very glad to know the certainty of this; he told me that he positively would send for them last spring, my letters always found him at Westchester care of Charles M’Kenny Esq Chester county State as above. He sometimes acts in the office of a constable which is looked upon here as a very respectable one, and often deputised by the Sherriff to act for him— cries all his vendues & Please to remember me to my sister, and to your brothers family whom I much esteem, to M r Small’s family whose friendship I never shall forget. I wish to hear very much from Edward Conwell, William and Patt Small, remember me to Arthur Devlin’s family, the Erskins of Carnteel, James Curran and Thomas Hughes, &c. I have heard of the death of the unfortunate Judith, a considerable time ago, but I could never learn where or in what capacity or in what faith she died in. On my undertaking to answer your letter, it was my intention to take a transcript of it (when finished,) for the benefit of its correction, otherwise I should have been more circumspect as to its better arrangement. But finding my self much cramped for time, as well as my view in procuring the opportunity of sending with a vessel, which at this time was fitting out for her voyage to Ireland; has intirely frustrated my design; which I hope will plead an apology for its inaccuracy. I had often an ardent wish to know, if any change have taken place with you in the ministry, as by this time I am expecting that you are promoted to the emin<en>ce of a Bishop, a promotion I am sure would be very congratulatory to me. I shall now take my leave of you; praying that you may long enjoy an uninterrupted state of good health, to preside with grace and ability over your flock, always displaying a christian pattern, which is my petition for you. After craving your blessing for myself and my children, I subscribe myself with the most profound veneration,
And fulness of esteem,
Your reverence’most dutiful
Humble and obliged servant.
Bernard M’Kenna

New-York September 15th, 1811
P.S. Direct your letter thus,
Bernard M’Kenna
Teacher Bayard St. N<o>.70