Wednesday, March 23, 2016

John Redfern...My Wandering Ancestor

* This is a multi-part story about two branches of my Family Tree, the Bowmans and the Redferns. I have broken it into separate blog posts as the whole story is quite long.
I hope you enjoy it.

So let's talk about my 4 x Great Grandfather, John Redfern.

That's him looking very much the dapper Western gentleman in a photo he posed for in a photographer's studio somewhere out West.  This was probably taken in the late 1870's or 1880's in Montana.

Born in County Derry, Ireland in 1805 we know his father was also named John and his mother was Margaret, though we don't know her maiden name.

John Redfern married Sarah Elizabeth O'Neil(or O'Neal).  We have very little information about Sarah.  She was born about 1810.  I haven't found a marriage record for these two yet, but we do know that they had the following children.....
* Sarah Redfern in April of 1826
* William John Redfern on 12 June of 1831
* James Redfern on 18 June of 1833
* There may have been a fourth child named Mathilda born in 1829(as other trees have it)but we can find no records of her going forward.  The spacing of the children looks good for a couple very much living in a Catholic country in the 1800's without any notion of birth control so we'll leave it at 4 children by the time Sarah reached her early 20's.

Sarah died in 1833, most probably as a result of childbirth complications of her last child, James.

John disappears from the records in Ireland for 4 years, as do these children, until 1837 when we find that he makes two bold moves.

First John remarries in 1837 in County Derry, Ireland to Mary J. Hagen(Hagan).  Mary's birth date is believed to be 1810 so she is a few years younger than John but still very much in her prime childbearing years at around 27 years old.
Second John decides to flee Ireland and immigrate to America with his new bride.

The newly married Redferns boarded a ship for America and arrived in New YorkCity harbor on 18 June 1837.

The next time we find them, they are listed in the 1840 Federal Census living in Philadelphia Pennsylvania as a family unit of 4.  No names in that year's census, just listing the age range and gender of each inhabitant of the home.
We find.....
1 male between 30-39
1 female between 20-29
1 male under 5
1 female under 5

When we try to match the members of the Redfern family to these statistics using later records we get........

John Redfern-born 1805  1 male between 30-39
Mary J. Hagen Redfern-born 1810  1 female between 20-29
Barnabas Redfern-born 1839  1 male under 5
Girl Redfern 1 female under 5*

* The female child probably died young as she does not appear in the 1850 census.  We may never know her name.

Barnabas is John and Mary's first child of record, born in Philadelphia PA.

So what of the other older Redfern children of John and his first wife Sarah?
By 1840 they would have be....

Sarah age 13-14
William John age 8-9
James age 6-7

Obviously none of them went in 1837 to America with their father John and his new bride as none of them were under age 5 in 1840 when that census was taken.
Their mother was dead and buried as well and we have no indication who their mother's parents were and if they were living in 1833 or beyond.

We have to stoop to some conjecturing here and say that the three older children of John Redfern were most probably left in Ireland in the care of other family members.  This might have been a sibling of their mother, Sarah O'Neil Redfern, or one of her parents(or both)or a sibling or parent of John Redfern, their father.  It might have been a family friend who took the 3 children in.  Or they may have been left in an orphanage.  At this point we don't know.

Destitute children with no parents were often left in orphanages unless there were family members who had the means to support them.  There were many orphanages in Ireland at this time, supported by either the government or the Church.  Most support came in the form of "outside relief" meaning that these institutions paid money to families or local parishes to pay for supporting the destitute.

We do know that in 1838 Parliament enacted the Poor Law Act, which created a system of poor relief in Ireland that relied on a vast system of "inside relief".  This system established workhouses(and turned many orphanages into workhouses) where the poor and orphaned were sent to live.  These Workhouses started springing up all over Ireland by the early 1840's and continued in some form until Ireland gained it's freedom from English rule in the 1920's.

This was far from an easy life involving children put to laboring tasks to "earn" their daily food rations, rags to wear, and a place to lay their head at night.  It was a system that didn't coddle and wasn't easy.  Adults were free to leave these workhouses at any time but take into consideration that economic conditions of late 1840's Ireland were dire.  The Great Famine was well on it's way to driving a large percentage of the country's poor into workhouses were you had a chance of not starving and living another day.

By age 13 though, Sarah would have been a prime candidate to farm out to someone who could pay her way as a servant.  She had economic value as a young female that her younger brothers didn't have yet.
Escaping a life in the workhouse wasn't easy.  Many children who entered that system didn't survive long and if they did, they never left.  It was all they knew until they were carried off into the grave as adults.
The 1840's was also the time frame in Ireland where the Government in cahoots with the Catholic Church implemented the "Earl Grey Scheme"(yes, named for the Earl Grey of tea fame)to deport healthy teenage girls in Ireland to the penal colony of Australia as indentured servants who usually have to work off their passage costs once they were given over to an adult in Australia.  Many young girls were either drafted into this life or took the Poor Relief System up on this "offer" as an opportunity to escape a life in a poor backwards country for a life that they hoped wouldn't be so destitute and dire.  Many of these deported young women went to Australia.  In later years there was also a program set up to deport the young and poor Irish to Canada.
Some of these young women became known as the "Potato Orphans".  These were Irish orphans who were sent to Australia not to be servants but to be married off to convicts in the Australian Penal Colony.
Go here to read more and click on the video link too..... Potato Orphans .
There but for the grace of God this could have been my ancestors life.

Had Sarah been selected to go to Australia I either wouldn't be here now or I might be watching out for dingo and cassowary attacks on vacations while throwing some chook and shrimp on my barbie.  ;-)

Later on, about 100 years later, between the 1930's and 1970's, the British government deported British children to Australia that were a burden to the government much as they had done with the Irish children.  Many of these children were not even orphans and their parents were lied to about where and why their children went.  Many of these children were abused once in Australia and/or died. The truth came out in the early part of the 21st century about this scandal and has ongoing consequences today.
But I digress.

Back to John Redfern, Sarah's father.........

In the 1850 US Federal Census we find the John Redfern household has moved out of Philadelphia PA to Harrison Township, in Bedford County PA,  a western journey of just over 200 miles.
Bedford county borders the state line with Maryland to the South, the city of Altoona is due North and the city of Johnstown is located NorthWest of the area and Harrisburg is due East.
In 1850 the population in Bedford was just over 23,000.  It rose dramatically in the 1810's after it became a safe place to live(due to the native Indians being driven off).  Among other things this area was a main travel route for people heading West into the interior of the country.  The current day Interstate-76 runs right along the top of Harrison Township.

The Redfern Household in 1850 consists of....

*John aged 45
*Mary aged 40
*Barnabas aged 11
*Margaret aged 9
*Alice aged 7
*Francis aged 5
*Mary J aged 3

John is employed as a mason(someone who does building/stone work).
Also while living in Bedford County PA John Redfern applied to become a naturalized citizen of the USA.  We get his arrival date and place in American from those papers.

Why this move for John and his expanding family?
Perhaps it was in his plan all along and he didn't want to live out his life in Philadelphia?
By 1840 Philly was the fourth largest city in America with a population approaching 95,000 inhabitants.  I am sure John saw more opportunity by heading west and the dream of owning land.
After all, having escaped the squalor and destitution of Potato Famine Era Ireland, why limit yourself to remaining in one of the largest at the time Eastern US cities?  The whole country with opportunities unknown was laid out before him.  Anyone who moved across an ocean for a better life probably had no qualms about moving across a continent, right?

By 1840 John Redfern had been in America for about 13 years.  I am sure a good part of that time was spent earning money to support his family but also to finance a move out into western PA.  There was transport to buy, tools for a farming way of life, animals, and also a small cash stake to take to pay for setting up a life once they all arrived at their new destination.  It would take a lot of years to save up enough to resettle your family.

Meanwhile, back in Ireland.......
Sarah Redfern survived her poverty filled life in Ireland and by 1847 there is happy news to report.
She has married!  Either for love or for survival(probably a little of both)she has become the wife of fellow Irishman Robert Spencer Bowman in County Derry.

So what of William John and James, John Redfern's other two children by his first wife?
From later census records we have information that William John and James came to America in either 1849 or 1850 where they self-reported their arrivals.
I found records of a William John Redfern and a James Redfern both having arrived on the ship "Wyoming" in 1850 to Philadelphia.

William John going by his middle name, 15 years old.......

And James, aged 16 years......

These records were most probably the arrival of the brothers of Sarah Redfern, my ancestor.
Since James and William John obviously kept in contact with their father after he remarried and left for America it just makes sense that Sarah was also still in contact with her father in some way.

In the 1880's William John Redfern applied to the Montana Pioneers Society for admission. Hi application states that he arrived in Montana in August of 1868, having departed from Denver Colorado.  This does not mention his arrival in America nor where he was for the 13 years between landing in Philly and having been in Denver.

From a Redfern family narrative we know that William John and James traveled to be with their father in Bedford PA once they got to America.  It's probable that they do not appear in the 1850 Census with their father's 2nd wife and their children in Bedford PA because they arrived in November of 1850 in Philadelphia, and it was after that year's federal census was taken on 9 October 1850 in Bedford PA before they made their way to Bedford PA.

So by 1850, John Redfern, his second wife, Mary Hagen, and their children Barnabas, Margaret, Alice, Francis and Mary J, as well as John's 2 sons William John and James Redfern by his deceased first wife are all in Bedford County PA.

The only person missing from this family who was alive in 1850 is my direct ancestor, John Redfern's daughter, Sarah, by his first wife.  Sarah had been separated from her father at this point for 13 years(or more if he had handed her off to relatives in Ireland when her mother died in 1833).
By 1850 she was married and still living in Ireland however and had given birth to two children-an unnamed infant that died soon after birth and a son, whom they named Matthew Bowman, after her husband's father, Matthew Bowman.  The baby Matthew was born in Ireland in 1849.

While her older brothers William John and James Redfern were sailing across the ocean to America in the Autumn of 1850, Sarah was a wife to Robert Spencer Bowman and new mother to Matthew Bowman in County Derry Ireland.

The years between 1850 and 1860 would mean big changes to all of the Redfern/Bowman Clan.

More on this story later.....



  1. "Many of these children were not even orphans and their parents were lied to about where and why their children went. Many of these children were abused once in Australia and/or died. The truth came out in the early part of the 21st century about this scandal and has ongoing consequences today."
    I think I saw a movie about this. It was very disturbing. It was about a lady trying to reunite some of those children with their parents.

  2. I really did enjoy this post. You might want to watch The Magdalene Sisters about a work place/orphanage for teens and above. talk about no separation of church and state!

  3. I can't imagine that they would have gone to an orphanage or work house and still kept in touch with their dad AND then gone to live with him/ by him. They must have been left with relatives. He probably thought they were too young to make the long journey to America.

    I know it's all speculation but I believe the kids were with grandparents or an aunt. You are really good at researching everything and putting the story together. GREAT post!!! (sorry I'm so late in reading it)


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