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Born in America  Born in America – 6th generation

James Skeggs (great grandfather) was born in Erie County,  Collins, New York in 1828. He was the 6th child of Quaker parents, Williams Skeggs and Mary Irish. The elusive James Skeggs is the great grandfather I had been searching for, for over twenty years. I would have never been able to prove his parentage if it had not been for DNA results matching my niece’s DNA to Deborah Wilbur (Mary Irish’s mother.)  All I previously knew about James is what I learned from the 1870 New York City Census.  At that time, my forty-two-year-old, great grandfather was the head of house and living with his wife, Rachael and their five children (William, Jane, Samuel, James Jr. and Sarah) in Manhattan. The 1870 Census also stated that his occupation was a gas fitter and he born in New York in 1830. After getting the DNA match I did find a James Skeggs in the 1850 Connecticut Census living in Hartford with Ralph Webb (Blacksmith) and Almira E Bailey. Mrs. Webb could’ve been related through James’ half-aunt, Hannah Irish’s mother, Sarah Bailey. James Skeggs at twenty-one years of age, more than likely, went to live with relatives in Connecticut in the hopes of learning a trade. It is not known if James met and married Rachel Dugan in Connecticut, or after he moved to Manhattan. What is known however is that their oldest child, William (More then likely named after James’ father) was born in New York City in 1853. From 1872 until 1880 James lists his occupation as a watchman and it appears that he is estranged from his family because he is living at different addresses in Manhattan without them and sometimes states that he is single. In the 1880 Census and city directories Rachel begins listing herself as the widow of James. After 1880 I can find no record of James Skeggs Sr. until his death in 1891.  At sixty-three years old James  dies on the 11th of August 1891 from an apparent heart attack. At the time of his death, he was a patient at the Ward Island (CHARITY) Hospital  in the 12th ward of Manhattan. It’s very hard for me to conceive how my great grandfather, James Skeggs, whose illustrious ancestors were among  the founding fathers and mothers of our country, could end up destitute and alone, however he did!  It also saddens and disappoints me to think that James the descendant of such honorable Quaker men, would desert his family however until proven otherwise it appears that is exactly what he did! By the time James died the only member of his family that was known to still be alive was his youngest child, twenty-three year old Sarah. My paternal grandmother, Sarah Skeggs was probably notified of her father’s death, but choose not to have him buried with her mother, Rachel and brothers, Samuel and James Jr. at the Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn. Instead she had the family undertaker Eagan & Leake at 225 Spring Street in Greenwich Village take her father to be buried at the Evergreen Cemetery in Brooklyn. It is hard to know how well Sarah knew her father because he probably was not in her life much over the years even though he stayed living in the city, she probably thought he died years before he actually did! That is why when giving information for his death certificate Sarah listed Thomas and Elizabeth Skeggs as her father’s parents, and her father’s religion as being Protestant.  Sarah was probably to embarrassed to admit  that she didn’t know the first names of her paternal, grandparents and thought of the first two names that popped into her head. Also she probably didn’t know that her paternal, grandparents belonged to the Society of Friends and therefore raised their son in the Quaker Religion. Remember that the facts on records is only as accurate as what the person proving the information knows or thinks they know.


Irish FlagRachel Dugan B-Ireland abt. 1836

Not much is known about Rachel Dugan except that she was born in Ireland and was a survivor of the Potato Famine. More then likely, Rachel was fresh off one of the coffin ships when she met and married James Skeggs. Whether the couple met in Connecticut or New York City is unknown.  However their first child, William was born in New York City in 1853, followed by Jane B1859, Samuel B1862, James Jr. B 1866 and Sarah Agnes B1868. It appears that Rachel and James were married about eighteen years before he was struck with the wanderlust (even though, he never left New York City.)  After the 1870 Census Rachel and James are listed as living separately at different addresses within the city. It is not known what became of their oldest son, William or oldest daughter, Jane. However it is rumored that Jane was committed to a mental Institution. In the 1880 census Rachel head of house was living with her two youngest children James Jr. age fourteen and Sarah age twelve on DeBrossses Street. In 1881 Rachel’s son, Samuel died at age nineteen at the DeBrosses Street address and was buried in the Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn. His cause of death was listed as Pulmonary condition. Eight years later Rachel’s son James Jr. died in May of 1889, and was buried with his brother, Samuel. his cause of death was listed as liver disease.  In November of that same year of 1889 Rachel died and was buried with her boys in the *Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn (*SEE LANDMARKS/MUSEUMS



Rachel and her boys  Lot 17245 sec 17


Rachel Dugan and her boys, Samuel and James Skeggs Jr. were found to be buried in an unmarked grave at Greenwood Cemetery in 2013. Their sunken plot is to the right of the tombstone that says mother.


N.Y. Coalition Writer's Group 2014 Kathleen Paul (Back row third in from right side.)

Last summer I attended a New York Writer’s Coalition Workshop that was held at the Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn. I was prompted to look out on to the cemetery and be inspired by my surroundings and I wrote a poem that I have since dedicated to Rachel Dugan and her boys. On the day of my last class on the 29th of July, I visited my great grandmother’s grave and asked her for her help. I told her that her husband, James Skeggs died two years after she did and was buried not far away from her at the Evergreen Cemetery in Brooklyn. I mentioned that after looking for him for a very long time and almost giving up, I recently was able to trace her husband’s family all the way back to his pilgrim ancestors. Then I asked Rachel if she could point me in the right direction in finding her Irish roots. Before I left, using a pen I bore a hole in the dirt of the grave and inserted the poem I titled Stillness (my first attempt at writing poetry 7/24/2014.)


Mother Nature’s quiet beauty

bringing calmness to voices

that can not speak.

The stillness of the landscape and

gentle breezes whispering life’s secrets

while conveying peaceful memories

to souls at ease in sleep




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