The early families of La Mott are an amazing testament to the spirit of cooperative living and fellowship that was at the very heart of William Penn’s initial vision for the area.
Over time, Penn’s vision was sculpted and refined in the midst of a changing world. In the 1800’s there were significant political, social and economic issues being grappled with both nationally and internationally. Here in the US, the national division over slavery would culminate in Civil War. The people of La Mott, known then as Camptown, played a pivotal role that would alter the course of our history as a nation. Although this role was certainly important and significant, it is necessary to step back and look at a broader picture to truly capture the essence of La Mott as an historic community.
The US was a relatively “new world” and many people around the globe looked toward it with promise and hope for a better future. For the Irish, however, immigration in the mid-1800’s was not as much a story of hope as it was of escape. Their story actually begins somewhat earlier. At the beginning of the 19th century, the potato had become a widespread crop throughout many parts of Europe. Valued for its nutrition, it was also an easy staple food on which even the poorest farmer could subsist. Nowhere was this truer than in Ireland. There was widespread dependency on the potato, particularly among the poor, as a sole food source. During the Napoleonic Wars (1804-1815) between Great Britain and France, Ireland did, in fact, enjoy a degree of economic success. Supplying horses, and food to the British Army for the ten year duration of the various battles led to a well fed populace and a degree of prosperity; so much so that its population grew significantly. By the early 1840’s Ireland would boast eight million inhabitants.
It is interesting to note that William Penn himself was no stranger to Ireland. He was the son of an English admiral who was deeded considerable land holdings in Ireland. William Penn actually learned about and converted to Quakerism as a result of preaching that he heard while in Ireland.
Despite the fact that Britain defeated Napoleon in 1815, the war effort resulted in a huge national debt. Higher quality foodstuffs, such as meats and grains were exported from Ireland to meet the demands of Europe and to generate income for the crown. This required larger parcels of land. In Ireland, this resulted in farms becoming smaller with many forced to lease minute plots from English land owners who collected prohibitive taxes. Just prior to the Napoleonic Wars, civil unrest in Ireland led the crown to dissolve the Irish Parliament, resulting in little local oversight. Landholdings were often left in the hands of cruel and ruthless local agents overseeing the land of absentee landowners. In many ways, the poor were slaves to these land owners. In the 1840’s, the Irish suffered a devastating series of potato crop blights which resulted in widespread famine. Not only did this impact available food but also left many in economic ruin and unable to pay the fees for the small farms they had. This famine was felt throughout Europe and was considered one of the worst natural disasters of the 19th century. It was at its worst in Ireland, where starvation would kill nearly one-fifth of the population. At the end of the decade, an outbreak of cholera would kill many more. Those that survived were at the mercy of landowners and a cruel government. Religious oppression had been ongoing and that, combined with disease due to starvation, was the impetus for the beginning of what would go on to be a steady stream of immigration. Within five years of the onset of the famine, Ireland would lose almost two million of her citizens to death from disease and to immigration. Another two and one half million more would journey to North America from Irish ports between 1850 and 1900. Additional steady immigration would continue well into the 20th century.
Given all of this, it is no wonder that escape to America with its promise of a new way of life and prosperity was so appealing. However, in truth, for many of the Irish, a life in America was fraught with change and with sacrifice. Assimilation was difficult – most had come from very rural environments and life in America’s big cities was unfamiliar, complex, and required great change. Most found themselves doing menial work; the men at labor and the women as domestic servants. Since the Irish in America were quite spread out across a much larger land and there was an expectation that they would assimilate to their new home, their native tongue, Gaelic, would also slowly disappear. The spirit of cooperative living and acceptance that was and continues to be a hallmark of La Mott was one reason that many Irish settled in the area. It was here and in the greater Philadelphia area that the Irish would contribute a great deal. One such notable achievement was their role in the founding and development of Catholic parish schools and academies. Many Irish immigrants would also serve their communities as police officers and as firefighters. Despite hardships, it was a life of promise and of opportunity.
The McDermott, Malone, and Doody Families
The writer Will Durant once said that history was best told in miniature rather than the sweeping narratives of the famous. It is those small stories of individuals and the everyday lives of people that create the fabric of a rich and varied chronicle. The McDermott, Malone, and Doody families were among the early Irish immigrants that resided in La Mott. As the community of La Mott grew, so would the ties between these families.
The McDermott Family
John McDermott and Bridget Donahue came to America from Ireland in the mid-1860’s, just after the conclusion of the US Civil War. There are no known family records, however, it is possible, from microfilmed records of Philadelphia Passenger Lists, to pinpoint Bridget’s arrival at the Port of Philadelphia, aboard the ship Tuscarora, in June, 1866. The early manifests were very sparse in terms of details and do not record the specific part of Ireland from which she hailed. John’s various US Census enumerations state that he arrived in the US from Ireland between 1866 and 1870. Again, no further details of his ancestral home are known. It is possible to pick up both of their stories in the United States in June, 1870. At that time, Bridget was working as a domestic servant in Cheltenham for the Brock family, while John was working as a laborer in Philadelphia. It isn’t clear when or how they met but they married in 1875 and settled in Cheltenham.
The 1880 Census covering La Mott does not give addresses for the inhabitants, however, there are marginal notations that indicate when transitions were made between areas and neighborhoods. While it not a guarantee of proximity, it is interesting to note that in the 1880 Census, John and Bridget are listed as four households away from Jay Cooke, who at the time was living with his daughter Laura and her husband, Charles Barney, the prominent investment banker. In the opposite direction, two households away lived Letitia Bowser, who would later marry William Triplett. Reviewing other census data, township records, and historic atlases, the Barney house was located at the intersection of Spring Lane and Old York Road. At the time, John was working as a farm laborer while Bridget kept house, took in laundry from some of the nearby homes and tended their three children; John J., Mary, and Maggie. By 1892, children Willie, Joseph, Julia, Catherine, Annie, and James would be added. Willie, Catherine, and James would all die as young children before 1892. Their last child was born in 1893 and, in what was a common Irish custom, named for her sister who had died at the age of three years in 1891. That last child, Catherine Veronica, was also known as Kate.
In 1896, John and Bridget purchased a home of their own. A search of the County title records shows that this property, at 1700 Beech Avenue, was acquired from the estate of Mary Hughes for $1800. Further searching of County records shows that this land was part of a larger land acquisition made in 1866 by Edward M. Davis. Some details of the property history are outlined in the attached chronology. This purchase by the McDermott’s was sizeable, particularly when you consider that it was noted in the 1870 and 1880 US Censuses that neither John nor Bridget could read or write English. This money was a considerable sum for a laborer with so many children. How they managed to save the money to purchase this property is unknown. It is certain that a great deal of sweat and toil was part of their lives.
After their move to Beech Avenue, much of the neighboring lands were slowly parceled and sold off. In the early 1900’s, John would go to work as a gardener for the Elkins family on their nearby estate, retiring just a few years later. Their eldest daughter, Mary, worked for a time as a maid on the J. B. Stetson estate. While in the employment of the Elkins’, and of current interest to residents of Cheltenham, John brought a small amount of overstock irises from the Elkins Estate to grow at his home. Those irises have been nurtured by the family for over 110 years and continue to grow today. Similarly, the McDermott family grew and thrived in La Mott. A 1909 Cheltenham Atlas shows that by that time, John had also acquired the house at 1702 Beech Avenue. In addition, Joseph McDermott, their youngest son, was a founding member of the La Mott Fire Company #1. After its incorporation in April, 1911, Joseph served as the Fire Company’s first Secretary, choosing Fireman’s Badge #27 – he was 27 years old at the time. The records of the fire company as well as John McDermott, Sr.’s obituary, show that he was also a member of the fire company, joining in February 1915 and remained a member until his death in 1924.
When John and Bridget moved to the 1702 Beech Avenue house, for a time, they rented the house at 1700 Beech Avenue to Emil Knauf and his family. Emil was a one-time fire chief of the La Mott Fire Company No. 1.
The year 1918 has a particular significance in Philadelphia history. In late September, 1918, a deadly mutated influenza virus struck the city. In its wake, many thousands would die. Philadelphia had the unfortunate distinction of amassing the highest death toll of any American city. The McDermott family did not escape this pandemic and lost their daughter Julia (Collins) in October, 1918 at the age of 32. Julia, who worked as a stenographer in a law office, was a graduate of Cheltenham High School, class of 1904. One of her classmates was Wallace Triplett.
In 1918, the house at 1704 Beech Avenue was purchased from the Hedderson family by John and Bridget McDermott’s daughter, Maggie. In June 1922, John and Bridget’s youngest daughter, Catherine, and her husband, George Malone, would purchase the house at 1700 Beech Avenue. Since John and Bridget were advancing in age, Maggie did not occupy the 1704 Beech Avenue house and continued to live at her parents’ home along with her sister Annie. The house at 1704 Beech was rented out to the Patrick Doody family.
John McDermott died in June, 1924. Bridget would follow in December, 1927 and John McDermott, Jr. in 1925. Joe McDermott passed away in 1949 and is buried at Northwood Cemetery, in Philadelphia. Both Maggie and Annie continued to live at 1702 Beech Avenue; Maggie until her death in 1951 and Annie until she sold the house in February of 1959. Annie died in 1966.
Bridget, John, Maggie, and Annie are buried along with daughter Mary and her husband, William Fox in the McDermott family plot in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Wyndmoor, Cheltenham, PA.
The Malone Family
The Malone family story begins in their ancestral home of St. Mullins (Tigh Moling), a small village along the Barrow River in County Carlow, Ireland. The people of this area worked principally as tenant farmers, fishermen, and in the local flour mill.
George Joseph Malone was born on May 31, 1885, the 11th of twelve children of James Malone and the third of four children of James’ second wife, Mary Nolan. James Malone was born in 1821 in St. Mullins, and he was considerably older when his four children with Mary were born. James died at age 73, when George Malone was just 9 years of age. His mother would go on to marry again when George was just twelve and she would never leave Ireland.
However, a combination of family and economic circumstances would lead a number of James Malone’s kin and descendants from both marriages to immigrate to the United States. Three of the children of James’ older brother settled in New York City boroughs and Hudson, NJ in the early 1870’s. In the early 1890’s both children and grandchildren from his first marriage settled in various parts of Massachusetts. Starting in the early 1900’s George, along with the other three of James’ children with Mary Nolan would all immigrate to the United States. Given that other kin had settled elsewhere, it is unknown why they chose Philadelphia as their immigration destination.
George’s eldest sister, Josephine, arrived first into Philadelphia, via Ellis Island in 1901, would subsequently marry George Richardson Ambler in 1904, and settle in Abington. Sister Mary would follow in 1902. Of an interesting historic note, both Josephine and Mary crossed on the White Star Line’s S. S. Majestic. The captain, who served on both crossings, was Edward Smith who would later go on to captain the first and only voyage of the S. S. Titanic in 1912. Mary’s stay was somewhat brief as she opted to leave Philadelphia and soon married a hatter, Samuel Orr, and lived her life in and around Boston. On May 18, 1905, with a ticket purchased by his sister, Josephine, George boarded the S. S. Merion in Queenstown (Cobh), Ireland and on May 28th, he disembarked with $10 in his pocket at the Port of Philadelphia, met by Josephine. The youngest brother, Stephen, followed in 1908, landing in Philadelphia aboard the S. S. Westernland, living for a time with the Ambler family in Abington, then settling in Jenkintown, where his son Stephen, Jr. served as a police officer for many years until his retirement from the Jenkintown Police Department. The law enforcement tradition continued with Stephen Sr.’s twin grandson’s Sgt. Gregory J. Malone and Det. Sgt. Stephen J. Malone who are now retired after long careers with the Cheltenham Township Police Department.
Like many Irish, George Malone entered this country as a “laborer.” His earliest job was working as a driver for the Elkins family but he also focused on developing a trade. By 1909, he designated his vocation as an electrician on his Declaration of Intention for Citizenship to the US, however, for a time, he continued to work for the Elkins family as both a driver and a gardener. In April 1916, George became a member of the La Mott Fire Company No.1, where he would remain a member for 40 years, becoming a life member in 1949. He was a firefighter alongside both Joseph and John McDermott, and this is likely how he met Catherine McDermott.
George and Catherine married in October 1916 at Holy Angels Church in Philadelphia. George continued to work for the Elkins family and Catherine and George lived in the gatehouse of the Elkins Estate where their first child, Catherine, was born in 1918. At that time, they moved to a rented house at 7321 Keenan Street, and by 1920, George was recorded in the US Census working as a lineman for the telephone company.
In June, 1922, George and Catherine would purchase the 1700 Beech Avenue house from John and Bridget McDermott for $5000.00 and occupy it with their children Catherine and George, Jr. Children Mary Elizabeth, Jack, Dorothea, and Joseph would follow. George Jr. would go on to play football for Cheltenham High School (Class of 1939) and serve in the US Army in the European Theatre during WWII. His brother Jack would serve in the US Navy.
Like many families at the time, the Depression created financial hardships. Coupled with an accident suffered by their youngest son, Joseph, the family would be forced to leave Beech Avenue and would move just over the city line into Philadelphia in December, 1939. George obtained employment as an electrician with the Crown Can Company and later with the Johnsville Naval Air Station. After WWII, he would start a family electrical business with George Jr. and later, Joseph would join this contracting business which was located in La Mott for many years and where both sons became members of the La Mott Fire Company No. 1.
Like her father, Catherine was the McDermott child who loved gardening. Before and well after her father’s death, she continued to propagate the irises that John McDermott began nurturing so many years before. She would take them with her to the family’s various homes for over 50 years. Her son, Joseph, who shared the McDermott penchant for gardening took the irises to more family homes and from there, much like the Irish as a people, these flowers have moved and thrived in other parts of the United States with Joseph’s two daughters and with extended family members.
In 2007, the family donated a quantity of these irises to Cheltenham Township. Every Spring, they can be found blooming at the Wall House in Elkins Park.
George Malone, Sr. died in November, 1956. Shortly after that, his youngest son Joseph would marry Patricia Doody and they purchased a home on Erlen Road in La Mott where they would live for 14 years, raising two daughters Joann (the author of this piece) and Elizabeth.
Catherine died in June, 1975. She and George are both buried in the McDermott family plot at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Wyndmoor, Cheltenham, PA.
The Doody Family
The story of the Doody family has its roots in North Cork, Ireland. Daniel Doody and Mary Brien were both born in Ballyhea, Cork and married there in 1852. The first two of their children, Patrick and John would be born there, then the family would relocate about 10 miles SE to the town of Doneraile (Dún ar Aill), Cork. Mary and Daniel would have an additional five children in Doneraile; Daniel, Anne, Thomas, Richard and Michael. The inhabitants of the town were principally tenant farmers but of historical note, Doneraile is known for its tie to the origin of the steeplechase horse race, where the first such race was run in 1752 between Buttevant Church and Doneraile’s St. Leger Church.
John Doody entered the US first, arriving in Philadelphia in July 1881 aboard the ship, British Crown. Patrick would follow in April 1882, arriving via New York. Two years later, Daniel arrived in Philadelphia on the ship Lord Clive in April 1884. The deaths of Anne from tuberculosis in 1884 and that of patriarch Daniel, from pneumonia in March 1885 was the impetus for mother Mary and the remaining boys, Thomas, Richard, and Michael to immigrate to the US. They arrived together in April 1886, into the Port of Philadelphia aboard the ship, Illinois. Various members of the family settled in Abington, Jenkintown, and Cheltenham. All six of the Doody men became US citizens between 1888 and 1891. Thomas died of tuberculosis in 1895 at the age of 31 and Michael of lung cancer in 1898 at the age of 30. Mary Doody would pass away in 1904. All three are buried in New Cathedral Cemetery, Philadelphia. It can be deduced from Mary Brien Doody’s 1900 US Census enumeration that son Richard was alive in 1900 but as of this writing, the remainder of his history is unknown.
Upon entering the US, John Doody settled in Switchville (Jenkintown). In April, 1897, he would marry Mary McNelis, who had immigrated from Glenties, Donegal, Ireland. The couple would raise two sons, Joseph A. and John T., while John worked as a watchman. Living out their lives in a house on Oak Avenue, Mary died in 1921 and John followed in 1928. John T. would go on to have three children with his wife Margaret Powers. These children were raised in Germantown and included Patricia, John, and James. Patricia Doody would later marry Joseph Malone, the youngest son of George and Catherine McDermott Malone and, as mentioned previously, they would live on Erlen Road in La Mott for 14 years. They were married for 52 years before Joseph Malone’s death in 2011.
In September of 1883, Patrick Doody married Anna Adley, of Tuam, Galway and by 1900, he was working as a day laborer and living in Abington where the couple raised their children, Mary, Joseph, Annie, John, Elizabeth, and Helen. By 1910, Patrick’s family had relocated to La Mott. The US Census for that year relays no house numbers but the margin note claims that all of the inhabitants on the page resided on Willow Avenue. With the establishment of the La Mott Fire Company, the two boys in the family would join; John (Badge 14) and Joseph (Badge 46). As many of their children left for homes of their own, around 1918, Patrick and Annie rented the house at 1704 Beech Avenue from Maggie McDermott. They lived there with their daughters Mary and Helen along with Helen’s husband, James Hennessey, who was a bookkeeper. As time passed, Helen and James moved to Philadelphia and Patrick’s other daughter, Elizabeth, now Elizabeth Armstrong, moved into the house along with her four sons, Francis, Joseph, and twins Gerald (Jerry) and John. Patrick and Annie would continue to live in the house until their deaths, just after 1930. Sometime shortly after that, the house was purchased by the Doody family from Maggie McDermott.
In April of 1890, Daniel Doody married Mary Conway, who had immigrated from Draperstown, Londonderry, Ireland where she was the fifth of sixteen children in her family. They settled in Cheltenham and by 1900 were living at 827 Rock Lane, where they raised their children Anne, Daniel, Tom, Michael, Mary Elizabeth, Ellen, and Andrew. Daniel worked as a gardener on a private estate. Along with George Malone, son Tom Doody would join the La Mott Fire Company No. 1 in April 1916 and would go on to serve in the US Navy in WWI. Family lore recalls son Andrew, working in his youth on the Widener estate exercising horses on their racetrack (what is now John Russell Circle in Lynnewood Gardens). Sadly, children Daniel, Michael and Mary Elizabeth would all die of tuberculosis in their early twenties between 1918-1921. Mother, Mary would die in 1924 and Daniel in 1931.
John, Patrick, and Daniel Doody along with their wives and many extended family members are buried in various family plots in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, Wyndmoor, Cheltenham, PA. and in New Catherdral Cemetery in Philadelphia, PA.
Joann Malone Taylor is the Great Granddaughter of John and Bridget Donohue McDermott, the Granddaughter of George and Catherine Malone, and the Great Granddaughter of John and Mary McNelis Doody. The initial research for this document began in 2005 and was undertaken at the behest of her mother, Patricia Doody Malone. Initially envisioned as a relatively small inquiry, this endeavor turned into a rather large but fascinating and eye opening project. Exploration and documentation of her grandfather George Joseph Malone’s roots enabled her to become a citizen of the Republic of Ireland in 2014. She holds a Ph.D. in Chemistry/Color Science from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and more recently has obtained a Certificate in Genealogical Research from Boston University. She is a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, the National Society of Genealogists, and the New England Historical Genealogical Society. Along with her husband, she resides in Portland, OR.
Some early history of the 1700 Beech Avenue Property:
Montgomery County Deed Book “E” Page 367
August 23, 1862
The Estate of Charles B. Dunigan dissolved the property in a public estate sale. This was a much larger parcel of land consisting of six acres bounded by Beech Avenue, Sycamore Avenue, and Willow Avenue. The property was purchased by Jacob D. Dermilge and Mary, his wife of Newark, Essex, New Jersey
Montgomery County Deed Book 132 – Page 106
April 29, 1863
A second public sale was held and Jacob D. Dermilge and Mary, his wife of Newark, Essex, New Jersey sold the property to J. Lee Smith and William R. Fosdick of New York City for $2,250.00. The parcel of land remained intact through this transaction. The lots are referred to as three 2-acre parcels, adjacent to lots owned by Edward Davis.
Montgomery County Deed Book # 143 – Page 56
April 13, 1866
- Lee Smith and his wife Katharine along with William R. Fosdick and his wife, Elizabeth of New York City sold the property to Edward M. Davis of Philadelphia for “$2,400.00 lawful money of the United States of America.”
Montgomery County Deed Book #294 – Page 117
September 9, 1885
Edward M. Davis and Maria Mott [daughter of Lucretia Mott], his wife, divided the property. At this time, the sum of $450.00 was paid by Mr. Joseph Albright for a parcel of the property that was measured from the corner of Beech and Sycamore Avenues for 136 ft. along each.
Montgomery County Deed Book # 325 – Page 98
April 18, 1888
Joseph Albright and his wife Louisa Adel divided the land further into three equal sized lots along Beech Avenue – these lots being of the size and dimension of the current modern day properties at 1700, 1702, and 1704 Beech Avenue. Official maps show that in 1886, there were structures present on all three lots. This is consistent with the sale price of $2,100.00 paid by Mary Hughes for the 1700 Beech property. The Notary Public who recorded this deed was Charles Mather.
Montgomery County Deed Book #413 Page 352
May 15, 1896
Mary Hughes died in the latter half of 1895 and in this deed, a portion of her last will and testament is quoted. It designates Mr. Dennis O’Neil as her executor and dictates that he sell the property, either publicly or privately. The property was sold privately to John McDermott for the sum of $1,800.00.
Montgomery County Deed Book #861 – Page 211.
8 Jun 1922
The property was sold to George J. and Catherine V. Malone for the sum of $5000.00.
In the compilation of this history, many interviews were conducted with surviving immediate and extended family members. In addition, extensive use of the LDS archives (Ancestry.com) and FamilySearch were utilized. This includes but was not limited to the 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, and 1940 US Census records, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston Passenger Lists, WWI & WWII Registration and Service Records, Social Security Applications and Death Records.
In addition, the holdings of the following repositories were directly utilized: The St. Mullins (Carlow, Ireland) Heritage Center, The National Library of Ireland (Dublin), The National Archives of Ireland, the General Records Office (Dublin), Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Ireland), Philadelphia and Montgomery County (PA) Archives, the Montgomery County Court House, the Montgomery County Historical Society, The Old York Road Historical Society, The Philadelphia Public Library, the Newton Massachusetts Historical Society, the New England Historic Genealogical Society (Boston), the New York City Archives, the New Jersey State Archives, and The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. The historic records and photographs of the La Mott Fire Company #1 were also made available by Mr. George H. Barnhart, Jr. Historic and church records of St. Mullins, Carlow, Ireland were graciously researched and shared by Bridie Lawlor (who is also a great, great granddaughter of James Malone). Microfilms of the Philadelphia Public Ledger, the Philadelphia Inquirer, and the Times Chronical were also accessed, as were select sacramental and grave records of the Archdioceses of Philadelphia, Boston, Springfield (MA), New York (City), Newark (NJ), Tuam (Ireland) and the Dioceses of Brooklyn, of Cloyne, (Ireland) of Kildare and Leighlin (Ireland), and of Raphoe (Ireland). In addition, the Departments of Vital Statistics of The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, The Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the State of New Jersey and The City of New York.
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Purcell, Michael, The Cursed Famine; 1845-1848, Notes from a talk entitled; “The role of the ascendancy during the Great Famine,” The County Carlow Genealogy, (2006).
Rothschild, Elaine W., Historic La Mott, The Old York Road Historical Society Bulletin, Volume LI, pp. 29-38 (1991).
© 2016, Joann M. Taylor. All photos contained herein used by permission.