Born around 1815 in County Cork, Ireland, Michael O’Sullivan was the
fourth son of Mary Desmond O’Sullivan. His father’s name has been
lost to history and he may have died in Ireland before the family
came to America. Michael was just a teenager when the family
including two sisters stopped off in Troy, NY for a few years before
moving on to Iowa. He was in his early twenties when the family
arrived in Dubuque in 1836 and he went to work in the lead mines
(although in what capacity is unknown) and then later was a
laborer/carpenter and helped his brother, John on his large
Twenty-seven year old Michael married eighteen-year-old Ellen Casey
in St. Louis and brought her to Dubuque in 1842. She was born on
November 25, 1824 in Fermoy, County Cork, Ireland. It is unclear if
they knew each other from the old country or if he may have met her
while on a visit to St. Louis. Ellen’s two brothers operated a grain
shipping business in Dubuque but it is not clear exactly when they
started their enterprise.
However they met their marriage would not be the only St. Louis
connection in the Sullivan family. Michael’s youngest sister,
Margaret, would get married in St. Louis and Michael’s son would
marry a girl with deep family ties to St. Genevieve just south of
After their marriage they resided at 258 Bluff, just across the
street from St. Raphael’s Cathedral and Ellen would live there for
the rest of her life. During the summer of 1849 a number of cases of
cholera occurred. A board of health was set up and Michael served on
the 1st Ward Committee helping Doctors carry out sanitary
regulations. The first ward was called “Little Dublin” due to the
large Irish population there. The Dubuque Herald later said
that nearly all who lived there were guilty of the crime of being
poor. Whiskey was their greatest enemy, the newspaper said. There is
no way of knowing the drinking habits of the Sullivans but they
certainly could not have been accused of being poor.
Like many Irish, Michael Sullivan had also dropped the “O” from
their name by 1850. His occupation is listed as a “Miner” and
tragically he died at the age of forty in September of 1856.
Dubuque Dubuque County Census
Michael J. Sullivan, 35, M, Miner
Ellen Sullivan, 26, F
Mary Sullivan 5, F
Francis Sullivan,1, M
While the exact cause of his death is unknown there was another
cholera epidemic in Dubuque in 1856 and it is possible he died from
that. He was buried in the old 3rd St. Cemetery, probably
next to his mother who had died in 1839 and was one of the first
burials in the cemetery. Unfortunately the location of his grave and
the graves of hundreds of others have been lost due to poor record
keeping and neglect of the cemetery.
In addition to his thirty-one-year-old widow Michael left two young
children, Mary Ellen, aged 10 and Frank J. aged 6. Another son,
Joseph had died in infancy. Michael owned a considerable amount of
property as well as some mining rights and although he died in
testate (without a valid will) indicating that his death was
unexpected, his estate was estimated at $50,000 or the equivalent of
about a million and a quarter dollars in today’s value (based on the
Consumer Price Index).
Frank’s two children prospered as adults. Mary Ellen received an
excellent education and as most young unmarried women did, became a
schoolteacher and eventually the Assistant Principal at the Third
Ward School. Frank became a traveling salesman for a buggy
That the Sullivans were fairly well off is described in the
following article written by Dr. Homer Calkin titled “The Irish in
Iowa” and published in The Palimpsest in February, 1964.
“Of the 13,045 inhabitants of Dubuque in 1860, 13.9 per cent or
1,800 were born in Ireland. This included 992 married adults, 317
single women, 183 single men, 98 widows, 18 widowers, and 182
children under sixteen. The 992 married adults represented 535
“Among the men there were 305 day laborers, most of whom lived in
the First Ward. In addition, there were fourteen teamsters and
twelve draymen. Nine ran boarding houses or inns while another
eleven were saloon keepers. Sixty-three were following the
trades-carpenters, tinners, painters, bricklayers, plasterers, and
stonecutters and masons. As might be expected near the Dubuque lead
mines, fifty-six were miners. River and rail transportation employed
some as mail agents, express drivers, ferrymen, boatmen and baggage
“There were fifteen merchants and fourteen grocers. Only one
Irishman was a butcher, grain dealer, druggist, poultry dealer, or
confectioner, although eighteen were shoemakers and sixteen tailors.
Only eight were manufacturers of any kind. Their products included
glass, carriages and wagons, stoves and cabinets.
“Most of the single women were servants, 196 in all. Some worked in
the boarding houses and hotels, while many worked for the wealthier
families of Dubuque. Widows were more likely to be washwomen,
housekeepers and dressmakers.
“Fifteen men could be classed as professionals. They were lawyers,
printers, teachers and an editor, an architect and an engineer. Only
two held government positions…only 151 owned real estate. It was
worth $543,950, or 10.8 per cent of the total in Dubuque.
“Fully 199 had personal property worth $99,200, or 7.4 per cent of
the total. There were exceptions, of course. Among these were J.
SULLIVAN, a mason, who had property worth $40,000…and the widow (of
Michael), Ellen SULLIVAN, worth more than $50,000 at the age
Nov. 10, 1874 Frank, now 25, a traveling salesman for a buggy
manufacturer married 23 year old Celeste (called “Lessie”) Gregoire.
was a niece of US Senator George W. Jones and was from a prominent
family from the historic French village of St. Genevieve
sixty miles downriver from St. Louis. Lessie’s grandfather, Charles
Cyril Gregoire, was a young French aristocrat who escaped from
France during their revolution and sailed to Santo Domingo. He
resided there for several years and then moved to Philadelphia. One
of his sons, A. L. moved west to St. Genevieve where he married 22
year-old Mary Pratt in 1834. She was a member of another old French
family who lived at Pratt’s Landing just below St. Genevieve. Two
years after their marriage they moved north and settled on Menominee
Creek west of Galena where he ran a smelting business. President
Tyler (1841-45) issued A. L. Gregoire a patent to the land on which
the city of East Dubuque now sits and A. L. established a farm on a
portion of the land. He died in the late eighteen fifties leaving
several minor children including Lessie, Amanda, and Louise.
Apparently their mother was having difficulty raising the children
so their uncle Charles was appointed guardian for them on April 15,
The following day the Herald provided a description of the wedding
in a column entitled “An Interesting Wedding.” The paper noted
“notwithstanding the fact that no formal invitations were issued, as
the wedding was intended to be quiet and devoid of display” the
church “was filled to its utmost capacity with the friends and
acquaintance of both parties, and a large sprinkling of the curious
and interested.” Since “both are members of old and respected
families…their marriage was an event of more than ordinary
interest.” Could it be that the cause of all the interest was that
she was in a family way? Might that explain that what should have
been a high profile wedding between two prominent families was
instead intended to be “quiet and devoid of display?”
The wedding took place at five o’clock at St. Raphael Cathedral with
Fr. Moore officiating. The Daily Times noted that Frank J. Sullivan
was “one of Dubuque’s promising young men, long connected with
Levi’s palace store, and Miss Celeste Gregoire, (was) the
accomplished daughter of Mr. And Mrs. Julien C. Gregoire.”
Both papers listed the gifts the
couple received including an “elegant gold watch and chain” Frank
gave to his new bride. Mrs. John D. Sullivan (Frank’s aunt) gave six
solid silver forks and Frank’s mother and sister gave them a set of
solid silver salt and mustard spoons and case. John Deery, who would
marry Frank’s sister the following year, gave the couple a lamp with
a bronze statue. Frank’s cousins Maggie and Katie Sullivan from
Bankston presented them with napkin rings.
After the reception at the bride’s parent’s house on Alpine Street
the newlyweds left on their honeymoon. One newspaper said the couple
took a train to Chicago “where they will pass a portion of the ever
beautiful and never to be forgotten days of Love’s Young Dream”
while the other paper said the “bridal pair took the C D & M train
south for St. Louis, and will be absent a couple weeks on a bridal
The 1875 City Directory show that Frank was working as a clerk at J.
Levi and he, his wife and sister are all living together at his
mother’s home at 258 Bluff.
article appeared in the Personal column of the newspaper on May 17,
1876 noted “Mrs. D. Myers accompanied Mrs. Frank (Lessie) Sullivan
last night, on a visit to St. Louis and Ste. Genevieve.” Mrs. Myers
was born Matilda Pratt in Perryville, MO on Sept 25, 1843. Matilda’s
and Lessie’s mothers were sisters. Perryville is just a few miles
south of St. Genevieve.
Three days after Christmas, 1875 Frank’s thirty-year-old sister Mary
Ellen was joined in marriage to a prominent Dubuque attorney, John
Deery who would never reveal his true age.
In contrast to Frank’s wedding the year before Mary’s was covered in
great detail by both newspapers with the Daily Herald
devoting almost a half page to describing it including a list of the
gifts received and the names of the donors. “Miss Sullivan has been
regarded as one of the most popular and efficient teachers in our
public schools” while “Mr. Deery, during a residence of twenty years
in Dubuque, has also won the high regard and respect of the
community and of the whole Dubuque bar of which he was an honored
Deery was born in Donegal Ireland and as young boy he came to the US
and settled in Machias, Maine. He later became engaged in newspaper
work of some kind. Sometime in the 1850’s he moved to Boston and
studied law. He moved to Dubuque in 1857 and became the assistant
editor of the Northwest, a newspaper being run by Col. Heath. Deery
was admitted to the bar in 1860 and set up a partnership with Thomas
M. Monroe specializing in real estate and probate matters.
The ceremony was performed by Bishop Hennessey with two or three
other priests concelebrating. It was reported that people lined the
sidewalk and the steps of the church. The bridal party entered the
Cathedral at four with Frank escorting his sister and the groom
escorting their mother. Before the ceremony began the Bishop spoke
“at considerable length upon the sacredness of the marriage state,
the duties of husband and wife toward each other, and the duties of
As the happy couple
passed out at the door our reporter was enabled by dint of
much pushing and stretching of neck to obtain a momentary
glance of an elegant brown silk, brown felt hat, in silk and
velvet, with face trimmings of light blue. It was remarked by
many that a prettier bride never graced a church or leaned
trustingly on the arm of a proud and happy husband.
After the nuptials were completed the bridal party left the church
and crossed the street to the family homestead where their relatives
and a few friends gathered to celebrate and “enjoy the bounteous
feast prepared.” As was the custom there were two cakes. The bride’s
was “surmounted by a bride in miniature” and the groom’s “with a
pair of united hands, symmetrical and suggestive.”
Again the newspaper detailed a list of gifts and the names of the
donors including Deery’s gift to his bride a “very elegant gold
cross set with pearls and a heavy gold chain.” Her cousin, William
J. Sullivan, presented her with a solid silver card case and her
Banston cousins, Katie and Maggie Sullivan, gave her a silver berry
spoon. Mary’s Ellen’s aunt, Elizabeth Sullivan, gave solid silver
teaspoons and her daughter gave solid silver napkin rings. It seems
silver was the gift of choice in those days.
General and Mrs. Jones gave the couple a silver sugar spoon, gold
lined. Mr. and Mrs. Cooper (of the Cooper Wagon Works) gave them a
Camp chair and footrest. Mr. and Mrs. D. D. Myers presented them
with a “beautiful photographic statuary entitled ‘Spring’ richly
Mary Ellen’s uncle, Daniel Casey gave the couple some gold lined
silverware with the initial’s M. E. S. on them.
After the party, the couple left on the evening train for Chicago
where “they will spend a fortnight with friends and relatives, and
on their return to Dubuque will settle down to marital felicity at
the Lorimar House.” This being the hotel Deery owned.
A little over two years after her marriage to John Deery, Mary Ellen
(Sullivan) gave birth to a son. They named him Auliffe and called
him Ollie; tragically she died at her mother’s house from
complications of childbirth five weeks later on Holy Thursday, April
18, 1878. Her son followed her to the grave three years after that.
John Deery (left) married late in life and one newspaper
commented “he has given up single wretchedness after giving it
a very thorough trial.” Unfortunately his wife died less than
two and a half years later. He died on May 22, 1916 at the
Merchant’s Hotel where he had lived for the last several years
of his life.
He was considered an art critic and possessed many valuable
paintings. He was a probate and real estate attorney and while
he was very active in politics he declined to run for office.
One of his pet projects was the Upper Mississippi Improvement
Assoc. and he was very active in obtaining federal funds for
Frank and Lessie lost their newborn son, Gilbert Nelson Sullivan who
died of cholera on July 25, 1880 at four months and twenty days.
|"Gilbert Nelson --- aged four months
--- the son of F. J. and Celeste Sullivan, who died of cholera
infantum at the home of his mother in East Dubuque, was laid
in his little grave in Key West yesterday afternoon. The
remains were followed to the cemetery by a large number of the
friends of the family."
Just a few months after burying their son, Frank and his wife
suffered another horrible tragedy the day before Thanksgiving in
1880 when his two of Lessie’s sisters were drowned. As is usually
the case, there are different versions of what exactly happened on
Thanksgiving eve. What is certain is that St. Mary’s of East Dubuque
was getting ready for their annual church festival the next evening.
Amanda Gregoire, 34, and her sister, Mrs. Julia Chouteau, 39, were
members of the parish and went to Dubuque on Wednesday morning to
sell tickets for the fund-raiser. The sisters made a couple stops in
East Dubuque, first at Mrs. Henry Hall’s house where they discussed
some preparations for the next day. Mrs. Hall asked them to stop by
again on their way home for tea and the girls agreed.
At Maguire Bros. store Julia bought a pair of gloves. One of the men
in the store cautioned the ladies to be very careful, that the ice
might not be safe. The ladies responded that many had already
crossed that day and the day before and that light vehicles such as
buggies had crossed. Julia commented that she was not afraid to
cross and her sister said that if Julia was not afraid neither was
The sisters then walked across the frozen river, following the
tracks made earlier by a team of horses. They made the rounds of
various businesses on Main Street selling a goodly amount of tickets
and then stopped by the home of their sister, Mary Louise Preston
who lived near 14th and Main. The Prestons asked the
ladies if they thought the river was entirely safe to cross and the
ladies “answered in a jolly way, that they had no fear” but it may
have been false bravado. After dining with the Prestons, the sisters
made a few more calls “for their charitable entertainment (and)
wended their way to the levee about 5 o’clock.” Then began a series
of unfortunate events, any one of which might have prevented the
At the levee they asked the fireman on the ferryboat, who lived in
East Dubuque if he was going across. He told them he was not, that
he had to go uptown first. The girls expressed some disappointment
at having to cross alone saying “misery loves company” and “thus
betrayed a timidity” that regrettably “was not great enough to deter
them from making the attempt” and taking the bridge instead.
At least three men were standing on the levee as the ladies stepped
out onto the ice. They were talking and paying little attention to
the sisters until one of the men exclaimed “Those ladies are going
too far up” meaning that they had left the beaten track and had gone
further north. Unfortunately none of the men called out to the
sisters to advise them of this fact and the men all left.
Another man, a Mr. Black worked on the Illinois side of the river
and had just crossed over on the ice to Dubuque when saw the women,
whom he knew well, go out onto the ice. As he reached the pavement
he turned around and took another look at the ladies and thought to
himself that they were going a little too far north. He said later
that he felt half inclined to notify them but he knew they had
crossed in the morning and decided it was not necessary so he
continued on his way.
John Raup lived on the levee and he saw the ladies crossing just
about dusk, and remarked to someone that he thought “they were
somewhat out of the way.”
Nick Weis, “a young lad” lived in East Dubuque and worked in
Dubuque. He had just gotten off work and “I started for home between
5 and 6 o’clock. I came down Third Street, as that is nearer, and I
could just as easily get upon the ice. When but a short distance I
saw two ladies walking ahead of me, and all of a sudden they called
for help. One was in the water, and the other had started back, and
wanted me to give her my hand. I was badly frightened, and ran back
to the shore where Mr. O’Connell lives and told him that two ladies
were in the river and one was already drowned.”
O’Connell picks up the story from there: “He (Weis) was very
frightened and could hardly speak. My wife was in the room with me,
and she ran down to the riverbank and begged us to hurry up. All
this time we heard a voice crying ‘Oh! Oh! Oh!’ it was repeated
about a dozen times.” O’Connell also said the boy told him “one of
the girls wanted him to reach her his hand, and (then she) started
back on the ice crying ‘Oh, Amanda! Amanda!’ or something to that
effect.” O’Connell took a lantern and some rope and said he went out
on the ice as far as he felt was safe and called out very loud but
received no reply. He returned to shore and sounded the alarm and
soon men “walked all over the ice…with lanterns and long poles
searching for the tracks of the ladies.”
At daybreak the next day, Thanksgiving, Percy Preston the girls’
brother-in-law, and several others started searching again. A light
dusting of snow covered the ice and almost obliterated the tracks
made by the ladies the previous evening. However, they party of men
were able to follow the tracks and about a quarter of the way across
the river near the sand bar that ran out from the Third Street
extension they found the hole in the ice. The hole was small and the
ice surrounding it was weak and very dangerous and it did not appear
that the ice had been disturbed and it certainly did not indicate to
the men that two human beings could have fallen through. A number of
footprints leading to and from the hole told the story. It was
apparent that Julia had walked into the hole first and Amanda,
becoming terror stricken left her and started for help. Seeing the
boy, Weis, she hailed him and then returned to try to help her
sister but she too fell through the ice.
The location of the hole was almost two hundred feet north of the
path they intended to take. It was noted that there was “quite a
current which has successfully resisted the cold weather and
remained unfrozen.” The girls’ brother-in-law, Percy Preston found a
package they had been carrying in water nearby confirming the
location. That day over twenty-five men began the gruesome task of
recovering the bodies. They cut the ice and began dragging the
river. They reported that one or both of the bodies were “secured
and dragged a considerable length, but unfortunately lost while the
line was being drawn to the surface.” A large crowd gathered to
watch the recovery efforts and a special police force was called in
to keep the crowd back. Late in the day a telegram was sent to
Sabula to obtain the services of divers who had the equipment and
knowledge to search under water.
The divers went into the water on Friday and “immediately upon
getting to work, made a dive and ascertained the direct line of
current. According to his direction holes were cut through the ice”
and around five o’clock grappling hooks “first secured the body of
Mrs. Chouteau.” By then it was too dark to continue and so recovery
operations were suspended until the next day.
The next morning around ten o’clock Amanda’s body was recovered.
Both sisters were taken to the home of their sister and
brother-in-law, the Prestons, who lived at145 W. 14th St.
Then began the discussions of what had happened. One of the divers
said that the water where the ladies went in was “very shallow.”
Mrs. O’Connell said “I heard the poor girl (Julia) utter her last
appeal for help several minutes after my husband left, and I think
she must have been in the water holding onto the ice.” It seems
likely that the heavy clothing the ladies were wearing became
water-logged and the weight would have been too much to allow them
to crawl out of the icy cold water. Hypothermia would have set in
and rendered them unconscious within fifteen to twenty minutes. If
it had not been so dark O’Connell might have located their position
and maybe a rescue could have been successful, however that must
remain pure speculation. But it was a tragic accident that could
have been prevented at several points as it played out to its fatal
conclusion if someone had only spoken up.
The sisters were buried next to their mother Mary P. Gregoire, who
had died nineteen months earlier on March 16, 1879 at age 66. Julia
Chouteau’s husband worked in Kansas City and her fourteen year old
son attended St. Joseph (Loras) College.
Frank died in New Orleans around Jan. 1, 1889 leaving a thirty-eight
year old widow, a son Valle’ now age 15 and daughter Marie age 13.
His body was brought back to Dubuque and buried next to his sister
at Key West in the Deery family plot. The circumstances surrounding
his death are unknown.
Frank’s mother, Ellen Casey Sullivan died on March 5, 1891 of heart
failure. “Her sufferings are over” wrote the Herald and “her near
kindred in blood are all dead. She mourned the death of her son and
daughter, and especially her grandchild Auliffe Justin Deery… She
had two brothers and one sister all dead.” She was buried at Mt.
Olivet in Key West next to her son, Frank and daughter, Mary Ellen
After his death, Frank’s widow and two children moved in with her
brother, Felix, on his farm in East Dubuque and lived there until
Felix died three years later.
"Deceased was never
married. He is survived by two sister, Mrs. Celete Sullivan,
who lived with him on the farm, and Mrs. P. S. Preston, of
this city. Two orther sisters -- Mrs. Choteau and Miss Amanda
Gregoire -- were drowned together while crossing the river on
the ice about ten years ago. This sad affair will be recalled
by readers of the Herald."
Lessie moved back to Dubuque for a few years until her death on
September 4, 1902 at age 51. “Death was caused by paralysis of the
brain with which the deceased was stricken Tuesday” said the
newspaper. She was buried in the Deery plot in Mt Olivet Cemetery
near William Newman, her uncle by marriage.
Felix Gregoire died on Jan. 21, 1892 at 8:30 in the evening after
falling from a windmill on his farm. He was 53 years old.
It was also noted that he was the nephew of Gen. George W. Jones.
Both of Frank and Lessie’s surviving children moved to California
where their son, Valle’ married Mary Johnson and they had two
daughters. He died on Dec. 7, 1939 in Long Beach after a month long
illness and was buried there. Marie married a man named Arine. She
died a few months later in 1940 and was brought back and buried next
to her aunt, Mary L. Preston and near her mother.