James Sweeney and his family were from County Fermanagh west of the
town of Clones, which is actually in County Monagnan. However, the
parish of Clones includes parts of both counties. There are three
churches in the parish. The town itself is very old, quaint and sits
on a hilltop with a high cross, churches on hills, an ancient round
tower, and an ancient priory in ruins. The old buildings were long
one story, combination house and barn, many with thatched roofs.
Born in 1780 James Sweeney (originally spelled Sweeny)
married sixteen-year-old Elizabeth Fox in 1811. In those days most
girls were married by their sixteenth birthday and raised large
families. The Sweeneys were no different. Their oldest son, Arthur
was born in 1812 and by 1836 their family had grown to include eight
sons and two daughters.
From 1800 to 1840 the population of Ireland doubled to 8 million.
Land was scarce. If you owned two acres you were probably listed in
the book of peers. Imagine trying to raise and feed a family of
twelve on a small acreage. After the Black Hawk War, many magazines
and papers were extolling the almost unlimited amount of land
available in America.
Arthur, the oldest son, decided to set out for America in 1839. He
reportedly bought a house near Holy Cross and began clearing and
fencing some land for crops. His brother John along with several of
his friends joined him the following year. They traveled around the
area and journeyed to Wisconsin looking for the best land. They
decided to settle north of Holy Cross.
John went back to Ireland and brought Great James and the rest of
his family to New Orleans in late 1841. James was almost 60 years
old and it must have been a difficult decision for he and his wife
to set out with five children under the age of 10. However, the four
older boys including John aged 25, James Jr.19, Thomas, 17 and
Myles, 14 probably helped convince him to go.
The ocean voyage was two months long but sailing to New Orleans was
the cheapest and most direct rout to Iowa. However, the Upper
Mississippi was frozen when they arrived in Oct of 1841 so they
waited until spring to set out for Dubuque. Transportation up the
river was in a flat-bottomed steamboat called a raft. This journey
took about three weeks and when they reached Dubuque, they purchased
a team of oxen and set out for Holy Cross, arriving there on March
14, 1842. The land had not yet been surveyed and therefore was not
for sale, so the Sweeney family randomly settled on almost 1000
acres between Holy Cross and N. Buena Vista. That first year, Bishop
Loras offered Mass in the James Sweeney home. The settlers in the
area erected a large wooden cross at the location of the present
Holy Cross Cemetery and Bishop Loras blessed it. On Sunday morning
people gathered around it to pray the rosary. Inclement weather
often interfered with devotions so in 1845, the settlers erected a
white oak log church and named it Holy Cross. The priests from the
Cathedral came to the church at least once a month to offer Mass.
Before the cross was erected, Bishop Loras was noted as saying Mass
in the James Sweeney residence. Legend has it that in the early days
Bishop Loras, coming from the north, stopped at the old Sweeney home
one evening and made arrangements to offer Holy Mass at their house
in the morning. The news was spread about and after the Bishop
retired, the Sweeney daughter, thinking that the Bishop’s alb was
soiled and should be laundered, undertook to do so. Anxious that it
should dry by morning, she hung it over some bushes in the area of
the cabin. During the night there was a disturbance in the yard and
looking through the window she beheld in the moonlight, a calf that
had come along grazing, getting its head tangled in the alb and
going through the timber proudly, clothed in Episcopal robes.
There is considerable doubt about the acquisition of the 40 acres
constituting the church property. Some traditions claim the land was
donated by one of the original settlers, (Heiderscheit) and others
maintaining that Bishop Loras purchased the land from the U.S.
Government. The records in the Dubuque County Courthouse show that
in the year 1849, Bishop Loras did secure title to the land. The
deed was signed by President Zachary Taylor. According to records in
the Sweeney family, Myles Sweeney and another man rode horseback to
Dubuque to have the deed recorded and signed for the church property
leading some to believe that the Sweeneys donated the 40 acres for
the church property. Although the original wooden cross is now gone,
the spot where is stood is marked by a granite memorial near the
grave of Father Michael Lynch, the first resident pastor of Holy
Cross Parish. On June 24, 1843 Great James became a citizen. This
entitled his wife and minor children to be also considered citizens.
There are no naturalization records for the eldest sons in Dubuque
but they may have filed them in New Orleans while spending the
winter there. Some of the land in the area that the Sweeney families
had been farming became available in 1847 and over the next two
years, Great James and his sons purchased over 560 acres through
Land Warrants from Mexican War Veterans from Alabama. They also
purchased another 200 acres directly from the government. However,
only a small percentage of this land was tilled. For example: the
1856 Iowa Census showed that Arthur had 25 acres of improved land
and 204 acres of unimproved land. Of the 25 acres, 6 produced 80
bushels of spring wheat; 3 acres of oats also produced 80 bushels; 8
acres of corn yielded 320 bushels and 1 acre produced 100# of
potatoes. He also sold 10 hogs for $62 and churned 150# of butter.
While the Sweeney families seemed to prosper tragedy and sorrow were
always present. The day after Christmas, 1848 the Sweeney’s son
Thomas died at age 25. And less than six months later on May 2,
another son, James, Jr. died at 28. John Sweeney died on June 26,
1854 leaving a wife and four small children: Mary Ann 8, Ellen 7,
James 4, and Theresa aged 2 who would become Mrs. Thomas Seymour.
Two years later, on June 18th, Great James passed away at
age 76. In his will he left his two prize horses “Blaze” and “Gin”
to his beloved wife “Bessy” with the condition that they never be
used on the threshing machine. In those days women could not own
land, and his will does not specify what was to be the disposition
of his farm. He left $100 to his then unmarried daughter, Mary, and
a lot he owned in Buena Vista he willed to son John’s widow, Mary.
Son Francis (age 21) got the Tan Mare, and sons Martin, Morris and
Francis got equal shares in the household furniture. Great James’
widow lived on the farm with her son Francis and daughter Mary for
another 15 years, dying on October 6, 1871, at age 76.
Children of James and Bessie Sweeney
Arthur b. 1812, d. July 24, 1881
wife: Alice Swift d. mid 1850’s children: Mary Ann, b.1849 m
Hugh Riley; Susan, b.1850 m. Dan Cotter; Ellen, b. Sep. 9,
1852 m. Charles Huntimer Apr. 27, 1876 d. Sep. 22, 1928;
Martin, b. 1853 d. 1874;
years after Alice died, Arthur returned to Ireland to marry
Catherine who was his first wife’s sister.
2nd wife: Catherine Swift, b. 1817 children: Katie,
b.1858 m. Frank Rooney; Lewis, b. 1860
farm was in the N1/4 of NW1/4 of section 6 and it remained in
the family for four generations until it was sold in the
1980’s. He was the first Sweeney to come to America (in 1839)
and is the only one of the brothers who is not listed in the
burial records at Holy Cross
b. 1815, d. June 26,1854
wife Mary (Connolly) b. 1813, d. Apr. 13, 1879 m.1844
Children: Mary Ann, b. 1846; Elizabeth (Ellen) b. 1847, d.
1920; James, b. 1850, d. 1917; Theresa, b.1852, d. 1909 (She
married Thomas Seymour on Oct. 12,1875)
John married Mary Connolly in 1844. John was 29 and Mary 31.
In October of 1848, John purchased 160 acres from a Mexican
War Veteran named John M. Bunn of Capt. Barr’s Company, 1st
Battalion, Alabama Volunteers for $1.25 and acre. By the early
1850’s John had brought his land holdings to a little over 240
However only 10 years after their marriage, John died leaving
Mary with 4 small children aged 8,7,4 and 2. John did not
leave a will, suggesting his death was not expected. (It is
not known how he died) Since all of John’s property went to
his heirs, Mary filed for and received guardianship of the
children. James Connolly (her brother?) helped post bond.
However, Mary was illiterate and did not realize that she must
file annual reports on the guardianship and she was issued a
citation to appear in court in Dec. 1864.
Apparently she was also having financial difficulties. At her
court hearing she stated that she owed $800 in taxes and other
debts and wanted to sell some land to pay off these debts.
Judge Stephen Hempstead agreed and appointed James Kelly,
Timothy Murray and John Connolly to appraise the land. (Murray
was her brother-in-law and Connolly was probably another
brother) Finally, almost two years later on Nov. 6, 1866 Mary
sold 80 acres in Clayton county to a John Drayhouse for $500.
With her family’s help and a hired hand, Jesse Sommers, Mary
continued to operate the farm after her husband’s death until
her own death in 1879. Her son Jim and daughters, Mary Ann and
Ellen would also remain on the farm most of their lives.
b. 1821 d. May 2, 1849
b. 1823 d. Dec. 26, 1848
Ellen (Elinor) b. mid 1820’s d. 1899-1909 probably at
Married Timothy Murray on Aug. 18, 1845 with Myles Sweeney as a
witness Her husband was 13-14 years older than her.
Children are believed to be: Johanna b. 1859; Elizabeth b. 1861;
Mary b. 1853; Thomas b. 1855; James b. 1856; Catherine b. 1858;
Timothy b. 1860; Daniel b. 1869
b. 1826 d. May 10, 1898 wife Mary (Wernert) b. May 15, 1854 d. March
30,1954 m. 1876
children: Mame, b. 1877; Thomas J. b. 1879; Frances C. b. 1880;
Grace b. 1881 Caroline (who died as an infant)
Myles was 50 years old when he married Mary. She was born in
Alsace-Lorraine, the daughter of an officer in the French army of
Louis Napoleon. She came to this country as an 11 month old child in
a sailing ship that took 72 days to cross the ocean. She was only 6
weeks away from her 100th birthday when she died.
It is reported that Myles made three trips to California during the
gold rush. Apparently he did not find gold. One member of another
party from the area was killed by Indians on the trip. He did
purchase an additional 120 acres of land in late 1852 to go with the
200 acres he originally bought in 1848. By 1889 he owned 550 acres.
He was a member of the Board of Supervisors in 1862 &1863.
Thomas Seymour worked for Myles for several years in the 60’s and
70’s, until his marriage to Myles’ niece, Theresa Sweeney in 1875.
(Just a few months before Myles’ own marriage) Myles’
daughter, Mame married Peter Freyman and they lived on the farm and
helped his widow operate it for many years.
Martin b. 1830 d. Sep. 7,1899 wife Catherine (Donovan) b.
June 15,1836 d. Feb. 9, 1867 m. Jan. 1,1856
children: Thomas, b 1857; J. J. b. 1859; David, b. Jan. 20, 1860 &
d. Oct. 21,1860 Martin II, b. Jan. 27,1862 & d. Aug. 26,1867; Mary ?
(Mrs. Francis Rooney?) also b. 1862 ? ; Michael, b May 23, 1863 (He
was Milton’s father) Elizabeth, b. 1865.
Martin owned 160 acres in Section 6 (NE ¼). The first school house
was built near his house. The settlers hired a teacher and assessed
the students to make up his salary. Later, the school affairs were
managed by a board of three directors. Martin was elected, at age
18, president of the board. In the 1864 he was elected a township
supervisor, a position he held for fifteen years.
Maurice b. 1832 d. Feb. 7,1909 wife, Mary (Sommerfield) b.
1837 in NY, m. Feb. 7,1860, d. June 17,1915
children: John, b. 1869,
d. May 23, 1876; Josephine V. b. 1874, d. Jan. 18,1902; James, b.
1875 (died 12 days) Richard, ??; Mrs. P. J. Schroeder, ??; there
were also four daughters who took vows and became Sisters of
Charity: Sisters Ramona, Evarard, Rodriguez, and Anacaria.
Maurice farmed 150 acres in Section 7 and his son Richard took over
the operation of the farm after Maurice’s death, until he sold out
and moved to Dubuque.
Mary b. 1834 m. June 5, 1867, d. June 29,1917 husband, Hugh
Sweeney (no relation) b. ?? d. May 24, 1879
After the early death of Hugh, Mary sold the farm and she and her
young daughter moved to Dubuque. Her daughter also joined the
Sisters of Charity and took the name Sister Mary Evarista.
b. May 4, 1835 d. Jan. 12, 1909 wife Ellen (Fahey) b. Nov. 11,1843
d. Feb. 1,1932
children: James; Leo; Frank; Mary Ellen, b. Jan. 6,1879 d. June 22,
1890; Martin (grandfather of Gerald) Joseph; Mathias; Vincent.
Ellen was the daughter of Mathew and Mary (Malone) Fahey of County
Galway, Ireland, who brought her to America as a very young child.
She had two sisters, Tessie (Mrs. F. M. McCullough) and Sister Mary
Zita, BVM, and two brothers, John and Michael.
Frank owned 247 acres in Sections 7, 8 & 22.