I’ve written about James Lawless in the past — the eldest of 3 Great Lakes Captains depicted in a framed composite image. I don’t know much of his past… or more specifically, his parents’ history. James was a prominent man in the Great Lakes community, and several anecdotes have been written about his early years and entry first into shipbuilding and then captaining. One reference gives a snippet of information about his parents:
Captain Lawless was born in Old Niagara, November 2, 1839, and is the son of John and Mary (Graley) Lawless, natives of Ireland. They came to America in 1842, locating in Old Niagara, Canada, where the father, who was a stationary engineer, followed his business.History of the Great Lakes, Volume II, Chicago: J.H. Beers & Co., 1899, page 51
This gives us some fantastic information to begin our research. It provides both parents’ names, his mother’s maiden name, where they came from, when they came, and where they settled. The writing goes on:
He [John] lost his life while endeavoring to save life and property at the time the steamer Zimmerman was destroyed by fire at the dock in 1863. The deck gave way under him and he fell into the fierce flames, and was burned to death… Mr. Lawless was mourned by his fellow-townsmen because of his sterling integrity and humanity to man. The wife and mother was laid away to rest in 1870 at Alton, Illinois.History of the Great Lakes, Volume II, Chicago: J.H. Beers & Co., 1899, page 51
Even more fantastic (yet horrifying) leads. We have death years for both parents, a burial location for James’ mother Mary, and an event that was surely newsworthy concerning James’ father Patrick’s death.
I should pause for a moment before I get too ahead of myself. The story quoted above contradicts itself. It claims James was born in Old Niagara in 1839, but that his parents came from Ireland and settled in Old Niagara in 1842. One of these two dates is most likely incorrect. Did the author mean to state 1832 as the arrival? I’m putting a pin in that question for later. It also says that James’ father’s name was John Lawless… perhaps it was Patrick John Lawless or John Patrick Lawless? His headstone reads “Patrick” as do the articles about his loss of life with the steamer Zimmerman. Another factoid to hold on to for further research.
Jumping over to Ancestry.com, I searched for records relating to Patrick Lawless, Mary Lawless, and James Lawless in Canada. I found what appears to be James’ baptismal record in Ancestry’s “Ontario, Canada, Roman Catholic Baptisms, Marriages, and Burials, 1760-1923” collection:
B. 31 James Lawless
November 1st Baptized in the C. Church of Niagara, James, aged three days, son of Patrick Lawless and Mary Graly, residing in Niagara. Sponsors: Patrick Finn and Catherine Foley.Year: 1839
Continuing my search in this collection, I found baptismal records for other children of Patrick and Mary:
B. 37. Patrick Lawless
November 5th Baptized Patrick, aged 7 days, son of Patrick Lawless and Mary Graley, residing in Niagara. Sponsors: Edward Scully and Widow Margaret Donnelly.Year: 1835
B. 40. Michael Lawless
August 4th Baptized in the C. Church of Niagara, Michael aged 4 days, son of Patrick Lawless and Mary Graly, residing in Niagara. Sponsors: William Sadler and Widow Margaret Donnelly.Year: 1838
B. 23. Mary Sansfield Lawless
April 17th Baptized in the C. Church of Niagara, Mary Sansfield aged five days, daughter Patrick Lawless and Mary Greyly, residing in Niagara. Sponsors: Bartholomew Altheron and Margaret his wife.Year: 1842
B. Andrew Lawless
February 18th Baptized Andrew aged twelve hours of the lawful marriage of Patrick Lawless and Mary Graly residing in Niagara. Sponsors: Michael McGrath and Bridget McGrath.Year: 1845
These findings tell us that Patrick and Mary must have arrived in Canada earlier than 1835, and that they had at least 5 children:
- Patrick, b. 1835
- Michael, b. 1838
- James, b. 1839
- Mary Sansfield (?), b. 1842
- Andrew, b. 1845
The 1851 Census confirms what we’ve learned so far:
- Patrick Lawless, laborer, born in Ireland, R. Catholic, 50 years old at next birthday (b ~1801)
- Mary Lawless, born in Ireland, R. Catholic, 50 years old at next birthday (b ~1801)
- John Lawless, Do (Laborer), born in W Canada, 18 years old at next birthday (b ~1833)
- Pat. Lawless, Do (Laborer), born in W Canada, 16 years old at next birthday (b ~1835)
- Mich. Lawless, born in W Canada, 12 years old at next birthday (b ~1839)
- James Lawless, born in W Canada, 10 years old at next birthday (b ~1841)
Missing from the Census are Mary (born 1842) and Andrew (born 1845). We also see a new name: John (born 1833). I haven’t found a birth record for John yet. There’s also a discrepancy with James’ age… off by 2 years.
Patrick Lawless’ headstone located at St Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic, Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.
on Str Zimmerman
Aug. ____, 1863
Martin Mary & Andrew
Patrick & Mary
Patrick Lawless died in August 1863 when the Steamer Zimmerman caught fire with him on board as the watchman. Descriptions of the tragedy are disturbingly detailed, often describing witnesses seeing him burn alive. His widow Mary relocated sometime in the following years to Alton, Illinois, where their son John lived. She died there in 1870 and is believed to be buried there, as well. I haven’t yet found a death record or burial listing for Mary.
- Where in Ireland did Patrick and Mary live before coming to Canada? I have a note in my tree that it may have been Kilkenny County… but I don’t really have anything supporting or disproving that idea yet.
- When did they leave Ireland, and aboard what vessel?
- What was their life like in Ireland?
- Can we trace either line back any further?