The McAvoys: a Prosperous Family

by Gina Marie Guadagnino, Glucksman Ireland House, New York University

© Gina Marie Guadagnino 2020. All rights reserved.

Carmansville residents John and Margaret McAvoy were account holders at the Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank. John opened account 12414 on August 27, 1856; Margaret opened account 22219 on December 22, 1859.[1] The pair were already living in the Twelfth Ward by 1850, where John had established a thriving business as a blacksmith on West 150th Street.[2] They had been married for at least three years,[3] and were able to afford a maid of all work.[4] Over the years, John’s smithy would grow in size and prosperity; by the time he withdrew his savings from his EISB account in 1862, he had amassed $643.98[5], the equivalent of $277,336.00 in today’s money.[6]

Blacksmiths working an anvil. Detail from the cover of the American Farmers’ Magazine, Vol. 7, No.10 (April 1855)

The McAvoys’ business and financial success is also evident in the composition of their household, as they took on additional servants, boarders, and apprentices to John’s smithy. By 1855, John and Margaret had become naturalized citizens with three sons, a servant, an apprentice, and two boarders under their roof.[7] Five years later, their household had expanded to encompass an additional son, two new apprentices, and a new servant.[8] John was now a master blacksmith, and his former apprentice, Patrick Riley, was now a full blacksmith at the McAvoy forge in his own right, living nearby with his new wife and their infant son.[9]

Margaret McAvoy’s obituary, printed on page 7 of the Sun and New York Press on February 28, 1907.

Margaret McAvoy, nee Hyland, was born in Kildare Town sometime around 1822 and emigrated to New York in 1848. Co. Kildare suffered some of Ireland’s lowest mortality rates during the Famine years.[10] Margaret, moreover, having been raised in a town rather than the countryside, likely did not come from a family dependent solely upon a diet of potatoes. Although she left Ireland during the height of the Famine, she must have been in good health, as she conceived her first child in 1849.[11] Fertility rates declined precipitously during the Famine years and remained low for decades following as malnutrition during formative and childbearing years rendered two generations of the Irish population subject to “averted” births.[12] Margaret gave birth to five sons in fourteen years, all of whom survived to adulthood.[13] Additionally, she gave birth to five other children, none of whom survived long enough to be enumerated in census documents.[14]

There is reason to believe that John McAvoy came from a prosperous blacksmithing family, and arrived in New York in 1845 with the start-up capital to begin practicing his craft soon after his arrival. His hometown of Woodbrook in Queen’s County, Ireland, though otherwise unmarked, had a smithy listed on the earliest Ordnance Survey Maps.[15] The McAvoy family were the tenants of Mrs. Elizabeth Broomfield, Sir Charles Coote, and Lord Carew, as John’s father James appears to have leased several parcels of property in the parish.[16]

The smithy at Woodbrook, Queen’s County. Historic 6″ Black & White Ordnance Survey Map of Ireland. osi.ie

John did not remain in Woodbrook, but relocated thirty miles to Kildare Town sometime before 1846 where he met and married Margaret,[17] indicating a degree of prosperity and financial success. At the height of the Famine in 1847, John booked passage on the Taig a Bailagh from Dublin, leaving Margaret behind in Kildare.[18] John’s prior financial success may account for his rapid rise upon his arrival in New York, and his ability to send for Margaret a year later.[19] The pair initially settled in what is now Harlem before moving to Carmansville five years later.[20] As the first blacksmith in Carmansville, John was able to do lucrative business. Payment for his services are recorded in the annual reports of the New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb, and it is likely that his clientele also included Carmansville’s principal landowners.

John took out a mortgage of $2000 on his home in 1874, repaying the principal in interest by 1879, at which point the house and land were valued at $10,000.[21] Curiously, before the mortgage was paid, John sold the house to his son Thomas.[22] At the time of the transaction, Thomas’s wife Mary was pregnant with the couple’s second child.[23] John, Margaret, and their other sons still at home moved into another house on the same block.[24]  In fact, several neighboring addresses on West 150th Street between Tenth and St. Nicholas Avenues were home to members of the family through the end of the century.

John and Margaret McAvoy remained active residents in Carmansville until John’s death in 1888[25], whereupon his fourth son, John P., took over the smithy.[26] Joseph, the couple’s eldest son, predeceased his father in 1887, though his widow Mary continued to carry on his brewing business in Carmansville.[27] Following John’s death, Margaret remained in the family home with her fourth son John P., his wife and children, and her fifth son, William, a local saloonkeeper.[28] The McAvoy family remained tight-knit, living in close proximity to one another.

Drawing of Thomas F. McAvoy from the newspaper article entitled “M’Avoy Retired from the Force.” New York Herald, May 5, 1895, page 5.

Thomas, the couple’s second son, became a police officer at the local precinct[29], then a patrolman in 1870.[30] He rose steadily through the ranks, making captain in 1890, and being promoted to inspector in 1892.[31] Upon reaching his eligibility for pension at half-pay in 1895, then-Inspector McAvoy shocked his precinct and the Board of Commissioners by petitioning for retirement.[32] Despite strenuous objections by Police Commissioner Andrews on the grounds of his sterling reputation and comparative youth (Thomas was only 43 at the time of his retirement), Thomas’s petition was granted. He was not to enjoy a long retirement as he was appointed First Deputy Police Commissioner a few years later under the auspices of Tammany Hall, of which he was a fervent supporter.[33] He was promoted to Acting Commissioner in 1904 under Commissioner William McAdoo.[34]

Francis, the youngest of the McAvoy’s children, grew up to embark upon an illustrious legal and political career. The most educated of the McAvoy children, he attended Columbia Law School, and worked in the Law Department of the Custom House until 1905 when Mayor McClellan appointed him Police Magistrate.[35] Like Thomas, Francis was a lifelong Tammany member, and with their support, was elected Recorder of the City and County of New York in 1907[36], becoming the last man to hold the office before it was abolished by the Legislature.[37] Following this, he was elevated to a Judgeship in the Court of Special Sessions.[38] He died suddenly of a heart attack on his way to the subway station at Broadway and 157th street when he was 70 years old.[39] A devout Catholic and noted philanthropist to the end, his passing was mourned by many in Carmansville, which, by that time, was part of Washington Heights.[40]

The site of the family’s homes is currently occupied by a self-storage facility and a parking lot.

 

[1] John McAvoy, Account 12414. Margaret McAvoy, Account 22219. Ancestry.com. New York, Emigrant Savings Bank Records, 1850-1883 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005.

[2] John McAvoy, New York Ward 12, District 3. Ancestry.com. 1850 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.

[3] John McAvoy, New York Ward 12, District 3. Ancestry.com. 1850 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.

[4] Mary Lucey. Ancestry.com. Ireland, Catholic Parish Registers, 1655-1915 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2016.

[5] John McAvoy, Account 12414. Ancestry.com. New York, Emigrant Savings Bank Records, 1850-1883 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005.

[6] Relative income for 1862, according to Measuring Worth, https://www.measuringworth.com/calculators/uscompare/

[7] John McAvoy. Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

[8]  John McAvoy. Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

[9] John McAvoy. Ancestry.com. 1860 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

[10] S. H. Cousens, “Regional Death Rates in Ireland during the Great Famine, from 1846 to 1851.” Population Studies 14, no. 1 (1960): 55-74. Accessed May 1, 2020. doi:10.2307/2172043.

[11] John McAvoy, New York Ward 12, District 3. Ancestry.com. 1850 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009.

[12] Phelim P.Boyle and Cormac O Grada. “Fertility Trends, Excess Mortality, and the Great Irish Famine.” Demography 23, no. 4 (1986): 543-62. Accessed May 1, 2020. www.jstor.org/stable/2061350.

[13] John McAvoy. Ancestry.com. 1880 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

[14] Margaret McAvoy obituary. Sun and New York Press, February 28, 1907, p.7

[15] Ordnance Survey Map of Ireland. osi.ie

[16] Richard Griffith, General Valuation of Rateable Property in Ireland s.v. “Ross, Queen’s County” (Dublin:  Alex. Thom and Sons, for her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1861)

[17] Margaret McAvoy obituary. Sun and New York Press, February 28, 1907, p.7

[18] John McAvoy, Account 12414. Ancestry.com. New York, Emigrant Savings Bank Records, 1850-1883 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005.

[19] Margaret McAvoy, Account 22219. Ancestry.com. New York, Emigrant Savings Bank Records, 1850-1883 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2005.

[20] Margaret McAvoy obituary. Sun and New York Press, February 28, 1907, p.7

[21] Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank Bond and Mortgage No. 768 (April 8, 1874), Emigrant City http://emigrantcity.nypl.org/#/  accessed May 7, 2020

[22] Real Estate Record and Builders Guide, August 11, 1877, p. 632 https://rerecord.library.columbia.edu/

[23] Thomas McAvoy. Ancestry.com. 1880 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

[24] John McAvoy, 1879. Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

[25] Margaret McAvoy obituary. Sun and New York Press, February 28, 1907, p.7

[26] John P. McAvoy, 1891. Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

[27]  Mary E. McAvoy, 1888. Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

[28] Margaret McAvoy. Ancestry.com. New York, State Census, 1905 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.

[29] Thomas McAvoy. Ancestry.com. 1880 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2009. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

[30] “M’Avoy Retired from the Force.” New York Herald, May 5, 1895, page 5.

[31] “M’Avoy Retired from the Force.” New York Herald, May 5, 1895, page 5.

[32] “M’Avoy Retired from the Force.” New York Herald, May 5, 1895, page 5.

[33] “Judge Alton B. Parker’s Speech of Acceptance.” The Tammany Times, Vol. XXV. No. 15, August 13, 1904, p. 2

[34] “Police Department.” The City Record, August 9, 1904, p. 5419

[35] “Mayor Appoints New City Magistrates.” New York Times, May 2, 1905.

[36] “Justice M’Avoy Named for the Recordership.” New York Times, January 23, 1907.

[37] “Francis S. M’Avoy, Last Recorder, Dies.” New York Times, August 7, 1926, p. 11

[38] “Francis S. M’Avoy, Last Recorder, Dies.” New York Times, August 7, 1926, p. 11

[39] “Francis S. M’Avoy, Last Recorder, Dies.” New York Times, August 7, 1926, p. 11

[40] “Francis S. M’Avoy, Last Recorder, Dies.” New York Times, August 7, 1926, p. 11