The Story of Daniel Dunn

I don’t know exactly when or where Daniel Dunn, my great great grandfather, was born. Based on later records like census returns and marriage certificates, it was somewhere in Ireland, around the year 1844. His father’s name was also Daniel- his mother’s name was Ann. This information comes from the earliest document connected with Daniel that I’ve found so far, the Cambridge, Massachusetts marriage registry. On July 2 1865, Daniel and Mary Ledwick of Somerville were married. Mary’s parents are recorded as James and Mary Ledwick. Daniel was 20, his bride 19.

The Ledwicks were also from Ireland, although again, I don’t know exactly where. I do, however, know where Mary, Daniel’s wife, was born- at sea. The young Mary Ledwick first arrived on this Earth somewhere in the North Atlantic, aboard a sailing vessel, the Ellerslie, that would later be used to transport slaves from Africa to Cuba. The Ellerslie arrived at the Port of New York on 10 April, 1847. The passenger listing includes James Ledwick, 25 and Mary Ledwick, 20, both of Ireland. The infant Mary is recorded as “U Ledwick”- the “U” standing for “Unknown”, presumably- next to “age” on the list is written “born at sea”. Making the voyage from Ireland to America in those days was a harrowing experience to begin with- it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like giving birth in those circumstances.

The Dunns and Ledwicks are pretty much invisible for the first twenty years of their residency in the US- the next record I’ve been able to find for them is the 1865 marriage of Daniel and Mary. Just a little over a year after they were married, Mary gave birth to the couple’s first child, named Daniel. Next came a daughter, named Mary Ann, born in Somerville in 1870. In 1872, another daughter was born, named Catherine.

By 1874 the Dunns were living in Lowell along with Mary’s parents, according to these entries from the Lowell city directory for 1874:



The Dunns apparently moved to Lowell after Daniel got a job working for the Boston and Lowell Railroad. On February 21, 1874, Mary gave birth to another son, named Thomas. Thomas was the last of Daniel and Mary’s children to be born, at least as far as I’ve been able to determine from the records. Based on later reports, it appears that they did have one more child, but I haven’t found any record of that child’s name, or when he or she was born.

Both Daniel and Mary Dunn had a problem with alcohol, according to their neighbors, and alcohol played a role in the tragic events of July 13 1875. On that day, Daniel came home at noon for his lunch, but not before stopping on the way to have a drink or two. The night before, Daniel and Mary had argued over the rent money, and Daniel, apparently drunk, had locked his wife out of the house.

Arriving home, he stopped to see the landlord and asked if his wife had paid the rent. Told that she hadn’t, and that there was still money owed from the previous month, Daniel flew into a rage. Moments later, Mary Dunn was dead. The Lowell Courier Citizen tells the story:

Dunn has been employed at the railshop of the Boston and Lowell railroad, and was at work yesterday forenoon. Immediately after coming home to dinner yesterday afternoon he went into the rear tenement of the brick building where he resided and asked Mr Murty Harrington, the occupant and owner of the building, if his (Dunn’s) wife had been in to pay the rent. Mr Harrington responded that she had not; that there was a dollar due on the rent of the previous month. Dunn then went into his own tenement fronting on the street and soon after Mr Harrington’s family heard loud talk in the front tenement.

Dunn was heard to ask deceased why she had not paid the rent. Threatening language was heard and deceased was heard to say “don’t kill me”. Mr Harrington and his sister went into the room and the latter saw Dunn slap his wife on the face at that time. Mr Harrington interfered in order to prevent a disturbance and finally induced Dunn to come out into the entry. The former thought that the difficulty was over and returned to his own part of the house. Soon more noise was heard in Dunn’s front room and Mr Harrington and his sister again coming in found Mrs. Dunn lying on her back on the floor with blood flowing from a cut in her lip Dunn was kicking her while she lay seemingly unconscious on the floor and although Mr Harrington and his sister grasped Dunn the latter succeeded in kicking deceased several times then before they could get him away. A sister of Mrs. Dunn came in while effort was being made to prevent the husband from continuing his assault and assisted in the attempt to control him. The entire assault and the threats that preceded it did not occupy more than from 15 to 20 minutes, and Dunn remained in the house several minutes afterward before proceeding to his work. He was arrested by Officer TJ Sanborn as stated yesterday.

The most important witness in the case is the oldest child whose name is Daniel Dunn and who is about 9 years of age. He says that the blow which knocked his mother down was struck her in the mouth by his father. The boy says that after she was knocked down his father kicked her several times and pulled her about the room by the hair before the neighbors came in.

Dunn had been drinking on the way home from his work but seemed a little if any affected by it. He was considerably affected, apparently, when told his wife was dead and gave a version of the affair different from that of anyone else. He says that he was angry because his wife had spent for liquor some of the money given her to pay the rent and also stated yesterday that she was under the influence of liquor when he came home. Mr Harrington’s family, however, say that they saw no evidence that she had been drinking yesterday though they knew she had been drunk previously. Dunn said that he kicked her in the rear portion of the body that she then fell forward upon her face and received the injury to her lips mouth and nose. His story is an improbable one when weighed with the other statements of the case.

Deceased did not recover her consciousness at any time after being knocked on the floor. Beside the cut on her lip and a severe injury to her face, she had quite a number of bruises in different portions of the lower extremities. The surgeon who was summoned did not find any bones broken, and assigns concussion of the brain as the cause of death. A post-mortem examination to take place today may result in other developments.

Dunn is about 40 years old and deceased is about the same age. They have lived in Mr Harrington’s building about 4 months. There are five children in the family; the oldest being 9 years and the youngest is 16 months old. They have had frequent quarrels, and the neighbors state that this is not the first time that he has he has assaulted her.

Coroner Fuller summoned a jury consisting of Frank Gray, A. S. Parker, John Boyle, Charles E. Shorey, Daniel Crane, and James Boyle, who viewed the body, and adjourned until two o’clock Thursday afternoon to hear evidence and decide on a verdict.

The paper also editorialized on the incident:

The murder of Mrs. Dunn by her husband yesterday ís one of the most horrible in the annals of our city. A husband, not intoxicated, but maddened by drink, kicks his wife to death in the presence of at least one of her five children. These children are all young, the youngest a mere babe. The mother herself was given to drink. and there is no reason to doubt her husband’s statement that she spent for liquor the money which he gave her to pay the rent with.

What a temperance sermon is in this brief but, terrible family history!

The next day the newspaper reported the results of the inquest:

The Murder of Mary Dunn by her Husband — Verdict of Coroner’s Jury

Yesterday at 2 o’clock at the Citizens Committee room there occurred a session of the jury summoned by Coroner Fuller to investigate the cause of the death of Mary Dunn, July 13th. The several jurors summoned having responded to their names the testimony of witnesses was commenced.

Dr Irish was first called and stated that he was called to see deceased whom he found senseless on the floor. Found a severe contusion of the nose, which was considerably swollen, and discolored under the skin from blood; a cut of the lower lip through it- and extending about an inch- which might have been made by the teeth. Found also two or three bruises on right leg and one on the left leg which were not serious. Found no external evidence of injury up on the scalp. The symptoms at the time were those of concussion of the brain. Witness also gave a statement of a post-mortem examination Wednesday afternoon. The same external evidence of injury was found as at the first examination. On removing the scalp from the skull an effusion of blood was found under the skull under the left parietal bone, situated about 3 inches above the left ear, and a little posterior to it. Upon removing the bones of the cranium, the dura mater, or membrane lining the skull, was found much congested. Upon cutting through it a clot of blood was found, covering nearly the whole of the left half of the brain. The clot was nearly half an inch thick. The brain and every other vital organ was found healthy. No external evidence of injury was seen. A clot of blood of the size found must necessarily have been fatal. Violence must have produced it. The concussion ruptured a blood vessel, and the clot did not show itself till later after the accident. At the first examination witness thought that Mrs. Dunn’s injuries would not prove fatal, the concussion being, as he supposed, merely ordinary.

Thomas J Sanborn one of the officers who arrested Dunn conversed with him and Dunn told his story of the affair substantially as has been stated by him since. When Dunn came home he said that his wife was drunk and had no dinner ready for him. The story of the non-payment of the rent by the wife was included in Dunn’s statement to witness. Dunn told witness that he slapped his wife and kicked her and that she laid down. Witness smelt some kind of liquor- beer, he thought, about Dunn, but there was no evidence of intoxication about him further. In a subsequent conversation with Dunn he told witness he drank two glasses of beer the night before but had drank none that day.

Daniel Dunn Jr., nine years old, a son of deceased, testified that when his father came home dinner was ready on the table; his mother was washing; his father told her she was drunk and then going out found that she could not pay the rent. While he was out at that time she jumped out of the window with the baby in her arms. He then pushed her in at the door and slapped her in the face. She fell down. When she fell down he took her by the hair of the head and dragged her to the other part of the room. He then kicked her two or three times in the mouth. She laid there till she died. He then went out saying that he didn’t care for any policemen. There was trouble between his father and mother the night previous, in regards to the rent, and his father had locked her out of doors. Every month he used to drink liquor and often got the worst of it. Did not think that his mother was in liquor that day and he (witness) didn’t think she drank much.

Murty Harrington made his statement of the assault substantially as has been reported. When Dunn came to him, just before the assault, and asked if the rent had been paid, witness told him that it was a dollar short the month previous, and 20 cents short that month. When Dunn return to his own tenement he continually asked his wife for the rent, and the assault soon after occurred. She seemed to be trying to put her hand in her pocket to get the money when asked for the rent. Witness returned to his own rooms, fearing Dunn might do him injury, being much the stronger man; and hearing more noise afterward returned, to find deceased on the floor. Remonstrated with Dunn and with assistance got him away from her. Came back a third time and found deceased yet on the floor bleeding. Saw Dunn kick her about the legs. Had seen both of them when witness thought they were under the influence of liquor. Saw no evidence of liquor in either of them that day.

Catherine Murphy, a sister of Mr Harrington, and who lived with him gave evidence which was mainly corroborative of that of the previous witness. Dunn and his wife accused each other being drunk when he came home. Heard her say “don’t murder me” Saw Dunn give deceased a slap in the mouth after he asked for the rent. Also saw him kick at her when she was down. Didn’t see deceased fall.

Mary Kelly, who lived at the next house from deceased, testified that Dunn struck his wife a severe blow up on the head before he pulled her into the house. He took the baby in his arms when he struck her.

The evidence being all in the jury agreed upon a verdict that “Mary Dunn came to her death at or about half past 1 o’clock on the afternoon of July 15th at her residence No. 17 Spring Street from the effect of kicks and blows inflicted upon her body by her husband Daniel Dunn.”

dunnheldOn July 19, the Lowell Daily Citizen and News reported that the case had been heard before the police court in Lowell, and that Daniel Dunn was ordered held for trial in Cambridge in October.

On October 27, 1875, the Boston Advertiser reported that “Daniel Dunn was sent for three years to the state prison for manslaughter, in the killing of his wife”.

Daniel would have been released from prison by November of 1878. As far as I can tell, he never attempted to reunite with his children. A little over a year after his release from prison, he married again- this time to Mary McLauglin Foley. It was her second marriage, too- the marriage register doesn’t indicate whether she was widowed or divorced.

Daniel and the second Mary are recorded as living in Cambridge in the 1880 census- no other family members are listed as living wth them. (Somewhat surprisingly, 1880 is the only national census I’ve found that includes Daniel.)

The same 1880 census finds Daniel’s now 14 year old namesake son working as a farm laborer in Jaffrey New Hampshire. Mary Ann and Catherine appear on a census listing of “Homeless Children”, living at the St Peter’s Orphan Asylum in Lowell. The census says they have been abandoned by their father, but also notes that he has not “surrendered control over them” to the orphanage. Thomas, who would have been about six at the time of the census, is nowhere to be found.

Daniel worked as a “mason’s tender” according to entries in the Cambridge City Directories over the next couple of decades. A mason’s tender, as the name implies, is a sort of unskilled or semi-skilled assistant to a mason. Sometime around 1910, at the age of 66, Daniel apparently stopped working- his name no longer appears in the City Directory.

The reason, almost certainly, is that he and Mary had entered the Cambridge Almshouse, or poor farm. This was an imposing structure, located in “‘Poverty Plain’, the most remote corner of Cambridge”, as a city history describes it. It was an actual 32 acre farm, designed to be self-supporting:

…inmates quarried stone for the building… cultivated a variety of crops, raised pigs and cattle, and netted fish in Alewife Brook.

Here the elderly and the “deserving poor” lived among the sick and the insane until public pressure forced the state to establish separate facilities for orphans, delinquent minors, and the incompetent.”

8160e47f93344e6fa0cd830e4c00b764_thumbFor Daniel, the stay at the Almshouse was not a long one. On December 11, 1913, he died. According to the death certificate, Daniel died from heart disease, along with arteriosclerosis and chronic bronchitis. The certificate gives his age as 74- that’s five years older than he would have been based on earlier census and marriage records. That fact originally led me to question whether this death certificate actually belonged to our Daniel- but information I gathered later left me pretty confident that this is my great-great-grandfather.

dunnfireDaniel was survived by the second Mary Dunn. Sadly, she was to suffer a fate every bit as tragic as the first Mrs. Dunn. A year after Daniel died, and two days after Christmas 1914, a fire broke out at the almshouse. Despite the lack of modern fire escapes or fire fighting equipment, Cambridge police, fire fighters, and neighbors managed to help almost all of the residents to safety. Four elderly women didn’t make it- including the 74 year old Mary Dunn.

Mary was buried in an unmarked pauper’s grave in the Cambridge City Cemetery- next to her husband Daniel.

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