An Irish Wedding on Independence Day 1852

Providence, Rhode Island in the 1858.

“The day, as benefits the season, was very pleasant, the streets were thronged with thousands who came to visit us from the neighboring towns. The railroad trains came in immensely loaded, and the steamboats were crowded, and the publick (sic) conveyances were loaded with passengers.”

Sts. Peter & Paul Cathedral
This is how the Providence Journal described Providence on Monday, July 5, 1852, the official day of observance of our nation’s seventy-sixth birthday, and the city’s grandest party of the year. According to the Journal, “The anniversary of the nation’s birth will be celebrated with more than usual spirit all over the country.”
The enthusiasm of which the Journal wrote was the result of America narrowly avoiding the break-up of the Union over the issue of slavery. The Compromise of 1850, passed into law less than two years before, had avoided war but at quite a cost. The compromise allowed for the expansion of slavery into new territories and included the hated Fugitive Slave Act, the law that would soon tear the country apart. But on this day, and in this season, it seemed as though the smoldering fire had been extinguished.
As the Journal reported, “The difficulties which lately agitated the land, and which threatened a bitter sectional strife, have passed away, and something of the fire of patriotism burns in the dullest breast.”
As Providence was celebrating the this peace, less than four hundred miles away in Rochester, New York, Frederick Douglass was giving perhaps his greatest speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?” A nation with its head in the sand was not allowed to ignore the coming storm.
However, for two Irish immigrants, new to their home on Federal Hill, the

Frederick Douglass. While the Irish
faced severe discrimination, that would
later subside. Not so for
African Americans. 

day was the second of a rare two-day weekend that was one of the highlights of their young lives. This was a weekend that they would never forget.

Just twenty-four hours earlier, Peter McKenna and Catherine Duggan, natives of County Monaghan, had been married at Saints Peter  and Paul Cathedral.
That morning, July 4, 1852, Peter rose from his bed on Spruce Street, having spent a fitful night. Twenty-three-year-old Peter was soon greeted by his best man and longtime friend from County Monaghan, Hugh McCabe.
Around the corner, twenty-year-old Catherine Duggan was laughing and nervously chatting with her siblings and parents at their home on Acorn Street.
Clogher Valley, early 20th century.
Only a few miles from the Duggan’s home
in Truagh.

Four years earlier, James Duggan and Ellen McKenna Duggan, farmers from the townland of Dernalosset in the parish of Errigal Truagh, North County Monaghan, managed to get most of their children safely out of Ireland and away from the Great Famine.

Barely arriving in Providence, their son, Patrick, likely named for James’ father, died of consumption (tuberculosis), the scourge of nineteenth century America.
But that was more than a year and a half ago. This bright and sunny Sunday morning was a day for looking forward.
And the Cathedral was alive with much more than just their wedding on the Fourth of July. In addition, two other young Irish couples, Henry Rogers and Joanna Tyman, and John Donovan and Bridget O’Keefe, were marrying. Additionally, James Hughes, the young nephew of Bishop Bernard Hughes was to be ordained.
Family and friends of Peter and Catherine gathered at the Cathedral. Wedding guests included Catherine’s parents and her siblings, John, Ann and Sarah.
Among the others attending were John, Mary, Patrick and Ann McKenna, Bridget Trainor, Patrick Rogers, the McQuaids and Owen Murray. It was a very Monaghan County crowd.
The cathedral record of the marriage of Peter McKenna & Catherine Duggan, July 4, 1852.
One can imagine Catherine arriving at the cathedral by horse carriage, accompanied by her parents and siblings and Mary Lamb, Catherine’s maid of honor.
In other carriage, or perhaps on horseback, came Peter and young Hugh McCabe.
The ceremony complete, the wedding party moved on to Federal Hill, the center of the city’s Monaghan-Tyrone community. There, as family and friends ate and drank heartily, musicians and guests played and sang their favorite tunes from the ‘Old Sod.’ Seanchaíthe, Irish storytellers, had the crowd in stitches, with tales told in both Irish and English.
Sleeping late the next morning was not in the cards for the newlyweds. At six a.m. on the morning of the fifth, the marine artillery, led by Colonel William J. Balch, fired off the first of two artillery displays that shook the city. The big party had begun.
After breakfast, Peter and Catherine walked down Spruce Street, from Federal Hill to the city center. There they gathered with friends to watch the parade.
At 8:30 a.m., the various groups participating in the parade assembled. There was the Marine Corps Artillery Band under Colonel Balch, the Warren Artillery under Colonel Pearce, the Newport Artillery under Colonel Blanding and the First Light Infantry, under Colonel Brown.
Downtown at Garnet & Weybosset Streets 1860.
Other groups taking part in the parade included the City Fire Department, the Sons of Temperance, the American Brass Band and the Military Band of Fort Adams. City Mayor Amos C. Barstow joined Rhode Island Governor Philip Allen in the procession.
A much later parade.
The streets of the city filled quickly with merry-makers. Farmers, enjoying a few hours away from their land and their animals, came into town with their families. Factory workers, with a rare holiday off from the typical twelve-hour workday, made merry with friends and family. Every church in town tolled their bells on every hour. Children watching with joy had one hand on their miniature flag, the other in a parent’s hand. The streets of Providence had never been this wonderfully chaotic.
Providence 1844. Federal Hill was just a new and
developing neighborhood.

At noon, the city exploded with the sound of a one-hundred-gun salute.

Meanwhile, every neighborhood, and especially those around the pier and the cove, were alive with the mellifluous sounds of musical groups and happy crowds. 
As the Providence Journal had predicted that morning, Narragansett was “alive with steamboats,” those modern ships that had recently revolutionized sea travel.
The Bay, the Providence River, and the Cove were awash with pleasure vessels, filled with crowds enjoying the spectacle. One can imagine Peter and Catherine enjoying a wedding present of a cruise
on a ship like the Perry, which made a special evening trip to and from Newport so that guests could witness the spectacle of national pride.
Narragansett Bay was filled with ships of all types and sizes.
This illustration and others in this essay are courtesy of Providence Public Library.
Arriving at the city’s port on South Main Street, revelers aboard the Perry had a ringside seat to the brass band’s concert at the Cove, a show that featured “Bengal lights,” bluish flairs used at sea for signally and identification. On this day, these fireworks dramatically punctuated the band’s tunes.
With the sun setting, everyone, young and old, thrilled to the sight and sound of the fireworks display. Again, as a writer for the Providence Journal witnessed, the fireworks “went in style, promptly, brilliantly, and to the great satisfaction of the thousands who witnessed it from the bridges, the park, from windows, and housetops and hills, and from every point of observation.”
And by those Irish revelers on their new home called Federal Hill. In less than nine years, the young men participating in the parade, as well as the boys and men watching, would march off to leave their lives on the fields of Virginia and Georgia. Lads who had barely escaped the horrors of the Great Hunger in Ireland and who had such great hope for their futures in America, would become cannon fodder in the bloodiest war that the America’s had ever seen. The friends and relatives of Peter and Catherine would have their lives turned upside down. Peter, a molder at the New England Butt Company on Broad Street, would continue his work in heavy industry throughout the war, but young men like Pat Connelly and John McKenna would leave family and friends for distant lands. Pat would return home, never quite the whole man again. John would see his last as a prisoner of war in Andersonville, Georgia.
It had been just seven years since Peter and Catherine nearly died in the Great Hunger. But on this night, as they heartily celebrated their love for each other with friends and family, they knew that this new and great land of theirs would bring blessings on them, their children, and their descendants.
After marrying, Peter & Catherine lived at 85 Spruce Street, while the Duggans lived on nearby Acorn Street. By 1857, they were living with the Duggans at 14 Tefft Street, on the northwest corner of Spruce and Tefft.
Federal Hill as it looked in 1875, with clapboard houses, numerous shops and plenty of outhouses.


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