The Pennsylvania Tormeys
by James Tormey Clare, July, 2001
(The following article was originally submitted for publication in "Greene Hills of Home", the official historical journal of Greene Township, Pike County, Pennsylvania)
year was 1845. Unrecognized by the world were
the ominous portends of disaster that hung over Western Europe like a dark
cloud. Already, reports were circulating of a blight on the potato crops
of Holland, Belgium, France and Western England. But these reports were
ignored, for little did anyone realize that this was the beginning of an
inexorable march of that blight westward, until a year later when it would
descend with fury upon the tiny island of Ireland.
In 1841, the official census of
Great Britain established the population of Ireland at eight million
people. But by 1851, 2.5 million of the populace had died of starvation
because of the successive failure of the basic staple... the potato crop..., or
had emigrated from their native land to escape the pangs of hunger and almost
One of these latter intrepid
souls was James Tormey, whose odyssey took him from the green fields of
Ireland to Greene Township in northeastern Pennsylvania. And what
follows is his story as told by his descendants and official reports. It is not a rags-to-riches tale, but rather the
simple account of a young immigrant who lived the majority of a long life in
relative prosperity in Pike County, Pennsylvania.
James Tormey was born in 1814, the son of James and Letitia, in the tiny
townland of Athleague, County Roscommon, an agricultural area in the west
of Ireland that was one of the most devastated by what became known as the
"Great Famine of 1846.
Nothing is known of James'
early years except that he supported himself as a tanner and from
laboring. In 1837 he took a wife, Mary Boland, and by 1840 was the
father of one son, Dennis. Again, and until 1845, history is silent
about the family, until the blight arrived. It was in that year that James
booked passage for his wife and child on one of the immigrant ships leaving the
British Isles for New York. He, himself, remained in Ireland until 1847,
when he, too, crossed the Atlantic and was reunited with his family in New York
During his sojourn in New York,
James made ends meet by working at laboring jobs until sometime in the
mid-1850's, when the family migrated again, this time to Sullivan County, New
York. There James found work in a tannery owned by a wealthy Quaker named Burton
Morss, a man who owned a sawmill, tannery and some ten thousand acres in Wayne
and Pike counties in Pennsylvania, the sawmill and tannery being located in Ledgedale,
not far from the present-day Ledgedale bridge.
Cropped portion of Rail Road Map of Pennsylvania,
published by the Department
of Internal Affairs of Pennsylvania in 1895. Ledgedale is marked by a red star
(added for this website -- not on the original map). The nearby, smaller Greene
Township, though not named on the map, is over the
county line in Pike.
(Wall, J. Sutton, Harrisburg, PA, 1895. Library of Congress, Geography and
Division. Original print 87 x 141 cm. Digital ID g3821p rr002970.)
The presence of the Tormey family in the Ledgedale area is first
officially recorded in the Seated Assessment records of Pike county for the year
1861 (although he is known to have worked in the Ledgedale tannery prior to that
year), which showed him to be in possession of one hundred and one acres of
unimproved land. This land was located along what is now Kuhn Hill Road in
Greene Township, and extended to the Wallenpaupack Creek. It encompassed
part of what is now Lake Wallenpaupack Estates and Al's Acres and it abutted two
similar-sized tracts along that road which were occupied by his fellow
countrymen, Patrick Reidy and Thomas Madden.
For the next eighteen years, James
continued his labors in the tannery while at the same time gradually clearing
the land for farming purposes. Thus, by 1879, when he had ceased working,
he had cleared sixteen acres, erected a house, barn, out-buildings, and owned
cattle, oxen and horses.
According to his grandson and
namesake, James, he had increased his activities to the breeding of
Morgan horses which he sold to the tannery and sawmill for use in bringing
hemlock trees from the woods to the tanning and logging operations at Ledgedale.
Despite all of the years that he and
his family occupied the land, it was not until January 1879 that, for the sum of
$607, James became the owner in the fee of the 101 acres by virtue of a deed
from the owner of the tannery, Burton Morss. In that deed, Morss reserved
the right to all hemlock trees (and bark there from) standing on the land for use
in his sawmill and tannery. This was apparently a customary provision at
the time in the conveyances from Morss.
On September 24, 1881, at the age of
71, Mary Boland Tormey passed away and was buried in the graveyard at St. Mary's
Catholic Church in Ledgedale in an unmarked grave. James now was a
widower, in advancing years and no longer able to function as he once did.
As a consequence, and given the fact that his younger son James had died
many years before, it was now the sole responsibility of his elder son, Dennis and the latter's wife to assume responsibility for the care of his father and
the working of the farm.
Although Dennis had accompanied James
and Mary to Ledgedale, and had worked with him in the Tannery, he left his
parents' house in 1863 to marry a young woman from New York City named Catherine
Brannon. Upon their marriage, Dennis and Catherine established their
own home along what is now S.R. 30013, Ledgedale, Salem Township, Wayne County,
where Catherine, between 1864 and 1878 gave birth to eight children: Anne, Mary, Catherine, Barney, Margaret, James, Patrick and Peter.
Dennis and Catherine arrived at the
Greene Township property shortly before Mary Boland's death. There
Catherine gave birth to four more children: Edward, Elizabeth, John and Richard. Although James had divided his holdings
with his son, Dennis, and the families prospered, tragedy struck again.
Catherine did not survive the birth of her youngest son, Richard, and died
shortly thereafter. Richard, in turn, passed on four months later in
February of 1885. They, too, were interred at St. Mary's, also in unmarked
James and Dennis were now both
widowers, the latter assuming the sole responsibility not only of the land, but
of an aged father and several children. In 1889, recognizing the realities
of their lives, James transferred all of the property to Dennis for the sum of
two hundred dollars.
By this time, James fell prey to the
ills of old age, took to his bed and, finally, on October 22, 1903, at the age
of 89, he joined his wife, Mary, his daughter-in-law, Catherine, and his
grandson, Richard in St. Mary's graveyard. In a front page obituary in the
Milford, Pennsylvania Dispatch of November 5, 1903, his death was
James Tormey, the oldest resident
of Pike County, died at the home of his son, Dennis, on the hill in Palmyra
Township where he had lived for twenty-three years, on October 22.
Although he had almost reached the century mark, he retained his senses of
sight and hearing until the end. The survivors are (sic) one son
Dennis... His wife... preceded him to the grave, (his) youngest
son James having died during the Civil War.
Now Dennis was alone, facing old
age. Of his eleven children, only three, including Peter, Barney and
Elizabeth, remained with him, all the rest having left the farm to seek out
their own lives in various distant places. For the next ten years they
survived, Peter and Barney tending to the land and Elizabeth tending to the
house and her father's wants, until October 12, 1913, when Dennis, age 75,
succumbed to cancer in the home of his daughter, Catherine, in Hawley. He,
too, was laid to rest in St. Mary's, joining his father and mother, his wife and
Before his death, Dennis, as did his
father, conveyed all of his worldly possessions to his son, Edward, who, having
a greater taste for the city life over the pastoral, systematically sold all of
his grandfather's property... some to private buyers and much to James Butler, a
land agent for the Pennsylvania Power and Light Company. Thus, by 1921,
James Tormey's stake in life was in the hands of strangers and the Tormey family
of Greene Township passed into history... or so it would seem.
Of all James' and Dennis' progeny,
only three remained in the area. Catherine, his second eldest, married a
Wayne County farmer, Patrick Keary (anglicized Carey) and lived until his
death in 1946 on their farm outside of Hawley on present Route 590. Their
farm house and two out-buildings still stand.
Peter, Dennis' fourth son, went to
live with Catherine after the death of her husband and worked her farm for many
years. Peter, then totally blind as the result of a farm accident, passed
away in 1959 at Sacred Heart Old Age Home in Scranton. He was 81 years of
age at his death, and he, too, was interred at St. Mary's.
Margaret, Dennis' fourth oldest
daughter, married Henry Reidy, Patrick Reidy's grandson, and remained in
the Lake Ariel region until her death in 1963 at age 93. She, like her
ancestors, is buried in St. Mary's beside her husband, Henry, and three of her
children: Henry, David and Cyril.
James Tormey still has three lineal
descendants living in the Wayne/Pike area. James Roos, a
great-great-grandson, lives near Hawley; James Tormey Clare,
another great-great-grandson, lives in Greene Township with his son, Kevin,
in a house erected in a field once owned by James.
Life, it seems, is not only ironic; it
comes "full circle."