The Dowds in Princeton, NJ

In this painting by Samuel B. Waugh, Irish immigrants debark at New York in 1847.

Thomas and Ann Dowd arrived in New York City some time between December 1848 and July 1849. They would have settled into one of the overcrowded city tenements with other recent Irish immigrants. New York City must have been an exciting place to simple country folk like Ann and Thomas. While in New York, in August 1849 Ann gave birth to their daughter Roseann, the first American-born Dowd. [include immigrant experience in New York, search NYC catholic parishes for baptism of Roseann Dowd, search NYC Irish immigrant newspapers for details on this period]

From New York, Thomas moved his family to Princeton, New Jersey where he found work as a laborer. Within the next year his widowed father Peter and brother Patrick also moved to Princeton. [to include brief description of Princeton in 1850, history of Princeton's Catholic church and Irish community].

It is curious why Thomas chose Princeton to settle. Certainly hundreds of thousands of Irish passed through New York City only to move on and settle in other sites along the east coast and further inland. Immigrants in New York City were approached by labor agents recruiting workers for jobs outside of New York. Emigrant aid societies, established to help new immigrants, were also encouraging new arrivals to move on, away from the overcrowded city. These societies would also help immigrants find work in these other areas. This might explain how Thomas Dowd chose Princeton. One family story survives that once established in Princeton, Thomas himself acted as an employment agent, recruiting Irish workers from New York City to work in Princeton.

Just newly settled in their Princeton home, Thomas and Ann Dowd were listed in the 1850 U.S Census, appearing for their first time in a U.S. census record:

1850 US Census - Princeton, New Jersey





Thomas Dowd




Ann M Dowd



Roseann Dowd


New York

Bridget Graham



John Roddin



Peter Roddin




Also in the household are three other individuals Bridget Graham, John Roddin and Peter Roddin. They may be unrelated, just other Irish immigrants sharing the house with the Dowds. However, Thomas’s sister Mary had married Phillip Rudden in Cavan so it is possible that these were fellow County Cavan immigrants in Princeton.  I suspect that the six-year old John Roddin was actually Thomas nephew, the son of Patrick Dowd, born in County Cavan in 1844.  I also suspect that Peter Roddin listed here is Thomas father, Peter Dowd.  Peter was living in Princeton at this time and appears in Princeton deed books in 1851 purchasing a small lot on John Street for just $65.00 [$1,300].

While there is no record Patrick Dowd in the 1850 census, by 1855 he was purchasing a $700 [$14,000] property in Princeton. Thomas Dowd also owned property in Princeton. Having been deprived of owning land in Ireland, it must have been incredibly gratifying to be land owners for themselves in America.

Anne Dowd Kearny, sister of Thomas Dowd, had also settled in Princeton and was listed there in the 1860 census along with her father and brothers. In that census however, the Kearny family was using the “Dowd” surname.  Ann, her husband and their 6 children were all recorded under the surname Dowd.  The family did use the Kearny surname in other records so it isn’t clear why they would use Ann’s maiden name on the census.  The Kearny name did morph into other forms in Princeton including Cearny, Kaney and finally Kane.

Princeton’s burgeoning Irish community included not only these members of Thomas’ immediate family but a John Dowd and a Thomas Martin (brother-in-law?) appear in the Princeton Catholic parish records as godparents to his children.

Thomas found work first as a day laborer, probably in the construction of buildings and roads there in Princeton. Perhaps it was through these construction jobs that sometime after 1856, Thomas was introduced to a job at the new Gas Works. [to include brief history of the gas works] The works were built in Trenton and Princeton during the 1850s. John P. Kennedy, a wealthy New Yorker was living in Trenton and was the chief engineer behind the planning, construction and operation. Thomas Dowd must have impressed Kennedy and by 1860 had risen from laborer to become the superintendent of the works. During these years in Princeton, five more children were born to Thomas and Ann:


The Dowds were all active members of Princeton's Catholic church, St. Paul's parish and each of these children's baptism is recorded in the parish registers. It is curious that Thomas did not name a son after his father Peter. John Francis Dowd may have been named after the John Dowd (a cousin?) who stood as godfather during the baptism. Thomas Martin Dowd may have been named after the Thomas Martin who stood as his godfather. [to include further research on who these men were] Edward Joseph Dowd was likely named after Ann's father Edward Martin back in Ireland.


It appears that Thomas named his youngest son Patrick Henry, after the American patriot, suggesting that by the 1860s Thomas was feeling like a true American and was positive about life in his adopted country. However, Patrick Henry Dowd would later drop the name "Patrick" and call himself Henry Martin Dowd.


The Civil War started in 1861. In general, Irish Americans believed in the preservation of the Union and opposed the secession of the southern states. Despite slight comparisons to their own oppression in Ireland however, the Irish were not necessarily anti-slavery. Many were afraid of an inevitable tide of freed slaves moving north and competing with them for jobs. Many Irish who did serve in the Union Army saw it as training for some future return to Ireland to fight for independence from England. Some enlisted in the army for the assurance of a steady income for their families. Many too were simply caught up in the patriotism of their adopted country. In Mercer County, like elsewhere, there was such an overwhelming response of volunteers that, married with children, neither Thomas nor Patrick Dowd was called to fight.




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