Wednesday, January 05, 2011

From Ireland to Tulley Ridge: The Tulley Family

by David Parmer

Bridget Flyn Tulley
The old lady of Erin quietly passed away at her home on Tulley Ridge near Orlando in her 95th year. Her time ended so quietly it was almost that she just ceased to exist, rather than die. She had last seen the green hills of Galway in her native Ireland over seventy years before she took her last breath on earth.
Bridget Flyn Tulley came to America around 1848 with her husband John Tulley, her sons, Patrick and John, and her daughter, Bridget. She brought fifteen more children into life after her arrival in America. She had weathered the travails of famine in her native country, the raging waters of the north Atlantic, and the uncertainties of a new land, including Civil War. She had seen illness and some of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren die while young. She had seen daughters marry and sons leave home for other, more promising parts of the country, never to be seen again. She had lived a full and productive life and a life of faith.

Right: the gravestone of Bridget (Flyn) and John Tulley.

Father Thomas Quirk sprinkled the holy water at the door of the church the evening before the vigil and reception of her mortal remains. At her funeral service the following morning the venerable parish priest offered up his prayer for the dead, as he had for her husband John, fifteen years before. Bridget Flyn Tulley, born on the soil of Ireland, was laid to rest in St. Bridget’s, the quiet Goosepen cemetery of her namesake, on a cold day in November 1911, joining her husband who had died in 1896.

This story is about how the Tulley family came to Lewis County and the Orlando area. A second installment of the story, to come later, will discuss the venerable life of Martin P. “Sandy” Tulley of Tulley Ridge.

The Western Maryland Hills
Most of the Irish immigrants to America were farmers. However, the Gaelic tillers of the soil were versatile when it came to making a living. In Ireland, as well as being farmers, they were roof thatchers, peat cutters, blacksmiths, carpenters and stonecutters, in addition to holding many other occupations. Above all, most of the natives of Ireland who came to America were poor. Since most productive land was not available to those without the money to buy it, even in a land rich country such as America, many of the Irish immigrants migrated to areas of cheap land which had been passed over by those settlers seeking richer land to the west. In the mid-1800’s, western Maryland was an area in which land could be bought cheaply since it was steep, hilly, and freezing cold in the winter. Consequently, many Irish men and women were drawn there by economic necessity.

Because the well-watered steep, hilly terrain was in many ways similar to the land they had left in Ireland, Irish immigrants who arrived in summer to this land felt at home and immediately began clearing the steep hills of the virgin timber. However, not all of the immigrant Irishmen chose farming. Many found work building the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad which was snaking westward from Baltimore or digging the great canal being built from Washington, D. C. to the west.

The stay of many Irish immigrants in western Maryland was brief. One feature of western Maryland quite unlike Ireland was the long, harsh winter climate. Deep snows, sub-zero temperatures and freezing rains were for the most part unknown in Ireland and the Irish immigrants had trouble adjusting to those unforgiving conditions. As a result, many Irish families began to look for opportunities in other areas.

The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum
In the early 1850’s the Virginia General Assembly approved the building of an insane asylum in the Lewis County town of Weston. The lunatic asylum, to be built of quarried sandstone, was to be one of the largest buildings in the United States and construction began in the late 1850’s. The promise of long term jobs in a milder climate than that of the wilds of western Maryland led the Tulley and closely- associated Moran families, as well as other Irish families, to abandon their farms in the Old Line State and move to the New Dominion. The lure of jobs which would last for several years in the building of a gigantic sandstone building led many of the Irish of Garrett County, Maryland to change their professions from farming to stonemasonry and leave for Lewis County, Virginia. Also, land was as cheap in Lewis County as it was in Garrett County, and perhaps, most importantly, large land speculators were willing to sell to the industrious Irish on a payment plan.

Left, above: the Trans Allegheny Lunatic Asylum in Weston.
Left, below: George Jackson Arnold

George Jackson Arnold, Lewis County Land Broker
One of the early land speculators of Lewis County was George Jackson Arnold. The Arnold and Jackson families were early prominent settlers in Lewis County. Astute politicians with political connections in Richmond, the Arnold and Jackson families were granted thousands of acres in Lewis County by the politicians in the Virginia legislature. At the time, the Commonwealth was still land rich in terms of acreage, especially in the western counties which settlers were passing over on their way to the more fertile and tillable soils of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Iowa.

Left: George Jackson Arnold

George Jackson Arnold was born of wealthy parents in 1816 in Collins Settlement District. An early teacher, Arnold soon became acutely aware that the law was the profession which promised greater financial rewards. By 1848, Arnold had become a lawyer and was serving as the Prosecuting Attorney of Lewis County and would later become a legislator in Richmond. With his political connections, Arnold acquired numerous land grants in his home county but the only problem was to find buyers for the hilly lands. The authorization of the construction of the Lunatic Asylum in Weston was heaven-sent as far as the sale of parcels from the land grants was concerned. Poor Irish immigrants flocked to Weston to work on the construction of the Asylum and were in need of land to resume farming when the stonemasonry work on the Asylum was finished. Many Irish immigrants were also employed in the construction of the Staunton and Parkersburg Turnpike and were similarly interested in owning land which could be bought cheaply. Since the Irish were without ready money to buy land outright, Arnold astutely sold parcels from his land grants to the Irish on a contract calling for a down payment and periodic payments thereafter. As soon as the purchase price for the land was completely paid, Arnold would then issue a deed for the land. If the payments were not completely made, Arnold could keep what had been paid without obligation to the original purchaser, and then sell the land to someone else. Although his methods may be seen as somewhat exploitative, Arnold had what the Irish wanted, and was willing to sell the land on terms the buyers could afford to pay.

The Tulley Family of Lewis County
Michael Tulley and Sarah “Sally” Tulley,
Their Other Sons, Michael and Martin, and
Their Daughters Margaret and Catherine
Other members of the Tulley family from Roscommon County, Ireland came to America at the same time as Bridget (Flyn) Tulley and John Tulley, whose deaths are reported above. Michael Tulley and his wife Sarah “Sally” Tulley, the parents of John Tulley and parents-in-law of Bridget (Flyn) Tulley, were among those immigrants. In addition to their son John, Michael and Sarah Tulley also came to America with two other sons, Michael and Martin, their youngest daughter Margaret, and their oldest daughter Catherine who had married Patrick Moran while still living in Ireland. Catherine was widowed in 1855 shortly after arriving in America and later remarried Michael Farrell.

The records of immigration to America are replete with immigrants by the name of Tulley (also spelled Tully) and it is therefore difficult to determine the exact date of the arrival of Orlando’s Tulley family to America. Tulley is a common Irish surname as are the Christian names of John, Michael, Martin, Catherine and Sarah.

The earliest official record of a Tulley living in Lewis County which could be found by this writer was a record of marriage in 1852 of Margaret Tulley (the sister-in-law of Bridget (Flyn) Tulley) to Michael Feeney. Other records indicate that in 1856 Michael Tulley married Bridget Broadrick and in 1857 Mary Tulley married Thomas Gafney.

Records also show that Michael and Sarah Tulley were living in the Westernport, Maryland area in the late 1840’s because they were enumerated there in the 1850 census and living next door to their daughter Catherine and her husband Patrick Moran. Also living in the Moran household was Margaret Tulley, the daughter of Michael and Sarah Tulley and sister of Catherine (Tulley) Moran. So, between 1850 and 1852, the year Margaret Tulley became betrothed to Michael Feeney, the Tulley family had relocated to Lewis County.

In 1867, George Jackson Arnold deeded 184 acres to John Tulley, husband of Bridget (Flyn) Tulley, and 43 acres to Martin Tulley on the head of Ben’s Run. John and Martin were both sons of Michael and Sarah Tulley. At the time John bought his land, he had been a resident of Lewis County for at least ten years because he had filed papers for citizenship in Lewis County in 1857. One might assume that he had been paying for his land by installments during this interim period before he acquired his deed. The Moran, Sweeney, and Feeney families, all allied with the Tulley family by marriage, also acquired land in the nearby countryside around this same time.

1860 Census
The 1860 census of Lewis County reveals that John Tulley, the son of Michael and Sarah “Sally” Tulley, was working as a laborer on the asylum in Weston. He was 40 years of age, as was his wife, the former Bridget Flynn. Of their five children, Patrick, aged 12, Bridget, aged 16 and John Jr., aged 9, were shown as being born in Ireland. Their two younger children, James, aged 2 and William, one month old, were born in Virginia.

John’s older brother Michael, aged 45, and married to the former Bridget Broadrick, was also listed as a laborer in Weston. He lived close to his niece, Mary and her husband Thomas Gafney, and their daughter Ellen. Mary was the daughter of John Tulley. Thomas was also a laborer on the asylum construction.

Martin Tulley, the younger brother of John and Michael, could not be found in the 1860 census, and must have been overlooked by the census enumerator because we know he owned land on Tulley Ridge as early as 1857.

In 1860,John, Michael, and Martin’s widowed mother, Sarah, also known as “Sally,” were living on John’s farm on Tulley Ridge, near Sally’s daughter Margaret and her son-in-law Michael Feeney, and their three children Thomas, John and Patrick, all under the age of 7 and born in Virginia. Other Irish families living nearby were John Nestor, John Gallagher, Cecilia McNeal, James McNeal, Michael Nihan, Daniel Ford, Owen Mobely, Michael Loghan, Thomas Cuff, Michael McDonald, John Gallighan, Michael Rush, Michael Dolan, Stephen Cox, and James McLaughlin.

1870 Census
By 1870, the Civil War was over and the construction of the asylum in Weston had been essentially completed. The Irish stonemasons and laborers involved in the construction of the asylum had returned to farming, many owning farms near Orlando. In addition to the Tulley family and their related families of Morans, Feeneys and Gafneys, other Irish families had flocked to the Three Lick and Indian Fork areas. Scattered among the native Skinners, Henlines, Riffles, and Blakes were many more Irish families which had come to the area since the 1860 census was taken. Last names of these Irish families were Hussey, Wallace, Hopkins, Welsh, Mellet, Plunkett, McGann, Gilooley, Mulvaney, Duvana, Dolan, Keegan, Nolan, Doonan, King, Berren, Hart, Reynolds, Kelly, Mullady, Copley, Collins, Murphy, Cummins, Rafferty, Kinney, Murray, Finnerty, Gavin, White, Hayden, McAnany, Ryan, Malia, Bohen, Harlow, Carroll, Fitzpatrick, Cayden, Rush, Loughen, Faley, Quinn, Farrell, and Sweeney. From this partial listing of the Irish families living near Orlando during the 1870’s it is obvious that the Tulley family did not lack for the brotherhood of fellow Catholics.

Abandonment of the Soil
The children of Irish immigrants were quick to learn that there were better ways of making a living than farming which is dependent on the vagaries of the weather and the voracious appetites of insects. The cold, snow, and freezing rain of winter, the heat and drought of summer, and the incessant insects and plant diseases caused crops to fail. Livestock could mysteriously fall lame, die or become infected with tuberculosis. Foxes, possums and weasels in search of a meal could kill an entire poultry flock overnight. The ever present tax collector was always on the door step and exercised no sympathy for farmers stricken with bad luck. Many an Irish mother cried at the sound of “Sold” at the tax sales on the courthouse steps.
As a consequence of the testy tribulations of farming, many of the second generation Tulley children who settled Tulley Ridge in the 1870’s abandoned rural life and tilling the soil as a means of earning a living. Of the large Tulley family who settled on Tulley Ridge, by the early 1900’s only Sandy Tulley remained, his male siblings having taken up city life as an alternative to the uncertain and back-breaking life of a farmer.

Right: M.P. (Sandy) Tulley, Elizabeth (Greene) Tulley, Marguerite and Mary, Charlie, Genevieve and Joe.


  1. The contract system that Arnold used to sell land to the Irish is similar to the rent-to-own process used today, in which a down payment is followed by monthly payments until the property is paid off or the renter/buyer defaults and the property and all payments are kept by the owner.
    I wonder if Arnold devised this system himself.

  2. WOW! What great writing and wholesome article/history lesson! Thank you so much. I was also reminded of the magnificent cemetery in Barre, Vermont where each gravestone is truly a work of art, some are more sculpture than gravestone and all of this was done by stonemasons of the old country...adjusting to granite, the rockbed of America's New England. Thanks again for your contribution to our history on line! --Lara Lynn Lane, Connecticut