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Shea, Jeremiah

Place of Birth: London

Date of enlistment: 6 September 1875

Age given at enlistment: 21 6/12

Rank: Private

Company: C

Location on 25 June 1876: With Custer's column

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Comments:

Date of birth not yet verified.

An Irish Cockney

Jeremiah Shea was born in Camberwell, Surrey, son of Irish immigrants, John and Ellen Shea, sometime between 1849 and 1855, although the exact date of his birth has yet to be positively identified.

St. George's RC Cathedral, Southwark.

The Census (1861) records John Shea, age 40, a bricklayer’s labourer; Ellen, his wife, 35, a washerwoman; and children: Hanora, 14; John, 13; Jeremiah, 11; Timothy, 7; Daniel, 2; living at 12 Nelson Street, Camberwell.* All five children were born in Camberwell. Ten years on finds the family a few doors away in No. 6 Nelson Street, though clearly something is awry as everyone’s age differs considerably from the previous survey, that is, John Shea, 58, a bricklayer, Ellen, 50, a laundress: John, 21, a bricklayer, Jeremiah, 17, no occupation; Timothy, 13; Daniel, 8; Edward, 6. In mid-Victorian London bricklayers’ labourers were almost exclusively Irish.

John Shea, senior, died on 13 November 1872, falling from a ladder, at a stated age of 60, which ties in with the Census (1871) above.

Nothing further is known of Jeremiah Shea until he was enlisted in the United States Army, on 6 September 1875, in Boston, Massachusetts, by Lt. William Harper. He is described as having grey eyes, brown eyes, a ruddy complexion, 5′ 6 1/4″ tall, previous occupation – hostler, aged 21 years 6 months. Shea was assigned to the 7th Cavalry and joined Company C, at Fort Abraham Lincoln, Dakota Territory, on 21 October 1875.  He was killed with Custer’s Column at the Battle of the Little Big Horn on 25 June 1876 and is listed as JERE. SHEA on the battlefield monument.

Final Statement of Jeremiah Shea [Captain Captain T. W. Custer’s Company] signed by Captain Henry J. Nowlan, Commanding Company, at Fort Abraham Lincoln, on 9 October 1876.

  • DUE SOLDIER
  • For clothing not drawn in kind … $18.89
  • Proceeds of sale of effects [15 June 1877] … £30.30
  • DUE UNITED STATES
  • For tobacco … $1.14
  • Indebted to Mrs Mary Scott, laundress of Company C … $7.00
  • The above statement does not take into account basic pay [$13 a month] due for the period 1 May to 25 June 1876.

 

Ellen Shea remained in Camberwell until 1876 [Did she return to Ireland?] and arrived in the United States in November 1881, settling in Worcester, Massachusetts. Her age, per affidavit 18 February 1886, is 65. She had no family [?] Other affidavits from boyhood friends of Jeremiah said they knew his parents when living in Ireland. Ellen received an army pension of $12 a month dated from 21 December 1885, which was paid to 2 September 1893. Her name was dropped from the roll in February 1895 because of death as reported by the Postmaster in October 1894 [information from Roger Williams].

Note (*): In 1888 Nelson Street, Camberwell, was renamed Toulon Street and the following year incorporated into the newly-created London County Council.  Charles Booth’s Inquiry into the Life and Labour of the People of London, undertaken between 1886 and 1903, describes Toulon Street as ” … very poor at SE, SW & NW, a little better on the NE; the South East is thoroughly bad, windows broken, blinds pinned up, dirty, men women and children dirty, 1 crying, one pinched faced, doors open, passages quite bare, a childs head through empty window pane, costers carts stacked along SW.”  Survey taken on 5 December 1890 by police Sergeant Feador Sziemanswicz, son of a Russian Pole and an English mother.

Camberwell Station - the iconic London Underground sign [2013]

People spoke of second and third generation Irish as “Irish Cockneys” and the police – even with a large number of Irishmen in their own ranks – were often wary of entering some of the poorer Irish districts. Camberwell was undoubtedly a mean area to grow up in.

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