Arthur T. Irvine: Soldier, Sailor, Inventor

Photo circa 1900, courtesy Library of Congress

Photo circa 1900, courtesy Library of Congress

Just before William Irvine took his wife and children off to America, the 1852 Montreal City Directory shows that he was working as a saddler and the family lived on the Rue Saint Vincent in the shadow of the magnificent Notre-Dame Basilica. The family were French-speaking Canadians and Catholic. They would have attended Mass at the beautiful church just up the street from where they lived.

When the family left Montreal in 1852, Arthur was 9 years old. He was born Jan. 13, 1843, in La Prairie, Montreal, Quebec. He had a dark complexion, brown hair and grey eyes.  Arthur was the 6th of 8 children (perhaps more) of William Irvine and Marguerite Domitille Leber. When the family arrived in America, it appears they first lived in Boston, where they are found on the 1855 Massachusetts State Census. According to the 1855 Boston City Directory, they lived at 101 Fourth Street in South Boston. No doubt, Arthur and other the children were attending school and learning to speak English.

A few years later, Arthur moved with the family to Rochester, NY. There, in August 1859, his mother died. Still in Rochester, the 1860 U. S. Census shows that as a young man of 17, Arthur was working as an apprentice to his father.

1860 CensusA year later, when the Civil War broke out in the spring of 1861, Arthur was in Chicago and, per his U.S. Army Enlistment Record, he was working as a machinist. (Click on image below to enlarge.) On May 14, 1861, Arthur enlisted in the 5th Regiment, U. S. Artillery (Regular Army), Battery D, for a 5 year term.  I wrote about Arthur’s Army service in an earlier post, so I won’t repeat it here.

U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments

U.S. Army, Register of Enlistments

Whether he sustained injuries in battle or succumbed to illness, Arthur landed in the West Philadelphia Hospital (Satterlee) in September 1862. The circumstances surrounding his release from the hospital and discharge from the Army are curious. On Sep. 20, 1862, the Honorable Oswald Thompson,  President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas for the City of Philadelphia, sent a writ of habeas corpus to the officer in charge at the hospital. Two days later, he was released. Unfortunately, exactly why a civil court judge demanded Arthur’s release from the military remains a mystery at this point.

3 Apr 1907 - Notation in War Record

Notation in War Record found in widow’s pension file.

About a year later, in October 1863, while living in Pennsylvania, Arthur enlisted in the Navy. He was appointed as an Acting 3rd Assistant Engineer. He served aboard three ships: the USS Monongahela, a rigged sloop of war;  the USS Hollyhock, a steamship; and the USS Donegal, a large sidewheel steamer. In March 1864, he was admitted to the Naval Hospital in New Orleans, “suffering the effects of climatic influence,” i.e. chronic diarrhea, as noted by his physician. His appointment was revoked in June 1864 because of his nearsightedness. Odd. Why not just get him glasses?

"USS Monongahela (1862)". Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

“USS Monongahela (1862)”. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons

When Arthur was released from the Navy, he was back in Philadelphia where he remained for a while. He can be found in the 1866 Philadelphia City Directory living on S. Front street and working as a machinist. The following year, he was in Jersey City where, on Jan 31, 1867, he married Isabella Volk. From the 1867 Jersey City and Hoboken Directory, the couple lived at the corner of Prospect and N. Ninth in Hoboken.

The next year, though, Arthur and Isabella had moved to Rochester, NY — a place familiar to Arthur — where again he’d found work as a machinist, according to the 1868 Rochester directory. He still had family inRochester, primarily his widowed sister-in-law, Phoebe.

In November 1869, Arthur Charles Irvine was born. Arthur, Belle and their baby were living in Rochester on the 1870 U.S. Census.

1870 CensusThe couple were in Dunkirk, NY, later that year, where (sadly) Isabella died. They may have been visiting Arthur’s brother, O. P. Irvine, who was married that same year. It’s tragic that she died so young, and I’m frustrated that I cannot find anything about her … not her parents, or why she died or where she’s buried.

The next few years, Arthur was on his own with his son, Charles. He’s listed in an 1871 Rochester city directory living on Walnut St. near Magnee. The Erie Canal was across the street from him, and Phoebe’s house on Jay Street was a few blocks south of him. It’s probable that Phoebe took care of little Charles while Arthur worked. But Arthur left Rochester, as he is not listed in the Rochester directories for 1872-1874. It seems that he ended up back in Dunkirk. It was there that he married Amelia Theresa Beach, daughter of William A. Beach and Adeline Palmer, on May 5, 1874. How Arthur and Amelia met each other when they lived far apart is one of those mysteries I’d love to unravel one day!

Arthur and Amelia stayed in Dunkirk through at least 1875. Their son, Lewis Walter Irvine, was born there in May of 1875 and the family is listed on the 1875 New York State Census — the Census taker misspelled the family surname and incorrectly identified baby Lewis as a daughter.

1875 NY CensusA few years later, the family moved to Titusville, Crawford County, Pennsylvania. The petroleum industry was booming in Titusville, and Arthur may have found employment in one of the refineries there. But sorrow came to the family in Titusville when baby Lewis died at the age of 3.

1878 - death of Lewis Walter IrvineShortly thereafter, the family left Titusville for Oil Creek where, in January 1879, their daughter Florence was born. They stayed in Oil Creek for a while, as can be seen on the 1880 US Census. Having lost her son just two years previous, it must have been comforting to Amelia to have her parents living with her in those years.

1880 US Census

1880 Patent Application-schematicIt was while Arthur was employed in the oil industry that he applied for a patent for a gate valve he had devised. (Click on the image to enlarge)

A year later, the family moved to Duke Center, McKean County, PA, where three more children were welcomed into the family:

  • Edith, born Dec. 28, 1881
  • George, born Apr. 2, 1885
  • Henry, born May 7, 1886

While the 1890 U.S. Census was lost in a fire, the 1890 Veterans Schedule survived, and on it Arthur can be found living in Duke Center.

As Arthur grew older, the children married and started their own families. He and Amelia remain in Duke Center. Weirdly, the 1900 US Census listed Arthur under the name of his younger brother, Albert.

Arthur remained in Duke Center until his passing in 1907.

A T Irvine obituary - Portville Autograph Friday 1 Nov 1907

Portville Autograph Friday 1 Nov 1907

These are the bare-bones “facts” of Arthur’s life, and we can discern some things about the man from them.

  • He was a brave man: after seeing his share of human destruction while serving in the Army during the horrific Civil War, he re-upped in another branch of service — the Navy. What compelled him to do so? He was a native Canada and had no “dog in the fight.” Yet he chose to fight for the Union. We can’t know why, but we can certainly state that he was a courageous man, not afraid of a fight.
  • He was a family man. While he had siblings who never married, Arthur preferred the married life and a family.
  • He found an occupation and made it his career. While initially he trained to follow in his father’s footsteps as a wagonmaker, Arthur found his talent in machinery and engineering. He applied his skill and knowledge in the Navy, in the railroad industry, and in the oil fields. As it happened, this knack for machinery was transferred to his sons and grandsons.

Insights into other aspects of Arthur’s character  can be gleaned from newspaper items. For instance, his political views drove him to run for office in 1894 under The People’s Party. He only took about 3% of the vote, but he participated, so he must have felt strongly about the issues at stake.

1894 House of Rep Election Results McKean CoAnother interesting item cropped up in the McKean County Miner,  15 October 1903.

McKean County Miner 15Oct1903Arthur, then 60 years old, and this Mr. West fellow got into a tussle, but the court found them equally to blame and thus the “costs were divided.” I’m going to take a wild guess that both men were intoxicated when the row took place. It would explain why, upon Arthur’s passing, his widow, Amelia, became very, very much involved with the Woman’s Christian Temperance Movement. She held various offices in her local chapter and was quite active.

One thing I think we can be safely assured of: Arthur was proud of his military service. His headstone gives clear evidence of this, as it commemorates for all time the sacrifice he made for a country which wasn’t even his.

Arthur Thomas Irvine headstone

Arthur was my great-great grandfather on my mother’s side. I have found him a fascinating man to contemplate. Mysteries about his life remain, and I’m sure I will often revisit his life to see if I can get to the bottom of those mysteries.

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