Image found of Confederate White House housekeeper

Original Story found here.

mary-larkin

Mary O’Melia left Ireland for America as a young widow with three children before she was hired as housekeeper at the White House of the Confederacy. An intimate witness to history, she also has been much of a mystery.

 

That was until this year, when a woman with a distinctive Irish lilt to her voice called The American Civil War Museum. The housekeeper, the woman said, was related to her late husband, and she had in her possession a necklace that Confederate first lady Varina Davis gave O’Melia.

But there was more.

“What really took my breath away is she said she had a photograph of Mary,” said Cathy Wright, curator at the Civil War Museum, formerly the Museum of the Confederacy.

“Considering that it’s been almost 150 years since she left the White House that anyone has been able to look at her face is just remarkable,” Wright said in an interview.

The tintype adds a human dimension to what is a tantalizing but frustrating portrait of a woman who left her children in Baltimore to oversee the White House in the capital of the Confederacy during the duration of the Civil War but publicly revealed little of the experience.

O’Melia was among a staff of 20, was a confidante to the first lady, and may have been in the mansion in April 1865 when President Abraham Lincoln visited after Confederate defenders left the city smoldering. Historical records are unclear on that point.

The discovery is important nonetheless because the museum, which is next door to the White House, has strived to piece together the often untold lives of the African-American slaves, free people of color and European immigrants who worked as domestics for the Davis family.

“One of the more elusive figures was Mary O’Melia,” Wright said.

O’Melia was a central character in this Southern version of “Downton Abbey” and she remains a bit of an enigma. Even her name is a mystery. It’s been spelled various ways through the years — O’Melia, O’Malley and O’Malla.

This much is known: she was born Mary Larkin on April 7, 1822, in Galway, in western Ireland. She was educated in a convent, and apparently the fine needlework the religious order of nuns taught her may have influenced her hiring by Varina Davis.

She married a ship captain, Matthias O’Melia, but was widowed at age 25 when he was lost at sea.

While the circumstances of her journey to America are not known, Mary O’Melia settled in Baltimore in about 1850. In 1861, she left her children with relatives and headed to visit friends in Richmond, where she was marooned when Virginia left the Union.

Told by friends Varina Davis could help her return north, she appealed to the Roman Catholic bishop to intercede on her behalf.

Ultimately, Davis prevailed upon O’Melia to take the position as housekeeper and companion to the first lady despite O’Melia’s separation from her children.

O’Melia would eventually remain at the Confederate White House until Richmond’s fall in 1865.

Despite her perch within the Confederate seat of power, O’Melia left little written accounts of her years in Richmond. She left it to others to speculate on her employment, including a reporter who wrote after her death of all the “exciting conferences” she would have witnessed.

When the first family left Richmond in April 1865, O’Melia remained to oversee the mansion.

Writing from Danville days after his departure, President Jefferson Davis wrote to his wife: “Mrs. Omelia behaved just as you described her, but seemed anxious to serve and promised to take care of everything which may mean some things.”

Perhaps a more telling gesture of O’Melia’s connection to the first family of the Confederacy was her correspondence with the Davis family after they parted and a wedding she and Varina Davis attended in 1867. They were the only white people in attendance at the wedding of Ellen Barnes, who had served in the White House.

When Jefferson Davis died in 1889, O’Melia attended a memorial in Baltimore. A reporter said she “attracted considerable attention” and was described as “a well-preserved old lady.”

Wright said O’Melia’s story resonates particularly with her because she calls herself the “modern housekeeper of the White House of the Confederacy.

“I’m supposed to be over there keeping it clean and maintaining it so I’ve always felt a personal affinity for her,” she said.

After her service at the White House, O’Melia returned to Baltimore where she operated boarding houses until her death in 1907.

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Though the news story is several years old at this point, it is one that intrigues my family to this day, as Mary Larkin is my great-great-great grandmother. My mother and uncle have been researching our family genealogy for quite some time now, tracing our Irish family heritage on Clare Island back to the Pirate Queen, Grace O’Malley.

But the largest question that remains to date is whatever happened to Capt. Matthias O’Malley (O’Melia)? There are few records of him after his last known voyage aboard the Irvine in 1851; and as the above article alludes, he was deceased sometime before Mary Larkin O’Melia took her position as housekeeper to Jefferson Davis.

There is recent speculation that he may have died somewhere off of Halifax in Nova Scotia, but all we have are stories…which lead to more unanswered questions.

Markland Medieval Mercenary Militia

Markland Medieval Mercenary Militia – commonly known as simply ‘Markland’ –  is the living history group I have been a part of for close to a decade. We are a non-profit historical educational organization, incorporated in Maryland and operating mostly from the Virginias through the New York City area. We re-enact medieval life by constructing and using reproductions of the periods accouterments, and we generally have a lot of fun educating the public (and each other) with what we have learned in the process.

Check back here periodically for recipes, photos, sewing patterns, and much more.

Advice for Positive Change

Advice for those who want to effect positive change within the United States. (Copied from a friend with permission)

  1. Try to avoid lending notoriety to his name – even villainy. This man finds all attention flattering. Particularly powerful is assigning ownership of what transpires under this president more broadly to “the republican administration” and not merely to the president. This will a) emphasize the responsibility of those legislators who are supporting or allowing this republican administration’s initiatives, who may in turn demonstrate more active resistance with their own re-elections in mind, and b) deprive this president of the attention he so desperately craves.
  2. Remember that this is a regime and he’s not acting alone.
  3. Try not to bog yourself down with anger towards those who still support him after the past 3 weeks – this type of loyalty is not easily dispelled by logic.
  4. Focus on his policies, not his orange-ness or his family.
  5. Try to keep your message positive; this administration wants the country to grow angry and fearful because this is the soil from which their darkest policies will grow.
  6. Try to refocus helpless/hopeless talk into positive action. He is an elected president with a term limit, not an emperor. Empower yourself by learning about something. Growing in awareness helps with fear, helps with anger and helps with depression.
  7. Support and advocate for people who are oppressed by this administration’s policies and prejudices. You have many causes form which to choose.
  8. Be careful not to spread false information. Research everything you post and recognize that you always have the liberty to take something down.
  9. Take care of yourself.
  10. Resist! This is the time for non-violent civil disobedience, and posterity will be watching.

#Resistence

I’ve been watching the news and political posts over the last months and have been thinking hard about what more *I* can do to effectuate change. For those who know me, it is no secret that I disagree with many of the policies and ways of thinking that have become the trademarks of the current administration. From the time I was a young child I have been involved with service projects helping rebuild homes to those in need and serving food in soup kitchens. As an adult, I not only donate financially to institutions that I believe will do the most good to those who need it, but I also serve on a volunteer board reviewing cases of children within the foster care system. Lately I have begun to feel that it is not enough. Last week, I sent my resume to the NJ ACLU and my local legal aid offices offering my paralegal services pro bono to assist those who have no voice navigate the legal system. It is the least I can do. And I will continue to offer my services to those in need whenever I am able.

There are those that would label me “liberal”, or my personal favorite of late, a “snowflake” based on these statements alone. Still others would tell me that I am naïve, or perhaps just inexperienced in the way the world “actually” works.  So let me tell you a little bit about what I DO know.

  1. I was a military spouse. My now ex-husband was serving on active duty on 9/11 just outside Washington DC. Our daughter was three weeks old when the planes hit the World Trade Center. I couldn’t communicate with her father for days, didn’t know where he was or whether more terror attacks were planned. While he (thankfully) never deployed to the Middle East, he was transferred to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay for about seven months. I not only understand what it means to serve our country, but understand better than some the effects of terrorism on the Unites States.
  2. I hold a Master’s Degree in Criminal Justice. In addition to studying core classes, I took several classes relating to Homeland Security before finishing my degree specializing in forensic psychology. Despite focusing on underlying and abnormal behaviors associated with crime, I have a very strong background on how social, economic, religious, racial and political stressors affect crime within the United States.
  3. For the last fifteen years, I have worked as a paralegal outside Atlantic City and have witnessed, first hand, how the past actions of President have directly and negatively impacted the economy of the county in which I reside and the livelihood of those who live here.
  4. I *am* privileged. I will never be rich by some standards, but I don’t live paycheck to paycheck. I never have to worry about where my next meal is coming from, or whether I will be able to provide for my children. I have worked the same job for the past decade and a half and have been treated well at that job. My health insurance is covered by my employer and I receive free legal representation because of my job. I live in a nice home, in a nice neighborhood.

And this, my friends, is exactly the reason I feel so strongly about fighting back.

The people in my life whom I hold dear come from all walks of life: they are individuals who do not share the same color of skin, religion, sexual preferences, or country of origin as I do. And I love them all for who they are. No one should have to be afraid to be who they are in jobs, in their homes, in their neighborhoods.

Let me repeat that: NO ONE SHOULD HAVE TO BE AFRAID.

Unfortunately, under the current administration, there is fear. And it is up to us to stand against it.

Current Project: STALKING DEATH

STALKING DEATH, a 70,000 word YA thriller with supernatural elements, is SUPERNATURAL meets I HUNT KILLERS where the only person standing between the vengeful spirits of serial killer victims and the rest of society is a damaged teenaged girl battling her own ghosts.

Seventeen-year-old Danielle Burke will never regret the first time she killed someone. It’s all the other ones that haunt her: their only crime was being murdered by a serial killer before meeting Dani. But that’s the price all Survivors pay: Survive a serial killer; hunt down the vengeful ghosts of those who don’t.

Dani’s new ‘life’ working alongside her fellow Survivor and mentor, Megan Watson, is a waking nightmare, following serial killers from city to city only to chase down the vengeful spirits of their victims. Between Megan, her emotional walls, and whiskey, Dani can function. Sometimes.

Then the Survivor working the Butcher of Baltimore case is killed, and Dani is forced to step in. Alone. Now Dani must face off against four dead girls in the city she once called home—and the site of her own near-murder. Hindered by Kylie Jensen, a high school senior who thinks she’s an investigative journalist, Dani fights to keep her own demons at bay while using every one of the tricks Megan taught her to stay alive.

But between the appearance of a mystery ghost and the discovery of a new victim, Dani is in way over her head. The closer Dani gets to the truth, the faster the people she cares about start disappearing, forcing Dani to make an impossible decision: which one will she save?