One hundred and twenty-nine years ago, a man named James Creely rode a “handsome white horse” along the Bolinas- Fairfax road, which overlooks the Pacific Ocean. After spending the night at the Ocean House, a hotel in Bolinas, he took the “Sausalito road” back to San Francisco. The Sausalito News wrote this inch-long article about Mr. Creely in 1886, functioning as papers often did in those days as social media in the truest sense of the term: short on particulars— how did he get there?—and big on image. In the 19th century, even though the Transatlantic cable was transmitting news from around the world with increasing rapidity, newspapers still paid attention to comings and goings of ordinary folk. In many way, the article is the late 19th century version of a Instagram post, in its broad outlines of a moment of sweet leisure in James Creely’s life. In common hashtag parlance, this is #horselife.
The real mystery, though, is who this guy was. He may have been one of three people: my great-great grandfather, James Creely, who was forty-five that year, his son, my great-grandfather, James H. Creely, an unmarried law student, or still another James Creely, who first appears in the San Francisco city directories in 1859, and whose name is often misspelled as “Crelly”. I know nothing about this third Creely man. I feel confident in stating that he was my great-great grandfather’s uncle, but fools often feel confidence (and I have often been very foolish) and I have no proof that he has any relation to my family. But I think he did. James is the name of my 4th great-grandfather, and riding a horse from San Francisco to Marin County sounds like something that certain members of my family would do, given the opportunity.
My paternal grandfather’s family is almost entirely Irish and almost entirely made from the confluence of two families, the Creelys and the McCartys who joined forces in Stockton, California. Both families immigrated from Ireland in the mid-eighteen hundreds.
Here’s what happened: in 1849, Patrick Creely came to the United States with two children in tow, his son, James Creely, who was born in May, 1846 in County Armagh, Ireland and James’s elder sister, Annie, who was born in 1840. Patrick Creely was naturalized in San Francisco in 1855, but lived in Stockton with his small family until March 1859. The fate of his wife, Elizabeth, remains a mystery.
In those days in Stockton, life and death often might go unrecorded, but land transactions always were. Patrick bought land from a man named William Eldridge and then died a month later of kidney disease, leaving his children to fend for themselves. Patrick is buried at the Stockton Rural Cemetery in an unmarked grave with John O’Connell and his wife Susan, and to make matters worse, his name is misspelled as “Crelay” in the handwritten register. He was buried with them because they were probably related to him. This may explain why his son, my great-great grandfather James Creely was living with the O’Connells and another man named John Rocks, also from Armagh, by 1860. The Creelys and the Rocks show up on a map of turf bogs in Enagh, County Tyrone, according to the journal North Irish Roots (Vol. 12, No. 2, pp. 25-27) I have no idea what this really means, but I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn the the Creelys, Connells and Rocks formed an extended family, and probably followed each other out of the north of Ireland and into California.
In 1869, James pops into recorded history as a twenty-three year old man married to Margaret McCarty, the “belle” of the town, according to my grandfather. His sister Annie Creely picked up the surname “Campbell” from an unrecorded marriage and later married Solomon Confer, a prosperous bricklayer. The Creely siblings held their weddings in the same location, month and year: September 1866, in St Mary’s, the Catholic church located in what is now the historic downtown of Stockton.
By 1868, James and Margaret had two children, Edward and James and James had a profession: he was a ferrier, or horseshoer.
The 1869 city directory for Stockton lists an advertisement for “O’Connell and Crealy, Blacksmiths”, located on Market Street in downtown Stockton. Horses were very important to the Creely-McCartys. My family made their living as horseshoers, horse-dealers, and horse trainers and occasionally lost their living a the races. Cattle figured into the family business, too, for a brief and controversial moment, but horses were the family business until automobiles appeared on the scene.
In 1871, James and Margaret pulled up stakes, and decided to try their luck in San Francisco, where they had family members, the aforementioned James Crelly/Creely and (I suspect) some McCartys. Annie and Solomon stayed in Stockton, and had five children, four of whom died of tuberculosis. One of them, Charles Henry Confer, was the “head artist” at the satirical weekly, the San Francisco Wasp, until he succumbed to TB in Stockton at the age of twenty five. Annie died in 1880, and Solomon in 1902.
James and Margaret first appear in the San Francisco city directory in 1872, on Minna Street with four of their children in a one-room dwelling. In short order, they lived in five different places within a decade, making a circuit of the southern and eastern parts of San Francisco. For a time, they lived on the outskirts of the city, near Butchertown, the swampy southeastern part of the city located near Islais Creek, a hellish place of unregulated abattoirs, sickly cattle and befouled bay waters.
They moved back to the South of Market with their growing family, living on Stevenson, Minna and Natoma and Howard streets in one- and two-room apartments. Like many San Franciscans, they shared their living quarters with their children, and extended family. In 1882, James McCarty, my great-great grandmother’s youngest brother traveled from the East Coast, and stayed with his sister, her husband and his seven nieces and nephews at 64 Natoma street. Later that year, their nine year-old daughter Mary Emma died of epilepsy.
In 1890, the Creely family moved to Buchanan Street, and then to 510 Golden Gate Avenue, the address of their son’s veterinary hospital. Finally, in 1895, they made it into the Mission. Their house was located at 916 Florida Street, near the intersection of 21st.
Margaret lived another three years and then died on July 16th, 1898 at the age of fifty. She was probably worn out: she’d given birth eleven times, from 1867 to 1888, and was pregnant almost constantly for twenty years.
James and Annie Creely are the Ur-Creelys, the beginnings for most of the California Creelys. Only four of their sixteen children had children. Today, the family structure resembles an inverted triangle. Rather than growing, the family shrank a bit, and today instead of a descendant cohort that outnumbers the preceding generations, we have probably only broken even.
This reticence includes their social life. The Creelys-McCarty’s didn’t hang out in the Irish-American halls in the South of Market and the Mission District and held themselves aloof from the throng of 19th-century Irish societal associations that were so prevalent in San Francisco. I look at lists of Ancient Order of Hibernian pledges, men who wanted the protection of that benevolent society, or the Knights of Tara (I’m not sure what they did) but no Creely ever appears.
But they hob-nobbed with their friends and cronies—and contended with their enemies and foes— with energy. My family appear regularly in the pages of the San Francisco Chronicle, the Daily Alta, the San Francisco Call, and smaller papers, like the Pacific Rural Press. From the 1850’s on, more than 5,000 stories and advertisements appear.
Sometimes it’s a notice of a real estate transaction, or an advertisement for various veterinary hospitals. Sometimes, though—often enough to be satisfying—there’s a full-fledged story, with a nice dramatic arc and a great illustration. Some of the stories I knew about: great uncle Edward and the Jury, Whitehat McCarty and the Palace. There are stories I’ve never heard before: great grandaunt Hannah McCarty Welch and her determination to stay in her home, and great granduncle John McCarty’s beef with the Horseshoer’s Union.
There are other, sadder stories that happened later in the century. I remember my father’s life-long sorrow over the death of his first cousin, James, who perished in San Leandro in the forties because of his friends reckless driving. After side-swiping a taxi, he plowed into a gas station, which exploded and killed James Creely, son of James Creely, grandson of James Creely, and great-grandson of James Creely, the blacksmith who may have arrived in Bolinas on a handsome white horse one May day in 1889.
I know too much. So I made a map. This map shows the location of the residences, businesses, and incidents involving the Creely-McCarty family from roughly 1859 to 1920 or so. The facts are drawn from family story, city directories and census records and newspapers, like the Daily Alta, and the San Francisco Call newspapers, Old maps, which have helped me find streets that no longer exist, have also been incredibly useful.
This map might grow. It might not. Whatever happens I can confidently say that it’s the most complete account of where we lived and worked in this changeable state and city and what we (sometimes) did.
There’s been a Creely or a McCarty in San Francisco from at least 1859, and possibly longer. There’s just three of us here now: me, and my lovely cousin Gerald O’Connor, who has the luminous blue eyes of his great-grandmother Margaret. My cousin Robert Skinner, who is a McCarty, lives here, too.
Maybe we’ll make some history. (I certainly try.). But in case we don’t, here’s the history we have made. All mistakes are mine and hopefully there’s some resemblance to actual persons, all of whom are dead. Here’s a link to a page which lists the family members that appear on this map. If you want to see birth dates and death dates, please follow this link to Ancestry.com, where that information is recorded. If I’ve missed anyone, feel free to fix it yourself. (Just ask me for editing permission :-).
Maireann na daoine ar scáil a chéile: we live within reach of each other’s shadows (this is not a strict translation.) Shadows obscure, but they provide shelter, too. It depends on what you use them for, I guess. Shelter or shade, I love my family, and this map is a gift to them and you. Enjoy.