Thursday, January 10, 2013

Walsh, the Bookseller

Observers of life in Lowell’s Paddy Camps of the 1830s describe in great detail the shanties of those early Irish.   They tell of housing made of whatever material that could be found.  They tell of pigs running wild in the streets, and of the dangers of trying to navigate the alleyways that made up the Camps.  What one doesn’t encounter as frequently are the mentions of the rising middle class of tradesmen and shop owners within the Acre.  Newspaper accounts and city directories tell the story of a small but growing class of Irish who open dry-goods stores and provide services not only to their fellow Irish, but to the Yankee community as well. 
One of these Irish entrepreneurs was Richard Walsh.  He was born in County Cork and there are no records to give us a guess of his age.  He arrived in Lowell in 1838 and boarded with a J. Walsh on Lowell Street (Market Street).  His first job was as a teacher in No. 19 School on Winter Street.  This was one of the so-called Irish Schools.  Classes were set up to teach Irish students with priest-approved teachers and texts, though funded with public money.  For this, he was paid $200 a year.  He remained with this job for four years, saving his money before opening a Catholic bookstore.
The Lowell Catholic Book and Periodical Store was located on the corner of Lowell and Worthen Streets.  There the growing Catholic population could pay their $2.50 yearly subscription for the Pilot newspaper.  Walsh sold a wide variety of prayer books, Bibles, school books, and “works of the most approved character.”  He carried newspapers from New York and Baltimore, two other strongholds of Catholicity in the early 19th century.  For a brief period, he carried a newspaper written by Michael Walsh, very likely a relative, called the Subterranean.
Walsh had another sideline job during this period.  He was a travel agent for those booking passage to and from Ireland and Great Britain.  His advertisement assured patrons that they could rely on him to get passage for their friends and family leaving Ireland with passage to Boston or New York.  Should emigrants change their minds, refunds would be given, minus a small fee.  Walsh’s advertisement speaks of false promises made by other agents and advises them “to take advantage of this old established office.”
In 1843, Father James Conway witnessed the sacrament of marriage between Richard Walsh and Ann Dineen at St Peter’s Church.  The couple moved in above the book shop.  A son was born the following year.  They named him John. 
The shop remained opened a few years, but then Richard, Ann, and baby John disappeared from Lowell, along with other Walsh families.  What happened?  No one can be sure.  There is a small hint.  The newspapers in 1849 were filled with advertisements and advise for those who were heading to California to seek their fortune.  Druggists were selling elixirs for the journey, and stores had gold assaying kits to bring along.  There is one small entry that states that a Richard Walsh was leaving for California.  Was this our Richard Walsh?  No other information could be found after this date.

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