Misfortune Gave Me Life

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misfortune gave me life
The Honourable Sir Wandesforde

One woman’s misfortune gave me life! How is that?

Sometimes things just work out that way. One person’s prosperity results in another person’s misfortune. The opposite is also true. One person’s misfortune can result in the prosperity of someone else. In my case, the misfortune of my 3X-great grandmother opened the way for “yours truly” to prosper. How so?

Sometime in Ireland during the interval 1791 to 1795, Bridget “Biddy” Kavanagh was born. Most girls married and Biddy was no exception. It was about 1823 to 1825. The man was Thomas Large. The location was probably Castle Comer, County Kilkenny. The couple was apparently in the employ of the “Honourable” C.H.B.C.S Wandesford [1]. He would also have been their landlord.

Life Turns Harsh

Life was hard. It wasn’t long before Thomas passed away. The date was 14 October 1834. Bridget would have been about 39 to 43 years of age. She was left to care for 5 children. As the reader doubtless realizes, the date precedes the devastating potato blight by about 11 years. Just months before that tragedy occurred, in 1844, the widow sent a letter imploring her landlord for a blanket.

misfortune gave me life
The “Large” Letter

Transcribing, we read,

Honrbl Sir Wandesford

The application of the Widow Thoms
Large Coolbaun a poor Woman

And children and expects you
Honl Goodness to order her some
Night Covering or day

Widow Thoms Large


Jan 15th ’44

misfortune gave me life
Coolbaun in Ireland

Whether he refused her or whether the blight proved just too much, Biddy emigrated to North America. At least “His Lordship” did assist in this. It seems she first arrived in Canada, but soon made her home in Schuylkill County, Pennsylvania, U.S.A. She is located there in the 1850 census. By the 1860 census, she is in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.

Notice the image of a partial page of the Foster Township, Luzerne County census of 1860 I’ve included. It includes my 2X-great-grandparetns, Patrick and Margaret Kelly, as well as my great-grandmother Ellen Kelly. But it includes the last-known record of Bridge Large herself. Records in the county were are not the best, and even graves in some areas have been lost. How so? Some of the land was esssentially given away to be used for burials. Below were passages of underground coal mines, which later collapsed. Graves were literally swallowed up by the earth.

Bridget’s Misfortune Gave Me Life

Her daughter, Catherine Ann Large, married into my family tree there in Luzerne about 1851. Soon she became one of my 2X-great grandmothers. Curiously, her sister, Margaret Large, also married into my family tree, about 1861. She, also, became one of my 2X-great grandmothers. While we’re add it, let’s add an extra touch of surprise. The two girls were twins!

What are the odds? The point is this: Bridget’s hardship and suffering are the reason I am alive today. Yes, misfortune gave me life. Should I be grateful to the “Honourable Sir Wandesforde,” or dislike him? Or should I take pleasure in or feel a loathing for potatoes?


Charles Harward Butler Clark Southwell Wandesforde (Died and was buried at Kirklington, 7th November 1860, aged 80)

Coolbaun is a townland in Castlecomer Civil Parish

Her passage was apparently paid for by Wandesforde. It may have been out of kindness on his part, or, more likely, it may have been to get rid of her and her family.

Alternately, the word here transcribed expects may actually read requests.

Note: You might also enjoy I Owe My Life to the War of 1812


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