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Presidential Roots in Doddridge County

 

Late last year, on November 18, 2020 to be exact, a gentleman named Frank Burke from Galway, Ireland contacted me through Facebook asking if I was the writer of articles he'd found online about Irish immigrants in Doddridge County. He was referring to an article that I had written for this column in November 2016 and subsequently posted on the Doddridge County Heritage Guild website. The article pertained to the St. Anne's Catholic Cemetery at Long Run (Industrial) and the church that once stood there. Mr. Burke quickly put me in touch with his brother-in-law Liam Hanniffy, whose ancestors John Hanafy and Mary Ward Hanafy are among the many Irish immigrants buried in Doddridge County at St. Anne's Cemetery. But there's much more to the story than that.

 

Long Run Settled by Irish Immigrants

Before delving into the significance of the Hanafys, I want to give you some historical context from my earlier article.

"Irish immigrants started pouring into Doddridge County in 1852 with the construction of the Grafton-to-Parkersburg branch of the B&O Railroad. In 1850 there was just one Irish-born resident in Doddridge County, but by 1860 their number had grown to 281.

 

"Many of the Irishmen at Long Run in 1860 were the men who cut the trees, quarried the stone, dug the tunnels and laid the tracks that led to the opening of the Northwestern Virginia Railroad, later called Parkersburg railroad, in 1857. According to census records, the Irish immigrants living on Long Run in 1860 were the Boyle, Devaney, Flaherty, Francis, Gaffney, Kenna, Kiene, Kirk, Madden, Maloney, Moran, Shaughnessy, Waters, and Whalen families.

"Many of the workers moved on as the railroad was being built, but some stayed behind to become the watchmen, repairmen, telegraph operators and engineers working on the railroad. The Irish families responsible for keeping the railroad running were the Boyle, Conley, Coyne, Farrahar, Flaherty, Gaffney, Hanafy, Hession, Hopkins, Kirk, Maloney, Moran, Shaughnessy, Welch, and Whalen families."

 

St. Anne's Church and Cemetery

There is no sign bearing the name of St. Anne's Cemetery, which is also often referred to as Long Run Cemetery. There is a makeshift sign there that indicates only that the cemetery was established in 1870 and is maintained by Sacred Heart Church in Salem. It does not, however, appear to be an active cemetery.

 

Several years ago, in 2014, when I could not find any local records about St. Anne's, I called Jon-Erik Gilot, Director of Archives & Records at the Diocese of Wheeling-Charleston. The only information that he had on St. Anne's was an excerpt from an unpublished parish history that reads:

“It all started in 1850, the only parishes were in Summersville, Wheeling, Weston and also in Wenfill [sic], Virginia. A man known as Tom Clerk had a small church of his own in Lusenberry. Please understand that the Catholic witness to Christ in Doddridge County dates back to the middle of the 19th century. The major source of his influence came in the form of Irish born workers who came with the extension of the main line of the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad from Grafton to Parkersburg in 1857. Many of these men and their families settled in the area. A year before that a man named Fr. Bartholomew Stack founded the West Union Church. The Irish immigrants built it on a Catholic Cemetery.

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“In 1870, part of the cemetery was sold directly to the railroad for the tracks. A Mr. Shaughnessy donated a place called Long Run Grade to the church and a very small church was built on the site and dedicated in October of that same year. Mass was celebrated on Sundays each month by priests traveling from Immaculate Conception, Clarksburg, and even the parishioners arrived at the church by the B&O rail car. Bodies to be interred in the small parish cemetery were also transported by the railroad. Most of the tombstones in Long Run Cemetery belong to immigrants from west Ireland – counties Donegal, Mayo and Galway and names such as Coyne, Conley, Murray, Shaughnessy, Conners and Maloney.”

From this excerpt we know that there was already an active cemetery at Long Run before the St. Anne's Church church was built and dedicated there in 1870. The earliest readable headstone in the cemetery is that of John Kirk, who was killed by a falling tree in March 1865.

 

Fate of St. Anne's Church

As I was researching St. Anne's several years ago, I had the good fortune to meet Nancy Beverlin from Paden City, WV. When she told me that she had grown up on Long Run, I asked her if she had a picture of St. Anne’s Church. She told me that she thought her late brother, Donald E. Ramage, had put one in a family newsletter and she promised to send me a copy. True to her word, she did just that. I was so excited to finally see and know what happened to St. Anne's Church. The newsletter read:

 

“The church was located directly across the railroad track from the Upper Long Run School on Doddridge County Road 38. As the Upper Long Run Community made a transition back from the Irish railroad workers of the 19th century to the Protestant farmer and Salem glass workers of the 20th century, the Hurst Chapel was built in 1908. There were two churches on Upper Long Run for a time.

 

"The haunting image of the St. Ann Catholic Church in this photo shows the church in its declining years. St. Ann was torn down and the lumber used to build a store building at Industrial. The worshippers joined the Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Salem.”

 

John Hanafy Flees the Famine

Irishman John Hanafy was born in 1815 on Ballinacourty Hill in Maree, overlooking Galway Bay. Incredibly, the house in which he was born is still standing today. In fact, Liam Hanniffy was born in that same house. This is according to Frank Burke:

 

“My sister Marion is married to Liam Hanniffy, a great-grandson of John Hanafy’s brother, but we spell it Hanniffy.

 

“[The house] was thatched when John was born there in 1815 and would have looked like a current thatched house back then. The road up to the house on the top is a typical Galway country road with the stone walls and the sheep in the fields. And the photo of Galway Bay I took myself from the back of the Hanniffy house this summer."

 

As I learned from Liam Hanniffy, John Hanafy left Ireland for London in 1847, at the peak of the Great Potato Famine of 1845-1852. “During the famine, about 1 million people died and well over 1 million more left the country, causing the country's population to fall by 20-25%.” [Wikipedia] It was in London, according to Liam Hanniffy, that John Hanafy met and married an Irish lass named Mary Ward, born in 1825. John and Mary went first to Liverpool, before emigrating to America in the mid-1850s via the seaport town of Cobh on the southern coast of County Cork..

Hanafys Settle in Doddridge

Whether a student of history or of just his own family's history, Frank Burke told me that upon arriving in America, "John Hanafy was recruited by officials of the B&O railway at Baltimore docks to work on the Grafton-to-Parkersburg line through Doddridge County in the 1850s." But for whatever reason, John and Mary's route to Doddridge was a circuitous one. They lived first for a few years in Putnam County, Ohio, in the western part of the state near Indiana. By the time they arrived in Doddridge soon after 1860, they were the parents of two sons, William and John, born in 1856 and 1858.

The family was living at Long Run at the time of the 1870 Census of Grant District, Doddridge County. A third child had joined them by then, a daughter named Mary Ann. There is no record of her birth, but her marriage record tells us that she was born in Doddridge County in August 1862. John's wife Mary was listed as being able to read, but unable to write. All three children had attended school within the year. John's occupation in 1870 was "common laborer." I’d say it’s pretty likely that he was involved in the construction of St. Anne's Catholic Church that year.

 

Parents Die, Family Disperses

According to their headstone in St. Anne's Catholic Cemetery, both John and Mary died in 1878, date not indicated. Not unusual for that time and place, there is no official record of their deaths. Their headstone is of a style suggesting that it was placed there many years later.

 

Their three children soon left Doddridge. Sons William and John ultimately settled in New Albany, Floyd County, Indiana, where both raised large families and became locomotive engineers. When John’s wife Amelia died in 1909, he returned to West Virginia in 1912 and married Doddridge native Ellen Kirk, daughter of Irish immigrants Ellen Hession and John Kirk, the same John Kirk who was killed by a tree in 1865. William and John died in 1916 and 1919 respectively. For some reason, they all changed the spelling of their surname to Hanafee.

 

Orphaned at age 16, daughter Mary Ann Hanafee took a different route. The 1880 Census found her listed as a household servant with an unrelated family in Grafton, Taylor Co, WV. Grafton was a major railroad hub at the time, so that was apparently how Mary Ann happened to meet B&O engineer George H. Robinette.  Married with two children, he became widowed in September 1882. Less than two years later, in February 1884, a marriage license was issued in Doddridge County for George H. Robinett [sic] and Mary Ann Hanafee. His residence was given as Taylor County and hers as Doddridge County, with the wedding taking place in Salem. That part of Long Run in Doddridge County is very close to Salem in Harrison County and is sometimes referred to as such. So it’s actually unclear whether the wedding’s venue was in Doddridge or across the border at a Catholic Church in the city of Salem.

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Robinettes Move to Baltimore

George H. Robinette and Mary Ann remained in or near Grafton for at least the next four years, during which time they had children George W in 1884 and Alice in 1888. In 1900 the family was found in Baltimore with an additional child, Mary Elizabeth Robinette, born in Maryland in 1894. Their son George W had died in 1898. With Baltimore being an even bigger railroad hub than Grafton, George was still a locomotive engineer in 1900 and was an inspector for the railroad in 1910. He died there in 1914, with Mary Ann's death following in 1930.

 

Both of their daughters, Alice and Mary Elizabeth, married and eventually ended up in Wilmington, Delaware. Alice married William E. Sheene and died in 1972. Mary Elizabeth Robinette married Baltimore native Joseph Harry Biden in 1914. They quickly had three children: Joseph Robinette Biden in 1915, Mary Alice Biden in 1917 and Frank Hanafee Biden in 1918. Their family complete, they remained in Baltimore until sometime after 1920, moved to Wilmington sometime before 1930, and were residing in Scranton, Pennsylvania at the time of the 1940 Census. The family's frequent moves were prompted by Joseph H. Biden's work as an oil company executive. He died in 1941, and Mary Elizabeth followed him two years later.

Joseph Robinette Biden, Jr.

On May 30, 1941, shortly before his father's death, Joseph Robinette Biden married Scranton native Catherine Eugenia "Jean" Finnegan. Their first-born child, Joseph Robinette Biden Jr., was born in Scranton on November 30, 1942. In the ensuing five months before her death, it is very possible that the child's grandmother, Mary Elizabeth Robinette Biden, reflected on her ancestry, tracing it all the way back to Ireland by way of Doddridge County, West Virginia. It's unlikely, though, that she considered the possibility that the newborn grandson in her arms would one day become President of the United States. But that’s exactly what happened on January 20, 2021. Yes, President Joe Biden’s great-grandmother was born and grew up in Doddridge County, and his great-great-grandparents are buried here, making the nation’s 46th President a very special part of the Real History of Doddridge County.