I had amassed a list of Montrealrelatives’ dates of death, and had decided to go on an obituary hunt. I felt that this was an excellent avenue of research to take, as obituaries have been known to say some interesting things. I grabbed the Montreal Star, Standard and Gazette for the relevant years, and sat down in front of a microfilm reader and started to read.
After a while, I had reached the date of death for my great-great grandfather, John Patrick Cuddy. I was looking at the Montreal Star, the 13th of January 1896 [p. 18] when I saw this:
Death of Mr Cuddy
Mr John P Cuddy, who was liberated from Longue Pointe Asylum a few weeks ago by order of the court, died at his late residence 153 Berri Street, yesterday. He was sixty-five years of age, and was a large owner of property in the East end.
Oh wow! Being a specialist of nineteenth centuryMontrealI knew immediately what the Longue Pointe Asylum was: the Roman Catholic run insane asylum. Oh boy! This was utterly amazing. So what did I do? Well I started reeling the microfilm back a few weeks to see what on earth the newspaper was talking about.
I found my answer on the 31st of December 1895. The headline screamed: “Mr Cuddy Not Insane.” This was historical gold. There had been no hint of this in the family lore, no talk of insanity or court cases. He was just an oil painting that hung on our dining room wall.
The article was full of court details, stating that he had been confined on the 11th of September as a dangerous lunatic, and he petitioned the court for his freedom. The article called the evidence conflicting, stating that Mr Cuddy was married with six children, and had been strict in the running of his household, and that it was from the violation of the house rules by his family that discord had occurred. It then said that the “whole family had conspired together to shake off the paternal yoke, which weighed them.” The judge decided that Mr Cuddy was not dangerous, but that “there was little hope that a harmonious life of the family to be restored, but that the proper remedy for the wife in such a case would be an action for separation.” Tantalizing, very tantalizing. I went back through the rest of the paper up to September when he was committed and found nothing else. The Montreal Gazette also covered the result of the trial, and it read much the same as the text in the Star.
My next step was to go to the Archives Nationales de Québec a Montréal. Here I knew from past experience were the court records. I went to an archivist, and he was great, with his help and the use of a few finding aids, we were able to find the court records for JP Cuddy’s case. So here is what happened. According to the family and to William Hingston, the family doctor, [see: http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?&id_nbr=6784 (10 May 2012)] John Patrick Cuddy had been a known drunk. He seems not to have been a very nice person, and mean. Things however seem to have specifically deteriorated five weeks prior when Mr Cuddy had some kind of seizure, suffered partial paralysis and could not speak for a while. Dr Hingston attributed this to his intemperance (actually it sounds a lot like a stroke- but I am not a medical doctor). During the last years John Patrick Cuddy seems to have come to the idea that his family was poisoning him. He behaved erratically, locking the doors before his children came home from work or events (they were all adult). By September the 9th, all of his children and his wife had moved out of the house, and gone to live with Mary Cuddy Hicks, one of JP’s married daughters.
What got JP Cuddy locked away happened the 9th of September, when his wife Jane O’Sullivan returned to the family home with his brother James to retrieve some of her belongings. He attacked his brother James with a set of shears. The police were called, and he was arrested. The family came together with Dr Hingston and Dr Thomas Brennan and motioned the court to have him incarcerated in Longue Pointe. This involved a meeting together with the court and a series of depositions from family members stating that he was not of sound mind, and also a deposition from him stating he was.
In his deposition he said:
Q- Who are the members of the family who have lived with you?
A- I have a wife and seven children.
Q- Who drove them out of the house?
Q- Who has prepared your food?
A- Myself for the last twenty years. I was always in dread they would take my life- my brother attempted to murder me about two weeks ago.
Q- What has been your wife’s conduct?
A- She has allowed herself to be twisted by her children.
By October JP Cuddy had gone to court to challenge his stay at Longue Pointe, and his wife’s control of his finances. The court case is positively fascinating to read. The interviewed most of his children (except my great-grandmother) and asked the oddest questions. The main thrust of the questioning towards his daughters Mary, Theresa and Nora dealt with a trip toIrelandthat Theresa took with Mary and her husband a few years prior, and how it was paid for. It is not clear who did pay for it, but most likely not her father. I am still unsure as to why this was important. The lawyers also asked about other trips made toIreland. John Patrick had made many trips to hisIreland, the place of his birth over the years, and had brought his children with him on many of these journeys.
The children were also asked about his behaviour and life in the house. His son Sarsfield talked about how his father would visit his room at night, and light matches to see his face, and then the matches would fall to his bed. His daughter Nora stated that:
That day he came into my room and told me that he heard me and my brother plotting to murder him. He frightened me terribly at the time because he seemed so excited; in fact I judged that he must be made the way he looked at me. He said, “You have plotted to murder me and if you don’t get out of the house I will take your life.” At first he took hold of me by the shoulders and threw me onto the bed, but I got off again on the other side. There is a writing desk in the corner of the room, and then he got me in the corner there, and said “if you don’t get out of here” and then he shivered.
Other testimony was given as to how he did business. Mr Cuddy was a landlord and collected rents every month at around fifteen properties. According to the newspapers his fortune was valued at around $150 000. His son John Jr. gave testimony that the properties were in decline, and many tenants had failed to pay, or were not paying enough, and that some properties were vacant. A lawyer he used for his property business, Allan Oughtred described him as litigious, and did not seem to like him greatly. There was also some testimony as to a sum of money he may or may not have given my great-grandmother Margaret Corley, or as John Patrick said “Maggie.” He said that she had “to compromise with her creditors.” He accused his daughter Nora of giving it to his son John instead.
The most interesting testimony was from the family maid, eighteen year old Mary Ann Connelly. Her testimony is the longest in the collection, and they grilled her a fair bit about life in the house. I am thinking she was asked the most questions because she was considered an outsider in all of this, and thus a more impartial witness. And she did witness some acts of violence, specifically when he threw a stone scraper at his son Sarsfield. When asked what she thought was wrong with him, she said: “Sometimes, I knew he was drinking, then again he was not drinking at other times, and there was something wrong with him- even when he was not drinking.”
I am somewhat perplexed as to why with his family’s testimony and the testimony of two doctors who knew the family, including the very reputable Sir William Hingston (former mayor of Montreal) why the judge ruled in John Patrick’s favour. He clearly was exhibiting anti-social and violent behaviour even by the norms of the day. Thing is the doctor at the asylum stated he thought he was fine. Then again, he was away from his family, the people he claimed were trying to kill him, so perhaps without these stressors he behaved.
My great grandmother’s family life seems to have been awful. It is hard to imagine how she and her siblings lived, and dealt with this constant chaos and violence. While the family was quite well off, and lived in a lovely house, in a good part of town, their father seems to have made the home a living hell. My great-grandmother, her sister Mary Hicks and her brother James were able to escape this with marriage, and the creation of their own homes, but their single siblings Nora, Theresa, Sarsfield and John endured a longer time there.
I gave a presentation at the Institut de l’histoire de l’Amerique Francaise a few years ago about John Patrick Cuddy. I was trying, with my presentation, to give an image of an Irish Catholic family that did not live in Griffintown, but in the city’s east end. I get tired of seeing the Irish Catholic experience inMontreallimited to this one section of the city, when I know they lived in other areas, and not necessarily as enclaves. Anyway I never mentioned the going to the asylum part, but rather concentrated on timing of immigration, education and marriage of children, work and where they lived. I was approached by Thierry Nootens who said that he mentioned JPC in his book “Fous, prodigues et ivrognes.” And I figured that he had done so, because of the topic, but no, he had dedicated many pages to JPC. I went back to the book again, and there he was “John C.” Oh my, he was one of the few people to challenge his incarceration, and win. Most of the time, the courts supported the order to keep them in the asylum.
So there is the journey I took from looking up obituaries. It was amazing!