John Patrick Cuddy, Dublin, c. 1885
John Patrick Cuddy, Dublin, c. 1885

John Patrick Cuddy (15 April 1830 – 12 January 1896) was the son of Patrick Cuddy and Nappy Foy of Swinford, Ireland. He was one of at least four children of the couple.

Very little is known about John’s early life in Swinford. There is nothing specifically to indicate an education, or occupational training. He first appears on the record as a passenger on the George Washington, arriving in New York in April of 1852. From the date of his arrival, and judging from the period he left, he was a part of the larger famine migration (which is considered to be between 1847-1852). Certainly county Mayo, where Swinford is located, was hit very badly by the famine, and the area was in the midst of economic trouble when he left.

In 1853, John Patrick Cuddy, clerk, married Jane O’Sullivan at St Patrick’s Church in Montreal. By this time he had already established himself in Montreal, having leased a building a building on St Mary’s (now Notre-Dame Est) which was promptly burned in the fire of June 1852. He must have arrived with some kind of savings considering how quickly and easily he was able to establish a business in Montreal.

Why Montreal? From the baptismal records of his children it is evident that he had family and friends from the Swinford area already in the city. Michael Morley, a merchant on St Mary’s (and godfather to one of his daughters) was married to an Ann Cuddy. Another neighbour, originally from Sligo, and a merchant on the same street, later married his wife’s sister. A number of Irish merchants from his neighbourhood acted as godparents to his children, or witnesses to each others’ marriages. His sister also lived in Montreal, although it is not clear when she settled there.

City directories for Montreal list John Patrick as a dry goods merchant on St Mary’s at different addresses. In the 1860s the family moved to Berri Street, first as tenants then as owners of 34 Berri, then 37 Berri (now the site of the Catholic School Board building). This was an up and coming neighbourhood, being built up with fancy townhouses. A number of very prominent French Canadians had moved to the area. It is clear that John Cuddy, was by this point, was a prosperous businessman, and a leader of his community.

In 1871 he signed a petition (with his brother James) for the construction of a Catholic church to serve the English-speaking faithful near his home. It became St. Mary’s. Funnily enough, all the major religious milestones in his family – baptisms (children – grandchildren), marriages and funerals (including his own) were held at St Patrick’s Church. He was also a member of the St Patrick’s Society.

With his wife Jane O’Sullivan he had eight children: Mary Helen (27 March 1854 – 1 August 1925); Honora Catherine (aka Nora) (2 October 1855 – 17 February 1939); Margaret (April 1858 – 19 Jan 1952); John Patrick (28 May 1860-29 June 1944); James Thomas (13 June 1862 – 15 May 1933); Francis Edward (28 January 1865 – 2 September 1869); Sarsfield Ludger Emmett (26 March 1868 – 25 October 1941) and Teresa Veronica (aka Tess) (21 February 1870 – March 1953).

In 1878, he is listed as a dry goods merchant, and a partner with M. Hicks. His daughter Mary married Matthew Hicks in 1876. This was likely then his son-in-law then with whom he did business. By the 1880s his large list ofproperties appear in the city tax rolls. He had property around his old neighbourhood, St Laurent and Griffintown. On his death it was said in newspaper reports that he had amassed a fortune of $ 150 000.

During his life he kept steady contact with his hometown of Swinford in Ireland. There are several accounts of visits made there, starting in 1860 when he returned with his wife’s sister, Catherine. The image used in this biography was a souvenir of another trip, signed and dated Dublin 1887. He also owned land in Swinford according to records in 1856.

When talking with another historian about these frequent trips to Ireland another reason besides nostalgia or business was suggested. During the last half of the nineteenth century Ireland was in political turmoil, and the Fenians, a revolutionary group, were active at this time. They fought for an overthrow of British rule in Ireland, and were active in Canada and the United States as well. A number of members of the St Patrick’s Society of Montreal were sympathetic to this cause. Perhaps John, also a member, was running between the country with information or money. It can be thought he was sympathetic seeing as he named his son Sarsfield after an earlier Irish revolutionary. There is no evidence however to indicate his political views either way.

So far the image presented from the traditional genealogical sources has been of an ‘immigrant made good,’ and certainly that is an important aspect of his life experience. However, an accidental discovery has deepened the story of John Patrick Cuddy.

Sometime in September 1895 John Patrick Cuddy took some shears and attacked his brother James (who fortunately was not injured). He was arrested and committed as a lunatic at the Longue Pointe Asylum. At his committal his family stated that he had had a drinking problem over the last fifteen years, and as a result had become a lunatic. (These are the terms used in the documents and typical for the era).

At this time four of his adult children lived with him and his wife Jane in their home on Berri St. the circumstances in the home described by his family at the committal, and at the subsequent trial when Cuddy challenged the legal decision of insanity, sound horrendous.

Cuddy believed that his family were trying to poison him – every day he would prepare his own food. Even the young Irish maid they employed was prevented from cooking for him. He would frequently wander the house, going into his childrens’ rooms, watching them as they slept. During the previous year the family testified that they had been forced out of their home several times by Cuddy’s actions. It had been when his wife Jane decided to move out that he had attacked his brother, who was helping her. His doctor, Sir William Hingston, described him as a bully, but that his behaviour had worsened following an illness two years past. He had suffered a paralysis on one side of his body. His doctor blamed it on his alcoholism, although the symptoms do have similarities with a stroke.

Cuddy amazingly enough won his court case, which is exceptional for the period. The judge decided that Cuddy was sane and not dangerous, saying that essentially he was master of his own home, and that his wife should seek a legal separation instead. The children, all adults, were portrayed as being rebellious to their father’s strict rules. The headline in the Montreal Daily Star was the most striking : ”Mr Cuddy Not Insane.”

John Patrick Cuddy’s freedom was short lived. He was released from the Asylum the 31st December 1895, and he died 13 January 1896. He was buried at Cote des Neiges, under a very grand monument.


Nootens, Thierry, Fous, Prodigues, Ivrognes : Famille et déviance à Montréal au 19è siecle

Obituaries- Montreal Gazette, Montreal Daily Star

Court accounts – Montreal Gazette, Montreal Daily Star

Cuddy v Sullivan, Court documents, BANQ-M

Archives of the St Patrick’s Society of Montreal, Concordia University

Archives of the Archdiocese of Montreal

Registres de Notre Dame de Montreal

Kilconduff Parish registers

Griffiths evaluations

Montreal City Archives – tax rolls

Montreal City directories

Canadian Census 1881-1891

Sherry Olson