Man's bigotry divided family


Almoran Harris of Cranston acquired a great living through his successful venture as a quarry stone dealer. He was well respected, much involved in the community and enviable in many ways. But Almoran had a strong dislike for the Irish, and when he became the father-in-law of an Irishman, his carefully laid out life hit a major bump.

Almoran and his wife, Amelia Emily, were parents to Mary, born in 1840. Sometime in the 1850s, Amelia left her husband and relocated to Connecticut. Mary left with her mother but a custody argument ensued and she was returned to her father’s house.

The Harris family had employed two housekeepers during the 1850s, Bridget Kelly and then an elderly woman named Mrs. Hargreaves. After Amelia’s departure, Almoran let Heargraves go and hired two Scottish women, Agnes and Margaret Nieven, to take over the domestic chores.

Mary did not get along with these women and her father allegedly sided with them more often than with his daughter. She finally left the home for good. As a young adult, she was supported by the income she earned from giving music lessons and financial help from relatives. She then met John O’Rourke of Providence.

John was a politician, a former actor and dealer of intoxicating liquors. He was currently earning a very comfortable living as an agent for a chemical company. John was also Irish and Almoran was reportedly enraged to hear of this romantic match.

During the fall of 1873, Almoran fell ill with dropsy. He announced that he needed to make out a will and it was arranged for an attorney to come to his home. In the will, he left his estate to his two housekeepers. It was noted that Mary would receive $500 per year unless she contested the will. If she did so, she was to get nothing.

Almoran died on Nov. 21, 1873, at the age of 52. The funeral was held at his house, and when John and Mary approached the door, the undertaker blocked the entry with his hand. John moved the man’s hand aside and allowed his wife into the home.

John then asked the man what the protocol was for the funeral procession. He was told that it was customary for the nearest relative to ride behind the hearse. Later, as the carriages lined up, John had his driver position them behind the hearse. The line had just barely begun to move when 35-year-old Agnes Nieven jumped out of her carriage and ran into the road shouting that she wanted her carriage to have the position behind the hearse.

Mary did not wish to give up her place and John instructed his driver to remain where they were. Finally, he relented and allowed his carriage to take another position so that Agnes could follow the hearse.

Almoran was buried in a $1,400 Egyptian mausoleum. He left an estate valued at about $275,000, which included real estate and a valuable stone ledge. When the will was read, Mary was not about to accept her meager $500 annual payment while the Scottish maids inherited a windfall of luxury from her father. She began litigation to contest the will.

Soon, much of the estate was auctioned off. Several prized horses brought in big money. “One horse named Sam” is noted in the records of the auction as being sold to Henry Fenner for $175. Fenner also bought “one horse named Jim” for $25. John Nevins paid $295 for a brown mare named “Kitty” and Richard Fenner shelled out $125 for “Brown Dick.”

The auction took place over the course of three days as harnesses, carts, sleds, wagons and other goods were sold off. It brought in over $3,686.

At the end of the litigation, Mary finally settled for three-eights of the estate. The remainder was divided between the Scots, Agnes and Margaret.

Kelly Sullivan is a Rhode Island columnist, lecturer and author.


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