Lee County Biography

William Ryan

When William Ryan and Catherine Carney and her brother John arrived in New York's Castle Garden in 1852, along with several hundred other Irish immigrants, they had completed a perilous journey that had taken anywhere from fifty to eighty days to cross the Atlantic, depending upon the storms and the condition of their craft.

They brought with them, besides their hopes for a better life and their tears for Ireland, the plague of the famine, typhoid fever. A goodly number of those who embarked at Cork died at sea.

Hundreds of those who survived the voyage succumbed shortly after they arrived in the new world. Our ancestors were among those blessed to live to establish new generations of Ryans in America.

We do not have any record of what William Ryan and Catherine Carney did the first two years of their life in America except that they must have married for their daughter Kate was born in New York on December 2, 1853. Most likely they did what other immigrant couples did ... after their wedding William left his bride in New York while he and his brother-in-law John Carney joined the Irish laborers who built the railroads from the eastern seaboard to the newly settled prairies of the Midwest.

They were paid 70 cents a day for manual labor in the eastern cities, but on the railroad they could earn $1.25 and with board and room at only $2.00 a week, a frugal man could save money.

In 1854 when the tracks of the Chicago and Northwestern Railroad reached the Mississippi River, William Ryan resigned from such back-breaking labor. It was most likely at Sterling or Morrison, Illinois that William Ryan got lonesome for his bride and returned to Easton, Pennsylvania where she had moved to escort them out west. Perhaps he stayed in Illinois while his wife and daughter made the long trip to join him. At any rate in 1854 William and Catherine Carney Ryan settled in Whiteside County, Illinois. William had been a farmer in Tipperary and William became a farmer in America.

He first worked as a tenant farmer on land located somewhere between Round Grove and Como in Whiteside County. He established his family here and stayed for twelve years during which time he and Catherine produced another daughter, Josephine, born on December 13, 1856. Ellen was born in 1859 (she died at an early age), Mary was born on May 7, 1861 and Margaret on October 11, 1863.

On January 15, 1866 the only son of William Ryan and Catherine Carney, was born and named Thomas Joseph. It is likely that he was named after his Grandfather Carney in Ireland.

In the year Thomas Joseph was born the Ryan family moved to Harmon, Lee County, where some friends, the Considines had already established themselves. In three years time William Ryan was able to buy forty acres of land, just outside Harmon. He purchased it from the Illinois Central Railroad and paid the princely price of $320 for it.

William Ryan had become a naturalized citizen of the United States in the circuit court, Morrison, Illinois, on October 12, 1860. A year later, then the War Between the States erupted, he was forty-one years old and thus beyond the age of conscription.

John Carney, brother of Catherine, lived with them in Illinois until he died in the 1890's. He was an accomplished flute player and was a favored entertainer of neighbors and friends when he piped his Irish tunes. Only memories and stories of him survived to recall his life. Like most Irish immigrants, he was a poor man and the official biographers of his day took little heed of his life and worth.

When the children of William and Catherine Carney Ryan grew up they married to establish homes and families of their own. Katie, their first born, married Patrick Nagle and they were parents of three children ... Mayme, born in 1874, married John Helter ... Kate, born on December 3, 1875 married John Considine and lived to the holy age of 101, died Sept. 1976 ... William, born in 1878, married Mary O'Hare.

Katie Ryan Nagle died in childbirth and is buried in Sterling. Her son, William Nagle, was raised by his grandparents. The story is that he was so tiny when he was born, and his mother dead when he was only a day old, that his Grandmother Ryan kept him in a warm oven to save him from the cold March weather. Kate Ryan Nagle died on March 25, 1878.

Josephine Ryan married John Sullivan on June 6, 1879. John Sullivan was the second of four children born to Edward Sullivan and Mary Carney, so Josephine and John were first cousins! The other children of Edward and Mary Carney Sullivan were Thomas, who remained behind in Pennsylvania when the family went west, James, who never married and was a Union Soldier in the Civil War (he served three years and three months in the Union Army), and another son, Edward.

John Sullivan and Josephine Ryan Sullivan had ten children.

Contributed by Greg Nickels


Lee Co Bios

Illinois - "Our Way"