In recent years there has been an increasing interest in servant life at the Mansion. Last fall, our Celtic Storytelling programming included traditional Irish tales that the house’s servants might have delighted in around late October. This May, we look forward to opening a new space in the Mansion to include the house’s employees in our interpretation.
What little is known about the servants has been primarily pieced together from census records. However, these records are by no means comprehensive since most of the servants would have listed other residences as their permanent addresses. What follows is perhaps a microcosm of the Irish community in Portland, and the United States as a whole, in the 19th and early 20th century.
In the New Orleans census of 1870, the Morses listed four domestic servants, two men and and two women. Of these four individuals, one man, John Smith, 40, was born in Ireland. In the Portland census of 1880, the Morses listed only one servant, a Sarah McDonald, 35, born in Maine to an Irish father. In 1883, a coachman by the name of Michael D. Monaghan and in 1885 a carpenter named John MacDonald are also documented as employees at the Danforth residence. Though neither men’s origins are listed, their surnames certainly suggest a Celtic connection!
In the census of 1910, the Libby family listed two servants, a Katherine Steed, 35, of Ireland, and Hannah Sine (no origin listed). Another documented Libby servant was Sabina Grady. Sabina was born in Ireland and immigrated to the US sometime between 1914 and 1918. Shown is a rare image depicting Sabina with J.R. and Louisa Libby’s grandson, Austin.
Even though only a handful of the individuals employed at the Mansion are recorded, a vast majority of these were Irish natives or of Irish lineage as Portland at the time– and still today– enjoys a thriving Irish community. We are expanding our knowledge and narrative of the individuals who worked at the Mansion in the coming months.