Among the earlier class of families that settled in Ottawa (then known as Bytown), was that of Daniel O’Connor, senior, who was born in Tipperary, Ireland, in 1796. He was possessed of considerable scholastic attainments, his parents, being in comfortable circumstances, having intended him for the clerical profession.
Like many more of a literary turn of mind, Mr. O’Connor kept a journal through life, and being permitted to peruse it, we are in a position to give correctly his early life and history.
Not feeling the necessary disposition to comply with his parents wishes, he was allowed to follow his own inclinations and took to mercantile pursuits, and in 1816 we find him embarked in the management of a large business in Clonmel, which he carried on with some success for over three years. At this time, to quote from his Journal:
The South American Patriot service was blazoned forth through the public press. Several regiments were being raised in Ireland, England and Scotland, by Sir Gregor McGregor and General Devereux, in aid of General Bolivar, who was then at the head of a Republican Army endeavoring to shake off the Spanish yoke. The temptations held out were so alluring that thousands of fine young men were entrapped into this unfortunate service. Trade being at this time dull with me, being subject to enormous rent, and being in the prime of youth, enjoying good health, and rather of an ambitious disposition, I caught the infectious mania also. I gave up my business on the 20th June, 1819, started for Dublin and purchased a commission as Lieutenant in the first Regiment of Light Infantry, commanded by Colonel Power, late Major in the 18th Royal Irish. For this commission I paid 60 and 40 more for my regimental dress. It consisted of a superfine green jacket,with light blue facings, gold epaulettes, triple gilt buttons with the words “La Legion Irelandesa” round the edges. The trousers were of light blue, with gold stripes along the legs; a beautiful sword with brass scabbard; a handsome crimson sash, and a black cloth cap with the usual surroundings. Had I that dress now, as I wore it in Dublin at a public dinner given by the officers of the Regiment to Mr. O’Connell and other distinguished men, at Morrison’s Hotel, it would not be easy to induce me to part with it.
After dwelling a while upon his stay in Dublin, and penning many quaint reflections concerning the great men of that period, he proceeds to treat of his regiment.
“The Spanish Ambassador in London used his influence with the Government to hamper our operations. The Foreign Enlistment Bill was introduced in the House of Commons and passed into a law. It declared it illegal for any of Her Majesty’s subjects to leave the country on such an expedition, after first day of August following.”
For two months the officers separated. Sad news from the seat of war was received; Sir Gregor McGregor’s force was killed off by the enemy and horrible diseases. At length good news arrives. The Government winks at an embarkation, and after a variety of difficulties, the Regiment embarked in the Nichloa Poliewitch, on the 22nd of December, 1819. Storms and mutiny on board, described with fearful accuracy, fill up the time till the 2nd of January following, by which time they put about and entered the harbor of Belfast. The vessel was there surveyed and condemned, and the expedition abandoned. General Devereux and a few leaders made their way out, but retired in disgust to New York, where the General carried on an extensive mercantile business. The Republic of New Granada and Venezuela was soon forgotten. We give one or two reflections of the deceased upon its merits.
” The South American Patriot Service was considered, in its disastrous results to society, not much inferior to the celebrated South Sea Bubble. In its origin it was patronized by some persons of the first rank. A great number of young men from all parts of Ireland had joined it with the sanction and support of their parents. Several British officers on half pay entered the regiments. The ladies of Dublin supplied all the regiments with flags of the most costly description, and public meetings were convened for their presentation. Whole families were reduced to poverty by the extravagance induced. Aud, alas! in the short space of one year it brought many a fine young man to death or desolation, and mourning into the bosom of many a family for the loss of relatives whose bones lie bleaching beneath a tropical sun. If they still lived it was most likely as wanderers upon a foreign shore, with no paternal or fraternal hand to relieve their sufferings, or soothe their woes.”
Mr. O’Connor’s adventurous disposition did not permit him to remain quiet long. He took leave of his mother once more, ” More grieved,” he says, ” at the many causes of grief I gave her by my roving inclination than at any reverse in my own fortunes.” In the ship Athens, bound for Baltimore we next find him, and he first put his foot on the American shore on the 8th of May, 1821. American manners and customs were very distasteful to Mr. O’Connor. In Savannah a cousin residing there took him round the city. He says:
” Having shown me all the curiosities of the place, he took me to see a new burial ground of sixteen acres, opened the year before, and in which 1,100 persons were already interred. I said to myself, if I stop here much longer it will be very easy to provide a situation for me, as I fear before the first of November I will be in the sixteen acres.”
After visiting New Brunswick, and traveling about nine thousand miles, and many strange adventures, he again finds himself at Farrinlare, beneath his mother’s roof. Again he goes into business, and in 1824 marries Miss Power, the daughter of a neighboring mill owner. In 1826 they immigrated to America to improve their fortunes in a new country. At Utica, New York, Mr. O’Connor was introduced to the extensive firm of O’Connor, McDonough and Co., of which house General Devereux was said to be a partner. He remarks: “My namesake offered me my choice of two good houses, and as many goods as I would want. To obtain a license there I should take the oath of allegiance to qualify me as a citizen, and abjure my allegiance to Great Britain. This I would not do at all hazards.”
Many instances of his unswerving attachment to principle occurred. His mind once made up, he was inflexible. In 1827, at the commencement of the Rideau Canal, he made his way to this place, then known as Nepean Point by the lumberers. But one house or shanty, then occupied by the then proprietor of the greater part of the city, N. Sparks, could receive the family, consisting of Mr. and Mrs. O’Connor and one child, afterwards deceased. Shortly after their arrival their second child was born, being the first birth within the present city of Ottawa. That child grew with the city, and became the wife of a well known citizen of Ottawa, H. J. Friel, Esq. Born within sound of the cutting of the first tree, in the almost trackless forest, it will, no doubt, be a source of pride that she still lives to hear the Vice Regal Halls resound with eloquence in the capital of her country. Colonel By, the Commanding Engineer of that day, and Mr. O’Connor became fast friends, the Colonel desiring to mark his joy at the occurrence by a gift of several town lots to the young visitor. In after years this friendship was firmly cemented, Mr. O’Connor having it in his power to render the Colonel important services. On the route between Kingston and Bytown, then an unopened country, Mr. O’Connor halted to rest at Capt. Andrew Wilson’s residence in Gloucester, where they were kindly received, Mrs. O’Connor was so worn out with fatigue that she exclaimed, “If we could get a few acres of land to buy here we would go no further.” The homestead with four hundred acres, now a most valuable property, is in possession of the family, having been purchased within a few years of the time mentioned. At his death, which occurred May 8, 1858, Mr O’Connor was the oldest magistrate in the County; the Commission bears date December 9, 1833. He was also the oldest militia officer in the 4th Carleton, commission being dated 23rd of April., 1836. He was Major in this regiment at his decease. On the 2nd of July, 1842, on the formation of the County of Carleton, he was appointed by the Draper administration, Treasurer of the County, which position he held until his death, being year after year re-appointed by the Municipal Council of the County, since the passing of the Municipal Law of 1849. Deceased was for many years Chairman of the Grammar School Board of this County. He was also chairman of the local Board of Health during the Emigrant fever disaster of 1847, and took an active part in the danger surrounded charities of that time, a time when some of our most valuable citizens were carried off in the midst of their self denying labors. Mr. O’Connor was a candidate for Parliamentary honors in October, 1834, having contested the County of Russell with Hon. Thomas McKay, of New Edinburgh. Mr. O’Connor was defeated by seven votes, after a severe contest of eight days. He filled every position with credit to himself and justice to the public.
At the time of Mr. O’Connor’s death he left seven children living, of whom Daniel O’Connor, junior, the subject of this sketch, was the fourth child. His mother, Margaret O’Connor was a very estimable and amiable woman, as we learn from parties who were her neighbors and intimately acquainted with her during her lifetime in old Bytown, now the fair capital of the Dominion. She died in 1874.
Daniel O’Connor, junior, was born in Ottawa, January 29, 1835; grew up in the place, and received his literary education at the Grammar School and College of Ottawa. In 1852, he began the study of the law in the office of the late John Bower Lewis, and in 1858 was admitted as Attorney and Solicitor, and subsequently was called to the Bar. His brother, the Rev. Dr. O’Connor, is the learned and popular Parish Priest of St. Patrick’s Church in Ottawa.
Mr. O’Connor was in partnership for about eight years with Judge Robert Lyon, now of the County Bench, and subsequently with Mr. Daniel Wade, now deceased, and at the present time is the head of the well known and highly respectable law firm of O’Connor and Hogg.
Mr. O’Connor is a well read lawyer, and a conscientious adviser. He looks into a case carefully, and never advises a friend to go to law unless he thinks his cause is a good one and he is likely to win. Once enlisted he is very faithful to his client, and is indefatigable in his efforts to gain the suit.
Mr. O’Connor has taken an active part in politics, and has always been a consistent and steady Conservative. And we may here remark, that we have also learned from old residents of Ottawa, that his father during his lifetime always supported the Conservative leaders and principals of his day.
Immediately on the accession to power of the Administration of the Right Hon. Sir John Macdonald in 1878, Mr O’Connor was appointed, by the Minister of Justice, to the important position of Solicitor of the Crown business in Ottawa.
In 1866 Mr. O’Connor was largely instrumental in establishing that well and favorably known charity in Ottawa, the St. Patrick’s Orphan Asylum, of which institution he was Vice-President during the years 1866-67-68, and has been President ever since. Through his energy and perseverance the institution has prospered, and the Asylum building on Maria Street is one of the finest edifices of the kind in Ottawa, giving shelter and a home to over 100 inmates in each year.
He is a man of the most humane feelings, and of very benevolent impulses. The orphan, the unfortunate, and the suffering of all classes have a strong friend in Mr. O’Connor.
He is a Roman Catholic in religion, and is married to Catharine Charlesetta Willis, daughter of William K. Willis, formerly of New York City, and niece to the Very Reverend Wm. Quinn, the Vicar General of the Diocese of New York. We give the original of Bolivar’s Commission as a relic of the past.
La Legion Irlandesa. Juan D’Evereux
Mayor General Del Exercito De Le. Republica De Venezuela Y Nuevagranada.
Por quanto atendiendo a los servicios meritos de Crudedone Daniel O’Connor, he venido en admitirle al servicio de la Republica, conforme al poder que me ha dado S. E. el Gefe Supremo, y nombrarle Secundo Teniento del Primero Regimiente de caccadores de la legion Irlandesa, basco mi mando Por tanto, ordeno y mando a in autoridad a quien corresponda de la orden conveniente, para que se le ponga en posesion del referido Empero, guardandoley haciendo que se le guarden y cumplan las honras gracias, exenciones, y preeminencias que, como a tal, le tocan y que el. Intendente del Exercito o Provinca dande fuere a servir haga tomar cuenta y formar asiento de este despacho en in Contaduria del Ertado. Dado, Firmado de mi mano, sellado con el sello de la Legion, y refrendado por el Secretario militar de in Legion.
En Dublin a de Julie de 1819.
(Seal) Mathew Sutton, Military Secretary.