IOOF SONORA Lodge #10 and Cemetery

California Cemeteries, California Historic Places, IOOF

Stories From The Grave

Hennessy Family


Final Resting Place Row 2, Plot 108


Our Featured Grave this month was written by one of our Adopt-A-Grave members Kathy Mills Boone. The Hennessy Story was found in the booklet Golden Roots of the Mother Lode published by the Tuolumne County Genealogical Society.


During the Gold Rush, there were three routes to California from the eastern United States: a person could cross the continent, make the dangerous voyage around Cape Horn, or according to the advertisements of the day, "make the pleasant voyage to Panama, stroll across the 50 miles of Isthmus to the Pacific and, after another easy voyage, find himself in San Francisco.” What the advertisements didn't mention were Cholera, malaria, yellow fever, and dysentery. The Panama route went up the Charges river from Fort San Lorenzo, then down the Las Cruces trail to Panama City. Mules or donkeys provided the only transportation through the jungle, besides walking. Once traffic began to flow in the return direction from the gold fields of California to the east, highway robbery was added to the list of dangers. 


Michael and Ellen (Kearny) Hennessy were among hundreds to cross the Isthmus under what must have been uncomfortable, dangerous conditions. They left Ireland for New York in 1853, eventually making their way to Jamestown, California. Their oldest daughter, Mary Ann, was born in New York; she would've been very young during the Isthmus Crossing.


By 1855, the Hennessy's had acquired a Mercantile and dry goods store in Brown's flat. In 1860 they purchased a house and garden near Norwood’s store in Brown's flat. 


Michael filed his Declaration of Intention not long after arriving into Tuolumne County on January 13, 1854. On March 20, 1860 Michael Hennessy (aka Hennessee) was naturalized a citizen of United States. His witnesses were A. Ruddock and John Hennessee.


Unfortunately, Michael died in Browns Flat at the age of 42 years on August 12, 1870, leaving his wife, Ellen, three daughters ( Mary Ann, Margaret R., and Sarah Ellen), and a son (John C.), who is only six years old at the time of his death. Ellen, a native of Tipperary, Ireland, continued with the business in Brown's flat after Michael's death, applying for an alcohol license in 1871.


In 1878, Ellen bought property at what is now 142 S. Washington St., Sonora, right next to the Sonora Inn. Ellen moved from Brown's flat to Sonora in 1880, where she lived for the remainder of her life. She purchased two lots at 146 West Yaney St., Sonora. She is listed in the 1881 Tuolumne County directory as having a millinery and dry goods business.


Ellen's youngest daughter, Sarah Ellen Mills, purchased property on Green St., Sonora, on what is now the parking lot of Bank of America. Ellen was one of the first women registered to vote in the Sonora election on April 8, 1912, while Sarah registered to vote in the general election on November 5, 1912, eight years before woman suffrage and ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.


These were progressive woman, owning and running businesses, purchasing property, and even buying up mining claims.

Ellen Hennessy passed away on January 6, 1918, at the age of 86. Two of her daughters and son preceded her in death, leaving only Mrs. Sarah Ellen Mills, the author’s paternal great-grandmother. Her obituary stated that she would greet people she knew on the streets, and imparting would say, "God bless your, God bless ye.”


*Please see original article for sources used in research.


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