Author: Warren Conner
My earliest known Irish ancestor was born in County Tipperary in 1720; he had a son born in Roscommon County in 1752. They both shared the same name: Terrence O’Connor.
The elder Terrence immigrated to America in 1757 ending up in Virginia. I do not know why he chose to leave the home country, but can only speculate that turmoil in Ireland led him to seek his fortune elsewhere. Some speculate that he ran into trouble in London, was thrown into prison, to be transported to America on a prison ship. The younger Terrence immigrated at the age of 19 and joined his father in America around 1771.
Terrence O’Connor Sr. found employment in Norfolk, Virginia as a ship’s carpenter. He worked for a man named Robert Speakes, and joined the Masonic Temple with Mr. Speakes, as well. He had at least three children.
The younger Terrence Connor (he dropped the O’) married Sarah Jane Speakes – daughter of his father’s boss – and the couple had ten children. Both Terrence (1720) and Terrence (1752) joined Washington’s Revolutionary Army in 1776 and fought to win independence from Britain. This is when my surname happened – when Terrence (1752) mustered out of the Army in 1779, the paymaster mistakenly recorded his surname as “Conner”, and to keep his pension – and later land grant – he kept the name. His tombstone reads “A patriot and soldier of the Revolution and an associate of Washington and Lafayette”. We are proud of this heritage. His children split the surnames with some keeping “Connor” and others “Conner”. I descended from Terrence Conner (1785).
As time went on, several of the Conner/Connor clan made their way west to Kentucky and then to Perry County Indiana where many remained. Others continued west to Kansas and Colorado where my Grandfather settled. Through the years, most of my ancestors were farmers, and most had ten or more children.
As a child, there was no talk of Ireland from my parents or grandparents perhaps because of the generations that separated them since the original O’Connor immigrated. My siblings and I, as well as my wife – who is descended from a Murphy that immigrated in the 1840’s – have always been curious about our heritage. I gained an interest in ancestry about three years ago tracing our family’s back to their European roots using a combination of websites, with Ancestry.com as the primary tool.
My wife and I visited Ireland this past June, where we traveled by car over most of the Republic. We were able to visit all of the locations where I had identified the birth place of distant relatives, and much more. Ireland is indeed a beautiful country! We felt ‘at home’ everywhere we went.
After studying Irish history and learning of the great impact the Irish had on American history, I have become very proud of my roots in Ireland. Many good things have come about because of great efforts and inventions of various Irish people. Washington’s Revolution Army was comprised of thirty percent Irish. The “Shot heard ‘round the world” that signaled the start of the war at Lexington in 1775 was fired by Timothy Murphy. Perhaps he was an ancestor of my wife? Who knows – perhaps without the Irish fighting alongside Washington the United Stated would not exist?
Having the Certificate of Irish Heritage is another indicator of a proud heritage and is displayed with pride on the office wall in my home.