52 Ancestors – #26 – What Are Black Ewes?

The prompt for this week’s 52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks is probably one of my favorites: “Black Sheep.”
“Black Sheep” as defined by google.com

I will need to depart from my focus of writing about my generation this week as I truly can’t identify any black sheep presently in our family. Or perhaps that is the “blessing” of having so many quirky family members (myself included, of course!) – it’s tough to discern the “quirky” from the “black sheep”!

However, there is a “black ewe” in Scott’s family whose antics have occupied me for over two years. “What’s a black ewe?” you ask? Well, according to Ron Arons, who may have coined the term, a  black ewe is a female black sheep. Ron has made a career of researching the black sheep in his family. In fact, he has a whole website of “Black sheep” goodies for sale! Like this tattoo pictured below.


I posted a little teaser about Scott’s great-grandmother, Catherine C.  FitzAllen in October 2017. I have been working diligently since then and I’m fairly certain the book is ready for publication!

If you’re interested, I have posted the completed first chapter this week. (Kind of a “cheat” post – Scott and I are traveling for the next few weeks, so this is also an easy way stay on track with my posts!!)

I would be very appreciative of any feedback. Thanks for reading!

Chapter 1 “In the Swim”

“She had an inordinate desire to be prominent in society,” testified Catherine’s soon-to-be ex-husband, William Seeley, “and my limited salary was not sufficient to permit her to assume the role her ambition prompted.”

After nearly 30 years of marriage, William was done. In March 1889, he filed for a divorce from his wife, the former Catherine Kenney. He loved his daughters, Ida Mae and Katherine Pearl, and while he didn’t want to bring
 disgrace upon the family, William began to fear for his life.

He was sitting at their dining room table, in their well-appointed home on Quality Hill, a prestigious neighborhood in Kansas City, Missouri when Catherine appeared in the doorway with one arm under the other. “What’s the matter, Ma?”, William asked. “Carrying your arm in a sling?” Catherine said nothing but began purring over him. “What are you hugging me for?”, he asked. At that, Catherine pulled back William’s coat, shoved a pistol under his arm and snapped it. The gun didn’t go off. Catherine ran from the room, uttered a loud scream and locked herself in her bedroom.

William left the house, found his daughter Ida relaxing on the lawn and informed her that her mother had shot at him.

Ida was nearly 30, certainly of an age to be independent of her parents. But Katherine, nicknamed Kitty, was only 15. What would become of her if William broke up the family?


Catherine Josephine Kenney lived in Albany, New York. Catherine’s mother, the former Mary Allen, was a benevolent woman who supported the local Catholic church and the Catholic Orphan’s Asylum. A plain looking woman, she was small in stature and of slightly more-than-average girth. Both her parents had emigrated from Ireland and it was likely Catherine herself had been born in the “old country” as well.

Vital records previous to the 20th century can be unreliable. Catherine’s birthdate has been recorded as being anywhere from 1836 to 1842. The original record of her birth has yet to be located. Most likely, she was born around 1840.

William Augustus Seeley was born on May 4, 1835. The Seeleys had deep roots in Connecticut. They had been living in the area of New Canaan, Connecticut for at least 6 generations. His father, also named William, married the former Salina Nash in 1823. William’s family dates back at least to the 1600s, when Obadiah Seeley, born in England in 1614, married Mary Angill in Fairfield, Connecticut in 1647.

Despite obvious differences in their backgrounds, William and Catherine married. A record of this marriage has not been located, but Catherine herself reported they had married in Albany in 1860. The couple settled in New Canaan, living with William’s mother, who by then was widowed.
Within the first week of the marriage, there were already sure signs of trouble. Following some event that apparently displeased her, Catherine flew into a rage, declaring she wished she had never met William. On July 2, 1860, Ida Mae Seeley was born. Perhaps the marriage was one, not of choice, but of necessity?

Newspaper reports from 1889, indicated the family had spent some time in McPherson, Kansas around 1862. Life with a young child, living in a log cabin during the Dust Bowl years of the 1860s could not have been easy. Therefore, it is not difficult to understand why the Seeleys returned to the more comfortable and familiar surroundings of New Canaan by 1865.

A son, William A. Jr., was born in New Canaan on February 28, 1865. Four years later, on February 24, 1869, a second daughter, Anna J. was born. Sadly, Anna died of pertussis on July 10, 1869. She was not yet five months old.

William worked the farm and sold livestock while Catherine maintained their home. Ida, age 14, and William, Jr., age 5, attended school.

William’s career changed focus from farming to the moving of cattle. The family moved to Albany, New York and settled into their new home at 416 Clinton Avenue. William began working as a drover, moving cattle over long distances.

The population of rural New Canaan, Connecticut was about 2,500 when the Seeleys left. In contrast, Albany was a huge city – just over 69,400 residents. It must have been quite a change in lifestyle for William, who had spent the majority of his life in rural Connecticut.

By 1874, the Seeley family had experienced some significant changes. They moved down the road to 11 Watervliet Avenue, where they would reside for the next 6 years. At some point between 1865 and 1875, William and Catherine’s only son, William Jr., passed away. A more joyous event was the birth of their daughter, Katherine Pearl. Nicknamed Kitty, she was
born in Albany, most likely on October 4, 1874.

William began buying and selling cattle in the Albany livestock market as early as 1872. He quickly gained a reputation as a successful cattle dealer and struck up a friendship with a competing dealer, Gustavus Swift. Gus recognized William’s skill in appraising cattle and asked him to become a partner in the newly created business, Swift & Co. William declined to become a partner but lent money to help finance the venture. When Swift opened operations in Chicago, he hired William as his manager.

City directories list the Seeleys as maintaining a residence in Albany through 1881. During the divorce proceedings, William reported the family had lived in Armourdale, Kansas in 1877. This is somewhat suspect as the family appears in the 1875 New York census for Albany as well as the 1877 Albany city directory. The Seeleys also are listed on the 1880 US census as living in Albany. Ida had begun her first year at Albany High School in 1876, which makes it even more unlikely that the family lived in Kansas in 1877 as William contended. Perhaps they kept a residence in Albany when they moved to Kansas and Ida finished high school in Kansas.
William certainly traveled in the course of his work. He frequently went to Chicago to meet with Gus Swift, leaving Catherine at home to manage the affairs of the household without the benefit of her husband’s assistance.

The Seeley household was by no means serene. The disagreements that began the first week of their marriage continued throughout the years in Albany.

An affable, peaceable man, William attempted to keep out of quarrels. Catherine, not so much. At one point during their residence in Albany, William became so ill, he was forced to leave work for a time. “My wife said I was not sick, that it was my business to work.” There were frequent incidents of Catherine assaulting him with broomsticks, coal shovels, and other household articles. During one of those domestic storms, the food was actually thrown out of the window. Meals were a source of tension. No matter what meal William requested, Catherine persisted in cooking something else. The arguments were often and harsh. Catherine called William a gambler, fool, drunkard and other equally contemptuous epithets. In the presence of their children, she accused him of paying attention to fast women and of infidelity.

The most frequent argument centered on Catherine’s desire to move to Kansas City, Missouri. One cold winter night she scolded William about it, and when he again refused to move the family to Kansas City, she ran out into the snow, thinly clad and created a scene for all the neighbors to witness.

After years of hounding her husband, Catherine finally got her wish. The success of Swift’s business in Chicago led to the opening of the Kansas City stockyards. In 1880 William accepted the position of head hog buyer in Kansas City. From that point on, the lives of William and Catherine are well-documented.


The Seeleys arrived in Kansas City, Missouri in 1881. William, a man with only a moderate education, was doing quite well financially. There was enough money to provide for not only a beautiful new home but also for the private-school tuition of younger daughter Kitty.

At that time, Kansas City was the 30th largest city in all of the United States, with a population of just under 56,000. The city was experiencing rapid growth, much of which resulted from an improved transportation network.

The upgraded rail system helped make possible one of Kansas City’s biggest early-day industries: cattle. From its beginnings not long after the Civil War, the city became one of the world’s major cattle markets. William was in the right place; the Kansas City Livestock Exchange, in its heyday early in the 20th century, would become the largest building in the world devoted exclusively to livestock interests.

In 1880, Kansas City leaders boasted of ninety miles of streets, fifteen miles of which were paved. Private and public projects leveled hills and filled ravines, providing more suitable land for buildings. Massive cuts through the river bluffs allowed greater access to the waterfront rail lines. With the establishment and growth of rail lines and subsequent commercial development, Kansas City acquired the economic base and population to support a booming real estate market. A series of land annexations kept pace with this growth – the city grew from 1.04 square miles in 1853 to 13.2 by 1885. Spacious single-family houses were built to house the city’s upper-middle class and newly wealthy cattle barons. By 1890, the population would swell to 132,716.

Catherine was a frugal woman. Her efforts paid off when William was able to build her a beautiful home in the premier neighborhood of “Quality Hill,” the most fashionable and expensive neighborhood in the city. Many of the city’s leaders lived high on Quality Hill’s limestone bluffs in large houses that overlooked the West Bottoms below, where the city’s industrial heart, rail center, and famous stockyards were located.

The Seeley home cost $12,000 to build in 1881. A local paper described the residence at 1110 Penn Street as an elegantly furnished “three-story terrace.”

William earned enough money to allow entry to Kansas City’s grand West Side society circle. By 1888, he was earning more than $4,000 annually. A salary of $2,000-$3,000 was considered to be upper-middle class in the early 1880s, so the Seeleys were certainly well-situated financially.

Once settled in their new home, Catherine positioned the family to move among the best of Kansas City society. Like many women of the day, she had servants to perform the menial housekeeping and cooking tasks. Youngest daughter Kitty remained “back East”, attending the Genesee Wesleyan Seminary for Girls in Lima, New York. Eldest daughter, Ida Mae, had no need to work due to income received from the family’s investments. After graduating from high school, she spent her time circulating among the various social functions, often with her mother at her side. She was an inveterate traveler, even as a young woman. In July of 1884,
Ida took a trip to southern Kansas to visit friends. The following month, she was in Denver, Colorado.

By 1884, the Seeleys had established their place in Kansas City. The local society pages chronicled their sophisticated lifestyle. Ida enjoyed playing the piano and contributed her alto voice to the Kansas City Philharmonic Chorus. Catherine’s wish to be “prominent in society” was fulfilled. She became a leader in the social circles, entertaining on an elaborate scale.

Dressed in the finest of fashions and wearing costly jewels, Catherine frequently entertained polite society at her receptions and numbered among her acquaintances some of the select families of the city. On the first day of each year, it was the local custom for women to receive friends at their homes. The January 1, 1885, issue of the Kansas City Times described the various receptions as being of “…the most elegant description.” Ida spent the evening of January 1st assisting a Mrs. Bernard Donnelly with her reception.

Many of these social engagements were written up in the society columns of the local papers. On January 28, 1885, the Kansas City Times published a lengthy article about the annual Craig’s Ball, one of Kansas City’s most lavish events. The annual event was sponsored by one of Kansas City’s most well-known social organizations, the Craig Rifles, which formed following the railroad strikes in 1877.

Carriages began arriving around 8 p.m. at the Gillis Opera House. More than 400 people attended, dressed in costumes “which have never been excelled in magnificence at any public gathering” in Kansas City. Ida attended the event along with many of the “best-known ladies and gentlemen in Kansas City.” She wore a light blue brocade satin gown embellished with oriental lace, satin ribbons, flowers, and diamonds. The dress featured a draping skirt of lace flounces and a Medicis collar (a ruffled lace collar designed to stand upright behind the head.)

The last week of June 1885 was a busy one for Ida. On Monday she attended a party given by the Entre Nous Club, of which she was a member. The next day she entertained a few friends at home. That gathering was described in the Kansas City Times on July 5, 1885, “Miss Ida M. Seeley charmingly entertained a few friends last Tuesday evening, at the elegant home of her parents on Penn Street…” On Thursday evening she enjoyed music and dancing at the home of Mrs. B. McAllister. During that summer of 1885, cousin Willie Dillon (son of Catherine’s sister, Frances) came from Albany to spend some time with his cousin Kitty.

1886 marked two events for Ida. In May, she purchased two lots in Goodrich’s Addition for $3,750. This may have been a wise financial decision. The local railroad company also purchased land in this tract for the purpose of building a new depot. It was possible that could result in a huge profit for Ida. In September, the Kansas City Times reported she was recovering from a very serious (undisclosed) illness.

The new year opened with more social events to attend. On Friday, January 7, 1887, Ida carried Marechal roses to a “most delightful reception” given by a Miss Mamie Soden. She wore a gown of “rose pink satin with Venetian lace at the square cut neck.” These lavish gowns were symbolic of “making it” in Kansas City high society.

Catherine held several receptions that week at the family home on Penn Street. Her series of entertainments were described as “…among the brilliant events of the week,” and the event was given considerable newspaper space in the society column.

The theme of Catherine’s first party centered around snowballs. The parlors were decorated with snowballs, cut flowers, and potted plants. Supper was served after the dancing ended at 10:30 p.m. The long table in the center of the dining room was laden with food from a menu described as “both elegant and elaborate.” Guests were served by “maidens” dressed in costumes designed to represent snowballs. Close to 50 people in attendance, which helps gives one an idea of the size of the Seeley home.

Catherine wore a gown of black lace over black satin, accessorized with gloves and diamonds. Ida attended the event wearing a blue gown and diamonds, carrying a corsage of rosebuds.

A second reception honored daughter, Kitty. Wearing a blue suit, she attended the event, which was modeled in the style of a Mikado (Japanese) tea. The supper was served Japanese style and the house was decorated with various kinds of Japanese art.

For several years the Seeleys lived quite the good life, socializing with the best of Kansas City society. Catherine accumulated expensive jewelry and fancy furniture. Ida enjoyed traveling about the country, and Kitty continued with her schooling at the Genesee Wesleyan Seminary
But all was not well. William continued to struggle with his wife’s incessant financial demands. He had no interest in high-society. One newspaper reported, “The idea of theater parties so shocked and unnerved him that his judgment on hogs was “away off” for several days after such things had been mentioned.”

By 1888, William and Catherine were living apart. Catherine remained in the family home at 1110 Penn Street and William had moved to a residence at 1116 Howard.

In March 1888, William took a trip East without his wife. At about that same time, Catherine arrived, unaccompanied, in Chicago, Illinois. Approximately one year later, William filed for divorce on the grounds of “incompatibility of temper.” The 1889 divorce trial of Seeley vs. Seeley became one of the most sensational divorce trials ever in the courts of Jackson County.


I hope you enjoyed this little tidbit. Catherine’s story is truly remarkable. If you’re interested in knowing when the final book is ready, leave your contact info in the comments, or send me an email at deborah.holman@sbcglobal.net.

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