Circa 1845 William & Esther O’Kelly

The story of the O’Kelly family in America begins with a romantic tale of a young couple whom bravely left their homes in Northern Ireland and sailed to America in search of the freedom to marry. As told through six generations, William O’Kelly and Mary Hester ‘Esther’ Swan left their homes in Ireland for love. He was said to have been the son of a wealthy Roman Catholic merchant in Belfast and she the daughter of a Presbyterian Minister. With anti-British sentiment, their grandchildren often repeated that, “their marriage would have been illegal in Ireland and the pair would have been shipped to the penal colony in Australia for the offense of their union.”
They married and settled in Port Gibson, Mississippi where the family multiplied and Williams’ business ventures prospered during the era of King Cotton. These hand painted photographs were taken during the height of their wealth and were a fashionable status symbol amongst the affluent. Their happy lives did not last long. Tragedies began to strike the family when three of their daughter’s died during the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1853. Esther would later die in childbirth along with the infant and Williams’ fortunes would be completely wiped out by the defeat of the Confederacy and natural disasters.

William O'Kelly

William O’Kelly

Mary Hester O'Kelly

Mary Hester O’Kelly


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Filed under Mary Hester Swan, Photographs, William O'Kelly

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