Category Archives: Claiborne County, Mississippi

William and Henry O’Kelly first settled in Claiborne County after having arrived in America. The family remained until William’s death in 1871.

1863 Excerpts from a Civil War Diary

The following excerpts mentioning Henry O’Kelly were taken from the Civil War Diary (1862-1865) of Bishop William Henry Elder, Bishop of Natchez from 1857-1880.

 1863 May 12th. A colored boy, Merriman Howard brought me a message from Mr. Jno. Taylor Moore. After the battle of Port Gibson on last Friday, Genl. Bowen retreated. The Yankees occupied the town & all the country. Our Church silver was secreted successfully. They hunted Mr. Moore, to hang him- as he was charged with burning the suspension bridge at Port Gibson – He had escaped after five days concealment; & was now out at his Sister-in-law’s, Mrs. Robert Moore, 18 miles from town. – I resolved to go out to see him. – Mr. Grant kindly agreed to go with me. – We started about 12M. our two horses in his buggy. – Reached Mrs. Moore’s about 4 PM & learned that Mr. M. was at Mr. Wade Harrison’s. Were very kindly received- & had a long talk with Mr. Moore & old Mr. Black about their adventures & their escape. – MR. HENRY O’KELLY came in from Port Gibson. He said there were many of our wounded dying there – & he had no doubt there were Catholics among them. – I proposed to Mr. Grant to go up & he consented. Wrote a telegram to Fr. Grignon & a letter to the Archbp. of N. Orleans.

1863 May 16th Saturday. Saw Mrs. Hinds & all the family. Started about 9 AM. Called at Mr. Wade Harrison’s. Saw Mr. Moore & Mr. Black again, MR. HENRY O’KELLY, Mr. & Mrs. Harrison & Miss January who lives with them.

1864 April 21st. Reached Mr. Wade Harrison’s at 8 1/2 PM. Found MR. HENRY O’KELLY there.


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1853 Yellow fever strikes the O’Kelly family

Guardian Angel


New Orleans, 1853-04-10, Pg. 4 col. 4 On Friday evening the 8th Inst. MARGARET HAGGERTY, daughter of William and Hester O’Kelly, formerly of Port Gibson, Miss. aged 2 years and 4 months.

New Orleans, 1853-08-19, Pg. 2 col. 6 On Saturday, of yellow fever, MARY O’KELLY. Eldest daughter of William and Hester O’Kelly, formerly of Port Gibson. [Age 12]

New Orleans, 1853-09-04, Pg. 2 col. 6 ANNA BELLE, of yellow fever, daughter of William and Hester O’Kelly, formerly of Port Gibson. [Age 10]

Mary, Anna Belle, and Margaret O’Kelly were excluded from our family history and I was surprised to have found their death notices in the Daily Picayune. It was an accident really. I had only gone to the downtown library to photocopy another O’Kelly ancestors obituary when a severe thunderstorm struck. Waiting for the weather to clear, I scrolled through all of the microfilmed O’Kelly obituaries and death notices. My Grandmother had trained me to memorize our family tree in great detail and so I did not expect to find previously unknown ancestors, my search was just a whim. I discovered Anna Belle first and was left bewildered by her death notice.

I questioned my grandmother and she recalled that our ancestors had lost young girls to scarlet fever, but that was all of the information that her aunt Jennie had given. The sad story was buried, shortened and abridged by Jennie O’Kelly who’s self assigned duty was to maintain the O’Kelly family’s social standing. Aunt Jennie took great pains to emphasize that our ancestors were wealthy upon arrival and were not the “shanty Irish” who had been forced out of Ireland by the great famine. Yellow fever was blamed on poor immigrants of German and Irish heritage who were considered the lowest of races. Mosquito’s had been discovered to be the true cause in 1900, but Jennie feared lingering prejudices and convinced herself that it was to the benefit of the family to emphasize what model citizens our immigrant ancestors were while omitting innocent unpleasantries such as yellow fever.

Aunt Jennie did mention the yellow fever in her writings, when she recorded that her grandmother Hester died in 1853, “but not of yellow fever.” Jennie claimed that Hester died in childbirth delivering a boy named Hugh. The baby died shortly after birth and was said to have been laid to rest with his mother,”at the old cemetery on Washington street”. There is no death announcement or record of when and where Hester and Hugh were buried. Margaret and Mary’s burial place is also unknown. The death toll was so overwhelming in the summer of 1853 that many dead were placed in cemeteries with no ceremony or written record. At the peak of the scourge, anonymous bodies were piled high at cemetery gates and on street corners.  Anna Belle is the only O’Kelly whose final resting place was properly documented. There is nothing etched in granite, no headstone or family vault, but on September 3rd Anna Belle was laid to rest at the old cemetery on Washington street, more commonly known as Lafayette Cemetery #1. Only four members of the family survived the year, William and his three remaining children Tom, Jane and William.


Filed under Claiborne County, Mississippi, Mary Hester Swan, New Orleans, William O'Kelly

November 1871 Death and Obituary of William O`Kelly

Following the loss of the Confederacy, William was left bankrupt and forced to take a job as a store- clerk in Port Gibson, Mississippi. Working for another man was a great trial for hot-tempered William and took a grave toll on his nerves. While in the store, a forgotten outrage occurred causing William to stomp his foot straight through the floor and tightened his heart so that he suffered an attack that would end his life a few hours later. My Mother and I always thought of Rumpelstiltskin, driving his foot so far into the ground that he created a chasm and fell into it, never to be seen again.

The Port Gibson Enterprise of the 29th of November 1871

Sudden Death of an Old Citizen It is with regret that we recall, and many will read that Mr. William O`Kelly so long and well known in this community departed this life. He suffered an attack while apparently in his usual health, on last Wednesday evening about one o`clock, he called for someone to call for him quick and about three hours later passed quietly away. Mr. O`Kelly was one of Port Gibson`s oldest citizens and at one time was the owner of a great deal of property and was one of the most popular merchant – planters of this place before the Civil War. He has in his later years been the victim of many financial disasters which resulted in his fortunes being completely broken. He had not recovered from the recent disaster at Grand Gulf where the Mississippi River wiped out  his  remaining fortune which left him much depressed at times. He leaves two sons Thomas Swan, William Abram, one daughter Jennie and a brother Henry to mourn his death.

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Filed under Claiborne County, Mississippi, Henry O'Kelly, Jane O'Kelly Calderwood, Thomas Swan O'Kelly, William Abram O'Kelly Sr., William O'Kelly