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The Timothy W Riley/Mary Jane (Cress) Riley Relationship


Most of the following has derived from the Timothy W Riley (TWR)  pension records, and latterly, the testimony from TWR’s preliminary hearing of November 1901 for what I have interpreted charges to have likely been some version of attempted murder and/or assault with a weapon.


·         We still have not been able to get a definitive fix on how Mary Jane (MJ) and  TWR met.  To date there is nothing in the record that would provide such information. TWR is only indirectly confirmed as being in the general area of Stoneham, MA from his navy discharge in late 1866 until his marriage there in 1869. By the time of the 1870 census he is not with his family; the two apparent choices are that i) he was at sea, or ii) he had simply abandoned his Stoneham family. Interestingly, there is no reference to this first marriage in any later TWR records; it is likely that it was never legally terminated.


·         There is some indication that TWR may have been working as a sailor, at least in part, during that period – one of the pension affidavits submitted by a supporter so stated, and the occupation stated on the certificate confirming his marriage to Mary Jane was seaman; he also had gained the necessary experience during the Civil War. Working as a seaman could have likewise put him in Digby in the post-1870 period and thus led to the incidental meeting of the couple.     


·         Jennie Fahie, who tended to her grandmother Mary Jane during MJ's last few months, relates that MJ met TWR in MA as a result of the fact that she had gone south as a housekeeper to a family with NS ties. That indeed may be the correct circumstance. However, MJ was enumerated with her parents in the Clementsvale area in the 1871 census so if she did go south it would have been after the census and the relationship would have had to have developed over the succeeding two year period.


·         On the contrary however, Mary Jane indicated in one of her letters to the Pension Commission that she had been in the US only once, in 1906 to attend to daughter Jennie, likely during Jennie’s pregnancy with Laurence. One other possibility is that MJC was keeping house when she met TWR but that the location was Digby and that the seaman profession brought TWR to the port from the New England area.    


·         In any event Nova Scotia marriage records show that the couple was married in Digby, NS on September 20, 1873. 


·         We do not have a definitive fix on where MJR and TWR lived immediately after their marriage; however, by 1876 A. F. Church recorded T. Riley as being the occupant of the house at the junction of today's Mary Jane Riley Road and the Clementsvale (Hessian Line) Road.


·         While the record is not definitive in this respect, we believe that the property was owned by MJR’s father George Cress. It is unlikely that TWR constructed the house as there is nothing in his ‘packsack’ of skills or experience that would suggest that he could so do. There is an outside possibility that he may have taken on the construction of the shoemaker shop, or conversely he may simply have converted an existing building.


·         It is to be expected that the couple were likely to have been without any “nest egg” at the time of their marriage. TWR had been working in the shoemaker’s trade for wages in MA in the late 1860’s and while he was a bachelor he likely spent his money as soon as he made it. The same would hold for any wages made as a seaman, if indeed he did follow that pursuit. Mary Jane at 20 would likewise have come to the marriage with no significant independent monies; the home would have likely been the contribution to the union by her parents.


·         What is certain is that in 1880 TWR 'sold' the buildings on the property – the house, barn, and shoemaker shop – to a third party. It is assumed that he did not sell the land because he did not own it. It is unlikely that the buildings were moved by the purchaser; a more logical assumption is that they were likely put up by TWR as collateral for a “loan” to assist in the maintenance of his growing family. There is no record that TWR ever paid the loan off; it is likely that his father-in-law finally re-secured the buildings, and in 1896 he and his wife Rebecca sold the land and buildings via a deed to Mary Jane for the sum of $20. Mary Jane continued to hold the property in her name until 1927 when she sold it to a consortium of her four US-based daughters who held it until after their mother’s death in 1939.


o        It is interesting that MJ sold the house to her daughter’s in 1927. The sale was likely designed to provide financial assistance by the girls to their wanting mother. Had MJ been able to wait for an additional year the sale may well have not been necessary because in May of 1928 her Civil War-based pension was increased from its original $12/month to $40/month.


·         It is noted that George Cress was involved in only one of literally dozens of affidavits in support of TWR’s pension quest, that of August 6, 1887 whereby he provided support for TWR’s deteriorated physical condition in TWR’s second communication to the Pension Commission. Given that a number of other locals were used several times as witnesses would suggest a relationship between father-in-law and son-in-law that was not very close.


·         The November 1901 statement by Mary Jane to Justice of the Peace Vroom, after TWR was arrested and changed for attempting, armed with a tanners knife, on October 31/1901 to break into the house in which Mary Jane was living, and subsequently, during a scuffle, cutting neighbour Jacob Long about the head and ear, is telling in its message about the state of the relationship over time (the following is copied directly from the handwritten transcripts taken at the hearing under JP Vroom):

o         “ ...been married to Mr. Riley twenty eight years  ~ we never got along well together ~ he was always cross  ~ I don’t say that I was always good to him  ~ have been quarrelling all those 28 years ~ he accused me with having improper relations with other men – neighbours – made matters worse by meddling  ...”


o        “I am the wife of the accused Timothy Riley ~ left my home in February 1901 ~ have not been living with my husband since  ~ have been living in Emerson Long’s house since the 15th of June ~ about 2 1/2 miles from here ~ Mr. Long is away  ~ engaged me to live in the house until he came back ~ my son John and daughter Vina [sic] May and son Boyd have been living with me ~ my husband continued to live in the house that I used to occupy ...”


o        “...then I heard Tim say ‘you G D old bitch, I have come to kill you’ ~  he then struck the door and said ‘I will learn you to tell Av Burrell that he can have the cow’ ~  he said ‘I am desperate and I intend to kill you tonight’ ~  then he struck the door several times ~ then he said ‘you G D old Whore; come out here and I will finish you’ ...”


o        “...I went to the house that is my home while Riley was away and took things out that belonged to me ~ don't know of any of his tools being taken away previous to this occasion ...”


·         In a statement to the same preliminary hearing Jacob Long testified to JP Vroom about TWR's involvement in the incident at MJR’s place of residence as follows:


o        “...knew his voice  ~ heard him  pounding on the house  ~ I started towards the house when I got in front of Mosurs Hall  ~ I heard him say ‘Ned Croscup leavings’ and ‘Ned McLaughlan whore’  ‘I will murder you before morning if I hang for it the next minute’ "


·         During the same session before JP Vroom a third witness, Archie Wright, testified as follows:


o        “I know Mary Jane Riley ~ I remember meeting her since the 29th of October ~ Avard Burrell was with me ~ she was telling us about the row ~ we asked her if she was not afraid that night ~ she said she was not afraid ~ she said the little boy was crying ~ she told him to never mind for he would pound until he got tired as he had done before ~ she said when she saw the two men coming in from the road (Objected to by Mr. Jones ) ~ I said to myself Ed McLaughlin you have … (?) ~  She said she was up stairs and had an axe and there was only one way for him to get up stairs and if he came up she would make two heads of him.”


·         In a fragment of a letter from TWR to some authority in the US Pension Commission he refers to an incident in 1902 immediately after the Supreme Court trial whereby he noted he went on the home property on Saturday June 21, 1902 and "Mrs. Riley" ordered him off the place and “handled” him “rough” and used threatening language and struck him with a piece of fence board.


·         In the same fragmented note he asked of the Pension authority as to “…whether the mere fact that the wife leaves her husband and children before his death would not debar her from widows pension if it appeared that she continued to dessert the children after his death?” giving ample evidence at least at that time that TWR was interested in severing his wife from her potential pension opportunity in the future. With the same note was a clipping from a  newspaper which provided that any wife to get widows pension must show she is of good moral character; and a second point that if she is dropped from the role then she cannot be reinstated even if she has lived a good moral life.


·         On March 4, 1910 MJR, after TWR’s death, wrote the following to the Pension Commissioner  explaining that she:

o        ... had not lived "with Riley" when he died because he preferred Jim Maling's wife's [Pauline] company before hers. She indicated it was

    • “…the best for him to stay with her when he first got his thousand or whatever it were ~ he hired a house just across where I live and bought a horse and wagon and drove around to gather ~ great they pass me on the road take no more notice of me than if I were dirt in the street ~ then she go and stay all day with him then at night he take her home ~ they had to pass rite by the door where I lived  ~ he spent all his money on her had to be buried by the town ~ she has all of the things he bought even to his ring ~ she tried hard to get his pension but she has not got it yet.  I have written to Commissioner Warren all about it. Before Jim Mailing told my son daughter that Riley despised (?) him ~ Jim Mailing never gave him a real answer. Mailing worked from home most of the time. I never was married until I married Timothy Riley alias John Hennessy ~ never was divorced from him either lived with any other man ~ he left me with three small children to take care of ~ I went out by days work to wash or clean house any kind of work I could get to keep the children ~ thank God they are all able to take care of themselves ~ when he was dead I asked her when Tim was going to be buried and she spoke up sharp told me she did not no ~ that was Jim Mailing’s wife I asked the question ~ I always hired in Clementsvale never was away to stay a week until 1906 then I went to Wakefield Mass 1906 to nurse my daughter on March the 7 came back May 22, 1906 ~ that only time I was away from Clementsvale, NS.”


And a second letter from Mary Jane to the Commissioner dated December 13, 1911 showed a continuing resentment:

    • “I don’t have to stoop so low as to go to Pauline Mailing’s for advice ~ I rather die than ever to have her think that I needed her assistance for anything ~ one that made me have many a sorrowful hour to keep Tim from his family the money he had give her ~ me work out to keep my children together ~ if you were in my place you say shoot the faggot. Well she has a kid three years old by Tim that she can have for a keepsake ~ I have been terrible sick. Again it is kidney trouble ~ I have to have the doctor ~ nothing to pay him ~ I cannot earn nothing now ~ please get through soon so I’ll know yes or no”


·         That last reference was as to whether MJR would be getting access to TWR’s pension. Mary Jane was awarded TWR’s pension at $12/month in January of 1912, retroactive to August 3, 1909. Effective July 5, 1928 that stipend was increased to $40/month and continued at that rate until her death in 1939.


·         It is interesting to note that although MJ had apparently received permission to have Viva stay with her at the Long dwelling, there is no evidence that Viva was there in late October at the time of the fracas. It is therefore wholly possible that the Boston-based older sisters had, with their Mother’s blessing, spirited Viva stateside during the year to remove her from the highly volatile state of affairs at home. This would give credence to the accuracy of the 1901 immigration date Viva provided for the 1920 US census. 


·         It is also interesting to note that MJ had sought approval to have son John stay at the house as well as the two youngest children, Viva and Boyd. John obviously was still living with his mother/parents in early 1901, and appears to have been prepared, or at least his mother so perceived, to follow her to her new residence. Whether he did or not cannot be ascertained from the available data. Perhaps he boarded out at the Trimper’s and it was this undertaking that introduced the Alice Trimper connection. The file continues to intrigue!