A cartoon depicting Patrick Farrelly, the Newsman.

Times Past: Farrelly, the Newsman

Historian Jonathan Smyth this week in his Times Past column looks at the story of a Cavanman, Patrick Farrelly, who emigrated with a head full of brains and worked his way up to become a media tycoon and one of the richest men in America...

In 1864, the American News Company was formed in New York City, as a distribution company, printer and publisher of books, newspapers, comic books, and postcards: eventually distributing through a ‘national network’ of over 300 news agencies. From the final decades of the 19th century to the early half of the 20th century, they dominated the American distribution market. They were an affiliate of William Ritchie and Sons, Limited (of London , England, and Edinburgh, Scotland), who published a series of ‘artist signed postcards’ depicting watercolours for the company’s ‘Waterette’ range: using a printing style called tricolour printing.

Patrick Farrelly, a Cavanman with a modest education and a head full of brains, co-founded the American News Company, making him one of the richest men in America. Farrelly became a poster boy for the papers and inspired Irish lads to achieve success. One tabloid, recited the merits of ‘Farrelly the newsman’, calling all ‘bright young Irish lads with especial aptitude’ to go out and sell newspapers.

TheGlobe-Republican(Dodge City, Kansas), on January 15, 1890, described how Farrelly, the manager of America’s biggest distribution network began his first news stand with a plank across two barrels on Ann Street, New York City.

The Farrelly family originate from Cavan Town, Co Cavan, where Patrick was born on March 1, 1840, to Owen Farrelly and Catherine Farrelly, formerly Tully. Patrick’s siblings were Philip, Owen, Stephen and Sarah Ann.

Owen Snr was born in 1794 and married Catherine Tully in 1836: the marriage took place in Kilmore Parish. A school teacher by profession, Owen taught many pupils from the ‘neighbouring countryside’.

In 1848, the Farrelly family sailed to America; briefly staying in New York City before moving to Penn, New York.

In ‘A Biographical Album of Prominent Pennsylvanians’, Stephen Farrelly wrote: ‘Their father … was a man of strong intellect and sterling character, who conducted a private school in Ireland, where he was a type of a class of men well known to the past generation, as the school-master. He had the courage of his convictions in all things and the capacity of imparting what he had learned and what he believed to those placed under his care. When the turbulent days of 1848 disturbed the peace of his native country and seriously interfered with his occupation, he brought his family to America, and settled in Penn Yan in the western part of New York, where his sons were educated under his personal guidance.’

The family later moved to New York City.

In 1854, Patrick got work as a newsboy with L.D. Campbell on the Canandaigua and Elmira Railroad and then came his promotion to newsagent, on the Central Railroad, New Jersey. The hard-earned cash helped him to start his own new stall on Ann Street, New York City. His wealth increased rapidly and he became a partner in Hamilton and Johnson who bought out the interests of other news agencies to become Hamilton and Company. They then joined forces with Henry Dexter, 113 Nassau Street, NY.

In 1864, Farrelly, a reticent and private 23 year old, became co-founder of the American News Company, Nassau Street, N.Y, along with Sinclair Tousey, John Tousey, George Dexter, Henry Dexter, and S.W. Johnson. Stephen Fritz’s research into the Farrelly family, referencesMakers of New York, a publication describing Patrick as ‘the real business leader of the great concern’, being a ‘combination of Andrew Jackson and A.T. Stewart, shrewd, silent, sleepless, and bristling at all points with activity and aggressiveness’. His presence was soon welcomed on the Board of Trade and Transportation, in the Chamber of Commerce, as a bank director and ‘committees of Congress’ looked to him too for guidance because of his knowledge of the postal laws.

In 1868, Elizabeth C. O’Reilly became Farrelly’s wife. Her father was Michael O’Reilly from Killeshandra who had emigrated to Jersey City and her mother was Elizabeth Maguire O’Reilly.

Michael died in 1870 and his family, friends and relatives were ‘invited’ to attend the funeral from his son-in-law Patrick Farrelly’s residence on Jersey Avenue.

In 1890, Farrelly, fell into the censor’s trap when he distributed Leo Tolstoy’s ‘Kreutzer Sonata’, a novel arguing for ‘sexual abstinence’ as an ideal, while describing a fit of jealous rage in the first person.

By the time ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ reached the United States, it had already been banned by the Russians. Farrelly was arrested and arraigned at the Tombs Court for the distribution of ‘obscene literature’. The court action did not affect Farrelly much, but it did drive up book sales. During his career, he often alternated between the role of general manager and president of the firm.

Morristown, New Jersey, became Farrelly’s home for 25 years and he involved himself in its affairs, helping found the Morristown Trust Company and joining the board of trustees at the ‘Hospital for the Insane’ at Morris Planes. Spiritual matters were important too, and he attended the Catholic Church in New York and Morristown, where as a friend of ‘the weak and afflicted’, he devoted ‘a large portion of an unusually busy life’, saidThe Morristown County Chronicle. In Morristown, Farrelly was called a ‘devoted son of Holy Church’ and one of the first members of St. Mary’s Young Men’s Catholic Association. He also joined the Lotus and Aldine clubs and in earlier days he frequented the Manhattan Club.

On April 23, 1904, Patrick Farrelly’s death was announced; the papers reported that he was survived by his wife Elizabeth and five children.

Farrelly’s eldest son, Thomas Charles Farrelly was by then assistant secretary of the American News Company. Requiem Mass was celebrated by Bishop Kelly of Savannah and the funeral took place at the Church of St Paul the Apostle, with his burial afterwards in the family plot at Morristown. According to theMariposa GazettePatrick Farrelly the newsman’ had left an estimated fortune of $80,000,000.


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