The Sweeny Family of Chester, PA

In 1797-98 the United Irish Uprising drove exiles to America in search of haven. Most of these men were poor and settled into the poorer, laboring districts of Northern Liberties and Southwark Ward, along the waterfront in Philadelphia. Most of these Irishmen were not Catholic but Protestant. The only Sweeny listed in the Southwark Ward is a Charles Sweeny in 1820. 

This is what was written in 1941 by Florence Johnson (Daughter of William and Kate) for William and Kate Sweeny (William was the son of Charles Roe Sweeny, Sr.). William and Kate signed the document. 

“William Sweeny

Born - 1818 in Milford, Delaware
Married - Katie Roe
Children - Harry, Samuel, Charles and 2 girls. 

He was a pilot on a sailing vessel
He lived in Lewis, Delaware
He was drowned July 9th 1873 age 55 years

His father came from Ireland in the time of the Irish Rebellion 1798 to the United Stated of America. Very Young.
He was catholic.
He married a protestant woman who raised their children Protestants.”

I have examined every directory and census from the early 1800’s. From every record and census I can find, William is listed as a coach maker in almost all of them. The first directory that I found William in is a Philadelphia directory in 1845. He is listed as a shoemaker. How do I know this is the right William? Because his wife Katie Roe’s family owned a shoe business in which even Williams oldest son Charles worked at. The business was run out of Darby, PA where Williams first son was born. All the William Sweeny’s prior to 1845 were carpenters or painters. No one was listed as working on a sailing vessel. Later directories have William listed as a coach maker. Even the Chester, PA directory from the year he died in 1873 has him listed as a coach maker. William Sweeny could have died by reason of drowning, but he was not a pilot on a sailing vessel. Could the writers of this 1941 document have meant that Williams father was the pilot from Delaware? Could have been, but I believe it is likely that this Charles listed in the Southwark Ward in Philadelphia is most likely Williams father. Irish tradition is to name your first son after your father and your second son after your father-in-law. Williams father-in-law was Samuel Roe. He named his second son Samuel, so I believe he was following tradition. Williams first son is named Charles. Is it a coincidence that the Irishmen that fled Ireland in 1797-98 ended up in the Northern Liberties and Southwark Ward, Philadelphia and there is a Charles Sweeny listed at that location?

This is my account of William Sweeny based off Philadelphia Directories, Chester, PA Directories, Census Records, Charles R. Sweeny newspaper articles and many other documents I have found: 

I believe William Sweeny’s father name to be Charles Sweeny from Ireland. He fled to America in 1798. William Sweeny was born about 1818 in an unknown location. Many relatives believe it was Milford, Delaware, but I have yet to find proof of this. I wrote to the Milford Historical Society and received a negative response. Also, all of the census reports I have seen show him as being born in Pennsylvania. There is no doubt he was a coach maker for most of his life. He moved his family from Darby, PA to Chester PA is 1847. William was in the civil war in the same regiment as his oldest son Charles. He died in 1873 from an unknown cause. He was originally buried in a section of the Chester Rural Cemetery called Soldiers Circle, but was moved to a different area to be with his wife in the same cemetery. 

William was married to Catharine Ann Roe in 1840 at the St. James Episcopal Church of Kingsessing. She was born in 1822 to Samuel Roe and Elizabeth Tribet. Her family resided in Darby, PA. William and Catharine lived in Darby, PA until 1847 when they moved to Chester, PA. Catharine died in 1904 in Chester, PA. Before leaving Darby, PA they had a son Charles Roe Sweeny, Sr. He was born in 1842. Their other children were, Samuel, Ellen, Henry (Harry), and John. It is important to note that Catharine raised the children as Methodists. William might have been Catholic, but the Roes were strict Methodists. The Roes worshipped at the Darby Methodist Meeting House. 

After moving to Chester, PA Charles Roe Sweeny first worked for James Campbell who conducted a cotton mill on the site of the present police station in 1932. His home then was on the lot occupied by the law offices of Redward and Hinkson in the rear of the old Chester Times building. It is documented that Charles R. Sweeny worked with his uncle for a small amount of time in Darby, PA and at age 15 he returned to Chester, PA. I believe this was David Roe who was a shoemaker, as most the Roe family worked in this trade. There is a little bit of conflict regarding his early years of working. Charles stated he worked for Mr. Campbell until the age of 17, yet he went to Darby for a Short time to work with his uncle. It could be that he worked for his uncle in Darby before starting with Mr. Cambell. We don’t know that actual age he started working. 

Shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War, Charles enlisted in the Army. He said he was in the service in time to see the first shots fired at Fort Sumter and said he witnessed the evacuation of Charleston, SC.  His service record in the Civil War is as follows:

-Company B, 16th PA Militia Infantry, Mustered in September 17, 1862

Called September 4, 1862, to repel Lee's invasion of Maryland. Disbanded September 24, 1862.

-Company A, 37th Regiment PA Militia Infantry, Mustered in July 1-15, 1863

Organized at Harrisburg July 4, 1863, for the protection of Pennsylvania during Lee's invasion. Guard duty in the Dept. of the Susquehanna. Mustered out August 3, 1863.

There is a conflict with his Civil war record. The war started in early 1861. This conflicts with his claim that he was in the service in time to see the evacuation of Charleston and see the first shots at Fort Sumter. The 16th regiment he is listed as being apart of did not muster in until 1862. I did find a similar 16th Regiment that I believe he was apart of and that was only in service for three months. He did claim his first enlistment lasted three months. I found the following regiment listed above the 16th PA Militia Infantry:

-16th Regiment Infantry (3 months)

Organized at Camp Curtin, Harrisburg, May 3, 1861. (Co. "C" mustered for three years April 20, 1861, the first Company of Pennsylvania to so volunteer.) Moved to York, Pa., May 9, and duty there until June 3. Moved to Chambersburg June 3, thence to Williamsport June 16. Attached to Miles' 4th Brigade, Cadwalader's 1st Division, Patterson's Army. At Williamsport June 16-July 2. Occupation of Martinsburg July 3. Advance on Bunker Hill July 15. At Charlestown July 17. Mustered out July 30, 1861.

Notice that it mentions this regiment as being at Charleston, NC. I did email a professor at Purdue University who is a specialist in Civil War history. She responded with the following:

Dear Mr. Sweeny,

It seems highly unlikely that your ancestor heard the first shots at Ft Sumter. Unless he was part of Anderson's command (which was very small) or a visitor to Charleston that April, he is most likely "stretching the truth" (to put it nicely). This would not have been out of the ordinary for veterans by the 1930s. By that time, there were fewer and fewer men around from the war, and those who survived would have been in their 90s. I can easily see where in an interview with a paper he would (consciously or not) elaborate on his role in the war to make it seem even more exciting. Veterans did this all the time. In fact, it's in part the nature of memory - we sometimes tend to see the past quite differently than it was.

I hope this helps.


Caroline E. Janney
Associate Professor of History
Purdue University
672 Oval Drive
West Lafayette, IN 47907-1755

On July 9, 1865 Charles Sweeny married Sarah (Sara) Blizzard at the Chester Methodist Episcopal Church on Fifth Street and Welsh (no longer there). Sarah was born in 1845 in Chester, PA to William H. Blizzard and Margaretta Fisher. Together they had three sons, Charles, Jr., William, and John. 

Their residents in 1884 was 603 North St., Chester, PA. Today North St. looks abandoned with about three old run down houses on it. 

He also served as a landsman in the United States Navy on the receiving ship Princeton, the transfer ship New Hampshire and the gunboat Mary Sanford. 

After his discharge from the service he returned to Chester and secured a position at the Frick Shipyard in Chester. Later he was employed at Pennell's Shipyard. Both firms have long been forgotten. 

When he terminated his connection with the shipbuilding industry he secured a position with Frank Larkin, who for several years conducted a feed store in Chester. Upon Larkin's retirement from the business and leaving the city, Mr. Sweeny then made a connection with George McCall, founder of the business at Sixth and Madison streets which now bears his name, and worked at the establishment for a period of 10 years. 

Charles worked the majority of his later years at the Delaware County Trust Company as a watchman. This company was bought out by Fidelity in the late 1930s, early 1940s. Charles retired as a watchman after working for the same company for 45 years.  

Charles was a member of the Grand Army Republic (G. A. R.) Wilde Post #25. He served two terms as commander of this post and later on as chaplain He was also the oldest member of Tuscurora Tribe, No. 25, Improved Order of Red Men, both in age and the length of membership, and he was a member of Larkin Lodge, No. 78, Knights of Pythias. He was a member of Madison Street Methodist Episcopal Church, where he worshiped for more than 40 years.

Charles last days are recorded as such: Thursday morning he was stricken in the dining room of his home and was compelled to take to his bed. At 10.30 o'clock he was discovered to be unconscious by his wife, Mrs. Sallie Blizzard Sweeny, who summoned Dr. Percey R. Craig. Upon the physicians visit at the home yesterday morning Mr. Sweeny showed signs of slight improvement but in the afternoon he again lapsed into a coma and slept peacefully to the end. Charles was 91 years old. 

From reading the many articles written on Charles, one can see he had many friends and was a well-accomplished man. He didn’t have the highest paying job, but was spiritually sound and had a very fulfilling life. He stated in one article that he felt like a millionaire because he has so many grandchildren. He lived to see his great-great grandchildren. 

Charles Roe Sweeny, Jr. was born 3 May 1866 in Darby, Pennsylvania. Charles Jr.’s early life is not as well known as his fathers. I do have records of his baptism at the Madison Street Methodist Church. He was not in the military (from what I have researched), and died the same year World War II started. He died in 1939 and according to his death certificate he died of heart trouble. It could be said that he had a drinking problem and this is was brought on the heart condition that killed him. It cannot be proven without argument though. I do have a picture of him drinking a beer and have also read an article in the Chester Times where his wife Sarah called the police because of Charles’ unwillingness to support her anymore and because of his drunkenness with his friends. As you will see this problem with alcohol could very well have passed to his first-born son, Charles Roe Sweeny, III. He worked for the Atlantic Steel Casting Company. 

Charles Jr. married Sarah (Sadie) Holcroft Scott on 26 June 1889. Sarah was born on 1 Oct 1867, the daughter of Robert and Deborah Scott. Charles Jr. died 16 May 1939 and Sarah died on 22 June 1935. Both Charles and Sarah were buried at Lawncroft Cemetery, Linwood, PA. The children of Charles and Sarah are as follows: Sallie, Charles, III, Harry, Elsie, Lillian, Emma. 

Charles Roe Sweeny, III was born on 27 Aug 1892. Charles the third is said to have been found dead in an alley in Philadelphia, PA in 1942. This is the same year that his son Paul was serving in the Navy during World War II. His death certificate states that he died of heart complications. This could have been a result of alcoholism. His direct family states that he did have problems with alcohol. His son Paul said that Charles was a hardworking man who liked to have things orderly. He was very strong, but not bulky. 

Charles married Ella May Bouchelle on 27 Jun 1917. Ella was born on 22 Oct 1895 in Crumm Lynne, PA. She died 11 May 1978 in Sharon Hill, PA. She was the daughter of Benjamin Bouchelle and Ella Cleaver. Children of Charles and Ella are Charles IV, William Burn Sweeny, Paul Evans Sweeny and Dolores May Sweeny. 

Paul Evans Sweeny was born 2 February 1924 in Pennsylvania.  He was the third son born to Charles Roe Sweeny and Ella May Bouchelle Sweeny.  He graduated in 1943 from Eddystone High School.  During his high school years he was on the Diving Team and President of the Senior Class.  Upon graduation, he joined the US Navy.  He served as a Signalman  on the USS Pheasant AM 61.  As the ship was sailing over the Atlantic Ocean for the D-Day Invasion of France, he received word that his father, Charles Roe Sweeny, III died.  He was unable to return to the states at that time.  The USS Pheasant was a minesweeper and his ship was one of many that helped secure the waters for the Invasion in the Battle of Normandy, off the coast of France. Following the Invasion, the ship sailed down the Coast of Africa, across the Atlantic Ocean, thru the Panama Canal, and up to California where Paul received his discharge charge papers and headed back to Pennsylvania via the railroad.

Paul married Catherine Taylor, a high school classmate, January 12, 1946 in Eddystone, PA.  They had 5 children:  Nancy, Paul, Jean, David, and Bob. The family was active in Eddystone Baptist Church and later in Maranatha Tabernacle in Darby, PA. Paul led music and served as a deacon. They participated in visitation at various nursing homes in the area. They sang and presented the gospel on street corners.  Paul was always asking people home to dinner with out Catherine's knowledge until they arrived home.

Paul had various jobs over the years to support the family.  In the 1960's he started to work for Avisun (American Visco and Sun Oil) in Marcus Hook which later was bought by AMOCO. AMOCO moved their Plastic division to the Chicago area in the 1970.

Paul moved to Boulder Hill, Illinois with Catherine, Jean, David, and Bob. For many years they frequently traveled back and forth to Pennsylvania to visit Nancy and Paul and their families.

At AMOCO, Paul worked as a Technical Representative for the various plastic materials sold by the company, traveling throughout the USA and to other countries.

In the 1970's Catherine was diagnosed with Lupus.  After a long illness she died in 1977. While Paul continued to travel for AMOCO, Jean helped at home with the boys.

Paul met Ruth Qurollo Erickson in 1980.  They were married on July 31, 1987.
Paul retired from AMOCO in May of 1988.  They moved to Holiday, Florida in
November of the same year to help out her parents, who had medical problems.

Paul has enjoyed his retirement.  He is active in his church, First Baptist Church of New Port Richey, Florida, singing in the choir, and helping to lawn maintenance at the church.  He also enjoyed bowling over the years, and fishing.  He liked to fish in the Gulf of Mexico in the flats and in a pond in his back yard. 

Robert Sweeny is Pauls third son. Matthew Sweeny is Roberts second son. Gabriel Sweeny is Matthew’s first son.