Callahan brothers left Ireland in 1775 …
Thomas Callahan has been the focus of two short stories of mine here on The Creative Exiles. To know and understand Thomas we have to go back to the beginning of the Callahan Clan when they first arrived in the Great Smoky Mountains.
Ephram Thomas Callahan was the first member of the clan to arrive in America. Ephram and his older brother Joseph boarded a ship full of Irish from Ulster to sail to the colonies in 1775. Ephram was fifteen years old when he first set foot on American soil. He was a gentle lad, unsure of his future and heart-broken. Joseph had died on the ship just a week before they landed. Like several others who had died on the trip, Joseph was buried at sea.
Alone, missing his homeland and family, and devastated over the loss of Joseph, Ephram did what he could to survive. Without Joseph he now had to stand up for himself and he learned fast. The first time he stood in line to sign up for work on the docks a big husky man came and shoved Ephram out of line. “To the back with ya, boy! I got kids to feed.” Ephram tried to get back in line behind the bully, but one after another man shoved him out till he was at the tail end. “You just gonna take that kind of treatment?” A young man in front of him said as he looked at the hurt look on Ephram’s face. Ephram had a flash-back of his Dad back home in the fields, showing him how to smack a stubborn mule on the forehead with his fist to show it who was boss.
Ephram stood up straight and walked back up to the front of the line. When he approached the bully he said, “Excuse me, sir. I would like my place back.” The bully said, “The divil you say!” and laughed loudly. Ephram pulled back his arm and with an overhead swing smacked the guy right between the eyebrows with his fist, which knocked him out of line. “Damn! I think you broke my nose, boy!”
Now it was Ephram’s turn to laugh. “Well maybe that will add some character to that ugly face of yours!” Every man in line started laughing. The bully slapped Ephram on the back and said, “You’re alright, boy! Looks like you will make it in America.” Ephram held out a hand and the two of them shook. “Big Joe they call me, Joe Murphy,” he kept shaking hands, nearly rattling Ephram’s brain loose. “Ephram Callahan. Pleased to meet you, Joe Murphy.”
“You got a place to sleep tonight, Ephram?” Joe asked. “Wherever I can find a good spot on the docks.” Ephram was a bit embarrassed. “My brother Joseph died on the ship and I ain’t got nothing of my own yet.” Big Joe frowned, his face softened and he wiped a tear from his eye. “Two of my little ones died on ship. Bless them all who died.” He patted Ephram on the back again. “My Maudie and me got a little cabin. We ain’t got much, but we sure have room for another kid if you want to come home with me.”
From that day on the two worked together. Big Joe taught Ephram a lot and no one bothered the lad again. Maudie was thrilled to have another one in their family and she doted on Ephram. Her and Big Joe said it was a blessing that they were together, seeing as how they both lost loved ones. Two years later, when Big Joe and Maudie decided to join a group of other Irish immigrants and travel to the backwoods of the Appalachians to start a farm there was no question that Ephram would go with them. They were family now, and their oldest daughter, Emily, was smitten with Ephram. There was no way the two young ones would be separated.
Ephram had grown much taller and stronger working on the docks. He was soon as tall as Big Joe. They all looked forward to having their own farm and had saved up enough money to buy a good size settlement in the Sugarlands. Two cabins were built on the farm, one for Big Joe, Maudie and their kids, and one for the day Ephram and Emily got married. Ephram lived in the cabin alone till he was nineteen and Emily was seventeen. The day of their wedding brought folks from all over the community that had grown rapidly. One of the first things Ephram did after his wedding was to carve three tombstones from large rocks. For days he chiseled and hammered away. On one tombstone he carved his brother Joseph’s name and dates and “died on board ship – buried at sea 1775.” The other two he took over to Big Joe and Maudie for the two children they lost at sea. All three tombstones were set out in the back of the property. This was the beginning of the Murphy – Callahan Family Cemetery. Without planning on a new business, Ephram became the tombstone carver for the entire community. If one goes back to that time, all of the cemetery tombstones up till 1800 were carved by Ephram Callahan.
With great success on their farm Ephram was able to start sending money home to his family in Ulster. Eventually his parents and the three children still at home were able to travel to America and they, too, settled in the Sugarlands. This is the story of how the Callahan clan started in America. From Ephram and his family the Callahan descendants just kept growing. Life in the backwoods was healthy and abundant with the produce they grew, the farm animals they raised and wild game. The Cherokee tribe in the area liked the newcomers and a mutual respect had grown between the two cultures. A lot of knowledge was exchanged on how to survive in the mountains, on hunting, foraging, growing and using herbs for cooking and home remedies for health issues.
Ephram and Emily had seven children, four boys and three girls, all survived to adulthood. From his meager beginnings as a young, inexperienced, lonesome and scared youth, Ephram became a happy and contented man. Ephram was tough as nails when the need called for it, he learned that from Big Joe. Yet, no kinder or more generous heart could be found than Ephram Thomas Callahan. It was this kindness and generosity that was passed on and carried down through generations of the Callahan clan. And it was the essence of Ephram that was inherited by his great-grandson, Thomas Ephram Callahan.
© 2017 Phyllis Doyle Burns
You might like to read the first two stories about Thomas Callahan: