Site Navigation


The Irish Railroad Workers Riot
Vernon, 1837
By Sheila Kell
Picture of a Irish Railroad Worker from a later date

    Many Irish immigrants came to America and worked in the booming business of internal improvements that was going on here during the mid to late 1830's. This included work on the Railroads, these immigrants brought with them some traditions from their Irish home that did not make working together a peaceful situation. One of these was feuds between groups from different regions in Ireland over wages and jobs. It has been said the main Irish fighting was between those who were Catholic and Protestant but in this case it was mainly the Irish Catholics who came from County Cork "Corkonians" and those from either County Down or Connacht and Lienster and were called "Fardowns" those coming from the lower counties of Ireland. When people from each of these groups were hired and thus forced to work together trouble frequently arose. One group did not want the other to make more money or to be a majority of the workforce. These feuds caused what were termed "Irish riots" in the news of the time.

    Just a few miles south of Vernon during the building of the Madison to Indianapolis Railroad a group of Fardowns feared for their jobs because there was an influx of Corkonians so they attacked their adversaries somewhere between the two bridges on the rail line in hopes of driving off their competitors. In the ensuing brawl a Corkonian man by the name of Patrick Galluly (Gilhooly) was killed. Our local Sheriff , William Sanford, with a posse went to the scene and searched the work camps and shanties. Some Fardowners who had blood on their clothes were arrested for his murder. The Fardowns threatened to break their compatriots out of the jail in Vernon. Messengers reached the other laborers on the railroad, who instantly threw down their pickaxes and started for Vernon, the theatre of war. Rumors of a Fardown attack on the town and jail caused local citizens to sleep with weapons at the ready. The whole number of hands on the railroad line was about 1700; only about three hundred of these were Corkonians. Days later the Fardowns appeared on the outskirts of town where they met the militia and armed citizens who stopped them at the Muscatatuck. This group included between 100 and 120 people from Jefferson County who rushed to help defend Vernon. One of the locals challenged the Fardowns, yelling at those gathered on the other side of the water that the "first man who sets foot in the creek was a dead man." A brief stalemate ensued until the Fardowns agreed to a meeting with citizens and agreed to disband and go back to work on the condition of marching up to "Lord" Flanigan's and being dismissed by him. What position Flanigan held among the railroad contractors is not known but he was held in great honor by the laborers and was the ultimate authority in all their difficulties.
    It was generally believed that he and his wife belonged to the English aristocracy, whom some ill fortune had landed them in uncongenial surroundings. Their home with its Wilton carpet, pictures and bric a brac, was a revelation to the youthful Hoosiers, as well as the delicate beauty and dainty apparel of the two little daughters. Mrs. Flanigan first brought into the simplicity of Vernon society, an idea of the distinction of rank, by a proposal to have a school for the children of professional men to which her children could be sent without detriment to their rank. (The home in which the Flanigan's lived was very close to the railroad as you leave Vernon heading toward North Vernon and was only torn down a few years ago.)
    On September 19, 1837, Martin Crotty and Michael Brennan, two of the Fardowns, were indicted by the Grand Jury for the Murder of Patrick Galuly. The Grand Jury was composed of : Jeremiah Patrick, John L. Johnson, Solomon May, Samuel Bennett, William McCabe, Pleasant McCartney, John C. Comstock, John Riggs, John Leming, James S Smith, James Butler, Samuel Meek, Thomas Griffith and Walter F. Carson.
    On September 20th Michael Brennan was brought into court and pled not guilty to the charge of Murder. His attorney was given until the next day to prepare and he was remanded to jail.
    On September 21, 1837, Michael Brennan was tried for murder and convicted, jurors in his trial were: Elihu Galloway, Elias May, William Deputy, David Jeffers, Andrew Wilson, Isaac Thixton, Nathan Draper, David Knapp, Enoch Parker, Maurice Baker, John Brown and Joseph Elliott.
    On September 23, 1837 - Braxton B. Pelley, Joseph B. Geviden and John Mills, who had been indicted for taking part in the riot had their cases dismissed by the prosecution. Also on this date William Noonan and Daniel Cain who had been indicted for Assault & Battery with intent to commit Murder came before the court and were tried for their crimes. Daniel Cain was found not guilty, William Noonan was found not guilty of Assault and Battery with intent to commit murder but guilty of Assault and Battery as charged and fined Eight Dollars which would be used for the County Seminaries, together with costs. Henry L. Arnold paid his fine & costs on the judgment. The jury for these trials consisted of Nathan Draper, John Gasaway, Levi W. Todd, Allen Hill, Samuel Read, Elias May, Jesse Holbrook, John Cox, William Deputy, Enoch Parker, Amos Knapp and William S. Miller.
    Next on the docket was the trial of Luke Flinn for taking part in the riot, he pled not guilty and was tried, the jury found him not guilty. The jury in this case consisted of William Deputy, James Harmon, Nathan Draper, John Gasaway, Allen Hill, William S. Miller, Enoch Parker, Elihu Galloway, Elias May, John Cox, Joseph Elliott and David Jeffers.
    On the same day Martin Crotty pled not guilty and was tried for the Murder of Patrick Galluly he was convicted by the following jury: Thomas Williamson, Jacob Brougher, John Cox, James Harmon, Samuel Read, Stephen Dolph, Jesse Holbrook, Mr. Fitzgerald, John S. Compton, William F. Cheaver, Asa Skinner and Hiram Prather.
    On September 24, 1837, Martin Crotty age 24 was brought back in to court and asked for a new trial which was denied by the judge - he was then sentenced to die, by hanging, on the twentieth day of October between the hours of ten o'clock and three o'clock.
    On September 25, 1837, Michael Brennan age 26 was brought back in to court and asked for a new trial which was denied by the judge - he was then sentenced to die, by hanging, on the twentieth day of October between the hours of ten o'clock and three o'clock.
    In the immediate aftermath of the trial, rumors circulated that Governor Noah Noble might commute the Fardownians death sentences. Father Michael Shawe, a priest based in Madison, worked to obtain a reprieve for the condemned men. John Vawter, a member of the Indiana legislature from Vernon, wrote to Noble imploring the governor to keep the sentences in place as a deterrent to future outbreaks of violence. He stressed that swift justice was imperative to establishing "peace and quiet of the laborers on the line of Public works."
    Governor Noble was unmoved by Vawter's plea, in October of 1837 the death sentence passed on Brennen and Crotty " was commuted by the Governor to imprisonment for life,"they were the first 'life-time men' sentenced in the state of Indiana." The deciding factors in commuting the sentence curiously came from the recommendations of the "Presiding and Associate Judges, a portion of the jury by whom the prisoners were sentenced, the Clerk, Sheriff, and a number of citizens of Jennings County." Vawter was not alone in his disappointment at the Governor?s actions. A Corkonian mob, angry at the outcome, turned on Michael Shawe, of Madison (the priest spearheading the efforts to spare Brennen and Crotty), who narrowly escaped.
    Both Brennan and Crotty were later pardoned by Governor Noah Noble.


    Documentation for above from -
The Irish Wars: Laborer Feuds on Indiana's Canals and Railroads in the 1830s
Author: Jay M. Perry
Date: 2013
Source: Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 109, Issue 3,

Jennings County Indiana Civil Court Records - Jennings County Courthouse

Articles from newspapers both in Madison, Jefferson County and Columbus, Bartholomew County

Records of the Indiana State Prison South in Jeffersonville, Clark County, Indiana

Indiana State Library - Digital Collection Messages & Papers of Noah Noble


You may use this material for your own personal research, however it may not be used for commercial publications without express written consent of the contributor, INGenWeb, and