Monday Mystery – Are these gents Savannah Irish? Irish-born photographers in Savannah and Other Georgia Cities

The mystery photo I want to share with you today is one I purchased from someone who thought it was a Savannah “4-H” group band.  I do not believe it has anything to do with that organization, but there is definitely a “4” on those uniforms, and there is at least one musical instrument evident, a horn.

This does appear to be a parade group, and could that be a “fire hand engine wagon” someone leans on, or a fire hose reel? My guess is this image dates c1895 – 1905, and the last hand engine was out of service in Savannah by 1871, according to the history of the Savannah Fire Department. Perhaps one was used for special occasions like the old annual fireman’s parade, or in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade?

Here’s a detail of the group (click to enlarge):

Savannah group ca1895 detail

Perhaps the uniform on these gents, which has a clover leaf – a shamrock – and a number 4, and what could be the initials SHA, as in Savannah Hibernian Association, could really be the initials SFD as in Savannah Fire Department? But I think it looks more like the former, and those don’t look like firemen’s uniforms. The Savannah Hibernians organization was founded in 1812, and it still exists.

Here’s a smaller detail, showing their shirts, but maybe not quite clear enough to read  (click to enlarge):

Savannah group ca1895 detail2

In David T. Gleason’s The Irish in the South, 1815-1877 (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2001)  the Irish population of Georgia in 1850, is given as 3,202, and in 1860, as 6,586, which is an increase of 105.7%.

The 1850 population of Savannah Irish was at 1,555, and in 1860 Gleason gives it as 3,145, which is an increase of 102.3%. As you can see, much of Georgia’s Irish were living in Savannah before the Civil War, and many remained there and more arrived afterward.

The Hibernian Society of Savannah began the tradition of Savannah’s St. Patrick’s Day parades, and the one held in 2013 was its 189th.  Here is a link to the Savannah St. Patrick’s Day Parade Chrononlogy:

I am always interested in Georgia’s photographers of various ethnicity and origin. The following are those photographers and their associates I have documented (thus far) as born in Ireland, and the majority worked in Savannah.

Of course, many more in this profession were second generation Irish-Americans. Contact me for additional information on any individuals listed here, the below is only a brief entry on each person.

An excellent source for research on immigrants in Savannah as of 1867 is Paul K. Graham’s “Foreign Born Voters in Savannah and Chatham County, 1867” in three issues of the Georgia Genealogical Society Quarterly (v. 44 #4, v. 45 #1 &2; winter 2008, spring and summer 2009).

Working in Savannah (dates active there are in parentheses):

Isaac Beckett, b. c1839 in County Mayo; d. Feb. 27, 1911 in Savannah (Dec. 1864 – 1865). I believe he is the same person who was connected with the postwar Savannah Custom House.  And I also believe this carte-de-visite portrait by Samuel A. Cooley, with whom Beckett was first associated in SC and Savannah as Cooley & Beckett, is likely he.  Beckett was naturalized through his three years service in the U.S. Army (NY Infantry Regt., 56th)

IsaacBeckett byCooley

Isaac Beckett by S.A. Cooley, from Civil War Carte de Visite Collection, NY State Military Museum

Joseph Collins, b. c1817 in County Cork (sold stereo views, stereoscopes at least Sept – Nov. 1858)

R. J. [Richard Joseph] Nunn, b. Dec. 13, 1831 in County Wexford; d. June 29, 1910 in Savannah (1857-58; he worked in Athens July-Aug. 1858; as of 1859 was listed as a physician only)


J. A. Palmer, Savannah, c1869 portrait of pregnant woman; Author’s Collection

J. [James] A. Palmer, b. 1823 unidentified county Ireland; d. May 29, 1896 in Aiken South Carolina (c1866 – c1871; while located in Aiken South Carolina, he made stereo views of Augusta, Atlanta and north Georgia, c1873 -85)

D. [Daniel] J. Ryan, b. June 1836 in Dublin; d. March 26, 1908 in Denver, Colorado (1867-1885)


D. J. Ryan, c1880 Savannah, cabinet card backmark; Author’s Collection

Working in Athens: H. Bambrick, b. c1832 unidentified county Ireland (1860), and F. O’Farrell, b. unidentified county Ireland (1851 & 1860)

And lastly, artist Theresa Grant (m. name Hoffman), b. Dec. 1868 unidentified county Ireland; d. Sept. 1959 in Pinellas County, FL, worked in Columbus (1888-1889) as a crayon artist for her father, photographer A. G. Grant, who was born in Ohio!

© E. Lee Eltzroth and Hunting & Gathering, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without  written permission from this blog’s author is prohibited. The piece can be re-blogged, and excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to E. Lee Eltzroth and Hunting & Gathering, with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


  1. Frances Osborn Robb · · Reply

    Loved the photo. We lived in Savannah for two years in the mid-1980s, and one of the perqs of David’s job as director of Telfair Academy was sitting on the raised porch of the Owens-Thomas House watching the St. Patrick’s Day parade, with its marching benevolent societies and schools. I suspect that the hand engine was lovingly maintained and brought out annually for the event. In Mobile in the late 1860s, a fire engine was photographed as part of the annual Mardi Gras celebrations, and in Montgomery there was a wter-throwing demonstration by a club of volunteer firemen at which time a picture was taken and later sold. I love these organizational photographs and feel sure that some old Savannahians would be able to identify this group. Thanks

    Frances Robb

  2. prosenbloom2012 · · Reply

    I loved the photograph of the pregnant woman. I am amazed every time I see such a topic portrayed in older photographs. My grandmother told me that pregnant woman considered her condition something private and was not a subject for mixed company conversation (circa the 1910s & 1920s) so I always thought that the same perspective would hold true for earlier historical periods.

    As for the Mystery Photo, here’s my proposed provenance. I think you are correct that the fire hose engine behind the group is significant. I cannot place the location for the photo but I also believe that it was either taken in a parade setting or just as a professional photo of the group…whom I believe to be firemen. Yes, that is a bugle in the picture. As for the uniforms, I am led to believe that the tops represent their baseball team– possibly the “Lucky Four?” (Station House No. 4, a group of very lucky firemen?) And the letters appear to me to possibly be “S-B-A” or “S-R-A?” But “S-H-A” is also possible. The style of caps reminds me of those worn post-Civil War, so I guess the photograph to be taken a little earlier than your guess. Baseball had become a popular sport and, apparently, a lot of firemen formed teams,

    See–go-team-go-the-first-team-sport-in-santa-cruz-ca-1880 (note the number of 10 men who served to pull the hose engine; your photo has 11 men and 1 boy)

    Any thoughts?

    — Pat Gerard

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