James F. Scott and his three wives

My grandmother Helen Worthington never knew her maternal grandparents. Her grandmother Jenny Scott died before she was born, and she apparently had no contact with her grandfather James. But she had heard a family story about them, probably from her mother Elizabeth. Elizabeth’s father was James F. Scott. He was in business in Philadelphia with his brothers. His first wife, Jenny, died when Elizabeth was young. When James remarried, to the sister of his first wife, the new wife did not want the baby, and Elizabeth was sent away to be raised in a Catholic orphanage.1

So far the story seems mostly true.2 Elizabeth’s father was in fact James F. Scott.3 In 1880 she was not living with her father and stepmother, but in a residential school for girls run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.4 When she died in 1911, Elizabeth was buried at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Glenside.5 The open question is whether his first and second wives were sisters. They were both born in New York, which is unusual for wives of a man living in Philadelphia.

Scott Brothers is listed in city directories of Philadelphia between 1872 and 1902. Variously described as express, teams, carmen, and livery, it was a delivery service, in business for over 30 years, first at 146 South Street, and later at 1529 S. Front.6 From the directories the brothers were James, Samuel, and Ezekiel.

They came from northern Ireland, near Newtown Limavady in County Derry. Samuel and Dorothea Scott had five sons there: Ezekiel, James, Samuel, Joseph, and Alexander. They were Presbyterians, and attended a church in Carbullion, a few miles north of Newtown Limavady.7 They all emigrated together in 1851 on the Superior out of Londonderry, and arrived on May 5.8 The ship carried 217 passengers, all Irish, and mostly farmers and laborers. In Philadelphia, the parents died before the 1860 census was taken, and the brothers scattered. James lived with his brother Samuel, boarding in the “eating house” of John and Sarah Gallagher.9 (Samuel would later marry their daughter Sallie Gallagher.) By 1867 James was married, to the first of his three wives.10 Her name was Jennie.11 She was born about 1843, and was just a few years younger than James. They had one known child, a daughter Elizabeth, born about 1867, probably in August.12 In 1870 James, Jennie and Elizabeth were living a few houses away from James’ brother Ezekiel, his wife Ellen and their young sons Samuel and Ezekiel, surrounded by other Irish immigrants in Philadelphia’s rough-and-tumble 4th ward.13 The 4th ward was just south of the 5th ward, “Bloody 5th”, and probably shared its character. “Poor newcomers to the Fifth Ward lived in and amid crowded streets and alleys, apartments, taprooms, cheap rooming houses, warehouses, and small stores. In this increasingly marginalized district, murder and prostitution became chronic, and law enforcement nonexistent.”14 On Election Day 1871 riots spread through both wards as Irish clashed with African Americans and police over the blacks’ right to vote.15 Brick-throwing Irish mobs erupted on Election Day 1871, causing deaths and injuries among blacks attempting to vote. The Irish were led by their “ward boss”, William McMullen, who controlled the 4th ward for almost fifty years.16 McMullen was “certainly behind much of what happened in the Fourth Ward…. He was the key to the riot.”17 After that incident, political deals kept the wards quiet on election days.18 Unemployment made it easy to exploit discontent. “Irish males carried bricks, portered goods, and produced textiles and clothing, while women worked largely as housekeepers and maids. Employment was at best sporadic, too frequently leaving Irish males out of work and in the streets.”19

James and Jennie had only the daughter Elizabeth, before Jennie’s death in August 1875.20 She was 32 years old, buried at Mt Moriah, a large non-sectarian cemetery along Cobbs Creek in southwestern Philadelphia.21 James remarried on October 10, 1877, at the Third Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.22 His wife was Mary Maxwell. She was 28 years old, and born in Bath, New York.23 This was an unlikely match. Bath is in Steuben County, upstate New York, largely rural and agricultural in the 1800s. It was not a core destination for Irish immigration, yet in the 1850 census, there was a cluster of Scots-Irish families living near the family of James and Sarah Maxwell, possible parents of Mary.24

In 1880, when the census was taken, James and Mary were living on Federal Street.25 This was south of his old location in the 4th ward. Elizabeth was not living with them. She was a resident in a school on the corner of 39th and Pine, the Immaculate Conception School run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd.26 In 1880 the school housed girls between the ages of seven and twenty-two; it must have served as an orphanage as well as a school, although the girls were taught housekeeping, sewing, and a “good English education”, presumably reading, writing and arithmetic.27 Elizabeth was 14 years old, and probably stayed in the school until she was 17 or so, or old enough to find a job as a domestic servant or similar occupation. There is no way to know whether she had any contact with her father or stepmother during this time.

James and Mary had a daughter Sarah, born on September 20, 1878.28 She is probably the same as the daughter Asseth listed in the 1880 census, age one. There are no further records of her, suggesting that she died young. At the time infant mortality was high. In 1880 an infant in Philadelphia had a one in six chance of dying before its first birthday.29 This rate was probably higher for poor Irish families such as the Scotts. James’ brother Samuel and his wife Sallie buried at least six of their children, most of them less than a year old. Mothers sometimes stopped breastfeeding early and fed their children bottled milk, which was often adulterated, infected with bacteria, or taken from tubercular cows. The city distributed forty thousand copies of a circular urging mothers to breastfeed their babies longer, especially through the summer months when the milk supply was more at risk due to the lack of refrigeration, but more babies still died in the summer until the early 1920s.30

In January 1882 James and Mary had another child, named Fannie.31 Like her half-sister Elizabeth, she would survive to marry. In February 1885 Mary died at age 39.32 She was buried at Mt Moriah, like Jennie ten years before her. Her death left James with little Fannie, just three years old, and Elizabeth, who was by then 17 years old. Instead of bringing Elizabeth back to keep house for him James remarried, for the third and final time around 1886.33  His wife was Martha Maxwell, probably the younger sister of his second wife Mary.34 They lived on Federal Street, where they owned the house. James worked as a contractor, still part of Scott Brothers. James and Martha had two children together, James F. and Cora Ferguson.35 Little James was stillborn in February 1888 and buried at Mt Moriah.36 Cora, born in December 1891, would live to marry, the only one of James’ five known children to outlive him. In 1900 James and Martha were still on Federal Street, with Fanny and Cora, as well as a housekeeper Sarah Mason, a widowed cousin.37 By 1910 they had moved north to the Oak Lane neighborhood of north Philadelphia, probably a step up in living conditions.38 In 1912 they were received at the Oak Lane Presbyterian Church, from the Third Presbyterian Church where they were already members.39

In 1911 when Fannie was 29, she made an unusual marriage to a fellow member of the Oak Lane Church, but someone of a different social background.40 John Mahn Thissell had graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where he was on the chess club and the championship bowling team.41 He had both a Bachelor’s and a Law degree and was set to practice law. He and Fannie were married for just three years. She gave birth to their son, John M. Thissell Jr, in October 1914, but she died soon after, from complications of the birth, and the baby died the next month at the age of five weeks.42

The following year Cora married Philip Guckes, probably at Oak Lane Church.43 This was another unexpected marriage for the Scott daughters. Philip was a grandson of Philip Guckes of the International Brewing Company, who built a brewery on School House Lane, produced 2,000 gallons of ale in 1870, lost the brewery to fire in 1881, and lost everything in a sheriff’s sale in 1883.44 Cora and Philip moved to Montgomery County, where they had two sons, Philip and James Ferguson. Cora died in 1965; Philip died in 1974.45

In October 1916, James Scott died, at age 76. He was buried at Mt Moriah, the preferred burial place for his immediate family.46 He had outlived three of his brothers, two of his wives, and most sadly, four of his children.47 After his death Martha lived with Cora and Philip in Montgomery County, until her death in 1928.48 The funeral was held at her home church of Oak Lane Presbyterian.49


  1. Personal communication, Helen Worthington Tyson. Helen never told me the name of her grandmother. Either she never knew it or had forgotten.
  2. If in fact Elizabeth told Helen the story, she would have known whether she was sent away to an orphanage or not. The question is whether Helen related the story accurately. She was elderly, but not senile, when she told me the story in the 1970s.
  3. PA State Death Certificate of Elizabeth Worthington, who died in Montgomery County in August 1911.
  4. 1880 census, Philadelphia, ED 584, Images 25-27, on Ancestry. At the corner of 39th and Pine Streets, this was the school run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd. (“Early Catholic Secondary Education in Pennsylvania”, Records of American Catholic Historical Society, vol. LIX, 1948, p. 264, on JSTOR)
  5. The death certificate gives her birth date as August 7, 1873. This is wrong. See Footnote 12.
  6. These addresses are near present-day Jefferson Square in Philadelphia.
  7. Records of baptisms of Samuel and Joseph on derry.rootsireland.ie.
  8. Ancestry, PA Passenger and Crew Lists, 1800-1962, M425, image 423. Samuel was 51; Dorethea was 35; Ezekiel was 12; James 10; Samuel 8; Joseph 6, and Alex was less than one year Since there are no further records of Alexander he may have died young. The death certificate of James F. Scott in 1916 listed his birthdate as July 25, 1840, which would make him 10 in May 1851.
  9. 1860 census, Philadelphia, 5th ward Southern Division, Image 35.
  10. No marriage record has been found for James and Jennie, but it is inconceivable that a good Presbyterian would live in sin.
  11. Her last name is not known. In the 1911 death certificate of her daughter Elizabeth Worthington it was given as Maxwell, but this may have been a confusion with the known name of James’ second and third wives. If they are in fact daughters of James and Sarah Maxwell of Bath, Steuben County, New York, then Jennie is probably not their sister, since James and Sarah are not known to have a daughter Jennie. (1850 census of Bath, image 75; 1860 census of Bath, image 28)
  12. In later census records and in her death certificate and burial record, Elizabeth’s birthdate is given as 1870, 1871, and 1873. There is no indication that the child born in 1867 died and another Elizabeth was born a few years later. It seems that Elizabeth fudged her age downwards, and that her husband provided inaccurate information after her death. But he probably got her birthday right, August 7.
  13. 1870 census, 4th ward, 11th district, image 96.
  14. Frank Fuller, “Bloody Fifth Ward”, Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, on philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/bloody-fifth-ward/.
  15. Fuller.
  16. Harry Silcox, “William McMullen, Nineteenth Century Political Boss”, PA Magazine of History and Biography, vol. 110(3), 1986, pp. 389-412, on JSTOR.
  17. Silcox, p. 404-405.
  18. Silcox, p. 409.
  19. Silcox, p. 390.
  20. Ancestry, PA Church and Town Records 1669-2013, Philadelphia, Mt. Moriah, image 174.
  21. Wikipedia article on Mt Moriah Cemetery (Philadelphia).
  22. Ancestry, US Presbyterian Church Records 1701-1970, Philadelphia, Third Presbyterian Church, Baptisms Marriages Deaths 1794-1955, Image 95.
  23. Her Philadelphia Death Certificate and the 1880 census record said that she was born in New York State. The reference to Bath is from a microfilm record of the marriage at Philadelphia City Archive. Difficult to read, the record said: ?October ?10 1877. James F. Scott, express bus., residence Philadelphia, age 37, married Mary Maxwell, residence Bath NY, age ?28. The New York State Census of 1875 gave her age as 27.
  24. 1850 federal census, New York, Steuben, Bath, images 73-76. The Maxwell family is on image 75. Is it a coincidence that they adjoined William and Sarah Robinson? When the Scott family immigrated on the Superior in 1851, the name on the passenger list after theirs was Ellen Robinson, age 12, who was not listed with any adult Robinsons. (Cf. footnote 8) Were the Robinsons the connection between James Scott and the Maxwell family? A search for Robinson in Griffith’s Valuation (series of tax lists) returns many hits in County Derry. (online at derry.rootsireland.ie)
  25. 1880 census, Philadelphia, ED 35, Image 11. He was indexed as Jas. T. Scott.
  26. 1880 census, Philadelphia, ED 584, Images 25-27.
  27. “Early Catholic Secondary Education in Pennsylvania”, Records of American Catholic Historical Society, vol. LIX, 1948, p. 264, on JSTOR.
  28. Phila City Births 1860-1906, on FamilySearch. Her parents were James F. Scott and Mary J. Scott. In the 1800 census James and Mary were shown with a daughter Asseth, one year old. It would have been impossible for Mary to have Sarah in the fall of 1878 and another baby before mid-1879. Sarah and Asseth must be the same person.
  29. Gretchen A. Condran, Henry Williams and Rose A. Cheney, “The Decline in Mortality in Philadelphia from 1870 to 1930: The Role of Municipal Services”, The Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 108(2), 1984, pp. 153-177, on JSTOR. The chart on page 156 shows the 1880 probability of dying from age 0 to 1 as 159.7 out of 1000. This was down from 174 out of 1000 in 1870, and would fall steadily through the end of the 1800s.
  30. Conran et al, pp. 170-174.
  31. Philadelphia City Births 1860-1906, on FamilySearch. Her parents were listed as James Scott and Mary M Scott. The date of birth was also shown on her death certificate.
  32. Phila Death Certificate Index on Ancestry. No husband or parents were named on the death certificate. Living at 386 Federal Street, 2nd ward, so it is definitely the right Mary Scott. The cause of death is not given in the index, or in the burial records of Mt Moriah.
  33. A marriage record has not been found. The date is based on the 1900 census, when James and Martha were married about 14 years.
  34. Martha Maxwell was born in New York, like Mary. Mary was from Bath, Steuben County (from her marriage record). The family of James and Sarah Maxwell in Bath had a daughter Mary J, born about 1845 and a daughter Martha, born about 1852. It is highly likely that this is the same Martha. This gains added credence from the story from Helen Worthington that two of the wives were sisters (although she may have mistaken which two they were).
  35. Cora’s middle name was clearly a commemoration of James’ mother Dorothy Ferguson.
  36. Phila Death Certificate Index on Ancestry.
  37. 1900 census, Philadelphia, ward 2, District 37, Images 11-12. Whose cousin was Sarah? Born about 1836, she was the same generation as James. As a widow her married name was Mason; her maiden name is unknown.
  38. 1910 census, Philadelphia, ED 1068, ward 42, Div. 12, Image 15. They lived near Cheltenham Avenue, and the Old York Road. The church is just around the corner from where I lived for a year when I was in third grade.
  39. Ancestry, US Presbyterian Church Records 1701-1970, Oak Lane Church, Baptisms Births Deaths 1907-1920, (Church Register #2), Image 114. Martha’s name was given as Martha E. Maxwell Scott. Cora was Cora Ferguson Scott.
  40. He had been received in membership there in 1904 on profession of faith. (Oak Lane Church, Baptisms Births Deaths, image 118)
  41. General Alumni Catalog of the University of Penn, p. 239, 1906 graduates, online through the HathiTrust site. After Fannie died, Thissell married Grace Garren.
  42. Death certificate for Fannie Thissell, in Ancestry, PA & NJ Church and Town Records, Kirk and Nice Funeral Home, Image 296; and her PA State Death certificate. Death certificate for John M. Thissell Jr, Kirk and Nice Funeral Home.
  43. They were married in 1915.
  44. The descent is from Findagrave entries for Philip Guckes (1821-1897) and his son William (1857-1905), father of Philip who married Cora. Stories about Philip the brewer are found at: “Philadelphia University Guide to Architectural History”, online at: http://www.philau.edu/library/digitalcollections/ah/presidentshouse.htm; “Philadelphia’s Long Lost Lagers”, at: http://pabreweryhistorians.tripod.com/ASN0407LongLostLagers.html; Public Ledger Almanac for 1880-1881.
  45. 1930 census, Montgomery County, Cheltenham, District 24, Image 44. Philip sold typewriter supplies. They are buried at Whitemarsh Memorial Park, Ambler. (Findagrave)
  46. His PA State Death Certificate, which gave his parents at Samuel Scott and Dorothy Ferguson. He was living at 6803 North 11th Street, Philadelphia.
  47. Ezekiel Scott had moved to a farm in Gloucester County, New Jersey, with his wife Ellen. Ezekiel died in 1888 and was buried at Williamstown Presbyterian Church Cemetery. Samuel Scott died in August 1905 and was buried at Old Cathedral Cemetery, West Philadelphia. This was a Catholic cemetery; Samuel probably converted as a result of his marriage to Sallie Gallagher. Alexander Scott immigrated with his family in 1851, but there are no further records for him and he probably died in Philadelphia before 1860. Joseph Scott, the next youngest of the brothers, kept his own livery stable, married Mary White, had four children, and died in 1920. His son Clarence probably joined the family delivery business around 1900.
  48. 1920 census, Montgomery County, Cheltenham, District 74, Image 47. She was listed as Mary Scott, instead of Martha, but this is clearly an error. Her age was given as 52, an underestimate. It is characteristic of the women in the family to understate their age.
  49. US Presbyterian Church Records 1701-1970, on Ancestry, Oak Lane Church, Baptisms Births Deaths 1907-1920, (Church Register #2), Image 115, on the right-hand page of the listing for membership.

One thought on “James F. Scott and his three wives”

  1. I am Patricia Guckes, great grandma daughter of James F Scott and Martha Maxwell, grand daughter of Philip Guckes and Cora Fergusson Scott of Rydal. My sister Stephanie James Guckes died at 49 years. My father James Fergusson Guckes, died at the age of 89 in December 2013. His estranged older brother, Phillip Scott Guckes died at 86 in 2012. My father took me to see his mothers beautiful Victorian home in Oak Lane with a large carriage house in back as James Scott owned the livery delivery business.. He always spoke of his grandmother, Martha Maxwell Scott and remembered her on the porch. He and my mother Patricia Ray had traveled to Bath New York to look up his family. In his final year he took me to his childhood home in Elkins Park. Philip Guckes and his grandfather both attended University of Penn’s Wharton School of Business. My father attended University of Penns school of mechanical engineering and after WWII he attended again as a language major. He was fluent in 4 languages, Poet Loriete and graduated summa cum laude. An accomplished pianist and organist on the largest pipe organs in the country, he also wrote music, some of which was published. His brother attended Lehigh in Bethlehem. They all worked for the family office supply business on Walnut Street. My father was made President and he moved the business to Chestnut Street as it became more successful. My father’s brother married Virginia Farris and they had three daughters, Virginia, Sally and Wendy.

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