The Bishop’s Bank

by Shawn Weldon

In the wake of the potato famine in Ireland in the mid 1840’s, thousands of Irish-Catholic immigrants poured into the city of Philadelphia. Although looked at with suspicion by the native population, these immigrants met the needs of a rapidly growing city looking for a pool of ready labor.

Irishmen filled the manufacturing and construction jobs of an expanding industrial city. Irish women served as domestic servants, an occupation that was becoming an essential part of the lifestyle of the middle and upper classes.

Although life was not easy, many of these workers were able to save some money with the hope of purchasing a home or opening their own business. One problem facing these workers was the safekeeping of their hard earned pay. Many took advantage of the savings institutions which existed in the city at this time. Many others did not trust their savings with a private institution. Perhaps their unfamiliarity with a new environment or the anti-Catholic prejudice they encountered made them distrustful.

Bishop Francis P. Kenrick recognized the problem these workers faced. In May of 1848 he opened a bank to receive, and pay interest on, the deposits of working Catholics who did not want to use the private savings institutions. Popularly known as the “Bishop’s Bank”, it was managed by Mark Antony Frenaye, a Philadelphia Catholic businessman who served for many years as the financier and treasurer of the Diocese of Philadelphia.

Mark Antony Frenaye, n.d.

Mark Antony Frenaye, n.d.

The rules of the bank for conducting business are written in the front of the bank’s first ledger book in Frenaye’s own hand. They illustrate that the Diocese ran that bank according to sound business practices. Customer relations and secure investments were the guiding principles of the Bishop’s bank.

According to Frenaye’s rules office hours were to be posted on the door and adhered to punctually. Depositors were always to be treated politely. Impatience should never be shown. Payment should never be made in “uncurrent” money (a constant concern during this period) but should be in gold or city notes. Concerning disagreements over money owed he wrote, “With depositors never contend on small matters; if you cannot mildly convince them, pay; it is better to lose a few dollars, than to send abroad a discontented trumpet!”

Bishop's Bank Rules, 1848

Bishop's Bank Rules, 1848

Regarding investments Frenaye was adamant. The rules state, “Bear in mind that investments must always be made in stock of ready sale: City, or State of Pennsylvania. No other; City is the best. County stock is good, but of slow sale. Never purchase any other stock. Beware of Banks, Canals, railroads, other States of the Union, and all kinds of fancy stocks. Some of them may be good, but they are liable to ruinous fluctuations: Safety and quick sale, when needed, and not speculation, must always be the rule”.

The story of the Bishop’s Bank is not just the history of an institution but also of its individual depositors. The Philadelphia Archdiocesan Historical Research Center holds the ledgers and journals of the Bishop’s bank. The ledger books contain the individual accounts for each depositor, and serve as a rich source of historical information.

In addition to account information, they include notations on the depositors. Most of these notations are brief and contain only age and place of origin or residence. Although the bank was intended to serve the needs of all Catholics in the diocese, the majority of depositors were Irish. This is evident from the large number of Irish surnames and the notations listing the various counties in Ireland as the place of origin.

Other notations are more lengthy. They might include personal information about the depositor or instructions on distributing money. They provide a brief but fascinating glimpse of the life of the depositor.

The notation for Johanna Reilly, who opened an account in 1852, reads “42 years old, St. Paul’s Parish: a tall woman, pockmarked”. This kind of description is not unusual at this time. If a person was illiterate and unable to write their name, a physical description or personal information was the only way to prove identification.

Other notations, though brief, offer insights into the personal life of the depositor. Mary Reynold’s opened an account in 1848. Her notation reads, “wife of John Masterson. She does not want him to know of this deposit”. John Strain also opened an account in 1848. His notation reads only “45 years in 1846″. A later notation has been added which reads in bold letters, “he drinks, pay his wife only”.

Some notations show how public events and private life overlap, sometimes with tragic results. John Hughes opened his account in April 1864. The first notation reads, “69th Reg. Pa. Vols. In case of death in the army he desires this money to be donated to St. John’s Orphan Asylum, W. Phi.” Written underneath is, “The depositor is dead. John McCue, his brother-in-law, is appointed guardian of Hughes daughter Ann-14 years”.

John Hughes' entry in Bishop's Bank Ledger, 1864

John Hughes' entry in Bishop's Bank Ledger, 1864

Mark Frenaye managed the bank until September 23, 1857, when Bishop Wood, who had been a bank clerk before entering the priesthood, took over management. When a similar bank in Cincinnati failed, Archbishop Wood decided to liquidate the Bishop’s Bank. However, confidence in the bank was so great that depositors refused to withdraw their money, even after Wood ordered that no interest be paid.

The bank continued in this way until Archbishop Ryan ordered that no more money be received. The bank lingered on until all deposits were returned. By the end of 1889 the Bishop’s Bank no longer existed.

Thomas Nast Anti-Irish Cartoons

Among the recently digitized images added to our online collection are a number of drawings by cartoonist Thomas Nast. In 1846 at the age of six, Nast immigrated with his mother to the United States and by age 15 he had begun drawing for Frank Leslie’s Illustrated News.[1] He joined Harper’s Weekly in 1862 and at his height of fame was earning close to $20,000 a year (roughly $500,000 in today’s dollars) drawing for the paper.[2] Studying these cartoons can help us better understand the culture of the United States during the 1870s. Examining cartoons is an important tool because, as historian Thomas Milton Kemnitz asserted, the cartoons’ value rests in what they can “reveal about the societies that produced them.” [3] Once a cartoon is understood within its historical context, it can highlight public opinions that could not be revealed in more traditional written records.[4] Thus, in many ways cartoons are not only an artifact of popular culture but also help to shape and reflect public sentiment.

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The Thomas Nast cartoons in our collection tell a story of the ingrained anti-Irish and anti-Catholic attitude during the 1870s. Before discussing the content of the cartoons it is important to establish the context of their period. Dating back to the founding of America, there has been fear that immigrants, because of their supposed ignorance, will “fatally depreciate, degrade, and demoralize” the government and culture.[5] Nativism in the United States often took the form of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic feelings as seen in the Nativist Riots in Philadelphia in 1844, which resulted in dozens killed and over a hundred wounded, along with two churches and a covenant burned to the ground.[6] These anti-Catholic feelings stemmed from the allegiance of the Irish Catholics, who were seen by many Americans as loyal to the pope over the United States. Indeed, many believed that Catholicism was incompatible with democracy and that it threatened the established Protestant culture in the country.[7]

“Something that will not "blow over." http://omeka.pahrc.net/items/show/7366

“Something that will not “blow over.”
http://omeka.pahrc.net/items/show/7366

Nast’s anti-Irish cartoons focus on the Irish as a destructive and lying group, who endangered American society. In the immediate aftermath of the Orange Riot of July 12, 1871 in New York City, in which Irish Catholics clashed with the National Guard protecting an Irish Protestant parade, Nast drew a number of anti-Irish cartoons for Harper’s Weekly. One cartoon illustrated the Draft Riots of July 1863, where Irish Catholics attacked African-Americans throughout New York City. At the top of the drawing Nast wrote that the Irish Catholic is bound to respect “no caste, no sect, no nation, any rights,” highlighting the believed lack of respect the Irish immigrants had for American society. Furthermore, the contrast between the Irish and the Anglo-Saxons in this cartoon clearly shows the Irish in negative light. While the Anglo-Saxons are drawn as regular looking people, the Irish are drawn with ape-like faces illustrating their inferiority as well as the lack of intelligence. Such depictions of Irish were not limited to Nast, with other papers such as Puck and Judge also using caricatures of Irish as primitive and violent.[8]

The other drawing that Nast published on the front cover of Harper’s Weekly in 1871 shows an Irish man with an ape-like face attacking Columbia, a common representation of America. However, Columbia was able to stop the attack and defiantly clutches the Irishman by the neck as he drops his shillelagh. The contrast between the two is clear, the Irishman in his ripped and tattered clothes, with a loose suspender looking not unlike a tail, represented his inhumanity as well as his threat to American society, which was represented by Columbia dressed in pure white and holding a whip labeled “law.”[9] Thus for Nast, the riots that the Irish Catholics were regularly involved in demonstrated clear evidence of their inferiority and justified his concern that they would be a threat to democracy.

Chorus of Rising Patriots (?). "We can not tell a lie! We did not do it! http://omeka.pahrc.net/items/show/7364

“Chorus of Rising Patriots (?). ‘We can not tell a lie! We did not do it!'”
http://omeka.pahrc.net/items/show/7364

Another cartoon a few years later also illustrates anti-Irish sentiment but in a different way. In this cartoon, a group of children representing Irish Catholic Democrats have cut down the tree of truth and have put up a sign for a new school with the slogan, “our rule, mob rule.” The cartoon further shows them supporting Boss Tweed, the Democrat whose political machine ran New York. Thus by depicting them as children, Nast was questioning their ability to think on their own and their ability to partake in democracy. Another important aspect of this cartoon is Columbia, who this time is dressed as a Greek goddess. Here she holds a bundle of sticks with the phrase “in union there is strength, patriotism, honor, and unity” and is clearly defending the spirit of the Revolution by standing in front of the “school of the old 1776.” Thus, this cartoon along with the other two demonstrate how Nast believed that the ideals that the United States were founded on were in danger because of the treachery of the Irish.

Examining Nast’s anti-Irish cartoons has revealed the deep-seated anti-immigrant feelings that were held by many in the United States. Such beliefs were developed in the wake of riots and other violent episodes that many saw as a sign that the Irish were incompatible with the ideals of the nation. Indeed, nativism arose due to the fear that the Irish and other ethnic groups would corrupt the fabric of America. This fear of the Irish was compounded because of their Catholic faith, which faced its own opposition in the United States as expressed by Nast in his cartoons.

 

Next blog will explore part two: Nast’s anti-Catholic cartoons.

 

 

[1] Fiona Deans Halloran, Thomas Nast: The Father of Modern Political Cartoons, (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013), 2-3.

[2] Vinson, J. Chal. “Thomas Nast and the American Political Scene.” American Quarterly 9, no. 3 (1957): 338 & 340.

[3] Thomas Milton Kemnitz, “The Cartoon as a Historical Source.” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 4, no. 1 (1973), 82.

[4] Ibid., 92-93.

[5] Bill Ong Hing, To Be an American: Cultural Pluralism and the Rhetoric of Assimilation, (New York: NYU Press, 1997), 14.

[6] Karla Irwin, “Chaos in the Streets: The Philadelphia Riots of 1844,” Villanova University Falvey Memorial Library, (2011), https://exhibits.library.villanova.edu/chaos-in-the-streets-the-philadelphia-riots-of-1844.

[7] Allison O’Mahen Malcom, “Loyal Orangemen and Republican Nativists: Anti-Catholicism and Historical Memory in Canada and the United States, 1837-67,” in The Loyal Atlantic: Remaking the British Atlantic in the Revolutionary Era, eds. Jerry Bannister, Liam Riordan, (Toronto, University of Toronto Press, 2012), 218.

[8] Benjamin Justice, “Thomas Nast and the Public School of the 1870s,” History of Education Quarterly, Vol. 45, No. 2 (Summer, 2005), 177.

[9] Michele Walfred, “‘Bravo, Bravo’: Thomas Nast Cover- 29 July, 1871.” Illustrating Chinese Exclusion, https://thomasnastcartoons.com/irish-catholic-cartoons/something-that-will-not-blow-over-29-july-1971/bravo-bravo-thomas-nast-cover-24-july-1871/.