by Ken MacDermotRoe

 The MacDermots Roe knew George Washington? It is incredible but true.

The story of the MacDermots Roe and their association with George Washington is set forth in a superb article entitled "Cornelius MacDermot Roe, Indentured Servant to George Washington" by genealogist Nathan Murphy published in the National Genealogical Society Quarterly of June, 2007. It is a landmark study in that connects an early Irish immigrant, not only, with George Washington, but also, with his family roots in Ireland.

In the summer of 1784, Cornelius MacDermot Roe embarked from the port of Cork, Ireland on a sailing ship to America. On or about August 2, 1784, Cornelius' ship (named either "Washington" or "Angelica") arrived at Alexandria, Virginia.

Cornelius, a skilled mason, was among a group of 300 people seeking employment in the United States. Many like Cornelius were skilled tradesman. Due to the recent war for independence with Britain, many American employers turned to Ireland as a source of skilled labor for their businesses and farms.

When Cornelius arrived, his contract of indenture was purchased by George Washington. Washington had until shortly before commanded the American Army in the war of independence. Now that the war over, Washington returned to his farm at Mount Vernon with many improvements planned.

As a builder and mason, Cornelius was to be a key component of Mount Vernon's operations. It is possible that his employment at Mount Vernon was arranged by Washington before Cornelius left Ireland. It may be due to Cornelius' high level of skill that he negotiated a contract of indenture for two years rather than the usual four.

It is evident that Cornelius' work as a mason pleased Washington. On the expiration of the two year indenture, Washington signed at one year contract with Cornelius dated August 1, 1786 for his services as a stone mason and bricklayer. Additionally, Cornelius agreed to provide instruction to others in the "Art and misteries of his Trade." For his services, Cornelius received 35 pounds, lodging, board, washing, some clothing and an "allowance of spirit(s)." Both Washington's and Cornelius' signatures appear on the memorandum of agreement.

Cornelius worked on and supervised a number of projects at Mount Vernon. These projects included the manufacture and laying of bricks, laying flagstone for the piazza, draining swampland, and constructing a brick chimney. The brick chimney built by Cornelius is in what is now called the "Large Dining Room", the first room seen by visitors to Washington's mansion at Mount Vernon. Cornelius' work is the subject of Washington's correspondence regarding Mount Vernon. Washington was a mason himself and took a personal interest in Cornelius' work.

Cornelius' relationship with George Washington was such that Washington agreed to bring over two of Cornelius' brothers, Edward and Timothy. In December 1787, Washington's notes shows that he would pay Edward and Timothy 20 guineas (21 pounds) for their work as ditchers, laborers and for assistance in brick laying.

About 1788, Cornelius and his brothers Edward and Timothy left Mount Vernon. Although there are no records for Edward and Timothy post-1788, Cornelius' subsequent career is well documented for he prospered as a builder in the newly formed District of Columbia. The District which was largely uninhabited was to be the new home of the United States government and the site of the new City of Washington.

As Cornelius' business grew, he accumulated cash to purchase in 1792 some of the new building lots in Washington, DC offered for sale by the District's commissioners. The three lots he purchased that year were followed by several others - all strategically located between the White House and the Capitol. Cornelius' own home was located one block from the White House.

The land records show that Cornelius was joined in Washington in the 1790s by other brothers from Ireland - Patrick, Owen and Bernard. They, also, bought Washington property. Eventually, the MacDermot Roe brothers owned all or part interest in about one dozen lots between the White House and the Capitol.

Cornelius' success in America was apparently well known to his MacDermot Roe cousins in Ireland. Cousin Charles MacDermot Roe, b. 1751 or 1752, of Keadue signed a Power of Attorney authorizing Cornelius to act as his agent in business dealings in Washington. Charles was the grandson of Henry Baccach and Mary Fitzgerald MacDermot Roe, patrons of O'Carolan, through their youngest son, also named Charles, d. 1759.

Cornelius' renown as a builder is illustrated by the fact that he was hired to lay the foundation for one wing of the United States Capitol. Unfortunately, he was unable to complete the work due to a contract dispute which resulted in litigation. The failure of the project did not impair Cornelius' standing with George Washington. Washington tried unsuccessfully to hire Cornelius in 1797 and 1798. A petition dated July 14, 1802 from Cornelius to President Thomas Jefferson appears in "The Thomas Jefferson Papers", Series 1, General Correspondence, Library of Congress.

Cornelius died in 1807 (will proved October 26, 1807) leaving a widow Mary and five children: Sarah, Mary, Nora, Margaret and Edward. Sarah married John Canna or Kenna 18 October 1814; Nora married Thomas Castleman, 3 November 1814; Mary married Andrew Harper 15 November 1827. All were married in the District of Columbia.

The only son, Edward, was living in Charleston, South Carolina in September 1824 and in Mobile, Alabama on May 7, 1831. A letter dated May 7, 1831 from Edward to former President James Madison is included in the "James Madison Papers", Series 1, General Correspondence, Library of Congress. It is not known if Edward married or had offspring.

While the fates of brothers Edward and Timothy is not known, brothers Patrick, Owen and Bernard settled in Washington, D.C. However, it is not known if they had any offspring. The difficulty in tracing descendants is greatly complicated by the fact that most MacDermots Roe dropped the Roe soon after leaving Roscommon.

The family is greatly indebt to Nathan Murphy for his outstanding research on the family of Cornelius MacDermot Roe. Mr. Murphy's article represents an invaluable addition to the MacDermot Roe family history.

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