Another Note from New York Foundling

Quick backstory: The New-York Historical Society has a collection of records from the New York Foundling Hospital. Among the collection are five scrapbook of notes from parents and others about children who were left at the Hospital. I posted previously about copying some that I wanted to research.

This is one I plan to research. Margaret Sheridan was murdered by her husband Thomas on February 16, 1870. Margaret and her husband hadn’t lived together for years, and the issue was the baby mentioned in this note, who was called William Sheridan.

Sheridan said the baby couldn’t possibly be his, and that the real father was Michael Power, which was likely true. She and Power had been living together. Thomas Sheridan didn’t want their eleven-year-old daughter Mary raised with this baby and demanded that she send it out to nurse. Margaret did not comply and so he came over one night and shot her to death.

Sheridan was originally given the death sentence, and was scheduled to hang on August 19, but the governor commuted his sentence to life and he was sent to Sing Sing. The jury had also recommended mercy, so it seems everyone was on the murderer’s side!

My plan was to try to find out what happened to the baby. Did Michael Power come and get his son? But now that I know a little more I also wonder what happened to eleven-year-old Mary. Her mother was dead and her father was in Sing Sing. Where did she go?

Note left at New York Foundling

Stacy Horn

I've written six non-fiction books, the most recent is Damnation Island: Poor, Sick, Mad, and Criminal in 19th-Century New York.

View all posts by Stacy Horn →

10 thoughts on “Another Note from New York Foundling

  1. Yes, this is a mystery worth researching! I want to know about the two childrens’ future also. Eleven is so young to lose both parents and she felt lost no doubt. Mary may have witnessed the murder too. There was probably a lot of shouting. Hoping the baby wasn’t injured. Best of luck looking into this. Where is Sing Sing anyway? I used to hear of people being sent to Sing Sing….

    “Sing Sing Correctional Facility is a maximum security prison operated by the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision in the village of Ossining, in the U.S. state of New York. It is located about 30 miles (50 km) north of New York City on the east bank of the Hudson River.”

    I also wonder what happens to the people left behind. And to the real murderers when someone is found innocent after years behind bars for a murder they didn’t commit.

  3. Oh God, the news isn’t good. I wrote a book about this. I did the math on how often that murderer is found, and I forget now what it was but the odds were infinitesimally small that the murderer would ever be caught. There are a lot of murderers walking around free. A LOT. From my book:

    Since 1985, in New York alone, the killers of 8,894 people remain free. That’s 8,894 murderers among us. Even if you want to say some of these murders were committed by the same people, as if attributing the crimes to serial killers were a better way of looking at this, that’s still a lot of murderers walking around who get to go see the new Steven Spielberg movie, eat their favorite dinner, and have sex.

  4. Is that “The Restless Sleep”? It must be. So while I have casually wondered about this subject, you went out and wrote a whole book about it! Hard to believe that people really do get away with murder, and because they were never caught in the first place.

  5. Hi Stacy…Mary Sheridan was my great grandmother. This story was written about in the NY Times at the time of the murder. There is another article in the Times from 7/7/1870. Thomas O’Brien (Margaret’s father) bought farmland in 1827 in Woodlawn (then Yonkers), Bronx NY near what is now Woodlawn Cemetery. Thomas Sheridan had a pickle factory at 108 E 23 St and his brother Matthew had a pickle factory at 39 St. and 2nd Ave. They would trek up to Woodlawn to buy cucumbers from Thomas O’Brien. Margaret O’Brien was enrolled at Mt. St. Vincent’s College at age 16. At age 17 she married Thomas Sheridan, age 19. They had 4 children, 3 boys and 1 girl (Mary). I don’t know when problems started between them but Thomas Sheridan enlisted in the army on 9/26/1861 which seems strange to me even if there was a wave of patriotism at the start of the Civil War since by now Margaret’s father had given them some land of their own to farm. When he returned from the war Margaret “turned him away” and he re-enlisted. He was a member of the NY 79th Infantry. He was discharged on 10/25/1864 and when he returned most of the land they owned was lost to back taxes and Margaret and the 4 children were gone. He somehow tracked her down at 517 W 41 St where she was living with Power, the 4 children the baby William and her cousin Jane Webb in an apartment described as having a front room and a “box” in the rear. It must have been a windowless room. Power and the 3 boys slept on the kitchen floor and Margaret, Jane, Mary, and the baby William in the rear. This is where the murder took place and Mary witnessed the whole thing. Life must have been harsh for Mary after living in what must have been a bucolic setting up in Woodlawn to a 2 room tenement crowded with 8 people. She pleaded for her father’s life on the witness stand to no avail. He was sentenced to death. I did not know his sentence was commuted to life until reading your blog but I do know he was set free at some point and worked for the Pony Express of all things. Mary and her 3 brothers made their way back to Woodlawn and probably lived with their cousins the Webbs. Thomas Sheridan also made his way back to Woodlawn and lived for a short time with his now married daughter Mary, her husband William Roemer children Emma (b. 1889), Louise(b 1891), and my grandfather William(b 1894) in the house my great grandfather built. Thomas Sheridan is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery and his grave is marked with a military headstone. Starting with William O’Brien in 1827 I have had family members in Woodlawn continuously to this day although I don’t live there anymore. I am fascinated by this story and continue to dig for more information. I have been unable so far to read anything about Margaret’s side of the story, where she is buried, and whatever became of William Sheridan. Thank you for some new information!

  6. Joseph, first, thank you so much for taking the time to tell the story and to fill me in on what because of Mary. I’m sorry that her life was harsh for a while, but I’m glad she seems to have managed to have a good life in the end, with a husband and children. Does anyone still live in the house your grandfather built??

    Second, I sent you a bunch of newspaper articles. You probably have some or all of them, but let me know if you didn’t get them. My email has been weird lately. Sometimes it takes a while for people to get my email.

  7. Hello,
    I am a Sheridan descendant and recall visiting the Roemer’s flower shop on my way to see my grandmother Sheridan on Kepler Avenue in Woodlawn. This information is a wonderful addition to my family history. Thank you so much!

  8. You are most welcome! I meant to tell Joseph that if he orders a copy of Margaret Sheridan’s death certificate it should list where she was buried.

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