Ellen Russell Mallory – First Lady of Key West

 

Ellen Russell Mallory (1792-1855) settled in Key West with her ailing husband Charles and two young sons in 1823.  She was first white female settler in Key West.  Her husband and elder son died in 1825.  To support herself and her surviving son Stephen, Ellen Mallory opened her home as boarding house for seamen.  During frequent Yellow Fever outbreaks, she served as the town’s nurse.  She provided a good education for her surviving son, sending him to a Moravian academy in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.  Ellen was a leading figure in the growth and life of Key West until her death in 1855.  Her son went on to become a U.S. Senator, and then Secretary of the Navy for the Confederate States.  Mallory Square is named after her son Stephen Russell Mallory.

 

Ellen Russell Mallory

 

Ellen Russell was born in 1792 at Carrick-on-Suir, near Waterford, Ireland.  Carrick-on-Suir is situated in the southeastern corner of County Tipperary, 17 miles northwest of Waterford.  When she was orphaned at about thirteen years of age, she was adopted by two bachelor uncles (her mother’s brothers), who were planters on the island of Trinidad.  There she met Charles Mallory, and married him when she was no more than sixteen years of age.  Charles Mallory was a construction engineer, originally from Redding, Connecticut.  Charles and Ellen Mallory had two children, sons John and Stephen.  Charles Mallory’s health then began to fail.  The family left Trinidad and came to the United States around 1820, leaving seven-year-old son Stephen in school near Mobile, Alabama.  After trying the climate of Havana for a short time, the family moved to Key West in 1823, when the island was inhabited by only a few fishermen and pirates.  Charles Mallory died of consumption at Key West in 1825.  The elder son John died shortly thereafter, at only fourteen years of age.  To support herself and her surviving son Stephen, Ellen opened her home as a boarding house for seamen.

 

Ellen Mallory’s boarding house “Cocoanut Grove”

 

Her boarding house, the “Cocoanut Grove”, was the only lodging in Key West for many years.   With her meager earnings from the boarding house, she sent her son away for further schooling at a Moravian academy in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.  Although, like his mother, he was a devout Catholic, he had only praise for the education he received at the academy.  After three years, his mother could no longer afford to pay his tuition; so in 1829 his schooling ended and he returned home to Key West.

 

Ellen’s boarding house remained a center of social life and hospitality in Key West throughout the remainder of her life.  She nursed and cared for many of the sick and injured in Key West, during numerous outbreaks of Yellow Fever and hurricanes.  The hurricane of 1846 was one of such unusual severity that it obliterated the graves of her late husband Charles and son John.  Ellen lived to see her son, Stephen Russell Mallory, become a successful lawyer, marry well and have children of his own, and become a United States Senator in 1850.

 

 

After 32 years as the beloved “First Lady” of Key West, Ellen Russell Mallory died on May 15, 1855.  Perhaps at no time was the Key West custom of closing the stores along the route of a funeral procession as a tribute of respect more spontaneously and wholeheartedly observed than when Ellen Mallory’s remains were born to her final resting place.  Nearly the entire population of Key West walked behind her bier to the cemetery.  She was buried in the town’s new cemetery, founded after the great hurricane of 1846, where a stone about six feet long is inscribed:

 

No. 92

MALLORY

Ellen Mallory

born at

Carrick-on-Suir, 1792

died at Key West

May 15, 1855

 

 

Excerpts from an article in The Florida Historical Quarterly; Volume 25, Issue 4:

 

Of those who have been identified with early Key West, one who has been given highest acclaim is Ellen Mallory, Stephen R. Mallory’s mother.  A contemporary noted:  “The first white female settler of Key West was Mrs. Mallory in 1823, the mother of the present United States Senator from Florida; she is an intelligent, energetic woman of Irish descent, and still keeps an excellent boarding house, for the accommodation of visitors there being no taverns upon the island."

 

Another noted that “For some considerable time [after 1823] she was without a single companion of her own sex [on the island].  As the pioneer matron of the place, she was presented with a choice lot of land, on which she has erected a house, which she now occupies, as a boarding house, dispensing to the stranger, with liberal hand, and at a moderate price, the hospitalities of the place."

 

Key West’s leading twentieth century chronicler speaks and quotes others: “First in point of time as well as in affection and esteem of her contemporaries, was Mrs. Ellen Mallory. Two distinguished men have told of her virtues” writes Judge Browne.   He repeats Governor Marvin’s judgment: “I mention Mrs. Mallory last because she is last to be forgotten and not because she was the mother of an United State senator and secretary of the navy of the Confederacy, but because she was situated where she could do good and she did it.  Left a widow in early womanhood, she bravely fought the battle of life alone, and supported herself by her labor in respectful independence.  She kept the principal boarding house in town. She was intelligent, possessed of ready Irish wit, was kind, gentle, charitable, sympathetic, and considerate of the wants of the sick and poor.  She nursed the writer through an attack of yellow fever and was always as good to him as his own mother could have been."  

 

The sentiment of another, crystallized through a long friendship is contained in an excerpt from an address delivered in 1876: “Methinks I hear her musical voice today as she was wont to speak, standing at the bedside of the sick and dying in days gone by.  Catholic by rites of baptism…Oh, how truly catholic in the better and non-sectarian use of that term, was her life, devoted as it was to acts of kindness.  Her husband died shortly after their arrival; she kept for many years the only comfortable boarding house on the island, located first on the north side of Fitzpatrick Street and subsequently, after the proprietors had expressed their appreciation of her character and usefulness, by a donation of a lot of ground, on her own premises, on the south side of Duval street near Front.  With many opportunities of becoming rich, she died comparatively poor.  Next to her God, her devotion centered in her son, Stephen R. Mallory, whom she brought to this island a child of tender age, and lived to see occupying a seat in the Senate of the United States as one of the Senators from Florida.  Going tranquilly about her duties, or dispelling discouragement with the tonic of fortitude and hope, the picture is beautiful.  Twice as I remember, I had the pleasure of receiving the proffered hand of this lady.  First, with words of ‘Welcome’ to your city, when as a poor young man I became one of your number.  Second, on the occasion of sore affliction, when the balm of consolation gratefully reached my ears, and pointed my mind to contemplations of future usefulness.  She died in 1855.  Her mortal remains lie in yonder cemetery respected of all men.  She left no enemy on earth. ‘Requiescat in pace.’  Such was the woman who founded the family of Mallory in Florida; is it any marvel that she was the mother and grandmother of United States Senators?”

 

 

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2 Comments

Filed under Florida Irish History

2 responses to “Ellen Russell Mallory – First Lady of Key West

  1. Pamela Gonzaga Curry

    This was a remarkable story of a fine woman. Key West was so not easy for a woman and I can imagne all she endured in her life there in those days. Our Island Conch Nation is Rich in history and most of it rest in our Cemetery. Take the time to walk around our precious cemetery and just wonder who these Islanders are and what rolls they played in our roots. Thank you, Pamela Gonzaga Curry, a 5th generation Conch

  2. Patricia Yannacone

    How interesting and quite the learning experience. Especially, since I was born and raised in Key West and am living in Key West. One of my Grandfathers was of the Knowles family some of the first settlers here from the Bahama’s. Our history is most interesting, Thank you for such a wonderful article.

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