Jenny Mitchel

The wife of a restless refugee revolutionary and the mother of six, Jane Verner Mitchel (Jenny) was born in County Armagh in 1821.

She was the daughter of Mary Ward who was herself the daughter of a coachman on the Church Hill estate of the Verners of Loughgall. Indeed one of these Verners was the first Grand Master of the Orange Order in the previous generation.

Jenny Mitchel

Jenny grew up in Newry in the home of Captain James Verner, whom she considered to be her father. A long time later – in fact after his death in 1847 – his brother Sir William Verner disclaimed any relationship, saying that Jenny was the bastard daughter of a local schoolmaster in Loughgall.

In any case in Newry Jenny was sent to Miss Bryden’s school for young ladies and it was while returning from school that she met and fell in love with John Mitchel, the son of the local Presbyterian minister. She eloped with him to Chester. Caught and returned she married him secretly nevertheless the following year (1837) in Dromore, Co Down.

Jenny set up the first of many homes in a cottage in Dromalane, near the Mitchel family home there. When her husband practiced as an attorney in Banbridge she made a new home there where she reared her first four children, Johnnie, James, Henrietta and William, and where she regularly entertained her husband’s friends, John Martin, Gavin Duffy and John O’Hagan.

In 1845 her husband moved to Dublin to work on The Nation newspaper and so Jenny and her four children set up home there, first in 1 Upper Leeson Street and later at 8 Ontario Terrace near Charlemont Bridge. In Dublin she was hostess to her husband’s Young Ireland friends; also she gave birth to another daughter, Minnie. In Green Street courthouse she saw her husband sentenced to fifteen years’ transportation for ‘seditious journalism’. Jenny’s house was seized and she had to return to Newry with her children and wait for her husband to serve out his sentence.

When informed in 1851 that her husband was a ticket-of-leave man in Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) she, five children, and two servants set sail on board the Condor to meet them. 

Jenny and her husband settled at Bothwell in Tasmania where another daughter Rixie was born in 1852. 

In 1853 Jenny and her six children, accompanied by her husband, who was disguised as a Jesuit, sailed to New York (via Sydney, Tahiti, San Francisco and Nicaragua). There she set up home in Brooklyn after being toasted as ‘brave Mrs Mitchel’ at an Irish banquet in Broadway Theatre. 

In Brooklyn she kept open house for all the Young Ireland exiles before following her husband to Washington. There he started another newspaper.

In 1859 John joined revolutionary friends in Paris, France and naturally Jenny went too. They lived in Choisy-le-Roi. Her older daughters went to Sacre Coeur Convent School, and one, Henrietta, became a Catholic and decided to enter the Order. She died as a postulant in 1863 and was buried in Montparnasse. By then Jenny was on her way to the USA, following her husband who had gone there to report on the Civil War. In that War her son Willie was killed at Gettysberg and her son Johnnie at Fort Sumner in 1864. When her husband was forced into exile in Paris on the defeat of The South, Jenny moved to New York.

There she was joined by her husband, now stricken with tuberculosis but still enthusiastic for Irish politics. In 1875 he returned to fight an election there. He died soon after in Newry (see John Mitchel entry here).

Jenny never saw his burial place in Newry but his Irish-American friends left her secure financially with a memorial fund of $30000. Jenny lived to see Rixie and her first child die; her son James marry and give her a grandson; and her daughter Minnie give her another grandson. Minnie then left her alcoholic husband and moved back to Jenny’s house in Brooklyn.

Jane Verner Mitchel died on the last day of the century and was buried at Woodlawn Cemetery, faithful to the last to her husband, to her children and to her husband’s career as a revolutionary.

… in context ? …

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