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George R. Ingham collection of the William James MacNeven family

Collection MS-2009-002: George R. Ingham collection of the William James MacNeven family


  • Creation: 1802 - 1848

Scope and Contents

This collection consists primarily of the correspondence of William James MacNeven, his wife Jane Riker Tom MacNeven, their daughter Jane Mary MacNeven. Other correspondents include daughters Rosa and Anna and son William Hugh MacNeven. Two legal documents are also included: one in which William James MacNeven is the executor of a will and the other in which he signs over his family land in Ballynahown, County Galway, to the estate of attorney Michael Burke in payment for legal services rendered. Several correspondents from Ireland wrote to MacNeven, mostly dealing with the aforementioned land, but others seeking his help in immigrating to the United States. There are contributions to a memoir that Jane Mary MacNeven supplied to R. R. Madden’s The United Irishmen: their lives and times, and a handwritten speech by MacNeven’s son, James Joseph MacNeven. There is also a travel diary that William James MacNeven kept during a journey in Long Island in September 1822.


Restrictions on access

Collection is open for research.

Restrictions on use

These materials are made available for use in research, teaching and private study, pursuant to U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. The original authors may retain copyright to the materials.

Biographical note: MacNeven family

William James MacNeven was born on March 21, 1763 at Ballynahown, near Aughrim, County Galway, Ireland. Restrictions on professional education for Catholics led MacNeven to leave Ireland at age ten to study with his uncle, Baron William O’Kelly MacNeven, physician to the Austrian Empress Maria Theresa. MacNeven received his medical degree from the University of Vienna in 1783. Returning to Dublin to practice medicine, MacNeven joined the United Irishmen and the campaign for Catholic emancipation. When the Irish rebellion of 1798 failed, MacNeven was arrested, then exiled in 1802. After two years as a captain in the Irish Legion of the French Army, MacNeven left France for the United States, arriving in New York in 1805. In New York MacNeven resumed his medical practice. He received an honorary MD from Columbia College in 1806 and was appointed professor of obstetrics in the New York College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1808. After the college was reorganized in 1810, he became professor of chemistry, also teaching materia medica between 1816 and 1820. MacNeven is reported to be the first chemistry professor in the United States to set up a lab where students could conduct experiments. In 1826 MacNeven moved to the newly established Duane Street medical school where he lectured until the school was closed in 1830. MacNeven continued to practice medicine until his retirement in 1839.

In 1810 MacNeven married Jane Margaret Riker Tom, daughter of Samuel Riker of Long Island. Their children were Jane Mary, Rosa Patience, James Joseph, Samuel Riker, William Hugh, and Jane’s daughter from her first marriage, Anna Riker Tom.

MacNeven, along with exiled Society of United Irishmen members Emmet and William Sampson, was a central figure in New York’s Irish American community. MacNeven was a founder or member of numerous societies formed in New York for the benefit and relief of Irish immigrants, including the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick, the Hibernian Provident Society, the Shamrock Friendly Society, and the New York Society for the Relief of Emigrant Irishmen. A monument to MacNeven honoring his contributions as the "Father of American Chemistry" exists in Trinity churchyard on Broadway in New York City, with inscriptions in English, Gaelic, and Latin.

William James MacNeven died in 1841 after a long illness at the home of his step-daughter Anna and son-in-law Thomas A. Emmet, Jr., the son of MacNeven’s fellow Irish exile, Thomas Addis Emmet.


Madden, R.R. The United Irishmen: their lives and times, 2nd Ed., 3rd ser., (1860), 197-256.

Stookey, Byron. “William James MacNeven, (1763-1841), Versatile Professor in New York’s College of Physicians and Surgeons”. Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, 41, (Oct. 1965), 1037-51.

Wilson, David A. “MacNeven, William James (1763-1841)”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept. 2004; online ed., Oct. 2007.


0.5 Linear Feet (1 container)

Language of Materials



This collection contains family correspondence of exiled United Irishman William James MacNeven, a physician and medical school instructor during the nineteenth century, his wife Jane Riker MacNeven, and his daughter Jane Mary MacNeven. It also includes a brief travel diary, two legal documents, and a speech.


Arranged in two series: I. Correspondence, and II. Documents.


Gift of George R. Ingham in 2009. Ingham collected the materials through multiple purchases from

Related Materials

Mary Josephine Ryan Landrey collection of Irish letters, MS1997.035, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

Letters to Bridget Hughes, MS.2004.074, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

James Prendergast family correspondence, MS.1986.141, John J. Burns Library, Boston College.

George R. Ingham collection of the William James MacNeven Family
John Warner, Jr., Spring 2009. Revised by Mark Clemente, March 2012; Sarah Hills, May 2012; Rachael Young
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the John J. Burns Library Repository

John J. Burns Library
Boston College
140 Commonwealth Avenue
Chestnut Hill MA 02467 United States