Jane Young (1854-1935) was the daughter of Elizabeth Cupples (1824–1895), my 5th great-aunt, and her husband, John Young (1819-?), and is therefore part of the Cupples branch of my tree to be found in Ireland, Scotland, Australia and the United States.
Jane married Samuel Brownley McEwen (1853-1918) in Scotland on 31 December 1874 and their eldest two children, Elizabeth (1876) and Bethea (1877), were both born in Slamannan, a small mining village in Stirlingshire. Sometime after the birth of Bethea, the family decided to move to the United States.
The McEwens settled in North Braddock, a borough in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, proudly nicknamed the “Birth Place of Steel” and indeed the majority of the McEwen men would go on to work in the steel works. The family initially settled in Brushton in Allegheny County according to the 1880 US Federal Census where Samuel was employed as a coal worker. The same census also reveals the birth of another daughter, Jennie, however Bethea is missing. An entry in the US Federal Census Mortality Schedules (1850-1885) reveals Bethea died of measles in May 1880, a month before the census was taken.
The McEwens moved to North Braddock where Jane would give birth to seven more children, five sons and two daughters, over the next few years. As time went on, the older children married and started families of their own while continuing to live close to their parents. Jane and Samuel’s first grandchild, Samuel Brownley Galbraith, was born to their eldest daughter, Elizabeth, and her husband, John Kinney Galbraith, in March 1894. The senior McEwens had followed the Scottish tradition of naming their children after grandparents, parents and siblings, however this would eventually phase out.
The steel industry was booming in the United States, particularly areas like Pennsylvania which was rich in iron ore and coal products, however the population wasn’t large enough to sustain the workload so immigrants from Europe arrived in droves to fill the gap. Pittsburgh soon become the centre of the steel industry with the arrival of Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish-American industrialist, who was born in Dunfermline. Carnegie founded the Edgar Thomson Steel Works in 1872 at Braddock and he used its considerable profits to purchase other steel mills in the area, founding the Carnegie Steel Company in 1892. Braddock was transformed from an agrarian community into a thriving town with enclaves of workers living in tenement blocks close to the mill.
With the steel industry thriving and the population on the increase, Braddock became a haven for new businesses, such as restaurants, general stores and saloons. However, if you look at Braddock Avenue on Google Maps today, you’ll find it hard to imagine it once bustled with hotels, clothing stores, banks, and restaurants. In the same way, it is hard to imagine the deserted Bell Avenue was once full of residences and had a number of schools. The McEwens, like most residents, would have organised their lives around the 12 hour shifts at the steel works in a borough that never seemed to sleep. While the men toiled in dangerous and noxious conditions, the women kept the households running smoothly. However, the pollution caused by the steel works left a legacy of its own in the form of asthma, lung disease, and cancer, which continues to plague the residents today. The toxicity of the area may also have contributed to the high rate of infant mortality experienced in the area today.
According to the statistics for the town, North Braddock had a population of 6,535 in 1900, however it would increase to 16,782 by 1930 after which it would steadily decrease to an estimated 4,740 in 2016, mainly due to the decline in the steel industry. North Braddock celebrated its centenary in June 1997 but twenty years on, the streets where generations of McEwen children once played, are rundown with derelict houses. Attempts to rejuvenate the area have largely failed due to a lack of money and the departure of two-thirds of the population.
Indeed, most of Samuel and Jane’s grandchildren would make a life elsewhere, ending the McEwen association with North Braddock. Towards the end of his life, Samuel B McEwen swapped his mining job to become a farm labourer but he died of pneumonia, aged 64 years, on 3 January 1918. Jane outlived her husband by seventeen years, dying of a stroke on 2 July 1935.