John Sexton G3 c.1795-1847
John Sexton G3 (c.1795-1847) was the eldest son of Timothy Sexton who had held land in both Scobaun and Toehead. John was one of at least four sons – the others being Cornelius (c.1800-1876), Patrick (c.1805-1899) and Michael (c. 1810-??). John appears to have taken on his father’s lease of the Lot 4 at Scobaun – possibly on the death of his father in about 1835 and also had a lease on land at Gortacrossig. John was married to Mary Sexton (nee Hourihan, 1797-1887) who lived until the ripe old age of 90 and who therefore outlived her husband by some 40 years. Mary Sexton’s death certificate is available and indicates that she died at home in Scobaun on the 15th March 1887
We have seen that John’s father, Timothy Sexton, had leased holdings in both Scobaun and Toehead so it seems probable that the two holdings were effectively all held in the extended family group. We also know from the Tithe Applotment Records of 1825 that the Sextons also leased land at Gortacrossig – though this may have been rougher summer grazing as much as land for tillage. We know that there were at least four sons and possibly daughters whose names are not recorded and, in the pre-famine years, it might be presumed that the Sextons were reasonably comfortable leaseholders. In the early 1840s, John appears to have been responsible for Gortacrossig in addition to the lease he had inherited from his father at Scobaun. His younger brothers, Cornelius, Michael and Patrick appear to have had shares of the land at Toehead.
The fate of John Sexton
The Castletownsend Loan Society was active in the area in the years before the famine issuing small loans from £1 to £10 to be repaid at the end of the year. These loans enabled farmers who leased land from landlords and their middlemen to buy seed and carry out improvements on their land and were seen as highly successful. Unfortunately, the famine brought the whole enterprise to a crashing halt and John Sexton seems to have been one of those who got caught up in the mayhem. John had taken on a series of small loans from £1 to £3 between 1843 and 1846 and had also acted as guarantor or surety in November 1846 for two neighbours – John Brien of Rea and Batt Holland of Lahern who took on £3 and £1 loans respectively. By this stage, the famine was setting in and things quickly went form bad to worse. Both Brien and Holland died leaving John responsible for their loans and presumably unable to pay. John’s fate is made clear in the Supplementary Statement for John Brien which was drawn up some time after the famine to investigate the status of the outstanding loans. The return reads, ‘Sexton a pauper, the other parties are dead‘. The statement for Batt Holland’s loan reads, ‘Borrower dead – Sexton a pauper – the other party [the other guarantor, Michael O’Sullivan of Gortacrossig] has left the country – parties were decreed but no effects‘. As regards, John’s own loan, the Return to the Clerk of the Peace lets us know exactly what happened to John: ‘Resided on the … [land on the] … date … [written but unreadable in column 3], held a small farm, was in Very Poor Circumstances, died in Union Work House in 1847‘.
The death of John Sexton in the notorious Skibbereen workhouse
The fact that the Sextons managed to retain the lease on Lot 4 does, in the light of John’s death in the workhouse, seem rather extraordinary. Somehow it appears, the family escaped the evictions that were a common happening in the aftermath of the famine.
How exactly John Sexton came to die in the infamous Skibbereen Workhouse isn’t known but a likely possible explanation is that, as a result of having a debt he could not pay, John presented himself to the workhouse as a pauper and that his wife and family somehow managed to survive – perhaps through the support of the extended family. Perhaps by presenting himself in this way, the family was no longer responsible for the debt. There is probably some truth in this as the family somehow managed to retain the lease on the Lot 4 farm and the Lot 4a house. The other house on Lot 4 (House 4b) was occupied by John’s first cousin, the other John Sexton who had the lease of Lot 5.
Another possibility is that John had become infected with one of the highly infectious diseases that were as much a cause of death during the famine as the lack of food. If it were determined by the authorities that he had contracted cholera or some other such disease, it is quite possible that he may have been forced to enter the workhouse to prevent the further spread of the disease.
How it was that Lot 4 stayed in Sexton hands after John’s death in 1847
Oliver Murphy has offered the following plausible explanation for this:
“In the late 1840s and early 1850s, the Immediate Lessor of small farms of land in Gortacrossig and Toehead was Thomas Somerville (1798 – 1882). In Scobaun, the Immediate Lessor was Sampson French (1807 – 1878) of Cuskinny in East Cork. Lot 4 in Scobaun, Lot 3c/4c in Gortacrossig, and Lots 1d and 1e in Toehead were leased by Sextons from at least 1825. Leases were often for an extended term and so long as all conditions set forth by the landlord were met to his satisfaction by the tenants they were simply extended or renewed.
“I have a copy of a lease executed on Oct. 13, 1858 between a Peter Sullivan (1820 – 1875) of the townland of Raheen in the parish of Castlehaven (theTenant) and the Reverend Maurice Fitzgerald Stephens Townsend of Castletownsend (the Landord, and brother-in-law of Thomas Somerville mentioned above), which had a term of “one life and 31 years”. This means that after Peter Sullivan died in 1875, the lease was valid until 1906. Like some other landlords of his time, the Reverend Townsend was a benevolent landlord. Shortly after taking over the estate in Castletownsend in 1845 from his brother, Colonel John Townsend, the Reverend forgave 10,000 pounds (equivalent to 626,500 pounds in 2005) in owed rent with the goal of giving his tenants a clean slate. It must also have been the case that, even before the Famine, tenants of Thomas Somerville and of Sampson French must also have owed large amounts of money. Because of the continuity of tenants in Scobaun and in Toehead from circa 1850 until modern times, it is safe to assume that Thomas Somerville and Sampson French must also have been rather benevolent.
“In the early version of the House Book for the townland of Toehead (ca. 1849), Patrick Sexton and his brother Cornelius Sexton were leasing Lots 1d and 1e, respectively. Thus, it appears that some time before his death, Timothy Sexton (ca. 1770 – ca. 1840) of Scobaun/Toehead/Gortacrossig divided the original Lot of leased land in Toehead between two of his sons, Patrick and Cornelius. It is my belief that Timothy also instructed that the lease for the land in Scobaun (Lot 4a) and in Gortacrossig (Lot 4c/3c) be assumed by his eldest son, John Sexton (ca. 1800 – 1847), who was named after his grandfather, John Sexton (ca. 1740 – ca. 1810). Shortly after the death of John Sexton (ca. 1800 – 1847), responsibility for the “already in place lease” for Lot 4a in Scobaun was assumed by his son, John Sexton (1838 – 1922). This was probably a smooth transition, since the legal contractual problems that John Sexton (ca. 1800 – 1847) had were not with landlords but with the Castletownsend Loan Society. Since the money that the Loan Society loaned out was British Government money, accountability for it was high. On the other hand, leases made on land were a civil matter, and any non-compliance with any terms of such leases would only have been pursued if a landlord filed a legal claim. Leaving aside any benevolent attributes that the landlords (Somerville and French) may have possessed, any compensation that may have accrued to them as a result of pursuing any legal remedies, or the possibility of them leasing to more well-off prospective tenants, in the Castlehaven of 1847 – 1850, were essentially zero”.(Ref. Oliver Murphy, email to Michael Sexton, 5th November 2017)
This may well explain how the Sextons managed to hold on to Lot 4a and allowed for the transfer of the land from the deceased John Sexton (d. 1847) to his son, John Sexton (1838-1922). In the absence of any other evidence, it certainly seems to be the most plausible explanation.