James Tagg, Ship Joiner and Sashmaker (1833-1903)

James Tagg's Obituary. Brooklyn Standard Union (23 Oct 1903)

James Tagg’s Obituary.
Brooklyn Standard Union (23 Oct 1903)

James Tagg was born in 1833 on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, middle son to immigrant parents William and Elizabeth Tagg. As a young boy, James, and his brothers Frederick and Henry (later known as William Henry) grew up near the shipyards. The Lower East Side was a natural place to raise the Tagg boys. I can imagine William and Elizabeth feeling right at home near the docks as it was probably like their hometown, the English port city of Bristol.

James and his brothers, as first generation Americans, probably didn’t face the harsh realities as other immigrant groups of that time. As a son of an Englishman, James’ future prospects likely would not have been hampered by his name, an accent or his appearance. For James and his brothers, however, they would learn a hard life lesson of growing up without their father.

On 6 June 1840, William, a brushmaker by trade, passed away at their home on Monroe Street. William, a member of the Odd Fellows, was honored by a funeral at its hall and laid to rest at Rutgers St Churchyard. Elizabeth and her boys were on their own for a time until Elizabeth married another English brushmaker named James Rawlinson. James was tough English man from London according to his brother, who lived in White County, Illinois. He was especially tough on the boys. Mr Rawlinson, according to old letters, was also quite fond of the bottle and complained incessantly.

Nevertheless, the Tagg boys were raised in the Rawlinson home at 5 Attorney Street and brought up into respectable trades. Frederick became a cooper and William Henry fought in the Civil War, later entering the dairy business. James stayed close to the docks. Throughout his life, every census lists his occupation as sashmaker but his work was mostly devoted to being a ship joiner. On the docks, he would meet his future brother-in-law Ralph Thompson Martling, nephew of Jacob Aaron Westervelt, a master shipbuilder. Eventually, that led to his fortuitous meeting with his future wife (well, fortuitous to their descendants at any rate).

James married Jane Martling six days after the birth of their first child, James Henry. (More on Jane Martling Tagg, here). The family would remain in Lower Manhattan until 1873 when they moved to Brooklyn. Manhattan’s shipyards were financially upended after the Civil War and much of the industry moved across the East River. James and family lived a few blocks from the Brooklyn Navy Yard for decades. In that time, the Tagg family shrank over time. James and Jane had 13 children in total but eight of those children would die in childhood. Jane died in 1886, at age 46, leaving the family in tatters. James would, in a few years time, marry again, to a woman half his age and have a daughter. To this day, the evidence suggests that his marriage to Elizabeth Smith was not well received by James’ children (Additionally, James is buried with Elizabeth’s family, not with any of our ancestors).

On 21 October 1903, while at the Navy Yard’s sailing shop, James suffered a heart attack and passed away. He was 70 years old and was survived by his second wife, Elizabeth; four children, James Henry Tagg, Jane Elizabeth Winans, Fredrick William Tagg and Sophronia Clark Resseguie; and nine grandchildren. He was a union man and a member of the Knights of Honor. From infancy until death, it can be said that my great-great-great grandfather James never strayed far from the shipyards, remaining close to the East River his entire life.

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