McMahon house, Labor in Vain Rd., Ipswich

2 Labor in Vain Road, the McMahon house (b 1856)

Ipswich maps indicate that this house at the intersection of Labor In Vain and Turkey Shore Roads was constructed between 1832 and 1856. Mary Appleton, daughter of Isaac and Elizabeth Appleton married Mager Woodbury in 1784, at 67 Turkey Shore Rd., and had two children, Mary and Samuel. Mager Woodbury died in October 1837. Their daughter Mary married Thomas McMahon, November, 1826, and had four children, residing on Turkey Shore. Thomas died in 1861, and Mary continued to own the old Abraham and Elizabeth Soward house at this site. (see Waters, Ipswich in the Massachusetts Bay Colony). The house was sold to James Galbraith in 1864.

The owner on the 1910 Ipswich map is Henry Perry Willcomb. Previous owners told us that it was built by a sea-captain, and that the house is haunted.

Thomas McMahon

The following excerpts are from County Kerry, 1821-1829 (McMahon family history) provided by Kathleen Ingoldsby:

The origins of my great-great-grandfather, Robert McMahon, b. 1810, are on Dingle Peninsula in Kerry with his brother, Thomas, b. 1799, and father Timothy. Their journey continues in the following chapter on my McMahon family’s Irish roots, tracing the origins of four McMahon generations in Massachusetts. The 1838 Massachusetts U.S. Naturalization document for Robert McMahon, Ipswich; holds a rich account of his immigration. He entered the U.S. from Canada, arriving at Canaan, Vermont, April, 1829.

1832 map of Ipswich, Turkey Shore and Labor in Vain.
The Mager Woodbury house is at the intersection of Turkey Shore (Prospect St.) and Labor in Vain (unnamed)

Sometime after his arrival in Vermont, Robert McMahon relocated to Ipswich, Massachusetts, next to the farm of one Thomas McMahon. On December 5, 1845, the two purchased six to seven acres on the Ipswich River together, from the estate of Deacon Moses Lord (deed book 361, page 242). Thomas also bought a second lot on Turkey Shore, situated next to Mager Woodbury, his father-in-law (1832 map inset). By 1850, Robert owned real estate valued at $800 (about $25,000 in today’s dollars); Thomas McMahon’s property was listed as $3000, his occupation as farmer.

The three Kerry families, the Thomas and the Robert McMahons and the Timothy Currans, carried out the labors of farm life on the banks of the Ipswich River, harvesting crops, tending animals, and gathering salt hay. Turkey Shore, an early and historically important path to the seacoast, included their land along the south side of the Ipswich River. On the McMahons’ 1845 deed, this section was called French’s Cove and it included a point at the riverbend, salt marshes, upland, and arable land.

Neighbors on Turkey Shore, South District of Ipswich, held professions or trades, with only one neighbor classified as a “gentleman.” A glance at the McMahon’s 1855 Massachusetts Census page found Scottish, Irish, German, and English neighbors with trades of weaver, stone mason, currier, yeoman, laborer, butcher, carpenter, machinist, tailor, and teacher.

Tragedy hit the family June 20, 1858, when my great-great-grandfather Robert McMahon suddenly died at age 47. On his Ipswich, Massachusetts, death record, cause of death was noted as “ate poison clams.” Henry McMahon, my great grandfather, was then not quite two-years old.

With Thomas McMahon’s family grown, and soon after his brother Robert’s 1858 death, Thomas’s census reports show a decrease in agricultural output. By 1860, his agricultural holdings were reduced to twenty-three acres, one horse, one milk cow, and two swine, with forty bushels of rye and sixty-eight bushels of Indian corn. (Indian corn was the colonists’ name for ear corn, as opposed to the British term of maize.)

Thomas, by then classified as a yeoman, died the next year, December, 1861, intestate, leaving land valued at $1500 and salt marsh valued at $150 to his widow and two remaining daughters, Elizabeth S. McMahon, single, and Priscilla Baker (McMahon) Choate, married to John Choate. The inherited property with premises were then sold in 1862, with Elizabeth McMahon as executor. Earlier, 1837-38, Thomas and Mary McMahon had lost two young daughters to disease, Mary Appleton and Martha Jane, buried in Old South Cemetery, Ipswich. The middle names of three of their daughters reflected their maternal grandmothers’ or great grandmother’s surnames: Appleton, Baker, and (possibly) Sawyer.

McMahon houses in thee 1894 Ipswich Birdseye Map

Woodbury-McMahon timeline

  • Moager Woodbury born to Samuel and Sarah Goodwin Woodbury, baptised December 25, 1757, Boxford.
  • Mager Woodbury marries Mary Appleton, Nov. 25, 1784, Ipswich.
  • Mary Woodbury, born to Mager and Mary Appleton Woodbury, Nov. 20, 1791, Essex.
  • Death of Mager & Mary Appleton Woodbury’s son, Samuel, 18 March 1802, drowning.
  • Marriage of Mary Woodbury and Thomas McMahon, 18 Nov., 1826, Ipswich, Mass.
  • Death of Mary Woodbury‘s mother, Mary Appleton Woodbury, Mar. 10, 1828
  • Death of Mary Woodbury’s father, Mager Woodbury, Oct. 3, 1837. Case Number 179, Probate Records, Vol 97-100, 1836- 1860
  • Death of Mary Woodbury Mahan, Fitchburg, age 90, of old age, Jan. 7, 1882. (Mary never remarried)


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