Where was James Mason born?

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Gerard Killoran
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Where was James Mason born?

Post by Gerard Killoran » Fri Feb 05, 2021 10:49 pm

There seems to be a consensus that James Mason was born in Kilkenny on the 19th of November 1849 and subsequently emigrated to the United States when a young child. However the British Census has the following information:

Name: James Mason
Age: 31
Estimated Birth Year: abt 1850
Relationship to Head: Lodger
Gender: Male
Where born: (US), America
Civil Parish: Lambeth
County/Island: London
Country: England
Street Address: 43 Crozier St
Occupation: Professional Chess Player

Did James Mason give America as his place of birth? Or was it assumed by his landlady or the enumerator?

Crozier Street no longer exists, the site is occupied by St Thomas' Hospital.

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Re: Where was James Mason born?

Post by John McKenna » Sat Feb 06, 2021 12:40 am

According to Hooper & Whyld (Oxford Companion to Chess 1984) James Mason was not his original name -

"He was born in Kilkenny, Ireland (19 Nov. 1849) and adopted the name James Mason (his real name not known) when he and his family emigrated to the USA in 1861...

Settling in England in 1878 he drew a match with Potter in 1879..."

His chequered history has been discussed before elsewhere on the forum, e.g. -
John Saunders wrote:
Sun Apr 21, 2019 12:13 pm
The Irish Chess Union features an interesting biography of James Mason by Jim Hayes.

In it Jim Hayes tries to narrow down the possibilities for James Mason's birth name...
viewtopic.php?f=27&t=10197&hilit=Mason#p229796

And,
O.G. Urcan wrote:
Sun Apr 21, 2019 2:09 pm
As regards the mystery over James Mason's real name, see www.chesshistory.com/winter/extra/buckley.html

Concerning Mason's marital status, Chess Notes item 9615 quoted from printed indexes of the Principal Probate Registry of England and Wales: "James Mason of Blodwin Cottage, New Thundersley, Essex, died 11 January 1905 at The Infirmary, Rochford, Essex. Effects £151. Administration to Annie Mason, widow."
viewtopic.php?f=27&t=10197&p=232278&hilit=Mason#p229802
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Gerard Killoran
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Re: Where was James Mason born?

Post by Gerard Killoran » Sat Feb 06, 2021 1:00 am

None of the above, which just restates the commonly held belief I described, answers my question.

Where is it documented that he was born in Kilkenny?

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MJMcCready
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Re: Where was James Mason born?

Post by MJMcCready » Sat Feb 06, 2021 1:36 am

If he was baptized, which in those days was often the case within days of birth, his (real) name and date of birth will be kept in the church records but for those most likely you'll have to go to the church he was baptized in, whichever that one was.

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Re: Where was James Mason born?

Post by Christopher Kreuzer » Sat Feb 06, 2021 7:02 am

Maybe start from the first appearance of Kilkenny in the historiography? See how trustworthy the first mention of that is.

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Re: Where was James Mason born?

Post by John McKenna » Sat Feb 06, 2021 8:16 am

Gerard Killoran wrote:
Sat Feb 06, 2021 1:00 am
None of the above, which just restates the commonly held belief I described, answers my question.

Where is it documented that he was born in Kilkenny?
From within the links I gave further above -

"Mason is hard to find using standard family history research techniques (as his name is very common and he probably moved around a lot) but I did find him lodging at 43 Crozier St, South Marsh, Lambeth in the 1881 census, with his occupation given as "pro'l chess player" and his place of birth (erroneously) as 'America'. He was single at that time..."

viewtopic.php?f=27&t=10197&hilit=Mason#p229795

It seems you are going over old ground and according to what is contained in the material already provided in the links to previous posts in the link above (that you also contributed to) there's much reliable anecdotal evidence that he was born in Ireland (Kilkenny) not in the USA.
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Re: Where was James Mason born?

Post by Gerard Killoran » Sat Feb 06, 2021 3:52 pm

...there's much reliable anecdotal evidence that he was born in Ireland (Kilkenny) not in the USA
This misses the point.

A census is an historical document and as such there is a legal duty for the respondents to provide accurate and truthful answers to the questions in it. Since James Mason's age is given correctly in the census, we can assume that he provided that information to whoever filled in the form. Why would the place of birth be given as America if Mason hadn't said so?

Rather than contemporary, documentary evidence provided by a census, why should we prefer 'anecdotal evidence'?

As for, '...there's much reliable anecdotal evidence that he was born in Ireland', I'm afraid much 'anecdotal evidence' is not reliable at all. One problem is that one anecdote, repeated enough times, gives the impression of multiple sources. What actual evidence is there, apart from what Mason is supposed to have said to Robert J.Buckley?

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Re: Where was James Mason born?

Post by John McKenna » Sat Feb 06, 2021 5:53 pm

Gerard Killoran wrote:
Sat Feb 06, 2021 3:52 pm
...there's much reliable anecdotal evidence that he was born in Ireland (Kilkenny) not in the USA
This misses the point.

A census is an historical document and as such there is a legal duty for the respondents to provide accurate and truthful answers to the questions in it. Since James Mason's age is given correctly in the census, we can assume that he provided that information to whoever filled in the form. Why would the place of birth be given as America...



More to the point - did you miss this in what I pointed you to -
I have now tracked down James Mason in the 1901 census.

1901 census - 24, Fairlight Road, Walthamstow, Essex

"James Mason - married - age 51 - occupation: author & writer of books & chess player - working at home - where born: Ireland, American citizen
Lookng through that thread it seems to be the case that Jas. Mason was just a lodger in the 1881 census, the entry for which was most probably filled in by someone other than himself and on a limited need-to-know basis.

Whereas the above entry in the 1901 census seems most likely to have been filled out, in full, by himself as the head of a househould.
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Re: Where was James Mason born?

Post by Gerard Killoran » Sun Feb 07, 2021 11:21 am

Thanks for that. Strangely Ancestry.com doesn't find this record through its search engine. I eventually found it in enumeration district 41.

I agree this is conclusive evidence for his Irish birth, but I would like to know where the Kilkenny story came from.


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Re: Where was James Mason born?

Post by Tim Harding » Sun Feb 07, 2021 2:44 pm

Gerard Killoran wrote:
Sun Feb 07, 2021 11:21 am
Thanks for that. Strangely Ancestry.com doesn't find this record through its search engine. I eventually found it in enumeration district 41.

I agree this is conclusive evidence for his Irish birth, but I would like to know where the Kilkenny story came from.
Have you read the discussion about this at the start of Joost van Winsen's book "James Mason in America" where he discusses Hayes's research?
Unfortunately I no longer have Hayes's original article (Chess 1997?).
The source of the Kilkenny story, I believe, was Buckley, the Irish journalist on the Birmingham Weekly Mercury, but again I don't have access to the article in question as that title is unavailable in BNA. The book says the date of the article was 15 April 1905.

The explanation for the wrong birthplace in one census could either be an error by the enumerator or Mason being drunk at the time.

I also have had frustrations with the search engine at ancestry.co.uk not finding records that I know are there.
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Re: Where was James Mason born?

Post by Paul McKeown » Sun Feb 07, 2021 6:05 pm

Jim Hayes's essay on James Mason's roots can be found on the ICU website, courtesy of Mark Orr.

Please see:https://www.icu.ie/articles/57

(If my memory does not fail me, the article was originally published on Orr's personal website concerning Irish chess history, got merged into the ICU website when he took over the admin of that site, then disappeared for a period during and subsequent to Colm Daly's reign, but happily is now back.)

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Re: Where was James Mason born?

Post by Christopher Kreuzer » Mon Feb 08, 2021 7:12 am

Thanks, Paul. That is a fascinating article. Wonder if any research has since been done into any records that survive of immigrants into New Orleans at the time?

The article is very well-written, but I can't resist quoting an example of a very long sentence (which happily relates to my question above):
With a new name, ostensibly adopted by his father to avoid prevalent anti-Irish prejudice, and possibly a change in religious persuasion, as we know he did not die in that in which he was baptised, probably adopted as a means of mere survival and for the purpose of acquiring assisted passage from Ireland to the promised land of America, the evidence suggests that they travelled via the cotton trade routes between Lancashire and the Confederate States arriving in ante bellum New Orleans in early 1861, not one of the traditional eastern seaboard entry points used by the mass of the famine-fleeing Irish at the time.

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Re: Where was James Mason born?

Post by John Saunders » Mon Feb 08, 2021 2:13 pm

We don't seem to any further forward here than we were back in 2019. The 1901 census record that Gerard has posted is the same one that I posted in 2019. And the link to the Jim Hayes article is the same one I posted in 2019.

Perhaps it is worth quoting what Edward Winter had to say in Kings, Commoners and Knaves, page 386 (Russell Enterprises, 1999):
Kings, Commoners and Knaves, page 386 wrote:James Mason

In an article on pages 364-365 of the December 1956 Chess Review Bruce Hayden wrote:

But imagine my surprise when I asked the great old warrior [Bernstein] who was his favourite among the players of the past. “James Mason”, he replied, “Not because he was the strongest but because he played my two favourite combinations”.’

The item was reprinted on pages 116-120 of Hayden’s book Cabbage Heads and Chess Kings. The two combinations occurred in Mason v Winawer, Vienna, 1882 and Mason v Janowsky, Monte Carlo, 1902. Both games can be found in an article on Mason by Jim Hayes on pages 10-15 of the March 1997 CHESS. On the basis of detailed research in Kilkenny, Ireland, where Mason was born, Mr Hayes attempted to solve one of chess history’s most enduring mysteries: what was James Mason’s real name? Although ‘absolute final proof was admitted to be lacking, he expressed the view that there was ‘overwhelming evidence in favour of him being Patrick Dwyer’. (Chess Café 1998)
Tim has already alluded to the March 1997 CHESS article by Jim Hayes. I'm afraid I don't have a copy either.

The Robert John Buckley article from the Birmingham Weekly Mercury, 15 April 1905, to which Tim alludes is quoted at some length by Winter here. Again, I think we mulled over this back in 2019.

I would have thought the next step would be for someone to re-examine immigration records for New Orleans in 1861. (I'm assuming that Jim Hayes and/or the author of 'James Mason in America' have already done this to some degree, but additions to online records might turn up something new.)
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Re: Where was James Mason born?

Post by John McKenna » Mon Feb 08, 2021 2:38 pm

John Saunders wrote:
Mon Feb 08, 2021 2:13 pm
We don't seem to any further forward here than we were back in 2019. The 1901 census record that Gerard has posted is the same one that I posted in 2019. And the link to the Jim Hayes article is the same one I posted in 2019.

Perhaps it is worth quoting what Edward Winter had to say in Kings, Commoners and Knaves, page 386 (Russell Enterprises, 1999):
Kings, Commoners and Knaves, page 386 wrote:James Mason

In an article on pages 364-365 of the December 1956 Chess Review Bruce Hayden wrote:

But imagine my surprise when I asked the great old warrior [Bernstein] who was his favourite among the players of the past. “James Mason”, he replied, “Not because he was the strongest but because he played my two favourite combinations”.’

The item was reprinted on pages 116-120 of Hayden’s book Cabbage Heads and Chess Kings. The two combinations occurred in Mason v Winawer, Vienna, 1882 and Mason v Janowsky, Monte Carlo, 1902. Both games can be found in an article on Mason by Jim Hayes on pages 10-15 of the March 1997 CHESS. On the basis of detailed research in Kilkenny, Ireland, where Mason was born, Mr Hayes attempted to solve one of chess history’s most enduring mysteries: what was James Mason’s real name? Although ‘absolute final proof was admitted to be lacking, he expressed the view that there was ‘overwhelming evidence in favour of him being Patrick Dwyer’. (Chess Café 1998)
Tim has already alluded to the March 1997 CHESS article by Jim Hayes. I'm afraid I don't have a copy either.

The Robert John Buckley article from the Birmingham Weekly Mercury, 15 April 1905, to which Tim alludes is quoted at some length by Winter here. Again, I think we mulled over this back in 2019.

I would have thought the next step would be for someone to re-examine immigration records for New Orleans in 1861. (I'm assuming that Jim Hayes and/or the author of 'James Mason in America' have already done this to some degree, but additions to online records might turn up something new.)
Further to all of the above -

"... What actual evidence is there, apart from what Mason is supposed to have said to Robert J.Buckley?" (See further above.)

1905 in the year of Mason's death Buckley wrote -
[From the chess column of R.J. Buckley in the Birmingham Weekly Mercury of 15 April 1905, page 25] -

... Mason was a Kelt of the Kelts, a really Irish Irishman...

James Mason’s true name was neither James nor Mason. His real name was confided to me years ago, as it were, sub sigilla confessionis. Later he wrote:
“My father adopted the name of Mason on landing in New Orleans when I was 11..."

It may be that in the time to come this column may present a few extracts from Mason’s letters, of which about 400, some of them very long, regular essays, addressed to the writer, are available.
Mason was a great letter-writer, and when addressing people with whom he was in sympathy, was apt to let himself go...

The Masonic secret should be interesting. Perhaps Mason had other confidants. Yet he was never one of those who wear their hearts on their sleeves for daws to peck at.
https://www.chesshistory.com/winter/extra/buckley.html

"... Where is it documented that he was born in Kilkenny?" (See further above.)

1888 Mason sojourned in Dublin -

“CHESS CELEBRITY IN DUBLIN Mr James Mason, the chess-player, is in Dublin and can be seen daily in play in the newly opened Chess Divan and Café of Mr J. Morphy at No. 79 Grafton Street. In addition to simultaneous games and general play, Mr Mason has undertaken a match of 'the first five games up' with a Dublin amateur …. Mr Mason is an Irishman, having been born in Kilkenny..."
[Irish Times, 23 vii 1888]

https://irishchesshistory.files.wordpre ... h-1888.pdf

How appropriate that the match was played at the premises of Mr. J. Morphy.

1861 - if, as recounted, the 11 year old James Mason and his family arrived in New Orleans "early" in that year they would have been in the same city at the same time as Paul Chas. Morphy, who was still only 23 years of age and already retired from playing chess in public.

(Mason's family emigrated from Ireland during a time of mass Irish immigration into the United States, due to famine in Ireland. Irish immigrants often found cheap passage to New Orleans on cotton ships that had unloaded their cargoes of cotton in Liverpool and did not wish to make the return voyage empty.)

In Jan. 1861 the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana seceded from the Union. In April that year the first shots in US Civil War were fired.

In April 1862 New Orleans, the most populous city in the Confederacy, was captured by Union forces. That would have made it much easier for Mason and his family to think about moving north, by sea, to New York City.

(In October 1862 Paul C. Morphy, "a patriotic Southerner", left New Orleans for his second visit to Europe, incognito, aboard a Spanish warship bound first for Cuba and then on to Cadiz, Spain, and finally Paris, France. Not returning to his native New Orleans home until early in 1864, during the closing years of the Civil War.)

Mason eventually secured employment at the New York Herald where earlier Frederick Milnes Edge (Morphy's 'private secretary' during Morphy's first visit to Europe) - was a roving reporter.

Could Mason be said to have been led by a quirk of fate into a sort of search for Morphy?

Will further searches of the 1861 emigration and immigration records draw a complete blank?

Has Mason's marriage certificate still not been tracked down?

However, perhaps when all is said and done, what does it matter if the "Masonic secret" remains undisclosed. The man himself seems to have preferred that might remain the case.
Last edited by John McKenna on Tue Feb 09, 2021 1:57 am, edited 4 times in total.
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Re: Where was James Mason born?

Post by Gerard Killoran » Mon Feb 08, 2021 2:56 pm

Apologies to all for the repetition. I'll try harder to check these things in advance next time.

My subscription to the BNA has lapsed but there is an article about James Mason in the chess column of the Cheltenham Examiner, Wednesday 25 January 1905 (page 6). Much earlier than the Birmingham Weekly Mercury article.

There are intriguing snippets such as

'Mr. James Mason died last week. A personal friend of his sends us a long Appreciation more suited to the B.C.M. than a newspaper from which we can give a few extracts only :'

and

'Born at Kilkenny in 1849. he was taken as an infant to New lurk (sic), where he was reared.'

Was this from Buckley? It would be helpful if someone with a subscription could kindly post the whole piece.

The Irish Times article certainly settles the matter of his place of birth. As for his real name...

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