Who Was J.W. “Jack” Brady? Part 1

Jack Brady hand in pocket

To the Brady family, Jack Brady seemed an illusive interloper who swooped in and then out of their lives only leaving his name.  Not much was known about him by the family except he was a barber who married Miriam Sandsbury, the only child of Captain Andrew Sandsbury. Then after three children together he disappeared, abandoning his family and leaving Miriam destitute.

In Viola Davis’ Oscar winning acceptance speech she said, “you know, there is one place where all the people with the greatest potential are gathered and that’s the graveyard. I say exhume those bodies. Exhume those stories. The stories of those people who dreamed big and never saw those dreams to fruition. People who fell in love and lost.” Jack and Miriam Brady are among those people who dreamed big, fell in love and lost.

Jack  grew up in Hoosick Falls, New York. His father Michael Brady and his mother Eliza Mckai Brady came to the U.S. from Ireland right before the Civil War. On September 6, 1862 at the age of 24, Michael enlisted in the 169th NY Infantry to serve 3 years but deserted on April 25, 1863 at Washington D.C. and was later arrested in New York. 

The 1875 NY Census records show that their two oldest children Edward and James were born in Hoosick Falls (Rensselaer County)  before the war. Jack was born after the war in England in 1867 and his brother Michael was born in Ireland in 1870. The youngest child Eliza was born in Hoosick Falls in 1873. For whatever reason, the family traveled back to Ireland and then back to the U.S. They may have fled due to the shame of Michael’s desertion and arrest or economic troubles. By 1880, Michael had disappeared and was no longer in the home. He is not mentioned at all in Eliza’s obituary in 1895 which may be an indication of lingering shame or negative feelings toward him.

1875 NY Census

According to the 1880 census, another child named Willie was born. Edward worked as a laborer and James and Jack at 16 and 13 worked in the Button Factory. It appears they were supporting the family. When Jack turned 15, he had the opportunity to apprentice with an elderly German barber and then at 18 years old made his way to Nantucket.

Jack Brady took Nantucket by storm.   According to Jack in an interview with the Los Angeles Times in 1937, he was the first white barber on the island. He opened his first salon above the post office then moved to the Masonic building where he opened a shop described by the Nantucket Journal at the time as “elegantly and luxuriously fitted up for him with every modern convenience which experience could suggest, and is one of the handsomest rooms on the street.”

Ad in Nantucket Journal
Ad Nantucket Journal

Jack was also the first bicycle agent on the island bringing the bicycle craze to Nantucket. He was involved in the establishment of the Weeweeders Bicycle Club and the Nantucket Bicycle Club as one of the original officers.

Ad Inquirer & Mirror
Ad Inquier & Mirror
Photo Inquirer & Mirror

He was a savvy businessman who knew how to present himself. He told everyone he was an Englishman born in Yorkshire. He seemed to have immersed himself in everything the island had to offer. He was a Mason, an Odd Fellow, played banjo in the Nantucket Brass Band, a real estate agent and had even worked for the Inquirer and Mirror.

He definitely seemed a suitable match for Miriam, the daughter of Captain Andrew Sandsbury.

To be continued….

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