John signed up in the US Navy back in 1873 at Boston and upon entry was given the rank of an Ordinary Seaman. An entry level sailor in those days joined as a Landsman, suggesting that he had yet to grow and sea legs, ie basic training on the water. While the enlistment documents gave no indication of John's occupation prior to joining, the rank might suggest he had some experience on ships, merchant, fishing or whatever.
His service took him on board the USS Franklin in the North Atlantic Squadron, where his bravery was recognized at least three times for saving fellow sailors who had fallen into the waters they sailed.
Last week's blog told of his 4th such show of bravery when he dived into the waters off Lisbon, Portugal to save a crew mate from drowning. That blog told of another fellow, Edward Madden (aka Maddin,) a Canadian from Newfoundland who was involved in the very same incident that Handran was, and how Madden later got the MOH for his bravery that day.
The blog further revealed that information just came to me about a month ago that the other sailor helping Madden to rescue the fellow was in fact today's man John Handran. He would also be awarded the MOH, and in the same General Order that Madden was.
John was only 21 at the time and probably turned to the Haddock fisheries vessels for work around this time. He'd be following in the footsteps of his father of the same name, and brothers Mathew and William.
In late November of 1883 tragedy struck the family when many were killed in gales at sea. A city of Gloucester Massachusetts list of deaths tells some of this horror. On one page alone there are 30 men and probably boys listed. They cover just a portion of the surnames starting with the letter "f" and ending with the beginning of the "j's"
Of interest to Canadians, 8 of the 17 on this page alone, that had any indication of birthplaces show fisherman came from Canada. One was from the British Provinces, 1 from "St John NF," 1 from Cape Breton, 2 from Eli Brook NS, and three others from Canada.
These numbers clearly show, while such a small sampling of the overall deaths not shown on this page, but still... showing the extensive involvement Canadians played in the early American fisheries.
Three of the deaths that November day were John Handran Snr, and sons Mathew and William, father and brothers of Medal of Honor recipient John Handran.
No doubt the dangers of the fisheries were on John's mind when he joined the Catholic Order of Foresters and took out an insurance policy to protect his wife, a woman born in Newfoundland, and 3 children all under 3 years of age.
This family's grief was destined to continue. I'll let a West Virginia newspaper of 30 December 1885 tell you more.
The above story missed a most important fact. It told of the gale tossing the Cleopatra fishing vessel on its side and everyone either sliding, falling or jumping into the water, with exception of the poor fellow who died on the deck. When the vessel righted, all but three managed to climb aboard again.
And here is what was missed!
The captain hoisted the distress flag and the Gough saw this and raced forward to the rescue. But then something incredible happened. Cleopatra's Captain realized that the men on the Gough would pay a deadly price. Many would die. And so he took a vote, not for the Republicans or the Democrats, but for life itself. He said to the men... should we allow those brave men from the Gough to come forward, many dying to save them from certain death, or should we just face out destiny, go down with the ship, and let the Gough's brave soles live to fish another day?
And the men then voted AND AGREED WITH THE CAPTAIN. So the distress flag was pulled!
But the Gough kept coming anyway, and rescued all but four. And one of those four was a fellow named John Handran, a Medal of Honor hero. A shipmate would later say that John..."sank after a few moments struggle."
Note the reference to Gloucester, where all the men were living at the time, and the reference to... Three were not..."
So by now you must be asking why is this blog interested in John Handran, other than the fact that he was with Edward Madden when both saved another sailor from drowning and were both awarded the Medal of Honor for their bravery?
Because for years the documents and the net have been generally showing that John was born in Philadephia, or New York or Massachusetts. But a closer look suggests otherwise. And as they say, the smoking gun has not yet been found. But folks, the smell of gunpowder is getting clearer.
And some are now starting to look a lot closer than those of the past. And they ought to be looking at Madden's home province... Newfoundland Canada.
Madden came from St John's, and some 90 Kms south of there, along the eastern seaboard of Newfoundland and almost at its S/E corner is a small community of just a few hundred, and called Fermeuse... the probable birth place of John Handran.
Let's look at some evidence gathered so far...
Since Fermuese was only a community of a few hundred, and most likely unknown to any census taker, it was probably easiest to simply give a familiar name for place of birth, and thus St John's.
An 1853 Newburyport Mass. census lists the mother, father and 1st daughter under the surname HANDAN, and four more children, our MOH man John being the youngest, at 5, and all being born at New York. The surname given for these children was HARNDAN.
A Mass. state census 2 years later also repeats a NY birth for all above.
This shows the marriage of John and Sarah in 1882, and living in Gloucester Mass. at the time. It also shows that his wife's parents were from Prince Edward Island, and his from Newfoundland, despite earlier claims of being from Ireland.
More curious, it also shows that his parents surname was NOT Handran but RYAN. Most curious and needing more investigation.
Note the above notation that he was born at Fermuse NF. This was a misspelling of Fermeuse (Newfoundland.)
After the recent death of his father and two brothers at sea, John took out an insurance policy with the Massachusetts Catholic Order of Foresters. Here is a part of that document...
Note the declaration of birth at St John's New-Found-Land. After he perished the Order paid out a thousand dollar benefit to his wife.
This story has many tangled twists and more work is still needed. I hope to bring even stronger evidence that John has become the 110th Medal of Honor man coming from Canada, or having connections to our great nation.
When I began 17 yrs ago that number stood at 54.
Stay tuned for more on this story as it develops.
In the mean time, this one is for you John Handran.
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