September 14, 1909


Staunch Irish-American Patriot
Mixed in Many Attempts to Free
Ireland -- Stabbed for Expos-
ing Clan ne Gael Plot.
Captain Thomas Phelan, Soldiler of Fortune.

The death of Captain Thomas Phelan, Irish-American patriot and soldier of fortune, which occurred at 2:30 o'clock last Saturday afternoon, in Bremerton, Wash., ended a life full of romance and a checkered career in war and politics. Early in life he was bitten with the wanderlust, and during the early 60s and 70s helped to make history, not only in America, but in Canada and Ireland. Captain Phelan was 76 years old and leaves a widow and four children.

Being a native of Ireland, Captain Phelan throughout his life and did all in his power to bring freedom to Erin. He was born near the town of Tipperary and came to America about 1857, locating at Independence, Mo. He married Miss Alice Cox of that city.

During the early part of Captain Phelan's life he was embroiled in many attempts to free his native country from the yoke of England. Shortly after his marriage in Independence he enlisted as a volunteer in the Seventh Missouri regiment of the Union army and fought with that regiment throughout the war. He rose from the ranks to a captain. He was in many of the important battles.


One of his daring acts committed during the progress of the war was at the siege of Vicksburg. It was necessary to take a steamboat loaded with cotton and other products, and munitions of war, down the river and Captain Phelan was delegated to run the blockade.

Transferring bales of hay for cotton around the edge of the boat he succeeded in getting safely through the lines. His name appears in Civil war history as that of the man responsible for breaking the blockade.

In the late 60's he gained fame and notoriety by engaging in the Fenian raid from the United States into Canada in a futile attempt to occupy Canada and make it a base of supplies from which to carry on warfare with England for the freedom of Ireland.

The Irish in America congregated about Ridgeway, Canada, for the purpose of an uprising and gaining a stronghold in the Canadian country. Some 1,400 Irish left the United States for this purpose, but boats on the waterways cut off a portion, and they failed to land in Canada. A battle in which many persons were killed on both sides was fought by the Irishmen against the Queen's Own regiment.

While making a visit to his home country, Captain Phelan learned that the Clan na Gael was planning to blow up an English ship named the Queen. Although against England, Captain Phelan did not believe in destroying innocent passengers, and therefore notified the English ship people. In some manner his part became public, and O'Donovan Rossa, editor of the Irishman of New York, attacked his loyalty in the paper.


The incident occurred during the term as mayor here of Lee Talbot. Captain Phelan was called to New York to be given an opportunity to explain matters relative to his informing the British of the intended blowing up of the Queen.

Close friendship had before existed between Rossa and Phelan, and the latter did not realize that he was to be the victim of a trap. He went to New York and entered Rossa's office. While there an endeavor to assassinate him was made by an Irishman living in the East. Captain Phelan was stabbed thirteen times and received a broken arm in the attack. He was confined in a hospital in New York for many months on account of his injuries. The news that he gave the information to the English leaked out through a story of the plot printed in Kansas City and written by Frank P. Clarke, a former newspaper man, now living here.

Between the years of 1882 and 1888 Captain Phelan was superintendent of the Kansas City workhouse. He was greatly interested in politics and was a staunch Republican all of his life. When the criminal court was instituted in Jackson county he was appointed clerk of the court and was the first to fill this position. Under Mayor John Moore he served as superintendent of public works. While Colonel R. T. Van Horn was a member of Congress Captain Phelan received the appointment of captain of police of Washington, D. C.


After the civil war he organized Company D of the Third Regiment and was a captain in the regiment for many years. Later he organized Battery B. For the last seven years he had been in charge of a navy yard at Bremerton, Wash., where ships of the United States are repaired. He was holding this position when he died. Captain Phelan belonged to the G. A. R., but was not a member of any other organization.

Captain Phelen also figured very prominently in a duel which was never pulled off. The participants were to have been a Captain McCafferty and Captain Phelan. Rifles were the weapons chosen, and seconds and grounds had been picked when friends interfered.

At one time a number of Irish left America to aid Ireland, whose sons were to rise against England upon a certain day. Chester, England, was the place of the rendezvous for the Irish-Americans. Arms had been secured for their use.

The English troops, however, got wind of the threatened uprising and were sent out in such large forces that the Irish were overawed. The difficulty between Captains McCafferty and Phelan arose out of the means to be used at this time in trying to free Ireland.

Captain Phelan's family resides at 3205 Washington street. Dr. Y. J. Acton of Bremerton notified the family of the death. The body was buried yesterday afternoon in the Soldiers and Sailors' cemetery at Bremerton, Wash., by Captain Phelan's special request.

For many years Captain Phelan traveled over the country giving exhibitions of shooting and fencing. He was a crack shot with pistols and rifles, and was a famous swordsman.

Captain Phelan, while the Dreyfus affair in France was at its height, challenged Count Esterhazy, accuser of Dreyfus, to a duel with swords, to be fought anywhere in the world.

Besides his widow, Mrs. John Young and Miss Annie Phelan, daughters, and two sons, Robert Phelan, a police detective, and Thomas Phelan, survive.