John Francis Delaney

John Francis Delaney

Born in Brooklyn, New York, on February 8, 1855, John was the second of Martin and Mary (Skelly) Delaney's five children. Because a birth record has not yet been found for him, the 1860 U.S. Census is the first record that we have of my great-grandfather John Francis Delaney, who is listed as being five years old. Although the census returns did not list street addresses, we do learn from those records that the family was living in Brooklyn's 11th Ward.

By the time the 1870 Census was taken, John, now fifteen, is working as an errand boy. John is still living at home with his four siblings, his mother, who has recently remarried, and his step-father, William Shelly. All of the children are still using the Delaney surname. The family continues to reside in Brooklyn's 11th Ward.

By the time the U.S. Census was taken in June of 1880, John has moved with his family to 120 Somers Street, Brooklyn, and is working as a clerk in a store. The census indicates that he is single and is 23 years old, whereas John's true age would have been 25. William and Mary Shelly are the heads of the household and, in addition to John, three of the children are still living at home. Catherine, John's oldest sister, is no longer listed as a member of the household.

Not too long after the 1880 census was taken, John marries Margaret Montgomery, and in August of the following year their first child, Bernadette Marie Delaney, is born. Between 1881 and 1896, Margaret would give birth to eight children, all of whom were born Brooklyn, with the exception of her last child, Harold, who was born in Florida.

Bernadette's birth is recorded as having taken place on 22 August 1881 at 120 Somers Street in Brooklyn, which would indicate that John and Margaret were living with John's mother and step-father. At this point in his life, John is a salesman, age 26, and "Maggie" is 23 years old.

William Montgomery Delaney is the next child, born in March of 1883. The first record we have of William M. Delaney is in the 1900 U.S. Census, by which time he was seventeen and working as a "clerk - insurance." At this time, he was still single and living with his parents and six of his siblings at 188 Lexington Avenue, Brooklyn, New York. By the time the 1910 U.S. Census was taken, William was married to Florence E. (Merklee) Delaney and was living with his wife's parents, Cornelius Merklee and Josephine (Aube) Merklee in Brooklyn, NY. 1

On 29 January 1885, my grandfather, Martin Cleveland Delaney, is born.

For several years I believed that there was another child in the family, born between Martin and the next known child, Florence. The 1900 U.S. Census plays a part in establishing the approximate birth date of the that child. It shows a four-year gap between the birth of Martin C. Delaney in 1885 and the birth of Florence Delaney in 1889. There is a strong pattern of the children being born two years apart, which would indicate that there probably was a child born about 1887 who likely was not living by the time the 1900 census was taken. Also, the birth certificate for Florence, indicates that she was the fifth child born to Maggie Delaney. Since Martin C. Delaney was Maggie's third child, there must have been a fourth child who would have been born sometime between 1885 and 1889, most likely about 1887 based on the pattern of childbirth. It was not until 2004, when my cousin John O'Connor and I made contact with each other for the first time, that the missing child in the sequence was established. John was instrumental in identifying the missing child, a boy. He sent me a picture from his archives of Francis Delaney, most likely the fourth child born to Maggie and John Delaney. The 1900 Census does not record Francis as a member of the household, and we conclude that the child had died because Margaret is listed has having given birth to eight children, seven of whom were still living.

By the time Florence Victoria Delaney was born on 01 February 1889, the family was residing in the Central Hotel, located at 2499 Atlantic Avenue. John's occupaton is listed on Florence's birth certificate as the hotel keeper. According to the document, he's now supposed to be 38 years of age, but his actual age would have been 33. Margaret is 32, which probably is an incorrect age for her, too.

Two years later, at seven a.m. on 21 May 1891, Loretta F. Delaney is born. She is the couple's sixth child, and the second child known to have been born at the Central Hotel. On Loretta's birth certificate, John is listed as a hotel keeper.

Maggie gave birth to Maude Lucille Delaney, the couple's seventh and next to last child, at 2:30 p.m. on 06 July 1893. Her birth certificate, on which her name is recorded as Mary Delaney, indicates that she was born in the Central Hotel, where the family was still living and where John was the hotel proprietor.

Harold F. Delaney is the last child born to John and Margaret Delaney. The only record we have of Harold's birth is the 1900 Census, which indicates that he was born in Florida in November of 1895.

From at least 1889, when Florence was born, we know that John and his family resided at the Central Hotel, located at 2499 Atlantic Avenue. We learn from John's 1937 obituary that "After owning a silk mill in lower Manhattan he opened the old Central Hotel in East New York and it was there he became one of the early horse race handicappers of Brooklyn." An October 2, 1901 newspaper article from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle tells us that "Delaney at one time ran a celebrated resort in East New York, which was situation on Atlantic Avenue, near Manhattan crossing." This is most likely a reference to the Central Hotel and it is interesting to note that it was considered, at least by the newspaper reporter, a "celebrated resort." One wonders if some of that celebrity came from the horse race handicapping activity in which John was engaged. His great-grandson, Franklyn Lowery Delaney, believed that John was using the Central Hotel not only has his family residence but also as a base of operations for his bookmaking activity.

John Francis Delaney must have been quite a colorful character. His obituary as well as Brooklyn Daily Eagle stories from October 2 and October 4, 1901, paint a picture of a man making a living as a horse race handicapper, bookmaker, owner of his own stables, and the owner of horses that he ran "on all the Metropolitan tracks, which included the old Moris Park and Sheapshead courses." From the October 2 article, we also learn that John was a daily visitor at the Brooklyn Jockey Club at Gravesend. The October 4, 1901, story reveals the nature of the incident involving John Delaney and his alleged assailant, Albert Denham: "a dispute over the yacht race, which developed into an altercation." While it's pure speculation, perhaps the yacht race dispute involved some wagering regarding the outcome of that event. Apparently, he had been relieved of the "considerable amount of money" that he was known to carry. The reporter for the October 2 article wrote, "No money or valuables were in his clothes when he was picked up. Beside an old letter, by means of which he was identified, there was nothing in his pockets except a pawnticket and a bookmaker's sheet."

Bookmaking and horse race handicapping were quite legal and bookmaking was prevalent activity in New York during this period in history. It was not until 19__ that bookmaking was outlawed. So, John was involved in an accepted "trade" and he appears to have prospered, enough to support a large family.

There was, however, another interesting facet to this man and it involved ownership of an orange "plantation" in Micco, Florida. John is reported to have been "one of the first white men to build a home in the then primitive Indian village" of Micco. The time frame of this activity is uncertain, but it may have started as early as the late 1880s and probably continued at least through 1896 when the family's last child, Harold F. Delaney, was born. Harold is the only child not born in Brooklyn; he was born in Florida, probably during one of the familys journeys to the orange plantation. John's obitiuary informs us that "Mr. Delaney spent many Winter vacations on his orange grove plantation ..." and that "Each vacation brought more Brooklyn people down there." Circumstantial evidence would seem to indicate that this phase of John Delaney's entrepreneurial life had come to an end prior to 1901. The October 2, 1901 Brooklyn Daily Eagle story about the assault on John states, "Delaney at one time owned property in the South ...." The the property referred to in the story is the Micco orange plantation, perhaps John had sold or otherwise disposed on that property sometime between 1896 and 1901.

A third view of this fascinating man involves his apparent interest in collecting. The secondary headline in his obituary announces, "Prominent Racing Figure Turned from Horses to Art." The writer of his obituary informs us that "In recent years Mr. Delaney was a connoisseur of art and antiques and member of the American Art Society." We're also told that during one of his many trips to Micco, John "caught several species of birds which were later mounted and placed in the Museum of Natural History.

In a 1922 interview published in The Evening Telegram (New York), John recounts his many years as a racing handicapper, his interest in collecting books and art, and his love of music, including playing the violin.2

Throughout his long life John Francis Delaney ventured down many paths: errand boy, accountant, hotel proprietor, horse race handicapper, bookmaker, citrus rancher, art and antique connoisseur and, of course, husband and father of eight children.

Margaret Delaney, John's wife of 32 years died from lobar pneumonia at 4:00 p.m on 03 December 1912.. She was 54 years, 7 months and 8 days old at the time of her death.3 Based on Margaret's place of death, 199 Baltic Street in Brooklyn, we can establish the family's place of residence at that point in time.

When his wife died John was 56 years of age, probably too young to be retired since he still had a family to support. Harold was only about 15 at the time, and several of his daughters were still living at home. While we don't know his occupation at that time, it's reasonable to think that he was no longer engaged in bookmaking - at least in a legal form of bookmaking. Up until the first few years of the 20th century, making book on horse racing was legal in the State of New York, even if it might not have been looked upon favorably by all segments society. But within only a few years, antigambling setiment led to widespread outlawing of bookmaking on horseraces, and by 1908 there were only 25 race tracks in the United States, down from more than 314 in 1890.4 Surely he was involved in other endeavors, but we don't know the exact nature of them.

On 21 February 1937, three weeks after his 82nd birthday, John Francis Delaney died at his apartment, located at 335 East 19th Street in Brooklyn. The cause of death was general arteriosclerosis. His obituary in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle was headlined, "John F. Delaney, Borough Turfman, Dies at 82."

The Delaney family story continues with John and Margaret's son, Martin Cleveland Delaney. Other chapters in the history of the family continue through the children of John and Margaret.

1 1900 U.S. Census - Brooklyn, NY ED387 23rd Ward Page 240 Sheet 9. 1910 U.S. Census - T624 Roll 985 ED 998 Ward 32 Sheet 7B Brooklyn, NY. Note: For the 1910 census, the index has William under the surname spelled as Delany (i.e., without the second letter "e.")
2 Interview by Elisabeth Smith, The Evening Telegram (New York), "Johnny Delaney Recalls Thirty Years at Races, Still Picking Winners," Tuesday, August 29, 1922,[ no printed page number].
3 State of New York Certificate and Record of Death, The City of New York, Department of Health, certificate number 22352, date of death 3 December 1912, certificate filed 6 December 1912.

4 The History of Horse Racing: (February 2005)

Webmaster: Robert F. Delaney

Page revised: February 14, 2010

John Francis Delaney
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Margaret Delaney
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For additional images of the family see Delaney Photo Album
Sheepshead Racetrack
Circa 1894