John Ferguson was born in Drumcully, County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, on the 10th September 1871, the son of Cormick and Bridget “Biddy” Ferguson (née Keany). His father was a farmer, and whereas it is unknown how many children were in the family, by 1915 John had three brothers and two sisters still living. He was unmarried.
In 1888, he immigrated to the United States of America, and eventually settled in Joplin, Missouri, where he was the proprietor of “The Club Saloon”, at 402. Main Street, and became a naturalized citizen of the United States of America in 1893. He also owned the “Union Bar”, 120. West Sixth Street, Joplin, and had quite a large property portfolio.
In the spring of 1915, he decided to return to his family for a visit, and to consult with his father about building new premises at 402. Main Street, Joplin, and consequently booked second cabin passage on the May sailing of the Lusitania from New York to Liverpool.
He arrived at the Cunard berth at Pier 54 in New York harbour in time for her 10.00 a.m. sailing on 1st May, but this was delayed until the afternoon as she had to embark passengers, crew and cargo from the Anchor Liner Cameronia, which had been requisitioned by the British Admiralty for war work at the end of April. The Lusitania finally left the port just after mid-day and just six days later, on the afternoon of 7th May, she was torpedoed and sunk by the German submarine U-20. At that point, she was within sight of the coast of southern Ireland and only 250 miles away from her destination.
John Ferguson did not survive the sinking. He was aged 43 years.
On 15th May 1915 the Cunard office in Queenstown received a letter relayed from New York, from an attorney named J.H. Spurgeon, of 402, Main Street, Joplin, Missouri, which was the address of John Ferguson’s saloon, giving a description of John Ferguson which stated: -
45 years old. Black Hair, slightly gray on temple. Gray blue eyes small dark moustache. Height 5 ft. 11 ins. height about 200 lbs. In case of identification to notify
Mrs. Madelon Caufman,
c/o Fern Cliff Apts.
603 Solidad Street,
San Antonio, Texas.
Despite the letter, no body matching this description was ever recovered and identified as John Ferguson. As a result, he has no known grave. It is not known what relationship Madelon Caufman had with John Ferguson.
J.H. Spurgeon, as administrator of John Ferguson’s estate, submitted a claim for compensation for the death of John Ferguson, which was considered by the Mixed Claims Commission. John Ferguson left a father, three brothers and two sisters, all of whom were British subjects, and as no American citizen was affected directly by his death, the Commission declined to make any award.
It was reported that John Ferguson left an estate valued at approximately $75,000, which was inherited by his father, brothers, and sisters. “The Saloon Bar”, which was a very old building, was demolished in 1916, and a bank now occupies the land.
Register of Births, Marriages and Deaths, 1901 Census of Ireland, 1910 U.S. Federal Census, 1911 Census of Ireland, U.S. Passport Applications 1795 – 1925, New York Passenger Lists 1820 – 1957, Cunard Records, Mixed Claims Commission Docket No. 2481, PRO BT 100/345, UniLiv. PR13/6, Deaths at Sea 1871 – 1968, Graham Maddocks, Geoff Whitfield, Michael Poirier, Jim Kalafus, Cliff Barry, Paul Latimer, Norman Gray.
Copyright © Peter Kelly.