Dorchester Illusration 2345 James McDonald
At the Dorchester Historical Society, we are in the process of a year-long project to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of World War I. Using a collection of photographs we have of World War I Dorchester residents, we will be featuring soldiers in a number of short biographies throughout the year. At the culmination of the project, we hope to produce an online exhibit which highlights these men and their service to our country.
Our next biography features: James A. McDonald
James Archibald McDonald was born on June 8, 1893 in Boston to immigrant parents Archibald and Delia (Dervan) McDonald. Archibald was from Nova Scotia and Delia was from Ireland. At the time of his birth, his parents were living on Huntoon Street in the Lower Mills section of Dorchester. His father’s occupation was listed as “watchman.”
It is unclear what happened to James’s father, Archibald, as he does not appear in any other records with James and Delia. Although all of the census records indicate that Delia was a widow, we were unable to confirm any death records for him. However, it is clear that Delia raised her son in Dorchester, moving around to different streets in the neighborhood. In 1910, we find them on Cedar Street; Delia is not working but already, at 16, James is working as a roofer. By the time James enlisted in 1917, he is living with his mother on River Street – not too far away from his previous address.
James enlisted in the National Guard at the East Armory in February of 1917 when he was almost 24 years old. He served in the 101st Infantry Regiment in the Massachusetts Army National Guard during his entire service. James left for overseas duty on November 13, 1917 and would not return to the United States until April 1919. While in Europe, he took part in many engagements; including: Champagne-Marne, Aisne-Marne, St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, Chemin des Dames, Toul-Boucq, Pas Fini, Rupt, and Troyon. His index card in our collection indicates that hew the champion boxer of the regiment. He was honorably discharged with the rank of private on April 28, 1919 at Camp Devens, Massachusetts.
When he returned from service, James moved back in with his mother in Dorchester; living now on Washington Street in the Lower Mills neighborhood. His occupation is again listed as “roofer.” In 1924, James married Mary Margaret Casey and they moved, with his mother, to the Fields Corner section of Dorchester – to Linden Street. Soon after, their first daughter, Gertrude was born in 1925. They would go on to have five more children: Theresa in 1927, Barbara in 1930, James in 1938, and Martin in 1939.
It looks like the McDonalds moved around the Lower Mills area but seemed to have settled down on Hopkins Place. On the 1940 census, James is listed as working as a roofer for the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in the subway. The WPA employed thousands of mostly unskilled men to work on various public works projects and was one of the programs in President Roosevelt’s New Deal agency. However, by 1953, from City Directories it appears as though James has retired from roofing and began working as a chauffeur.
James passed away on June 29, 1979 while still a resident of Mattapan. At the time of his death, according to his obituary, he was the grandfather to 35 grandchildren and great-grandfather to 10 great-grandchildren. He was a member of the Y.D. Club No. 290, A.L. Teamsters Union Local No. 25 and WWI Veterans Barracks 2620. He is buried in Saint Joseph’s Cemetery in West Roxbury, MA.
Ancestry.com. 1910 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010.
Ancestry.com. 1920 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2010.
Ancestry.com. 1930 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2002.
Ancestry.com. 1940 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2012.
Ancestry.com. Massachusetts Birth Records, 1840-1915 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2013.
Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Death Index, 1901-1980 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2013.
Ancestry.com. Massachusetts, Marriage Index, 1901-1955 and 1966-1970 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2013.
Ancestry.com. U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2011.
“James A. McDonald” obituary, Boston Globe, 1 Jul 1979.
Military, Compiled Service Records. World War I. Carded Records. Records of the Military Division of the Adjutant General’s Office, Massachusetts National Guard.