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From Impoverished Irishman to Heavyweight Champ - an Editorial Review of "Ambitions"

Book Blurb:

How does an impoverished and illiterate Irish Catholic immigrant rise from abject poverty and discrimination in mid-19th Century America to become America’s boxing champion, a millionaire gambling entrepreneur, a twice-elected member of the United States Congress, and a twice-elected member of the New York State Senate?

The accomplishments of John Morrissey (1831-1878) are well-documented. What’s missing is how? Certainly, luck, timing, resolve, and intelligence played key roles, but there was something else, something more powerful and motivating, that helped lift him, against all odds, to the pinnacle of success in sports, business, and politics during a time when hatred of Irish Catholics permeated American society. That something was the unlikely marriage to a young woman from a respected Protestant family, a recent graduate of Emma Willard’s Troy Female Seminary, and a person with driving ambitions as powerful as her husband’s.

In Ambitions, a three-book series of novels, the author teases Susannah Morrissey out of the shadows of John Morrissey’s life and places her and her ambitions in the critical roles played in this extraordinary story of love and struggle, perseverance, and triumph.

Author Bio:

Frank Baillargeon lives in Eagle, Idaho, with his wife, Pat. Frank was born and raised on Van Schaick Island in Cohoes, New York. It's here that the Mohawk River leaps over a towering waterfall before flowing into the Hudson River. Frank studied at Sacred Heart School on "the island." He graduated from Keveny Memorial Academy in Cohoes. Frank received an AA in Humanities from Hudson Valley Community College, then a BA in American History from the University of Rochester in 1975.

Frank and Pat married at nineteen, welcomed a son at twenty, a daughter at twenty-two, and adopted a son during Frank's final year at Rochester at age twenty-six. Our three children have given us nine grandchildren. Frank accepted a position with Eastman Kodak in 1975 and enjoyed forty-four years in various roles in the photographic industry, the final eighteen as president of F/22 Consulting.

Upon retiring in 2018, Frank organized the research that he and his late father had collected and shared about John Morrissey (1831-1878). My father was determined to drive a broader awareness of the Irish Catholic immigrant from across the river in Troy, New York. Frank dedicated Ambitions, a 3-book series of historical novels, to his father, Francis Joseph Baillargeon (1920-2004), who introduced his son to John Morrissey and made him a junior partner in continuing discovery.

Editorial Review:

Power equals opportunity, and opportunity equals money.”

John was sure he could find work in a city with thousands of brothels and gambling houses. He had experience, yet he was turned away repeatedly. He could read well enough to understand the window signs everywhere: “Irish Need Not Apply.” New York City, it was clear, was no better than Troy.

Ambitions is the well-crafted story of John Morrissey, a bare-knuckle Irish fighter born in Tipperary Ireland who emigrated to New York with his parents around the age of two, growing up on the mean streets of Troy New York as a poor youngster in the early 1800s. By his teenage years he is is involved with factional fighting going on between the 'Uptown' and 'Downtown' rival gangs in Troy, working as a bouncer to a local brothel and pub, and then later becomes a sort of 'bouncer' for a steamer transport between Albany and New York City. It is here that he meets Susannah, the steamship captain's daughter, who later becomes his wife. But his dream, his life-long ambition, is to become a renowned prize fighter and matching fists with some of the famous fighters of the day... but sometimes life has it's own ideas and John finds himself running from the law after a riot in the theater district of New York, and John, along with one of his best friends, takes off in search of fame and fortune when the California gold rush fever hits.

John laughed. “Well, I'm famous enough in certain quarters. They'll arrest me and drag me to jail if I step off this ship.”

Did you kill someone with those mighty fists?”

No, I threw bricks at a theater and saved a friend. But I've got enemies. They made sure I got some blame for the riot. I can't risk jail.”

That seems so unfair.”

I'm Irish and Catholic. Life's always unfair.”

John seems the luckiest Irishman alive after thwarting several incarcerations, surviving the journey across the Panamanian mountains to reach the Pacific ocean, brutal beatings, and his knack for gambling pays off big when they reach San Francisco. Before long, John and his friend are owners of a booming gambling club (Acushla) and John is well on his way to forming the right kinds of connections to bring him fist-to-fist with George Thompson, a British fighter and new California champion. The story, while revealing John's ambition, gives a blow by blow account of this famous fight and how John's dream roused the Irish, not only in California, but back home when he returned to New York as their hero. But this is also the story of the woman behind the man and her own ambitions in life... and of her unwavering support of her husband even in the midst of great danger, and we are given a hint at the next book in this series and the future of this ambitious couple. This book reveals a very different Victorian world than most imagine, the dark underbelly of racial injustice against the Irish in America, and the shadowy world of brothels and booze.

A poor, uneducated Irishman's what I am. I got to New York with no money and no friends. I came to fight. It's all I know. The city you'll see isn't the one I know. Pray you never see that city.” Susannah gripped John's arm with tenderness.

Then, still looking out over the river, she whispered, “You'll someday be as famous in that great city as you are in Troy. I have no doubt.”

The author's aptitude with history and with the travails of the Irish during this time period in American history is well-developed, even the seedier aspects of the underlying corruption in politics and the Irish mob/gangs of New York, and of John's eventual relationship with Tammany Hall. For fans of movies such as 'Cinderella Man' or 'Gangs of New York', this is a splendid rendition of the real life of John Morrissey with very entertaining page-turning passages and scenes, a book easily finished in one sitting.

More than two thousand Irishmen were delirious with joy. To them, it was more than a victory for John Morrissey. It was a victory for their beloved Ireland. Word spread in San Francisco that John Morrissey had won the championship. Celebrations started in the city. Few, even amongst the Irish, expected him to win. In the resulting uproar, an enormous crowd gathered around Acushla. There they sang and danced while waiting for their California champion to arrive.


Ambitions” by Frank Baillargeon receives 4.5 stars from The Historical Fiction Company


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