Collins, Patrick A. (Patrick Andrew), 1844-1905
General Collins was one of Boston's greatest Irishmen, and was as respected by the "blue stocking" element as much as by his own. He was born at Ballina Fauna, Ireland, March 24, 1844, where his father was a respected farmer, who was often called to settle disputes among his neighbors, and was an ardent supporter of Irish liberty and rights, so that Mayor Collins as a child was imbued with devotion to Irish freedom.
The Collins family came to America, and finally settled in Chelsea, where Collins attended school and spent some unhappy years, as the "Know-nothing" movement at this time, 1848, was at its height. He was persecuted as Irish and as a Catholic by his schoolmates. During one of the "Know-nothing" riots, Collins' arm was broken. After leaving school, he worked in a fish market. Through the influence of Robert Morris, the first black lawyer in Massachusetts, who took a great interest in the boy, Collins was filled with a desire for an education. His mother went to Ohio in 1857, and Collins tried to earn a living in many ways, working as a miner, carter, and upholsterer. He wished to become a machinist, but was not physically strong enough. He finally returned to South Boston, where he worked at his trade, soon becoming the highest paid journeyman, and working in Boston, to which he walked every day, going back in the evening for his supper. After supper he returned to Boston to spend the evening studying in the Public Library, and at the close of his evening, read Greek, Roman, French, and English history, fiction, and poetry. Having a remarkable memory, he stored his mind with facts, which he was afterward able to use to great advantage in his public career.
He finally saved money enough to study law, first with James Keith, a Democrat and a fine lawyer of the old school, and later took a degree at Harvard Law School. When he opened his office, the first case was brought to him by Leopold Morse, who always took pleasure in bringing opportunity to others. In 1867, when he was only twenty-three, he captivated an audience at a political meeting he chanced to attend, and was made a delegate to the party convention.
His support of the Fenian movement brought upon him the disapproval of the Catholic clergy, who sharply criticized him.
He was a representative in the Legislature in 1868 and 1869, and of the state Senate in 1870 and 1871, where he was then the youngest man who had ever become a member, and was chairman of the Harbor and Land Commission. In 1883 to 1885 he was in Congress, where he served on the Judiciary Committee and worked for uniform bankruptcy laws and international copyright. Under Governor Gaston he was judge advocate, and later was president of the Irish Land League and received the freedom of Dublin and Cork. His campaign work for Cleveland swung the Irish vote to the latter, and he was appointed consul-general to London. He felt that Boston had gone too far in the direction of "benevolent socialism," and made new appointments to the heads of most city departments while mayor. He impressed upon the heads he appointed that he would hold them, and no one else, responsible for any dishonesty or laxity in the management of their department. He favored home rule in city affairs; opposed enlargement of taxes or drafts for maintenance and improvements of parks and sewers; held out firmly against raising the salaries of city employees or pensions for their widows. He stood against injuries to the historic interests of the city, such as encroachments on the Common, tearing down the Old South Meeting House, changing Copp's Hill or the Granary Burying Ground. Governor Crane accepted his opinion on all matters relating to Boston that came before him, vetoing all measures which the mayor deemed improper. Collins approved the freeing of Cuba, but disapproved of the acquisition of Puerto Rico and the Philippines. He died September 14, 1905, while in office. Of him, Grover Cleveland said, "In public life he was strictly honest and sincerely devoted to the responsibilities which office holding involves."
Taken from "Boston's 45 Mayors from John Phillips to Kevin H. White," City Record, Boston, 1979.
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Photographs and other images collected by the Boston Landmarks Commission for reference use and for publications as well as photographs taken by the Landmarks Commission documenting their work and city neighborhoods.