The Sullivans established themselves as ambassadors for the West and South in New York
When the Sullivan family arrived in New York City in 1857, it was amid a massive wave of immigration—of the then 800,000 residents, one-quarter had Irish roots. These new New Yorkers didn’t only come from Europe, however. Many had, just like the Sullivans, come from the West and South.
The main purpose of the family move was to cash in on the booming economy of New York to pay off debts Sullivan had amassed in a giant economic crash back in Cincinnati. The competition was fierce, and Sullivan received only one offer of employment. He chose instead to go it alone, opening up his own one-room firm.
Sullivan discovered a niche for himself as a lawyer, representing Southern and Western interests in New York, and found he made friends and connections quickly. His reputation began to build.
His most conspicuous act during this time may have been chairing a committee to move President James Monroe’s remains, which at the time were buried in Manhattan, to his native Virginia. Sullivan was successful, and, as he watched a parade escort the former President down Broadway en route to the South, he cried, knowing how much the event would have pleased his father, a great admirer of Monroe.
In under a year, Sullivan was a fixture of New York society, but that didn’t stop him from maintaining his service work. He was superintendent of his church’s Sunday School, where a stained-glass window was dedicated to him with the inscription “A reminder of a life worthy of emulation in every way.” He also frequented the area of the Lower East Side known as “five points,” then a depressed area and hotbed of gang activity, to speak at a mission dedicated to lifting the area up and improving living conditions for the poor.