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Man of courage.

Father O'Keefe was a man of rare personal courage and a number of times in his notable career he was brought face to face with possible death amid the carnage of battle, the ravages of yellow fever, and the enmity of the Know Nothings, who had marked him for death.

One night during the time the Know Nothing party was at the height of its popularity in Virginia, two men came to the residence of Father O'Keefe and informed him that they were sent to row him across the river to Portsmouth to visit a dying man. Father O'Keefe went with them, and when the other side of the river was reached the two men told him that the sick man lived in a house some distance away. Father O'Keefe said that he then realized that he was to be assassinated, and made up his mind to fight for his life. He covered the two men, holding a revolver in each hand, and compelled them to walk ahead of him until the principal streets of Portsmouth were reached, where he caused them to be arrested. It was afterwards discovered that the two men had been selected to kill Father O'Keefe, but the timely action of the brave priest had taken the nerve of the two would-be assassins.

At the outbreak of the Civil War Father O'Keefe applied to [181] Bishop McGill for permission to take up arms in defense of the South. This permission was denied by the bishop, who enjoined Father O'Keefe under his sacerdotal vows not to bear arms, but stipulated that if Norfolk was attacked he could exercise the natural right of self-defense in defending his home city.

Thereupon Father O'Keefe went to Richmond and offered to lead a night attack with 500 picked men on the Federal camp at Point Lookout, below Norfolk. President Davis consented, but stipulated that a Confederate colonel must accompany the expedition. The officer arrived in Norfolk, but became intoxicated, and when he became sober again heavy reinforcements had arrived at the camp, and, much to Father O'Keefe's disappointment, the expedition had to be abandoned.

Father O'Keefe urged President Davis to set the slaves free and to allow them to take up arms in defense of the South. The latter is said to have declared, after the war, that if Father O'Keefe's advice had been heeded the result of the conflict would have been different.


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