Robert O'Rourke, bastard son of a Belfast rectory scullery maid, came to America in 1820. He started life in a nation that was experiencing the ups and downs of the dawn of the Industrial Revolution by working in one of Lowell's first mills until anti-papists drove him north in 1821. He fled to Dover, New Hampshire, to start life anew. There he married into one of the town's oldest families, earning his father-in-law's respect and his brother-in-law's hatred. Years passed and he amassed holdings in textiles, bricks, land, lumber, railroads and new inventions from Bangor, Maine, to Chicago. He also learned who his father was and what wealth and power the man left him.
His life was entwined with historic happenings as inhabitants of a boisterous new nation strove to cope with government struggles, world recognition and the slavery question. As O'Rourke built his dynasty, even joining the '49 Gold Rush, family members, business associates, and friends sought to find a place in the life of this melancholy man. All of these people were caught up in the events of a fast-changing country in the years before the agony of secession and civil war.