anything quite like it before or since, and it gives further evidence to the desperate condition of life in Ireland. As .historian Carl Wittke put it: "It would be difficult to find another country where the causes of large-scale migration were so compelling as in Ireland in the 18th and 19th Centuries."
It would not only be difficult, it would be impossible. Forgetting for the moment the Irishman's hatred of his English oppressors and his even more intense hatred of the "foreign" religion they insisted he adopt, the average Irishman was fortunate to find any kind of work at all. When he did, he was paid six pence a day and one meal or eight pence with no meal. He lived in a sod hut of one room, which was perpetually cold, damp and filthy. More than that, he had absolutely no future in a land controlled and, for the most part, owned by absentee landlords. Little wonder he emigrated.
The First Irish Immigrants
The first record of Irish on American soil, other than those unfortunate women and children who were sent by Cromwell to amuse the planters of Virginia, is marked in the log of the year 1654. Quite appropriately as things turned out, the Irishman's entry to the new world was made possible by a ship called "The Goodfellow," which deposited 400 of them on the docks at Boston. No doubt, they preferred the wilds of the unknown continent to their expected treatment at the hands of Cromwell.
The occasion of the landing of this "horde" of Irishmen sent the Yankee natives into a state of outrage and they immediately called for laws that would prevent a repetition of what had occurred. No welcome mat for the Irish in America, but then, what else was new? They weren't even welcome in their own country, so there was no point in going back. They were here and they intended to stay, no matter how the Yankees felt about it.;
Stay they did, despite the continued railing of the Bostonian proper and otherwise. They clung like so many barnacles to the wharves and pilings along the waterfront. To say that they prospered would be to stretch truth to the breaking point, but they did multiply, and 83 years after setting foot on American soil, they staged the first St. Patrick's Day parade this country ever witnessed. Needless to say, there has been a Paddy's Day parade down Boston's streets since that eventful March 17, 1737.
From the time "The Goodfellow" first "greened" America, the Irish came steadily to these shores. They did not come in large numbers like their brothers of the Famine, but in a trickle. The nation's first census in 1790 showed that 44,000 Irish lived here. Enough numbers of them had taken root by the time of the Revolutionary War that their presence was felt, and appreciably so by the colonists opposing the dictates of George III.
Students of history should be aware that the most common surname in the Continental Army was not, as one would imagine Smith or Jones, but Kelly. There were, to be exact, 696 men .....
named Kelly in the ranks of George Washington's inelegant but feisty army. What contribution did they make? Let Washington's adopted son Custis tell it:
The aid we received from Irish Catholics in the struggle
America, of course, was not quite ready to go that far, for the Irish were, after all, Papists to the core and therefore a threat to the nation's pursuit of liberty and Protestant approach to life. The Irish would bear watching, and the best method of facilitating that would be to keep them in their place -- in the inner city ghettos. The Irish, with enough exceptions to prove the rule, kept their place. They also kept these things close to their hearts, and the collective organ continued to smolder.
The conditions under which the Irish lived in the larger cities along the eastern seaboard were nearly, but not quite, as wretched as those they sought to escape from in their homeland. It was a cruel case of poverty and disease, followed by more poverty and disease. There was no work too menial for them to do and they did it. Despite the dreadful day-to-day existence they suffered, they saved what pennies they could and sent for brothers and sisters back in Ireland. That action alone gives one a remote clue as to what life was like in that "Little Black Rose of a Country" across the sea.
The typical Irish boarding house was a brick building three to six stories high that was filled "with runners and shoulderhitters" that preyed on the inhabitants. These ruffians, who worked out of the mandatory grog shop on the first floor, all spoke with brogues and spent their days either flim-flamming or strongarming the vulnerable newly-arrived. Yet life was still better here than at home.
Those just off the boat would be taken to one of these tenements and afforded space in the basement or "bag room." Whole families would be piled atop one another in these dank cellars until death or some other horror emptied a room upstairs. Then the newly-arrived would be allotted one room that, more often than not, would be without ventilation of any sort and would reek with the stench of the previous family's filth. Welcome to America.
A New York cotton buyer, who had just returned from a trip through the South, wrote in 1801: "The Negro slave on the plantations of the South lives under better conditions than most of the Irish in New York. He is also treated more kindly." However true that might have been at the time, the downtrodden Irishman of the big city ghetto had a lot more going for him than the slaves in the South. Foremost, he was a free man, free to move about whatever his economic deprivation. Thus he was allowed to struggle, and that is all the Irishman ever wanted out of life. Let all the cotton buyers in New York lament his condition, the Irish were no slaves.
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