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Irish Immigration to the United States Immigration into America has shaped and molded us into who we are today. Without groups such as the Scotch-Irish, English, Dutch, etc. America would not be the great melting pot that it has now become. Each of these cultures brought with them a sense of religion, culture and spirit. They took a chance to better themselves, leaving everything that was remotely comfortable in their life behind, bringing with them great hope to the New World. One such group is the Scotch-Irish.
The Scotch-Irish history begins with the Scots in the 1600 s. By the end of 1600, Europe was at the end of the Renaissance, but Scotland had not taken part in the resurgence of learning and culture. It was still a primitive, wild country, one of the poorest in Europe. Poor soil and backward farming methods, frequent border wars with England, and the wildness of the isolated Highlanders had all contributed to Scotland's slow development.
The colonization of Ulster began in the 17 th Century. British monarchs had been trying unsuccessfully for hundreds of years to subdue Ireland, but it was not until 1603 that the Ulster Irish finally surrendered to the Englishman, Lord Mountjoy. In 1609, James I informed the Scots that they could participate in this colonization of Ulster. Many Scotsmen felt they could overcome their poverty and the fact that the property owners in Ireland were more willing to extend longer leases to farmers than the property owners in Scotland were willing to do.
In 1717, the Great Migration commenced. The term Scotch-Irish originated in the mid-eighteenth century in America to distinguish the Ulster Presbyterian emigrants of Scottish ancestry from other Irish settlers in the colonies. It has been asserted that during that period approximately one-third the Presbyterian population of Ireland migrated to British North America (Jackson). The Jacobite Rebellions of 1715 and 1745 saw a great number of people enter into America. Between 1715 and 1776 almost a quarter of a million Irish immigrated to America.
Many of the English landowners no longer had a need for the farmers. In addition, there had been no harvest for five years due to the ravages of war and several severe winters. Some of these people paid passage by agreeing to 7 years indentured servitude in order to take advantage of the fertile and free land in America. The Irish started immigrating to North America in the 1820 s, when the lack of works and poverty made them to seek better opportunities elsewhere after the end of the major European wars. When the Europeans could finally end depending on the Irish for food during war, the investment in Irish agricultural products reduced and the Irish agricultural boom was over. They came for various reasons.
Some were transported; they had no choice other than prison or execution, the reasons ranging from political prisoners of rebellions, to paupers, to petty thieves and criminals. Others came because of great poverty. Actually, what was the main reason for such a great number of people to leave their country for the United States? They had no hope of ever breaking out of their set place in the Class-system, which existed in Britain, but in America, a man could make something of himself, regardless of his background. Most people did come as indentured servants. At the end of that time, they were at last on their own and it was up to them to make something of their life in the New World.
After an economic boom, there comes a bust and unemployment was the result. Two-thirds of the people of Ireland depended on potato harvests as a main source of income and, more importantly, food. Then between the years of 1845 and 1847, a terrible disease struck the potato crops. The plague left acre after acre of Irish farmland covered with black rot. The failure of the potato yields caused the prices of food to rise rapidly.
With no income coming from potato harvests, families that depended on potato crops could not afford to pay rent to their dominantly British and Protestant landlords. They were evicted only to be crowded into disease-infested workhouses. Peasants who were desperate for food found themselves eating the rotten potatoes only to develop and spread horrible diseases. The lack of food and increased incidents of death forced incredible numbers of people to leave Ireland for some place, which offered living conditions that were more suitable. Some landlords paid for the emigration of their tenants because it made more economic sense to rid farms of residents who were not paying their rent. Nevertheless, emigration did not prove to be an antidote for the Famine.
The ships were overcrowded and by the time they reached their destination, approximately one third of its passengers had been lost to disease, hunger and other complications. However, many passengers did survive the journey and, as a result, approximately 1. 5 million Irish people immigrated to North America during the 1840 s and 1850 s. Because of famine, disease (starvation and disease took as many as one million lives) and emigration, Irelands population dropped from 8 million to 5 million over a matter of years. Although Britain came to the aid of the starving, many Irish blamed Britain for their delayed response and for centuries of political hardship as basis for the cause of the Famine.
The Famine even affected Ireland in years to come by changing its social and cultural traditions profoundly. The Famine also prompted new trends of immigration, hence shaping the histories of both the United States and Britain. It also called for an urgent political change in the Irish system (the Irish Republic resulted). The trip to America was a difficult one.
Often the ships were overloaded with people, the rations were short of just barely enough, the food was vermin ridden, and the water was stagnant and scummy. An example of a rough voyage was the ship Sully, it set sail for Pennsylvania on May 31 and at first was blown off course northward. The weather turned very cold and icebergs were cited. By August 10, the weather had turned very warm and rations were down to 1 1 / 2 lbs of bread per passenger per week. Two weeks later, the ration was cut even further.
In the next 12 days, they were reduced to two biscuits per week. Hunger and thirst reduced them to mere shadows. Some people killed themselves by drinking salt water or even their own urine. They were saved only by providential rain.
On September 2, they finally saw land. Their journey had lasted a lengthy 3 1 / 2 months. When the first ships arrived on the ports of the United States, quarantine shelters that were prepared for emigrants became so overcrowded that military tents outside shelters were used temporarily. The tents were often floored with wooden boards and patients were supplied with cots. These tents provided adequately during fine weather, but provided insufficient protection when it was cold and damp.
Gradually, as more emigrants arrived, even the tents became overcrowded and emigrants were forced to sleep without shelter on bare ground with no cover except for the clothes they wore. The desperate need for accommodation prevented their immediate removal from quarantine vessels. Their confinement on board caused emigrants to contract more disease that was spread further because of lack of ventilation and lack of medical aid on ships as doctors and nurses were desperately needed at hospitals. The overcrowded sheds were unsuitable for hospital services, and, despite the number of complaints about the conditions of quarantines, nothing could be done. More hospitals were built, but remained unfinished, as carpenters refused to complete construction for fear of disease. Yet more emigrants who already suffered from disease were suffering from exposure to inclement weather because of having to stay outside.
Even inside the hospital, the rooms were overcrowded, and, in an attempt to fit more people indoors, hallways became congested. During the busiest months of emigration, May and June, as many as 30 vessels arrived at a time, carrying lots of passengers each time. Since hospitals were so overcrowded and there was a significant shortage in staff, those who had to wait eventually contracted disease. In order to prevent the spread of disease to American citizens, constables were employed to control the movement of emigrants to inland. However, a number of emigrants who were likely fearing contagion went to inland without permission. To make the situation worse, food was unfairly distributed as portions were given only to those who collected it for themselves.
Yet some who were able to obtain food were unable to cook and ate half-cooked food, contaminated American officials showed lack of anticipation in not expecting the mass of immigration or the horrible condition of arriving emigrants. Since proper preparations were not made in advance, officials were forced to use emergency measures in order to deal with the crisis. However, when one considers the arrival of so many ill emigrants into a population so small, it is no wonder they were so overwhelmed with problems posed by the sudden mass immigration to the United States. Most of the Irish entered the colonies before the XIX century through the port of Philadelphia and from thence settled in those Pennsylvania counties lying west of that city, Lancaster County having one of the largest populations of these people. From Pennsylvania, many of the immigrants took the Great Wagon Road south into the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.
Initially, the Irish immigrants were not particularly admired by the other Virginia inhabitants. The great Virginia planter, William Byrd II, compared the Scotch-Irish immigration as being like the fourth century invasion of the Goths and Vandals into the Roman Empire. In Britain, Edmund Burke, the political philosopher and essayist wrote in 1757, The number of white people in Virginia is between sixty and seventy thousand; and they are growing everyday more numerous, by the migration of the Irish, who not succeeding so well in Pennsylvania as the more frugal and industrious Germans, sell their lands in that province to the latter, and take up new ground in the remote counties in Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina. These are chiefly Presbyterians from the Northern part of Ireland, who in America are generally called Scotch-Irish. As if the suffering forced upon the Irish during the Famine was not enough, after leaving quarantines, emigrants had to tolerate stereotyping. Irish Americans were generally portrayed in negative ways.
For a long time after arriving in Canada, they were represented as a member of a sub-human species, similar to apes and baboons. They were also portrayed as stupid, wild, mad, and uncivilized human beings. They were looked down upon by most groups including the English, Dutch and Germans who saw them as being less civilized, less orderly, and less interested in bettering themselves materially through hard work. They were thought to be good fighters and in that capacity were often sent to the frontier to act as a first line of defense against Indian attacks. However, they quickly turned that around by becoming a successful group in the New World. They made a living any way they could.
They mainly worked as farmers. However, some became soldiers, blacksmiths, cattle-ranchers, lumberjacks, and factory workers. Essentially finding anything, they could succeed in to take care of their families. The Irish brought some of their traditions with them to America.
They brought their language, which influenced American English to some extent, particularly in Appalachia, but more than anything else, they brought their music, especially fiddle music, which became what we know today as American bluegrass music. The United States was definitely a Promised Land for them. Most of the Irish who came to America turned out to be far more successful than they would have been if they had stayed home. At the worst, they were no worse off than if they would have been if they had not immigrated. America is the land of opportunity; Britain was a land of privilege, status and class systems that were carved in stone. If it were not for these immigrants who dared to take a chance and come to America who knows where we would be today.
They dared to dream that a better life that awaited them in a far off and foreign land, leaving everything familiar and safe to travel for months possibly never to see their loved ones again. Often, with little in their pockets other than a dream and some hope. Irish emigrants who migrated to the United States during the famine and generations after it made many significant contributions to America. Many recognized figures who contributed to the history of the United States were, in fact, Irish Americans.
For that, I commend them for their bravery and for trying to better the lives of future generations. Bibliography: Leyburn, James G. The Scotch-Irish: A Social History. University of North Carolina Press, 1962. Schrier, Arnold. Ireland and the American Emigration 1850 - 1900.
Paperback Published 1997. Griffin, William D. The Book of Irish Americans. New York: Times Books, 1990. Irish Immigration Webpage, web Scotch-Irish Migration to Virginia, web Burke, Edmund.
European Settlements in America, Vol. II. Joan Lowery Nixon. Land of Promise, Ellis Island, No 2. Paperback Published 1993.
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Research essay sample on Irish Immigration To The United States