Labor Day: Celebrating My Ancestors
by Diana McCollum
September 8, 2022
In considering Labor Day I started thinking about all the people who came before the 20th and 21st centuries. Those brave souls who left their countries and their way of life for a new beginning in a new land. These are the people who settled and built America.
I decided to focus on one group of immigrants. My people, or I should say, one of the nationalities making up my DNA. My one grandma always said we were part Scotch-Irish and Ancestry.com proved her right.
I focused on the Irish immigrations.
The majority of Irish people seeking to immigrate to America in the 18th and 19th centuries did so out of need to secure a better job opportunity to support their families.
I think most people have heard of the great famine in Ireland during 1845-1849. But did you know there was an earlier mass migration of Irishmen in the early 18th century?
In 1715-1740 more than 200,000 Ulster Presbyterians, mostly northern Irish and well off, boarded on ships headed for the colonies. They left because of the English Penal Laws imposed on Protestant dissenters, a series of poor harvests, droughts, escalating rents by landlords, and church tax payments demanded by the established Anglican Church in Ireland.
Around 1718, Massachusetts’ Governor Samuel Shute agreed to allocate free land in the colony for Ulster settlers. The hope was that these land grants for Ulster settlers would reinforce the frontier against the Native Americans and bolster Massachusetts’ claim to the disputed territory of Maine. At the time of the American Revolution more than a quarter of a million Irishmen had immigrated to America.
There was discrimination right from the start as the locals felt this huge influx of Irish would use up all the local provisions which were already scarce.
These Irish men and women became up standing citizens despite hardship and discrimination. These were some of the industrious pioneers who worked the soil and opened businesses and helped build America.
Then in 1845 to 1849 the Great Famine or Great Hunger or Irish Potato Famine (the famine was known by all these names) caused a historical social crisis.
The land owners had their tenants change all crops to potatoes. The land owners reaped the benefits and the famer rarely got a wage. The potato blight which infected most all crops causing about one million people to die, as this was their only source of food. The potato was also a fodder crop for livestock.
2.1 million people left Ireland because of the famine. These Irishmen were Catholic from southern Ireland and not welcome in America. Many Americans believed all the immigrants would ruin the democracy. 75% of the famine Irish landed in New York harbor, and by 1860 they made up a quarter of New York City’s population.
They left for a better way of life. They left to find a job to support their families. Instead they were met with bigotry and hatred. Anti-foreign and anti-Catholic mobs roamed the streets in Philadelphia and New York. Catholic schools and convents were attacked throughout the Northeast as were the Irish.
Irishmen worked in all trades and were small business owners. In the 19th century they were the laborers who constructed New York and Harlem railroad, the Hudson River Railroad and the High Bridge. Their work was dangerous and back-breaking. There is a saying “American railroads have an Irishman buried under every tie.”-author unknown.
During the last half of the nineteenth century all across the Northeast, finally having the right to vote, the Irish supported political leaders who fought for their causes. Labor unions became inundated with Irishmen who voted for good paying jobs for Irish immigrants.
As we celebrate Labor Day, let us remember that American was built from the many different nationalities who immigrated here for a better way of life. I celebrate my ancestors and I am so glad they made the journey across the ocean to America.
Diana McCollum enjoys weaving elements of paranormal and fantasy into her stories. She always ends with a Happily Ever After, because she must for her own satisfaction! Her hope is to take you away from your everyday life for a journey that is both entertaining and fun, and sometimes a little scary. When Diana is not reading or writing, she is a fisherwoman, enjoys hiking, tole-painting, jewelry making, coffee dates with other writers, and hanging out in book stores. To learn more about Diana, check out her website.