Postcard from Port Glasgow, Ontario

Postcard from Port Glasgow, Ontario
Port Glasgow

Beach at Port Glasgow — Photo Credit: P. Dumas

Port Glasgow is a village on the coast of Lake Erie, about 75km southeast of London, Ontario. It was settled by Scottish immigrants to Upper Canada around 1818. Erosion eventually destroyed the original harbour. The port itself now features the Port Glasgow Yacht Club and marina, a small lighthouse, sandy beach, and a walking trail through the forest along the water’s edge. Continue reading

Farming and the Land in the Gilchrist-Shearer Letters

Farming and the Land in the Gilchrist-Shearer Letters

Over the past few posts I have been working through a series of letters from a Scottish branch of my ancestors and delving into some of the themes that come up. You can check out my introduction to the letters, and look at death and disease, and contemporary thoughts on emigration in my previous posts.

Today I’ll be looking at issues of agriculture and farming, another topic that comes up frequently in the letters. The Gilchrists and Shearers were not strictly farmers. Several worked in service (as servants), for example, and as such I’ll take a closer look at employment opportunities in a later post.

Farming opportunities, the land and the weather, and how the markets and trade in general were doing were of interest to the writers and recipients of these letters. These factors affected their well-being, their diet, their place of residence, and their ability to survive. Continue reading

Travel and Immigration: Insights from the Gilchrist-Shearer Letters

Travel and Immigration: Insights from the Gilchrist-Shearer Letters

I have been writing about some of the themes that arise out of a series of letters from the latter half of the nineteenth century that travelled across the Atlantic between Scotland, Canada, and the United States. You can read my introduction to the letters here and my first thematic post on life and death in the letters here.

I’m following the story of some of my Scottish ancestors, and today the story brings us to a discussion of travel and immigration as shown in the letters.

Travel and Immigration in the Gilchrist Shearer Letters

The central figures in today’s letters are James Shearer Sr. and James Shearer, Jr. Continue reading

Scots in Canada: The Gilchrist-Shearer Letters

The Scottish people have a long history of migration and as a result many Canadians have Scottish roots.

I think there’s a tendency to lump all 18th and 19th century immigrants to Canada and the United States together and think of them as poor, desperate, unskilled workers, in some cases the victims of industrialisation, crop failure, land clearances, etc., and who by leaving for a new country would be abandoning everything and everyone they once knew, never to be heard from again. Continue reading

Viewing Canada Live & Online Pt. 1: The Maritimes

Viewing Canada Live & Online Pt. 1: The Maritimes

Webcams are an older digital technology and are often overlooked in favour of photographs, video clips, and “live” broadcasts on social media, but webcams are still around, sharing live footage of beautiful sites across Canada and abroad. Nowadays most seem to be focussed on two things: weather and traffic reporting. They also have their drawbacks — footage may be stilted, unavailable at times, hindered by weather, or the website might even require visitors to manually refresh the website in order to see a new image (I warned you that this is “old” technology!). Continue reading

In the News: Ben Carson, ‘Immigrants’, and Slavery in America

In the News: Ben Carson, ‘Immigrants’, and Slavery in America

On March 6, 2017, newly-sworn-in Housing and Urban Development secretary, Ben Carson, made a speech to his agency’s employees that confused enslaved Africans for immigrants seeking a better life in America. Word of this mix-up quickly gathered momentum in news outlets, on social media, and the late show circuit.

Regular readers of our blog know that we rarely get political, but in this case I wanted to contextualise Carson’s remarks and hopefully shed some light on why his assertion immediately received such strong criticism. Continue reading

US Presidents and Ireland, Part I

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Postcard purchased in Belfast

With the US presidential election season mercifully nearing its end, I thought it would be interesting to look at the long history of American presidents with Ireland.  For today’s post, we’ll look at one of the key, distinctive elements which characterized the Scotch-Irish revival of the 1880s and 1890s: long lists of American presidents of Ulster descent.

These included Andrew Jackson, James K. Polk, James Buchanan, Andrew Johnson, Ulysses S. Grant, Chester Arthur, Grover Cleveland, and Benjamin Harrison, although sometimes others with more dubious links were added.

(And add William McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Harry Truman, John F. Kennedy, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama since the late nineteenth century.)

The Scotch-Irish Society of America, founded in 1889, focused on celebrating ethnic pride while emphasizing the longevity of their group’s American settlement.  Rather than contrast themselves with more recent Catholic Irish immigrants, they focused on the New England Puritans.  The society emphasized that the Scotch-Irish were pioneers of civilization and guardians of American freedom.  While Puritans dominated the writing of American history, the Scotch-Irish saw themselves as “doers” who had up till then neglected to record their own contributions.  They asserted their unique role in the formation of the American republic, and were anxious to set themselves apart from the Puritans.

In emphasizing this historical role in the United States, the Scotch-Irish utilized the list of American presidents of Ulster descent to underscore the longevity of their group in America as well as the authenticity of their ties back to Ireland.  Their most celebrated presidential link was Andrew Jackson, who represented the ascent to the pinnacle of American society, showing that the Scotch-Irish were key elements in shaping the direction and character of the country.

The Scotch-Irish Society of America also succeeded in attracting future presidents of the United States to speak at its congresses: William McKinley, Woodrow Wilson, and Herbert Hoover.

In Ireland, unionists drew upon the Scotch-Irish revival to help form an “Ulsterman” identity with the aim of ideologically unifying all Irish Protestants.  They celebrated the Scotch-Irish “backwoodsman” and frontier identities, the determination to seek liberty and to stand up for what they believed to be right.

Long lists of American Presidents of “Ulster stock” were also enumerated by unionists.  James Logan, in Ulster in the X-Rays, wrote, “When he emigrates, the Ulsterman, like most Irishmen, ‘makes good,’ and he frequently rises to the highest positions.  Almost one half of the great line of Presidents of the United States came of Ulster stock, and McKinley’s old ancestral home may still be seen in the neighbourhood of Dervock, County Antrim.  This is a debt America owes to Ulster which is sometimes forgotten.”

Unionists called upon these American “debts” in an attempt to gain international support for their own movement in the face of widespread American support for Irish nationalism.

Of course, many others throughout Irish and Irish-American history may have tended to take an entirely different viewpoint on this subject, as voiced by William V. Shannon in 1963’s The American Irish: “On March 18, 1962, the United Press International distributed a dispatch from Philadelphia headlined, ‘Toast to President Starts Donnybrook,’ which read: ‘The Friendly Sons of St. Patrick were anything but at their annual dinner Saturday night when Sen. Joseph S. Clark (D-Pa), proposed a toast to President John F. Kennedy, the ‘only Irishman ever elected President of the United States.’… In this as in other matters of public controversy, I think Senator Clark is right.”

Next time: A look at visits by US Presidents to Ireland and some of the more recent political policies.

Colorado Orange Lodges: A Preliminary Survey

I’ve been particularly interested in the Loyal Orange Institution of the United States of America and its development as compared to that of the Orange Order in other countries.  The first Orange Lodges in America were established in the 1820s and the United States Orange Institution gained National Grand Lodge status in 1870.  The Orange Order was strongest in Pennsylvania, Michigan, and New York, but were as far-flung as Georgia, Louisiana, Arizona, Idaho, and even one lodge in Cordova, Alaska.

In my home state of Colorado, there were 17 lodges listed in the Orange Ledger, which I’ve mapped out below:

co-orange-lodges-map-tableau-with-labels

Map source: L. Flewelling

Denver had four lodges, with the earliest founded in 1893.  How long Orange presence lasted is unclear, but I had a look at a 1945 city directory a few weeks ago and there was an Orange lodge plus a ladies’ auxiliary listed.  (As a side note, the fact that “secret societies” get their own section in old city directories is one of the small joys of life.)

The bulk of the lodges were in mining towns, such as Leadville, Cripple Creek, Aspen, and Ward.  One thing I found particularly interesting when I was examining Leadville’s Irish population a few weeks ago was that the Leadville Orange Lodge was founded right around the same time as the town’s big miners’ strike in 1896.  Did the Scotch-Irish of Leadville want to separate themselves from the Irish Americans who led the strike?  The creation of a new lodge in Leadville at this time is especially odd to me as the population of Leadville had gone drastically down since the 1893 silver crash.  Most miners were moving on, either to Denver or to other mines in the west.

Cripple Creek’s Orange lodge was also founded soon after its strike (the only one in Colorado where the state came down on the side of the miners) in 1894.  This strike was also heavily associated with Irish American leadership.

When their Orange lodges were in existence, Boulder and Colorado Springs would have transitioned from mining towns to prominent cities in Colorado.  Pueblo was an industrial town with steel as its focus.  Fort Morgan was a rural, agriculture-based community.  Montrose and Florence were both regional railroad hubs.

It seems that there is no real pattern to which towns Orange lodges would emerge in, as there was no single economic sector which dominated.  The lodges were strongest around the turn of the century, but then quickly faded everywhere in the state except for Denver.  The State Orange Lodge of Colorado appears to have only met between 1897 and 1901.  After that point the lodges would have been unaffiliated with a state lodge structure.

I’m looking forward to continuing to pursue more details about the Orange Lodges in Colorado and throughout the United States, especially how the lodges remained connected to Ireland and interacted with Irish Americans in their local communities.

The Irish in a Colorado Mining Town: A Look at Leadville

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Church of the Annunciation, Leadville, CO – photo credit: L. Flewelling

In the nineteenth century, the Irish were the second largest foreign-born ethnic group in Colorado, with the major sites of Irish settlement at Denver, Leadville, and Cripple Creek. The earliest Irish migrants in Colorado were miners, railroad workers, soldiers, and domestic servants.  In Denver, many Irish worked as common laborers.

In 1877, miners in Lake County realized that the black sand they had been tossing off to the side when looking for gold was actually silver.  This led to a silver boom, causing the city of Leadville to spring up overnight.  By far the largest ethnic group in Leadville was the Irish, and Leadville became the most Irish city in the Rocky Mountain region by 1880.  About 9% of the population had been born in Ireland and another 7% were second generation Irish Americans.  The majority of Irish were miners, and like most groups in Colorado at this time, were mostly men.

Irish women in Leadville were housewives, domestic servants, laundresses, about six were prostitutes, and there were also several nuns who worked as nurses at St Vincent’s Hospital.

In Leadville, the Irish mainly settled on the east side of town, with 6th street as the main thoroughfare.  Because they were the largest ethnic group, they had a large impact on the town as it grew.  They had their own Catholic church, the Church of the Annunciation, which was founded in 1879.  There was also St Vincent’s Hospital and St Mary’s Catholic School.  The names of the mines also reflect the Irish presence.  Many of them are name after people or groups from Irish nationalism: Robert Emmet, Wolfe Tone, O’Donovan Rossa, Fenian Queen, and Charles Stewart Parnell.  Others have more general Irish cultural links: O’Sullivan, Murphy, Fitzjames, Letterkenny, Mary Murphy, Red-Headed Mary, Seamus O’Brien, Fitzhugh, Donovan, O’Brien, and Maid of Erin.

The most well-known people of Leadville were also Irish.  Molly Brown and her husband J.J. were the children of Irish immigrants.  Baby Doe Tabor, whose birth name was Elizabeth McCourt, was also the daughter of Irish immigrants.  Her husband, Colorado Lieutenant Governor Horace Tabor, was known to support the Irish nationalist movement.

Irish nationalism was a huge cause for the Irish immigrants in Leadville.  Nationally, Leadville ranked third in money donated to the Irish Land League, behind only Philadelphia and Chicago.  Leadville formed its own branches of the Land League and the Ladies’ Land League, and also had other Irish societies, the Knights of Robert Emmet, the Ancient Order of Hibernians, and the Daughters of Erin.  The Irish also had their own local militai, the Wolfe Tone Guards.

Both Leadville and Denver’s Irish populations were well-organized and supportive of nationalist causes, and this led several Irish nationalists to include both cities in their fundraising tours of the United States.  This included two visits by the founder of the Land League, Michael Davitt, as well as the treasurer and secretary of the Land League and several members of the Irish Parliamentary Party.  Oscar Wilde also came to Denver and Leadville in 1882.  He gave a talk on art and aesthetics to the miners at the Tabor Opera House and became legendary in the area for the amount of whiskey he consumed.

Along with their nationalist activism, the Irish in Leadville were known for their participation in local labor movements.  They were associated with the leadership of two major strikes in Leadville, the first a 23-day strike in 1880 and the second a much longer strike from 19 June 1896 to 9 March 1897.  Labor activism fit well with Irish land agitation and calls for self-government.  In fact all three of these movements had been tied together through the most prominent Irish American newspaper, the Irish World.  The newspaper’s founder and editor, Patrick Ford, promoted Irish nationalism and American labor activism, and his paper was circulated around the country, even to places as distant as Leadville before it had railroad access.

In both of the Leadville strikes, the miners’ unions were led by Irish miners, demanding higher pay and shorter working days.  In both cases, the strikes were put down by the Colorado National Guard.  While the 1880 strike was peaceful, the 1896 strike became violent, with armed strikers attacking the mines.  At least eight miners were killed.

In 1896, Leadville’s branch of the Loyal Orange Institution was founded.  In North America, the Orange Order had a by far larger presence in Canada, with a weaker organization in the United States.  In Colorado, the oldest and largest Orange presence was in Denver.  The timing of the foundation of the Orange lodge in Leadville is interesting, as the population of Leadville had been drastically declining since the 1893 silver crash.  So why would smaller numbers of people want to form a new organization at this time?  It’s possible that the Irish and Scotch-Irish Protestants were attempting to dissociate themselves from the Irish Americans who were leading the miners’ strike, who they would have considered radical, extreme, and at the bottom of the social ladder.

The Orange lodge in Cripple Creek was also founded soon after the Cripple Creek miners’ strike, which was also heavily associated with Irish American-led labor agitation.

It’s difficult to track just low large of a presence the Orange Order and other Scotch-Irish migrants would have had in Colorado, because the peak of emigration from Ireland was farther in the past.  They might be lumped in with second-generation Irish Americans from Canada, Pennsylvania, New York, and Michigan, where the Orange Order was strongest.

After the silver crash of 1893 and the strike of 1896, the productivity and population of Leadville declined drastically.  In 1900, 8,900 people lived there, and by 1910, it was down to 4,400.  Many of the Irish miners moved on to different mines in the west, while others moved to Denver.  By 1910, 44% of the Irish in Colorado lived in Denver, part of the total of 63% of the Irish population living on the Front Range.  Those who remained in Colorado were more urban and middle class than the working class miners.

The Irish in Colorado continued to be active in the labor movement, including the leaders of the Cripple Creek miners’ strike in 1903-4 and Mary Harris Jones, known as “Mother Jones,” who was born in County Cork and was active in supporting miners during the Ludlow Massacre.  The Irish worked in the coal mines along the Front Range, became police officers and firefighters in Denver, supported the expanding Catholic church in the region, and continued to participate in fraternal societies such as the Knights of Columbus.  Éamon de Valera, the president of the Irish parliament, visited Denver as part of his fundraising tour of the United States in 1919, highlighting continued support for Irish nationalism.

Additional Readings:

David M. Emmons, Beyond the American Pale: The Irish in the West, 1845-1910 (Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2010).

Dennis Gallagher, Thomas J. Noel, and James Patrick Walsh, Irish Denver (Charleston: Arcadia, 2012).

James Patrick Walsh, Michael Mooney and the Leadville Irish: Respectability and Resistance at 10,200 Feet, 1875-1900 (Unpublished PhD Thesis, University of Colorado Boulder, 2010).

Visiting the Ulster American Folk Park

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It was pretty amazing to find out that a major part of my personal area of study was the subject of its own museum, the Ulster American Folk Park near Omagh in Northern Ireland.  The folk park is a primarily open-air museum, with buildings, streets, and countryside representing the “old world” and “new world” for Ulster emigrants.  Visitors enter in the “old world,” with its thatched roof cottages and village streets with original buildings, historic school house, and the homestead of the Mellon family.  They make their way to the dockside and cross the Atlantic on board a “ship,” and arrive in the “new world,” with historic log cabins and houses that have been brought over from America and reconstructed on site.

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Mellon House – photo credit: L. Flewelling

The Ulster American Folk Park was built around the site of the Mellon House, which remains in its original location, and historic buildings from Ulster and America have been moved and reconstructed on site to best portray life on both sides of the Atlantic, centuries of migration, and enduring connections between Ulster and America.  Truly an impressive undertaking to create a site with historic and representative buildings, demonstrations, and even animals and crops to portray their region and time period.

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Western Pennsylvania Log House – photo credit: L. Flewelling