Coming of the First Exiles From Erin

WHILE a great stream from Germany was pouring across the Atlantic in the 1700s, the English blood of the colonies was still further diluted by an infusion of immigration from Ireland. The grafting of those new stocks on the colonial tree, which Englishmen had planted a century before, not only increased the size of the tree, but altered its character.

It is a somewhat new fashion in history to call the rich contribution that Ireland made to the colonies by the name of Scotch-Irish. Those 18th century immigrants from the Emerald Isle called themselves Irish. Is it not common courtesy to let every man spell his own name to suit himself?

No doubt many, perhaps most, were descendants of the Scots that had been planted in Ulster at various times in the century before the migration to America. But the emigrant ships, which formed an unbroken procession across the ocean throughout the half-century before the American Revolution, came from the ports of the south and west, as well as from the northern ports of the island. The agents or "runners" for such vessels were brought into court in Dublin in 1736, at the instigation of the landlords, who were alarmed by the exodus of laborers from the South of Ireland.

Although the immigrants were mostly Protestant, not a few were professing Catholics. Many of these settled in Maryland. They were sufficiently numerous in New York also to raise a sectarian scare in 1712-14, which resulted in a savage carnival of hangings. Some Pennsylvania politicians also viewed with alarm the coming of the Catholics and made a motion to stop them. There were three Irish Catholic churches in the Quaker colony before the Revolution.

Whether Protestant or Catholic, from north or south, all the immigrants alike appear to have regarded themselves as Irish. The Scottish strain in New England. Probably most of the founders of what is now the Charitable Irish Society of Boston were of that heritage. But apparently it did not occur to them to join the Boston Scots Society, which was already in the field, and they named their organization the Irish Society, when they formed it in 1737.

Moreover, the founders of that society, even while they barred Catholics from its offices, honored the patron saint of Catholic Ireland by choosing St Patrick's Day for the launching of the new organization. That delicious example of Irish inconsistency was followed by the immigrants in New York, when they formed the "Friendly Brothers of St Patrick," and in Philadelphia, where they organized the "Friendly Sons of St Patrick."

For several years Philadelphia received yearly as many as 12,000 immigrants from Ireland. No fewer than 54 ships from Irish ports unloaded their human cargoes upon Boston between 1714 and 1720. One official of the town probably expressed a widespread fear when he said that the "confounded Irish" would eat the Bostonians out of house and home.

The first flood of immigration from Ireland in the 18th century flowed from the same source as the second outpouring in the 19th—an evil land system that drained into the hands of the English landlords the substance of the soil from under the feet of those who tilled it. "They have already given their bread, flesh, butter, shoes, stockings, beds, house furniture and houses to pay their landlords and taxes. I cannot see how any more can be got from them, except we take away their potatoes and buttermilk or flay them and sell their skins." That picture was drawn in 1716, at the time of the emigration, and by the pen of a clergyman of the Church of England.

To protect England from competition the British Government was restricting the manufacture of linens and woolens in the north of Ireland, and a ban rested upon Presbyterianism, as well as on Catholicism, in the reign of Queen Anne. The Church of England alone was permitted to hold services. The chapels and schools of the other Protestant sects were closed, and their marriages declared invalid. Although the yoke was eased in 1719, the tide of immigration had set in too strongly to be arrested.

"The young, courageous, the energetic, the earnest," said Froude, "were torn up by the roots, flung out and bid find a home elsewhere, and they found a home, to which England, 50 years later, had to regret that she had allowed them to be driven." That same regret was echoed by another Englishman, Kent, who saw those people in their new home and testified that "an Irishman, the instant he sets foot on American ground, becomes ipso facto an American."

Many of those 18th century immigrants from Ireland could come only as indentured servants to work out their passage after they landed. Out of that class rose two signers of the Declaration, Matthew Thornton and George Taylor, and another was the father of Gen John Sullivan.

Probably most of the immigrants were able to pay their way. Not a few were well to do. As a whole it was a good, sturdy breed, from which sprang divers Presidents of the United States, including Jackson, Polk, Buchanan and McKinley, with such other Americans as Sir William Johnson, Patrick Henry, Gen Knox, the Clintons of New York, John C. Calhoun, Gen McClelan and James G. Blaine.

James Morgan, Boston Daily Globe, Nov 21, 1927, p. 14