Diversity and Global Understanding -- Irish & Essay

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Diversity and Global Understanding -- Irish & Dutch Immigration

What were the contributions of the Dutch and Irish immigrants to America by the 1870s? What was the pattern of the Dutch immigration into the new country and what was the pattern of the Irish as they flowed from Great Britain to America? These and other issues will be addressed in this paper.

The Literature on Irish Immigration into America

Where did the Irish settle when they arrived in the New World? Contrary to some historical writing the Irish "…claimed every part of the new continent as their own," from the American South, to the North and the West as well as the East, according to author Janet Nolan (Nolan, 2009, p. 76). What set the initial wave of Irish settlers apart from immigrants from other European countries is that "…at certain times, [Irish] women outnumbered their male counterparts (Nolan, 77). The majority of female immigrants were single and traveled independent of brothers or fathers; this meant the wages earned by female Irish immigrants -- many of who were domestic servants -- created a matriarchal immigrant society (Nolan, 78).

Understanding the role of Irish women immigrants is vitally important and Nolan offers several pivotal facts about the impact Irish women immigrants had in America. One, the wages earned by Irish women "…funded the further immigration of siblings and other family members" and basically influenced the "…choice of millions to leave their Irish homeland" and cross the Atlantic to come to America. Two, Irish women faced and for the most part conquered the "…same economic and physical challenges" as Irish men did; and three, the money earned by Irish women immigrants was often sent back home to support families through the "post-Famine Irish economy that was otherwise retrenching" (Nolan, 79). Many farmers living in Ireland depended on "the remittances of daughter in America for their very survival," Nolan continues, mentioning as well that Irish women immigrants to America "…helped fund the infrastructure of the American Catholic Church," which was an enormous contribution to the emerging American nation (Nolan, 79). Though there was no typical Irish immigrant (there were "exiles" and "opportunists" and some were fleeing persecution for their political beliefs), Nolan insists that the men and women that immigrated from Ireland "…left a footprint rare equaled, let along surpassed, by newer immigrants"; and sadly, as Lawrence McCaffrey stated (quoted by Nolan), the Irish in the U.S. were "…the pioneers of the American ghetto" (80).

That having been said, many early Irish immigrants came to the New World based on having read guidebooks in Ireland that referred to America as "the paradise of the poor man," according to an article in the Journal of American Ethnic History (Miller, et al., 1991). But as time went on and the reality of how tough life was in early America became evident, laws were passed to discourage immigration (Act of Union, 1800 was one). Still, as Spartacus Educational (SE) reports, following the Irish potato disaster in 1845, immigrants flocked to America. An 1850 census showed there were 961,719 individuals in America that were born in Ireland, and the majority of those people were living in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Ohio, New Jersey and Illinois (SE).

What contributions did these poor Irish immigrants make? Many Irish immigrants helped build the railroads in America (particularly in Illinois); others became coal miners in Pennsylvania; still others fought in the Civil War (40,000 on the Confederate side and 170,000 joined the Union Army) (SE). Irish voters were able to elect Irish mayors in New York City (Richard Croker) and in Boston (James Curley) so there was Irish political clout in numbers in the late 19th century.

Information and communication about their successes and challenges was vitally important to all new immigrants into the United States. Author James M. Bergquist explains that between 1820 and 1870, several German newspapers "…regularly presented news brought to America by ship" from the European homeland (Bergquist, 2008, p. 160).

"The Irish never could surpass the profusion of German newspapers," Bergquist continues, partly because so many within "…the Irish masses were illiterate," and also because the Irish were English-speaking and those that were literate had no trouble reading the mainstream English language newspapers in America (160). In 1849 Irish newspaperman Patrick Lynch launched the Irish-American in New York City and said he could not believe that Irish immigrants were "not intelligent" enough to provide support for an Irish newspaper Bergquist reports (160).
"The Germans, with a population about half that of ours, have four daily papers…the Franco Americans, two, the Italians, one," Lynch stated (Bergquist, 160).

So Lynch published the Irish-American only on Sundays, charging three cents a copy; he produced a weekly he said because the Irish generally worked 6 days a week and earned about six dollars for those six days of work, and three pennies "will never be missed" by those folks (Bergquist, 161). Another important newspaper for Irish Catholics was the Boston Pilot (started in 1836) and later the Freeman's Journal, founded in 1841 in New York City, became an important source of news for Irish immigrants (Bergquist, 161).

The Literature on Dutch Immigration into America

Editor, historian and genealogist Myra Vanderpool Gormley explains that there was no "…mass migration from Holland" as there was from Ireland and other European countries (Gormley, 2006, p. 1). That's because unlike the terrible conditions in Ireland during the potato famine, "The Dutch had it pretty good at home," Gormley writes, and most of the Dutch who immigrated into America calculated that there was prosperity to be gained in America, and they came early compared with the time line for the Irish immigrants. By 1790, for example, according to the U.S. census, there were an estimated 100,000 "Dutch-born or Dutch-ancestry families" in America -- and about 80,000 of those immigrants lived within a 50-mile radius of New York City (Gormley, 1). This settlement was known as New Netherland, but the British took New Netherland in 1664 but the Dutch were not all located on the east coast of America.

In fact the number one Dutch settlement at that time was in the Wisconsin and Michigan region, around the shoreline of Lake Michigan. New Jersey and New York were home to the next largest communities of Dutch immigrants, Gormley explains. The Dutch settlers had "…large families" and tended to be farmers, and as the farmland available on the east coast became scarce, young Dutch (especially newly married Dutch immigrants) "…pushed northward into virgin land along the Hudson tributaries of the Harlem, East, Mohawk and Pocantico rivers" (Gormley, 2). Dutch farmers became "the vanguard of the northern Colonial frontier," Gormley explains.

And in the mid-19th century, there was a surge of Dutch immigrants; about 250,000 Dutch peasants and rural artisans arrived partly because they were seeking religious freedom away from the Dutch Reform Church and also because there was a failure of Holland's potato crop (not as serious as the potato crop failure in Ireland but a serious blight nonetheless) (Gormley, 2). Another agricultural crisis hit the Netherlands in the 1880s, and as a result of that problem some 75,000 Dutch immigrated to the U.S. And were most likely to settle in Michigan, Iowa, or New York, Gormley explains (2).

"Only after the mid-1840s did significant numbers leave the Netherlands for North America," according to Robin Cohen, Professor of Transnational Anthropology at the University of Oxford and Dean of Humanities at the University of Cape Town (Cohen, 1995, p. 24). Even the establishment of the highly successful West India Company of New Amsterdam -- sixteen years after its discovery by English Dutch East India Company agent Henry Hudson -- was not enough stimuli for a mass immigration from Holland, Cohen explains (24).

Cohen explains that about half of the Dutch immigrants who arrived between 1845 and 1849 were fleeing the Dutch Reform Church; they belonged to "…a dissenting Protestant denomination called 'Seceders'" (Cohen, 24). The majority of these immigrants established farms "…mainly to the east of Lake Michigan" -- and those farms were successful due to the fertile soil found in Wisconsin and Michigan (Cohen, 25).

The Chicago area (and Illinois) were not favorite places for the Dutch to settle (they preferred "Michigan, Iowa, and Wisconsin"), due to the great cost of buying land and because there were no "trusted preachers to direct and promote the immigration" (Swierenga, 2002). But that having been said, the Dutch "…drifted into the Windy City…as early as 1839, and the "city Dutch" became carpenters, cabinetmakers, blacksmiths" while the "country Dutch" became labors and farmers and they worked in the lumber industry (Swierenga, 3). Within just five years after the first Dutch families moved to Chicago, "…several adult sons of the pioneers had moved into entry-level trades at the city newspaper, the Democratic Press" (Swierenga, 3).


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