The Ships, “Blanche” and Otilla,” Part 3

By June 13, 1851, the captains and owners of the Blanche and Otilla had faced American justice.  Federal authorities in New Orleans had prosecuted the captains of the two ships for exceeding the passenger limits.  Together, the two owners of the ships had been fined $9,000, which would amount to about $300,000 today.  The Daily Crescent, a Second Municipality newspaper, approved of this result.  The Second Municipality was largely Anglo-American.  It was the more prosperous area of New Orleans. Both ships were British registered. [1]

Seizure

J.H. Maddox, the editor of the Daily Crescent, argued that seizure of the two ships was not necessary.  Because the passengers on board both ships exceeded the maximum allowed by a very large number, the federal government could have seized both ships.  The Blanche under U.S. law exceeded its maximum capacity by 120 passengers.  The Otilla exceeded its capacity by 70 passengers.  Seizure was allowed if the number of passengers exceeded the limit by 20 passengers.  Maddox claimed the owner of the Otilla was owned by a ship captain who had invested his life savings in the ship.  The owner of the Blanche was a ship carpenter in New Brunswick.  Seizure would ruin the two men, claimed Maddox.  Mr. Maddox does not explain how he would know the financial circumstances of the two owners.  In any event, Maddox claimed the owners knew nothing of the over-capacity.  Maddox claims the Otilla exceeded British law regarding maximum numbers of passengers only becaue4 there were twelve stowaways. [2]

But, the two owners were responsible for hiring two captains who were willing to violate U.S. law and risk the lives of helpless passengers.  Someone helped the Blanche with a perjured certificate regarding its actual measurements.  But, Maddox reveals his bias.  He insists the Irish passengers on the Blanche caused themselves to sicken and die.  He says they “refused” to obey the captain’s orders to not lie in “their filth.”  He apparently meant the passengers did not keep clean their “tween decks” berth.  Human waste would indeed accumulate if the passengers did not use the few available privies or if they did not clean their mess. [3]

Cleanliness

But, this was 1851, the sixth year of the worst famine in centuries.  Hundreds of thousands of Irish had already emigrated.  Even uneducated Irish laborers knew to clean their waste.  They certainly appreciated the need to maintain a clean environment on long voyages. Illness on those trans-Atlantic voyages was a known risk.  The mortality rate for the Blanche was over 10 percent.  This occurred at a time when most voyages for both European travelers and Irish famine refugees saw mortality rates of about 1.5 percent. [4]

John Maginnis was still very angry about the Otilla.  Writing in the Daily True Delta, he complained that the incarceration of the Otilla captain, James Irwin, and the seizure of the ship had been remitted by Pres. Millard Fillmore.  In the case of the captain, his imprisonment had been remitted even before his conviction.  Maginnis reminded his readers that when the Otilla passengers emerged from the ship, the men “glided along ghastly, wild and idiotic.”  The women, married and unmarried girls, “reeled like drunken creatures, half naked, filthy, gaunt, spectral looking, . . .  with eyes sunk deep in their bloodless sockets, expression disordered, language strange and incoherent.”  Maginnis considered it to be an “outrage” that the captain avoided jail time and that the ship was not seized. [5]

It was reported many times by various visitors to Ireland during the Great Famine that many persons were half-naked.  That some of the worst emigrant arrived in America with little or ragged clothing speaks to the condition they escaped.

Feculent Matter

Perhaps the more immediate cause for the Blanche horror was the fact that the captain and most of the crew also contracted “ship fever.”  Ship fever could be many ailments, typhus, cholera were most common.  The port health officer for New Orleans, Dr. Frederick Hart, reported that there was no leadership on the vessel, because so much of the crew was ill.  He said the main deck was completely strewn with filth and “feculent matter.”  The ‘tween deck, where the steerage passengers resided, was the same.  Dr. Hart said two passengers committed suicide during the trip.  There was at last one corpse on the vessel when it arrived.  Dr. Hart’s letter was and still is part of the national archives for the Colonial Office.  So, we can presume the appropriate British authorities saw his report. [6]

Later in 1851, Lt.-Gov. Edmund Head of the colony at New Brunswick complained about the Blanche and another ship, the Virginia.  The British Colonial Land and Emigration Office replied to the Lt.-Governor that the size of the Blanche satisfied British law.  She could not, therefore, be legally rejected by the emigration officer in New Brunswick. [7]

The term “coffin ship” emerged in the 1880’s.  Maginnis and Prendergast described the Blanche and Otilla as plague ships or as pestilence ships.  Whichever term was used, they were dangerous ships for a population long weakened by the Great Irish Famine.  As Dr. McMahon explains, the ships were not inherently dangerous, with some major exceptions.  Generally, the mortality rate for the Irish famine boats was no different than other ships of the time period.  But, if illness broke out, the Irish famine refugees were exceedingly vulnerable to disease. [8]

Notes:

[1] New Orleans Daily Crescent, June 13, 1851, p. 2, col. 2

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Cian T. McMahon, The Coffin Ship (New York: NYU Press 2021), p. 151-152.

[5] New Orleans Daily True Delta, June 13, 1851, p. 2, col. 2

[6] The Coffin Ship, p. 167

[7] Accounts and Papers, House of Lords, vol. 14, 1852, p. 58 (Responding to Lt.-Gov. Head’s Aug. 25, 1851 dispatch).

[8] The Coffin Ship, pp. 146-152.

The Ships, “Blanche” and “Otilla,” Part 2

On a Saturday afternoon, Margaret Naughton, newly arrived at the port of New Orleans, found herself in front of Recorder (i.e., a judge and mayor) Genois’ office. She laid down on the flag stones under the portico of the building and died.  She could have laid down anywhere. Perhaps, that was the cleanest spot. Or, perhaps her meager strength simply gave out.

Margaret was from Limerick.  She was one of the passengers of the Blanche, a ship that arrived with over 100 passengers needing care at Charity Hospital. This latest version of Charity Hospital was established in 1834 by the Sisters of Charity.  It served the poor.  When the great Irish famine stated in 1845, Charity Hospital treated many Irish immigrants. [1]

Margaret was not one of those dis-embarking passengers who sought treatment at the hospital. She was one of the survivors, until she wasn’t. The ship arrived on Tuesday, March 25, 1851. Margaret wandered the streets of New Orleans until Friday.  On that day, she and some seven other passengers were stopped by a police officer who sent them to an empty building. There, on Saturday, they received food and passage money to St. Louis, where some relatives lived.  Later that day, about 3:00 p.m.  Margaret, a young woman, felt ill.  She fell down among the flag stones and died. [2}

Margaret’s body was taken to the police office and examined. By 5:00 p.m., Margaret was buried. [3]

The Blanche started with some 550 passengers.  But, ship fever broke out within days of leaving Liverpool.  Men, women and children died during the voyage.  Near the end of the voyage, many passengers were forced to remain on the upper deck to avoid the sick below decks.  These were the poorest of the poor.  They lived amongst filth and dirt below decks. [4]

Fifty More

By April 12, some 50 more Blanche passengers were admitted to Charity Hospital.  Being famine refugees and then having to endure a pestilent voyage, this number is not surprising. That means some 190 passengers required hospitalization within days of arrival. [5]

The owners of the Blanche and Otilla faced legal liability for having too many passengers.  The U.S. law and the British law on how to calculate maximum passengers differed. But, New Orleans was American, not British.  U.S. law applied at the port of New Orleans.  Under U.S. law, if a ship exceeded its maximum passenger load by 20 or more, then the ship would be forfeited to the government.  When even a relatively Anglo-oriented newspaper like the Daily Crescent advocated that the Blanche be seized, then the Captain knew he was in trouble.  So, Capt. Duckitt traveled to what was then known as Washington City to plead his case. [6]

The Blanche and Otilla were in a special class of horror in a time of many such smaller horrors.  Within days of arrival, almost 200 of the 500 Blanche passengers had to seek treatment at Charity Hospital.  Many of the rest were still ill, but not sick enough for the hospital.  New Orleans had seen many such arrivals, although on a lesser scale.  This time, it was just too much. Those Irish problems had found their way to the doorstep of New Orleans.

Notes:

[1] New Orleans Daily Crescent, March 31, 1851, p. 3, col. 1

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] New Orleans Daily Crescent, April 12, 1851, p. 2, col. 1

[6] New Orleans Daily Crescent, March 31, 1851, p. 2, col. 1

The Anti-Irish Riots of 1854

Henry Wise, governor of Virginia, minister to Brazil and Brig.-Gen. in the Confederate army ran against a Know Nothing candidate for governor in 1855. Gov. Wise would say about the Know Nothing movement years later that it was “the most impious and unprincipled affiliation by bad means for bad ends.”  He compared the struggle of Irish Catholics in Ireland against the Protestant landlords to the struggle in America against Know Nothingism. The Know Nothing party, formally known as the American party, succeeded to the Whig party. Many Whigs transitioned to the American party when the Whigs disintegrated in the early 1850’s. But, some Whigs did not. [1]

One Whig who would not join the Know Nothing party was J.C. Prendergast, publisher and editor of the New Orleans Daily Orleanian. Prendergast, an Irish immigrant himself, widely sympathized with the Irish immigrants and with immigrants in general.  Prendergast suggested it was best if the “foreigners” refrained from voting for a time until the bonds of friendship might increase.  But, as long as some Irish would insist on casting their vote, the Know Nothings would not be satisfied. [2]

The Know Nothings believed the New Orleans police were rounding up Irish voters to proceed to the polls and cast their votes.  Whether true or not, they believed it. Even Prendergast, the erstwhile Whig, believed the Irish were being manipulated by the Democratic party in some way. [3]

March, 1854

During the March, 1854 elections, two New Orleans papers whipped up anti-Irish feeling. The Daily Crescent and the Delta accused the Irish immigrants of all the evils afflicting the city, “forever kicking up rows and breaking heads.”  Their societies were divisive and prevented assimilation.  At other times, the Crescent simply argued the Irish voters were the dupes of others, apparently meaning Democratic politicians. What the Crescent and even Prendergast seemed not to appreciate was that the Democratic party, unlike any other party, welcomed all immigrants, even the Irish. [4]

There were elections set for early October. Regardless of the cause, the Know Nothings resorted to violence. Ten days of riots broke out starting Saturday night, Sept. 10, 1854. A large riot broke out on Sunday night, around the St. Mary’s Street Market, a predominantly Irish neighborhood. It was said that a Mr. Grinnell of Leeds and Co., a large ship-building firm, John Mitchell, a foreman of Leeds, and a Mr. Green, a relative of Grinnell, were walking near coffee houses (which actually served anything but coffee) in the St. Mary’s neighborhood. The three men were challenged by customers within the coffee houses. The three man party insisted on their right to walk where they please. Violence soon erupted, resulting in injury to all three men. The Crescent suggested the Irish customers in the drinking establishments started the fracas. But, the Crescent was generally sympathetic with Know Nothingism. [5]

Prendergast reported that he understood Grinnell to be opposed to foreigners and was one of the leaders of an attack on Murphy’s coffee house a few nights earlier. [6]

St. Patrick’s Church

On the night of Sept. 11, Monday, rumors flew that the Americans, as they were known at the time, planned to sack St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, the church for the Irish. [7]

Dr. J.J. Meighen, a druggist, gathered with the crowd which was intent on protecting St. Patrick’s. The Americans came into the area and a general fight broke out. Two men were killed. Meighen was arrested, as was John Cavanaugh, Captain of the Louisiana Grays, a predominantly Irish militia. Cavanaugh denied he was involved in the defense of St. Patrick’s Church.  He said he was working late that night at the Crescent Steam Marble Yard on St. Joseph street.  He and his men worked until about 10 p.m.  They left work and proceeded to a coffee house on Tchoupitoulas street for refreshment.  So, it looked like he was leading a group of armed men, but not so.

At the coffee house, Cavanaugh saw Gen. Lewis, the commander of the New Orleans militia.  He went out to talk to the commander.  Lewis asked him to persuade the men to disperse.  Cavanaugh tried to send them home, but some refused.  They wanted protection for their lives and property.  Capt. Cavanaugh then went home himself.  He emerged from his home later that night when he briefly thought the marble yard was on fire.  Dr. Meighen told Gen. Lewis he was a naturalized citizen, but that he would “un-naturalize” and protect himself. In the end, the only persons arrested were Capt. John Cavanaugh, captain of the Irish militia, the Louisiana Grays, Stephen O’Leary, and Dr. J.J. Meighen

A witness would testify in court a few days later that the crowd did not appear to be organized and there appeared to be no leader.  The charge against Cavanaugh was later dismissed for lack of evidence. [8]

That night on the 11th, Dr. Meighan strode up and down the streets with a sword in his hand, which was inscribed “Liberty or Death.”  Later that night, Meighan claimed to have been wounded, even though he sustained no visible wound.  One witness described the druggist as a “damned fool.”  No record appears regarding any trial for Dr. Meighan. Perhaps, the court took into account his odd behavior that night. [9]

Duffy’s Coffee House

On the night of Sept. 12, the coffee house of Tom Duffy, located at No. 58 New Levee Street, was attacked. Duffy and the customers initially resisted the intrusion.  But, the attackers persisted, gained entry and destroyed the place.  They found a man named John Kane, who had recently arrived from Louisville.  The mob of some 20-30 men dragged him outside,. They demanded he answer their question, “Are you American or Irish?”  Scared for his life, he answered “American.”  Kane then ran off, but was chased and shot down. Another man named Boylan was shot in the leg.  A man named James Porter, a clerk at a lumber yard on Tchoupitoulas street, was shot in the head. According to the Daily Picayune, the mob of 20-30 men attacked Porter quietly and stealthily and then disappeared.  Porter was a Dublin native. [10]

Also on the night of Sept. 12, it was rumored that the Americans planned to attack two coffee houses owned by Irishmen – Murphy and Falvey – at the corner of Julia and Tchoupitoulas, an Irish neighborhood.  They also planned to attack the nearby marble yard of the stone mason, John Cavanaugh – Cavanaugh, the captain of the Louisiana Grays. Prendergast believes this was one of many false rumors, but it reflects the great fear then reverberating through the Irish community. [11]

Special Police

By Sept. 16, Mayor Lewis called for special police from citizens willing to patrol the streets. Dozens so volunteered.  They were organized by Capt. Forno, one of the militia unit captains.  Forno was not Irish. But, the militia commanders generally carried a good deal of informal authority, even though they were not actual employees of any government. Prendergast lamented that several able-bodied citizens intended to serve as a special policemen, but withdrew their names when they saw that many of the volunteers were Irish. [12]

The nightly patrols stopped the attacks, because they stopped the intrusions into Irish areas by the Americans.  But, the Know Nothings were just getting started. They would terrorize the city for the next several years.  They did succeed in suppressing the Irish vote in the next round of elections in 1856.

For more about the Know Nothings, see Smithsonian site here. The Know Nothings opposed immigration by all groups. The two principle groups of immigrants in the 1850’s were the Irish and the Germans. But, the Know Nothings reserved the full force of their thuggery for the Irish.

Notes:

[1] David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South, 1815-1877 (Chapel Hill, N.C.: Univ. of North Carolina Press 1995), p. 110-112.

[2] New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Aug. 22, 1854, p. 1, col. 2

[3] Earl F. Niehaus, The Irish in New Orleans (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1965), p. 86, citing Daily Orleanian, Sept. 11, 1854

[4] Irish in New Orleans, p. 88

[5] N.O. Daily Crescent, Sept. 12, 1854, p. 3, col. 2

[6] Daily Orleanian, Sept. 13, 1854, p. 1, col. 2

[7] Daily Orleanian, Sept. 13, 1854, p. 1, col. 2

[8] Irish in New Orleans, p. 90; Daily Picayune, Sept. 27, 1854, p. 2, col. 5; Daily Picayune, Sept. 16., 1854, p. 2, col. 5, 6

[9] Daily Picayune, Sept. 16., 1854, p. 2, col. 5; Daily Crescent, Sept. 16, 1854, p. 4, col. 1

[10] Daily Orleanian, Sept. 14, 1854, p. 1, col. 1

[11] Daily Orleanian, Sept. 14, 1854, p. 1, col. 1

[12] Daily Orleanian, Sept. 17, 1854, p. 1, col. 1

Boarding Houses and the Price Sisters

Prior to the U.S. Civil War, how did Irish immigrants, arriving with little or nothing, earn a living? Many, as we know, turned to manual labor. But, what about the women? The Irish immigrants were unique in that many Irish immigrants were female and arrived on their own.

In one family, the women turned to boarding homes. The Price sisters, daughters of George and Mary Price, ran their own boarding homes after their men died. The family patriarch was George Price, said to be a leader of the failed 1798 Irish rebellion. Each of the Price sisters were born in Ireland. They likely arrived in the United States sometime between 1825 and 1835.

The Price family in 1836 looked like this:

George – Mary Price:

                        James Price – Sarah Anderson

                        Edward Price

                        Ellen Price – Clement Kennedy

                        Anastasia Price – Martin Creane/Crane

                        Theresa Price – William Agar

                        Katherine Price – Edward M. Rice

                        George Price

The family alternated between Louisville, Kentucky and New Orleans. The patriarch, George, and Mary lived in Louisville in 1836. While some of the children resided in New Orleans. Martin, married to Anastasia, lived in New Orleans, but spent much of his time in Louisville.

By 1849, Martin had died in Kentucky. The patriarch, George Price, who had some money, died in 1836 in Louisville, Kentucky. James Price also died in 1836 in Louisville. Edward Price died in New Orleans in 1836. Clement Kennedy disappeared from public records by 1840. So, within just a few years, five of the male bread-winners were gone. What would recent female immigrants do, even if they did have access to some money? Women in the 1840’s had very few options. Well, one option was boarding homes. And, in the 1840’s and later, before the days of moderate priced hotels, boarding homes were essential to travelers and immigrants. And, that is exactly what the Price women did. Boarding homes in the ante-bellum days did not yet carry a negative stereotype.

Mrs. Rice’s

In 1839-1840, one Edward M. Rice is running a boarding house in Cincinnati. Katherine Price married Edward M. Rice in 1841 in Louisville. Later, Edward initially appears in the Cincinnati City Directories as a grocer, but still later, he has no occupation. By 1848, various persons are listed as boarding at “Mrs. Rice’s” boarding house in Cincinnati. By 1848, Katherine alone is listed at the Cincinnati boarding house. While, Edward appears in the New Orleans City Directory as a sugar broker. So, it appears Katherine was running the boarding home in Cincinnati, while Edward went to New Orleans to explore his prospects. [1]

Canal Street Boarding House

In 1841, Anastasia Price Creane/Crane was running a boarding home on Canal Street in New Orleans. She advertised her home as “commodious and pleasantly situated.” Her ads targeted a white collar clientele. Boarding homes required substantial investment. But, boarding homes could be rented. The home need not be owned. So, the investment in a boarding home was large, but not impossible.

Anastasia’s location was very close to the river front, the hub of economic activity in that major port. Her husband, Martin was still alive in 1840, but he was often in Louisville. Anastasia may have been trying to supplement the family income. Or, she may have simply wanted some measure of independence. In 1840, Anastasia had six boarders. Her operation was not a large one. And, in 1841, Mrs. Mary Price was also running a boarding house in Louisville. Mary’s husband had died just five years earlier. Mary may have had sufficient funds that she did not have to work. But, even so, she was operating a boarding house on what was then the western frontier. [2]

Katherine’s and Ellen’s Boarding House

In 1850, Edward Rice is listed in the census as the keeper of a New Orleans boarding house, where Katherine and their children live. But, Edward was also listed in the City Directory as a sugar broker. That suggests Katherine ran the boarding home, while Edward was listed as the proprietor – to “keep up appearances.” In the 1850 census, Ellen Walsh, formerly married to Clement Kennedy, but now married to William Walsh, was listed as keeping a boarding home. Katherine had 15 boarders. Most of the boarders had Irish surnames, but not all. The Ellen Walsh home had 12 boarders, many of whom had Irish surnames. At the same time, William Walsh was listed as a cooper in the City Directory. That suggests that again, the wife, Ellen, was actually running the boarding home. While at the same time, Mary Price, was now living in New Orleans. Mary was listed in the City Directory as keeping a boarding house. Yet, she does not appear in the census. Mary likely had just moved to New Orleans. She may have been over-seeing the work of her two daughters in operating two different boarding homes. [3]

By 1849, Anastasia had re-married and no longer operated a boarding home.

In 1856, George Price, brother to the Price sisters, Edward M. Rice, husband to Katherine Price, and William Agar, future husband to Theresa Price, were all living at Katherine’s boarding home. That location was not only close to the Mississippi river front. It was also the heart of the Irish immigrant section of the city. Katherine Price Rice is running her boarding house located at the corner of Julia and Magazine streets. Her husband, Edward, was working as a sugar broker. As a sugar broker, Edward would have been earning a decent wage, perhaps better than decent. So, it seems Kathrine was running a boarding home because she wanted to, not because she had to. [4]

Retirement from the Boarding House Business

By 1859, Katherine is no longer listed as a resident at the Julia and Magazine boarding house. Katherine Price Rice disappears from the public record as a keeper of boarding homes. And, Edward, her husband, disappears from all public records by 1863. He probably died in the early 1860’s. So, in 1874, Katherine returns to the boarding home business. She is again running a boarding house. Yet, she was then living with her sister, Anastasia and her family. Katherine probably did not need a source of income. She may have simply been seeking some degree of independence. The Prices always had the boarding home business on which to fall back when times turned tough.[5]

Keeping a boarding house was hard work. Landladies worker hard. The servants worked harder. Anastasia owned a slave for some period of time during her boarding house days. But, after she married, she never again employed an African-American as a domestic. The other two sisters relied on Irish domestic help. Furnishing a boarding home represented a large investment, especially for those landladies who sought a better paying customer. It is likely that the Price family had some funds to finance a better class of boarding home. The Price women did not fear hard work. But, they also likely sought some independence and simply wanted the challenge of running one’s own business. [6]

Notes:

[1] 1839-1851 Cincinnati City Directories

[2] 1841 New Orleans City Directory; 1841 Louisville City Directory

[3] 1850 U.S. census; 1850 New Orleans City Directory

[4] 1856 New Orleans City Directory

[5]  1874 New Orleans City Directory

[6] Wendy Gamber, The Boarding House in Nineteenth Century America (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press 2007), p. 43-44.

Joseph Brenan, Young Irelander

The Young Ireland movement was started by young Irish revolutionaries who believed Daniel O’Connell was not doing enough. The Young Irelanders advocated the use of force if necessary, a step Daniel O’Connell long resisted. In 1846, the Young Irelanders seceded from O’Connell’s Repeal Association. Among those early rebels were William Smith O’Brien, Thomas Francis Meagher, future commander of the New York 69th Irish Brigade and John Mitchel, future Confederate States of America supporter. I have previously written about Mitchel here.

Joseph Brenan, born in Cork city in 1828, also supported the Young Ireland movement. Brenan found inspiration in John Mitchel’s writings. The Young Irelanders organized a brief uprising in 1848. It was short-lived, but it scared the British authorities immeasurably. The firefight at Widow McCormack’s house occurred on July 29, 1848. Michael Nolan, an Irish native who had emigrated to New Orleans, then returned to his former home County Tipperary in August, 1848. 118 Young Irelanders were arrested in the days after the fight at McCormack’s house. Joseph Brenan was one of those arrested. Upon his release in 1849, he returned to his work for the Dublin Irishman, a militant nationalist newspaper. It was the Irishman that later published a lengthy obituary for Michael Nolan when he was killed at the Battle of Gettysburg. See my prior post on Michael Nolan here.

Cappoquin

In September, 1848, some of the Young Irelanders, including Brenan, made plans to launch an uprising in Cappoquin, County Waterford. Brenan and Michal Cavanaugh, launched an attack with pikes and firearms on the Royal Irish Constabulary barracks. One of the rebels was killed and one of the constables was piked to death. The rebels were repulsed, after which they retreated. The band then proceeded to Dungarvan, where the constables were cooperative. The British then sent the 7th Fusiliers Battalion of the Royal Irish Fusiliers to Cappoquin. The rebels remained active for another two weeks, at which time they abandoned their efforts. The leaders were not arrested. The British only managed to arrest some of the participants. Brenan and Cavanaugh and others fled to America. [1]

An Exile’s

Brenan first came to New York and worked for Horace Greeley on the Tribune. In October, 1851, now married, he moved to New Orleans to work on the New Orleans Daily/Weekly Delta, published by Denis Corcoran. He published one of his poems titled “An Exile’s Dream.” That poem ends with this stanza:

I will seize my pilgrim staff and cheerily wander forth

From the smiling face of the South to the black frown of the North;

And in some hour of twilight, I will mount the tall Slievebloom,

And weave me a picture-vision in the evening’s pleasant gloom;

I will call up the buried leaders of the ancient Celtic race,

And gaze with a filial fondness on each sternly noble face –

The masters of the mind, and the chieftains of the steel,

Young Carolan and Grattan, the McCaura and O’Neill;

I will learn from their voices, with a student’s love and pride,

To live as they lived, and to die as they died.

Oh, I’ll sail from the West, and never more will part

From the ancient home of my people – the land of the loving heart.

The Slieve Bloom mountains are in central Ireland.

Escape from Van Dieman’s Land

Brenan became one of the leading Irishmen in New Orleans. He was President of a Committee that organized a welcome reception for John Mitchel after he escaped the penal colony in Australia. Mitchel came to New Orleans in 1853. Brenan helped organize a similar reception for Thomas Francis Meagher when he also escaped the same penal colony. Meagher came to New Orleans in 1852. Meagher was received by the leading persons in New Orleans at the time: W.C.C. Claiborne, Barnard Marigny, Judah Benjamin, and by the leading Irishmen of the day: Maunsel White, J.C. Prendergast, and others.[3]

An Ardent Secessionist

In 1853, Brenan contracted the yellow fever in one of the worst epidemics to hit the Crescent City. The treatment for the illness left him partially blind. Brenan loved the South. In March, 1857, he stated a new newspaper, to be known as the Daily Times. The journal would focus on Southern interests, literature, and criticisms. Walter Hopkins, another former editor for the Delta assisted him. Brenan by this time had become an ardent secessionist. [4]

Brenan published a poem titled “A Ballad for the Young South.” The first stanzas went as follows:

Men of the South! Our foes are up

In fierce and grim array;

Their sable banner laps the air

An insult to the day!

The saints of Cromwell rise again,

In sanctimonious hordes,

Hiding behind the garb of peace

A million ruthless swords

[5]

In early May, 1857, he became ill. The treating physician reported that he would not recover. On May 28, 1857, the eloquent Irish patriot died of “consumption.” Joseph Brenan was described as an “esteemed friend” by the redoubtable J.C. Prendergast, Irish editor of the Daily Orleanian. Prendergast remarked that those best loved by God often die young. Prendergast lamented the loss of one so intelligent and so skilled with words. The young Brenan was buried in the old cemetery known as St. Louis. [6]

Brenan appears to have had some connection to the Crescent Dramatic Association. That amateur theater group put on a performance to raise money for Brenan’s widow and four children. The performance was held in a large venue, the Gaiety Theater. [7]

See Brenan’s entry in the Dictionary of Irish Biography here.

Notes:

[1] Anthony M. Breen, “Cappoquin and the 1849 Movement, History Ireland Issue 2 (Summer, 1999), vol. 7

[2] New Orleans Weekly Delta, Dec. 28, 1851, p. 6, col. 4; Dictionary of Irish Biography, entry regarding Joseph Brenan

[3] New Orleans Daily Picayune, Dec. 11, 1853, p. 4, col. 3; New Orleans Weekly Delta, July 4, 1852, p. 7, col. 1

[4] Baton Rouge Daily Advocate, March 19, 1857, p. 2, col. 3

[5] Bryan McGovern, “Young Ireland and Southern Nationalism” Irish Studies Issue 2, Article 5 (Celtic Studies, Kennesaw State Univ. 2016)

[6] Baton Rouge Daily Advocate, May 11, 1857, p. 2, col. 3; New Orleans Daily True Delta, May 29, 1957, p. 1, col. 2; New Orleans Daily Orleanian, May 29, 1857, p. 1, col. 1

[7] New Orleans Sunday Delta, June 14, 1857, p. 4, col. 1

Diminished Humanity and the Irish Immigrant

J.C. Prendergast, Irish immigrant and editor of the New Orleans Daily Orleanian, often commented on the plight of the Irish immigrants. His perspective is unique, because he arrived in the U.S. long before the famine. Yet, he saw the daily privations of the Famine refugees daily, weekly in the busy port.

He complained about the wretched condition of the passengers of the Otillia when they arrived in late March, 1851. Unlike the Irish immigrants from 15 years prior, the passengers of the Otillia were craving (apparently meaning craven), vacillating, and devoid of spirit. He said these passengers have become brutalized and unfeeling. They arrived in terrible condition.

When they arrived, there were 40 cases of “ship fever,” which was probably typhus. They buried at sea two adults and three children. Upon arrival in New Orleans, there were onboard one dead child and two or three adults fast approaching death. The decks were filthy and between the decks, the air was putrid. The doctor who inspected the ship in the New Orleans wharf said that even after those 40 cases of ship fever recover, they will return to the hospital afflicted with starvation. Dr. Hart, the city’s health officer, predicted there would soon be a typhus epidemic in the city if steps were not taken.

Abandoned

Prendergast was appalled that one father whose wife died at sea, abandoned his two year old child as soon as the ship touched the levee. He left the child, gaunt and weak, on a log on the levee and then disappeared. The child seemed “stupefied.” Unlike most children, the child uttered no cry, not the slightest whimper. The child’s eyes dropped. It ate readily, but then relapsed into its former stupor. Prendergast suggested some generous person in the city might wish to adopt some of the children who had arrived.

Prendergast mentioned that two rough looking men, one Spanish and the other French, were stopped as they were taking three of the young women, as young as 14, to “get bread.” When stopped, the three girls seemed as if they were drugged. One teetered from side to side. It turned out that the two men had plied the girls with drink. The editor did not explain how the two abusers were stopped. But, they were probably rescued by police. The police, such as they were in 1851, were often Irish and they often kept an eye out for the Irish immigrants.

Such was the immigrant life when the coffin ships arrived in 1851.

Source:

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, April 4, 1851, p. 2, col. 1, 2, 3

County Kerry Orphans Traveling Alone

On Dec. 10, 1851, arrived at the port of New Orleans more Irish orphans. I previously wrote about a previous boatload of Irish orphans here. On the ship Lord Elgin came eighteen Irish pauper orphans. Eleven girls and seven boys were sent with no adult escort. John C. Prendergast the editor of the Daily Orleanian, could not find out what happened to the girls. But, he learned that the boys were taken by a police officer named O’Sullivan to a guard house for a brief time. That likely referred to Police Officer Eugene Sullivan who lived at 79 Enghien (now Almonaster).

The boys were then taken to the Male Orphan Asylum. In the 1850’s, New Orleans, like many American cities, had charitable orphanages. Officer O’Sullivan collected money to buy them food and other necessities.

Lord Lansdowne

Prendergast believed these orphans were placed on the ship from the estate of Lord Lansdown. They were placed aboard by his agent, Mr. French. The oldest boy said he was told on the first leg of their trip that Mr. French had given money to the ship captain named Herron. Capt. Herron was to give the money to the children upon arrival. Capt. Herron denied he was given any money for the children. Prendergast expresses skepticism for Capt. Herron’s claim.

The boys likely referred to Henry Petty-Fitzmaurice, third Marquis of Landsdowne (1780-1863). He held a seat in Parliament and in the House of Lords and generally supported Catholic emancipation. See historyhome for more information about Lord Lansdowne here.

The Estate Agent

How or why eighteen orphans were sent to New Orleans and not to New York with the other tenants, we may never be known. According to “From Famine to Five Points,” the estate agent was named William Steuart Trench. Mr. Trench left his memoirs. Trench said he allowed some 1700 tenants to choose their destination, New York, Quebec, Boston or New Orleans. The New York newspapers remarked that the Lansdowne tenants were some of the most impoverished arrivals the city had ever seen.

Some person on the Lord Elgin – with some connection to Lord Landsowne – told the eighteen children that the British consul would make sure they were taken care of. Prendergast describes this claim as a “sham.” Prendergast notes that the former Irish Immigrant Society (a New Orleans ad hoc committee that helped prior immigrants) is now defunct. He expresses hope that the authorities will investigate this abuse of children.

The lack of communication reflects the absence of any adults traveling with these children. Prendergast must rely on the understanding of the “oldest boy.” This was yet another “shameful transaction,” as Prendergast said, by an Irish landlord.

A day, later, several of the boys had been selected by families to come live with them. Prendergast said he hoped those situations would succeed.

Sources:

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Dec. 12, 1851, p. 1, col. 2

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Dec. 14, 1851, p. 1, col. 3

Cohen’s 1851 New Orleans City Directory

Tyler Ambinder, “From Famine to Five Points: Lord Lansdowne’s Irish Tenants Encounter North America’s Most Notorious Slum,” American Historical Review, Vol. 107, No. 2 (April 20020), accessed here.

“No Irish Need Apply”

New Orleans newspapers, like many newspapers across the country, saw their share of “No Irish Need Apply” warnings. J.C. Prendergast, the Irish born editor, must have seen them. But, one day, it was just too much for him. He thundered on the pages of the Daily Orleanian at the rank prejudice. He noted that the London Times, known as the “Thunderer of Printing House Square” often carried such advertisements. “No Irish need apply.” “No papists wanted.” “Protestants only accepted.” “A Church of England coachman will hear of a good situation.” Those hiring criteria would appear in the London Times want ads, Prendergast tells us.

But, he was deeply offended that one such ad also appeared in the New Orleans Picayune: “A wet nurse wanted. None need apply but a Protestant. Call at 117 Common Street.” Prendergast finds this deeply offensive. Or, another ad: “Wanted – a female of English or American extraction, at one of the boarding schools of the city!” Prendergast shouts. He asks which school, so he can advise the French, German, Spanish or Irish parents to send their children to that school. He asks if the British hostility and influence has so matured here in the U.S.?

And, who was at 117 Common Street? According to the 1851 City Directory, Edward Davis, cotton broker, Thomas Henderson (firm Chery, Henderson & Co., commission merchants), John Williams, commission merchant, worked at that address. Each of those men likely earned a good living as cotton brokers or as commission merchants.  Even if Prendergast did know these particular persons in a city of over 116,000, he would have known what sort of businesses occupied that address. He chose not to call out their names, but he published their address.

Prendergast was rightly upset, but the “No Irish need apply” ads persisted well into the nineteenth century in New Orleans newspapers.

Source:

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Dec. 5, 1850, p. 2, col. 1

Irish Emigrants and the Liverpool Runners

Among the many problems facing the Irish travelers to the New World were the Immigrant brokers and agents of Liverpool. Almost all ships originated from Liverpool for the Americas. The Irish travelers would arrive in Liverpool aboard steamers from the various smaller Irish ports. Upon disembarking, the passengers would be met by the runners, or “sharks,” as J.C. Prendergast describes them. Prendergast was the editor of the Daily Orleanian and an Irish immigrant himself.

The rural peasants were particularly vulnerable to the runners employed by the brokers. Many more ships sailed to New York and Boston than to the Southern ports, such as Charleston, Savannah, Mobile and New Orleans. These country residents literally sold everything they possessed for the trip to the Americas to join family or friends. The brokers knew these travelers had all they owned, typically five to thirty pounds, in their pockets. So, it was in their interest to lie to the travelers and tell them that passage to New York or Boston would lead to easy travel to New Orleans or other distant locales.

Prendergast was reminded of this rapacious conduct by the plight of an illiterate mother with two young children who found her way to New Orleans in 1849. Very likely, her family were refugees from the famine.

A Small Family

She had been sent twelve pounds or about sixty dollars by her brother in Canada. But, the nefarious broker, his name was Lyne or Lynd, had told her the best way to Quebec was through New Orleans. Her ship, the Sailor Prince, had sunk and the mother was then sent to Mobile and then onto New Orleans. She ended up in New Orleans with no money, no food, no possessions and no friends, with two children. The rivers and lakes were now frozen, warned Prendergast. So, there was no way to make a journey to Quebec. The Irish Immigrant Society was prevented by its constitution from offering assistance unless the traveler could provide some portion of the expense. So, there she was, stuck in New Orleans, some 1,800 miles from her brother in the dead of winter.

Prendergast ends his account with a plea for someone to come forward to help the poor mother with her little ones.

On Jan. 9, 1850, the Irish Union Immigrant Society of New Orleans met with the British consul in that city to discuss the matter. The consul said he would inform the Liverpoool mayor of the deceptions practiced by the Liverpool ship brokers. The consul appeared to feel some urgency about the matter.

Source:

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Dec. 22, 1849, p. 2, col. 1

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Jan. 10, 1850, p. 2, col. 2

The Montgomery Guards: Blessing of the Flag

Before the War, the New Orleans Daily Delta was not a pro-Irish immigrant newspaper. The Delta had published a series of articles condemning the Irish for causing all sorts of ills in the city. The Irish, said the Daily Delta, were forever “kicking up rows and breaking heads.” Yet, that same newspaper reported the consecration of the Irish Flag to be borne by the Montgomery Guards. The Montgomery Guards were named for Gen. Richard Montgomery, Irish born, who served in the Continental army during the American Revolution. He had risen through the ranks of the British army, and took up the patriot cause. He fell at Quebec. For the Irish in the 1850’s, he was a great Irish-American hero.       

War Drums

By March, 1861, Louisiana had already seceded. Ft. Sumter and Lincoln’s levy of 75,000 troops had not yet occurred. But, by St. Patrick’s Day, war looked very likely. The Montgomery Guards were the oldest Irish militia in New Orleans. In the 1800’s, militias were more than martial organizations. They served a prominent social role, as well. And, the Montgomery Guards were at the top of the Irish social ladder. Indeed, they had been criticized over the years for the expense of their uniforms. That large expense limited their membership to only the most prosperous Irish immigrants.

In times like war, the Irish turned to their trusted institutions. In 1861, the Montgomery Guards celebrated St. Patrick’s Day be seeking the blessing of the church on their flag. The flag was beautiful. It was green with fringe. On one side, there was a wreath of cotton plants, with the words, “Montgomery Guards, organized 8th January, 1861.” On the other side, there was a wreath of cotton plants, with the words, “Louisiana, our home: her cause is ours.”

St. Patrick’s Day

On St. Patrick’s Day, the Guards marched with their flag from their armory in what is now downtown New Orleans to St. Alphonsus church.  St. Alphonsus is uptown in the area now known as the Irish channel. St. Alphonsus was largely erected and built by Irish labor. It is said that the Irish workers would come home from their various jobs and then go work as volunteers on the church after hours.

At the church, the esteemed Fr. Duffy blessed their flag. Representatives from other militia units attended. The commander of the Louisiana Greys, Capt. Dean, attended. Sponsors of the flag included two Misses Redmond, Ann Farrell, two Misses O’Neil, Miss O’Shea, Gen. E.L. Tracy, Gen. Denis Cronan, Capt. C.D. Dreux (Orleans Cadets), Capt. C.E. Girardey (Louisiana Guards), and Capt. Dean. Fr. John B. Duffy exhorted the Montgomery Guards that defending their country with the spirit of a Christian soldier was to serve God. The female sponsors may have been the women who made the flag.

After the blessing, the Guards marched around town and returned to their armory. They held a celebration which likely included food and drink. The Daily Delta said this was the only St. Patrick’s Day celebration that year. The Irish may have left their country, but they brought much of their country with them.

Sources:

New Orleans Daily Delta, March 19, 1861, p. 2, col. 6

New Orleans Daily Picayune, March 19, 1861, p. 4, col. 6

Earl Niehaus, The Irish in New Orleans (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1965), pp. 88