Madeline

It was one of those incidents that must have occurred many times in a slave society. At a “slave mart” on Conti Street in New Orleans, there appeared a little girl, apparently very much white. Imagine the horror in such a stratified slave society like New Orleans. She was said to be the “property” of one Bievenute Duran, a Spaniard. He had lived in the First Municipality (roughly comparable to the area known today as the French Quarter), and had fallen on hard times. Mr. Duran then moved to the working class Third Municipality. Duran ran a small grocery store. At his death, his only assets were his slaves, including one little girl named Madeline, perhaps nine years old. She was crying as she was paraded with the other Duran slaves.

J.C. Prendergast, the Irish editor of the Daily Orleanian, noted that it was poor practice to exhibit slaves on the open street. Prendergast found it “unsightly.” (Duh) But, his larger concern was the apparent white girl being sold as a slave. Such an incident tended to upend their social mores regarding the institution of slavery. A citizen known for his benevolence, Mr. Charles Lovenskiold, took in the little girl. Free men of color (meaning free African-Americans) raised almost $200 to purchase the young girl’s freedom. The sale was stopped when it was made known that the little girl likely came from deceased white parents. Charles Lovenskiold lived in the 7th Ward. The New Orleans City Directory does not provide his occupation.  He was an Alderman in one of the three municipalities. And, a Charles Lovenskiold appears later in the 1860 census in Nueces County, Texas working as a lawyer. This Lovenskiold was born in Denmark and had two daughters and one son. Madeline does not appear in that 1860 census record.

Lovenskiold

In 1849, after the rescue of the girl, Prendergast met with Charles Lovenskiold and Madeline. Madeline appeared to be about nine years old. She had come to Duran with an older Negro woman who died soon after. Madeline had blue gray eyes and very fair skin, said Prendergast.  

Lovenskiold believed the girl had been sold when she was six months old with her purported mother, “a very black old negro.” Prendergast believed Madeline was “Celtic,” meaning Irish. He theorized that her parents had likely died and left her with the old black woman. Slaves at the time had substantial freedom in the city. The older enslaved woman was probably friends or neighbors with Madeline’s parents. Slaves had some freedom in the city. Some slaves could live on their own for various reasons. Prendergast noted that during the bad cholera epidemic of 1839, he had seen many such instances of parents dying and leaving their child with a friend or neighbor. The black woman, postulated Prendergast, likely ministered to the girl’s parents in their last hours.

Certainly, the ante-bellum Southerners generally believed in the efficacy of slavery. They genuinely believed slavery was the only way black Americans could live. But, looking back, we have to wonder how at times like this, an almost-sale of a little white girl, they did not appreciate these inherent problems of a slave society. J.C. Prendergast himself, always ready to point out societal hypocrisies, did not reflect on the system that could lead to such a result. Although, this incident clearly attracted his attention. It was rare for Prendergast, the editor of the Orleanian, to actually visit the site of a news story.

Sources:

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Dec. 10, 1849, p. 2, col. 2

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Feb. 28, 1851, p. 2, col. 3

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, March 7, 1851, p. 2, col. 2, 4, 5

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

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.

A More Wretched Set of Human Beings

J.C. Prendergast, an native, of County Waterford, Ireland, published and edited the Daily Orleanian in New Orleans during the ante-bellum years. He was a complicated person. He was a Whig, yet favored immigration. He criticized the famine Irish immigrants, yet, he sympathized with them immensely. The paper loudly proclaimed in the first page of every issue that it was the “official journal of the Third Municipality.” Prendergast was proud of the “old Third,” a working class area teeming with German, Irish immigrants and other nationalities. But, it was always Ireland and her concerns that pulled at him.

The Mushroom Aristocracy

He often criticized the “mushroom aristocracy,” his term for the Irish immigrants who had come to the new world, had found success, but did not help the more recent arrivals. The famine immigrants started arriving by the thousands in 1849. To the prior Irish immigrants, the new, famine arrivals were a pitiable lot. They arrived with few possessions. They knew no one upon arrival. They wore clothing long out-dated, even by rural Ireland standards.

Prendergast would talk to these recent arrivals. One such encounter occurred on Feb. 18, 1849. That was a late arrival. Usually, they arrived by October. A more wretched set of human beings he had not seen for years. These were the recent passengers of the British ship, John Garrow. They arrived with no one to greet them, carrying all their possessions in boxes, laid across the levee. In those days, the New Orleans wharves were simple extensions from the levee. The levee was a rise of land, some 3-4 feet high along the edge of the Mississippi River. The passengers, he noted were still gathered the next day there on the levee with nowhere to go. It was a frosty day, said the editor. New Orleans generally has a temperate climate, but February will still see temperatures in the 40’s and 50’s (Farenheit).

A Cadaverous Countenance

Prendergast asked one man, of a “cadaverous countenance,” if they were going up river? Many immigrants would seek work upriver at the busy Mississippi river ports. Work was there, if they could just reach those upriver points.

“Oh no sur, God help us, we had barely what paid our passage to this country. To escape starvation in our own, and ye see, there is seven of us in family here. Only for some gentleman, God bless him, who I never saw before, we would have been dead, for he let us into this little house, without asking a ha’ penny for it” – which if he did, we hadn’t it to pay.” Prendergast explained the “little house” was a small shed on the ferry wharf. In it now resided the man, a wife, a mother and three children and their “miserable looking beds.” Another nearby ferry house was full of the recent female arrivals.

If they were crammed into those two little what sheds, they were much better than the remaining passengers, huddling on the batture, the space between the levee and the river’s edge, with nothing but their boxes to cut the icy wind.

The condition of these recent arrivals troubled Prendergast all the next day. He described them as “gaunt, half-naked, half-famishing wretches.” At evening time, he wound his way back to the levee. He found all the women and children had been taken to some kind person’s house. The men remained huddled around tiny fires, trying to star warm, there on the batture under the night sky. So, for one night at least, some had shelter.

Prendergast then let loose, criticizing the various Irish-American groups, the Emmet Club, the Shamrock Society, the Hibernian Society, and others who pledged thousands for Ireland’s freedom. But, Prendergast expected too much. There was just too many coming, who needed so much, for ad hoc fund-raising. Private philanthropy was just not enough. The city of New Orleans actually did much to help he impoverished arrivals. Individual Irish-American groups did raise funds for the destitute arrivals. In 1851, the Emmet Guards, an Irish militia, raised $481.50 for upriver passage for recent arrivals. That was enough to send 219 recent arrivals upriver to jobs and security. But, it was not enough for the tens of thousands who came, with nothing.

Sources:

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Feb. 19, 1849, p. 1, col. 1

New Orleans Daily Picayune, April 20, 1851, p. 2, col. 1

Earl Neihaus, The Irish in New Orleans (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1965), p. 27

Catherine Hayes, the Irish Diva

J.C. Prendergast, an Irish native, published and edited the Daily Orleanian in New Orleans. He always supported the Irish cause. So, he was thrilled when Catherine Hayes came to the Crescent City. Catherine Hayes was the singing sensation known as the “Swan of Erin.” She was born in Limerick in 1818. Born into poverty, her father, a bandmaster for the local militia, abandoned the family. Her mother worked in the household of the Earl of Limerick.

She studied singing in Paris, and later in Milan. She sang opera at La Scala in Milan, and appeared in operas in Marseilles and London. She was invited by Queen Victoria to sing at Buckingham Palace. It is said that when she concluded her presentation for the Queen, she asked the singer for an encore. It is said that with a slight grin, Ms. Hayes responded with the Irish patriotic song, “Kathleen Mavourneen.”

Kathleen Mavourneen

And, in February and March, 1852, she came to New Orleans as part of her American tour. Prendergast described the first of her concerts as a “triumph.” He believed the other newspapers in the city offered only tentative praise. Prendergast, always sensitive to bias against the Irish, likely felt some reluctance on the part of the French and Anglo newspapers to fully acknowledge her extraordinary talent. Prendergast did note the editor of the Bee had some background in music. Prendergast appreciated his review:

“We thought we had heard the “Last Rose of Summer” twenty times, but feel confident that it has never been executed with the touching and tearful pathos which the fair vocalist infused in every line of that plaintive melody. . . .  Let it suffice that Catherine Hayes is all that her admirers have declared her – not Jenny Lind – not a Grisi – but though differing widely from both – a consummate artist, and one of the most delightful songstresses that has ever visited America.”

Ms. Hayes sang the Irish ballad, “Savourneen Deelish Eileen Oge,” “The Harp that through Tara’s Hall,” and “Kathleen Mavourneen.” She also performed traditional operatic numbers, such as “Come Per Me Sereno” from “La Sonnambula” and “Ah, Mons Fils,” from “La Prophete.” “Kathleen Mavourneen” became the singer’s signature song. Partly due to her American tour, the song became very popular in the U.S. Mavourneen is the anglicized version of the Irish phrase, mo mhuirnín which means “my beloved.”

The Daily Orleanian liked to refer to referred to Kate Hayes as the “Irish Sky Lark.”

Serenaded

Ms. Hayes was herself serenaded while in the city. One evening, a group of men from the Irish Benevolent societies sang to her beneath her window at the St. Louis Hotel. Another evening, men from the Irish militias serenaded the Swan of Erin. Lt. Castell, probably W.J. Castell, a well-known notary and Irishman in the City, organized one such serenade on behalf of the Irish militias. The men, after meeting with Ms. Hayes and her mother in her hotel room, described the singer, using an observation made by the author Thackeray about Irish women, “the most delightfully fascinating creature on God’s earth, is a highly accomplished Irish lady.”

Prendergast and the Daily Orleanian effused in their praise of her concerts, proclaiming the Armory Hall was full. But, the Daily Crescent mentioned that the cheaper seats were sometimes not all sold. Ms. Hayes charged $3, $2, and $1. The Crescent claimed that the cheaper seats were not all sold, because some patrons preferred not to attend if they could not sit in the better seats. The editor noted that the French Opera House, which generally sold all its seats throughout the winter season, charged only $1.50 per seat.

Ms. Hayes performed six concerts and brought a sweet taste of the old country to thousands of Irish immigrants. See Dictionary of Irish Biography for more information about Catherine Hayes here.

Sources:

Dictionary of Irish Biography

Sierra College article, https://www.sierracollege.edu/ejournals/jsnhb/v1n3/hayes.html, accessed June 20, 2021

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Feb. 18, 20, 24, 1852, p. 1, col. 1

New Orleans Daily Crescent, Feb. 26, 1852, p. 4, col. 4

New Orleans Daily Crescent, March 1, 1852, p. 2, col. 2