We know the Irish immigrants endured harassment and worse in New Orleans during the 1850’s. The Know Nothings achieved a great deal of influence in New Orleans during the ante-bellum years. In 1854, the American Party (aka Know Nothing party) killed two Irish men during harassment. The harassment was intended to suppress the Irish vote. The Irish generally supported the Democratic party. As the Whig party faded away, the American party succeeded to much of its ideology, but more so. In the 1854 election, the Know Nothing party gained control of City Hall. They forced out the Irish members of the police force. In 1856, violence erupted again and again, the American party candidate won City Hall.
But, how did the “average” New Orleanian feel toward the Irish? My family was part of the Irish community. No horror stories were passed down. But, does that mean some Irish avoided the bias? In her diary, Clara Solomon makes passing references to Irish New Orleanians. Her family was Middle class or upper middle class. Her father was Solomon Solomon, a merchant. The family also happened to be Jewish.
Mr. Solomon did not much care for the Irish. Yet, the family employed an Irish domestic, Ellen Deegan. They also had a domestic slave, Lucy. The family generally seemed fond of Ellen. Clara would complain when Ellen could not come to work, which occurred with some frequency.
When Mary, an Irish domestic for the Nathan family quit, Clara commented that her “thousand and one” aunts, uncles, and cousins desired her services at home. Clara was annoyed. She commented that Irish families tended to be large. She said the problem with Irish domestics was they tended to have “such a quantity of relations.” The Nathan family and the Solomon family lived close to each other and often visited with each other. Clara said she would miss Mary. Mary was an “estimable” girl, said the 17 year old.
Clara was engaging in some stereotyping. But, her comment actually rings true with my New Orleans, Irish ancestors. Four Price sisters all Irish, all married and all had children. It is remarkable that the four couples and their children did everything together. Two first cousins served in the same artillery regiment during the war. After the Civil War, if one cousin participated in some charity fund-raiser, there would always be another one or two other cousins also helping with the same fund-raiser.
The four families generally attended the same churches and the same schools. They always sponsored each other’s children in baptism. They even lived close to each other. Two sisters lived next door to each other. It was truly a community within a larger community.
In 1861, Solomon Solomon lost his temper, or almost so with the milk man. He was, said Clara, easily provoked when it came to Irishmen. The milk man gave Mr. Solomon too much change for a dollar. The father told him to leave. The Irish milk man said he would leave when he felt like it (emphasis Clara’s). As Clara said, that was impertinent. It was the Solomon house, not some public square. But, we can imagine how any Irish immigrant would feel when a landowner gets bossy. Most Irishmen would indeed push back. Mr. Solomon then ran inside the house. Clara thought he was going after his pistol. But, no, it was only to get his fire poker. Clara did not explain how this resolved itself, but she joins in. She said if she knew he was going after his poker, and not his pistol, she would have helped him. And, that was life for Irishmen in ante-bellum New Orleans.
Elliott Ashkenazi, ed., The Civil War Diary of Clara Solomon (Baton Rouge: LSU Press 1995), p. 53, 287.