Irish Immigration to America: The Reasons for Irish Immigration to America
Why did people want to leave Ireland and why did they want to move to America? The reasons for the early Irish Immigration to America was to escape political and religious persecution. Dire poverty caused by natural disaster of the Irish Potato Famine forced people to emigrate from Ireland to seek a new life in the United States. Also refer to Examples of PUSH and PULL Factors of Irish Immigration.
Irish Immigration to America in the 1600's: Forced Migration - The Irish Slave Trade - Forced Indenture
English Law had been enforced in Ireland. The Irish population had been reduced by two thirds during Oliver Cromwell's Protestant rule as Irish were killed in battle or sent to work as virtual slaves on plantations in the islands in the Caribbean. From 1641 to 1652, over 300,000 Irish people were sold as slaves. The Irish 'slave trade' expanded to Virginia and New England, and then to other colonies. Unlike their African counterparts, the period in slavery for the Irish was limited, lasting from 7 to 20 years. The Irish 'slave trade' continued up to 1834 when Britain abolished slavery in its colonies. The first Irish Immigration to America therefore started with the forced migration of the Irish race as involuntary indentured servants.
Irish Immigration to America in the 1700's
Voluntary Irish Immigration to America began with a small trickle of immigrants in the 1700's. In 1695 stringent Anti-Catholic Penal Laws were introduced and by the early 1700's Irish Catholics held just 7% of land in Ireland. British laws prevented Catholics from freely emigrating to America. Irish emigrants during the 1700s were therefore mostly Presbyterians from the north of Ireland, who are referred to as "Scots-Irish." Some agreed to work as indentured servants without pay up to 5 - 7 years in return for free passage.
Scots Irish Immigration to America in the 1700's: The Scots-Irish
The largest proportion of the early Irish Immigration to America in the 1700's consisted of "Scots-Irish" settlers. The Scots-Irish people had originated in Scotland but had fled from their native Scottish lowlands to the Ulster region of Northern Ireland to escape religious prosecution. The Scots-Irish hated living under British rule and turned to the cheap lands and freedom of America. In 1745, Colonel James Patten from Donegal, Ireland, obtained 100,000 acres in the 'Backcountry' covering the Blue Ridge mountains and the Appalachia regions and sold plots of land to other Scots-Irish settlers. For additional facts and history refer to Scots Irish Immigration to America.
Irish Immigration to America in the 1700's: Statistics
Statistics relating to Irish Immigration to America estimate that nearly half a million people had originated in Ireland. Of these, some two-thirds are thought to have originated as Scots Irish in the province of Ulster. In the 1740s the Irish made up 9 out of 10 indentured servants in some of the colonies.
Irish Immigration to America in the 1700's: The War of Independence
The Irish Immigration to America played a significant role during the American War of Independence (1775–1783). The Irish had no love for the British and fought passionately in the war fighting against British tyranny and for freedom and justice. General Robert E. Lee famously quoted that "half the rebel Continental Army were from Ireland." Many of Washington's most trusted generals were of Irish descent and led Irish brigades at most of the battles including Gettysburg and Fredericksburg. Irish Americans were amongst those who signed the most important foundational documents of the United States - the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. The Irishmen who signed the Declaration of Independence included Carroll, Smith, Hancock, Taylor, Thornton, Lynch, McKean, Rutledge, Read and Whipple. In 1784 Lord Mountjoy stated in the British parliament that "America was lost by Irish emigrants..."
Irish Immigration to America in the 1800's: The Voyage to America - the Emigrant Ships
Many of the Anti-Catholic Penal Laws were repealed in the 1790's and Catholic Irish were able to immigrate to America. Irish Immigration to America significantly increased in the early 1800's, inspired by the American ideals of "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness". Shipping company agents placed immigration advertisements in Irish newspapers and journals. Posters were displayed in Irish towns and villages. Irish immigrants in the early 1800's undertook the voyage on sailing ships which took anything up to 3 months. Immigrants left from ports all over Ireland including Derry, Cork, Limerick and Galway. Many were offered free passage from Ireland to Liverpool where the majority of ships bound for America started their voyage. The Irish emigrants to America always traveled in the cheap Steerage Class. The conditions on the emigrant sailing ships were dreadful due to overcrowding and cramped accommodation - up to 1000 emigrants were crowded into steerage. Steerage contained 2 or 3 tiers of wooden bunks, 6 ft. long by 6 ft. wide, that were shared by 4 emigrants. The horrendous journeys were made worse by sea sickness and the crowded, unsanitary conditions also led to outbreaks of cholera and typhus.
Irish Immigration to America in the 1800's: Canals, Roads, Railways and Mines
The early 1800's marked the beginning of the Industrialization of America and the age of steam power and the railways. Irish Immigration to America increased with the rising numbers of jobs for cheap, unskilled laborers. Anti-Catholic, particularly anti–Irish Catholic, feelings led to the formation of the American or Know-Nothing Party. The Irishmen provided the backbreaking labor to build the canals, roads and railways of America and were in great demand. American contractors placed advertisements in Irish newspapers advertising vacancies for big construction projects for a dollar-a-day. Other Irish workers went to the coal mines of Pennsylvania.
Irish Immigration to America in the 1800's: Irish Potato Famine
Irish Immigration to America in the 1800's rocketed as Ireland was devastated by the Irish Potato Famine (1845-1849) and the potatoes in the fields of Ireland turned black and rotted in the ground. The devastation of the Irish Potato Famine, the 'Great Hunger' is hard to imagine. People were faced with death by starvation. Thousands of men, women and children resembled skeletons with wasted limbs and emaciated faces. Ireland was filled by the endless crying of malnourished, starving children. The Irish Potato Famine led to terrible associated diseases such as typhus and dysentery. Highly contagious typhus was named the 'Black Fever' as it blackened the skin. The Irish Potato Famine was made even worse by unusually harsh weather conditions as Ireland was subjected to bitter cold gales of snow, sleet and hail. The only escape was to emigrate to America. During the period of the Irish Potato Famine, between 1845-1849 the population of Ireland dropped from 8 million to 6 million due to death from starvation or emigration. The Irish Immigration to America during this terrible period of history was made on what were called the " Famine Ships" or the "Coffin Ships".
Irish Immigration to America in the 1800's: Irish Potato Famine - Coffin Ships and the American Wake
A massive number of people were forced to join the Immigration to America during the Irish Potato Famine making the voyage on on what were called the " Famine Ships" or the "Coffin Ships". Many of the immigrants never reached their destination due to starvation, black fever or other diseases - the ships became their coffins. The ritual known as the 'American Wake' was introduced. It was a wake for the living as the departure to America was seen as a kind of death. In the 1840s, the immigrants from Ireland constituted nearly half of all immigrants to the United States. Most were poor and educated and found work laboring on the new transportation systems or in the coal mines of Pennsylvania. By 1850 nearly one million Irish, including a large number of Catholics, emigrated to the United States, nearly half of all immigrants to the nation. Anti-Irish and Anti-Catholic, feelings led to the formation of the Know-Nothing Party.
Irish Immigration to America in the 1800's: The Panic of 1873 and the Long Depression
The financial Panic of 1873 led to the period in American history known Long Depression, which lasted for six years and resulted in economic hardships, protests, demonstrations and the first nationwide strikes. The Molly Maguires, a militant, secret society of Irishmen were involved in strike in the coal mines of Pennsylvania.
Irish Immigration to America in the 1800's: The Molly Maguires
Irish Immigration to America in the 1800's resulted in many Irishmen working in the dangerous and appalling conditions of the Pennsylvania coal fields. The Molly Maguires became involved in a bitter dispute with the coal companies called the 'Long Strike of 1875'. Only Irishmen or American-Irish were permitted to join the Molly Maguires. They were striking for fair treatment, safer working conditions and the end of child labor. The 'Long Strike of 1875' turned to violence and 60 Molly Maguires were arrested. On June 21, 1877, twenty members of the Molly Maguires were unjustly hanged for murder, and later received posthumous pardons. The trials attracted hostile newspaper coverage towards the Irish contributing to strong anti-immigrant sentiments, prejudice and discrimination.
Irish Immigration to America in the 1800's: US Immigration Laws and Ellis Island
Immigrants were blamed for the high levels of unemployment following the Panic of 1873 as nearly 1 in 8 Americans became unemployed. Calls for the government to curb Immigration began. There was a resurgence of Nativism in America in the late 1800's by which Americans believed the interests of native-born residents should be given a favor over new immigrants. Immigration to America was restricted by the 1882 Immigration Act and a 'head tax' of 50 cents was imposed on all immigrants landing at US ports. The 1891 Immigration Act regulating the inspection and deportation of immigrants. On January 1, 1892 Ellis Island immigration center was opened.
Irish Immigration to America in the 1800's: Ellis Island
Irish Immigration to America was only possible if migrants passed inspection at the Ellis Island Immigration Center (1892 - 1954).
*** The Ellis Island Immigration Center was situated in New York Bay and served as the inspection station for immigrants from Europe, including Ireland
*** Irish Immigration to America began as emigrants from Ireland were first greeted with the sight of the Statue of Liberty and were then taken on to Ellis Island for legal and medical and legal inspection
*** Failure to pass the Ellis Island examinations would lead to separation from family and deportation back to Ireland
*** Men were separated from their families and all immigrants had to pass mental and physical medical examinations
*** The immigrants were then herded to the Registry Room for the Ellis Island legal inspection where it was decided whether they should be admitted to America
*** Although less than 2% of Irish immigrants were turned away, it was a terrible ordeal for all those who faced inspection at Ellis Island
Irish Immigration to America in the 1800's: Another Economic Depression
The financial Panic of 1893 led to another 4 year economic depression with 20% rate in unemployment. Demonstration and protests erupted and there was a massive backlash against immigration and the government was forced to take action to restrict immigration still further by passing the 1907 Immigration Act. Between 1901 and 1910 a total of 8,795,386 immigrants arrived in the United States.
Irish Immigration to America in the 1900's: Prejudice and Discrimination
Prejudice and Discrimination had followed the Irish Immigration to America, especially against those who adhered to the Catholic religion. The massive Irish presence across the nation and the political power they held the cities concerned many Americans who had been highly influenced by the British aristocracy's view that the Irish were ignorant, uneducated and volatile people who had to be kept under control. The belief in Nativism fuelled prejudice and discrimination against immigrants from Ireland and led to xenophobia, the irrational fear of foreigners leading to racism and ethnic conflict. The US government had passed laws restricting immigration which appeared to support and sanction Nativism. The prejudice and discrimination towards Irish Immigration to America was based on the fear of foreigners, unemployment, the Catholic religion and customs. The integration of Irish migrants with Americans was slow, due to the establishment of the "Irish" neighborhoods in the towns and cities and the prejudice of American workers fearful of losing their jobs.
Irish Immigration to America in the 1900's to Present
Irish Immigration to America slowly dwindled in the early 1900's. The 1921 Emergency Quota Act used a percentage system to establish limits and restrict the number of immigrants from a given country. The 1924 Immigration Act (Johnson-Reed Act) restricted the number of immigrants from a given country to 2% of the number of residents from that same country living in the United States, however, 87% of permits went to the "old immigrants" from Britain, Ireland, Germany, and Scandinavia. The law was repealed in the 1965 Hart-Cellar Act.
Irish Immigration to America in the 1900's to Present: Statistics
Over 7 million Irish people immigrated to the United States, the majority of which were Catholic. It is estimated that 40 million Americans can trace their ancestry to Ireland and nearly all the population of Ireland have relatives in the United States.
Irish Immigration to America Facts Sheet and Timeline for kids
Important facts about the history of Irish Immigration to America and US laws that effected the migrants from Ireland are contained in the following Facts Sheet and history timeline.
Irish Immigration to America Facts Sheet and Timeline for kids
Fact 1 - 1695: Anti-Catholic Penal Laws were introduced - Catholics hold just 7% of land in Ireland
Fact 2 - 1600's: Forced immigration to the British colonies as involuntary indentured servants
Fact 3 - 1775: Many migrants fight for liberty in the American War of Independence (1775–1783)
Fact 4 - 1790: The Anti-Catholic Penal Laws were repealed
Fact 5 - 1845: The Irish Potato Famine (1845-1849) sees a massive increase of immigrants
Fact 6 - 1873: The Panic of 1873 led to the six year Long Depression that led to civil unrest and strikes. Anti-immigrant sentiment increased
Fact 7 - 1875: The Molly Maguires and the 'Long Strike of 1875'
Fact 8 - 1877: 20 members of the Molly Maguires were unjustly hanged for murder. Hostile Newspaper coverage led to discrimination and prejudice.
Fact 9 - 1882: The 1882 Immigration Act was passed restricting immigration
Fact 10 - 1886: The Statue of Liberty was dedicated in New York Harbor, the landmark for all immigrants from Ireland
Fact 11 - 1891: The 1891 Immigration Act regulated the inspection and deportation of immigrants.
Fact 12 - 1892: The Ellis Island immigration center was opened where immigrants from Europe, including Ireland, were subjected to medical and legal examinations
Fact 13 - 1893: The economic Panic of 1893 led to more discrimination and prejudice
Fact 14 - 1921: The 1921 Emergency Quota Act used of percentage system to restrict the number of immigrants
Fact 15 - 1924: The Immigration Act of 1924 restricted immigration further. 87% of entry permits went to immigrants from Britain, Ireland, Germany, and Scandinavia
Fact 16 - 1965: The Hart-Cellar Act lifted restrictions on immigration.
Irish Immigration to America Facts Sheet and Timeline
Push and Pull Factors of Irish Immigration to America for kids
For specific examples and a list of political, economic, environmental and social reasons and push and pull factors of Irish Immigration to America refer to:
Push and Pull Factors of Irish Immigration
Irish Immigration to America for kids
This article contains a brief overview of Irish Immigration to America from the first Immigrants through the 1800's and 1900's. Important historical events have been highlighted which had a significant impact on Irish Immigration to America. A brief description of the effect of the first immigrants from Ireland. Our article on Irish Immigration to America also outlines subjects such as the Potato Famine, the Molly Maguires, prejudice and discrimination. A helpful educational resource for kids on the subject of Irish Immigration to America.
Irish Immigration to America for Kids, Schools and Homework
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*** Brief Facts about Irish Immigration to America - dates, numbers, law, history, reasons, impact and effect
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*** Irish Immigration to America - important events in the history of America that impacted migrants from Ireland
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