The Immigration Boom

A census conducted in 1851 placed the population of Ireland at 6,552,385, a loss of 20 percent from the numbers gathered in 1841, and a drop of around 2 million from an estimated population of 8.5 million when the potato blight struck in 1845. Some 1 million persons are calculated to have perished during the famine, while another 1.8 million emigrated from the country between 1845 and 1854. The vast majority of the latter flooded across the Atlantic Ocean to the United States and Canada where relief from their plight was hoped for, but by no means was guaranteed or always realized. As Hogan notes,

Up and down the Atlantic coast of North America in the late 1840s and early 1850s, ships discharged hundreds of thousands of refugees from the Irish Famine. Most of them chose to come to the United States. Impoverished and debilitated, some died at quarantine stations and were buried in unmarked graves far from the land of their birth. Those who survived tried to get their bearings while fending off an army of sharp practitioners whose only aim was to separate them from whatever valuables they had brought with them.57

Irish migrants arrived in a number of ports up and down the Atlantic Coast. Notable among them being New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans, Quebec City, and St. John in New Brunswick, Canada. New York City was foremost among these having witnessed some 892,000 Irish immigrants entering the country between 1847 and 1855, while Boston added another 130,000 between 1846 and 1855. Few newcomers immigrated to Connecticut directly. Hogan notes that only one vessel, the New London whaler Dromo, is recorded to have delivered Irish emigrants to Connecticut during the Famine era. This arrived in the summer of 1847 with 74 individuals from the port of Waterford, Ireland. A local newspaper highlighted the event and commented on the atypical character of the travelers’ good health as well as their elevated financial situation.58

Most immigrants, however, passed through the ports of entry listed above before making their way via steamship and railroad car to cities and towns across Connecticut. By the 1850s there were a variety of options available to those looking for passage to Connecticut, particularly from New York City. Hogan notes that,

By 1851, there was a daily afternoon steamboat from New York to Bridgeport; a Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday boat to Derby, and a daily evening boat direct to Hartford, all leaving from Pier 25. A daily evening boat for New Haven departed from Pier 24 and a daily evening boat for Stonington left from Pier 2, near Battery Place and Morris Street. In addition, there were four trains daily to New Haven, one additional to Bridgeport, one additional to Norwalk, all on the New York and New Haven Railroad, plus connecting trains running on the Housatonic Railroad from Bridgeport to towns in northwestern Connecticut. For bedraggled and impoverished emigrants who had been on the move for the better part of two months in their escape from Ireland, Connecticut was a nearby haven.59

As a result of the Famine exodus and Connecticut’s convenient accessibility from both New York and Boston, the state’s Irish-born population jumped from less than 5,000 in 1845, to 26,689 in 1850, and 55,445 by 1860. The latter comprised 7.2 and 12 percent of the state’s total population at the time, respectively. This growth impacted every corner of Connecticut. Hogan writes that, “By the 1850s, there was virtually no hamlet nor city in the state without an Irish neighborhood or at least an Irish family or two.”60

This is clearly evidenced by the distribution of subscription agents for the Boston Pilot, a widely-circulated and popular Irish- American newspaper, which maintained a presence in urban centers such as Bridgeport, Waterbury, and New London, as well as rural hamlets ranging from Andover to Sharon. U.S. census data provide additional evidence of this population distribution, which by 1850 included notable percentages of Irish residents in a broad selection of Connecticut cities and towns. This included 20 percent of the population of Waterbury, 12.9 percent of the population of Norwich, 10.8 percent of the population of Greenwich, 9.7 percent of the population of New London, and 8.5 and 8 percent of Seymour and Norwalk, respectively. As noted, even rural communities saw a notable contingent of Irish citizens, these comprising 4.6 percent of the population of Colchester, 3.7 percent of the population of Franklin, and 3.5 percent of the population of Branford by 1850.61

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