New York–Launched a Nation of Immigrants!

Our “nation of immigrants” was launched into and from New York–over 82% of all immigrants entered America  through New York and its immediate environs.  Immigrants who entered through Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth, Rhode Island, New Haven, Connecticut, Canada  especially along the border with New York, Northern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and even Delaware flowed across New York from very early times.

And this blog will address this vital aspect of New York ancestry in the coming weeks.  If your ancestors were born in New York, the chances are very good that they were born to immigrant parents and descend from immigrant grandparents.  We’ll look at all the immigrant origins and their sources.

17 Mar 1762 is the official date for St Patrick’s Day celebrations in New York City, although there are evidences that 17 Mar was celebrated as early as 1737.  Speculations exist that Thomas Dongan, Governor of New York 1683-1688,  and a titled Irishman, might have celebrated the day with his cronies.

     “The anniversary Feast of St Patrick is to be celebrated on Wednesday the 17th instant, at the house of Mr. John Marshall, at Mount Pleasant, near the College; Gentlemen that please to attend will meet with the best Usage.”  New York Mercury, 15 Mar 1762.

From 1762 on, the newspapers announce or report on these annual celebrations of the Irish–first in New York City and later across the state.  See Hon. John D. Crimmins, Early Celebrations of St Patrick’s Day in New York and Other Places, 1737-1845.  New York:  1902.

New York City has been “heavily Irish” since at least 1798-99, following the arrival of Protestant exiles from the Revolt of 1798.  By 1816, more than 25,000 Irish were residents of the city boroughs–1/4 of the total population of the City.  After that date, thousands of Catholic Irish arrived every year until 1851, when almost one million Irish crowded through the Port of New York and spread across the state spilling over into the United States at large.  Seeking jobs.  Looking for a place to establish themselves.

These waves of immigrants from Ireland can be identified:

  1. Merchant Irish.  Grocers who peddled their wares on corners and from the backs of peddler wagons.  They moved into store-fronts in Irish neighborhoods.  They were married and brought their families with them.  These grocers were also bailbondsmen. By 1810, 1/3 of the sureties for Irishmen were grocers.
  2. Canal Irish.  The original overseer of the Erie Canal and its canal networks was an Irishman who imported his Irish diggers from England where they had been employed building canals in the northern British Isles.  Paid in cash and 1 quart of whiskey per day, these Irish were largely single men who later went home to marry.  Or brought their prospective brides here. Immigrant agents and shipping companies offered tickets to Ireland at reduced prices for round trips or the purchase of multiple tickets for other family members.
  3. Garment Irish.  Employed in the burgeoning garment and clothing industry, including ready-made clothes of fine silks and treated cottons–an industry New York City and its immediate environs is still noted for.
  4. Famine Irish.  Hoards of families fled from Ireland–the English and Irish governments even sponsored immigration to relieve the strain on their depleted resources.  From 1844 through 1853, more than 1.8 million people came from Ireland to America through the port of New York City alone!
  5. Railroad Irish.  Railroads were built across New York state (and many other states as well) drawing their workforce from unemployed Irish.  Railroad owners bragged that they could build “transportation routes to hell and back” given enough Irish and whiskey.
  6. Settlement Irish.  Families who sought to better their lives with lands and opportunities offered in New York.  Families came on their own or with groups sponsored by Irish immigrant associations.  Settlements in or near cities ensured job opportunities for laborers not yet used to farming.

Study Bibliography

Bayor, Ronald H., and Timothy J. Meagher, eds.  The New York Irish.  Baltimore MD:  Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996.  Massive and thorough examination of the Irish impact.  includes maps of each borough of New York City and the location of the Irish churches.

Brooklyn’s Green-Wood Cemetery.  Online index to more than 500,000 persons buried there.  You can search first name, surname.  Index gives name, date of interment, lot and section #s.  See also article in New York Researcher by Leslie Corn (Fall 2002/Winter 2003):  61-69 for very detailed instructions on how to find someone.

Goodrich, Victor B.  “Sending Money Home:  The Accounts of an Immigrant Financial Agent in Deposit, New York, 1851-1860,”  Tree Talks 32 (Dec 1992): 1-55.  Separate issue, #4.  Original ledger in the Deposit Historical Society archives.

Haberstroh, Diane Fitzpatrick, and Laura Murphy DeGrazia.  Voices of the Irish Immigrant:  Information Wanted Ads in Truth Teller, New York City, 1825-1844.  New York:  New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, 2005.  See also their article in the New York Researcher (formerly the New York Genealogical and Biographical Newsletter) (Summer 2005): 59 ff.

Kincaid, Roberta.  “Payments to People Involved in Building the Erie Canal, 1820-1821,”  Tree Talks 35 (Dec 2008).  Separate issue #4.  includes map showing completion dates of each section of the canal.  As each section was finished, it was opened to traffic.

Rich, Kevin J.  Irish Immigrants of the Emigrant Industrial Savings Bank, 1850-1853, Volume I.  1-2500 Accounts.  Volume II.  2501-7500 Accounts.  For the author: PO Box 158, Massapequa NY 11758-9998.  Entries transcribed from the original registers at the New York Genealogical and Biographical Society in spreadsheets.  These accounts are also available on microfilm through the Family History Library.

Silinonte, Joseph M.  Street Index to the 1892 New York State Census:  City of Brooklyn.  For the author:  7901-4 Avenue, #D, Brooklyn NY 11209.  Includes the 6th Ward, which was mostly Irish.

Stay tuned for a checklist of sources and how to use them in tracing an Irish pedigree in New York coming in the next episode of this blog.  Your favorite New York genealogist, Arlene Eakle

PS  If you have registered for any Family History Expos during 2010–I will be speaking at all of them so check my speaking schedule–send an email to  The original website, and its backup, crashed and has not been restored by the server company–yet.  Holly needs your registration information to ensure that you get in.  Very important to do this!

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