Irish Immigrants in the Land of Canaan: Letters and Memoirs from Colonial and Revolutionary America, 1675-1815

Irish Immigrants in the Land of Canaan: Letters and Memoirs from Colonial and Revolutionary America, 1675-1815

Irish Immigrants in the Land of Canaan: Letters and Memoirs from Colonial and Revolutionary America, 1675-1815

Irish Immigrants in the Land of Canaan: Letters and Memoirs from Colonial and Revolutionary America, 1675-1815

Synopsis

Irish Immigrants in the Land of Canaan is a monumental and pathbreaking study of early Irish Protestant and Catholic migration to America. Through exhaustive research and sensitive analyses of the letters, memoirs, and other writings, the authors describe the variety and vitality of early Irish immigrant experiences, ranging from those of frontier farmers and seaport workers to revolutionaries and loyalists. Largely through the migrants own words, it brings to life the networks, work, and experiences of these immigrants who shaped the formative stages of American society and its Irish communities. The authors explore why Irishmen and women left home and how they adapted to colonial and revolutionary America, in the process creating modern Irish and Irish-American identities on the two sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Excerpt

Research for this book began in a sense some thirty years ago, when Kerby Miller first searched for Irish immigrants' letters and memoirs in Irish and North American archives and libraries. In the process, he encountered three other scholars also interested in Irish immigration: Arnold Schrier, a pioneer in the discovery and interpretation of such manuscripts; Bruce Boling, a specialist in Celtic and Hiberno-English philology; and David Doyle, an eminent historian of Irish-America. Over the years we each became increasingly intrigued by early Irish migration to the New World—by its complexity and diversity, by the inherent fascination of the first emigrants' few surviving letters and memoirs, and by our growing conviction that some of those documents shed new light on the crucial, formative stages of modern Protestant and Catholic Irish and Irish-American societies and identities. As a result, in the late 1980swe began the formal collaboration that has resulted in this book.

The letters, memoirs, and other documents included here record the experiences and perspectives of men and women who left Ireland for North America between the 1660s—when the authors of the earliest extant letters emigrated—and 1815, when the end of the Napoleonic Wars inaugurated a substantially different migration. We located and selected for publication manuscripts that, we believed, were both historically representative and inherently interesting. Then we conducted extensive background research, in primary and secondary sources, so we could interpret the documents and situate their authors and recipients in historical contexts.

Each of the book's chapters focuses on one or more specific immigrants and on the documents they wrote or dictated. Thus, the chapters constitute a series of historical essays; each can stand alone, but together they represent at once the disparate character, the common themes, and the mosaiclike texture of early Irish migration.

We begin with chapters that focus on letters, written from Ireland, that illustrate the background and causes of emigration, followed by a second set of chapters that present documents that exemplify the processes of Irish migration to the New World. Four other parts follow in which the documents and their immigrant authors are arranged according to the latter's New World occupations: farming; skilled and unskilled labor; commerce . . .

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