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New York City: Irish Emigrants Taking a Bite of the Big Apple
New York was the main port to which Irish emigrants desired to travel, and that is evident in the number of people that were admitted into the New York City ports. According to Thomas Keneally, more than 850,000 Irish were admitted between 1847 and 1851 (“Three Famines” 176). These were the highest number of admitted Irish in the United States, which shows how popular this port became for them. This was surprising due to the Passenger Acts that raised the ship fares, but it proved that it either did not matter, or that people found ways around the regulations.
There were several places where immigrants would enter, but Castle Garden was the one mostly used. It became an official immigrant center in 1855 though the citizens of New York were complaining that it would “bring into a quiet part of the city a noisy population, without cleanliness, or sobriety, would endanger the health and good morals of the ward, and seriously affect the value of real-estate” (qtd. in Shrout 541). They were hesitant in receiving the immigrants, possibly because of the image that had been painted by the British newspapers. But eventually they admitted the Irish into their city, and let them become a large part of their population.
Ships came in from Ireland or England, and flocked around the New York ports. The majority stayed in the city instead of traveling further into the United States. On average, a “staggering average of 300 were disembarking daily, […] on some days more than 1,000 would arrive on a single tide” (Laxton 26). This number is interesting because it is so much larger than any other cities, and shows how much the city had to work in order to spend resources on these newly arrived famine victims. Therefore, there were quickly established Irish neighbourhoods all along the East River.
The Irish were not alone in wanting to emigrate during the famine years. According to Anelise H. Shrout, “Between 1847 and 1855, Irish immigrants comprised between 23% and 56% of all those entering the port of New York each year” (538). This large number of Irish arriving in New York proves how big of a strain it must have put on the New Yorkers and their resources. Both during the famine years and right after, there was a high need for a place like New York to develop a new life. New York became that sanctuary they were looking for, even though the conditions were not perfect. By 1855 the number of Irish New Yorkers consisted of one third of the total population.
Most emigrants thought that their struggles were over when they stepped off the ships in New York City. But it turned out that their problems had only just begun. As soon as they disembarked, they would be flocked by “gangs of ‘runners’, which were usually drawn from their own ethnic group,” (Gray, The Irish Famine 108). These runners would approach the sickly Irish and trick them into staying at certain establishments and stealing their baggage or even their money. Occasionally there would be runners committing fraud and tricking the Irish who wanted to travel inland.
If a ship arriving in New York contained too many sick Irish emigrants, the ship would be deemed infected and they would be “obliged to offload their sick at the Staten Island quarantine hospital and remain in quarantine for thirty days before landing at New York” (Gray, The Irish Famine 112). These quarantine stations were all over the different areas surrounding the ports. They were essential to the survival of the original population. Without it, the New Yorkers would be susceptible of getting whatever disease the immigrants were carrying. Of the 53,000 Irish who came to New York in 1847, most of them would be required to go through Staten Island. However, the diseases would still get to the New Yorkers since many of the Irish were released prematurely due to overflowing hospitals. But problems aside, New York was one of the most successful cities in admitting and helping the famine-stricken Irish.
Gray, Peter. The Irish Famine. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc Publishers, 1995. Print.
Keneally, Thomas. Three Famines: Starvation and Politics. New York: The Serpentine Publishing, 2011. Print.
Laxton, Edward. The Famine Ships: The Irish Exodus to America. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1996. Print.
Shrout, Anelise H. “The Famine and New York City.” Atlas of the Great Irish Famine. Ed. John Crowley, William J. Smyth, and Mike Murphy. New York: New York University Press, 2012. Print.
Researcher/Writer: Ellen-Marie Pedersen
Technical Designers: Derek Rachel and Amanda Lundeen