Irish Grocers in Alexandria (1850-1880)

In most historical analyses of the Reconstruction Period (1865-1877), the southern economy is often described as devastated due to the war.  This argument, however, is far too simplistic.  In Alexandria, Virginia, Irish grocers did well financially from 1860 to 1870 based on census data.  Although the majority of Irish in Alexandria were laborers when the 1850 U.S. Census was taken, there was a significant increase in Irish grocers in 1860 and and again in 1870. And many of these families also became wealthy during the decade.

Irish Grocers in Alexandria, Virginia, 1850-1880

Year Number of Grocers Value of Property
1850 0 $0
1860 16 $93,020
1870 31 $156,700
1880 14 Not Listed

The 1850 U.S. Census for Alexandria reported that most of the Irish workforce were employed as laborers; there were no reports of Irish grocers. Most Irish laborers had no assets of value, which indicated their poverty. By 1860, one year before the Civil War, the U.S. Census reported 16 Irish grocers, a noticeable number considering a decade ago there were none.  A majority of these grocers listed assets at $1,000 or more.

In 1870, the U.S. Census reported 31 Irish grocers in Alexandria, a doubling over the previous reporting. The value of property listed also demonstrated that not only were these grocers prosperous, but also they had accumulated wealth during wartime. At least for one individual–Michael Harlow–was able to change his economic situation during the 1860s and become well-to-do.  In 1860, Michael Harlow was listed as a laborer with no assets (NOTE: almost all laborers had assets valued at $0 in 1860 and 1870). A decade later Michael Harlow was listed as a grocer and his property was valued at $10,000. Harlow’s success was also passed down to his sons. Michael B. Harlow Jr. became the city’s Treasurer and President of the Catholic Beneficiary Society. H.M. Harlow became a grocer and joined the Executive Committee of Liquor Dealers. The status of this family’s second generation symbolizes the economic potential and acceptance of Irish in the South.

Irish Merchants in Alexandria, Virginia, 1850-1880

Year Number of Merchants Value of Property ($)
1850 18 142,000
1860 2 150
1870 0 0
1880 15 Not Listed

Additionally, it is important to note is the relationship between the terms grocers and merchants in the 1850 U.S. Census. In 1850, there were no grocers and 18 Irish merchants. A decade later. the U.S. Census reported 16 grocers and only 2 merchants. Many of the grocers listed in 1860 were merchants in 1850.   Two examples are Thomas Burns and Thomas Davy. They were  financially successful business owners, and increased their property over the course of the decade. By 1870, the U.S. Census listed 31 grocers, the highest number of Irish grocers from 1850 to 1880, and no merchants.

There are several reasons why the number of grocers dropped to 14 in Alexandria by 1880. Based on the U.S. Census, the second generation began running these stores as their parents–the immigrant generation–retired.  There were also other immigrants–Germans and English–who opened similar establishments.  At least in Alexandria, grocery stores were one of the few small business options open to immigrants and their offspring.

Female Occupations Throughout the Years

When comparing the four U.S. Censuses from 1850 through 1880, there were not large numbers of Irish immigrant women living in Alexandria, Virginia at first. In 1850, there were only 85 females; however, there were 345 females recorded ten years later. This surge in the number of Irish immigrant women was tied to jobs, not necessarily for their fathers or husbands, but for themselves.

The 1850 U.S. Census does not give the occupations that women held. 1860 was the first year the census kept track of female occupations, along with how much money they had. Many of the positions they filled were jobs that were extensions of what was seen as “women’s work”– washerwomen, domestics, and seamstresses.

In the 1870 U.S. Census, a handful of women were listed to be clerks in stores and grocers. 49 Irish immigrant women would be keeping house; these women were married and were at home taking care of their family.  12 women had “at home” written next to their names, meaning that they lived with their families though they were not in charge of caring for them. At least one individual inherited money.  In 1870, Margaret Purcell, married to Richard, had $2,000 next to her name.

In the 1880 U.S. Census, almost every grown woman either had a job or, if married, kept house. Whether in their own home or someone else’s, Irish immigrant women worked in some form of domestic labor. A few had other jobs, such as small business owners.

From 1850-1880, information for around 600 Irish immigrant women living in Alexandria, Virginia was collected.  Many of these women–young and single–worked to support themselves.  Older, married women, however, tended to care for their families.  A few outliers owned their own businesses, worked in stores, or had large amounts of property.

Irish Labor Patterns in Alexandria, VA from 1850-1880

A close analysis of the US Census for Alexandria, Virginia from 1850-1880 points to a variety of occupations held by Irish immigrants. The following table lists the number of Irish immigrants with the following occupations:1

Irish Immigrant Occupations in Alexandria, Virginia, 1850s-1880s

Occupation

# of Irish immigrants listed with occupation in 1850 In 1860 In 1870 In 1880

laborer

45

219 17 3

domestic servant

n/a

32

3 2
grocer/clerk/merchant/shopkeeper

8

17 15

6

Other* 29 101 18

19

* This includes a variety of semiskilled occupations and trades, artisanal work, and professional work (i.e. blacksmiths, silversmiths, tailors, fishermen, farmers, carpenters, etc.).

The numbers above are skewed because more information was reported in the 1860 U.S. Census in comparison to the three other years; there were also many more Irish immigrants in Alexandria in 1860.  Census data from the antebellum period mostly listed Irish immigrant men as laborers. There are several exceptions; for example, in the 1850 US Census, John Richards was listed as a physician with property worth $5000.By 1860, there was a small yet noticeable spike in the number of Irish immigrants who worked as grocers, shopkeepers, clerks, or merchants. A large number of Irish immigrants were artisans and craftsmen–blacksmiths, tailors, carpenters, and tanners, among others. Many single, young adult women also were shown as working as domestic servants and seamstresses, particularly in 1860.  No female occupations was included in 1850.3

In the post-war censuses, Irish immigrants moved toward more skilled occupations, trades, small businesses, and white collar professions. One interesting trend are the number of Irish grocers and merchants listed in the 1870 U.S. Census whose property values increased since the last census.  Married Irish women were also noted as keeping house as their occupation, signaling that they no longer worked outside the home or perhaps worked only episodically.

Occupational trends reflect how Irish immigrants melded into the American workforce during the mid-nineteenth century. Starting as unskilled laborers, Irish immigrants–followed by their children and grandchildren–were able to move into more professionalized and skilled work as the century progressed. Irish women, once used to working in order to support themselves and their families, found themselves assuming the role of wife and mother after marriage. Irish workers’ shifting roles in Alexandria’s economy indicates their status as “Americanized” citizens.

1 Krystyn R. Moon, “1850-1880 US Census Data for Alexandria, Virginia,” Unpublished Spreadsheets (2014).

2 “1850 US Census Data for Alexandria, Virginia.”

3 “1860 US Census Data for Alexandria, Virginia.”

Work and Irish Immigration

For members of any immigrant group, one of the most important distinctions for an individual is where they work.  This sentiment was no different for Irish immigrants in the U.S. South in the mid-to-late 19th century.  What is astonishing is how quickly and to what extent Irish occupations transformed in a period of only thirty years.  While not all Irish worked, it can be said that there is a visible shift from unskilled work to artisanal jobs, small business ownership, and even white-collar positions over the period from 1850 to 1880. In the 1850 U.S. Census, many Irish-born men were listed simply as laborers, but by 1880, they were moving into the middle classes.  Caution must be taken, however, when looking at this data. For the most part, those immigrants present in the 1850 U.S. Census were absent in later ones for Alexandria.  Still, by looking at the number of Irish-born within each type of occupation, it is possible to see some upward mobility among these immigrants.

The 1850 U.S. Census for Alexandria shows a large number of Irish immigrant men listed simply as “laborers.”  There are also a few outliers with jobs such as “merchant,” “blacksmith,” or “physician.” Unfortunately, due to the term being used rather loosely, it is impossible to know exactly what type of laborers these men were; however, based on other histories of Alexandria, they probably worked on the newly constructed canal or in railroad construction.  Sadly, women’s jobs were not recorded, so it is impossible to know exactly what percentage of women worked outside the home or episodically through the census.  In Irish in the South, David T. Gleeson contends that in other areas of the South, a handful of Irish women could get jobs as teachers, but an overwhelming majority worked as domestics.1

Irish Immigrant Occupations in Alexandria, Virginia based on the 1850 U.S. Census*

 Occupation Number Percentage
Laborer 41 47.12%
Unskilled/Semi-skilled 2 2.3%
Skilled/Artisan 21 24.14%
Other 19 21.84%
Unemployed/Unknown 4 4.6%
Total 87 100%

*The occupations listed in the table above and elsewhere in this blog post were based on Gleeson’s research; however, in an effort to maintain simplicity, any job that was not listed as “laborer” and did not directly fall under one of the above categories was listed under “Other.”

In 1860, the jobs were fairly similar; however, a sizable number of grocers appeared in the U.S. Census for the first time.  The number of skilled artisans also increased.  Women’s jobs were also recorded, most of whom worked as domestics.  It is important to consider the fact that the number of Irish immigrants living in Alexandria also increased between 1850 and 1860, so when determining the number of immigrants in each type of job, the percentages are arguably more important than the numbers.

Irish Immigrant Occupations in Alexandria, Virginia based on the 1860 U.S. Census

 Occupation Number Percentage
Laborer 219 (male); 0 (female) 66.36% (male); 0% (female)
Unskilled/Semi-skilled 19 (male); 0 (female) 5.76% (male); 0% (female)
Skilled/Artisan 44 (male); 0 (female) 13.33% (male); 0% (female)
Domestic 0 (male); 38 (female) 0% (male) 61.3% (female)
Other 48 (male); 16 (female) 14.55% (male); 25.8% (female)
Unemployed/Unknown 0 (male); 8 (female) 0% (male); 12.9% (female)
Total 330% (male); 62% (female) 100% (male); 100% (female)

By the 1870 U.S. Census, the number of Irish-born immigrants living in Alexandria had decreased significantly, most likely because of the Civil War.  Yet, the types of occupations that Irish immigrants held are still important. There are many more women listed as domestics than in 1860, and they outnumber working men.  The number of laborers is about even with skilled artisans, grocers, and professionals.

Irish Immigrant Occupations in Alexandria, Virginia based on the 1870 U.S. Census

 Occupation Number Percentage
Skilled 4 (male); 0 (female) 12.12% (male); 0% (female)
Unskilled/Semi-skilled 2 (male); 0 (female) 6.06% (male); 0% (female)
Laborer 8 (male); 0 (female) 24.24% (male); 0% (female)
Domestic 0 (male); 32 (female) 0% (male); 76.19% (female)
Other 18 (male); 5 (female) 54.54% (male); 11.9% (female)
Unemployed/Unknown 1 (male); 5 (female) 3.03% (male); 11.9% (female)
Total 33 (male); 42 (female) 100% (male); 100% (female)

Finally, in the 1880 U.S. Census for Alexandria, only five Irish immigrants were listed as laborers, although many others held unskilled occupations that were included in the census. Still, a large number of men held skilled positions, white-collar occupations, or owned a business.  For women, the majority of those who worked outside the home were still domestics.

Irish Immigrant Occupations in Alexandria, Virginia based on the 1880 U.S. Census

Number Percentage
Skilled 2 (male); 0 (female) 8.33% (male); 0% (female)
Unskilled/Semi-skilled 1 (male); 0 (female) 4.17% (male); 0% (female)
Laborer 5 (male); 0 (female) 20.83% (male); 0% (female)
Domestic 0 (male); 27 (female) 0% (male); 72.97% (female)
Other 15 (male); 7 (female) 62.5% (male); 18.92% (female)
Unemployed/Unknown 1 (male); 3 (female) 4.17% (male); 8.11% (female)
Total 24 (male); 37 (female) 100% (male); 100% (female)

Although it is difficult to fully analyze the occupations that these immigrants held across several decades, it is still interesting to see how the workforce changed in the mid-nineteenth century.  After the Civil War, fewer than ten percent of male occupations were unskilled, while the percentage of men entering the middle class increased.  Single women working outside the home also continued to expand.  In the end, the changes in occupations listed in the U.S. Census speaks to shifts in the local economy as well as the Irish immigrant population.

  1. David T. Gleeson, Irish in the South (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 42.

 

 

 

 

 

Irish Loyalties in the Civil War

The Civil War brought violence and upheaval to countless locales throughout the United States, which–in turn–caused large movements of the population. One place in particular that experienced massive waves of migration because of the war was Alexandria, Virginia. While looking through Alexandria’s census data from 1860, I began to wonder if the loyalties of individuals was the driving force behind their decision to stay in the city or to leave, especially among the city’s Irish population. The strategic location of Alexandria attracted the attention of Union forces, which occupied the city in late May 1861.  It remained under Union control until the close of the war.  The needs of the Union Army combined with large numbers of African American refugees was a potential business opportunity, and those Irish who stayed might be able to make a handsome profit.

In David T. Gleeson’s The Irish in the South, 1815-1877, he argues that a majority of the Irish immigrants in the region joined the Confederate cause because they viewed the North as an oppressive force, much like England.  They were also invested in slavery, a system which they felt guaranteed white privilege in spite of their outsider status and limited job opportunities.1

So who were these Irish immigrants who chose to stay in Union-controlled Alexandria? A quick online search for Union and Confederate supporters in Alexandria led me to Alexandria’s Public Library website, which includes a transcription of the Union Oath of Allegiance, a document that local whites were asked to sign as a pledge to the Union cause, and a list of signatures. The list can be found here. Comparing the Oath to the 1860 U.S. census, I found only 13 out of 57 Irish immigrants had signed. This list does not take into account the people who might have fled from Union-occupied Alexandria in the years between the 1860 U.S. Census and the signing of the Oath.  Others might have signed up to serve in the Confederate cause or were drafted into the Union Army.

Irish Immigrants who Signed Oath

Name                           Age      Sex    Race      Occupation    Value of Prop.  Country of Origin

                                       Flood, John              45      M      W         Laborer              $1,150            Ireland
Graham, Charles      70      M      W         Grocer                $11,000          Ireland
Lynch, John              35      M      W         Laborer              $1,500            Ireland
Meaghor, Elizabeth  42      F       W        Grocer                 $1,800            Ireland
Moran, Anthony       52      M      W        Sailor                   $3,000           Ireland
Murphy, Thomas      33      M      W        Drayman              $500              Ireland
Nugent, Owen         36      M      W        Grocer                  $300              Ireland
O’Leary, Cornelius    45      M      W        Porter                   $525             Ireland
Roach, James           28      M      W        Laborer                 $0                 Ireland
Swain, Stephen       41      M      W        Master Carpenter  $1,350          Ireland
Taylor, George P.      37      M      W        Laborer                  $830            Ireland
Vaccari, Rose           64      F       W       Grocer                    $4,120          Ireland
Walsh, John             60     M       W       Grocer                    $1,000           Ireland

Five out of the thirteen who signed had listed “grocer” as their profession. In a city with an influx African American refugees and Union soldiers, it is likely that these grocers catered to these populations as well as local residents–both black and white–who decided to stay. Others who signed the oath might have benefited similarly. Some of these men and women might have also had pro-Union or abolitionist leanings; however, more research will need to be conducted to ascertain their political beliefs.

David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South, 1815-1877 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001).

The Vaccari Family

Among the mundane data found in the U.S. Census, there are bits of information that are too intriguing for a historian to pass up. That was the case when I found Frederick and Rose Vaccari listed in the 1850 U.S. Census for Alexandria, Virginia.[1] Frederick, who was born in Tuscany, was listed as a “mariner” worth $2,000. Rose, who was four-years older than Frederick, had emigrated from Ireland. Although it is not uncommon for Italian and Irish immigrants to intermarry, finding such a couple in antebellum Alexandria seemed unique.

Based on scant online records, Frederick was a local shipmaster, living in Alexandria by 1830 at present-day 115 Prince Street (then known as 25 Prince Street) on Captain’s Row. In 1833, he was listed as manumitting Ann Berry, a slave whom he had bought from Henry Chatham.[2] That same year, Ann gave birth to a child, Mary Catherine, who was named after one of Vaccari’s daughters. Mary Catherine was supposed to be freed like her mother based on conditions set by a previous owner; however, Mary Catherine was sold to James S. Simpson, an agent for a slave trader. For more information on what happened to Mary Catherine, see the Library of Virginia’s Out of the Box Blog.[3]

Upon further sleuthing, I also discovered the obituary for Rose on July 9, 1886 in the Washington Post (see below) and the headstones for both Frederick and Rose at Saint Mary’s Catholic Church Cemetery in Alexandria.[4] Rose was originally from Belfast, Ireland, and though from the north, she was Catholic.   After her husband’s death in 1858, Rose became a grocer, increasing her family’s property value to $4,120 by 1860. During the Civil War, she remained in Alexandria working as a “merchant” and signing the Oath of Allegiance to the Union. Her brother, Hugh Latham, became mayor after the Civil War from 1866-1868 and then 1869-1872 (he was replaced briefly from 1868-1869 by the military.[5] The Vaccari and Latham families—while Catholic immigrants—were accepted members of Alexandria’s white elite by the mid-nineteenth century.

 Vaccari Image 1

By the 1870 and 1880 U.S. Censuses, Rose had retired from running her store. In 1870, she was still head of her household, although her occupation was “keeping house.” Her property was worth $4,700. Ten years later, she was living with her nephew, R. M. Latham, who married her grand daughter, also named Rose in 1867.[6] He worked as a jeweler and lived on King Street with his family.

Rose died on July 8, 1886 at the age of ninety. In her will, which was contested among her relatives, she divided her property between her two daughters.[7]

No doubt, there is more to the Vaccari story yet to be uncovered!!!

[1] 1850 U.S. Census, Alexandria Virginia; https://archive.org/stream/populationschedu0932unix#page/n691/mode/1up.  Information from the 1860, 1870, and 1880 censuses were also used throughout this post.

[2] “Slave Manumissions in Alexandria Land Records, 1790-1863,” http://www.freedmenscemetery.org/resources/documents/manumissions.shtml (accessed September 17, 2014).

[3] Bari Helms, “12 Years a Slave,” Out of the Box: Notes from the Archives @ the Library of Virginia,” http://www.virginiamemory.com/blogs/out_of_the_box/2013/12/04/12-years-a-slave/ (accessed September 17, 20114).

[4] “Alexandria,” Washington Post July 9, 1886.

[5] “Discovering the 1860s,” Historic Alexandria, City of Alexandria; http://alexandriava.gov/historic/info/default.aspx?id=28414 (accessed September 17, 2014).

[6] “Alexandria Items,” Evening Star (Washington, D.C.) 16 May 1867, 9.

[7] Chancery Cases: Emanuel Francis vs. Rosa C. Latham, et al., Virginia Memory: Chancery Records Index–510-1894-012; http://www.lva.virginia.gov/chancery/case_detail.asp?CFN=510-1894-012 (accessed September 17, 2014).

 

 

Irish Immigrants in 1850s Alexandria, Virginia

In a conversation with someone about Irish immigration, it is unlikely that he or she would see Alexandria, Virginia as a major hub in the mid-nineteenth century. Popular understandings of U.S. immigration history looks at places such as New York City and Boston. This popular narrative completely ignores the presence of the Irish in the South and, in turn, Alexandria. Through an examination of the 1850 U.S. Census, however, one finds that Alexandria did play a role in the lives of several Irish immigrants, both rich and poor.

Alexandria’s 1850 U.S. Census data proves that many immigrants settled there, often in family units with little to no money or property. Out of the eighty-eight family units that included at least one Irish immigrant, the average property value for each “family” was around $1,561. While this may seem like a fair amount of money, $135,000 of the total $137,400 came from only fifteen families. The average property value of the remaining seventy-five households was $32. As the table below illustrates, there is a sizable wealth gap among Irish immigrants. While one-fifth of the family units have a property valued over $2,000, the rest have property valued at $0.

Irish Immigrants’ Wealth in Alexandria Based on the 1850 U.S. Census

Property in Dollars

No. of Irish Families

$0

69

$10-99

0
$100-499

2

$500-999

2

$1,000-1,999

2
$2,000 or more

13

Total Households

88

 

The lack of property among the Irish, as demonstrated in the table above, was also tied to occupations. Despite coming from a mostly agrarian society, an overwhelming majority of Irish immigrants avoided farming and pursued jobs related to local public works projects. As David T. Gleeson explains in his book The Irish in the South, 1815-1877, part of the reasoning for the switch in occupation was the fact that most Irish families did not have the money to run their own farms.1  They also felt that agriculture was an unreliable occupation and potentially as oppressive as it was in their homeland.2 Instead, as the table below demonstrates, a large number of Irish, working age males found in the 1850 U.S. Census had jobs  laborers, probably working on railroad construction or canal building.

Jobs of Working Age Irish Males (16 and Up) in Alexandria, Virginia Based on 1850 U.S. Census

Occupation

Number of Employed Irish

Laborer

40

Tallow Chandler

2

Shoemaker

8

R.R. Contractor*

1

Block and Pump Maker*

2

Farmer/Gardener

4
Blacksmith

2

Carpenter

1

Merchant

4

Coppersmith

1

Baker

1

Cooper

1

Contractor on Canals*

1
Shopkeeper

3

Seaman

1

Clerk in the U.S. House of Representatives

1

Fisherman

1

Himenailmaker???

1

Stone Mason

1

Spinner in Cotton Mill

1

Physician

1
Miller

1

Sale Collector on Canal*

1

Clerk

1

Student

1

Corn Doctor

1

None

4

Not Listed

5

Total:

92

Out of the ninety-two working age Irish males in Alexandria, Virginia listed in the 1850 U.S. Census, a little under half were employed as laborers. Out of the fifty-two men remaining on the table, five men held other positions relating to railroad and canal work, bringing the total to around forty-five and almost half of the total number of working age males.3 As Gleeson and other historians have argued, unskilled and semi-skilled Irish flocked to cities like Alexandria and took whatever work was available, including poor paying, back-breaking labor.

The Irish played an important role in the development of Alexandria, Virginia. Based on the 1850 U.S. Census, one sees a number of poor families migrating to Alexandria and taking whatever jobs were available, most likely on the canal or the railroads. While new waves of immigrants led to other changes in the city’s population, there can be no denying the role that the Irish played in Alexandria in the mid-nineteenth century.

                                                                                                                                                                                         

1 David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South, 1815-1877 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 23.

2 Ibid, 38.

3 See the starred occupations on Table 2.

Out-Group Marriage in Alexandria, Virginia

An in depth analysis of the U.S. Census for Alexandria, Virginia from 1850 to 1880 brings to light that a number of Irish immigrants participated in out-group marriage. These immigrants were both men and women, from various economic levels. The rate of intermarriage between Irish immigrants and native-born Americans highlights not only the level of acceptance that Irish immigrants experienced in the South, but also acculturation.

In the 1850 U.S. Census, there were 194 Irish immigrants. Ten of these men and women were married to people born in either Virginia or Maryland. These were Samuel Crockett, Johanna Lyles, John E. McCracken, Thomas Burns, James Archbald, John Crighton, Edward Burchall, Margarett Glassglow, Richard C. Bartman, and John Richards. There were more single Irish women, than single Irish men in Alexandria. Yet, fewer Irish women were involved in out-group marriage.

Irish Immigrants and Out-Group Marriage in 1850 in Alexandria, Virginia
Name Spouse Birth Place of Spouse
Samuel Crockett Martha Maryland
Johanna Lyles Enoch Virginia
John E. McCracken Mary Maryland
Thomas Burns Elizabeth Virginia
James Archbald Martha Virginia
John Crighton Ann Maryland
Edward Burchell Ann Virginia
Margarett Glassglow Charles Virginia
John Richards Laura Virginia

 

The idea of economic success being tied to out-grouped marriage is false. Of the ten Irish immigrants married to native-born Americans, six were shown to have no property.  John E. McCracken, a merchant, was listed to have $1,000 of property. Edward Burchell, a cooper, John Richards, a physician, and Thomas Burns, a merchant, were all shown to have $5,000 worth of property.  In the 1860 U.S. Census, only two of the ten Irish immigrants involved in out-group marriage were shown to still be residents of Alexandria,–Thomas Burns and Edward Burchell. Thomas Burns was listed as a grocer with property worth $11,000, and Edward Burchell reportedly had no occupation and was listed with property worth  $10,050. It is possible to speculate that Burchell and Burns stayed in Alexandria because of their economic success. Below is a simplified version of the 1850 and 1860 U.S. Censuses illustrating Burns and Burchell’s economic growth.

Property Growth of Irish Immigrants in Alexandria, Virginia
  1850 1860
Name Occupation Property Occupation Property
Thomas Burns Merchant 5,000 Grocer 11,00
Edward Burchell Cooper 5,000 10,050

Nativism, however, was still a powerful force in the South during the 1850s. The Know-Nothing’s Party’s nativist rhetoric and anti-Catholicism created tensions in southern communities, especially New Orleans.1 Based on my preliminary research, no anti-Irish violence or local legislation has been found in Alexandria.  That said, it would be surprising that nativism did not exist among some residents.

To complicate matters further, it is also possible that some of these men and women were Ulster Scots (known in the United States as Scotch-Irish) who were descendants of Scottish Presbyterians and who had migrated to northern sections of Ireland in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. As Presbyterians, they would have been quickly accepted in Alexandria, which had a well-established Presbyterian church by the mid-eighteenth century.  Ulster Scots also migrated to improve their economic and social status, and were not necessarily forced from their homeland because of the Famine.2

In Erin’s Daughters in America: Irish Immigrant Women in the Nineteenth Century, Hasia R. Diner also questions the legitimacy of out-group marriage.  She notes “[t]he data are complicated by the possibility that if an Irish born woman married an American born child of Irish immigrants the marriage would appear as an out-group marriage for purposes of registration of vital statistics.”3  By the 1880 U.S. Census, the 1880s, the nativity of parents would also be included in the census.  At least in Alexandria, there were examples of Irish immigrants marrying the children of Irish immigrants. Elizabeth Burns, the widow of Thomas Burns, was the daughter of Irish immigrants.

The study of Irish immigrants in Alexandria, Virginia is complicated. There is not a singular trend that applies to all the Irish immigrants. Some participated in out-group marriage, some married fellow Irish, some were Presbyterian Ulster Scots, while others were Irish Catholics. Despite the complexity of Irish immigration, it is obvious that out-group marriage is not tied to economic success but does show that Irish were able to acculturate into American society through intermarriage.

1 David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South, 1815-1877 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 107-120.

2 Patrick Griffin, A People with No Name: Ireland’s Ulster Scots, America’s Scots-Irish, and the Creation of a British Atlantic World, 1689-1764 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).

3 Hasia R. Diner, Erin’s Daughters in America: Irish Immigrant Women in the Nineteenth Century, (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1983), 167.