Irish Immigrant Families Migrating South in the 1850 U.S. Census

Irish families who came to the United States in the nineteenth century tended to arrive from ships in the Mid-Atlantic and then migrated South.  This trend is documented in the 1850 U.S. Census for Alexandria, Virginia.  Out of the 43 Irish family units who lived in Alexandria in 1850, 24 families (or 56%) migrated South.  This tendency is demonstrated by their children’s birthplaces listed in the census.

The Moran Family Data in the 1850 U.S. Census of Alexandria, Virginia
Family # Name Age Sex Race Occupation Value of Property Nation of Origin
99 Moran, A. 40 M W Laborer $0 Ireland
99 Moran, Charlotte M. 39 F W $0 Ireland
99 Moran, Honora 3 F W N/A Maryland
99 Moran, Charlotte M. 7 F W N/A New York
99 Moran, Mary 1 F W N/A Maryland

The Moran family, for example, probably came to the U.S.  through New York City where their first child, Charlotte, was born.  The Morans’ other children, Honora and Mary, were born in Maryland.  Because Mary was only one year old when the census was taken, the Morans had only recently moved to Alexandria.

David T. Gleeson, author of The Irish in the South 1815-1877, argues that many nineteenth century Irish immigrant families migrated south like the Moran family did.  “A large number of the newer migrants did not come directly to southern towns but traveled south after having landed in the northern states or Canada.”1

Irish families who left the North in search of jobs in the South found ample amounts of unskilled and semi-skilled work.  Due to the value of slave labor, Irish often filled jobs for which slaveowners were unwilling to hire out their property.2  In Alexandria, Irish immigrant men most likely worked on the canal or the railroad, the latter of which was under construction at the time.

1 David T. Gleeson, The Irish in the South, 1815-1877 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2001), 28-29.

Gleeson 53.

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