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.

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