Posted by: irishhungercomm | April 18, 2011


Submitted by Jim Gallagher, this is a sad and horrifying account of the exploitation faced by immigrants who had fled one set of horrors and traveled across the Atlantic Ocean only to be met by more grief and aggravation.

From Mayo County Library


On arrival passengers usually made their way to the city to find boarding houses where there was a good chance the remainder of their money would be swindled.

The Irish and other immigrants faced numerous abuses such as illusive advertisements, crooked contractors,  dishonest prospectuses and remittent sharpers when they arrived in America. The Irish Emigrant Society was founded in 1841 by a group of New York Irish to combat issues such as these. In December 1848 the Emigrant Society advised emigrants that as soon as their ship came into harbour she would be boarded by an agent of the Society, who would offer them sound and honest advice. But they warned, the ship would also be boarded by a large number of runners conmen who would make it their business to attract them to the boarding houses that employed them. They should be careful not to accept help from them as their ploy was to promise good quality board at low prices, but when they came to leave the house an exorbitant fee would be demanded. They would threaten not to hand over luggage unless this fee was paid and violent scenes might often ensue.

A sketch that appeared in Ballou’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion in 1857 shows the arrival of Irish immigrants at the port of Boston.  The newcomer and his family are being met by relatives with whom they will probably stay until they can afford lodgings of their own.  During this period Irish immigrant population was still concentrated along the Boston waterfront, from Fort Hill to the North End.

The Society warned that many persons, some of Irish birth, had set up offices in the city where they claimed to be agents for railroad and steamboat enterprises. These crooks sold tickets which purported to entitle the holder to travel to specific destinations but which were worthless. To protect emigrants from such frauds various measure were introduced in New York in 1848 including the construction of reception centres and the licensing of steam boats to take emigrants from the quarantine to the landing piers. Boarding houses were also required to display their prices in English, Dutch, German, Welsh and French.

Immigrants who survived the ordeal of the crossing now had to decide where to settle in America.  Newspapers carried advertisement singing the praises of the land and climate of Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Michigan but of course never mentioned the backbreaking work of clearing the land for farming. California also proved to be a very popular destination when news of the Great Gold Rush broke in 1849. It also provided opportunities on the lands that the Native Americans had deserted in search of gold.


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