Eire-Ireland:Journal of Irish Studies

Patterns of Irish emigration to America, 1783-1800

Patterns of Irish emigration to America, 1783-1800

Maurice J. Bric

THE general features of Irish emigration to colonial America are clear and relatively undisputed: it was largely of Ulster origin; the majority sailed for the Hudson and Delaware valleys; and the departures peaked at three points: 1717-20, 1725-29, and during the nine years prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution. (1) As such, when the passenger trade resumed after the Treaty of Paris (1783), it did so within structures that were well established and familiar as well as along shipping lanes that were managed by commercial networks and families that often spanned the Atlantic. But the later emigrants also sailed during a period of more coordinated passenger travel, while the agents who managed the business preferred to engage paying passengers rather than indentured servants. Thus American independence not only redefined political relationships between the old and new worlds, (1) but it also marked a reorganization of the passenger trade between Ireland and America.


After 1783, most Irish emigrants saw the new republic, in the words of one emigrant letter, as a “Plentifull Countery” [sic], which “before a year or two … will be extremely enviable.” (2) Despite the impact of such letters, the presentation and understanding of the emigration process were even more greatly influenced by the management and fortunes of Ireland’s two major industries, linen and provisions. Also, the commercial structures of these industries, more often than not, determined the choice of one American destination over another and where the majority of Ireland’s emigrants would actually land.

In the northern province of Ulster linen had long been central to the economy and, although Dublin remained its major port of export, most of the eighteenth-century product came from the northern part of the island. In the nature of things Ulster also emerged as a major market for American flaxseed, 96 percent of which originated in the two ports of New York and Philadelphia in 1766-67. Moreover, several Irish merchants, through either full or occasional partnerships with houses in America, owned much of the tonnage that sustained this flaxseed/linen roundabout and managed it through networks of personal, family, and church connections that were geographically split only by the Atlantic. For example, the Belfast firm of John & James Holmes sent its ship Barclay on at least one trip to the Delaware every year, principally because the Holmes’s brother, Hugh, was a partner in the Philadelphia-based firms of Holmes & Ralston and Holmes & Rainey. In any event, both the Delaware and the Hudson were central to Ulster’s external trade, and this was reflected in the region’s shipping advertisements for America. Of the 442 sailings that were advertised in the provincial press between 1750 and 1775, 53.5 percent and 18.5 percent were for Philadelphia and New York, respectively. (3)

The corollary of these connections was that prior to the American Revolution the middle colonies became the major attraction for Ulster’s emigrants, especially if they were servants. After all, the holds of the flaxseed vessels had to be filled for the return journey to America. John and Robert Ogle suggested to their Philadelphia correspondent in 1774 that servants and redemptioners “make an advantageous returning freight to vessels loaded from you to us, & is all paid down at Shipping.” (4) Thus the management of servants was central to the cash flow of Ulster-American trade, and merchants and ship-captains as well as their agents traded in people as they would in any commodity. As a result, the networks that linked the weavers, brokers, and merchants of the linen industry were also used to promote emigration from Ulster, while on the other side of the Atlantic the central role of the middle colonies in both the importation and distribution of servants and other Irish immigrants was assured.

After 1783 Ireland’s linen industry underwent a remarkable revival. Between 1783-84 and 1791-92, linen exports almost doubled, and they continued at unprecedented levels of growth until the end of the century. As during the colonial period, Philadelphia emerged as the industry’s major American entrepot. For all that, however, there was also a new awareness that the American market was more competitive and no longer cushioned for Irish merchants by common membership in the British empire. Moreover, as one correspondent remarked in 1786, the considerable increase in transatlantic trade gave “singular satisfaction … [only] if due attention is paid to the goods proper for the American market.” (5) While some ports, such as Derry, responded by building on their pre-revolutionary strengths in the linen and flaxseed trades, others, such as Dublin, diversified their trade and widened the geographical range of their American connections. The year 1783 thus inaugurated a more calculated approach to the Atlantic trade, while the opportunities afforded by peace were taken up in different ways in the various ports of Ireland.

Ireland’s other staple industry was provisions and, as with linen, most areas of the country derived some prosperity from it. In this case, however, the external trade was concentrated on the ports of southern Ireland. (6) Before the revolution the export to the mainland American colonies had surged during the 1760s and early 1770s, although even at this peak it was a poor second to the trade with the Caribbean. In any event, the internal structures of the industry were less integrated than those relating to linen. In part this can be explained by the dependence of the southern ports’ extensive West Indian trade on the long-term credit of the London commission system, as a result of which substantial consignments of southern linen were diverted to America through English ports during the course of the eighteenth century. The Treasury records for the period December 1773 to March 1776 highlight the implications of these commercial arrangements for the region’s emigrant trade: significant numbers of passengers (although not all) followed the triangular patterns of southern Irish shipping and sailed for American ports through Britain. (7) However, while they sometimes pursued routes that were less direct than those from Ulster, American clearances from southern ports had a more varied list of destinations than those that sailed from Ulster. Thus, whereas Ulster’s major ports focused on the middle colonies, shipping patterns suggest that Dublin, Cork, and Waterford had a relatively broader range that also included an important traffic to Maryland, New England, Virginia, and the West Indies. (8)

Relative to Ulster, however, the southern merchants were not unduly interested in the passenger trade. Popular empathy with America was also not as strong as in the north, and the connections and structures of its commerce and trade did little to counter this. Moreover, there was a long-established culture of seasonal labor in southern Ireland, and the Newfoundland fisheries, which attracted between three thousand and five thousand men every year, were part of this world. (9) Given that the negative images of the seventeenth-century emigration also lingered for most of the eighteenth, it was difficult to promote emigration in southern Ireland as a more positive alternative to seasonal labor. From the 1760s, however, there was a noticeable shift in attitudes, and southern Ireland did begin to develop a new appreciation for America as a “land of liberty.” Indeed, Audrey Lockhart records that of 439 ships that left southern Irish ports between 1681 and 1775, the majority did so after 1750. (10)

The American Revolution left an indelible mark on the nature, structures, and orientation of Ireland’s export of provisions. Between two-thirds and three-quarters of Irish beef had been taken by the English and French colonies of the West Indies before 1776. Thereafter, however, most of these exports were directed toward the English and other European markets. (11) Irish merchants never recovered their domination of the Caribbean market, and many West Indies-based agents of Irish and English houses returned home during the 1770s and 1780s. As a result, those merchants who stayed in the provisions export trade after 1783 were encouraged to forego their traditional West Indian routes and triangular trade patterns in favor of direct contact with the United States. The implications of these changes for the flow of Ireland’s emigrants to America would become more obvious as the century drew to a close.

The passenger trade had always had a closer relationship with linen exports, however. After 1783, not only was the urge to emigrate resumed from the linen centers of Ulster but, as Norman Gamble has shown, the emergence of more specialized emigration brokers in Belfast in particular can be related to the city’s increased trade in the commodity. Indeed, the Belfast merchants who were confidently rebuilding their American interests after 1783, either as owners of, or as agents for, American-bound vessels, ultimately relaunched and supervised emigrant traffic as well. Of their Atlantic routes, those to the Delaware valley were the most popular, and between 1783 and 1798 forty sailings were advertised for there in the provincial press. These were managed as operations that were exclusive to that region, as were twenty-four others that were advertised for New York and twenty-six for Baltimore. A further thirteen vessels sailed to a combination of two of the three destinations. However, such shared ventures were far less common among Belfast merchants than those that were managed directly to only one American port. The route to Baltimore was the least constant, and after 1789 sailings to Baltimore began to decrease. As they did, however, those leaving for New England increased, and between 1789 and 1796 sixteen vessels were advertised between Belfast and the region, especially for Massachusetts. (12)

Although advertised sailings from Derry to America just exceeded those from Belfast between 1783 and 1798, they did not have Belfast’s geographical variety. As they had done before the revolution, they focused on the Delaware, which attracted over three-quarters of the city’s clearances, outstripping those between Belfast and the Delaware by 300 percent to 400 percent between 1784 and 1793. Ulster’s other major port, Newry, also had strong links with the Delaware (thirty-two sailings). It also split a number of additional sailings between the Delaware and the Hudson (thirteen) and developed a significant and enduring direct link with New York between 1785 and 1789 (eight sailings), when this route was not as actively pursued from the other Ulster ports. As ever, these connections were associated with the promotion of linen. Indeed, on 26 August 1784, the New York Packet published an address, signed by no fewer than eighty merchants, publicizing Newry’s newly opened linen hall and protesting that “all Merchants from thenceforth at all times may depend upon a regular and constant supply of linens, diapers, &c. &c” from the port.

Dublin took to “the happy effects” of peace with great enthusiasm and on 11 March 1786, Saunder’s [Dublin] Newsletter announced that there were “more American ships now in the port of Dublin than have ever been known since the Revolution and the encouragement for the export of our manufactures wears a more favourable aspect than it has ever done.” The American connections of these ships were as geographically varied as those of Belfast, although the volume from Dublin was higher. The Delaware (sixty-two sailings), the Hudson (sixty-seven), and–between 1783 and 1789-the Chesapeake (twenty-eight) were the strongest attractions for the city’s advertised shipping, but after 1795 New York became Dublin’s most popular destination. Also after 1795 the number of sailings to New England began to increase, and in 1799 it equaled those for New York. Few domestic letter-books of firms involved in Dublin’s American trade have survived, and advertisements published in the capital city contain less detailed information than those of Belfast and Derry. However, some light was thrown on the trade when allegations of incompetence were made against the captain of the ship Success (Dublin to Philadelphia, 1783) and its owners, the Dublin firm of Galloway & Stillas. The charges were widely publicized at the time, but there were hints that some houses were “malicious[ly] reporting” the affair in order to get an edge on their rivals in the passenger trade. (13) As such, the affair highlighted the new energy with which Dublin’s merchants were approaching the American routes after 1783 and, in particular, how they were competing for emigrants.

After 1783, Cork continued some of its pre-revolutionary associations with the West Indies, Nova Scotia, and Baltimore. Of the three destinations, however, it was only the last that developed a significant passenger traffic during the seventeen years to 1800. As with the other Irish ports, Cork’s shipping connections with the Delaware (fifty-two sailings) and the Hudson (thirty-three) were also strong after the war and were almost always managed as separate enterprises. Regardless of their American destination, however, the vessels that sailed from Cork were particularly vulnerable to privateers and impressments, and during the 1790s this influenced the decision to redirect most of them to New York and New England.


On the American side of the Atlantic, Philadelphia’s interest in the passenger trade was sustained by a number of commercial connections with the old country. Some merchants, such as John Barclay, Benjamin Fuller, and Blair McClenachan, had been born in Ireland. In 1784, Fuller introduced to his brother Abraham, of Cork, the distinguished Philadelphia merchants John Donnaldson and Francis West, who would be visiting “most of the principal places [in Ireland] … in order to form connections.” With a similar intention McClenachan, one of Philadelphia’s leading pre-revolutionary correspondents with Ulster, visited his native city of Derry in June 1784 and was reported to have made a conspicuous display of his “opulence.” As if to confirm that his vessel, the 600-ton ship Congress, was indeed what its advertisements stated, “a remarkable fine ship,” he entertained on board two hundred of the city fathers with “an elegant breakfast [and] a dance, enlivened by good humour and a joyous innocence.” If Ireland made “proper use” of such American interest in Irish trade, the Dublin Freeman’s Journal concluded that it “must unavoidably become, in less than half a century, great, rich, and flourishing.” (14)

Other Philadelphia merchants were involved in the Irish trade through the ownership or joint ownership of, or the local agency for, vessels on the several routes from Ireland. For example, Haynes & Crawford co-owned the 400-ton ship America (Dublin to Philadelphia, 1784) and the 350-ton ship Dublin Packet (Dublin to Philadelphia, 1785-87 and 1789) and acted as agent for nine of the thirty-one Irish entries in 1787: five from Derry, one from Belfast, two from Dublin, and one from Cork. The Irish associations of Conyngham & Nesbitt were particularly strong, and as John Campbell has noted, “Quite a number of [the Philadelphia Irish Society of] the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick came to America through connections of the firm, several of them with letters of recommendation from friends or relatives in Ireland.” (15) As during the colonial period, most of these traveled from Ulster ports. During the late 1780s, however, Philadelphia’s shipping entrances from Ulster and southern Irish ports drew closer, and between 1788 and 1790 they came to within 1, 4, and 4, respectively, of parity (13/12; 15/11; 16/12). After 1790 the predominance of the Ulster ports was more clearly re-established, as was the particularly strong connection with Derry.

Peace also enabled New York to develop its trade with Ireland, and during 1785-86 the British consul recorded twelve and fourteen entries from, and twenty and twenty-six clearances for, Ireland. (16) While the clearances reflected the relaunching of the flaxseed trade, they also chart an ongoing rivalry with Philadelphia. Accordingly, it was with no little pride that on 14 January 1792 the New York Journal reported that for the year ending 30 December 1791, the numbers of marine arrivals in New York and Philadelphia were 2,537 and 1,828, respectively, or a balance of 709 “in favour of New York.” Although the corresponding figures from “foreign ports” were 718 and 567, it was not until 1793 that New York supplanted Philadelphia as the major focus of Ireland’s American vessels (twenty-six/twenty-five sailings). This happened because of New York’s developing connections with the ports of southern Ireland, which especially increased during the second half of the 1790s and included relatively regular traffic from ports such as Waterford and Limerick that had not figured very prominently in the port’s biography up until then.

Baltimore’s Irish entrances between 1783 and 1790 were from southern rather than northern Ireland (fifty-five/thirty). Nonetheless, the port was situated in a region of great promise, as suggested in the following advertisement for the ship Cato (Belfast to Alexandria, 1791): “It is within a few miles of the spot lately chosen and now building for the Federal Town and constant seat of Congress, and where labourers and tradesmen of all denominations will meet with higher wages than in most other parts of America.” Among the merchants who were involved in the city’s Irish trade were William Patterson, Oliver Simms, William and Joseph Wilson, and John Stevenson, who together sought to establish Baltimore as an alternative to the more established routes to the Delaware and Hudson. The lane was particularly associated with the 300-ton ship Paca, advertised in 1784 as a “new vessel” from Belfast and owned by a consortium of six Baltimore merchants, including the Limerick-born Wilson and the Ulster-born John Brown, the latter of whom traveled to Baltimore on the maiden voyage with another owner, Captain Thomas Kell. By 1785, however, the vessel had abandoned its Ulster connections for the ports of southern Ireland, changing its advertisement of that year from Belfast to Cork and Limerick, whence it could make two trips every year and return flaxseed and staves for redemptioners and servants, who were then sold at “the average price of 4.2.5 [pound sterling] each.” (17)

The biographies of ships such as the Paca and the America underline the influence that American merchants and their Irish agents could have on an emigrant’s choice of destination in America. In Ireland these agents usually worked within wider networks that linked the manager of a given sailing to a mosaic of subagents in outlying towns and villages. This was especially true in the northern province of Ulster, where personal and family ties were often reinforced by those nurtured by the linen industry. In the hinterlands of the southern ports of Cork and Dublin, the activities of the emigration manager were more casually organized and advertised. These were areas of high mobility and seasonal labor which, for the Cork region, David Dickson has related to the seasonality of the Newfoundland fisheries, hiring fairs for the potato and slaughtering seasons, the development of rural commissions in grain, and recruitment for the Irish brigades of Catholic Europe. (18) While these activities are difficult to define by virtue of their informality, they were as important in facilitating southern emigration after 1783 as was the extended organization of the linen industry to the passenger trade of Ulster.

The most public record of the promotion and management of late eighteenth-century Irish emigration is to be found in the shipping advertisements of contemporary Irish newspapers. From the themes of these notices one can get a sense of how the passenger trade responded to the demands and needs of the traveling public after 1783. Invariably, “plenty” and “good” provisions were promised. For example, the ship Independence (Belfast to Philadelphia, 1783) promised that “strict attention will be paid to the quality of the provisions, to have the Ship well stored with every thing [sic] proper and necessary for the voyage, so as to render the passage agreeable.” To its assurance of the “very best Provisions,” the ship Paca (Belfast to Baltimore, 1785) added that it would give a rebate for any “overplus” that would be left over after its presumed “swift” passage between Ireland and America. The age and build of the vessel were also usually mentioned. For example, the ship Barclay (Derry to Philadelphia, 1790) was “but 6 months off the docks,” while the ship Three Brothers (Derry to Philadelphia, 1783) was “strong and well built of live Oak and Cedar.” The ship Hannibal (Belfast to Philadelphia, 1789) was said to be especially sturdy and, “having been built for a Ship of War, she is superior in accommodation for passengers, to any other in the trade.” In some cases passengers were also invited to assess for themselves the conditions on board before they made any commitments. For those who wanted to sail on the ship Richard and Thomas (Belfast to Philadelphia, 1784), boats would “take down any persons desirous of seeing her, every Friday during her stay here.” (19)

The advantages of one vessel over another were also conveyed by suggestions that, as in the case of the ship Three Brothers (Derry to Philadelphia, 1783), it was “a remarkable fast Sailer.” However, the length of the passage to America did not alter very much from the colonial period. On average the voyage from Ulster ports to Philadelphia took from sixty-four days in the early spring to forty-nine during the high season of July to September, with vessels from Dublin and Cork taking a little less time to make the crossing. For the port of New York the data are similar, but on the longer routes to Charleston the average duration of the voyage, usually initiated in the fall, was eight to nine weeks, while the span to Baltimore ran a week to ten days shorter. (20) In some cases purpose-built vessels led to improvements on these averages during the 1780s and 1790s, and these were duly incorporated into shipping advertisements. For example, the ship Dublin Packet (Dublin to Philadelphia) often boasted of its quick passages of 30 to 35 days to Philadelphia, while “more than once, it performed its voyage from Philadelphia to Dublin, in 21 days.” The Paca (Cork to Baltimore, 1785) insinuated its speed by referring to its “twice yearly sailings” from Ireland, and its advertisement, as published in the Belfast Newsletter on 25 January 1785, noted that its

last voyage … [had been] made in seven weeks and three days with 459

souls on board, who arrived at Baltimore all well, being the same number he

[the captain] took in at Belfast; and a circumstance which scarce has not

been equalled, the passengers not being able to use their full allowance of

provisions during the voyage. (21)

For all that, dates of departure were often altered, and this could involve Irish travelers in additional expense. For the colonial period Dickson has suggested that on average there was a five-week delay between advertisement and departure, although during periods of heavy emigration delays were longer, given that it was often impossible to predict when a vessel would arrive in port. From the early 1770s, however, a better organized trade often saw Irish passengers provisioned from the day that they were issued with a “positively final” notice to depart, although this was far more usual after 1783. During the 1780s voyages were still deferred, as they had been prior to the revolution. Such delays were usually presented as being “at the request of a number of passengers.” However, they also highlighted the occasional problems of managing a trade that was drawing on increasingly wider catchment areas. Nonetheless, promoters had to address the problems that postponement caused. In 1792, for example, the managers of the brig Rachel (Newry to Philadelphia and New York) promised that “should the vessel be detained after the 14th of April, any passengers who have then engaged, will be maintained on board from that day.” However, potential travelers were less interested in such schemes than in the assurance that the captain, as the managers of the Philadelphia and Dublin Packet (Dublin and Philadelphia, 1791) put it, was “well known for the Punctuality of sailing at all Times.” (22)

From the early 1770s emigration brokers also began to respond to concerns about ventilation by including more and larger portholes in the designs of their newer vessels. The ship Mary (Derry to Philadelphia, 1783) was reported to be “very lofty” between decks, with six portholes on each side, while the ship Betsey (Derry to Philadelphia, 1790) was “6 Feet high between Decks, Cabin and Steerage, Ditto.” There were also undertakings not to overcrowd vessels. Thus the owners of the ship Alexander (Derry to Philadelphia, 1788) warned that they would close their register at “a certain number of passengers,” after which “none” would be taken. (23) Such promises were not always kept. However, the managers of Ireland’s late eighteenth-century passenger trade were not insensitive to the comforts (and criticisms) of those to whom they promoted the Atlantic crossing and were less ready to dismiss potential Irish emigrants to the bit parts to which they had usually been assigned for much of the colonial period.

Advertisements also implied that the conduct of the ship captain was vital in determining whether conditions on board would be pleasant or pathetic. Some passengers were told of the “humanity” and “care and attention” of the captain, while others were reassured that captains were experienced and had been “long in the passenger trade.” In 1786 it was reported that Captain William Cheevers of the ship Anne and Susan (Newry to Philadelphia and New York) had already made sixty-nine voyages “across the Western Ocean,” while Captain William McDonnell of the ship Richard and Thomas (Belfast to Newcastle and Philadelphia, 1784) was not only “an experienced master but had latterly [been] an officer under captain McBride of the Artois frigate.” Passengers could later comment on the accuracy of such descriptions and on occasion did so to considerable effect through testimonials and letters of thanks that were often published in the contemporary press. Although such memorials first appeared in the early 1770s, they became more common during the following decades. In 1783, for example, Captain James Gillis was thanked as follows:

We, the under-named persons who sailed from Belfast to Philadelphia on

board the Three Brothers, should think ourselves wanting both in gratitude

to our worthy Captain (Mr. James Gillis) as well as in regard to such of

our friends and countrymen who at any future period may choose to visit

America, were we to omit declaring, in the most public manner, the humane

and friendly treatment we met with from that Gentleman during the whole of

our passage.

Philadelphia, Nov. 20th, 1783.

In the following year Captain William Cheevers of the brig Congress (Newry to Philadelphia) received what was perhaps the ultimate accolade: his “good treatment” of his passengers was described as being too “well known” to bear detailed repetition. (24)

As might be expected, such citations were not always spontaneous productions. However, they did reflect the increasing importance of the passenger in the promotion and even in the vindication of a particular vessel. As the [Philadelphia] American Daily Advertiser remarked on 16 August 1791,

the bare silence of the passengers would … be looked on as sufficient

condemnation of both the Captain and vessel … and if once the Captain of

one of these Ships, suffers the “Mark of the Beast” to be written on his

forehead, or on the stern of the vessel, he will probably never again be

able to procure a single passenger.

In any event, aggrieved passengers were not as intimidated about taking the captain or owners to court as they had been earlier in the century. In 1788, for example, a Philadelphia court found against an Irish captain “for brutality and ill-treatment of his passengers.” Eighteen months later, the Hibernian Society for the Relief of Immigrants from Ireland was founded in the same city. This society lost no time in denouncing Captain Robert Cunningham of the brig Cunningham (Derry to Philadelphia, 1790) for his “flagrant violations of the precepts of humanity” and later sponsored his indictment on charges of overcrowding and scarcity of provisions, despite the vessel’s advertisement to the contrary. As a result, Cunningham was fined 500 [pounds sterling] and spent several months in prison. He was eventually released in April 1791 after “friends of the master” had petitioned for “relief” and “clemency.” However, the appeal was not effective until the Hibernian Society itself was seen to formally support such leniency. (25) This case showed that the complaints of newly arrived Irish immigrants, as coordinated by their immigrant-aid societies, could not be ignored. Moreover, shipowners were again reminded that their passengers were no longer mere ballast for their holds.


The number of those who sailed from Ireland after 1783 is difficult to calculate. For the 1780s and 1790s Maldwyn Jones has estimated that the annual average outflow was “about 5,000.” Not surprisingly, what the British consul in Philadelphia, Phineas Bond, described as “the rage for emigration” was especially noticeable from Ulster, and newspaper reports of booked-out sailings from the province and the refusal of passengers “for want of room” were not uncommon. However, increased emigration from outside Ulster was also a feature of these years. From Dublin one newspaper reported that “not less than 1,000 persons” had embarked for America in February 1784, while the Pennsylvania Packet observed on 3 August 1784 that “it is imagined [that] ten more vessels could shortly be filled, were they to sail with emigrants to that part of the world [Philadelphia] from the city and county of Dublin only.” The flow of people continued into the 1790s and established Dublin as a newly important exit-point for Irish emigration to America. For the other southern ports of Cork, Galway, Limerick, and Waterford, there were also several “alarming instances of emigration.” From Limerick, for example, it was suggested in 1784 that “such is the rage of emigration, that above 1,000 persons offered, but were rejected for want of room” on the Intrepid (Limerick to Baltimore, 1784). (26)

Whatever their Irish origins, most late eighteenth-century emigrants headed for the Delaware Valley. This region had a long-established and central role in Ireland’s passenger trade, which was well documented in the contemporary press as well as by official and semi-official observers. Among the former one account from mid-1784 reported that “5,000 natives [of Ireland] had arrived in Philadelphia alone,” with “many more” expected. Even in the “five or six sail of Vessels” that had arrived in American ports from Ireland in the late-season month of October 1784, “at least” seven hundred to eight hundred passengers were reported to have landed at Philadelphia. (27) Of the official observers, Bond paid closest attention to the incoming Irish traffic. He had a peculiar access to information because of the requirement that on arrival British and Irish captains had to deposit their registers and Mediterranean Passes with his office. (28) Accordingly, his data for the 1780s are of particular interest and suggest that not only was the flow from Ireland higher than before the revolution, but that the “the migrations hither since the Peace, have been much greater from Ireland than from all the other Ports of Europe.” (29)

For the 1780s Bond listed the figures as follows:

Of these 25,716 arrivals, the number of Irish passengers was 23,823. Although Bond suggested in 1790 that the number of these passengers, while still “important,” had fallen “very short of the general expectation,” he did not keep these reports in as much detail as he had kept those of the previous seven years. However, my own reconstruction from newspaper and other sources suggests that nearly 75,000 passengers entered the Delaware Valley from Ireland between 1783 and 1800, almost half of them between 1783 and 1789. During the first six years after independence the majority came from Ulster, and the difference between these (23,214) and those who had sailed from southern Irish ports (13,311) is striking. For the 1790s it is even more so, and, indeed, from an annual average of over 1,900 between 1783 and 1789, the identifiable immigration from southern Ireland fell sharply to an annual average of a mere 176 between 1793 and 1799. In the meantime emigration from Ulster ports continued throughout the 1790s, and, although it declined by nearly two-thirds after 1797, its combined total between 1790 and 1797 was, at nearly 32,000, even greater than that for the preceding seven years, 1783-90. By any standards, these figures represent a major flow and suggest that Ulster immigration into the Delaware valley continued at peak levels well into the 1790s. (30) They also imply that while the attraction of the Delaware was both definite and obvious from both parts of Ireland after 1783, war and the fear of impressment had a greater impact on the passenger trade from southern Ireland than it had on that from Ulster. (31)

For the port of Philadelphia per se, computing Irish immigration is complicated by the fact that passengers often disembarked at the Delaware ports of Newcastle and Wilmington. During the colonial period these ports had evolved as stopovers for ongoing traffic to Philadelphia, especially after Pennsylvania imposed duties on incoming servants and, later, when it adopted strict quarantine regulations for immigrants. (32) As a result, passengers often broke their journeys in Delaware and completed them either overland or by separate tender. The port of Newcastle remained intertwined with Philadelphia well into the early national period, and several Irish vessels continued to advertise for Philadelphia (and other destinations) “by way of” Delaware. For example, the ship St. James (Belfast to Newcastle and New York, 1789) announced that it would not travel upriver but that there were “frequent vessels” to take passengers onward to Philadelphia. With this in mind “most” of the four hundred passengers on its 1791 voyage expected to land at Newcastle, while of the three hundred fifty who sailed on the ship Nancy (Derry to Newcastle and Philadelphia, 1791), two hundred “came ashore in New-Castle [sic] [and] the remainder came up to this city [Philadelphia] in good health.” (33) In addition to these kinds of notices, the special relationship between the two ports is also implied by the 40 percent difference between my estimated figure of 36,525 entrants for the first six years after independence and the 23,823 given by Bond. On one level this discrepancy is a matter of focus: mine on the Delaware valley as a whole, Bond’s on Philadelphia. However, as during the colonial period, it again confirms that Newcastle was a port of dispersal through which passengers traveled both onward to Philadelphia and to other ports, including New York to the north and Baltimore and Charleston to the south. (34)

The Irish emigrants who entered the Hudson valley were also welcomed as “a most valuable acquisition.” Data on this passenger flow are less detailed and more difficult to quantify in the way that I have been able to do for the Delaware valley. However, some general observations can be made. It is clear that, at least on purpose-built vessels, no fewer passengers were carried into New York than on trips to the Delaware. In 1791, for example, the Anne and Susan ferried four hundred fifty passengers from Derry to New York, while six years later, the Elizabeth landed “upwards of 300 passengers” from Waterford. There were also reports that a number of vessels from Ireland entered with unspecified numbers of “passengers” and that testimonials were published from satisfied travelers along with accounts of people entering New York via Newcastle, Delaware. Such notices suggest that Irish immigration into the Hudson valley was no less important than that into the Delaware, and this is confirmed in the official reports of Sir John Temple, the British consul-general, who was based in New York. In April 1789, Temple informed the Duke of Leeds that “considerable numbers” had landed at New York and Baltimore between 1783 and 1787, while two years later he wrote that immigration from Ireland had been “very great the year past.” However, Temple had less cause to worry than Bond. In general terms it can be stated that Irish immigration into the Hudson valley was only between a quarter and a third of that into the Delaware. (35)

For Baltimore, Bond recorded that during 1783 and 1784 the port attracted “from 6 to 800 Irish passengers.” Contemporary newspapers confirm these figures and add that the southern Irish predominated. As noted above, the flagship of the port’s Irish connections was the ship Paca, which sailed from both Belfast (1784-86) and the southern ports of Cork and Limerick (1784-88), sometimes making two trips per year. On 8 September 1785 the Cork Hibernian Chronicle noted that over the previous fifteen months, the ship had carried seven hundred fifty passengers to Baltimore on its first three sailings. However, the vessel’s numbers did not continue at these levels, and on its last trip (1788) the Paca brought as few as sixty-nine servants from Limerick, after which it was directed to non-Irish routes. For these years of the late 1780s Bond noted a decline in Irish immigration and reported that “scarcely any” Irish emigrants arrived between 1785 and 1789. (36) In part this was due to the impact of negative reports about the treatment of servants in the area. Irish immigration into Maryland did not cease, but, unlike that into Philadelphia, it was drawn from the ports of southern rather than northern Ireland.

Charleston had strong connections with Ulster and in particular with the Larne merchant John Montgomery. Although Montgomery was involved in other vessels, his principal interest was in the three-hundred-ton ship, the Irish Volunteer, which he owned and which between 1788 and 1796 made an annual trip between Larne and Charleston. The ship had been purposely built as a passenger vessel and usually carried between two hundred and three hundred sixty passengers. With the help of the Rev. Douglas of Clough, Larne’s Anthony Sinclair also sent his ship Ann to Charleston between 1788 and 1790. The involvement of clergymen in such ventures was neither new nor rare (at least on this route) and had emerged as a feature of the various schemes of assisted emigration that colonial Carolina had developed during the 1730s and 1760s. These projects had also encouraged better organized and prearranged bloc sailings, and this approach to emigration endured with respect to the Carolinas until the late 1790s. (37) Toward the end of the century the patrols of French and English privateers operating out of the West Indies all but stopped Charleston’s direct Irish passenger trade until the following century. In terms of numbers the best snapshot was given in January 1790 by the British consul in Charleston, George Miller:

Within the last two years, there have arrived in South Carolina, 1017

Emigrants, in three Vessels from Larne, and one from Belfast. These people

paid for their passage generally…. Some also have arrived in North

Carolina, from the same place…. Formerly they used to suffer considerably

on their arrival, on account of their not planning their departure so as to

arrive always at a favourable season of the year…. Those who have lately

emigrated have been more prudent, by arriving in the beginning of Winter,

which afforded them an opportunity of travelling through the swampy and

unhealthy part of the Country at the most proper time of the year. (38)

Every Irish immigrant was given “great” and “proper encouragement” to seize their opportunities in the newly proclaimed “land of liberty.” After 1783 the choices on offer were wider and more thoughtfully presented than they had been before the revolution. Thus, as Irish immigrants arrived in Philadelphia, the official capital of the new republic after 1790, they were seen as more discriminating characters than their pre-revolutionary cousins. In Philadelphia, Irish immigrant-aid societies, such as the Hibernian Society, also encouraged America’s post-revolutionary Irish immigrants to develop a clearer sense of national identity than had been the case in the more undifferentiated culture of the colonial years. They also urged them to challenge America’s established elites and their systems of social and political leadership. During the 1790s the changing nature of America’s more substantial, self-assured, and politically experienced Irish communities would be reflected in the ways in which they became involved in the politics of the new republic, especially in Philadelphia and New York. Indeed, the growth of “ethnicity” and “party” are mirror images of each other, and while they interacted in different ways in the other cities of the union, in these two cities they not only contributed to the broadening of the early national polity but also were a testament to the arrival of a “new Irish” immigrant in the new American republic.



Year 1783 1784 1785 1786 1787 1788 1789

Passengers 3508 9436 5866 2340 1220 1050 2296

Source: (London) Public Record Office, FO/4/7-8.

(1) R.J. Dickson, Ulster Emigration to Colonial America, 1718-1785 (London, 1966); Audrey Lockhart, Some Aspects of Emigration from Ireland to the North American Colonies between 1660 and 1775 (New York, 1976); Marianne S. Wokeck, Trade in Strangers (University Park, Penn., 1999). For the period 1700-1820 the estimates of the passenger flow vary between 250,000 and 450,000; see Henry A. Gemery, “European Emigration to North America, 1700-1820,” Perspectives in American History, new series, 1 (1984), 286.

(2) Belfast, Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI), D1752, Andrew Martin to his father, 5 July 1787.

(3) Thomas M. Truxes, Irish-American Trade, 1660-1783 (New York, 1983), 199, Chapter 9. For the ownership of the vessels cited in this article, see Maurice J. Bric, “Ireland, Irishmen, and the Broadening of the Late Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia Polity,” 2 vols. (Ph.D. diss., Johns Hopkins University, 1990), I, Chapter 4. The data on the sailings have been derived from Dickson, Ulster Emigration, Appendix E.

(4) Library of Congress, Blair McClenachan Papers, letter dated 15 August 1774.

(5) Louis M. Cullen, An Economic History of Ireland since 1660 (London, 1972), 62-63; Saunder’s [Dublin] Newsletter (SN), 2 October 1783, 15 July 1786.

(6) I am using the word “southern” to refer to the principal ports outside Ulster: Dublin, Cork, Waterford, and to a lesser extent, Limerick and Galway. The “northern” ports include Belfast, Derry, and Newry as well as the lesser ports of Larne and Portrush.

(7) Truxes, Irish-American Trade, 147, 154, Chapters 3, 4, and 9. For Ireland’s trade with the Caribbean, see R.C. Nash, “Irish Atlantic Trade in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century,” William and Mary Quarterly (WMQ) 42 (1985), 329-56. The Treasury records are analyzed in Bernard Bailyn, Voyagers to the West (New York, 1986), 67-239. For more general comment, see Francis G. James, Ireland in the Empire, 1688-1779 (Cambridge, Mass., 1973) and “Irish Colonial Trade in the Eighteenth Century,” WMQ 20 (1963), 574-84.

(8) In this article data on the patterns, extent, and ownership of shipping between Irish ports and America are drawn from an updated analysis of contemporary newspaper advertisements and marine notices published in my Economy of Irish Emigration to America, 1760-1800 (forthcoming, 2001). For a preliminary survey of these references, see Bric, “Ireland, Irishmen, and the Broadening of the Late Eighteenth-Century Philadelphia Polity,” II, Appendix IV.

(9) The extent of the Newfoundland connection is conveyed by, among others, a report in SN, 20 April 1784, that during the previous week four vessels had sailed for the fisheries from Cork, sixteen from Waterford, three from Baltimore (in Cork), and two from Crookhaven.

(10) Lockhart’s figures are analyzed in David Noel Doyle, Ireland, Irishmen, and Revolutionary America (Cork and Dublin, 1981), 65.

(11) Cullen, Economic History, 9; Nash, “Irish Atlantic Trade,” 329-56; William O’Sullivan, The Economic History of Cork City from the Earliest Times to the Act of Union (Cork, 1937), 327, 335, 342.

(12) Norman E. Gamble, “The Business Community and the Trade of Belfast, 1767-1800” (Ph.D. diss., Trinity College, Dublin, 1968), 93, 25-41, 45. For data on the routes, see n. 8 above.

(13) The Success ran aground in the Delaware in November 1783, allegedly after the captain had “knowingly and willingly” mismanaged the vessel, and its owners and merchants of Dublin … [were] totally ignorant of naval affairs.” See (Philadelphia) Independent Gazetteer (IG), 3, 4 October 1783; SN, 23 October, 29 November 1783.

(14) Historical Society of Pennsylvania (HSP), Benjamin Fuller Letterbook, 24 June 1784; Belfast Newsletter (BN), 15 June 1784; Londonderry Journal (LJ), 8 June 1784; BN, 16 July 1784; Dublin Freeman’s Journal (FJ), 25 November 1788. For Philadelphia’s Irish merchants, see Thomas M. Doerflinger, A Vigorous Spirit of Enterprise: Merchants and Economic Development in Revolutionary Philadelphia (Chapel Hill, N.C., 1986).

(15) HSP, Port of Philadelphia, Port Entry Books (1784-87); John H. Campbell, A History of the Society of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and of the Hibernian Society (Philadelphia, 1892), 107; Doerflinger, Vigorous Spirit of Enterprise, 59, 236-38.

(16) London, Public Record Office (PRO), Records of the Foreign Office (FO), FO/4/3, FO/4/4.

(17) BN, 25 January 1791, 26 March 1784; Maryland Historical Society (MHS), MS. 1149, William Wilson Account Book.

(18) Dickson, Ulster Emigration, Chapter 7; David Dickson, “An Economic History of the Cork Region in the Eighteenth Century” (Ph.D. diss., Trinity College, Dublin, 1977), 330n., 409-10, 435-36, 465-66, 487-91, 629.

(19) BN, 11 July 1783, 25 January 1785; LJ 10 August 1790, 22 July 1783; BN, 29 December 1789, 15 June 1784.

(20) LJ, 22 July 1783. The data on the length of voyages have been taken from Bric, Economy of Irish Emigration, Chapter 4.

(21) BN, 9 June 1789. For the Paca, see also the Cork Hibernian Chronicle (CHC), 27 March 1786, 5 April 1787.

(22) Dickson, Ulster Emigration, 122, 202-03; BN, 6 March 1792, 15 June 1784; Dublin Hibernian Journal (HJ), 7 January 1791. In 1783 the departure of the brig Rose and Betty (Newry to Baltimore and Virginia), originally advertised for 20 April, was put off no fewer than three times before it finally sailed on 23 May; see BN, 7 March, 30 May 1783.

(23) BN, 27 May 1783; LJ, 4 May 1790, 8 April 1788.

(24) BN, 28 March 1786, 14, 11 May 1784, 1 April 1783. A similar testimonial to Captain Gillis was printed in BN, 25 March 1785.

(25) FJ, 30 August 1788; Philadelphia American Daily Advertiser (ADA), 4 March 1791. For the Cunningham case, see J. Franklin Jameson, ed., “Letters of Phineas Bond, British Consul at Philadelphia,” Annual Report of the American Historical Association for the year 1897 (Washington, 1898), hereafter cited as “Bond Letters,” 472-73, 482 (Phineas Bond to the duke of Leeds, 3 January, 3 May 1791); Journal of the First Session of the House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1790), 339; Journal of the Senate of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, 1791), 253, 255, 257; and Erna Risch, “Immigrant Aid Societies before 1820,” Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography (PMHB) 60 (1936), 31-32.

(26) Maldwyn A. Jones, “Ulster Emigration, 1783-1815,” in E.R.R. Green, ed., Essays in Scotch-Irish History (London, 1969), 50; PRO, FO/4/11, Bond to Grenville, 8 October 1791; SN, 27 February 1784; Pennsylvania Packet (PP), 19 November 1784; SN, 20 March 1784; PP, 5 October 1784. See also a letter dated from Galway, 2 August 1784, in SN, 7 August 1784, where it was stated that only half of those who had sought passage on the ship Anne and Francis (Galway to Baltimore, 1784) could be received “for want of room.”

(27) HJ, 17 November 1784; BN, 9 November 1784; HJ 7 January 1785.

(28) By arrangement with the Barbary powers these passes were issued by the British government to protect British-registered vessels on the high seas from piracy and impressment.

(29) PRO, FO/4/8, Bond to Leeds, 10 November 1789.

(30) PRO, FO/4/7; “Bond Letters,” 464, Bond to Leeds, 1 November 1790. My own figures are principally drawn from a trawl of the following sources: American and Irish newspapers, port entry books, and the archives of the Foreign Office, as held in the PRO. The detailed tables will be published in Bric, Economy of Irish Emigration, Appendix XI.

(31) In February 1793, France declared war on Britain. Although the United States proclaimed its neutrality and thus that its “free ships [made] free goods,” this was not accepted by either of the belligerents; see Alexander DeConde, Entangling Alliance: Politics and Diplomacy during the Administration of George Washington (Durham, N.C., 1958).

(32) Richard J. Purcell, “Irish Settlers in Early Delaware,” Pennsylvania History (PH) 13 (1947), 95; Dickson, Ulster Emigration, 32-34; John A. Monroe, Colonial Delaware: A History (Millwood, N.Y., 1978); Wokeck, Trade in Strangers, Chapter 5.

(33) BN, 14 April 1789; [Philadelphia] General Advertiser (GA), 19 August 1791; New York Daily Gazette, 27 July 1791.

(34) My figure of 36,525 is the sum of the 23,214 and the 13,311 who entered from Ulster and southern Irish ports, respectively; see above. See also John A. Monroe, “The Philadelawarians: A Study in the Relations between Philadelphia and Delaware in the Late Eighteenth Century,” PMHB 69 (1945), 62-80.

(35) New York Journal, 10 August 1791; (New York) Time-Piece, 16 August 1797; PP, 11 February 1788; New York Daily Advertiser, 29 August 1791; PRO, FO/4/7, Temple to Leeds, 23 April 1789; FO/4/11, Temple to Grenville, 5 October 1791.

(36) “Bond Letters,” 455, Bond to Leeds, 3 January 1790; PP, 25 May 1784; Washington, D.C., National Archives, Port of Baltimore, Port Entry Books (1784-88); MHS, MS. 1149, William Wilson Account Book. The Limerick-born Wilson owned a quarter-share in the Paca.

(37) BN, 7 April 1789. The colonial connection with South Carolina is discussed in Dickson, Ulster Emigration, 49-52, 56-57, 165-70, and passim, and Warren B. Smith, White Servitude in Colonial South Carolina (Columbia, S.C., 1961). For the role of clergymen in the post-1783 emigration, see the shipping advertisements for colonial Carolina in BN, 22 January, 22 July 1790, 23 July 1791.

(38) PRO, FO/4/8, Miller to Leeds, 28 January 1790.

MAURICE BRIC is Senior Lecturer in History and Director of American Studies at University College, Dublin (NUI). Bric is also Academic Secretary of the Irish Research Council for the Humanities and Social Sciences. He has written a number of works on eighteenth-century Ireland and America, and his Economy of Irish Emigration to America, 1760-1800 is forthcoming in 2001.

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