The Climate of the South

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XII (12) start of chapter

And in the city of Augusta, in which there are several Irish doing a good business, and holding a good position, there is an Irish settlement, known by the name of Dublin, which is occupied by a hard-working, industrious, thrifty, and sober population, to whom the houses and the land on which they stand belong.

An able and experienced Irishman—himself one of the most successful citizens of Memphis, Tennessee—remarked to me one day: 'The trouble is, that the Irish don't go on the land as much as they ought. I never knew an Irishman that pulled up pegs, and went on the land, that did not do well. All have done well that went into the country. It is now the easiest thing in the world to get land, and good land too, at fair terms. Take an example in a man from your own part of Ireland, to show you how an Irishman may purchase a good property here. A man from Cork, a mere labourer, went out to Brownsville, ditching—in other words, fencing, to keep in cattle. That was in 1862. I know that man to have $3,300 in bank, and $1,500 besides; that is, nearly $5,000 in all. He has not yet invested in land, but he intends doing so. He is looking about him, and he will be sure to pick up a splendid thing for the money. This Cork man of yours now hires a couple of negroes, and does work by contract.'

'But the climate?' I enquired.

'Climate!—all nonsense about the climate. Climate! Why, you have more sunstrokes in one month in New York than there are for a whole year in the entire of the South. If a man drinks, the climate will tell on him—may kill him; but if he is a sober man, there is no fear of him. That is my experience; and I have a pretty long one, I can tell you. The land, sir, is the thing—the country the place for our people. The land will give a man everything but coffee, tea, or sugar; these he can buy, and live like a king. I know an Irishman, who was a porter in a hotel, at $25 a month. He went five miles out of the city, and leased forty acres, took a dairy, bought cows, and brought his milk into the city. He is now the owner of eighty acres of valuable land, with a fine house, and every comfort for himself and his family. The land, sir! the land, sir! is the place for our people; tell them so.'

I do not venture to suggest to the Irishman in America, or the Irishman who intends to emigrate to America, to what State of the Union he should go in search of a home. All I say is this: if he is a farmer, a farm-labourer, a peasant—that is, a man born and bred in the country—let him go anywhere, so that he goes out of the city. Turn where he may, he is always sure to find a market for his labour; and having obtained the employment best suited to his knowledge and capacity, he can put by his dollars, and look around him to see if anything in the neighbourhood would suit him, or is within his reach; or if there be no fair opening for him, no prospect of making a home there, then he has only to push on farther, and he will be certain to find the land and the home to his liking. With money in his pocket and strength in his arms, and a determination to employ both to the best advantage, surely there is little fear of the Irishman who desires to make a home for himself in the New World.

In a word, the peasant—the man of the spade, the plough, and the barrow—for the country, the land, the soil. So the artizan, the mechanic, the handycraftsman, for the city, the workshop, the factory—for the place and occupation which are best suited to his skill, his capacity, and his training. One would not, at least ought not, recommend a watchmaker, or an engineer, or a gas-fitter, or a house-painter, or a boiler-maker, to go into the forest and hew down trees, or to the prairie and turn it up with a plough and a team of oxen. The city is their right place. But, even with the mechanic, discrimination is necessary. Young and rising cities may offer better opportunities to the skilled workman than old cities, in which the competition is fierce, the special trade may be overdone, and the cost of living is out of all proportion to the payment, however liberal that may be. In new places the prudent man may secure his lot, or his two lots, even a block, on reasonable terms; and as time goes on—a short time in the States—the town extends, the population increases, and property rises in value; and thus, with comparatively little outlay, a prudent man may become rich, with small trouble and no risk. Then, in rising places, the demand for certain classes of skilled labour is greater, and its remuneration larger, than in places already built and long settled. The prudent artizan may thus have two strings to his bow, and both of them serviceable: he may work at greater advantage, and speculate with greater certainty of profit. There are in America thousands of Irishmen—not a few of them 'millionaires'—who, prudent and far-seeing, have risen with the fortunes of new places, in which they secured a large interest by timely and judicious investment. I have met with several of these men, and I heard from their own lips the story of their good fortune.

The Irish in America, first published in 1868, provides an invaluable account of the extreme difficulties that 19th Century Irish immigrants faced in their new homeland and the progress which they had nonetheless made in the years since arriving on a foreign shore. A new edition, including additional notes and an index, has been published by Books Ulster/LibraryIreland:

Paperback: 700+ pages The Irish in America

ebook: The Irish in America