How Things were done Twenty Years since

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER X (4) start of chapter

Previously to the year 1847, the alien emigrant was left either to the general quarantine and poor-laws, or to local laws and ordinances, varying in their character or in their administration. A general tax on all passengers arriving at the port of New York was applied to the support of the Marine Hospital at Quarantine, where the alien sick were received and treated; but this was all that the humanity of that day provided for the relief of those whom necessity had driven to the shores of America. By the local laws, the owners of vessels bringing foreign emigrants were required to enter into bonds indemnifying the city and county in case of their becoming chargeable under the poor-laws. These provisions were found to be inconvenient to the shipowner, owing to the great increase of emigration from the year 1840 to the year 1847, and were altogether insufficient as a means of protection to the emigrant against the consequences of disease or destitution. The bonds were onerous to the respectable shipowner, and a rope of sand to the fraudulent. The shipowner, too, adopted a means of evading his responsibility by transferring it to the shipbroker, a person generally of an inferior class; and the shipbroker thus consenting to stand in the place and assume the responsibility of the owner, the ship and her living freight were unreservedly surrendered to him. The shipowner had the alternative either to give bonds of indemnity to the city against possible chargeability, or compound for a certain sum per head, and thus rid himself of all future responsibility; but he found it more convenient to deal with the broker than with the city authorities. The broker freely gave his bond; but when tested, it was in most instances found to be valueless, he generally being a man of straw. To the tender mercies of the broker the emigrant was thus abandoned.

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