Irish Settlements in Minnesota and Illinois

John Francis Maguire
CHAPTER XII (6) start of chapter

But all this while the brief picture of an Irish Settlement in Minnesota is pressing for attention. The writer is the Honorary Secretary of the Irish Emigrant Society of St. Paul, who, by no means indifferent to the value of a little money capital, thus shows what Irishmen have done with the God-given capital of strength, skill, and patient industry:—

'Men who commenced the very poorest are to-day well off. Let me give you an instance. Sixty miles west of St. Paul, on the Minnesota river, Sibly county, is the Irish Settlement of Jessen Land. About thirteen years ago the first steamer that went up the Minnesota landed two brothers of the name of Doheny, and a man of the name of Young, all from "gallant Tipperary," at this place, then an unbroken wilderness. Perhaps they were the first white men who ever stood there. Well, they set to work, cut down a tree here and there, put in a few hills of potatoes, planted a little corn, put a few sticks and logs together, and called them houses. This was all necessary at the time to fulfil the requirements of the law. In this way they made claims, not alone for themselves, but for friends in the East, and became owners of a large tract of splendid land. When all this was accomplished their money was run out; so they returned to St. Paul, and went again to work. In the following spring they again went up the Minnesota, this time bringing their families, and the friends for whom they had made land entries, with them. To-day this settlement, and Walter and Tom Doheny, who started it, are a credit to us all. The settlement has two-storey handsome farm-houses and barns, its church, priest, and school. Its people are what the Irish peasant can become even in the first generation—intelligent, industrious, open-hearted, generous, brave, and independent. When I want to be reminded of my dear country, I spend a day in Jessen Land.'

Here is a mere glimpse of the Irish in Illinois:—

An excellent Irishman, residing in Chicago, whose business, as a commission agent, has for the last ten years brought him into constant communication with his countrymen of the farming classes, not only throughout Illinois, but several other of the Western States, says: 'There is not a county of the one hundred counties of which Illinois is composed, that has not representatives from Ireland among its farming population; and I am proud to say to you, and the world, that where the Irish farmer once gets settled down upon his farm, in this his Western home, that he shows as much energy and go-aheadishness as emigrants from any other part of the world. We have, in almost every county, what are known as Irish settlements founded by some early adventurous Irishman. Several are of great extent; that, for instance, founded by Mr. Neill Donnelly, in M'Henry's county, is one of the finest in the State. There are three good-sized Catholic churches and several excellent district schools in this settlement, in which there is much comfort and prosperity.' After referring to the harmony in which the Irish live with all nationalities, and the mutual willingness to assist and serve each other, my excellent friend adds: 'Nothing less than 80 acres of land is worth while to have out here, although occasionally you will find a small farm of 40 acres; but it is looked upon as nothing in this part of the world. Some of my Irish friends in Donnelly's and other settlements have 640 acres each, and almost all at least 120 acres. Farmers divide their crops often in this way; say 20 acres of wheat, 10, or 20, or 40 acres of corn, so many acres of oats, rye, barley, potatoes, &c., according to the size of the farm. To afford you an idea of the prosperity of our Irish farmers, I will mention that often, in the course of my business, I have at one time sold as high as one thousand dollars' worth of pork, butter, and wheat, for one Irish farmer; and I can tell you he had not much when he began the world here. But industry, and, above all, sobriety, will carry an Irishman through any difficulty. We should not have to see a poor man in any of our big cities while there is a glorious State like this, with the best lands to be had for little. What I say of Illinois can also be said of Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota, as well as of Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, and Nebraska. All this vast country offers inducements to thrifty, honest settlers, such as no other country can offer; and our people, many of whom are wasting their energies in eastern cities, would do well to avail themselves of them. I tell you it would benefit them soul as well as body to do so.'

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

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