‘Strange Soil Your Doom’: Advice on How to Prepare for Emigration in 1863

In the Spring of 1863 the Reverend John Dwyer of Dublin penned a series of three letters to the New York Irish-American newspaper. Entitled ‘Hints to Irish Emigrants’, each was themed to provide advice for different stages of the emigrant’s journey from Ireland to America- what to do before you left, what to do while on the voyage, and what to do upon your arrival. Unsurprisingly, there is a strong religious flavour to the advice; neither do the letters leave the reader in any doubt as to Dwyer’s views on who and what was causing Irish emigration. But the letters also provide practical suggestions, such as what food to pack and what to expect of your new life. They demonstrate how common chain-emigration was, and also allude to the risks that female emigrants faced on their journey. 

Irish Emigrants Leaving Caherciveen, Co. Kerry for America (Library of Congress)

Irish Emigrants Leaving Caherciveen, Co. Kerry for America (Library of Congress)

The Streets Are Not Paved With Gold. The first letter was published on 7th February 1863. In it Reverend Dwyer discusses his views on how English misrule has led to sustained emigration, and cautions prospective emigrants to be sure that the people sending for them from America are trustworthy. He reminds those considering emigration just how tough it will be to make it a success. They should prepare themselves spiritually for the journey, and also make efforts to remain temperate:

Having for many years studied and learned from various sources that appertained to the prosperity, or, destroyed the prospects of Ireland’s children, banished from their parent homes by tyranny and misrule, I deemed it important to publish in a few letters a portion of my information, for the benefit of the emigrants and their sorrowing friends. I shall simply state what is to be done before leaving; what on the voyage, what on arriving, and how prosperity may be secured in obtaining a situation and learning how to keep it. For several months I have made this a special study, both in Ireland and America; and hence I feel confident that every one anxious about their friends, will read with satisfaction my remarks, or statement of facts, as they tend so much to the spiritual and temporal advantage of any and all leaving the land of their birth, and the hallowed martyr soil of saints. What is to be done before leaving? If you cannot remain at home, ascertain who sends for you, and from what motives, and for what occupation. Relations have sent for relations very near to them, and misery and destitution were the reward of the long voyage. Trust not flesh and blood, without a due inquiry, either when urged to leave home, or when you reach the foreign shore. Ascertain through some clergyman or trustworthy person what is the occupation of the party who writes for you, lest you fall into a snare. This advice is more particularly intended for young females emigrating without a faithful and virtuous protector. Next, remember this: the streets are not paved with gold. Hard, hard work, and real industry, you must place before you if you desire to succeed. A large and wealthy city is not a sudden fortune for you. You must work up the hill, or you will fall down. Many have been mistaken, thinking to themselves, “my fortune is made, for I am going abroad.” No such thing. No work no pay. All must work and persevere in watchfulness. Many were ruined by not knowing or not following these suggestions. As to your spiritual preparation, remember you will not have too much time to attend to your religious duties, and hence, learn all you can before you emigrate. False notions of liberty in a free country gradually undermine humility, docility and obedience, and hence a good stock of humility and docility will be a strong shield for your spiritual and temporal welfare. Learn virtuous neatness, but put under foot all notions of vanity and showy dress. These have been the cause of ruin to so many, who, if modest and retiring, would be highly respected, and would rarely, if ever, be out of situation. Secure the Sacrament of the Soldier of Christ to stand firm for your religion, and let Confirmation guard you against the enemies of the Church. Some weeks before departure fortify your souls with Confession and Communion. When on the wide and stormy ocean, then, indeed, you will wish to have a priest. On my passage from Ireland to America, oh! how anxious were the emigrants to confess with all the fervor of their heart and soul. You may not have a priest. A wealthy Catholic said some time ago he would give thousands of pounds to confess to a priest when in the midst of a terrific storm. Provide in time for the dangers of land and sea. Be resolved to be temperate. How many here might be happy and comfortable if they were moderate, and more, they could have sent home a deal of money.

Keep God always before your eyes, and in your hearts, and remember you know not how thousands of temptations may crowd upon you. Pray fervently and often, “Father of Mercy”-“lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil”- “our eyes from sinful objects, our ears from evil discourses, all our sences from every poisonous breath of sin.”

I remain your affectionate countryman,

JOHN DWYER. (1)

On Board an Emigrant Ship (Library of Congress)

On Board an Emigrant Ship (Library of Congress)

Female Emigrants, Cling to Each Other, and Protect Each Other. Reverend Dwyer’s second letter, published on 21st February 1863 and written in New York, offered advice with respects to the voyage, much of it practical suggestions with regard to foodstuffs. It is particularly focused on how women might avoid ‘insult’ while on the journey, suggesting that the harassment and assault of female emigrants during their passage was an all too common occurrence:

New York, Feb. 12, ’63

In my first letter I stated what was to be done before you were driven from your native soil, to your hoped for better condition on a foreign shore, away from petty tyrants, or absentee, or penniless, or screwing landlord, or all combined together. Who does not know that every bad landlord in unfortunate Ireland may, if he so wishes, suck the blood of every tenant? Then their spies and creatures. Some landlords of Ireland have forgotten the 5th, 6th and 7th commands of God. 1st, not to murder, 2d, not to commit adultery, or make others do the same; and 3d, not to drive people to steal; yet in their pride they force into temptation; but pray to God for patience and resistance against all their temptations.

Oh, mercy, mercy on our land,

So poison’d by the triple hand

Of Saxon, demon, landlord brand.

You leave your home, not at my suggestion, but forced by cattle dealers and bad landlords. Then, what are you to do before you start, and on your journey?

1st. Be guarded against a dangerous error and temptation- that notion of a foreign land, that weeping and parting from friends, easily led into every dramshop, where your future prospects in life may be entirely destroyed. On such occasions, pray, “Lord, deliver us from false friends.” Beware of overkindness- that will destroy you. Be calm, steady, and sober, and face your journey with God and a clear conscience.

2d. What are you to bring with you? Bring what you can, just as if you knew not what you were to get on board. The company will supply you according to agreement, but that will not do for your private demands. Tea, coffee, biscuits made of good flour, and well baked, and also a supply of soda powders, will make the journey pleasant and healthful, and enable you to save money. Some nice salt butter, and buttered eggs, would be very good. Bring with you what will enable you to steer clear of difficulties, just as if you were a cabin passenger. No cabin or steerage passenger should travel without their own private resources. You will feel the want of milk; if you have eggs, they will do; if you have not, boil some fresh milk, before leaving, with good sugar; let it cool, and bottle it air-tight. As to loose money, the less you have the better, unless for necessary expenses, or to make some purchase.

3d. Bring with you what will enable you to keep clear of all men’s compliments. Here, in America, no man dare insult a female, and would to God we could say the same of every other country. Female emigrants, cling to each other, and protect each other, for if you do this, you need not fear a second insult, and if repeated, you can easily tell one of the leading officers on board. We hear very few complaints from Germans, French, or others, of being insulted, and this because they cling to each other and protect each other. I have seen it myself, and have been told by priests, travellers, and seamen, young females will not be insulted a second time if they mind themselves and apply to proper quarters on board vessel. Mind yourselves and God will guard you.

4th. When you go aboard, do something useful. Make your berth comfortable and clean, and beware of taking too much mixed food, & c. Turn to the fresh breeze, and keep in the open air as much as possible, if you want to escape sea-sickness. Sew, knit, and chat amongst yourselves, and thus the voyage will be pleasant and useful. Have a supply of good books- and amongst them, Irish and English catechisms, such as you have learned. Labor keeps out vice.

Your affectionate countryman,

JOHN DWYER. (2)

Immigrants landing at Castle Garden (Library of Congress)

Immigrants landing at Castle Garden, New York (Library of Congress)

Strange Soil Your Doom. The final letter was published on 28th February 1863 and relates to the emigrant’s arrival in New York’s Castle Garden, which served as America’s first official immigration centre from 1855 to 1890. It cautions people not to forget those they left behind as they marvel at the wonder of their new surroundings. It also alludes to the dangers of those who would seek to prey on new arrivals, and cautions that you should avoid ‘tract distributors.’ The importance of quickly locating your friends in this new country is also highlighted:

New York, Feb. 24, ’63

Having briefly suggested in my two former letters what you were to do on leaving home, and what during your voyage, I must now speak of your arrival on a foreign shore. On seeing (as you imagine) a land of promise flowing with milk and honey, after tossing on the ocean, you may exult and forget, in your joy for the hour, friends left at home, and perhaps even a father or a mother in the dismal workhouse. Then, indeed, you should be wide awake, and watch and pray most fervently,- then you must cling to your good angel for protection and only rely on those you are quite sure of. Even relations and former friends are to be measured with a discerning eye.- This observation was made by persons long residing in a foreign land. What were emigrants before now passing from Ireland to England to stop there for a few days? The history is a sad one, and I need say no more. Till public shame forced the authorities to appoint proper agents, there was but little protection for female honor, and unless trustworthy and responsible persons are appointed for you, emigrants, to every part of the globe, is there not great risk of scandal, and, perhaps, ruin. The duty of such agents- be they Catholic chaplains or steady laymen- would be to look after you on board, and protect you when you land. If you can discover assured protection you know your course. No man of propriety would trust his daughter to a mixture of unknown strangers. I hope in God the various companies will take notice of these remarks, and if it has been an oversight for the past, I am sure they will consider the matter for the future.

Before leaving, dear emigrants, you must watch yourselves. On the voyage remember your pious home, and on arrival do not forget Saints Patrick and Bridget- their virtues and their crowns. There is but one place here affording State protection, and that is in New York. Castle Garden is appropriated for the safety of all emigrants arriving in the State of New York, but otherwise you have no claim on Castle Garden. I have gone frequently to that establishment to see the newly arrived emigrants, and to receive information from the officers and emigrants of many countries, so as to communicate what may have been written before, but what never reached you. You may meet there tract distributors, but a deaf ear is a very silent reprimand. If they annoy you, tell the officers. Have your direction and papers ready, and means also, to go at once to your friends. I have seen some who either lost or forgot their direction, and what were they to do? Some came expecting to meet a brother or father, and did not find them. Follow these hints, and the officers of Castle Garden will do their duty. They are paid officers of high integrity, with the feelings of a brother for every emigrant placed under their protection. They ask nothing from you but to allow them to act as well-instructed parents to their dear children, to save you from all harm. Through them you can procure situations. You need not be long idle if you follow your instructions. Go nowhere without their knowledge. Leave your luggage in their hands.

You left your home from tyrant gloom,

To brave the land and sea;

Strange soil your doom, strange soil your tomb,

But God is full of mercy.

May God bless you and your protectors.

Your affectionate countryman,

John Dwyer. (3)

Registering Emigrants at Castle Garden (Library of Congress)

Registering Emigrants at Castle Garden (Library of Congress)

(1) Irish-American 7th February 1863; (2) Irish-American 21st February 1863; (3) Irish-American 28th February 1863;

References

New York Irish-American 7th February 1863. Hints to Irish Emigrants. By the Rev. J. Dwyer, Dublin.

New York Irish-American 21st February 1863. Hints to Irish Emigrants. Second Letter from Rev. J. Dwyer.

New York Irish-American 28th February 1863. Hints to Irish Emigrants. Third Letter from the Rev. J. Dwyer. 

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Categories: Dublin, New York

Author:Damian Shiels

I am an archaeologist based in Ireland, specialising in conflict archaeology.

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4 Comments on “‘Strange Soil Your Doom’: Advice on How to Prepare for Emigration in 1863”

  1. John Murphy
    December 24, 2014 at 1:27 pm #

    Insightful. Fear of the unknown I’m was a part of all their thoughts but these letters give a different perspective on the realities our forefathers faced.
    Thanks Damian. Merry Christmas.

    • January 8, 2015 at 11:18 am #

      Hi John,

      Many thanks and I hope you and yours had a great Christmas and New Year.

      Kind Regards,

      Damian.

  2. Jenn Hill
    December 22, 2015 at 10:11 am #

    Thank you for posting this informative piece. Happy Christmas.

    • December 22, 2015 at 1:58 pm #

      Thanks for reading Jenn! Many happy returns.

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