Music from Ireland in Colonial America
Expanded information from the Rogues' Consort CD Booklet

Other Early Irish in America

Many immigrants referred to as Irish were Scots Irish, once described by Dr. James H. Snowden of Pittsburg as “a Scotchman who was rubbed through the sieve of Ireland”.  A New England Congressman, Uriah Trecy, called them “the most God-provoking democrats on this side of hell.” And it was also said of their thriftiness, “they kept the commandments of God and everything else they could get their hands on.The Scots-Irish in PA & KY by Billy Kennedy [Causeway Press, Belfast IR 1998]

Early emigrant group migrations from Ireland before the American Revolution came solely from Ulster, some 200,000 of Scottish descent and Presbyterian faith, between 1717 and 1775. In 1718 About 100 families, the earliest known organized group of emigrants to leave Ireland together, sailed from Donegal for New Hampshire, where they founded Londonderry. The Great Migration from Ulster, starting in 1717, began when a severe drought from 1714 to 1719 not only affected food, but destroyed the flax and linen industry. They came for these economic reasons, mostly to Pennsylvania, until Arthur Dobbs encouraged fellow Ulster Scots Irish to come to North Carolina.  Very few groups of native Irish came until the 1840s during the potato famine.

But there were others who came with families, or in small groups, or alone.

There was commercial shipping on Irish vessels between Ireland and America, and unknown numbers of Irish seaman decided to stay. Others, who could not afford passage, indentured themselves to pay for their passage. Matthew Lyon was one of these.

And there were some who were forced to come. A few thousand felons and dissidents were transported here from all over Ireland, to become indentured servants, although the most frequent felony in the passenger lists seems to be “vagrant”. 

From Emigrants from Ireland to America 1735-1743: A Transcription of the Reports of the Irish House of Commons into Enforced Emigration to America, by Frances McDonnell (Genealogy Publishing Co., Inc, Baltimore MD 1992). During the 17th and 18th century, over 60,000 men, women and children were involuntarily transported to the American colonies. They included felons, but also political and religious dissidents. The English courts were more likely to transport, some 50,000 as indentured servants. The Scots transported fewer than 3000, and the Irish courts transported about 4,000. The kidnapping and shipment of children to America and sale as indentured servants caused great concern, and in 1743 the Irish government established a commission to examine the transportation problems, resulting in tighter rules in 1752.  The lists revealed the most common felony listed was “vagrant”, and crimes such as grand or petty larceny.

Others, like Harman Blennerhassett of “Castle Conway” were wealthy. Blennerhassett was Secretary of the Society of United Irishmen, a reform group which eventually became involved in the unsuccessful rebellion of 1798. Blennerhassett had the foresight to realize what would happen if he were involved in a revolt doomed to fail, and he liquidated his holdings and left Ireland in the 1790s.

Harman Blennrehassett and his wife Margaret moved to the Ohio country, where he purchased an island in the Ohio River, near Marietta OH and Parkersburg WV.

On Blennerhassett Island, they built a mansion and hosted dinners, concerts, balls and other social events. They owned a pianoforte, one of the first west of the Alleghenies, and other music instruments.

They also hosted many politically powerful people in the new country. One of them was former Vice-President Aaron Burr. And fortune did not smile on Harman and Margaret when Burr's consipracy collapsed. (The mansion has been rebuilt and is a West Virginia park, furnished with both original Blennrhassett pieces and reproductions.)

Many from Ireland fought in the American Revolution, like Matthew Lyon (Green Mountain Boys) and Major William Croghan of the Virginia Line (born Dublin 1754).

Major Croghan married Lucy Clark, the sister of Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark, and they built a mansion up-river from Louisville, Kentucky in 1790s. Clark spent the last years of his life with the Croghans from 1809 to 1819.

The Croghan's Locust Grove mansion hosted three US Presidents, Taylor, Jackson and Monroe, as well as Lucy's younger brother William Clark and his co-leader of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Merriwether Lewis. The Locust Grove ballroom has both a harp and a pianoforte.