Immigrants In The Valley: Irish, German, and Ame

“Immigrants In The Valley: Irish, German, and Americans in the Upper Mississippi Country, 1830-1860,” by Mark Wyman, Nelson-Hall, Chicago, 1984. This 258-page hardback tells the story of settlement in the Illinois territory.

The prairie grass lands of Illinois were open to settlers in about 1830, after the Military Tract was opened to veterans of the War of 1812 in 1817 and Illinois statehood in 1818. Southern Illinois was reached from Kentucky, Tennessee, and the Carolinas using the Wilderness Trail and Nashville-Saline Trail crossing the Ohio River at Fords Ferry near Cave in Rock. The National Road eventually gave access to Vandalia, IL but was delayed by the Panic of 1837. It was completed to Indianapolis only in 1850. The area could be reached by the Great Sauk Trail from Detroit to the southern edge of Lake Michigan, a post road by 1825. Completion of the Erie Canal in the 1825 gave access to the Great Lakes. Travel time was typically seven to nine weeks–preferably in fall when roads were less muddy and rivers easier to ford. Steamboats arrived in about 1817 providing access from New Orleans. Flatboats down the Ohio were often used. Railroads reached the area in the 1850s.

Lead mines in Wisconsin, Illinois and Missouri attracted Irish in the 1830s. Germans began to arrive in the same era. In Missouri they are known as followers of Duden. Gottfried Duden established a farm in Dutzow, MO in 1824. He returned to Germany and published a pamphlet that was widely circulated.

The difficulties in Ireland under British rule are described. The potato blight was first noted in the US in 1842, but reached Ireland in 1845. There the effect was devastating due to over population and reliance on a single crop for food. To deal with overcrowding, land owners paid for tickets to America. They began to arrive in the Upper Mississippi Valley in the 1850s. From 1850 to 1860, the Irish population tripled from 68,448 to 209,070. “America Wakes” were held for those leaving expecting never to return. Those with jobs sent funds to bring family members. Ships were filled to capacity. The trip required 40 days at sea. Provisions were often inadequate. Filth, debasement, and disease were common. Many were robbed of any valuables by sharpers on arrival.

Over half a million Germans crossed the ocean to America during a three year period in the 1850s. The German population in America increased from 573,225 in 1850 to 1,301,136 in 1860. The potato famine was also a factor in Germany, especially south and western Germany where inheritance laws required division of the lands between heirs. Religious differences were a factor especially after Prussia unified the Lutherans and Reformed churches over the objections of Alt Lutherans. Some left Germany for religious reasons. Under the traditional class system, nobles ran things and took care of peasants. This system was challenged beginning in the 1830s. In 1848, in Frankfurt an effort was made to align with the ideas of the French Revolution. When that failed, many idealists and liberals decided to leave Germany. Many settled in the upper Midwest including Illinois, Missouri, Iowa, and Wisconsin. Both Catholic and Protestant communities were formed. The Lutherans created two synods from immigrating Alt Lutherans. The Catholics established German parishes.

The need for labor to build canals and railroads was a driver. The Illinois-Michigan Canal funded by land grants was formed in 1827. Construction began in 1836. Workers were recruited with offers of food and good pay. Many Irish responded. The Panic of 1837 stopped construction, but resumed in 1845. Completed in 1848 the canal greatly assisted Chicago bringing corn and hogs to the city. Another major project was the Illinois Central Railroad promoted by Sen. Stephen Douglas. It ran the length of Illinois to Cairo. It received land grants in 1850. Workers were recruited by agents in New York and given transportation to Kankakee. As many as 100,000 were recruited but turnover was high. Cholera and malaria were common problems. Some promises were not kept; wages were cut or unpaid. The Illinois Central was completed in 1856. A first railroad bridge across the Mississippi River at Davenport, IA was opened in 1856.

Northern Illinois was settled by New Englanders. They brought with them the Congregational Church as well as public schools, libraries, temperance, and reform. South of Springfield settlers were often illiterate and unchurched. Few knew the Ten Commandments or owned a Bible. New Englanders and New Yorkers were regarded with suspicion. They were too smart, too clever and not to be trusted. This was an era of revival meetings that spread Protestantism. Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, and Congregational churches dominated. They evolved from the predestination of Calvinism to free will. Roman Catholics were most strict in forming churches. Methodists used circuit riders to serve sparse settlements. By 1855, they were the largest religion in Illinois followed by the Baptists. Working together the Presbyterians and Congregationalists formed colleges to train clergy.

By 1850, the Roman Catholic Church became the largest in America with 3.1mm members. Catholic and Lutheran churches became the churches of immigrants. Language choices were a source of tension in many churches. Some saw adopting English as part of Americanization.

A chapter describes the Protestant reform movement. This is the idea that society can be purified by avoiding sin. Reform came from New England but was supported by most Protestant churches. Out of this came temperance and blue laws that preserved Sunday as the Sabbath. The issue came to a head in 1858 when Fourth of July fell on Sunday. Public schools were begun as part of the reform movement as Protestants promoted the three R’s. Both Catholic and Lutheran groups responded with parochial schools beginning in the 1830s.

The temperance movement is described. Before 1900, alcohol was consumed without shame. Germans preferred wine and beer; the Irish favored whiskey. Regional temperance organizations were present, most connected to Christian evangelism. Maine passed the first effective law in 1853. In Illinois prohibition came to a vote on June 4, 1855. Statewide it failed 93K to 79K. It passed in Princeton, Galesburg, and Rockford. It failed in Chicago and the southern counties. The effect was to unite the immigrant populations. They became a force in politics.

The politics leading to the election of Lincoln in 1860 is described. The Whigs had been the opposition to the Democrats from the 1830, but began to fail. They were seen as opponents of “common people” and had few victories in the Upper Mississippi Valley. Voting laws were revised dropping land ownership requirement allowing the many squatters to vote. The Kansas-Nebraska Act, which allowed those states to decide if they would allow slavery, was pushed through Congress by Illinois Senator Stephen Douglas. Although slavery was not allowed in the Northwest Territory, it was a sensitive issue in Illinois. The Know-Nothings became a major party in the area. They required members be Protestant born, reared and wed, and to vote only for native-born American citizens excluding foreigners, aliens, and especially Roman Catholics. The Republican party came to be in the mid 1850s. The Republicans reached Illinois in 1856 with input from Lincoln on policy: anti-Know Nothings, opposed to the Kansas-Nebraska Act, against expansion of slavery, and for religious tolerance. In 1856, many Germans voted Republican.

This is a thorough telling of settlement of the Upper Mississippi Valley until 1860 including especially the story of Irish and German settlers. Photo. References. Index.


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