The European immigration
began in the 1820's coinciding, not
incidentally with the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in America.
The port of entry for most immigrants was at Castle Garden in New York
From 1820 until 1890 the
Irish, German, and those from the United Kingdom were the three leading
nationalities to emigrate to America. Those immigrants who arrived in
America during the 1840's and 1850's
usually did not have any personal or institutional ties to this
country. To facilitate the disbursement of immigrant labor to American
manufacturers, the Castle Garden Labor Bureau was established during the
1850's. Immigrants recorded their names,
nationalities, and occupational skills in a register.
Employers or their agents
would recruit immigrant laborers at Castle Garden, trying to match a
skilled laborer with the appropriate job opening. Employers from New
York and New Jersey received the most immigrant laborers, with
Connecticut third and Pennsylvania fourth.
Possibly in this manner
the Irish found their way up the Connecticut River Valley to employment
in Middletown, and from there to the more rural village of Moodus. Irish
immigrants constituted a large share of the mill work force in Moodus
from the 1840's until the 1890's. The Polish began to replace the Irish
as the main immigrant group during the 1890's and continued to be the
dominant group until the 1920's.
In the census of 1850,
forty-nine residents of East Haddam stated that they had been born in
Ireland. In 1860 there were one hundred forty-three Irish-born
residents. The total dropped to one hundred twenty in the 1870 census,
and then down to seventy-six in 1880.
Because of the town's
rural character and the fact that the mills were smaller than in the
cities, Moodus was more attractive to both the Irish and Polish. In many
respects Moodus might not have been too unlike their own villages back
in Ireland or Poland. Here one could have a garden and tend some
backyard livestock, walk down tree-shaded lanes, build rock walls, and
fish in the river.
Even during the height of
the industrial revolution in town, Moodus remained a small, quiet,
close-knit village in the countryside. Since the Irish had begun to
arrive in America as early as the 1820's, some had found their way into
Moodus at the very beginning of the mill age, and had played a
significant role in helping to build the cotton industry here. The Irish
were the laborers who had dug and hauled, cut and hammered until the
land was cleared, the waterwheel in place, and the mill constructed.
Edward Brownell hired Irish immigrants at 50
cents per day to dig the ditch for the headrace, and even then they had
to supply their own wheelbarrows and shovels.'
The Irish had left
Ireland for a number of reasons. First, Ireland was overpopulated. The
primitive, pre-industrial economy did not offer any hope of employment
for the young. Second, the British landowning class had mismanaged their
land and depressed an already poor agricultural economy. Third, there
was no industry developing in Ireland. Immigration to America offered
escape from these depressing, debilitating economic conditions. During
the 1840's the Great Famine became the greatest natural disaster in
Irish history. Hundreds of thousands of Irish died, one million fled,
most to America. Between 1850 and 1860, nine hundred thousand Irish
emigrated to America.
Why did they settle in
Connecticut'? First, Connecticut is close to New York City and most
Irish were without money upon arrival. Also, Connecticut was in the
midst of its industrial revolution and offered plenty of entry-level
jobs. Those who had family or friends already established in Moodus were
encouraged to settle there and find steady employment in the mills.
The Irish were welcomed
in Moodus. There are no stories of violence and few prejudices against
the newly arrived immigrants. The mills needed laborers, and the Irish
who arrived were, for the most part, young, strong, and willing to work
for the wages being offered. The average age of the Irishborn man in
the combined censuses of 1850, 1860, and 1870 is 29;
that of the Irish-born woman is 27.
The Irish who settled in
Moodus were Catholics, not Presbyterians, and a Catholic parish was
established in 1850. Ten years later the parish joined with St. Andrew's
Church of Colchester, and a priest from that town would travel to Moodus
to conduct services in the homes of the parishioners. As the Catholic
population increased, the idea of constructing a chapel in Moodus gained
popular support, and in 1868 it became a reality. The Chapel was built
on North Moodus Road just a short way from the village center. It was
enlarged in 1883 as the Irish population continued to grow. In 1914 the
parish separated from St. Andrew's Church and became St. Bridget of
Kildare Roman Catholic Church with the Rev. Thomas H. Tiernan as the
Curiously, however, the
Irish population began to decline as the century progressed and
eventually gave way to Polish immigrants. Apparently, the second
generation Irish in Moodus had decided to seek a life more prosperous
than that being offered by the mills and left the village. The family
names of Cashman, Shea, and Maus are a few of the original Irish
remaining and prospering in town.
The Polish began to
arrive in Moodus in large numbers during the 1890's and 1900's. Poland
was not an independent nation during this period. There were Poles
living in Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Russia. The Polish were peasants
who eked out a hardscrabble existence with no chance for improvement.
Many were sent away from their villages to work and board with rich
families for a period of time. The Polish possibly arrived in Moodus
following the same route as the Irish. They arrived in New York City
without any money, found their way to nearby Connecticut, probably
heading to the cities (Meriden, New Britain, Middletown), and then
finding entry-level employment in the mills of rural Moodus.
The Polish immigrants did
not encounter hostile, prejudicial attitudes in Moodus, either from the
native Yankees or the more established Irish. The Polish were needed in
the mills because Moodus was actually people-poor.
In 1910 there were 610 fewer residents than
there had been in 1880. In fact, the population steadily decreased from
1880 until 1940, with an average loss of 18.3 persons per year.'
Many of the Polish
immigrants were illiterate upon their arrival in Moodus, public
education in the old country not being the same as in America. Those who
were illiterate would have friends who were literate write letters to
relatives in Poland telling them about the good life in Moodus. They
would save their wages and send money to relatives and friends in Poland
so that they could emigrate. When new immigrants arrived in Moodus they
would board with family or friends until they could get a job and save
for their own place. Three of the oldest Polish families in town are
Spiwak, Skinner, and Consic."