[See also Treatment by Authorities & Others]
A feverish bustle of preparations sweeps the steerage; the pilot comes on board. Clothes are washed & children put in order. Anxious eyes make out the approaching buildings. The ship anchors; this is quarantine. ([see story of] Hannah Veag's shoes)
The authorities survey the assembled passengers, ask if they are well, examine the vessel's records, allow it to dock if there is no sign of contagion. If there were? In 1847 84 ships were held at Grosse Isle, below Quebec. Of the Irish immigrants who sought shelter beneath the flimsy, exposed sheds, 10,000 died; of these, 3,000 so alone that their names were never known.
- O. Handlin, The Uprooted, chap. II;
Harpies (N.Y.). William Brown wrote in 1849 that when the vessel was tied to the wharf "a gang of 300 or 400 ruffians, calling themselves runners," jumped on board & seized all baggage & tried to persuade the passengers to go to such-and-such lodging-house... They received 6 1/2¢ per head for alluring travelers to the various inns & grog-shops, & made the remainder of their living by "stealing trunks from passengers... The steerage passengers of our vessel lost about 27 trunks to these gentry, & some contained all the money they had in the world."
The Castle Gardens immigrant clearinghouse, established in 1855, greatly improved conditions:
It was financed largely by a head tax levied on immigrants, together with a commission of 20% paid by transport companies on the sale of tickets. A guide book said, "No one can properly appreciate the assistance it gives the immigrant...unless he had been witness to the fearful scenes which occurred on the landing of a shipload of immigrants previous to its establishment." Here the stranger was given information to guide him to his destination, & sold the proper ticket; if he was sick he was transported to Ward's Island, where he was maintained at public charge until his recovery; while if he wished to obtain advice as to a suitable boarding-house or hotel, it was available without the questionable help of "runners." Upon a vessel's arrival, she was boarded by an official who issued checks for all baggage, this eliminating the previous loss to runners, & it was then claimed by the owner at his convenience. Many remained a few days at Castle Garden, rather than spending their remaining cash for accommodations, & at times 2,000 people slept on bench or floor, and used the washrooms, free hot water, & supplies of milk, bread, cheese, sausage, tea, & coffee at the lowest possible prices...The penniless were loaned sums varying from $2 to $50 on the security of their baggage, for terms from a few weeks to 2 years, without interest. Small children, sent to join relatives, "with a label fastened round their bodies showing their destination, were forwarded like express parcels."
There were, of course, plenty of cases of misfortune & disappointment, but every effort was made to assist the incoming stranger.
- Guillet, The Gt. Mig., p. 85-87
Prior to 1847 the subject of the care & support of immigrants was left either to general quarantine & poor laws or to local ordinances. Since 1797 a Marine Hospital on Staten Isl. was maintained for the quarantine of those with communicable diseases. Other sick were not provided for.
- Robt. Ernst, Immigrant Life in N.Y. City, p. 25
In 1848 a hospital opened on Ward's Isle for those sick with non-communicable diseases.
Runners - agents of individuals & companies in the business of forwarding immigrants to other parts of the country or agents of boardinghouses near the waterfront. The boarded the ships on entering the harbor. A contemporary report of the Commissioners of Emigration: "An enormous sum of money is annually lost to the emigrants by the wiles & false statements of the emigrant runners, many of them originally from their own country." Irish runners preyed upon Irish, German upon German, & American upon all.
- Ibid., p. 27
A young Irishman landed in 1848: "The moment he landed, his luggage (a box of tools, a bundle of clothes, & a few pounds in gold) was pounced on by 2 runners, one seizing the box of tools, the other the clothes. He assured the runners he could carry his own luggage, but no, they would relieve him - guest of the Republic - of that trouble. Each was in the interest of a different boarding house, & as each insisted the young Irishman go with him...not being able to oblige both gentlemen...and as the tools were more valuable than the clothes, he followed the man who had secured that part of the plunder... The two men wore very pronounced green neck-ties & spoke with a richness of accent that denoted special cultivation; & on his arrival at the boarding-house, he was cheered with the announcement that its proprietor was from "the ould country, o loved every sod of it, God bless it!"
- Ibid., p. 28
These boardinghouses fleeced their customers, & in 1848 the state legislature adopted regulations which resulted in some improvement. Charges grew less exorbitant, & some individuals were forced to deliver the luggage they held as "security." Theft became more frequent with this reform, & some boardinghouse keepers were suspected of active participation in the thefts.
- Ibid., p. 28
New York -
While still out - the first to arrive was the pilot.
The next arrival was the inspecting officer from the Quarantine Station. After inspection for illness, he ordered the passengers to wash all clothes... After his departure, old clothes were thrown overboard & clothes-washing continued through the night. Lines were set up between the masts, but the breeze carried away some of the wash & it became advisable to hire sailors to fasten clothing securely to the rigging, the usual payment being rum. The nearer the vessel approached the Quarantine Station the more ships were in evidence and the spectacle of clothes fluttering in the breeze was to be seen on all sides.
In N.Y., as in Canada, the care of the needy was left entirely to charitable persons during the first quarter of the 19th cent.; but in 1824 N.Y. led the way in protecting itself from the influx of the destitute by bonding shipmasters and subtracting from the bond the cost of the care of poverty-stricken passengers. The most prominent result of this legislation was the development of a racket - the disreputable trade of insuring captains against forfeit of any part of their bond. This was achieved by lodging the destitute in the worst & cheapest of boardinghouses, where they received the harshest treatment amid degrading conditions; but as their care did not fall upon the city the captains were saved a great deal of money that would have been forfeited, but the intent of the law was entirely evaded. In 1832 the bond was replaced by a direct tax of $2.00 levied against each passenger, which the captain collected or included in the price of the ticket. The trade of providing disreputable accommodations & insuring the captain against loss went on, over 3/4 of the money collected fining its way into the pockets of the captains or brokers. At the middle of the century the tax was $1.50.
The Quarantine Station on Staten Island, 9 miles from the city, was better organized and less congested than those in Canada...& the immigrants were thus not subject to the same inconvenience & delays... The sick were kept in quarantine until fully recovered, while on Ward's Island was the clearinghouse for healthy emigrants. In a day or two the well steerage passengers usually proceeded to N.Y.. In 1855 Castle Garden became the great immigrant depot, & Ward's was the site of the hospital for the sick & indigent who might become public wards. It was not until 1891 that Ellis Island became the quarantine station.
1847 - plague year. There was careful management by the Commissioners of Emigration that contrasted favorably with the congestion at Grosse Island [in Canada]. Stringent sanitary regulations were enforced at N.Y., & consequently many overcrowded vessels bound for N.Y. altered their destination to the St. Lawrence, where 2 or 3 times as many might be landed as in N.Y.. This save the city from the calamity that befell Quebec & Montreal, but the disease was still widespread. 1st all the quarantine hospitals were filled, then all spare rooms in the Alms House were rented. Special buildings were put up on Staten Island. Warehouses at the Quarantine Station were used; all hospitals, public & private, were requisitioned. Finally a large stone building on Ward's Island was leased & added to. Accommodations were found for all.
The Commissioners did not stop with shelter. Between May & Sept. 10,308 pieces of clothing were made & furnished to destitute immigrants, while hundreds of men were given employment in the interior of the state or were forwarded to the west free of charge. Over 100,000 immigrants entered N.Y. between May 5 & Sept. 30, 1847, of whom 43,208 were German & 40,820 were Irish. A total of 6,761 were sent to hospitals, & of these 60% were Irish. The deaths in the same period were 703.
- Guillet, The Great Migration, p. 179-84
Information not precise, but safe to say 75% of emigrants went to U.S..
50% of these landed in N.Y. City. The system of frauds here exceeded even Liverpool; the inland transportation was riddled with abuse, & the forwarding houses grossly overcharged for both RR & canal fare. The Irish Emigration Society here & also in Boston & New Orleans tried to help, but their scope was limited.
1847 - Alarmed at flood expected, adopted firm measures in N.Y.. Every passenger (no matter his age) was to be allowed 14 feet of space & the penalties for overcrowding were severe - master could be fined $150 for every excess passenger. No adequate machinery for enforcement, but it frightened the agents into raising fares considerably, thus diverting the most destitute to Canada.
Quarantine system reconstructed & placed in the hands of 10 experienced commissioners:
1. compelled passengers to disembark on their supervised lighters[?] to protect them
2. set up central relief office which served as an employment office
3. set up an immigrant hospital. The hospital a success (only 850 died of the 7,000
patients who entered) but still still emergency ________ had to be set up on Long
& Staten Islands, & typhus broke out in Philadelphia & Baltimore. Boston had
worst epidemic & set up such stringent requirements [that] immigration virtually
halted there in last half of '47. (Ships diverted to Canada, adding to their woes.)
1847 was the most disastrous season in U.S., but still spared the horrors of the
1848 - ship's fever
1849 - serious cholera epidemic, a harsh winter, & a depression. The New York Commissioners had to spend $380,000 for relief of the destitute. "We are obliged to keep supplies of provisions in our office to give to those who come in famishing."
1851 - another cholera epidemic
1853 1854 - another devastating epidemic
- The Great Famine
Irish emigration has been described as "a movement from the known to the known." What is meant is that Irish emigrants tended to go where their relatives had preceded them; as a body they have not been pioneers into an unfamiliar country. Even when the famine of the 1840s was still in progress, it was noted that the first care of Irish immigrants in the U.S. was to save money to pay the passage of members of their families whom they had left behind. Throughout the period of American emigration these close ties between brothers & sisters or cousins on either side of the Atlantic remained unweakened. The intending emigrant was furnished with passage money by a relative who had already emigrated; he or she was met on arrival & was immediately placed in employment. Emigration to NewY. or Boston was much less of a journey into unknown territory than looking for work in an Irish city. At the beginning of this century Sir Horace Plunkett wrote that in Ireland children are born with their faces to their faces to the west.
- J. F. Meenan, in Economics of International Migration (1958),
Brinley Thomas, ed., p. 80 (Wab.)1
New York City boardinghouses - If the immigrant had no friends or relatives, he walked to one of the many boardinghouses in the vicinity of Greenwich St. or the dingy side-streets near the East River docks. Despite the evil notoriety of some of these, most were honestly-run. However, nearly all were in old buildings with damp cellars & little ventilation, poor sanitary conveniences, & flies, bedbugs, & wharf rats as permanent guests. The landlord usually sold liquor, & derived greater profit from its sale than from the rent of rooms. The room rents ranged from 50¢; to $3.00 per week, payable in advance.
The boardinghouse dwellers were mainly male, but entire families sometimes rented the small, single rooms for several weeks after landing. Immigrant families left as soon as possible & settled in the old private residences that had been converted into tenements.
[- no citation given for this entry]
The wharves of New York, during the business season, are densely lined with shipping of every maritime country under the sun. Merchantmen of every size are there, and for almost 3 miles they present an uninterruptedly continued forest of masts, and cordage, commingling, apparently, with the chimneys of almost innumerable steamers. More than a thousand sailing vessels, nearly a hundred steamers, about eighty tow-boats, and two-hundred canal boats, may usually be found in the noble harbor of New York during the busy time of the year. In the severest winter this harbor is never obstructed by ice.
- Lady Emmeline Stuart-Wortley, Travels in the U.S. (1851), p. 148
As we advanced upward, the variety of scenery presented continual charms, & the first sight of the City of New York, with the lofty spires of its numerous churches rising from the interior - the tall masts of its crowded fleets fringing the outline of the entire mass of houses, while distinctive signals were flying from the greater number of the mastheads - added to the ships of war forming the squadron now about to sail on an exploring expedition - the opening views of the East River, Long Island, & Brooklyn, which lie to the right of N.Y. - and the still greater expanse of the noble Hudson River, & the opposite city of Jersey, which are seen to the left - produce a coup d'oeil which few seaports could parallel, & none that I have ever entered could surpass.
J. S. Buckingham, America, Vol. I, p. 142
1 Brinley Thomas, ed., Economics of International Migration; Proceedings of a Conference Held by the International Economic Association. London: Macmillan; New York: St. Martin's Press, 1958.
2 Possibly James Silk Buckingham, The Slave States of America, Vol. 1 and 2. London, Paris: Fisher, Son, & Co., 1842.