emigration Tamlaght in Derry to the USA

Emigration Ulster to America

Emigration – Leaving Ireland for America

The 1720s witnessed the first significant wave of emigration from Ireland to the New World. This decade saw the arrival of the Scots-Irish, i.e. Irish who had Scottish Presbyterian roots. The main destination for the Scots-Irish was Philadelphia. This was largely due to the well-established linen trade routes. Many subsequently moved on to New England, the Carolinas, Georgia, the Ohio Valley, and a large number ultimately ended up in the Appalachian mountains. The majority of Scots-Irish immigrants continued to farm.

By 1790, of a total population of just over three million, America’s Irish immigrant population numbered some 477,000.  Two-thirds of those came from Ulster!

The Irish famine resulted in large numbers of people leaving for America in the late 1840s.   But from the 1820s onwards, those emigrating tended to be unskilled.  They were looked down upon and suffered significant discriminatioin in the new world.

Throughout the 19th century, New York was the main entry point into the United States.  In August 1855, Castle Garden, the city’s first immigrant reception station was opened.  Castle Garden, at the southern end of Manhattan, had previously been a fort, a cultural centre and a theatre.  Over eight million people of all nationalities passed through Castle Garden in the following 45 years.  It was closed in 1890.  

A new immigrant reception station opened on Ellis Island on 1st January 1892.  The first person to be processed at Ellis Island was a 17 year old girl (media at the time said 15) from County Cork, called Annie Moore.  Ellis Island processed over 12 million immigrants during the next 62 years. 

In modern times, over 36 million Americans identify themselves as ‘Irish American’. That equates to roughly twelve percent of the entire population of the USA. Famous Irish Americans include: Henry Ford, John Wayne, Bing Crosby, Grace Kelly, James Cagney, Gene Kelly, Maureen O’Hara, Burt Lancaster, John McEnroe, Alfred Hitchcock, Buster Keaton, Walt Disney, Harrison Ford, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Bill Haley, Eddie Cochran, President Ronald Reagan, President John F Kennedy and President George Washington.


John & Jane Black of Innisrush

John Black and Jane Stewart got married on the 5th November 1880 in Tamlaght O’Crilly Lower church. John was in his 19th year and Jane in her 26th year. He was a labourer from Ballymacpeake, while she was from Drumlane. John’s father was also called John. Jane’s father was listed in the wedding certificate as Macartney Stewart. Both fathers were labourers.

John and Jane Stewart Black lived in house 19, a small two room thatched cottage, in Innisrush.  It had only one window.  John was a labourer.  By the time of the 1901 Census of Ireland (see image), their family consisted of six children (4 boys and 2 girls). One can only imagine the cramped conditions with eight people sharing the tiny cottage.

John, their first child, was born around 1881; William around 1885.  In 1887, Robert Alexander Black was born.  Nancy Jane (known later as Annie) came along in 1889.  Mary Essie (known as Essie) was born in 1892.  Their sixth and final child, Samuel Bell Black, was born in 1895.

11 year old John Black attended the annual Innisrush Sunday School Fete in early August 1893.  The Reverend Frackelton and his wife organised the gathering of some 40 children in the grounds of the rectory.  There were five classes.  John Black was in Class 2, along with – Edwin Campbell, Maude Campbell, Lizzie Getty, Lizzie Greer and Charlotte McCaw.

In 1906, John Black, the father of the household, passed on.  He was in his 45th year and was buried in Tamlaght O’Crilly Lower graveyard.  At some point around this time, his widow Jane moved to a nearby cottage (number 28 in Innisrush, two doors down from the Orange Hall).  It was a slight upgrade on her previous cottage, similar size (two rooms), but with a tiled roof and two windows.


William Black Emigrates to America 

The first of their children to emigrate to America, was William.  No ship passenger documentation is available, so we are unsure of the year that he left Innisrush, or who paid his fare, or met him in the US.  But we do know, from secondary evidence, that William headed for Philadelphia.

1910 – Robert Black Leaves Innisrush for America

The second of John and Jane Black’s children to leave Ireland was Robert Black.  Robert was 22 years old, and single, when he left Innisrush for the new world.  He was 5 feet 6 inches tall, dark hair, dark complexion, with grey eyes, and could read and write.  He sailed on the S.S. Columbia, travelling alone, leaving Londonderry on the 11th June and arriving eight days later at Ellis Island, in New York, on the 19th June 1910. The ticket for the Atlantic crossing had been paid for by his brother.  Robert was travelling alone, and listed his last address as Portglenone.  On arrival in America, Robert Black had 15 dollars in his pocket. He was in possession of an onward ticket to Philadelphia, where he was going to meet up with his brother, William Black.

There were 30 other Irish emigrants on the ship. But the only other locals were two sisters from Maghera, Mary McIntosh (25 years) and Martha McIntosh (22 years).

Meanwhile, back in Innisrush.  We don’t know much about the mother, Jane Stewart Black.  But we do know she was house-proud and kept her council owned labourer’s cottage and garden in Innisrush looking beautiful.  The County Londonderry Committee of Agriculture, in the early 1900s, each October, ran a Scheme of Prizes for Cottages and Small Farms owned by rural district councils.  The Magherafelt council area had 54 labourers cottages at this time.  Jane finished eighth in 1910, winning 10 shillings.    And the following year, 1911, Jane finished second, winning one pound and 10 shillings that October.  But less than two months later, the small cottage was to be filled with sadness.


1911 – Mary Essie Black Dies of Tuberculosis

Mary Essie Black (known as Essie) was only 18 years old, when she died of pulmonary tuberculosis (known locally as consumption) on the 4th December 1911, at home in Innisrush. Her older sister (by three years), Nancy Jane Black (known as Annie), was with her when she passed.


1912 – Annie Black Emigrates to the New World

7th December 1912 – and almost a year to the day since losing her only sister, Annie Black (Nancy Jane) leaves Innisrush and sails from Londonderry to Ellis Island on the SS Columbia. She arrives 11 days later, on the 18th December 1912.  Annie’s mother paid for her fare. She is 22 years old, single, 5 feet 5 inches tall, with fair hair, fair complexion, blue eyes, and of good overall health. She has a ticket onwards to meet her brother William Black in Chestnut Hill, Philadelphia.


1914 – John Black & Samuel Bell Black Sail to America

At some point Robert Black, now residing in Philadelphia, with a job as a gardener, returned home for a short time to Innisrush.  Perhaps it was to see his mother one last time.  Perhaps it was to help organise the departure of his remaining two brothers. 

What we do know is that on the 15th August 1914, the oldest and youngest of the siblings left together on the Cameronia, accompanised by their brother Robert, bound for America. 

Samuel Bell Black was 18 years old, a labourer, and single.  He could read and write.  His fare was paid for by his sister Annie (now living in the US for some 20 months).

John Black was 31 years old and a mechanic.  He was a married man and could read and write.  He paid his own fare.

The three brothers arrived in the USA, eight days later, on 23rd August.  James and his brother Samuel each had 25 dollars, when they entered the USA. They were going to travel to Philadelphia, to stay with their brother William Black.


Jane Stewart Black & an Empty Cottage in Innisrush

One can only imagine those three siblings leaving Innisrush together, for the last time, heading for the port of Londonderry and their passage onwards to America.  What a sad mournful day that must have been for their poor mother. How she must have often thought of seeing their faces and hearing their voices for the final time.  The once noisy two-room cottage in Innisrush was now empty.  She was 60 years old and alone.   

Jane Stewart Black lived another 22 years and died in 1936.  She was in her 82nd year and was buried, in Tamlaght O’Crilly Lower graveyward, beside her late husband John, and daughter Essie.   From America, her youngest child, Samuel Bell Black, organised and paid for a headstone to be erected in Innisrush.

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