UPDATE – Apologies, I am several weeks behind in emails (nothing new there, says you).  I tend to abandon email for periods of time.  Sorry, must do better.

Lucy admiring the sunset last week

I know some subscribers like to hear the latest about my cats, Lucy and Roxy.  Roxy, being some 6 months old, was snipped this day, one week ago (last Sunday).  So there’s now no chance of any little Roxettes.

After coming round from the anesthesia, she refused to stay in her basket, insisting on walking around drunk for 5 or 6 hours.  Her rear legs were not communicating properly with ground control.  Now both cats have been spayed. All is good.

I cannot recall ever having cats that displayed so much affection.  I would be lost without them.

The Armstrong Connection

Anyways, on to this weekend’s post.  In the Mulholland family tree (i.e. my branch of the Mulhollands of Eden), we have at least two connections to the Armstrongs. 

Isabella Armstrong

Isabella Armstrong (right)

My grandfather, Thompson Mulholland, married Isabella Burnside Armstrong. 

She was from the townland of Moyagney, which is about three or four miles from Eden. 

It was close enough for my grandfather to ride his push-bicycle over to see her, when they were dating, in the mid 1920s.

Here’s a newly cleaned up and colourised photo of her, taken in the early 1920s, at the photography studio of Mr. L. Atelier at 2 Main Street, Portrush (see photo on the right).

The other connection is via Thompson Mulholland’s sister, Charlotte Maria Mulholland, who married Joseph Armstrong from the Greenlough side of Innisrush.

My grandfather, indeed all the family, would refer to Charlotte as ‘Cis’.  My uncles, including dad would refer to ‘Aunt Cis’.  It took me a long time to realise who they were referring to.

The reason I am referring to the Armstrongs in this post, is because I came upon late last year, a fascinating old letter from 1856. It was from a Mathew Armstrong, from Tynan, County Armagh direction, who had emigrated to America two years previously.  He was writing back to his friends in Ireland.

He has no connection to our own local Armstrongs, that I know of, but his letter made for very interesting reading nonetheless.

Those that left for America, typically had a very different experience, to those who emigrated to Australia.  I must, at some point, start publishing some of the letters from local people who left for down under. 

Unlike in Australia, there was plenty of work to be had in America, and many opportunities to prosper.  The earth was rich in the new world and there was plenty of land available at very good prices. This Armstrong letter is proof of that.

Armstrong, Letter From America

Mathew Armstrong, a 54 year old farmer, left with his 50 year old wife, Elizabeth, for America on a ship called the Empire State.

They set sail for the new world on the 27th May 1854 and got to Castle Garden in New York in early July. They had their 12 year old son, William, with them.

Here is the original ship manifest from their arrival in New York.

Mathew Armstrong, Ireland, New York

Extract from Empire State ship’s manifest on arrival in New York, July 1854

By 1860, we see from the Iowa census, that their family now consisted of Mathew and  Elizabeth, with their children: Robert, John, Thomas, William, Rachael and Isabella. The children ranged from 19 to 34 years old. The other children will have sailed from Ireland to join their parents.

The following is an extract of letter received by Mr. Norton, of Arva, in County Cavan, brother-in-law of Mr. Francis Gallagher, of Tynan, from Mr. Mathew Armstrong who left Ireland in 1854.

Ryken farm in Iowa harvesting sweet corn

Iowa, harvesting sweet corn

America, A Land of Milk and Honey

Fayette County, lowa, March 1, 1856.

I may call this a land flowing with milk and honey. Certainly it was a great trial to part with so many kind relatives, and more so, in parting with you who have ever been a never failing friend and brother.

Still, on the whole, it was a happy 27th May, 1854, when we emigrated to these rich and fertile prairies, abounding with wheat, oats, and Indian corn, the most luxuriant crops I have ever beheld, and I have also as good potatoes as I ever had in the Old Country.

Mathew Armstrong Dept Labour Iowa

Mathew Armstrong, Dept Labour Immigration, see bottom of page for full citation

There is no failure in the potatoes here, a good many settlers have not got any planted yet. We had, this season, four acres of potatoes planted, the same you do with the plough, they did remarkably well; we had this season about 60 acres of the very best wheat, named the Canada Club, we cut it all down in less than five days with one of McCormick’s improved Reaping Machines, which cost 166 dollars, that is 33 pounds  4 shillings British, this machine has taken the premium everywhere it has been produced, and patented as such.

This machine is drawn by four horses, and we had not any of them to borrow, for we could put eight in it if required.

We also had 100 acres of this productive grain, I mean Indian corn; we have seven yoke of oxen on our breaking plough which cuts two feet wide of a furrow, these oxen are placed two and two abreast, which is fourteen oxen in one plough without either halter or any other rein to conduct them but a driver, and a whip that measures 20 feet.

The plough runs on an axle on wheels such as the forward wheels of a carriage and a lever on the beam that makes her take the ground at any depth you wish, or put her out of it, so that the ploughman has nothing to do but put her in at the one end and out at the other and she will run all the day without any other assistance and plough from three to four acres, it is the best method of ploughing that I have ever seen, it would be the very best on an old stock farm if not very rocky. Our plough and seven yoke of oxen have been estimated at 1,000 dollars, that is 200 British pounds.

We intend having a thrashing-machine before the harvest, it will cost us about 600 dollars, that is 120 British pounds.  It is an eight horse power, and that takes all the horses that we have got at present, but we will have a few colts before harvest. This ensuing season we will have 300 acres under cultivation, we will have 150 acres wheat, we have got 960 acres, 240 of this is woodland, beautifully divided from the prairie by a nice river of water running alongside our pasture land, a distance of

240 rods or perches, given up by all emigrants in pursuit of land to be one of the best localities they have ever seen for raising stock. They also say where we live is the nicest place they meet with.

In October last, we were offered 15,000 dollars for this property, this would amount to 3,000 British pounds, and at present it would sell for more, but we could not wish to be better situated, and I think we will not sell, you have often heard it said, let well enough alone.

We can ride or drive as we think proper, when all the family go a visiting, we drive four horses well harnessed, the same as you would see in the Old Country, in gentlemen’s carriages.

We have the very best of times here, we want for nothing this earthly world can afford, we have peace and plenty, the Almighty has wrought a wonderful work for me and my family and we must be always mindful of Him who has done so much for us.

John has got 280 acres and he has got a fine house on it, and intends sending for his wife and two children in the Spring, so that they may be here in the fall of 1856.  He has got acres of first-rate wheat, he has also three horses and one yoke of oxen. He was offered 600 dollars for them, that is about 120 British pounds.

Armagh Guardian – Friday 25 April 1856

And in the End

The Armstrongs came late in life to America.  Elizabeth Armstrong was only eleven years in the new world, when she passed on, 17th September 1865.  Depending on which record one chooses to believe, she was either in her 61st or 71st year.

Her husband Mathew survived her by six years.  He died on the 20th August 1871.   Again, depending on which record you choose to believe, Mathew was either in his  71st year, or his 82nd year.

If the older ages are the correct ones, then that would indicate that the couple declared they were a decade or more younger, when they initially entered America.  Or else, they had poor memories (or strong accents).

They are both buried at West Union Cemetery, in Fayette County, Iowa.

Source of Immigration card in above article – “Illinois, Northern District Naturalization Index, 1840-1950,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:XKLD-DTZ : 2 March 2021), Mathew Armstrong, 1858; citing West Union, Iowa, NARA microfilm publication M1285 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 8; FHL microfilm 1,432,008.