The Irish in Early Albany
Hibernians or St. Andrews Society? Historically speaking, who were the early Albany Irish? And who were the early Albany Scots?
Hundreds of people who meet our criteria for inclusion ultimately found their roots to be in what is now Scotland, Ireland, or Northern Ireland (Ulster). Understanding them culturally first raises questions of terminology.
One of the more puzzling terms for this historian is the frequently encountered reference to "the Irish" who came to the American colonies and particularly to those who visited and settled in early Albany. Like so many of the traditional words used to describe the people of colonial Albany, it means different things to different people. Those who said "Irish" regarding eighteenth-century Albany knew who they were talking about. Today, we certainly are less certain!
For consistency and because they are more or less exclusionary, we hold that Irish referred to a Roman Catholic. Scots mostly were Presbyterians.
The Colonial Albany Project approach to the so-called "Irish" is simple and direct. We seek to identify (maybe "verify" is better) the ancestral homelands of every person who lived in the city of Albany prior to the Industrial Revolution. More definitive statements about those minority groups might follow completion of a comprehensive census of all such resident individuals.
We have noticed that the problem of distinguishing early Albany's Scots from the Irish seems to have been more widespread during the eighteenth century and particularly after 1750. In New Netherland days, the Scots emigrés - principally the Glen and Sanders families were known as Scots. The garrison soldiers who arrived after 1664 were more clearly from Catholic rather than Calvinist homes and more fittingly (to our mind) were called Irish.
Over the first half of the eighteenth century and particularly during the years 1713-44, newcomers of both backgrounds settled in the Albany community - although they mostly went on to so-called "greener pastures" in the more outlying parts of huge Albany County.
Following the end of the Great War for Empire, British-connected land speculators and developers sought to entice new settlers with advertisements like this one from 1772 found in the collections of the Library of Congress:
TO ALL FARMERS AND TRADESMEN, Who want good Settlements for themselves and Families, especially those lately arrived, or that may yet come, from Scotland or Ireland.
THE Province of New-York is the most healthy Climate in America. Many Persons in it live to 80 or 90 Years of Age; and many sickly People from the Carolinas, &c. come to it for the Recovery of their Health. Few in it are troubled with Fever or Ague, which prevails so much in the Southern Colonies. It is neither so sultry hot as Maryland, Virginia or the Carolinas, nor so very cold as in St. Johns, Halifax, &c.In several Winters the Snow lies but about 15 Inches deep for 9 Weeks stedfastly without Rain: Thus their Wheat is well guarded from being froze out of Ground, and the constant Snow affords an easy Carriage of Grain to the Market at the City of Albany, and for fetching home Salt, Iron, &c. from it.In the Counties of Albany, Tryon, Charlotte, Cumberland and Gloucester of said Province thousands of Farms are to be sold for 6 Shillings Sterling per Acre, and 6 Years given to pay the Money, or rented at Sixpence Sterling per Acre, and a Lease for ever. The first 5 Years rent-free, only 2s. 6d. Sterling Quit-Rent, either in buying or renting the Land. If it is desired by a Number of Families, ten thousand Acres or more can be had in one Spot. The little Hills all over the Country are a Shelter from the cold North-West Winds. The Water is plenty, and as good as any in the World; a fine Spaw-Well is lately found near Cambridge.
The Soil is various; in some Parts a brown or grey Loam, in others Gravel and some Sand, in others a black Mould. It produceth Oats, Wheat, Flax, Hemp, Hay, Barley, and the best Potatoes in America, without Manure. The Wood is Ash, Elm, Oak, Beech, and white and yellow Pine-Trees, which last bring some 1000 Pounds to the Settlers. Some hundreds of said Farms can be got in Cambridge and other Parts, within 30, 20, 10 or 5 Miles of New-Perth Church and Mills, 36 Miles North-East of Albany, where Dr. Clark began a Settlement 1766, which consists now of about 130 Families, many of whom at their first Arrival had 4 or 5 Children, and were not worth Ten Shillings, and are now worth Hundred Pounds free and real Estate. They got above 3000 lb. Sugar out of their Trees this
Spring. They will show the Lands to Strangers, and they usually lodge a Stranger free, till he gets a House erected on his own Farm, which they usually help him to build in one Day. Some Cattle and also Grain will be sold to Strangers, on a Year's Credit, at the Mills of Perth and Cambridge. Passengers from Scotland or Ireland had best go on board of Ships bound for New-York; but such as arrive in Philadelphia, may ask at the Crooked Billet Wharf; and there every Wednesday Morning they will get a Passage in Boats and Waggons 90 Miles to New-York for 4s. 8d. Sterling each, in a Days and an half, or less.
Arriving at New-York, ask for the Honourable William Smith,
Esq; Goldsborow Banyar, Thomas Smith, Esquires, and Mr. Kelly, Attorney at Law in the Street called Broadway, who will shew any Man the Maps of said Lands, and agree as to the Price, which if the Stranger likes, upon viewing the Land, he can instantly go to work upon it. The Passage to Albany is about 2s. 6d. or 3 s. Sterling; and arriving there, ask for Mr. Edward Willet, Schoolmaster, who gives good private Lodgings, and will shew the Road to said Lands.
PHILADELPHIA: Printed by JOHN DUNLAP, at the Newest Printing-Office in Market-Street, 1772.
Scots, Scots-Irish, and Irish Catholics were prominent in post-revolutionary War Albany. I find it interesting (or at least curious) that twelve property owners were named Alexander ___ according to the city-wide assessment roll for 1788.
Understanding the lives of Catholics and Presbyterians (and their less godfearing countrymen) in their Albany context is a long-time particular interest (not that I can't say that about every other group). My larger ambition precludes focusing on them exclusively. This exposition will make more sense as time passes. Please bear with us!
Sources: This profile is derived chiefly from family and community-based resources - both of which contain material of puzzling quality.
An impressive literature on what we call the colonial Scots exists and merits discussion here. The state of the art regarding the colonial Irish (Catholics) appears less impressive.
I am beginning to compile a useful online bibliography. See Irish Immigrants in the Land of Canaan; Colonists from Scotland; online version of The Scots in America;
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first opened 6/18/09; last updated 7630/13