|The havoc wrought in the ranks of the Irish workers by
malaria and cholera almost beggars description. It has been said that one Irishman died
from the disease on this project for each six feet of canal built. Whiskey seemed to be
the one specific remedy for these deadly maladies and a Scottish "Jigger Boss"
purveyed "redeye" to each gang of workmen. He carried a bucket of libation and a
tin cup. The worker exercised his own judgment as to the size and frequency of the dosage.
In after years it was remarked to a former Jigger Boss that the workmen must have been
drunk all of the time. He replied "You wouldn't expect them to work on the canal if
they were sober, would you?"
laborers, the quarrelsome Irish predominated. They were such rough fellows that settlers
were as much afraid of these white savages as they were the red.
Indiana Canals. Paul Fatout. Purdue University Press
The laborers were
as usual mostly Irish, divided in about the usual proportions of Corkonians and Ulstermen.
A great battle was threatened between these factions al Lagro on the anniversary of the
Battle of the Boyne, and the opposing armies were actually on the march when militia
reached the scene and dispersed them.
Old Towpaths. Alvin F, Harlow 1926 D. Appleton Co.
Fort Wayne on the Old Canal. Reprint. F.W. Public
In conformity with your request in relation to the
disturbance amongst the Irish laborers on the Canal, it is proper to state that many
persons of the two parties into which they are unfortunately divided, "Corkonians and
Fardowns," had been engaged in those bloody affrays at Williamsport in Maryland and
at the "high rocks on the Potomac" within the last two years. They had come
since September in 1834 to the Wabash and Erie Canal with, as it is said, many of their
leaders. Of course, they had brought their animosities with them. And from that time up to
the twelfth of July last, when the general riot took place, they manifested their ill will
to each other by merciless beatings on such persons of each party as chanced to fall in
the power of each other. On a considerable portion of the line there was no justice of the
peace in these newly organized counties......
.....Because of mutual fears and
for the safety of the laborers had so hired to the contractors that they had about equally
divided the line between the parties; the Corkmen worked on the upper part, and the
Fardowns on the lower part of the line. The beatings of such persons who were caught away
from their friends increased to such a degree, and the parties became so exasperated, that
about the first of July a determination became general that one or the other should leave
the line. The worthless amongst them, by carrying threats of burnings and murders which
were to be committed by falling an the defenseless in the night, so excited their fears
that they left their houses and cabins and hid out in the woods without light or fire to
betray their hiding places. The whole line, armed in military array, worked generally in
the daytime until some idle report would get in circulation that one party was marching to
fight the other. Then they would leave their work and hasten with great rapidity to the
supposed point of danger.
From the fourth to the tenth of July, these alarms were
constant and were aggravated by the threats and outrages of the worthless. The length of
line occupied by these belligerent parties was nearly fifty miles. On the tenth of July
the parties hastily collected, or rather, they left their work and commenced a march
towards the center of the line for a general battle.
......I Then went to the reputed battlefield with three or
four persons whom I supposed had influence with them. I found them fully prepared, will
disposed in a strong military position, and exceedingly exasperated; and I had some
difficulty in saving those who went with me from being killed. They expressed the same
fears as the others but, after some persuasion, consented to appoint persons to agree on
terms of peace with the Fardowns. They also agreed to suspend hostile operations until the
result of the meetings between the persons deputized to negotiate the peace could be
In the meantime, the citizens of Huntington had become
exceedingly alarmed at seeing this hostile array; three or four hundred armed men on each
side had the avowed intention of meeting in battle; the civil authority was completely
powerless. Fearing their persons and property would not be safe, they sent to Fort Wayne
for aid of the militia. A company immediately was collected and in a few hours was sent to
their relief. Meanwhile, the citizens of Huntington had collected and organized a company
By this time, the citizens of Lagro had become alarmed;
they sent to Huntington for the troops to come and protect them and aid the civil
authority. As soon as I learned the militia had turned out from sixty to one hundred in
number, I thought the force altogether too small to do any good against seven hundred
armed men. Therefore, I sent to Logansport and requested assistance, which was promptly
rendered. The militia at Lagro, at my request marched to Miamisport and met two volunteer
companies from Logansport; and all marched back to Lagro.
Two magistrates, an associate judge, the sheriffs of
Huntington and Wabash counties, and the militia arrested and committed eight of the
ringleaders. There was no safe jail on the canal line. Therefore, in order to remove the
cause of contention, these men were sent under as strong guard to Indianapolis for
safekeeping. Here they were confined until they were liberated by a writ of habeas corpus
because of some informality in the proceedings.
With great respect
Letter to Gov. Noah Noble from David Burr reporting on
"Irish War." Dec. 30, 1835
(David Burr was one of the canal commissioners)
The steeple of St.
Patrick Church still overlooks the town of Lagro. And on a hilltop North of Lagro, in St.
Patrick cemetery lie the Bahans, Noonans, and Shannesseys These people from counties
Kildare, Kerry, Cork, Limerick, Cire & Mayo sleep within sight of the canal they
The Marion Chronicle Tribune, March 1982 - Canal Fever
cut through Indiana.
But it is the
cemetery (Lagro) that holds the visual vestiges of Irish times long gone. In this
consecrated soiled lie the sons and daughters of old Erin and the Emerald Isle.
Lichen-covered and gray tombstones - some so weathered they
are unreadable - bear mute testimony to the origins of the people who lie beneath them:
James Barton, born in Kerry, Ireland, 1832: died, 1925. Jeremiah Cadey, 1802, County Cork,
Ireland: died 1872. John Conelly, born in Maraboro, Ireland, 1802; died, 1851. Michael
Collins, born in Ireland, 1799; died, 1870.
Stone after stone call out the names of Irish counties:
Cork, Mayo, Sligo, Limerick, Kerry, Kildare, Down, Dublin and Galway.
And even though well more than a century has gone by since
most of the people hare died, stories concerning some of the Irish lying here survive.
Pat Ivory was born in Ireland in 1815. He died near Lagro
in 1886. He came to Lagro and was a drayman who hauled goods in his horsedrawn wagon. He
was poor as a church mouse. He had a large family. Neither he nor his home were noted for
luxuries. Pat never carried a watch, he never owned a watch in his life.
On day, as Pat stood on Lagro's main street, a man stopped
and asked Pat what time it was. Slapping his hands on his pockets, as if attempting to
locate his pocket watch, Ivory replied "Mother of Saints, but I've left me watch at
home on the pianer!"
Marion Chronicle Tribune - Sunday Feb. 5, 1995 - article
by Steve Jones
considerable portion of the original American citizens abandoned the village (Mahon) there
was a new nationality dropped in one by one until once again most of the vacant houses
were filled. This new population was principally Irish, mostly emigrants as Mahon
resembled very closely parts of their mother country in landscape scenery, surroundings
and fertility of soil. At Mahon they had a bog on the east, and bog on the west, with the
ridges of the canal on the south; also the river which frequently turned into a sea, the
hill with its beautiful grove, and numerous palatial residences on the north, and soil
that would grow potatoes as big as their heads, which are the delight of all Irishmen. All
these conditions soon made Mahon as Irish as Dublin or Cork.
But contrary to conditions in old Ireland, there were
myriad sirens that made the air vibrate in the springtime with their bass chorus. As we
had no St. Patrick, who with his phenomenal power banished those sirens (frogs, toads and
snakes,) these conditions all soon became quite congenial and caused the Irish influx. The
town was none the worse by their coming. They were industrious and had no trouble in
finding abundance of of labor to their liking at good wages. Irishmen are usually natural
born civil engineers. They do not have to acquire this science at a college, but it is
born and bred in them. They need no instruments but the natural eye, brawn and muscle, a
wheelbarrow, pick and spade, to grade and keep a railroad in perfect condition. Many of
them procured labor as section heads, a large number being required in the vicinity of
Mahon. When they procure labor in that line, the goal of their ambition is to become
section foreman. Several ambitious citizens of Mahon landed that eminent prize. Among them
was Richard Godsel, who worked in that capacity a number of years.....
....The Irish have a good reputation of being one of the
most prolific nations on earth, and also the best laborers on public works. They had done
possibly more of the hard labor required to convert America from its state of a howling
wilderness to its high state of agriculture and transportation facilities than any other
nation. In emigrating they lost none of their prolific proclivities and results were very
large families of well-to-do citizens which have branched out in different occupations in
which they have become successful
Morning Times. Sun. Aug. 22 1909. p 6 col 3. Mahon
history by Henry C. Silver