The Wabash and Erie Canal through Huntington, Indiana

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The Irish

Among 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 1972


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.

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?"
Fort Wayne on the Old Canal. Reprint. F.W. Public library. 1952

Dear Sir:

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......

Unflattering advertisement.....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 known.

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 also.

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

David Burr
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 helped build.
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

After a 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


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