Strange how we can walk among Sullivans, Murphys and Finnegans and not understand how deeply routed they are in Vermont. The small town I live in has but one Catholic Church, built in 1846. Its cemetery is filled with Maguires, Caseys and Nolans. They were the famine Irish and they brought the Catholic Church to Vermont.
These were the first wave of Irish immigrants. They travelled from northern Ireland in coffin ships and arrived in ports in Canada, not Ellis Island. Disease killed many before they had a chance to step on American soil.
They came to find freedom from hunger, poverty and oppression. They bought sub-par land and populated such towns as Underhill, Fairfield and Waterbury. Burlington once had an Irish borough. It’s Irish blood that was spilt in the quarries, and Irish sweat that built the railroads. And the Irish penchant for brawls and ale that drove the inhabitants of Vermont to hate.
Prohibition in Vermont began in 1840 and lasted well into 1900. Not exactly a welcoming culture for the Irish, so they sought other Irish. Many came because of a cousin or brother already settled here. That goes far to explain the long, winding dirt road in my town. It’s called Irish Settlement Road.
All this I learned from a wonderful book called Finnigans, Slaters, and Stonepeggers: A History of the Irish in Vermont by Vincent E. Feeney (ISBN 978-188459252-2)
I’ve not been able to trace my grandmother’s ancestry back very far – the Blairs came down through Canada in the 1860’s, but I can put the clues together without too much trouble. They settled in Burlington, Fairfax and Waterbury, signed up and fought in the Civil War, though they would not be naturalized until 1872. They were Catholic. And how the Ferry side of my family hated it when one married a Blair. It split the family apart, or so my father says.
My gram was born Blair and died Blane and I never understood why. Her dad, Henry Blair married Rosa Drinkwine Blair, yes, they were first cousins not an unusual occurrence for an immigrant family in a hostile culture. I’ve started another blog, and forgive me if I promote it – it is but a bit of private self-indulgence on my part. It called “Letters to Rosa,” a journal of sorts, a document to keep my family’s history intact.
I hope you visit, I hope you like it.
Mostly, I hope the Blairs will be remembered.
I’d like to invite you to explore another blog where I reflect on my family’s life in rural Vermont in the form of a letter to my Great-Gran, Rosa Blair. You can find it at: http://letterstorosa.wordpress.com