A visit to Frontier Culture Museum in Staunton, Virginia: The Irish Forge and Farm (part 4/5)

If you are new here, Hello or Dia Dhuit!

This is a common way to say “Hi” in Irish Gaelic, which loosely translated means “God be with you”. And it is a good day to say it since the Irish celebrate St. Patrick’s Day today (17th of march) a cultural and religious celebration of the Patron Saint of Ireland.

If this is not your first time here then welcome back as we explore the historic importance of the first settlers that colonized America and shaped its political, social and economical course and helped build its foundation.

We are taking this excursion by visiting the Frontier Culture Museum situated in Staunton, Virginia. An open air, living history museum that has dedicated spaces to each major ethnic group that first came to the “New World” to colonize and turn it into a hospitable and thriving place. Freedom of thought and religion, economical opportunities and the chance to carve a different path for themselves were some of the reasons why so many Europeans immigrated in the 1600s, 1700s and 1800s to the American Colonies.

So far, we have visited the West African Farm, the German Farm, the English Farm and today we will explore the Irish Forge and Farm.

For more details about the museum, how to get here and hours of operation, click here.

IMG_1326*entrance sign with all the farms that can be visited at the museum.

1700s Irish Forge and Farm

Half of the Irish immigrants that emigrated to the American colonies came from the Irish province of Ulster while the other half came from the other three provinces of Ireland (Leinster, Munster, and Connacht).

Although Scots-Irish immigrants arrived to the American colonies in the 1600s, the first significant migration began in 1628 with the second one between 1717 and 1775, predominantly to the Boston area. This mass migration was due to the English government banning the export of wool which consequently destroyed the Ulster wool industry in the area. This spurred a massive exodus. It is estimated that approximately 250,000 migrated to the United States during this time and by 1790, approximately 400,000 people of Irish birth or ancestry lived in the United States.

The terms “Scotch-Irish” and “Scots-Irish” refers to settlers who were born or resided in Ireland but whose earlier origins can be traced back to Scotland. They were also called “Ulster-Scots” (based on their origin) and “Irish Presbyterian” (after their religious denomination).

 At times, an entire group or congregation moved together from one locality in Ireland to one locality in America (which explains, in part, the large number of immigrants that settled in America during this time period). The majority of them settled in Pennsylvania, Virginia and the Carolinas. From there, the immigrants and their descendants went on to populate Georgia, Kentucky and Tennessee.

A more in-depth and detailed time frame for this migration here, here and here.

IMG_1213

The Irish Forge that we can visit and explore at the museum is a blacksmith shop that stood in County Fermanagh in the Irish province of Ulster, in what is now Northern Ireland.

The fact that there is an entire exhibit dedicated to a blacksmith’s forge goes to show the pivotal importance this occupation had not only in the life of the immigrants back home, but also in establishing and maintaining the day to day life of the newly established communities in the American colonies.

img_1215.jpg*map of the County of Fermanagh in Ireland and the Ulster region where the forge and farm came from. It is also the region where so many Scots-Irish emigrated during the 1700s and 1800s. 

Like the farmers, butchers and carpenters that emigrated from the Ulster region, the  blacksmiths emigrated to the Colonies in hopes of forging, literally and figuratively,  a better future for themselves and their descendants.

IMG_1212*the Irish forge/blacksmith’s shop that is a living, functional space specific for the 1700s. 

And their skills came in an even greater demand in the newly established colonies. From the kitchen hearth with its specific tools and trinkets like knives, axes, pot hooks, pots and hangers, to the hinges on the doors and to the fire tongs, the smith forged the skeletal pieces that kept the household together and made the day to day life efficient.

The outside work also depended on smith’s artistry: spades, hoes, horse shoes and other iron implements were needed and highly valued. The iron parts of the cart, including the tires, essential to the Irish farmer for transportation, as well as the the plow and its iron teeth, were essential in planting life sustaining crops.

See down below some pictures taken at the museum’s Irish Forge with a local blacksmith in action:

IMG_1219

IMG_1220

IMG_1219

A whole range of tools allowed not only the fabrication of new items, but also the preservation and restoration of old ones. Through the expert use of fire, old metals and objects are melted, repurposed and transformed into new ones. Nothing is wasted or discarded. Thus, the smith is also a skilled metallurgist.

Examples below:

IMG_1269

IMG_1268

Considering all the objects and tools needed to make the daily life of the colonists functional and adequate, we can imagine how the daily chores of the smith, placed at the center of its community alongside the reverend/priest/minister and later on, the teacher, seemed never ending.

IMG_1226*the smith’s worktable and its various tools.

If in the 1700s, the Irish immigrants favored small communities where they can build farms and plant crops, y the the 1900s most of them preferred large cities. This was to better protect themselves and also because many of them could not afford to move inland and had to settle close to the ports at which they arrived.

IMG_1241* the Irish farm at the museum, replica of a 1700s one.

They came speaking their first language, Irish Gaelic. Just as in the case of the German immigrants, they continued speaking this language at large in their newly established communities to the point that it was first mentioned  as being spoken in North America as soon as the 17th century. It was also widely spoken in such places as New York City where it proved a useful recruiting tool during the American Revolution (1765 – 1783).

IMG_1243*the vegetable garden patch at the Irish Farm.

In the upcoming centuries, the Irish would be challenged back home by natural disasters, famine, religious persecution under the English rule (who were Protestant, the Irish Catholic) and thus forced to flee to the newly colonized America in even larger numbers. Their language would become the easiest and most accessible way to preserve their own cultural and native identity.

What ended up working for the many Irish men was the fact that they were prized and hired as strong physical laborers. In order to civilize the west, many strong men were needed to build towns and cities, which helped expand the American colonies into the mid west. Kansas City was one such city that was built by Irish immigrants and much of its population today is of Irish descent. There is even a yearly Irish Festival celebrated in the city.

The expansion of railroads in the 1900s provided another opportunity for the Irish immigrants to find labor in the new land. Many of the men that followed the expansion of railroads ended up settling in the towns and communities established along its routes.

IMG_1239

What was interesting for me to find out was the fact that compared to the other ethnic groups that emigrated during this time (like the English and German), Irish women came in LARGE groups and mostly were single young women between the ages of 16 and 24.

Up until this point, free women who settled in the colonies came after their husbands that had already made the journey and could afford their trip, or were brought over to be married to an eligible colonist who paid for their journey.

These women journeyed independently and valiantly with few guarantees that they will be able to secure a better life for themselves.

Most of the single Irish women preferred service labor as a form of income. These women made a higher wage than most by serving the middle and high-class in their own homes as nannies, cooks and cleaners. The wages for domestic service may have been higher than that of factory workers back home, but the freedoms were virtually nonexistent as women were made to live with their employers family and work around the clock. By 1870, forty percent of Irish women worked as domestic servants in New York City, making them over fifty percent of the service industry at the time.

IMG_1271*women were the caretakers and caregivers in their own homes and those of their employers, cooking, cleaning and caring for the young and the elderly in their household.

IMG_1273*an example of a common Irish dish of fish, potatoes and carrots. Other staples of the Irish Cuisine are cabbage and bacon, Irish stew and brown bread, just to name a few. More here

IMG_1278

IMG_1279*an oat and grain hand grinder that can be seen at the museum. 

Despite some of the benefits of domestic work, Irish women’s job requirements were difficult and demeaning. Subject to their employers, Irish women cooked, cleaned and performed a myriad of other jobs that all resulted in the successful functioning of the household. Because most servants lived in the home where they worked, they were separated from their communities. Most of all, the American stigma on domestic work suggested that Irish women were failures who had “about the same intelligence as that of an old grey-headed negro.”

This quote illustrates how, in a period of extreme racism towards African Americans, society similarly viewed Irish immigrants as inferior beings.

IMG_1257

By the end of the 18th century however, both Irish men and women had a hard time finding skilled work in the United States due to the stigmas of being both Irish as well as Catholic. Prejudices ran deep in the north and could be seen in newspaper cartoons depicting Irish men as drunkards and Irish women as prostitutes. Many businesses hung signs out front of their shops that read “No Irish Need Apply”, or “NINA”. More about this here.

In the 19th century, however, jobs in the local government were distributed by politicians to their supporters. The rising number of the Irish immigrants and their descendants was seen locally in city halls, making the Irish prime candidates for positions in all departments, such as police departments, fire departments, public schools and other public services of major cities.

In 1898, for example, New York City was formed by consolidating its five boroughs. This produced thousands of unskilled and semi-skilled jobs in subways, street railways, waterworks, and port facilities.

IMG_1248.JPG

 The descendants of Scots-Irish settlers had a great influence on the later culture of the Southern United States in particular and the culture of the United States in general through such contributions as American folk music, country and western music, and stock car racing, which became popular throughout the country in the late 20th century.

Irish immigrants of this period participated in significant numbers in the American Revolution and Charles Carroll, one of the signers of the United States Declaration of Independence, was the descendant of Irish nobility. Here is a list of notable Americans of Irish descent.

Find out more about their historical trajectory in shaping US on the Irish American Institute website and here on wiki.

Friends, I hope you’ve enjoyed this little excursion into the Irish culture and history! If so, please share the post with others and subscribe.

There will be no new posts on the 24th or 31st of March. I will be traveling to London and then around UK. If you would like to keep up with my travels you can follow me on Instagram (my profile is public).

We will resume the series with the last post, about the life in America in the 19th Century, on the 7th of April, 2019. 

From then on we are back on schedule: new posts each week on Sunday morning at 9:00 am EST.

Lots of love,

Roxi

 

 

Share your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s