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Carlow County - Ireland Genealogical Projects (IGP TM)

Letters To / From America

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1837 ~ extracts from "The Journal of Andrew Leary O’Brien".

Andrew Leary O'Brien was from County Cork, Ireland.

According to Rev. Father Peader McSwayne's research notes Andrew Leary O'Brien applied for admittance to St. Patrick's Seminary, Carlow in 1834.

(The Journal of Andrew Leary O’Brien, Athens. GA University of Georgia Press 1946.)

(April 11th 1837).

On Tuesday morning April the eleventh, I engaged passage in a steamer to the City of Liverpool, for ten shillings Sterling. The boat was heavily laden with passengers, & fat cattle for England.

It took us two days and two nights to get to Liverpool. It was the worst passage I have ever been on, the weather was a continued storm of heavy gales. We were obliged to keep below as long as we could stand it, but the stench from the cattle aboard caused all the passengers to get so very sea sick, I shall never forget the trip.

From Liverpool, we put to sea for America, and in twelve hours lost sight of England, and next saw sight of the Lovely Green Isle of Ireland. But Towards evening I felt I must get sea-sick, and before night I realized it.

Being advised to bring some good Irish whiskey along as a preventative, I concluded I would try some, but on pouring out some I could not bear the smell, much less should I taste it.

As I got worse and very sick, I concluded I must get my assent in taking some whiskey, and by powerful persuasion I took a mouthful of it, but to gain a world by the act I could not swallow it. After several determined attempts I succeeded in swallowing some. It made me worse.

But this distressing state did not last long. I took a little more whiskey in about 3/4 of an hour and I felt like getting well and mended rapidly. I was never since sea sick and hope never will I be as sick as I was then.

When at sea about a fortnight a young woman who appeared to be sick from the start, died and was thrown overboard, or as it is termed on sea, ‘buried in the deep’. This sight bore heavily on my feelings, especially as it was done with very little concern, for the death seemed to be scarcely noticed.

A committee was appointed in each cabin to see the passengers kept themselves and everything else clean, under penalty of being deprived of their water allowance.

On the morning of this death the Captain sent word that the Committee must bury the dead. It seemed the dead being not well attended too, smelled very disagreeable, so I consequently refused to go about the body, and as I did the five others refused. The Captain sent word back that we must bury her.

Being fully the Irishman, independent, and wild in my notions of matters, I sent word back by the mate that he, the Captain, may bury her and be dammed. He concluded there was no use to try to bully us. He sent the first mate and three sailors and had the dead woman sewn up in a sheet, some rocks at her feet. All the Irish passengers knelt down and prayed earnestly for the dead, and when done, she was thrown overboard, and there ended her case.

(June 8th 1837).

As we hove in sight of the shores of New Jersey our prospects buoyed to a high degree, all nature seemed to be in bloom, the white cottages on the Jersey shores, presenting themselves to our view.

The sight was beyond description, majestic and grand to us who had never witnessed the like. On a nearer approach, however, we were somewhat disappointed in beholding such a vast and wild forest, and concluded that the country was somewhat savage.

There were several aboard not well yet, and when we arrived at the place of quarantine would not be allowed ashore. Those that were well were put ashore and sent on by Jersey City on the railroad.

(June 14th 1837)

When I was ashore on the streets of New York I felt like a man too light to be acted upon by gravity. When I attempted to walk, I reeled as if drunk, and when I raised my foot I raised three times higher than necessary. I was a stranger to walking.

(June 28th, 1837)

I got to a place called Muddy Creek, and here I hired to a contractor by name of Thomas English, as a stone Mason. Here I found several Irish from my Father's parish, with some of whom I was acquainted before I left home, and who were astonished to see me looking for employment on a canal in America.

I got to work on some butments, the foundation of a bridge across a creek and in a week or two, the contractor acknowledged I was the best mason on the job, and did more work. I never before worked on a day at the mason work, but while a boy I saw a great deal of it done, and took great pride at excelling in this work, but I was not long here before my peace and enjoyment was much marred.

I left and went out on the Croton water works near Harlem, and there hired with a contractor, a Mr. Francis Quinn. I remained here in the employment of a brick mason for some months, at two dollars per day, and here was the hardest work I ever saw a man at to be continued, building the tunnel for Croton water works, here was a foreman whom the others were obliged to follow, and lay as many brick in cement as he did and could lay three thousand brick per day for a stretch of a line sixty feet long, with cement and brick at hand at all places.

We could scarcely straighten out our backs once in every hour. I braved the storm, and no mason on the job could tell I was a regular brick mason. I took from here eighty-five dollars. Bixby and here I worked at the brick laying again and now I was a pretty respectable and and independent brick layer, though necessity was my teacher without an apprenticeship ~~~~.

‘The following was published by Kerby Miller. University of Missouri-Columba.’

The Journal of Andrew Leary O'Brien (Athens. GA University of Georgia Press 1946.)

Andrew Leary O’Brien was born in Co. Cork in 1815, the son of a strong farmer who intended him to become a priest and thereby enhance the family’s spiritual and social status.

In 1837, after years of expensive schooling in Ireland, O’Brien’s parents sent him to finished his clerical studies at Chambly Seminary in Quebec.

O’Brien’s erotic shipboard dreams, recorded in his memoir, of beautiful and seductive blond-haired women, probably suggested his unsuitability for a celibate life, and so perhaps he was fortunate when the Canadian Rebellion of 1837 shut down the seminary and cast him adrift.

O’Brien made his way south to Pennsylvania, where he found work as a stonemason in the building of the Susquehanna Canal. There, surrounded by hundreds of uncouth, illiterate, frequently drunken, and often violent Irish Catholic canal diggers, O’Brien discovered for the first time that, in his words, "I felt mean at the thought that I was an Irishman."

Despite his father’s entreaties that he return to Ireland and resume his studies, O’Brien concluded to escape his former associates and, one suspects, his entire past.

He took his earnings and sailed from New York to Charleston. For several years, he taught school in Bamwell District, South Carolina, where he married into a Methodist family whose church he joined after attending a camp meeting.

In 1848 he moved to Cuthbert, Georgia, where in 1854 he founded what was then called Randolph--now Andrew--College.

Today, very few of its faculty or graduates are aware that their College, still piously Methodist, was established by an Irish Catholic seminary student and canal worker who had concluded that acceptance and respectability in an overwhelmingly-Protestant Southern society were more important than the retention of his ethnic and religious heritage.

This document was Submitted by Noel Walsh.

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