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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
was Submitted by Noel Walsh.