To John Conville, Limerick, Ireland.
16th February 1831.
Several steam ferry boats ply from hence across the East river to Long Island a distance of 1200 yards in about 10 Minutes, and across the Hudson to Jersey, about 2000 yards, in fifteen minutes. They are so continuous that Coaches, Wagons, &c with all their company, and loading, drive on an inclined plane from the wharves upon their decks, and out again upon the same. The wharves are generally built with Timber.
There are also many Timber houses in the principal streets, this City is about two thirds the size of Dublin and contains one Hundred and eighty thousand inhabitants about ten thousand of whom are black or people of colour, it increases prodigiously every year, the number of new houses built last year exceeded three thousand, and the population encrease in the ratio of five to each house, it must in a few years be much larger than Dublin, the streets are generally wide and straight, intersecting each other at right angles, but the houses are very irregular in the Old parts of the town and the Middle of the streets are kept in the worst areas, here are no fine green squares such as Stephens Green, nor are there any Buildings that can be called elegant, Many ranges of houses in New Streets are very handsome and uniform, but not to be compared to the leading Streets in Dublin or London or even Georges Street in Limerick, with the exception of Broadway, which is the principal one, with a flagged footway at either side twelve to fourteen feet wide, the Shops, which are here called Stores, are not so well stocked, nor are their proprietors so wealthy as those of Dublin or Cork.
Rents are enormously high, a house much inferior to yours, Situated in one of the leading Streets of business would let for two to three thousands Dollars a year. Landlords do not usually grant leases of houses but let them to tenants at will from year to year, this practice produces the greatest inconvenience to people of business, whose rent if they have formed an establishment, and thus enhance the value of Premises the Landlord will raise at pleasure, and if they do not submit, he will let their houses over their heads and turn them into the Street.
Here are no religious distinctions, all men of good character are eligible to every public office without exception, the laws are mild but rigorously executed, thefts are not so frequent as in Ireland, perhaps because the people are not so poor, the shop doors to the Streets are half Glazed, and constantly shut, large quantities of Goods of every description lay outside the different shops and warehouses; notwithstanding.
Very few instances of petty larceny occur, the people in general are civil, but disgustingly free in their manners, in their dealings they are very sharp, and usually disposed to take every advantage, honesty and integrity appear to me to be at a low ebb; and if a stranger be not very cautious and circumspect, he will be soon shorn of any wool he may have, and must then turn to shearing himself.
Our Countrymen here are very numerous, reckoned at about fifteen thousand, no common beggars prowl the Streets, any industrious person can get work and may soon become independent; Carpenters, Masons, Smiths and other tradesmen have constant employment and can earn from 1 1/2 to 2 dollars a day.
Labourers one dollar a day, the Sawyers of fire wood who are in general Irishmen and blacks are computed at One thousand, they go about with a whip saw and a cross to lay the wood in and they earn from one to two dollars a day. Several respectable merchants and traders in this city are Irishmen, but our countrymen here, as in every other place, are generally employed in the most laborious occupations, as digging Canals, attending brick layers, loading and unloading Ships, carrying burthens etc, the exceptions are few; Several Irishmen who are not able or willing to work hawk oranges, Lemons, apples &c about the Streets - and about two hundred of them are employed driving hackney coaches.
I have observed that the low Irish are the worst conditioned people in this country - on their first landing they are extremely meek and Servile, after mixing a short time with their Countrymen and hearing that all men are here free and equal in respect to their rights, they think that freedom consists in being at liberty to do as they please, and they become intolerably insolent, but at length after receiving repeated chastisements, they in two or three years become tollerably well conducted; Brandy is so very cheap and the climate so much in extremes of heat and cold that excessive drinking, even amongst the better classes, is not unfrequent.
I was much surprized to see many respectable Merchants drinking Punch in Public houses betwixt Breakfast and dinner, an act which, you know, would destroy any mans character forever in Ireland.
Many Irishmen who scraped together a little money, commenced selling grog, and by such beginnings, several have realized considerable fortunes, you seldom see a person in a state of inebriety in the Streets, the laws against drunkeness are severe and rigourously enforced.
There are several fine converted Markets in every part of the City, all well supplied, Beef is good, Mutton much inferior to ours, Turkeys 30 lbs. weight. Poultry in general not so well flavored as the Irish, Potatoes abundant, but very bad.
Fish must be brought alive to market; it is neither so good, nor in so great variety as in Ireland, Oysters are plenty and good. the prices of provisions about the same as with you, but clothing is dearer, with the exception of house rent, you can live as cheap in New York as in Limerick, as an instance I am boarded and lodged in a highly respectable family for four Dollars per week. the climate of New York is unhealthy, deaths average one hundred per week, consumption is the most common disease. I fear your patience will be worn out, therefore I will bring this long desultory letter to an end.
Note from Michael Purcell - Unthank family in Carlow, Queens County & Limerick.
Re. Letter from George Unthank living in New York 1831.
The Unthank family were associated with the Society of Friends (Quakers).
Abel Unthank is recorded in the Pat Purcell Papers living in Carlow in 1797.
Thebious [ ? ] Unthank witnessed the purchase of land in Fenagh by Samuel Watson in 1656.
Unthank had come to Ireland under the command of Robert Browne as a soldier in Cromwell's Army, some of the soldiers were granted land in Ireland in lieu of pay.
Samuel Watson and two of his brothers bought some of the "granted land" from soldiers who wished to return to England as did Robert Browne also bought land from the soldiers and he later settled in the Pollerton area, renaming the acquired land "Brownes Hill".
Browne also purchased property in Tullow Street, Cuckoo Lane (now Browne Street) in Carlow town and land in Graigue (now Graiguecullen) and Sleaty.
The Unthanks became involved with the Watson family of Kilconnor, Carlow, in the Milling business and farming interests. I think they are also recorded as witnesses to some Watson marriages.
In the Pat Purcell Papers it is recorded that Abel Unthank gave a declaration before Benjamin Bunbury on 24th November, 1797, with Unthank refusing to swear on the Holy Evangelists because he was a "member of the Sect commonly called Quakers", but he "Declared" information regarding- "persons not having the love and fear of God before their eyes assembling nightly in a Evil and riotous manner in the vicinity of New Gardens, Carlow, which Informant truly believes and Declares to be a Party of Rebels under the influence of France in readiness for War against the Crown and Dignity of our Sovereign Lord George, King, Defender of the Faith and so forth and His Majesties Forces in His Kingdom of Ireland" -.
Bunbury noted that despite the fact that Unthank was reluctant to swear under Oath his "examination should be presented as a true Testament before the Magistrates sitting in Carlow.".
The Carlow family later established a branch in Ballyfin, Queen's County.
There is a record of Samuel and Mathilda Unthank buried in the Burial ground in Oak Park.
The following is extracted from - "The Onthank Family:
Its History and Genealogy" by Arthur Heath Onthank.
The Origin of the Unthank or Onthank Family in Ireland is obscure. The only reliable explanation thus far has come from Herbert William Unthank, of Exeter, England.
Mr. Unthank, a University Lecturer at the University of Exeter, came from the Limerick branch of the Unthank family in Ireland, and has his family genealogy among the Irish Unthanks accurately recorded for seven generations past.
He believed that the earliest Unthank to settle in Ireland was one of the soldiers of Oliver Cromwell, who invaded Ireland in 1650, and subsequently settled many of his soldiers, and others from England, on land in Ireland.
Herbert William Unthank's forebears were Quakers and they settled in and near Limerick, Ireland.
A branch of the Onthank's from Ballyfin Queens County, Ireland immigrated to in or around the Baltimore, Maryland area around 1850 until 1890. They then moved to Cheyenne, Wyoming and Later Pocatello, Idaho. Further spread includes Butte, Montana, Spokane Washington, Portland Oregon along with possibly California.
In the Pat Purcell Papers it is recorded that Abel Unthank gave a declaration before Benjamin Bunbury on 24th November, 1797, with Unthank declining to swear on the Holy Evangelists because he was a "member of the Sect commonly called Quakers", but he "Declared" information regarding- "persons not having the love and fear of God before their eyes assembling nightly in an Evil and riotous manner in the vicinity of New Gardens, Carlow, which Informant truly believes and Declares to be a Party of Rebels under the influence of France in readiness for War against the Crown and Dignity of our Sovereign Lord George, King, Defender of the Faith and so forth and His Majesties Forces in His Kingdom of Ireland" -.
Bunbury noted that despite the fact that Unthank was reluctant to swear under Oath his "examination should be presented as a true Testament before the Magistrates sitting in Carlow."
Michael Purcell c.2012
Source: Noel Walsh & Michael Purcell c.2012