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An Irish Emigrant Writes to Relatives in County Donegal

In this letter to relatives back home in County Donegal, William Dever describes some of the obstacles faced by Irish immigrants in the antebellum period. In contrast to German and Dutch immigrants, who were often able to purchase farms, the Irish often ended up working in menial positions, as in the case of the "banker" whose story Dever relates in his letter.

September 14, 1848


My dear Uncle and Brothers,

It’s inconceivable the thousands that land here every week from all the old countries flying from tyranny and oppression. Wealthy farmers with their whole families are coming here and purchasing farms, some of the best land in the whole world. Germans, French, Hollanders are doing this on a large scale. 

But most of the Irish come out poor, unable to purchase farms. They work digging quarries, carrying brick and mortar in scorching sun up to the fourth stories of houses, in winter nothing to do, all their money spent. They are despised and kicked about. Many write home they are happy and wealthy, when they are of that class above mentioned. I heard friends of a young man in this city enquiring of John (Mr. Such a One) was not a banker here, as he wrote home that he was so and persuaded all his relatives to come join him. But what was he, think you? He was sweeper of the office of the bank. They were astonished when told so. And thousands are just like him.

Write immediately, 

William Dever

Source | Kerby Miller and Paul Wagner, Out of Ireland: The Story of Irish Emigration to America (Washington, D.C.: Elliot & Clark, 1998), 39.
Creator | William Dever
Item Type | Diary/Letter
Cite This document | William Dever, “An Irish Emigrant Writes to Relatives in County Donegal,” SHEC: Resources for Teachers, accessed September 26, 2023,

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