Irish-Catholics come to Amesbury Mills Village

John F. Kellett gives us a glimpse into the history of Irish-Catholics in our region. Several of his vignettes are available for research in the Amesbury Room at the Amesbury Public Library.  We transcribed one of his works here. Read on to learn more about the Daley family who immigrated from Belfast Ireland. 

Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. "The Irish Remedy -- Emigration To America."   The New York Public Library Digital Collections  . 1898.

Art and Picture Collection, The New York Public Library. "The Irish Remedy -- Emigration To America." The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1898.

"William Daley and his first wife, Catherine, of Belfast, Ireland, were the first Irish-Catholics, of record, at Amesbury Mills Village, where their daughters, Margaret Mary, and Mary June, were born February 13, 1834 and October 16, 1836, respectively. The family was living in the Daley house, so-called, in Wadleigh's Court [near the present location of Hanley Court—map] as early as the 1840's and in the late 1850's the first Mass said in Amesbury was celebrated there by Rev. Henry Lennon, pastor of the Immaculate Conception Church of Newburyport, a personal friend of William Daley. William Daley, junior, elder son, was ordained a Catholic priest in 1862, the first Amesbury native to merit the distinction. Mr. Daley was a supervisor in the Amesbury-Salisbury mills for many years; later, a realtor in the twin-villages, and his status as good citizen made for easier acceptance by the inhabitants of the town of the Irish-Catholics who cam in during the 1840's and 50's and 60's. 

There were a half dozen Irish-Cathoic families living in Amesbury and Salisbury Mills villages during the 1840's, whose heads were skilled workers, who had learned their crafts in the great English textile centers of Bradford and Leeds, Bolton and Manchester. Among them were a designer, a pattern-maker, a dyer and a weaver. With a group of the native English of the second immigration who had preceded them to the mills villages, by a few years, they constituted an elite of labor, and held responsible positions in the burgeoning local industry. The names Roger Cummings, John Lambert, Roger Fallen, Daniel Harrigan and Garrett Freeman, mean little or nothing to present day members of their race and religion in Amesbury, yet there were the men, under William Daley's leadership, who helped lay the foundation of St. Joseph's Parish.

The native Americans who removed to the twin-villages from surrounding towns, to work in the cloth factories, and the English immigrants of the 1830 to 1860 period, mingled freely with the Amesbury and Salisbury inhabitants, and shared with them the cultural patterns which the latter's ancestors had evolved during their two hundred years' residence in the adjoining towns. The Irish-Catholics, on the other hand, held to their old country manner of living, insofar as that was possible in their new environment, and their contacts with the native born, other than those necessitated by commercial transactions were minimal. They were, in brief, of a different race, religion and outlook.

When the Irish-Catholics began to arrive, in numbers, Amesbury-Salisbury natives were enjoying the fruits of the local industrial revolution which had commenced in the second decade of the nineteenth century, in the textile miles on the banks of the Powow. Many natives were employed in the textile plants, and they feared that the influx of unskilled foreigners would cause a decrease in the wages paid them, due to the eagerness of the new-comers to obtain work. The Irish-Catholics were accustomed to a different standard of living and were content to toil for a price that would allow them to support themselves, frugally, and to save a little money against the day when they would buy a house and land. Neither faction understood, fully, the other's motive's and sentiments, and this lack of perception was at the root of the tragedy which marked their interrelations during the 1850's.

No record remains of secret, nativist societies in the twin-villages during the years the Know Nothing Party was preparing to enter national politics, yet me may be reasonably certain that they existed there, and in neighboring towns, also. Concerning events of the year 1856, Joseph Merrill says in his History of Amesbury:

"This is the ever memorable Know Nothing year and the vote at the Fall election was very large. Henry J. Gardner, who was the Know Nothing candidate for Governor, received 428 votes, and all others 153."

In 1857, Amesbury voted by a large majority to amend the State Constitution, by the addition to it of Article 20, which provided that voters must be able to read and write. The amendment which was approved, enthusiastically, throughout the Bay State, bore most heavily on Irish-Catholic immigrants of the first half of the 1850's. From 1851 to 1856, victims of the Irish famine, many of them lacking formal education, came to New England, mainly to Massachusetts, in ever-growing numbers. "Their presence," wrote a contemporary, "evoked a hysterical nativism, which found an outlet in various organizations, most of them originally secret and planned to resist the invidious whiles of foreign influence."

"Although the strangers quickly found work on the railroads or in the mills," continued the commentator, "it was believed, in many quarters, that they were responsible for a sudden increase in crime and pauperism." […]

Father Joseph F. Scheuer and Edward Wakin, in their book, The De-Romanization of the American Catholic Church, describe accurately, the attitude of Amesbury natives towards the Irish-Catholics who worked for and beside them in the textile factories in the Mills villages, during the 1850-60's.

"In America he (the Irish-Catholic) and his countrymen had to learn to live side by side with the analytical New Englanders, who had been bred in a theological atmosphere where intellect had been sharpened by controversy on "fixed fate, free will, foreknowledge". Such religionists felt little sympathy for the Irishman, and his priest, who had never discussed a point of doctrine in their lives. But in the end the righteous Yankees felt a responsibility for the new immigrants' condition, and gradually the old traces of Puritan contempt would disappear.

Meanwhile, in a self-imposed ghetto of Catholic awareness and activity, parochialism was nurtured. The defensive tone, deriving from the constant Catholic suspicion that there is an enemy all around, created a reactionary image. Their range of interests and spectrum of sympathies were usually circumscribed by the Catholic context. Certainly this was the abiding impression created by the public, the official and the visible in Catholic life before the aggiornaments of Pope John XXIII."

Despite the wall of ideas which separated natives and immigrants as effectually as had the Atlantic Ocean, prior to the 1850's, there was mutual respect and a measure of fraternization between certain members of both groups, from the start. It would be many years before freer attitudes permitted close social links, yet liberal souls of either class enjoyed, meanwhile, the camaraderie of a Saturday night dance in Washington Hall, in the heart of Salisbury Mills Village, the former Franklin Hall, and latterly, Amesbury Grange Hall, which was razed recently. Difference were forgotten, temporarily, under the spell of Jim Quimby's magic violin and the marvel of Alice Ahearn's superb dancing. Quimby, a barber by vocation, with a shop nearby, was a lineal descendant of William Osgood, an uncompromising Puritan, who built Amesbury's oldest house, on Congress Street [since disassembled and relocated outside of Amesbury]. Mrs. Ahearn, a large, good-looking, light-footed woman, endowed generously with Irish wit, was known to her countrymen and to natives alike as "Mother Heron". No weekly dance was a success with either local celebrity absent."

Kellett, John F. "Pioneer Irish-Catholics of Amesbury and Salisbury, Massachusetts". Amesbury, Massachusetts. (n.d.) 65p, Amesbury Public Library, Local History Collection

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