Princeton Republic, July 25, 1867 – “Our village has become proverbially quiet, but once in a while on Sunday some wild drunken Irishman fairly shakes the underpinning of pandemonium with his demonic yells. A case of this kind occurred near the brewery on Sabbath, when his companions ‘kapcherep’ him and holding him in, drove in a wagon at a breakneck speed, and so terrified Elder Thompson, who is very low, that he frequently awoke from frightful dreams through the following night, occasioned by the drunken madman. Good Templars, there is work ahead. Gird up your loins for the continual conflict.”

With St. Patrick’s Day on the horizon, let’s take a moment to reflect on Princeton’s Irish heritage.

When local historians discuss the waves of immigrants that shaped Princeton in the 19th century, they focus largely on the Germans and Poles. Rightfully so. New Yorkers and Yankees founded the community, and German and Polish immigrants helped mold it into the city it became.

We should not overlook, however, the Irish immigrants who arrived in Pleasant Valley and the Indian Lands alongside the area’s earliest white settlers in the mid to late 1840s. The Irish comprised the largest English-speaking bloc of immigrants in early Wisconsin and in this area.

“Unlike other immigrant groups, the Irish did not move immediately westward after arriving in the United States,” according to the essay “Irish in Wisconsin” in the Dictionary of Wisconsin History on the Wisconsin State Historical Society website. “Irish immigrants were more likely than other groups to move from county to county and from state to state in search of available land for farming. The average Irish immigrant had spent seven years in the United States before moving to Wisconsin.”

I have not done extensive research on the Irish in Wisconsin, but it seems historians generally agree three waves of Irish immigrants helped shape Wisconsin in the 19th century.

The first group arrived in the 1830s and early 1840s primarily to work in the lead mines in southwestern Wisconsin, the lumber industry in central Wisconsin and the first ill-fated attempt at digging the Portage canal. Many left amid the 1848-1849 gold rush in California.

The laborers were joined by land-starved farmers with enough means to buy the cheap land available in the U.S. and often families large enough to work it. Key townships of Brown County were nearly wholly settled by Irish farmers, according to “The Story of Wisconsin, 1634-1848” (The Wisconsin Magazine of History, Vol. 3, No. 3, March 1920).

A devastating potato famine beginning about 1846 turned the stream of Irish immigrants to the U.S. into a flood. Many of the newcomers in the second wave were poor and would need to find jobs near seaboard cities in Canada and the U.S. to earn the money to move west. They were often subject to bigotry and intolerance, particularly the Catholic Irish, in the cities.

Once they got to Wisconsin, many immigrants stopped at the larger cities where they arrived. Some found work building Wisconsin’s first railroads and the on again/off again Fox-Wisconsin River improvement project, which included another attempt at the Portage canal. And they farmed.

The third wave in the 1860s consisted largely of younger Irish men and women drawn by good wages, steady employment and again cheap land as the frontier moved west. Many new immigrants joined the Grand Army of the Republic.

Most of the Irish immigrants were Catholic, though some of the early arrivals were Scot-Irish and leaned Presbyterian. There were enough Irish farmers in Dodge County to form an Irish Catholic church in Fox Lake in 1845, a few years before the first church at St. Marie was built for the predominantly Irish settlers on the Indian Lands west of the Fox River.

The earliest Irish immigrants filtered into the area east of the Fox, known then as Pleasant Valley, along with the other early settlers primarily in the late 1840s but at smaller numbers than the New Yorkers and New England Yankees. (Keep in mind, too, that some of our early settlers were second-generation Irish, born to Irish immigrants in New York, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania but not immigrants themselves.)

My review of the Princeton Times-Republic regarding the history of the Irish in Princeton produced only a couple of articles, both published in the 1990s: one fact-based article on Timothy Sullivan – more on him in the next post – and a letter to the editor that was light on facts and overloaded with conjecture. It depicted early Irish settlers of rural Princeton as mostly poor miners and canal diggers who were too illiterate to carve names on tombstones.

I disagree. The early Irish settlers here were primarily farmers, just like the Germans and Poles who followed. Some were poor, yes, but there were also settlers born in Ireland who had been in the U.S. for several years, spoke English and had money for land.

I believe they came primarily for the cheap land – to farm and/or flip when land prices increased – that would become available in 1850 with full implementation of the Treaty of Lake Poygan signed in 1848, which gave the Menominee Indians two years to vacate their land west of the Fox River.

In the meantime, if they made improvements on Indian Lands, squatters could get pre-emption rights to buy the property when it became available. Within the next decade, most of the former Indian Lands west of the river would become parts of the Princeton and St. Marie townships in Marquette and then Green Lake County.

This photo shows workers taking a break at the Portage Canal, date not listed.

I will grudgingly admit, however, that some immigrant Irish might have arrived in the area as canal builders before changing vocations. I say grudgingly because I have yet to find anything in the Princeton Republic, which began publishing in 1867, to support that theory – in articles or in obituaries.

But at least one scholarly source offers some evidence: “History of the Irish in Wisconsin in the Nineteenth Century,” a dissertation by Sister M. Justille McDonald of the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration published by the Catholic University of America Press in 1954 and reprinted in 1976 by Arno Press Inc. with Grace McDonald listed as author.

Here is what McDonald reported:

“Marquette and Green Lake counties are located directly south of Waushara. The Fox River flowing north from Columbia County winds through these two counties on its way to the Lake Winnebago region. Before 1860 Marquette and Green Lake were combined under the name of Marquette which in 1840 had a population of only 18. A decade later this number had increased to 8,640. … Over half of the Irishmen who had entered Marquette County before 1860 were located in the portion west of the Fox River then called Indian Lands and constituting the bulk of what actually remained Marquette County after Green Lake had been carved from it in 1858. Towns nearest the Fox River showed the heaviest concentrations of Irishmen. Neshkoro and Shields with comparatively small Irish populations in 1860 were nevertheless one-fourth Irish according to a count of families, while larger number of Irishmen resided in Montello, Buffalo and Douglas townships. Four hundred and seventy-five of the 645 Irishmen in the county were located in these five townships in 1860. Most of them were farmers. As in Winnebago, Outagamie, and Brown counties, Irish immigrants had first worked on the Fox River improvement before settling on farms, so some of the Irish settlers in Marquette County had first worked on the canal at Portage. Seneca and St. Marie townships in Green Lake County border the town of Neshkoro in Marquette County and like it were not heavily populated, but Irish families were one-third of the total. Berlin, town and village, terminus of the Milwaukee and Mississippi Railroad, contained the largest concentration of Irishmen in the county.”

The source for McDonald’s information about the canal builders was a letter to the editor promoting Wisconsin published by the Boston Pilot on March 7, 1852, that said nearly 200 Irish, about 60 families, were inhabiting land north of Portage.

This map, drawn in 1922 and part of the Wisconsin Historical Society collection, shows major immigrant populations for counties in 1850, including 375 Irish in Marquette County. I was particularly struck by the large number, 1,276, of Irish in neighboring Dodge County.

Pleasant Valley Township, 1850

I counted 378 people born in Ireland living in Marquette County in the 1850 census but only 18, including 12 adults, in Pleasant Valley Township on land east of the Fox River.

Here is a list I compiled of people born in Ireland and residing in Pleasant Valley in 1850 (spellings are based on census lists): Michael Ash, laborer; John Dobbie, laborer; Peter Finch, laborer; Patrick Gamon, no occupation listed; William Gamon, merchant; P. Hall, farmer, wife Ann, and three children, two born in New Jersey and a 2-year-old born in Wisconsin; James Lynch, laborer, wife Jane, and 1-year-old born in New York; Thomas Marshall, farmer, wife Eliza and two children, the youngest a 4-year-old born in Iowa; and Patrick Welch, farmer.

(The Gamons were staying at an inn run by Henry Candell. The guests at the time of the census included 14 adult single males and one couple. I believe but am less than certain the hotel was in St. Marie/Hamilton.)

Indian Lands, 1850

I found another 199 Irish immigrants across the Fox River, to the west, on land still considered Indian Lands rather than part of Pleasant Valley in 1850. Of the men 18 and older, all but about a dozen listed their occupation as farmer. About half of the others were “laborers,” most of whom lived on their parents’ farms.

Farmers Asa and Nancy Potts appear to have been among the first Irish immigrants to arrive here. They had two older children born in Ireland and a 7-year-old born in Wisconsin, putting their arrival in the territory no later than 1843.

Edward and Triphena McGee welcomed their first child in New York in 1843 and their second in Wisconsin in 1845. McGee was a shoemaker and dealt in footwear “except rubber,” according to the census.

Farmers John and Ann Ganager had four children, three born in New York and a 5-year-old born in Wisconsin.

I was surprised to find an inn keeper, James McCarty and wife Laura, in the “hotels and lodging” industry in the Indian Lands in 1850. Their youngest daughter was born in Ireland in 1848. I do not know the location of McCarty’s hotel.

John and Eliza Wise had seven children, all born in Ireland, before they arrived on the Indian Lands and welcomed number eight in 1849. They were accompanied on the trip by John’s 82-year-old mother, Margaret. The Wises were farmers.

Twelve other families in the 1850 census also reported children 2 or younger born in Wisconsin. Several families had spent at least four years in other states.

Here is the list I compiled of people I found who were born in Ireland and living on Indian Lands in 1850:

Alice Barker, wife of farmer born in New York, two children, 0 and 2, both born in Wisconsin; Berry family, farmers, (adults Margaret, David, John and James, and two children, both born in Ireland); John Bradley, farmer, wife Bridget, four children, three born in Illinois and a 2-year-old born in Wisconsin; Samuel Brown, farmer; Michael Carol, farmer, wife Margaret; John Carr, farmer, wife Mary, and 2-year-old born in Illinois; Patrick Carry, farmer, wife Mary Ann, two children, ages 5 and 1, both born in Massachusetts; Herberson McClane, farmer; John Cassady, farmer, wife Catharine, three children, two born in Ireland and a baby less than a year old born in Wisconsin; Nicholas Clark, farmer, wife Jane, three children, all born in New York; Jane Watson (90); Owen Clark, farmer, and six children, ages 5-15, all born in New York; John Collins, farmer, wife Ann, and a child less than a year old born in Wisconsin; Patrick Cosgrave, farmer, wife Margaret, two children, a 3 year-old-born in Ireland and a child less than a year old born in Wisconsin; James Crokin, farmer, wife Margaret, three children born in Ireland; John Cummings, laborer, wife Mary, five children born in New York and Connecticut; Patrick Cunningham, farmer, wife Catharine, two children born in Ireland and two born in New York;

Lucinda Dean; Thomas Devany, laborer, one son born in Ireland; John Dillman, farmer, wife Alice, 2-year-old born in Cuba and a child less than a year old born in Wisconsin; Lawrence Dupre, farmer, wife Mary; Peter Dupre, farmer; Richard Ely, laborer, wife Bridget, two children, a 2-year-old born in Ireland and a child less than a year old born in Wisconsin; Matthew Fallin, farmer, wife Ellen; John Farrace, farmer, wife Nancy, two children born in Ireland; Patrick Farrel, farmer, and two children, 16 and 14, both born in Ireland; Frank Ferry, farmer, wife Hannah; Margaret Foster and three children, ages 6-10, born in Indiana; James Gaffney, farmer, wife Sally, two kids, 2 and 4, both born in Pennsylvania; Owen Gainey, farmer; John Ganager, farmer, wife Ann, four children, three born in New York and a 5-year-old born in Wisconsin; Daniel Garriga, farmer, wife Margaret; John Hafferman, farmer; Henry Hafferman, farmer; Michael Haley, farmer, wife Eliza, one child under 1 year old born in Pennsylvania; Patrick Haney, farmer, wife Catharine, two adult sons, farmers, and five children ages 1-7 all born in New York; John Hannigan, farmer; Samuel Havener, farmer, wife Mary Ann, 3-year-old born in Ireland and 1-year-old born in Illinois; John Hayes, farmer; Daniel Hayes, farmer; Timothy Hayes, farmer; John Hayes, farmer.; Margaret Hayes two children, 2 and 4, both born in Massachusetts; Alexander Kins, farmer; William Lay, farmer; John Lay, laborer, and 2-year-old born in Vermont; James Leslie, farmer, wife Ann, and 4-year-old born in Pennsylvania; James Low, sailor (living with carpenter Hiram Berges and merchant James Durby); Matthew Lynch, farmer, wife Lyda, two children born in New Hampshire;

James Machen, farmer, wife Mary, 1-year-old born in Wisconsin; Margaret McKay; Margaret McGowan; A.O. McGowen, farmer, two children, ages 3 and 11, born in Ireland; James McCarty, farmer, wife Laura, two children, ages 2 and 3, born in Ireland; Thomas McCarty, laborer; Catharine McCarty; Jeremiah McCarty, farmer, 1-year-old born in Massachusetts; John and McClary, farmer, wife Rachel, and child less than a year old born in Ireland; Patrick McCowen, laborer, wife Catharine; Michael McDonald, farmer, wife Margaret, two children, ages 2 and less than a year, born in New York and Wisconsin, respectively; Patrick McDonough, farmer; John Mcdonough, farmer; Edward McGee, shoemaker, wife Triphena, two children, 5 and 7, born in Wisconsin and New York, respectively; James McGovern, farmer, wife Margaret, and two children, 7 and 10, born in New York and New Jersey, respectively; John McGinnis, farmer; Peter McLaughlin, farmer, wife Mary, three children, ages 1-5, born in Massachusetts; Charles McLutin, Cornelius McLutin, Henry McLutin, Patrick McLutin, farmers; Theophilis Metcalf, farmer, wife Sabra, children ages 3 and 5 both born in Illinois; James Milone, farmer, wife Eliza, four children, ages 2-11, born in Ireland; John Montgomery, farmer; George Montgomery, farmer; James Murphy, farmer, wife Ellen, 1-year-old born in Wisconsin and 4-year-old born in New York; Patrick Murray, farmer, wife Bridget; Ellen Murray and two children, ages 4 and 2, born in Massachusetts; Mary Nagle; James Nagle, farmer;

Cornelius O’Brien, farmer, wife Catharine, three children, ages 3-7, the oldest born in Massachusetts and the others in New York; Domonick Ovany, farmer, wife Ann, three children, ages 3-7, all born in Ireland; Asa Potts, farmer, wife Nancy, three children, including two born in Ireland and 7-year-old born in Wisconsin; Patrick Reodin, farmer, wife Rosina; Patrick Rice, laborer, wife Margaret; Phillip Riley, farmer, wife Ann, six children, ages 0-10, two born in Ireland and four in Canada; William Robinson, farmer, three children, ages 8-15, all born in New York; Michael Rodney, wife Bridget, four children, ages 4-18, all born in New York; Richard Rodney, farmer, wife Julia, five children, ages 0-13, one born in South Carolina, four in New York;

Andrew Sexton, John Sexton, James Sexton, farmers, and one child, 11, born in Ireland; Catherine Slowey; Patrick Slowey, farmer, four children, ages 6-13, all born in Ireland; Thomas Smith, farmer, wife Margaret, four children, ages 2-8, two born in Vermont, one in Massachusetts and the youngest in Wisconsin; Thomas Spruce, farmer; Gurmming Tafft, farmer, wife Aleria; Joseph Tempers, farmer; George Thompson, farmer; James Turban, farmer, wife Hannah; Richard Victory, farmer; David Ware, farmer, wife Cordelia, three children, ages 1-12, the youngest born in Ohio; Peter Ware, laborer; Margaret Wise; John Wise, farmer, wife Eliza, eight children, ages 1-17, with seven born in Ireland and the youngest born in Wisconsin.

St. Marie Township, 1850-1870

St. Marie Township was carved from Pleasant Valley Township in 1853. Its population of people born in Ireland swelled because it included a swath of the former Indian Lands west of the Fox and north of Princeton. (Pleasant Valley, meanwhile, was renamed Princeton Township.)

According to my unofficial count, the St. Marie Township population of 289 in 1860 included 77 people who emigrated from Ireland. The Irish-born and their families accounted for 146 of the township’s 289 residents, or about 52 percent of the population.

Of the 77 Irish-born residents of St. Marie in 1860, there were 36 males (32 age 18 or over) and 41 females (35 age 18 or over).

Patrick Carr listed his occupation as mason, Hugh Cann and Patrick Canvin said they were shoemakers, and John Barns wrote he was a businessman. Other men listed occupations as farmers (18), farm laborers (5) and day laborers (4).

Carr also arrived in St. Marie in the mid-1850s. He had worked in New York for about eight years before relocating.

Cann got to St. Marie about 1857. He worked in New York and Connecticut before coming to St. Marie.

Canvin had been in the U.S. for nearly 12 years and tried his trade in New York and Connecticut before he got to St. Marie in the late 1850s.

Nicholas and Nancy Ash had the largest farming operation in St. Marie among the Irish with real estate valued at $15,000.

Adult residents of St. Marie in 1860 born in Ireland included Matthias and Margaret Coleman, James and Amelia Casey, Charles and Ellen Carn, James and Martha Canada, Patrick and Margaret Cavanaugh, James, Alice  and Peter Cavanaugh, Andrew and Mary Carn, Patrick and Catherine Canvin, Patrick and Margaret Carr, Hugh and Peggy Cann, Mary McCarnal, John and Martha Biley, Bernard and Minford Rogers, Dennis and Bridget Rhoke, James and Ana Ragins, William and Prudence Barns, Patrick and Bridget McMan, William and Mary Martha, Robert and Ellen Johnston, Nicholas and Nancy Ash and  servant, Patrick and Bridget Hammond, John and Margaret Finegan, John and Ellen Fagintz, Henry and Mary McDevit , John Miller, Thomas and Eliza Crolick , Rose Crolick and others.

James and Martha Canada had eight children: two born in Ireland, four in New York and two in St. Marie. They employed a hired hand to help with the farm.

“The History of Green Lake County,” written by John Gillespy and published in 1860, notes that the village of St. Marie had pretty much run its course by the time the book was published: “Its appearance denotes dilapidation, buildings going to ruin.”

(John Shaw, 77, who arrived in 1847 and is considered the founder of St. Marie, listed his occupation as farmer with $2,000 in real estate holdings in 1860. He lived with Mary Kinner, 61, born in Virginia, and farm laborer Phil Doyle.)

Of the 42 adults born in Ireland and residing in St. Marie Township in 1870, there were 24 males and 18 females. They and their families accounted for 98 of the township’s residents, or about 15 percent of the population.

All the men listing occupations in the 1870 census were farmers or farm laborers. Thomas and Ellen Gallagher owned the most valuable farm ($6,000).

Residents of St. Marie in 1870 born in Ireland included James and Catherine Cavanaugh, Peter Cavanaugh, David Casey, William and Prudence Burns, John Burns, John and Eliza Wise, John and Mary Smith, John and Catherine Mulligan, Henry McDevitt, Nancy Devlin, Owen McMahon, Mary McCanall, James and Jane Lynch, John and Esther Jones, William and Elizabeth Kennetz, John Kennetz, Robert and Ellen Johnson, Michael and Bridget Ash, Thomas Ash, John and Henrietta Snoberger, Thomas and Bridget Haley, Thomas and Ellen Gallaher, John and Catherine Fagertz, Basa and Eliza Cronick.

Princeton Township, 1850-1870

Let’s recap how we got to this point: Wisconsin became a territory in 1836 and reached statehood in 1848, Princeton welcomed its first business in 1849, the Menomonie Indians agreed to vacate their lands west of the Fox River by 1850, St. Marie Township was carved from Pleasant Valley Township, which was renamed Princeton Township, in 1853, and Green Lake County was carved out of Marquette County in 1858.

The “History of Green Lake County” published in 1860 stated there were about 20 Irish families living west of Princeton.

The 1860 census shows 74 people born in Ireland living in Princeton Township, population 1,500, which includes the village and some of the former Indian Lands west of the Fox. That’s just under 5 percent of the population. There were 36 adult males born in Ireland and 29 adult women.

Of the men, nearly all listed their occupation as farmer or farm laborer. John Conduff, 32, was a blacksmith who lived with, and most likely worked for, early wagon manufacturer August Thiel. 

Thomas McCormick, 23, was a shoemaker.

Constant Adam, 45, was listed as a servant of the Jonathan and Elizabeth McAssey family, which included five children and $1,000 worth of farmland.

The farms of John and Catherine Mulligan and Michael and Bridget Ash had the highest real estate value ($4,000) among the Irish immigrants.

Other adults born in Ireland and residing in Princeton Township in 1860 included John and Catherine Cassity, John and Betsey Wise, Patrick and Catherine Welch, Thomas and Margaret Welch, 86-year-old John Sullivan with three adult sons and two daughters, Bridget Stevens, George and Ann Stewart, John and Catherine Mulligan, James and Rachel Marpley, Thomas and Ellen Maline, John and Margaret Maham, Mary Larabe, James and Mary Kenan, Patrick and Ann Hall, Michael and Mary Finegan, Patrick and Ann Finegan, Michael and Mary Delany, Henry and Martha Crosby, Peter and Julia Crosby, John and Catherine McCormick.

Of the 37 people born in Ireland and living in Princeton Township, which included the village, in 1870, there were 20 adult males and 16 adult females. I could not get a clean count of the township population in 1870 from the census – operator error, I’m sure – to determine percent of population.

A large majority of the Irish immigrants were still farmers, farm laborers and day laborers. The most valuable farm was owned by Robert and Rosalia Smith ($4,000).

The businessmen included carpenter Patrick Regan.

Other adults born in Ireland and residing in the town of Princeton in 1870 included Thomas and Ellen Maloney, Hugh and Margaret Hair, John and Bridget Finnegan, Michael and Mary Delaney, John and Catherine Cassidy, John and Betsey Wise, Thomas and Margaret Welch, Timothy and Ellen Sullivan, Jerry Sullivan, George and Ann Stewart, John and Mary Smith, Robert and Rosalia Smith, William and Mary Roberts, Patrick and Mary Rourke, James and Catherine Murphy, Michael and Catherine Mulligan, Owen McMahon, Patrick McMahon, Thomas and Ellen Maloney, Lawrence Maloney.

Hugh Carr, 17, worked at the Jarvis House, 444 West Water Street.

These charts, from “The History of the Irish in Wisconsin,” compare the population of people born in Ireland and living in Marquette/Green Lake counties in 1850 and 1860.

Moving on

State historians generally agree the Irish population in Wisconsin peaked about 1860 when the census put the count at 49,961.

“The Irish began to leave Wisconsin in 1860 as German immigrants poured into the state,” according to the Historical essay “Irish in Wisconsin” in the Dictionary of Wisconsin History on the Wisconsin State Historical Society website. “German immigrants were more willing to endure the hardships of clearing land for farming than many Irish who chose to move on.”

The 1860 Census recorded 575 people born in Ireland living in Green Lake County, including 201 in the townships of Princeton and St. Marie.

The 1870 Census recorded 417 people born in Ireland living in Green Lake County, including 79 in the townships of Princeton and St. Marie.

The 1880 Census recorded 375 people born in Ireland living in Green Lake County, including 54 in the townships of Princeton and St. Marie.

Just like the New Yorkers and Yankees they arrived here with, the Irish immigrants were moving on and dying off. Their legacy would endure, however, as their descendants thrived here and across the U.S.

In March 1880, Patrick Regan’s son, Daniel, who had grown up in Princeton and became principal of the local school, planned a benefit at Thiel Hall (508-512 West Water Street) to raise money for famine relief in Ireland. With $1 admission, the benefit raised $101.65. The major donors were Patrick Rourke, $10; Thomas Gallagher, James Cavanaugh, Michael Ash and Patrick Finnegan, $5 each; and J.P. Murphy, $4.

When Daniel Regan died in Illinois at age 41 in April 1897, a large funeral was held at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church in Princeton. (He was buried in the Catholic cemetery in Princeton, but his remains, as well as daughter Alice’s, were moved to Mount Carmel Catholic Cemetery in Hillside, Illinois, following his wife’s death there in April 1901.)

Most of these early Irish settlers were Catholics and worshipped at the church at St. Marie, St. Mary by the Fountain, until the diocese closed the church in 1874-1875. They formed a new parish on the west side of the river in Princeton and built a new church in 1876.

Thank you for caring and reading about local history. If you spot any errors, please let me know.

NEXT: St. Patrick’s Catholic Church

Leave a Reply