Thursday, September 20, 2012

Filth & Wretchedness

Barber Print of Lowell, 1839
From its earliest days Lowell intrigued visitors to tour its canals and mills.  There are a number of accounts by visitors, foreign and domestic, who came to see the industrial city being built on the Merrimack River.  They were intrigued to see the “Lowell Experiment” in action.  Many accounts dramatically describe the mill girls working their looms, and the shops and opportunities that drew the girls away from the New England farms to the brick factories.  Most accounts are complimentary and remark how different Lowell is compared to the conditions in places such as Manchester, England.  Lowell was being promoted as a type of utopia where labor and management coexisted in a regulated society.
Not every visitor looked beyond the building boom that was occurring in the 1820s.  While many were brought on tours of the pristine boarding houses and shown the girls standing at their looms; few ventured beyond the town center.  Up to this date, the earliest account of the Acre was an 1831 entry in a copy of the Niles Register.  It probably has been reprinted more than any other  report, and gives an account of the physical description of “New Dublin” by a visitor. 
In the suburbs of Lowell, within a few rods of the canals, is a settlement, called by some, New Dublin, which occupies rather more than an acre of ground.  It contains a population of not far from 500 Irish, who dwell in about 100 cabins, from 7 to 10 feet in height, built of slabs and rough boards; a fire-place made of stone, in one end, topped out with two or three flour barrels or lime casks.  In a central situation, is the school house, built in the same style of the dwelling-houses, turfed up to the eaves with a window in one end, and small holes in two sides for the admission of air and light.  In this room are collected together perhaps 150 children.
I was fortunate to come across an even earlier account, one I believe that has not been published before this date.  Needless to say that I was thrilled to have uncovered it.  It predates the Niles account by 2 years.  This is an important find since there are so few first-hand accounts of the early Irish population.  Once I came across it, I was excited to read what an earlier visitor thought of the Irish at the beginning of their entrance to the town of Lowell.  It was written by someone visiting for the day and touring the mills, but then he made his way into the Acre.  He wrote of the “filth” and “wretchedness” he witnessed in the “Irish village.”  He described the women “with faces indicating the free use of ardent spirits and shrill voices never spoken but to reprimand.”  He concludes that the Irish “are seldom employed,” having “a better reputation for hard drinkers and good fighters.” 
Again, I had never seen this source referenced before.  Initially I thought how awesome that I had come across a new account of the Paddy Camps.  Then I read the full piece.  I was disheartened.  But it speaks volumes about the conditions in which they lived and how the Irish were perceived. 
REMINDER- CEMETERY CLEAN UP DAY, Saturday, September 29 at 9 a.m..  If you have a broom or hand -brush, please bring it along.

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