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Kinney, Thomas P. / Irish settlers of Fitchburg, Wisconsin, 1840-1860
(1993)

Immigration of Irish to Dane County,   pp. 8-13 PDF (415.2 KB)


Page 10

In 1840 there were 314 residents in the county, but by 1860
there were 43,922; among these, 11 percent of the heads of
households were natives of Ireland. The population in 1860 of
the Town of Fitchburg was 1,177; approximately one-third of
the heads of households in the township were born in Ireland.5
(See Appendix A.)
The Irish were joined in their journey to Wisconsin by
people of a variety of backgrounds, including German, Swiss,
and Norwegian. Though fewer in number than some other
ethnic groups, the Irish population in Wisconsin increased
during the 1845-1855 potato Famine emigration from Ireland.
Most Irish from the East Coast came by way of steamboat
through the Great Lakes to Milwaukee, then by oxen team and
wagon to their destination. Some Irish came overland by prairie
schooner across Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois to
reach Wisconsin Territory
Irish who had arrived before 1840 worked primarily in
southwestern Wisconsin lead mines or in the southeastern port
towns on Lake Michigan. These Irish communities and some
rural farming settlements sent representatives to the first great
St. Patrick's Day parade in Milwaukee on March 17, 1843,
sponsored by Milwaukee's Roman Catholic Church. The Irish
of the "Bloody Third" Ward, a district in Milwaukee known for
its immigrant brawls, were well represented. The Milwaukee
Sentinel reported that delegations with banners hailed from
localities such as Mineral Point, Madison, Watertown, Geneva,
Kenosha, Racine, Franklin, Muskego, Waukesha, Pewaukee,
and Cedarburg.6 (Fitchburg was not represented because the
first Irish settlers did not arrive until that June.)
The frontier town of Milwaukee grew rapidly from 1840 to
1860, and it received a boost from the Irish Famine immigra-
tion. In 1840, Milwaukee had a population of 1,712. By 1860,
the city had grown to 45,246 people, of whom 3,100 were born
in Ireland. German immigrants made up a third of Milwaukee's
inhabitants.7 Some Irish left Milwaukee after living there for a
few years and saving money to move west.
Crucial to understanding the settlement pattern of the
Irish in Dane County is that the Irish came in two waves. The
first occurred in the 1840's and resulted in agricultural settle-
ments. The second occurred in the 1850's in connection with
railroad construction. Fitchburg was one of Dane County's first
Irish agricultural settlements, and typified a common pattern of
settlement in which pre-Famine immigrants arrived and staked
claims. Families fleeing the Famine soon settled around them.
Eight pre-Famine Irish families formed a core in Fitchburg,
settling between 1843 and 1845; nearly seventy other families
joined them in the years that followed (see Appendices D
and E).
The Irish held township offices such as chairman and
treasurer during the pioneer days in Fitchburg, but settlers of
other nationalities shared these responsibilities with the Irish,
so the Irish were not considered a dominant social or political
force in the township (see Appendix B). The Irish constituted
a third of Fitchburg's population in 1860, and they may have
totalled over half of the citizenry if they had stayed within the
boundaries of the township. Instead, the Irish settlement was
centered in the southeast part of Fitchburg, with additional
residences located in the towns of Oregon to the south and
Dunn to the east (see Map on p. 28).
The towns of Cottage Grove and Westport also became
home to large rural Irish communities in Dane County." The
early formation of Westport in northern Dane County was
heavily influenced by its Irish settlers, who began arriving in
1845. The township was named after the O'Malley family's
home town in County Mayo, Ireland. The Irish had a stronger
voice in government in the Town of Wesport than they had in
Fitchburg. While Westport had about the same number of Irish
as Fitchburg in the early days, it had fewer non-Irish families.9
Thus, the Irish had a greater impact on the development of the
Westport community.
To the east of Westport lies the Town of Burke, which
was named for the Irish-born politician and British reformer,


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