Haunting Memories Coming To America

Haunting Memories Coming To America

A Book by Norma M Sutton

The story of one family that left Ireland for the new lands during the potato famine.


© 2011 Norma M Sutton

Author's Note

Norma M Sutton
background information:

During the Famine period, an estimated half-million Irish were evicted from their cottages. Unscrupulous landlords used two methods to remove their penniless tenants. The first involved applying for a legal judgment against the male head of a family owing back-rent. After the local barrister pronounced judgment, the man would be thrown in jail and his wife and children dumped out on the streets. A 'notice to appear' was usually enough to cause most pauper families to flee and they were handed out by the hundreds.

The second method was for the landlord to simply pay to send pauper families overseas to British North America. Landlords would first make phony promises of money, food and clothing, then pack the half-naked people in overcrowded British sailing ships, poorly built and often unseaworthy, that became known as coffin ships.

The first coffin ships headed for Quebec, Canada. The three thousand mile journey, depending on winds and the captain's skill, could take from 40 days to three months. Upon arrival in the Saint Lawrence River, the ships were supposed to be inspected for disease and any sick passengers removed to quarantine facilities on Grosse Isle, a small island thirty miles downstream from Quebec City.

But in the spring of 1847, shipload after shipload of fevered Irish arrived, quickly overwhelming the small medical inspection facility, which only had 150 beds. By June, 40 vessels containing 14,000 Irish immigrants waited in a line extending two miles down the St. Lawrence. It took up to five days to see a doctor, many of whom were becoming ill from contact with the typhus-infected passengers. By the summer, the line of ships had grown several miles long. A fifteen-day general quarantine was then imposed for all of the waiting ships. Many healthy Irish thus succumbed to typhus as they were forced to remain in their lice-infested holds. With so many dead on board the waiting ships, hundreds of bodies were simply dumped overboard into the St. Lawrence.

Others, half-alive, were placed in small boats and then deposited on the beach at Grosse Isle, left to crawl to the hospital on their hands and knees if they could manage. Thousands of Irish, ill with typhus and dysentery, eventually wound up in hastily constructed wooden fever sheds. These makeshift hospitals, badly understaffed and unsanitary, simply became places to die, with corpses piled "like cordwood" in nearby mass graves. Those who couldn't get into the hospital died along the roadsides. In one case, an orphaned Irish boy walking along the road with other boys sat down for a moment under a tree to rest and promptly died on the spot.

The quarantine efforts were soon abandoned and the Irish were sent on to their next destination without any medical inspection or treatment. From Grosse Isle, the Irish were given free passage up the St. Lawrence to Montreal and cities such as Kingston and Toronto. The crowded open-aired river barges used to transport them exposed the fair-skinned Irish to all-day-long summer sun causing many bad sunburns. At night, they laid down close to each other to ward off the chilly air, spreading more lice and fever.

My Review

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Very well written. I've heard a snippet of this but certainly not detailed like this. Thank you for sharing, Norma.

Posted 10 Years Ago

Norma M Sutton

10 Years Ago

Thank you Marion. Hopefully I will be able to get back to writing on this one and others soon.
read more
Norma M Sutton

10 Years Ago

The story it's based on I mean lol
This is very interesting
I'm sure many people have never hear
Of this very important and interesting and knowledgeable
piece of history
Thank you
Have an awesome day !

Posted 13 Years Ago

Thank you Norma. Once again you have provided me with a piece of history I knew nothing about. I am only just beginning to understand the phrase "history repeats itself."


Posted 13 Years Ago

The famine was a terrible thing but with world population increasing I fear there will be a great many more and the corporate land grabbers are buying up farmland so they can monopolize the price of groceries. I am Scot-Irish by descent so I have heard this story more than once. It is a tale of sadness grief and little hope. Once in America the Irish were treated pretty bad...like second-rate citizens. Someone called Joe Kennedy Irish once and he said, " I was born in America, my father was born in America...just how many damn generations does it take to be called an American instead of Irish?!" He said it because being Irish was being presumed a second rate citizen...a newcomer! But his son went on to become president before Oswald assassinated him.

Posted 13 Years Ago

I didn't write this, it's just for background information on the time this story is taking place.

Posted 13 Years Ago

This writing is fascinating. I can't even imagine. How brave they were to take a chance at having freedom in their lives.

Posted 13 Years Ago

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6 Reviews
Added on February 22, 2011
Last Updated on February 22, 2011


Norma M Sutton
Norma M Sutton

Bostic, NC

Norma Moore Sutton has written and published two children's books: The First Lamb and Harry Goes To The Fair She has written and published the first book in the Haunting Memories Series: Matthe.. more..


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