By Joseph E.B. Snider
As we continue our research in preparation for the Perry County Bicentennial in 2017, we find ourselves examining a variety of historic documents and government records, including the Federal Census. In honor of Saint Patrick’s Day, we have lately, turned our attention toward the Irish and the role they played in Perry County’s history. The 1850 Federal Census provides a plethora of information that had never been collected in any prior U.S. census. Unlike the three previous U.S. censuses of Ohio, the 1850 census lists the occupation of adult males and the real estate values of households, but it also records the place of birth of all those listed. So for the first time, researchers and historians are offered a glimpse into the demographic composition of our state’s past. In the year 1850, 2.2 million foreign-born people were living in the U.S., and of those, 145,992 were living in Ohio, 32,779 of which were born in Ireland. The number of Irish-born Ohioans were second in number only to the 70,000 some Germans who also called Ohio their home.
This data becomes more interesting when one isolates individual Ohio counties and counts their Irish immigrants. For example Perry County ranks 10th in number of Irish-born Ohioans with a total of 767 in 1850. Perry falls behind obvious heavy hitters like Hamilton County with 2,125 Irish-born residents, Cuyahoga with 1,600 and Muskingum with 1,283, but if one compares the number of Irish immigrants per county as a percent of the total immigrants in that county, Perry lands at number five with Irish-born persons making up 60% of all foreign immigrants. Jackson Township was home to 132 Irish persons, followed by Pike Township with 120 and Reading with 116.
These numbers raise questions like, what was it that brought the Irish to Perry County in greater numbers than any other nation prior to 1850? Those familiar with the plight of the Irishman know that the potato famine began in 1845, though the worst of the effects were not felt until 1847 when some 250,000 Irish people emigrated from Ireland, many of them landing in the U.S. However there was already a considerable Irish population in Perry County prior to the famine as evidenced by the many pre-famine tombstones in various cemeteries throughout the county which bear Irish surnames. Could it be the presence of two well established Catholic parishes in northern Perry County that beaconed the Irish to this neighborhood? Since their conversion from paganism around 400AD, the Irish have often been closely associated with Catholicism. For this, and other political reasons, they have all too often found themselves left to the tender mercies of oppressive governments and bigoted societies. Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church, the oldest Catholic Church in Ohio, was founded in 1818, just south of Somerset. Near the 1843 church’s present location, on property owned by Somerset tavern owner, Jacob Dittoe, the first Catholic Mass in Ohio was performed by Dominican Father Edward Fenwick in 1808. Later in Somerset, Holy Trinity was established in 1827. Because of these early parishes and their fervent founders, this area of Perry County is often referred as “the cradle of faith” or “the cradle of Catholicity” in Ohio. These parishes attracted German, French and Irish Catholics, and inspired families to settle in the area. These families would be followed by their kinsmen and their kinsmen, ad infinitum.
Similar scenarios played out in other parts of the New World, both before and after the American Revolution. In 1636, the very first religious tolerance act in the North American British colonies was passed in what would become the colony of Rhode Island. In 1649, the colony of Maryland passed the Maryland Tolerance Act which guaranteed the right of all Trinitarian Christians to practice their faith. As a result, many persecuted Catholics in Europe flocked to America, intentionally landing in Maryland. Though the act was permanently repealed in 1692 following the Protestant Revolution, Maryland continued to be a preferred point of entry for Catholics immigrating to America, indeed many Perry County Catholics of today can trace their family’s immigration back to Maryland. Ohio, along with other soon-to-be states in the northwest, offered many opportunities to early settlers, among them, religious freedom. Inspired by Thomas Jefferson’s Land Ordinance of 1784, the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 set the precedent by which all future states in the Union would be formed and paved the way to statehood for the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. This single piece of legislation established the legal basis for land ownership in the northwest, called for the abolition and transfer of other state’s claims to the territory which allowed for the admission of new states, encouraged the establishment of public universities, authorized local territorial governments, outlawed slavery and guaranteed freedom of religion in the Northwest Territory. This incredibly important document aided in making the northwest, and particularly Ohio, a very attractive place to the faithful flock.
Have a wonderful Saint Patrick’s Day!
United States Bureau of the Census
1850 The Seventh Census of the United States. Perry County, Ohio. Microfilm copy on file, Fairfield County District Library, Lancaster, Ohio.
Wilhem, H. G. H.
1982 The Origin and Distribution of Settlement Groups: Ohio: 1850. Wilhelm, Hubert G.H. and the Department of Geography at Ohio University, Athens, Ohio.
For regular news on other Perry County related research be sure to visit our facebook page Archaeology at the Randolph Mitchell House