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ILLINOIS STATE ARCHIVES


The Illinois and Michigan Canal, 1827–1911

A Selection of Documents from the Illinois State Archives


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DOCUMENT 18
LETTER FROM D.S. HOUGH TO DAVID LEAVITT CONCERNING HIS DUTIES AS TIMBER LAND AGENT
September 16, 1845






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Explanation

Canal trustee David Leavitt had successfully nominated his nephew, D.S. Hough, to be one of the two timber agents called for in the trustees' resolution of July 23, 1845 (see document 16). Hough was writing from La Salle where Isaac Hardy held the contract for the steamboat channel and basin (see document 17).

In Ireland the potato crop failed in 1845 and famine resulted. For the period 1845-1854 approximately 1,300,000 Irish men, women, and children left their homeland and resettled in the United States. Nativism increasingly became part of the social fabric as older generation Americans came to resent and fear the influx of new immigrants. The Irish in particular were met with scorn and contempt. Their poverty, intemperance, Catholicism, and sheer numbers made them outcasts. Beginning in 1852 the Know Nothing Party enjoyed brief success as the formal political outlet for nativist sentiment.

Throughout the canal's construction the employing contractor and the Irish laborer needed one another. The work was hard, dirty, often dangerous, and not particularly well paying. The number of available able-bodied men was limited. The Irish immigrant often did those jobs that few others would take. Canal work did after all provide a means of earning a living. See also document 11.

Points to Consider

What type of job was D.S. Hough employed in?
What was an "anti-renter"?
What was Hough's attitude toward the Irish workers?
Why might the Irish laborers have resented Hough?


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