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"Memoirs and Historical Jottings"

by Fr. James Bulger, St. Anthony's Church Rectory (1939)

Introduction: The following is an excerpt from Fr. Bulger's original manuscript (pp. 24). These few passages illustrate many of the experiences common to rural and urban Famine Irish immigrants and are provided as an additional reading:

Mother's immediate family came to America . Mother was the eldest of six children. She landed in Quebec , Canada , the year 1846 and was about 18 years old. She worked there three years as a domestic, for very low wages. About 1849 she went to New York and worked as a domestic in a Confectionary store, in lower Broadway. She remained with one family about seven years. Late in 1856 she married Thomas Bulger, in St. Peter's Church, Barclay St. N.Y.C. Father and Mother as children were neighbors and later met in New York City . Father's boat made New York City its headquarters.

After arriving in New York City , Mother set-about to have her mother and brothers come from Ireland . Her mother and five children reached New York about 1850. The children found work and learned trades and grew to maturity. . . .

Soon after their marriage, Mother and Father bought a small store in New York City , they were not long in the business when the real owner informed them that they had been cheated and that the man that they had but a lease on the place and it was expired. They were the losers. They still had some money left and decided to go west and buy some land. The west was an unknown quantity to them. They had pioneered from Ireland , now a move to a new country to build a home, and own it themselves. No more leases and oustings by the landlord. Mother often related an incident in connection with their settling in Iowa . She went to the bank to draw her savings and while standing in line, a man from behind her asked permission to go ahead of her as he was from the west, a stranger anxious to get his money and find a hotel for the night. She surrendered her place and while waiting in the line she asked him about the west. He was from Iowa and spoke well of Iowa . On returning home they concluded to go to Iowa .

They arrived in Iowa City in April 1857 the railroad extended no further then. After a few days delay in Iowa City , they set out, on foot to find some suitable land for a home. They had neither experience in land or farming, but were determined to have a home of their own. Going by short stages and enquiring they reached the English River Settlement. Here Mother seeing a large wooden cross from a distance, resolved to settle near the little frame church.

This was in early summer of 1857, there was much for pioneers to do on the little farm. Father found work helping Joe Schnoegelen in the timber and making rails to fence his ground. Money was almost unknown in those days, a man got fifty cents a day and took it out in trade. Father split rails for half [of the cut wood], or worked for fifty cents a day in exchange for corn, wheat, potatoes, oats, or any commodity they could use. In time they had some ground broken and could plant corn, potatoes and other vegetables. They were busy working for themselves and were happy, in their own home and were as well-off as their neighbors. They helped each other and depended on each other in interchanging services and commodities and met their problems with courage and helped each other conquer difficulties.