Irish immigrants in the Rural U.S. Slave South
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This dissertation investigates the Irish immigrant experience in the rural areas of the U.S. slave South before the American Civil War. Specifically, it focuses on the analysis of the Irish immigrants' involvement with Catholicism and slavery in the U.S. southern states of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Mississippi, and Louisiana. What follows therefore, is an in-depth investigation of the historical, moral and practical acceptance of US slavery by Irish immigrants and of how the latter adjusted and profited from the antebellum slave economy. This thesis contains four chapters. Chapter one provides a historical survey of the colonial roots of Irish slaveholders in the antebellum US South. This demonstrates that their experience with rural antebellum slavery was an integral part of Irish engagement with Atlantic slavery. Chapter two outlines the moral acceptance of slavery by Irish immigrants by focusing on the development of the Catholic Church in the antebellum South. Using the case study of Irish Catholic immigrants, this chapter investigates how Irish Catholics identified with their adopted states and the South’s values and interests, while maintaining their own religious identity. The third chapter examines Irish antebellum slave-ownership. The opportunities for Irish immigrants to acquire slave property varied according to boom and bust cycles in the slave economy. The profits extracted from slavery elevated some Irishmen amongst the wealthiest individuals in the nineteenth-century industrial world. The final Chapter assesses the lives of Irish immigrants who did not own slaves, but laboured in the rural antebellum US South. This chapter examines the role of non-slaveholding immigrants and the impact they had on rural southern society. Life at the lower level of society was full of multiple types of biracial level interactions and this work focuses and analyses in detail the complexity of interactions between Irish and slave labourers.
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