Many Limerick residents relocated to Wisconsin in the years following the famine. The following is an account from a Limerick man in Wisconsin, in 1851. His letter was published in the Leinster Express on May 3, 1851. The paper described him as a “County Limerick gentleman, who sold off, and went to see his fortune in another land, rather than become involved in the vortex which has swallowed up so many persons of his class.”
The letter is dated March 1, 1851 and was signed simply J. C. L.
Wisconsin, Winnebago, Menasha, United States, March 1st, 1851.
You ask me to give you an account of my present life and of this country. Men seldom reject an opportunity of writing or talking of themselves. I shall be an exception, but will give you a sketch of my adopted home. Wisconsin has a soil and climate well adapted for agriculture and is so bounded that her surplus produce can be readily and cheaply conveyed on her lakes to New York. The father of waters, the Mississippi, bounding her opens a most direct outlet to the south; her acres, not including her lakes is 55,000 square miles, and her population yet only 400,000. Menasha (my home) is in the Indian language, an island, and is rather north in this state. It is very pleasantly situated with a southern aspect, on a gentle slope rising from the pure waters of Lake Winnebago, Font du Lae being the head, 40 miles distant. Two years since there were only two log houses on this site and now we have a population of 1500, and I have no doubt if you were to reside here and know its various attractions you could not limit your belief as well as your hopes to its being anything short of a great city in a few years. It is surrounded with inexhaustibly rich land, and has most unrivalled water power. We find it very healthy – the waters extremely pure, and ague and fever are unknown and our climate is delightfully fine. The past summer was warm, but he mornings and evenings were the most delightful imaginable, as yet during the winter, we have had only two cold days, though still water is frozen to the depth of two feet; our days are sunny and bright, our nights clear, freezing a little but not cold, you would be delighted with the sleighing, you are carried along at such a pace and yet so safe, parties of pleasure generally drive four horses galloping all the way, with no less than 100 small bells suspended from their harness, to prevent accidents at night.
Any maps of Wisconsin will show you our position. Look, for Green Bay, it is the most northern park of Lake Michigan, and is the emporium of merchandise for all the Eastern States, together with North and West, it is 33 miles from here, and last summer considerable works were commenced, to make the Fox River, (that flows by us from Winnebago), navigable to there – a plank road by a more direct route, is nearly completed, for more portable trade and travel. There are two steamboats making here at present, to ply on this lake next summer, with two more that were plying last summer, so you may perceive we shall be extensively engaged in forwarding the Green Bay trade to the South, via the Wolf and Wisconsin rivers to the Mississippi, and to the Font du Lae railroad to Milwaukee and thence to the state of Illinois.
The proprietor of this town, Governor Doty, is possessed of very considerable property and is a most distinguished member of the Legislative Assembly.
We are very much benefited by his great influence in getting the necessary charters in Washington for our public improvements. The industry and bustle here is very remarkable for its age. We have now at work and not at all equal to the demand, five sawmills of great power. Lumber is cut up by them before it is chopped in the woods, and several yoke of oxen are daily engaged (besides the immense rafts that come down the river), in bringing it from there to supply private buildings. The steamboats, the plank road, and two bridges (one an English mile in length) are to be made across Lake Batte du Motte, and thus open to us a well-cultivated country.
There are also 3 corn mills, 2 breweries, 2 foundries, a waggon factory and a chain and pail factory working night and day. Our prices are with an unexpected population and as yet with an uncultivated neighbourhood – Flour 10s ; pork 24s ; beef 20s ; sugar 32s per cwt ; tea 2s ; coffee s per lb ; potatoes 6s per stone. Next winter agricultural produce will be cheaper, as the axe is now working along the lines of those rivers and plank roads, and yet thousands of acres of Government land can be had between this and Green Bay at 5s the acre, but within two miles of a town or river, it will now fetch £2 per acre. This will give you some idea of its prospective value.
How truly happy could some of your industrious people be here in a few years, with land so rich that it never can require manure, where hundreds of hogs can be fattened in the woods by walnuts hickory nuts, acorns, &c. I have seen them half-wild in the bush last summer, fatter than I have ever seen in Ireland. you can have any number of cows you can afford to buy and no charge for their keep, with butter 15d a lb, no rent, taxes 1/2d in the pound for the year to come. All here are happy, everybody is occupied with profitable industry by day and yet freely contribute to each other’s amusement in the evenings; once a week each of the three hotels gives a ball, gentlemen’s tickets 8s, with leave to bring one or two ladies; such is American gallantry the latter are never charged; extremely good and well-served suppers are given. The ladies are without exception extremely interesting in manners and appearance and having come from New England and EasternStaes, are very lady0like and accomplished and are quite au faite at the European dances.
The American gentleman I think possesses a little too much f what the French call brusquiere of manners for drawing-room ; apart from this he is gay, polite, friendly and obliging. There is no legal rate of interest yet fixed in this state, and money brings 50 and 80 per cent. en lane, per annum on perfectly unencumbered raised property. No country can possibly offer a safer investment for money than this. Put it into plank roads railroads canals, instance companies. &c. which we see around us is paying cent, per cent. (town lots), and building on them. In fact, money must double itself where all labour is so remunerative. I must now say au revoir, and will anxiously expect a letter from you, and be assured I in vain seek language to express to you my admiration of this country’s laws.
J. C. L.
Another Limerick man in Menasha at that time was Thomas Kennedy. On October 19, 1850, he placed an advert in the Boston Pilot which read
Thomas Kennedy, late of Greenagh, parish Ballingarry, co. Limerick, and now of Menasha, Winnebago County, Wisconsin, wishes to hear from his brother William Kennedy, who parted with him in New York the 11th of last May and was starting for Cumberland, Alleghany County, Md.
In 1850, one of the other Limerick emigrants to Wisconsin wrote of his life there. His story can be read here.