Our Pinkerton Family History
The Great FamineOur Pinkerton famly were famine immigrants - part of the great mass of people who fled Ireland during the "Great Famine" that laid such terrible waste to Ireland between 1845 and 1852 - known to most of the world as the Potato Famine. Coming to America in 1847 & 1848, they got out of Ireland at the height of the famine.
Ireland in the mid-1800s was an agricultural nation, populated by eight million persons who were among the poorest people in the Western World. Only about a quarter of the population could read and write and life expectancy was short - just 40 years for men. The Irish married quite young, girls commonly at 16, and boys at 17 or 18, and tended to have large families, although infant mortality was also quite high.
A British survey in 1835 found half of the rural families in Ireland living in single-room, windowless mud cabins that didn't have chimneys. The people lived in small communal clusters, known as clachans, spread out among the beautiful countryside. The average tenant farmer lived at a subsistence level on less than ten acres.
The most fertile farmland was found in the north and east of Ireland, where our Pinkertons lived. The more heavily populated south and west featured large wet areas (bog) and rocky soil. Mountains and bogs cover about a third of Ireland. By the mid-1800s, the density of Irish living on cultivated land was about 700 people per square mile, among the highest rate in Europe. And for most of the poor subsistence farmers, potatoes provided nearly their entire diet.
In the early 1500s, Spanish explorers and adventurers in the New World found the Incas growing potatoes, and took them back to Europe. By the 1600s, Irish farmers had discovered that the marvelous vegetables thrived in Irish soil with very little work - and better - an acre of fertilized potato field could yield up to 12 tons of potatoes. This was enough to feed a family of six for a year with leftovers for the animals. Rich in protein, carbohydrates, minerals, and vitamins, potatoes soon became the staple crop for the typical tenant farmer and by the 1800s, more than three million Irish peasants subsisted almost solely on the potato. The circumstances for disaster on a gross scale were now well and fully set - and when disaster came, it arrived quietly on a cool, damp wind.
In September of 1845, an airborne potato loving fungus struck the potato fields of Ireland. Plants simply began turning black and dying. Worse, potatoes dug from the earth in an effort to save the crop beneath they dying plant also shriveled and rotted within a few days - the fungus liked the potato, too. The hungry years had begun.
Starvation was minimal that first year - some of the potato crop had survived, and there had been large imports of Indian corn from America. Famine was not new to Ireland - potato crop failures had occurred before, but they were always regional, resulting in few deaths. This lulled the Irish and the British government into thinking that hunger would fade with the next years crop. When the 1846 potato crop also began to rot from the blight, those who cared knew that Ireland had its first national crop failure and that people could die on a large scale.
They also began to leave in great numbers. In 1847, in the heart of the famine, Samuel Pinkerton left his family and emigrated to the United States in search of a better chance for his family. He found that chance and early in 1848, the family joined him in America, where they could eat to their hunger and where their generations would not again face starvation or eviction.
This is the story of that family as best we can currently tell it.