Migration from Ireland was central to the experiences of the powder mill workers on the Brandywine. Most Irish immigrants who worked at the company powder yards came from a specific region in Northern Ireland, chiefly counties Fermanagh, Tyrone, and Donegal. Multiple sources provide clues to their exact geographic origins, which shaped the culture they brought with them to Delaware and thus affected how they adapted once here.
E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company actively facilitated immigration in their search for reliable employees. By the 1820s, the company had an organized system whereby the company maintained standing accounts with various transportation agents in Philadelphia who would arrange for passage whenever an employee wanted to bring a relative over to join them in Delaware. Black Powder, White Lace documented for the first time this program of assisted immigration and recreated the familial relationships that led individuals to bring their wives, children, parents, and siblings to Delaware in a process called chain migration. Though historians of immigration have long known that Irish families relied on chain migration, the quantity and quality of relevant sources at Hagley enabled author Margaret Mulrooney to offer new insights on the practice.
The nineteenth century records of the E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. in Hagley's archives are remarkably complete. Among the records are correspondence between the company and transportation agents like Robert Taylor, who arranged passage for Irish laborers and their relatives to the United States. Correspondence like this provides rich details about the the immigration procedure, along with the names of passengers and sponsors, dates of immigration, and fares.
The inside cover of this 1854-1855 petit ledger contains a list of Irish emigrants brought to Delaware through agent H. Catherwood & Sons of Philadelphia. Using the alphabetical list of employees with wage accounts in this volume, one can choose a name, then go to the account page and see what each person did for a living, how much he or she earned, and myriad other details such as payments debited for rent, subscriptions to the Catholic Church, or even cash paid for a cow! Ledgers can also be cross-referenced with other sources to reconstruct family relationships.
Born in 1891, Elizabeth "Bess" Beacom grew up in the Squirrel Run neighborhood of the powder mill community, and her father Edward worked in the saltpeter refinery. In her interview, she discussed her father's immigration to the United States and how he encouraged and supported several of his relatives to later join him. She told the interviewers, "I have my father’s tin box. It’s marked steerage, so I guess that’s the way he came." Beacom generously gave this trunk to Hagley's museum collection, where it still resides.
In 1870, Edward Beacom left County Fermanagh for the United States to work at the black powder powder mills, having been persuaded by his sister, Elizabeth Ward, who already lived in the powder mill community. Beacom traveled in steerage aboard a ship from Liverpool, England. All of his belongings were packed in this trunk.
Many Irish families relied on oral tradition to preserve information about their place of origin in Northern Ireland. The powder yards closed in 1921, and decades later Hagley staff captured interviews with some of the last generation of powder workers and their families, preserving part of the oral tradition of the Irish community on the Brandywine. These interviews, like that of Elizabeth Beacom above, help corroborate information found in church records, letters to emigration agents, and wage ledgers. Listen or read the transcript of James Toy Sr. describing his grandfather’s arrival from County Tyron or sisters Faith Betty Lattomus and Madaline Betty Walls (pictured) discussing their maternal grandfather’s origins in a place outside Londonderry (County Derry) and their paternal grandparents' Irish connections.