The Irish in Early Albany
Stefan Bielinski

The initial settler population of the community that became the city of Albany in 1686 came to America before 1664. These pioneers are known today as the New Netherland Dutch. More than half of them were natives of Holland. But that is not the complete story. Also included in that group were Catholic and Protestant French, Germans, Scandinavians, Scots, Irish, and a smaller number of representatives of most European cultures not to mention a visible but unknown number of those whose origins were African.
       This section considers the early residents of Albany who were known widely as "The Irish."

Hibernians or St. Andrews Society? Historically speaking, who were the early Albany Irish? And who were the early Albany Scots?

Hundreds of people who meet the Colonial Albany Social History Project criteria for inclusion as city people ultimately found their roots to be in what is now Scotland, Ireland, or Northern Ireland (Ulster). Understanding them culturally first raises questions of terminology.

One of the more puzzling terms for this historian is the frequently encountered reference to "the Irish" who came to the American colonies and particularly to those who visited and settled in early Albany. Like so many of the traditional words used to describe the people of colonial Albany, the term "Irish" means different things to different people. Those who said "Irish" regarding eighteenth-century Albany knew who they were talking about. Today, we certainly are less certain!

For consistency and because they are more or less exclusionary, we hold that Irish referred to a Roman Catholic. Scots mostly were Presbyterians.

The Colonial Albany Project approach to the so-called "Irish" is simple and direct. We seek to identify (maybe "verify" is better) the ancestral homelands of every person who lived in the city of Albany prior to the Industrial Revolution. More definitive statements about those minority groups might follow completion of a comprehensive census of all such resident individuals.

The garrison soldiers who arrived after 1664 were more clearly from Catholic rather than Calvinist homes and more fittingly (to our mind) were called Irish. We have noticed that the Catholics were less willing to seek services in the most dominant and consistent Dutch Reformed church than the Scottish Presbyterians who were more comfortable with the Reformed liturgy despite the language barrier.

Over the first half of the eighteenth century and particularly during the years 1713-44, newcomers of both backgrounds settled in the Albany community - although they mostly went on to so-called "greener pastures" in the more outlying parts of huge Albany County.

The problem of differentiating early Albany's Scots from its Irish seems to have been more widespread during the eighteenth century and particularly after 1750. In New Netherland days, the Scots émigré - principally the Glen and Sanders families were known as Scots. By the 1670s, they were joined by Scottish minister's son Robert Livingston - perhaps the most important man to live in colonial Albany.

Following the end of the Great War for Empire, British-connected land speculators and developers sought to entice new settlers with advertisements like this one from 1772 found in the collections of the Library of Congress.

Chief among the clans that established roots in Albany and its hinterland were the Campbells:

information page in-progress

Scots, Scots-Irish, and Irish Catholics were even more prominent in post-Revolutionary War Albany. I find it interesting (or at least curious) that twelve property owners were named Alexander ___ according to the citywide assessment roll for 1788.

Understanding the lives of Catholics and Presbyterians (and their less godfearing countrymen) in their Albany context is a longtime particular interest (not that I can't say that about every other group). My larger ambition precludes focusing on them exclusively. This exposition will make more sense in the future. Please bear with us!

Social chronology for the Irish in Early Albany


the people of colonial Albany Sources: This profile is derived chiefly from family and community-based resources - both of which contain material of puzzling quality.

I am beginning to compile a useful online bibliography. For openers, see Irish Immigrants in the Land of Canaan; Colonists from Scotland; online version of The Scots in America; An increasingly impressive literature on those called the "colonial Scots" exists and merits discussion here.

Substantial and evolving resources from Three Rivers.

The state of the art regarding the colonial Irish (Catholics) appears less impressive. The seminal work entitled Old Irish in Albany, N.Y. was compiled by judge, scholar, and Albany native Franklin M. Danaher and was published in 1903. Michael J. O'Brien's works published during the 1930s are conveniently summarized online. But see The New York Irish, published in 1997 - where the then most learned scholars have a whack at the subject/problem. See online: The Journal of the American-Irish Historical Society. See also the in-progress: Irish Family Histories - which strives to be a online bibliography of related publications. Again, please bear with us.

TO ALL FARMERS AND TRADESMEN, Who want good Settlements for themselves and Families, especially those lately arrived, or that may yet come, from Scotland or Ireland.

THE Province of New-York is the most healthy Climate in America. Many Persons in it live to 80 or 90 Years of Age; and many sickly People from the Carolinas, &c. come to it for the Recovery of their Health. Few in it are troubled with Fever or Ague, which prevails so much in the Southern Colonies. It is neither so sultry hot as Maryland, Virginia or the Carolinas, nor so very cold as in St. Johns, Halifax, &c. In several Winters the Snow lies but about 15 Inches deep for 9 Weeks steadfastly without Rain: Thus their Wheat is well guarded from being froze out of Ground, and the constant Snow affords an easy Carriage of Grain to the Market at the City of Albany, and for fetching home Salt, Iron, &c. from it. In the Counties of Albany, Tryon, Charlotte, Cumberland and Gloucester of said Province thousands of Farms are to be sold for 6 Shillings Sterling per Acre, and 6 Years given to pay the Money, or rented at Sixpence Sterling per Acre, and a Lease for ever. The first 5 Years rent-free, only 2s. 6d. Sterling Quit-Rent, either in buying or renting the Land. If it is desired by a Number of Families, ten thousand Acres or more can be had in one Spot. The little Hills all over the Country are a Shelter from the cold North-West Winds. The Water is plenty, and as good as any in the World; a fine Spaw-Well is lately found near Cambridge.
   The Soil is various; in some Parts a brown or grey Loam, in others Gravel and some Sand, in others a black Mould. It produceth Oats, Wheat, Flax, Hemp, Hay, Barley, and the best Potatoes in America, without Manure. The Wood is Ash, Elm, Oak, Beech, and white and yellow Pine-Trees, which last bring some 1000 Pounds to the Settlers. Some hundreds of said Farms can be got in Cambridge and other Parts, within 30, 20, 10 or 5 Miles of New-Perth Church and Mills, 36 Miles North-East of Albany, where Dr. Clark began a Settlement 1766, which consists now of about 130 Families, many of whom at their first Arrival had 4 or 5 Children, and were not worth Ten Shillings, and are now worth Hundred Pounds free and real Estate. They got above 3000 lb. Sugar out of their Trees this Spring. They will show the Lands to Strangers, and they usually lodge a Stranger free, till he gets a House erected on his own Farm, which they usually help him to build in one Day. Some Cattle and also Grain will be sold to Strangers, on a Year's Credit, at the Mills of Perth and Cambridge. Passengers from Scotland or Ireland had best go on board of Ships bound for New-York; but such as arrive in Philadelphia, may ask at the Crooked Billet Wharf; and there every Wednesday Morning they will get a Passage in Boats and Waggons 90 Miles to New-York for 4s. 8d. Sterling each, in a Days and an half, or less.
    Arriving at New-York, ask for the Honourable William Smith, Esq; Goldsborow Banyar, Thomas Smith, Esquires, and Mr. Kelly, Attorney at Law in the Street called Broadway, who will shew any Man the Maps of said Lands, and agree as to the Price, which if the Stranger likes, upon viewing the Land, he can instantly go to work upon it. The Passage to Albany is about 2s. 6d. or 3 s. Sterling; and arriving there, ask for Mr. Edward Willet, Schoolmaster, who gives good private Lodgings, and will shew the Road to said Lands.

PHILADELPHIA: Printed by JOHN DUNLAP, at the Newest Printing-Office in Market-Street, 1772.

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first opened 6/18/09; last updated 2/12/16