The Irish In Delaware
This union brought no relief from the discrimination against Irish Catholics, Presbyterians and other religious groups. Many from these groups saw America as the country that would be likely to understand their plight and whose laws guaranteed many of the freedoms the British had long denied them. Thus a new wave of religious, economic and political refugees soon arrived on American shores and would historically be known as the "Pre-Famine Irish." The poor economic conditions, extremely limited arable land and the likely impossibility of ever rising above the poverty level spurred this first major emigration of the Irish.
Not surprisingly, many of the Irish immigrants landed in Philadelphia where the Declaration of Independence had been signed and where the Industrial Revolution had begun in earnest. Thousands of Irish landed in the cities of the eastern seaboard and, unable to travel any further into the continent, most settled in the eastern former colonies and established new lives in America. Like other newly arrived ethnic groups, they settled together, forming wholly Irish communities. Those arriving in Philadelphia, who were unable to find employment there, found their way to other towns along the river and eventually settled in Wilmington, Delaware.
Founded in 1740, Wilmington had steadily grown through the years in its industrial output. By the time these Irish began to arrive, Wilmington already had a reputation for flour and gunpowder mills. Wilmington's growth in productivity and size accelerated early in the 19th century. Laborers were needed to keep up the productivity of the city's top manufacturing family, the DuPonts.
E.I. DuPont assessed the immigrant situation quickly. He learned that many of the new arrivals had families in Ireland. Husbands would rely on relatives to care for their wives and children back home while they tried to establish themselves in America. DuPont proposed to lend his Irish workers money to bring over their families and friends. In this way he was bringing in more potential laborers for his mills and growing businesses.
Once the families were reunited in Wilmington, DuPont provided rent-free housing near the mills and factories. Further, he began to provide medical care and education for his Irish workers and their families, lent money when necessary, and gave them the opportunity to garden and even own land if they chose. For these poor, landless Irish such benefits were something they had only dreamed of in their native land, so, naturally, they became devoted to the DuPont family and their business.
On his way, as an itinerant priest, to Philadelphia, October 7, 1816, Father Kenny stopped in Wilmington for a meeting at the home of Paul McGinnis to discuss plans for a church in the city. Land for the church, at the corner of Hanover (Sixth) and West streets, was leased from the estate of Martha Whitelock in 1816 to Tom Larkin, Patrick Higgins and Arthur Murray for 100 years at $30 per annum. There the Cathedral of St. Peter was built. Father Kenny dedicated the church on September 12, 1818 and celebrated the "first congregational Mass in Wilmington for a vast concourse" the following day.
P. O. Box 3374
Wilmington, Delaware 19804
Call Us at
+1 (302) 45-IRISH
Email us at