On April 1, 1809, immigrant John O'Raw wrote from Charleston, South Carolina to his parents Bryan and Nellie O'Raw in Ballymena, Antrim. "Through the mercy of divine Providence I am still in existence after innumerable Misfortunes & dangers & is in good Health & happy & must ask forgiveness of the Almighty, & of you my dear parents in prolonging writing to you, but I trust you will not attribute it to ingratitude as my Heart still flows with the most affecionat & ardent emotions of Filial Affection." O'Raw was just one of thousands upon thousands of Irish immigrants who fled to the U.S. long before the Famine sent so many more. These letters, filled with emotion and danger (not to mention spelling errors and an excess of capital letters), offer remarkable insight into an oft-forgotten aspect of the Irish immigrant experience. Now, an impressive volume of such writing is available. Entitled "Irish Immigrants in the Land of Canaan: Letters and Memoirs from Colonial and Revolutionary America, 1675-1815," the book was written and edited by Kerby A. Miller, Arnold Schrier, Bruce D. Boling and David N. Doyle. Admittedly this can make for dry reading at times. But this is also history at its most intimate. Meanwhile, the authors offer excellent, exhaustive analysis. "Irish Immigrants in the Land of Canaan" is indeed a groundbreaking study of early Irish (Protestant and Catholic) immigration to America. The authors explore letters, memoirs, and other writings to describe the diversity of early Irish immigrant experiences. Immigrants settled as frontier farmers and seaport workers as well as revolutionaries and loyalists to the British crown. In the end, these Irish played a key role in the formation of the American colonies, as independence from Britain loomed. The book outlines why Irishmen and women left home and how they adapted to colonial and revolutionary America, helping to forge Irish and Irish-American identities on both sides of the Atlantic. This is not necessarily a book to read cover to cover. Still, this book can be opened at nearly any page and new insights on the Irish immigrant experience await. ($35 / 788 pages / Oxford University Press)
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