John Gralenski: Remains offer reminder of immigration to America

To the editor:

There's a lot of concern about immigration right now. We actually don't have that good a history about how we treated folks trying to get into America. It wasn't only skin color and religion that caused problems. Anybody who was vulnerable was treated shamefully.

About a mile up Leadmine Brook in back of the house, there's a stone fireplace sitting on a small knoll above the water. It is dry-laid, and from the top it is "H" shaped. It looks as though it was placed between two rooms—both sides got heat, and you could add wood from either side. I brought the Historian from the National Forest up there, and she had an interesting theory about it.

Back about 1845 or so, there was a great failure of the potato crop in Ireland. About a million and a half desperate Irish left their country and came here. Often they were met at the boat by shysters hoping to rip them off. "You're planning to stay here, you'll need some land. I have some fine farmland for sale up in New Hampshire."

"How much is it?"

"How much you got?"

Probably, says the historian, this fireplace is the remains of one of those homesteads. The land was badly misrepresented. (A friend tells of seeing a copy of a poster from back then, advertising land in Errol. The poster has palm trees in it.) The site up back is all rocks, you couldn't possibly till it. The winters are fierce, as we know. The historian says a lot of these people struggled for a while, then either starved or just abandoned the place. Between the fireplace and the brook, there's a flat brook-stone set on edge near a smooth spot on the ground. A grave? 

The historian says "Possibly, a lot of children died in these places."

I was also told of advice given to developers who were draining swamps in Louisiana and Florida for farmland. Working conditions were terrible. Disease and death were common. The advice was "Don't use your slaves. You can get Irishmen cheaper." And if they died, they had no monetary value anyhow.

It's a jungle out there. We're somewhat neater now, but, if there's money to be made, the attitude is about the same.

John Gralenski
Shelburne