1692-1892; A Memorial Volume of the Bi-Centennial Celebration of
the Town of Windham, Connecticut, containing the historical addresses,
poems, and a description of events connected with the observance
of the two hundreth anniversary of the incorporation of the town,
as held in the year 1892." Published by the Committee, Hartford,
Windhams Second Century &SHY;
Our Present Population:
A word about our present population
will be timely. Of the 10,000 in the town (8,600 being in the borough)
not far from 2,300 are of Irish
extraction, about 1,800 of French Canadian extraction, and nearly all
the remainder of English origin. There are about 300 Swedes and 50
colored persons. Of the first named, only about 600 were born in Ireland,
the rest are native Americans. The Canadians have not been as
long among us, but they are a rapidly growing people, and the proportion
of foreign born among them is fast decreasing. Irishmen first appeared
in Willimantic in considerable numbers about 1840 to work for Jillson
and Capen. They were as much of a curiosity to our people, as we to them,
and at least as awkward as we should be in Ireland. Irish blunders, coupled
with native Irish wit, supplied the almanacs with jokes for a generation.
They came in large numbers to help build the railroads, and then to enter
the mills. From the first they have come to stay, practically an English
speaking people, or at least with no adherence to their native tongue,
for I have yet to learn of an Irish immigrant parent who has transmitted
his language to his American-born children. The Irish came here, driven
from oppression to freedom, to find a home, and to become Americans.
They have never shown any tendency to return. They are intelligent and
thrifty, as modern Willimantic is showing. To-day their share of the
taxable grand list is over $300,000; they are building many homes, and
they are as much attached to this country as any of its inhabitants.
Thirty graves of sacred memory in the Catholic cemetery testify to their
loyalty to the old flag in 1861. To show how rapidly they are becoming
indigenous to our soil, we have only to recall that the census of 1860
showed 490 born in Ireland, while to-day with our population tripled,
the Irish born scarcely exceed 600. I saw a photograph group of young
Irish-Americans of Willimantic, a few days ago, and they looked more
American than Irish. With the Canadians it was different at the outset.
They came here about 1852 to work in the Smithville mills and they had
no purpose to stay, but thought to accumulate wages and return to Canada.
Their national ties were much stronger than those of the Irish and they
took care to preserve their language and teach it to their children.
But the public schools and the American ideas are doing their inevitable
work. The Frenchmen, too, are learning to love Willimantic, and in later
years have been less and less inclined to leave it. Their little self-owned
homes are scattered here and there, and the tax-list now rates their
taxable property at $60,000, almost entirely in little buildings which
bespeak volumes of interest in the new and with many of them native land.
Irish immigration has practically ceased, but the Canadians are still
coming. Both classes multiply more rapidly than does the older native
stock. Together they make up to-day nearly half of our population. They
have as much right here as any one, and they are as well disposed. We
welcome them. The historic ties of Ireland, France and America are peculiarly
kindred in the struggle for liberty.