was in Princeton, Illinois, he met a blue-eyed Irish girl, Ellen B.
Greer, whom he was to marry. She told him the following story about
her journey to America.
In 1879, at the age of 21, she left her familys small farm in
County Down near Ballynahinch, North Ireland, and made the 20-mile
trip to the quay to board her steamer for the trip to America. This
was the first time she had seen the Irish Sea for it was not the practice
then, nor even as much as 100 years later, for her family to travel
just to sightseeand certainly not as much as 20 miles. She was
not really frightened about the forthcoming trip to America, since
a lot of others before her had made the trip and had found a new life
In fact, just during her parents lifetime, one out of every
three Irish had emigrated to America more than two million in
all. The emigration from Ireland was basically the result of an intensely
populated country expanding into what was largely a wilderness. It
occurred steadily, and at times there were large waves. In 1845, the
potato blight had crossed the Atlantic (ironically, from America to
Ireland) and decimated vast harvests in a few weeks. During the next
five years, the potato famine claimed almost a million Irish lives.
In this case hunger had been the spur for emigration; Ellens
aunt, Mrs. Holmes, and a number of other relatives fled over the years.
Indeed, it was her aunt, who was happily settled in Princeton, Illinois,
who offered Ellen the chance to come and stay with her.
Ellens family in Northern Ireland suffered the adversity of
the times. Only four of their ten children survived beyond childhood;
Ellen was the oldest of the four. The first born (also named Ellen)
had died at the age of four in 1856. The second two, Mary Elizabeth
and Samuel, died at the ages of five and seven in 1861 during a scarlet
fever epidemic. Ellen herself was only three-years old at the time
but somehow survived. Her younger sister, Margret Ann, died at the
age of 12; her younger brother, Samuel Martin, died of pneumonia at
the age of 14 (he had fallen through ice on a lakepossibly Greers
Lough, a family namesake).
Even though Ellens mother, Elizabeth Corry, had given birth
to ten children, had seen six of them die and had survived the terrible
famine, she supposedly outlived her husband by 18 years. Her husband,
Samuel Greer, (my great grandfather) had given his age at the time
of marriage as 29. When he died in 1890 his daughter Margret Elizabeth
listed his age at death as 77. His birth date would correctly have
been 1814, not 1824, and his age at marriage would have been 39, not
29. His grandson (Thomas John Greer, my uncle once removed) made the
droll comment on this anomaly, All is fair in love and war.
Many years later, thinking about Ellens departing Ireland, John
Greer, her nephew, was reminded of a similar leave-taking. He related
this to me during my visit to Ireland in about 1980.
I was only a small lad when my sister went out to America. I
can remember the day well. My father went with her to the quay and
I went out to the field and began to shear corn with a hand hook.
As I saw them going, the hook slipped up and cut my little finger
to the bone, and it is a bit crooked to this day.