Irish Immigrants and the 1849 Cholera Epidemic

In the summer of 1849, Boston was engulfed in a cholera epidemic that spread from England to the US via emigrant ships. Irish immigrants were particularly hard hit by the disease, accounting for more than 500 of the 611 recorded deaths in the city. In this report, Boston officials described Irish newcomers–mainly desperately poor famine survivors–as immoral “brutes” whose degradation and intemperance explained the spread of the disease. But despite its nativist bias, the report offers an unusual account of the horrific living conditions in the Irish neighborhoods of the North End and Fort Hill (now the financial district). As in the Five Points area of New York, Irish immigrants in these Boston neighborhoods endured grinding poverty, overcrowding, poor sanitation and ventilation, and host of social problems that they would struggle to overcome in the future.

From: Report of the Committee of Internal Health on the Asiatic Cholera, Boston, 1849, pp. 12-16.