I’m too late to contribute valuably to this thread, but I would like to describe how my great grandmother personally suffered at the hands of the anti-Catholic Know Nothings in Philadelphia in the 1850s.
My great grandmother Annie was born in Northern Ireland in 1929. In 1845, she married her first husband at the then-typical age of 16, and lived with him in their little mud hut next to their potato “lazy bed” – the typical living arrangements for Catholic Irish families forced into potato cultivation.
Though my Catholic grandmother probably could have “married Protestant,” because one of her parents was a Northern Ireland Protestyant, she chose to “marry Catholic,” despite the exile into dire poverty which that betokened.
Annie became pregnant immediately with my Great Aunt Barbara. While she was pregnant, blight reached their county, and wiped out their crop.
Two-thirds of the evictions occurred before any default in rent. (This was because of the famous Four Pound Clause, which imposed a tax of about $3,000.00, in today’s money, for every fraction of an acre dedicated to potato cultivation. The landlords tried to avoid the tax by evicting literally everyone.)
Pregnant Annie and her first husband began to walk the roads. Her first husband intentionally starved himself to death for the sake of his pregnant wife and the baby inside her womb. I don’t know if he was among thoise who “charged the docks.” The British landlords continued exporting food from Ireland during the Famine. Families walking the roads saw this. Skeletal armies of fathers and husbands armed with sticks formed up into ranks and charged the docks to rip open the crates of food. English and Protestant Irish armies prepared for this eventuality fired volley after volley into the “skeleton armies,” mowing down thousands.
Annie gave birth to a completely blind child – a common Famine symptom. She finally secured a berth on a Famine Ship paid for by Protestant money dedicated to shipping-out as many Catholics as possible. The boat dropped her off in Canada, and Annie thumbed her way south to Philadelphia, where she placed my Great Aunt Barbara into the Home for the Blind.
Annie did carpentry, of all things, to support herself in a little walk-up on Sansom Street, in Philadelphia. She married my great grandfather, and lived on Prune Street – the name for Locust Street east of Washington Square in Philadelphia, in those days.
In that time, employers in Philadelphia were laying-off Protestants and replaced them with Catholic Famine victims, who thought they were “rich” even when they were hired for pennies on the dollar, due to their former starvation level poverty.
Unemployed Proestants responded by forming the groups called “Know Nothings.” The acquired their name when they would lynch a Catholic immigrant from a lamppost. Investigating police would say, “Who did this?,” and the Protestant offenders would usually respond, “I DON’T KNOW NOTHIN’!”
Annie was seen going to Old St. Maty’s Church in Philadelphia every day, identifying herself as a “Papist.” We think that something happened frightening Annie and my great grandfather out of Philadelphia – maybe Annie was hung in effigy, or something like that. She and her husband escaped to Maryland. Though they were able to move back to Philadelphia in 1864, after the Nativists lost the national ticket, in 1867, when my grandfather was born, Annie had “had it up to her eyeballs” with anti-Catholic prejudice, so she named my grandfather after Roman Catholic martyr murdered by the English throne, John Roberts.
When my great grandfather died of an epidemic in 1869, Annie took up sewing to support her children. When she tried to get her children into the school orphans at Girard College in the 1870s, she was told by a councilman that my grandfather’s name would bar his entry. So, she had to change his name to something more “Protestant-sounding.”