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Establishing the Axis


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Establishing the Axis


Wexford Independent (15 September 1853)

Joining the dots

Why did so many Wexfordians emigrate to Savannah during the 1850s? Because they could—nonstop; shore to shore. Shipping away from anxiety over land tenure, among other concerns, they utilized a direct Wexford-to-Savannah route developed during the prior decade for trading purposes.  Responsible for that transatlantic axis were two entrepreneurs: Andrew Low II in Savannah and William Graves in New Ross, then Co. Wexford’s main port.

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Andrew Low


The most important cotton factor of the 1850s opens the door to Wexford

Andrew Low


The most important cotton factor of the 1850s opens the door to Wexford

Low was the preeminent factor—or facilitator—within Savannah’s chief industry: cotton. However, his wide commercial interests also embraced lumber, rice, and additional commodities. A testament to Low’s success is the stunning mansion he constructed in Savannah’s Lafayette Square. It’s now a top-ranked tourist attraction, not least because Low’s daughter-in-law founded the Girl Scouts of America.  

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Graves and Sons


From New Ross, County Wexford, William Graves created a global shipping empire that connected Wexford to Savannah

Graves and Sons


From New Ross, County Wexford, William Graves created a global shipping empire that connected Wexford to Savannah

For his part, Graves was a lumber merchant with his own fleet of cargo vessels to transport wood from Québec and elsewhere in Canada—mainly to his New Ross base, but also other Irish and British ports.

"Invoice from Andrew Low to Graves and Sons," (8 February 1847), Graves Collection, BR 3/087.  National Archives of Ireland, Dublin.

"Invoice from Andrew Low to Graves and Sons," (8 February 1847), Graves Collection, BR 3/087.  National Archives of Ireland, Dublin.

The two men may have intersected in Liverpool, England, where Low maintained his European office and Graves’s second son, Samuel Robert, ran a shipping business under his own name.  Unlike Québec, Savannah remained ice-free during winter, and in January 1846 we see an initial visit there by a Graves vessel, the barque Dunbrody, with Andrew Low as the local handler.  

Today, a full-scale reproduction of that craft anchors the Dunbrody Emigrant Experience in New Ross, Co. Wexford—a world-class visitor center on the quay or riverfront, steps away from the town’s beautiful medieval core.

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At Savannah for its first time, the Dunbrody off-loaded ballast and took on “a cargo of pitch pine timber,” procured from Low & Co.  By 1850, William Graves had added emigration to his Savannah-bound route, deploying the Dunbrody, the Glenlyon, and other vessels.

"Invoice from Andrew Low to Graves and Sons," (6 March 1846), Graves Collection, BR 3/087.  National Archives of Ireland, Dublin.

"Invoice from Andrew Low to Graves and Sons," (6 March 1846), Graves Collection, BR 3/087.  National Archives of Ireland, Dublin.

In support of that business, he established the family’s fourth son, James Palmer Graves, in Savannah, where the young man would marry a Georgia woman and collect Native American antiquities.  Two other Wexford shipping companies—Howlett & Co. of New Ross and R. M. & R. Allen of Wexford Town—also developed direct winter passenger services to Savannah.

Wexford Independent (7 September 1850)

Wexford Independent (7 September 1850)

On December 6, 1850, the Allen barque Brothers docked in Savannah, prompting the city’s Morning News to refute the “No Irish Need Apply” commonplace. 

Savannah Daily Morning News (6 December 1850) p. 2

Savannah Daily Morning News (6 December 1850) p. 2

Pushing against the “Coffin Ship” narrative associated with much Irish emigration, the newspaper later revealed that the passengers presented a “Silver Cup” to the captain in appreciation of their “pleasant and agreeable voyage” from Wexford.

Savannah Daily Morning News (10 December 1850) p. 2

Savannah Daily Morning News (10 December 1850) p. 2