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Irish Immigrants Valued Education

by Rose McIlveen March 22, 1986

For the Irish, the trauma of uprooting themselves from the old country may have been offset by the promise of a fresh start, but most of them who came to Monroe County did not leave the futures of their children to chance.

Fully 64 percent of the Irish families who were here in the 1850s sent their children to Indiana University for their education. Of the immigrants’ young people who attend IU, 31 percent received their degrees.

A study of the scanty information about the backgrounds of the Irish families does not indicate how much they brought with them in the way of financial resources. But the fact that a high percentage of them took some college courses, at least, indicates that as a group the Monroe County Irish placed a high premium on education. The opportunity was not far from their doorsteps, and they availed themselves of it.

The first of the Irish to arrive in Monroe County saw its untouched scenery from the back of a horse. John Carr and his fellow U.S. Mounted Rangers were headquartered at Fort Vallonia, and they crisscrossed this area, pursuing Indians that had raided settlements or stolen horses. Carr was a lieutenant in the same unit with First Sergeant John Ketcham. The latter built the second Monroe County Courthouse and was a trustee of IU. Carr was the first of the Irish immigrants to buy land, purchasing his in 1816 in Van Buren Township.

More conspicuous in the early history of the county were the Blairs. It was at the cabin of Abner Blair that the commissioners met in 1818 to conduct the county’s first business. Presbyterians by religious persuasion, the Blairs were adamantly opposed to slavery. In time, the family would produce lawyers, and a trustee of IU. The family homestead on the near westside of Bloomington was once proposed as the second site of IU.

John Campbell, of County Antrim, fathered a son by the same name, who joined the Union Army during the Civil War. The younger Campbell served in Company F of the 27th Indiana Regiment. He was wounded at Anteitam, fought at Chancellorsville, was wounded again at Gettysburg, and suffered a broken arm in the Battle of Resaca. Upon his return from the army, he was elected township trustee, and he and his wife adopted one of their own, young John Maginnis, to add to their family. The Campbells were believers in education. Eight of them attended IU. Another family that contributed one of its sons to the Union Army was that of John Dinsmore. His son, Joseph, who had received a degree from IU, joined Company F of the 82nd Indiana Infantry. Before the war ended, Joseph was a veteran of the battles of Chickamauga, Resaca and Kenesaw Mountain and was with General Sherman in the “march to the sea” in Georgia. When the Dinsmore family arrived here in 1838, they bought 120 acres in Van Buren Township. Eventually the homestead was enlarged to 240 acres. The sons of the family each received family farm acreage as wedding presents. John Dinsmore was a member of the Monroe County Fair board.

Veterans Reunion 82nd Indiana Volunteer in 1906. Included in this photo is Joseph Dinsmore. Photo from the MCHC Collection (2009.024.0007)