The Home Front: 1861 to 1865

Walt and the Other Whitmans

How and why did Bridget O’Reilly die?

She was the youngest of fourteen children, and when she came to this upper-class house she seemed quite happy. Over time, however, some suspicion of stealing developed, and someone may have accused her directly. Bridget O’Reilly began to weaken visibly, and in a few weeks she was dead. Can we really say that grief or anguish killed her? We cannot, and even her employer admitted that it was a tough case to know the truth. The longer she thought about it, though, the more the upper-class lady became convinced that the Irish servants did steal, it was simply self-preservation, and one should not marvel at it any more than if the black slaves in the South stole from their masters.

The clash between Anglo and Irish cultures would find its fullest expression in the New York City draft riots of 1863 (see page 190).


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