Lad Overcomes Obstacles to Find Way to Land of Opportunity

Fleeing oppression and famine in his native Ireland, teenager stows away and finds his way to Georgia’s shores.

| Good Old Days

The cold Atlantic Ocean must have seemed a minor obstacle to Cullen Thomas Conly, who dreamed of a promised new life on the shores of Georgia in 1836. The 16-year-old Irish lad was escaping to a new land of opportunity – one where he would carve a life for himself free from economic and religious oppression, overcrowding and famine.

Born in 1820, near Mount Conly in County Antrim, Ireland, the courageous and adventuresome lad managed to stow away on a freighter anchored in nearby Glenarm Harbor. He remained undetected by the ship's officers until they reached the harbor of Savannah, Georgia. The ship's captain refused to let him go ashore at Savannah and planned to return the lad to Ireland; however, the night before the ship was scheduled to return to Ireland, Cullen jumped overboard and swam ashore.

What made the Irish lad, who would become my great-great-grandfather, sever all ties with his past and never return to his homeland? What made him hide on a ship and journey 3,000 miles across a treacherous ocean to an unknown land? Did he know that the land, climate, people, houses, food and clothing were different from those of his native Ireland? Did he leave because of daring and love of adventure, or was he obsessed with the desire to better his economic condition? Perhaps this young Irish Protestant was fleeing the religious conflict between the Catholics and Protestants that has divided the Emerald Isle for generations.

It is not known what the first eight years in America held for this determined immigrant, but he must have possessed unusual courage and will power to cope with the problems he faced on arriving in Georgia – finding work to pay for his food, clothing and shelter while at the same time adjusting to a strange new country filled with vast forests and miles of unoccupied lands – a quite different place from the land of his birth.

The next record of Cullen Thomas was in 1844, in Houston County, Georgia – 200 miles away from Savannah – where he married Dicy Talton. He was 24 and she was 19. Shortly after their marriage, Cullen and Dicy joined the westward movement toward Texas – the land of abundant opportunity and wide-open spaces. Journeying overland in wagons, on horseback and on foot, people from Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi began to migrate west to the land of promise.

Louisiana was the eastern gateway to Texas, and the hill section of north Louisiana was being settled in the 1830s and 1840s. The rolling upland of the northern half of Louisiana reminded the immigrants of the hills of Georgia, Alabama and Carolina. The hills were interspersed with beautiful streams fed by many sparkling springs. The rivers and bayous offered an economical transportation and travel network, but most of all, a way to move the products of forest and field to market at New Orleans, where the produce intermingled with world trade. The forests abounded in wild game such as deer, bear, turkey, ducks, geese, squirrels, quail, and numerous fur-bearing animals: raccoon, opossum, mink, otter, weasel and rabbits. The streams were stocked with many species of fish, and alligators were abundant. The fertile soil, combined with these other factors, led the immigrants to decide that this was the paradise they were seeking. They did not go on to Texas, but settled instead in northern Louisiana.

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