Irish Potato Famine
In 1845 the Irish potato crop contracted a fungus (phytophthera infestans) that caused the potato plants to rot. The fungus was originally transported in the holds of ships traveling from North America to England, where winds carried it to Ireland. At that time Irish farms were owned by English landlords who charged the Irish peasants rent. The Irish lived largely on potatoes, while exporting their other crops, such as wheat, to England in order to pay the rent on their farms. When the potato failed, there was devastating starvation and disease among the Irish peasants. Some corn was imported from the United States, but not enough. During this time millions of Irish people died and many were forced to leave the country for British North America (Canada) around Quebec and Montreal. The ships they traveled on were known as “coffin ships” because so many people became ill and died on the voyages. From Canada, many of the surviving immigrants made their way to northeastern U.S. cities.